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Jason played Seminole on Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seminole Golf Club

The Grassy 'Nole

You've heard of The Grassy 'Nole, right?  It's always been one of the greatest mysteries.  Not many of us have seen it, but we all wonder what it's like - the buildings, the lay of the land, the swirling winds, the sightlines and angles.  Recently, I was given the opportunity to see the 'nole in person.  I couldn't take any pictures - they keep pretty tight tabs on photography there.  After all, this is a pretty secure spot.  I was really interested to see how good of a hideout it was and if the rumors were true; can you really make quality shots there?

Obviously, the 'nole I'm referring to is Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida.

Just how good would it be? I heard more mixed reactions about this golf course than perhaps any other I had ever played. It's one of the true mysteries in golf, and I wanted to solve for myself what so many others have fiercely debated - is this grassy 'nole worthy of its high ranking?

I heard from a few people that Seminole was one of the most interesting and best golf courses they had ever played. I heard that it may be the best routing in the world. I heard that the green complexes were the finest that I'd ever see. I heard that they never roll slower than 13 on the Stimpmeter. I also heard that Seminole is a true homage to links golf and that it played firm and fast - just as Donald Ross felt the game should be played. 

I also heard from people whose opinions I have agreed with in the past that Seminole is way overrated as a golf course. I've heard its easy, I've heard it called a pitch and putt, I've heard that its in questionable condition for a place of its stature and the fact that you cant find a single blade of Augusta-green grass is disheartening. Most of all, I've heard that Seminole is an all world experience with museum-like history and an average at best golf course. 

The experience at Seminole, however, never seemed to be up for debate. It is without question one of the best, if not the best, in golf. From the super exclusive feel to the famous locker room to the history that is literally written on the walls.  With names like Claude Harmon (who still holds the course record of 60), Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, and most notably Ben Hogan, the names and history at Seminole don't just make you feel like you're walking in the footsteps of greatness, they make you feel like you are part of the greatness.  They even make you sign the guest book upon arrival, further cementing your place in the history of one of the finest clubs in the world.  

Now, for the center of the controversy - the golf course.

Which end of the argument would I find myself siding with? I was anxious to get to the first tee but definitely took everything in as I warmed up on the range that Ben Hogan made famous. I pured it at the range with all of my irons but wasn't able to hit any drivers because the tee line was at the front of the practice tee and the range ends at about the 235 mark.   When I got to the first tee, the starter told me to split the trees in the distance with a driver and I'd be in good shape. I felt like a field goal kicker with the game on the line.  The snap was perfect the ball was on the tee, and like a nervous kicker, I missed my goal posts wide left and found one of the many well placed bunkers that Seminole challenges you with.  

I continued to struggle with the driver, finding fairway bunkers and waste areas on the next few long holes. Out at Seminole though, players make their score around the greens. The old adage "drive for show and putt for dough" - and in this case chip, pitch, and flop, too - may be no more true anywhere else in the world. I heard from people that thought Seminole was overrated because its a pitch-and-putt.  In all actuality, though, it is one of the finest compliments you could pay Donald Ross because they may be the finest green complexes I've ever seen.  The greens and their surrounding areas - including runoffs, bunkers, and rough areas - were a blast to experience. Each one provided interesting puzzles for players to solve. Merely stepping up to your shot with a lofted wedge and hoping you're going to lob it by the hole will lead you to have a long day and a big score. I can't recall a round where I needed more shots around the greens. Luckily I pulled most of them off and crafted my way around Seminole's greens like I knew what I was doing.

One of the best examples of short game playability at Seminole and one of the reasons it's is as great as it is can be found in the way that I played the 17th hole. I took a brief moment to stop and look around at the beach and the ocean in the distance. The breeze was blowing off the water from the east as it usually does. As I stepped to the tee of the 162-yard par 3, my caddie told me I had 155 to the front left pin placement. I was between an 8 and 9 iron and I thought I could hit a high draw with a 9 and hold my ball up against the wind. I hit the draw, held it up against the left to right and slightly helping wind, but instead of seeing my ball wind up next to the pin I was surprised to see it land in the front left bunker - short sided and plugged. What to do... What to do... I knew better than to just grab my sand wedge and hack it out - Seminole's bunkers and green complexes surely wouldn't reward this lack of creativity - so I reached for my 8 iron and visualized my shot. I chipped my ball out of the sand into the shaved face of the bunker, watched it bounce twice, hop up onto the green, and slowly roll right up next to a pin that was no more than 10 feet from the front of the green. I had pulled off yet another interesting shot and felt like Donald Ross was smiling down and rewarding me for the imaginative shots I had been playing all day.

While Seminole gets all the credit for its world class greens, I thought that it didn't get nearly enough recognition for its routing and the angles that Ross created when mapping out the course. He strategically placed his fairway bunkers and angled the greens to reward well thought out and executed shots while subtly penalizing ones that are poorly planned and executed. In order to attack Seminole, you have to hit the ball on the proper side of the fairway and then shape your approach shot properly into the green, otherwise you might catch a slope and see your ball rolling away from the pin. Seminole is not particularly taxing on your long game, but in order to score you will need to be precise.  You'll have to think your way through the course - dissecting angles, solving short game puzzles and judging the wind. 

During my round, I solved many of the puzzles on the greens and gathered enough information to solve the big mystery.  Is Seminole deserving of its high ranking?  The answer to this question is a resounding "yes." Not only were all of Seminole's off-the-course facilities world class, but it boasted a fun, challenging, and extremely well planned and constructed golf course.

This forces me to pose another question; one that I will continue to ask myself...  How could anyone think that Seminole isn't deserving of every bit of praise that it has received?

I think Tom Doak put it best - "If you don't think Seminole is great, you don't know what good is."