Forget what you know or what you may have experienced at Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s most famous short courses, namely The Sandbox at Sand Valley and Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes. Both courses encapsulate fun, and they both implore golfers to think strategically, even on holes that may peak at only 63 yards in length. But they’re both about to be one-upped by the duo’s latest short track, The Chain—a 2,916-yard layout that spans 19 holes and adds an entire new dimension of golfing fun at Streamsong Resort.
“It’s a bigger scale than that,” Coore says, as he compares The Chain to The Sandbox. “We’re trying to do different, quirky stuff that’s fun for par threes.”
As Coore acknowledges, back when preliminary routing was underway for the resort’s first two courses—long before a hotel had even been built—there was talk of a subsequent par-3 course that could take shape not far from where that eventual hotel would stand. “I have memories from those days walking about in the dunes and just assessing the property and thinking about what might be,” Coore says. “Now to come back and see actually what is… it truly has been an amazing journey.”
Fast-forward more than a decade and the prospective par-3 course that had once been mentioned only as a “someday” project is now a reality. Only, it’s not a traditional par-3 course. It can’t be, for the simple reason that the holes lack par designations. Sure, a glance at the scorecard will conjure specific impressions and interpretations. The first seven holes, for example—all of which feature maximum lengths ranging from 110 to 187 yards—look like traditional par threes on paper (and from the ground). But then there’s the 8th, a more extensive, straightaway hole that stretches to almost 300 yards.
A two-shotter for most players, the 8th might look and play like a traditional par four, but you won’t find such a designation on the scorecard. What you will discover is that each hole features one continuous flowing tee box with its forward and rear perimeters marked by partially imbedded iron chain links—artifacts which were previously used to move heavy machinery that once occupied the land when the property operated as a phosphate mine. For that reason, some of the holes at The Chain can play drastically different—more than 100 yards shorter or longer—depending on where you choose to tee it up. And therein lies the strategy.
The Chain is the latest example of golf courses that have been built with match play in mind. Win a hole, and you get to decide where you must tee off on the next hole. The notion introduces an atypical element of strategy into a round, but there’s no shortage of more traditional strategic factors that golfers must consider as they play The Chain, especially when evaluating how to get their balls onto the putting surfaces.
“From an architectural perspective, we can do more interesting things, particularly on the greens and around the greens,” says Coore, who explains that because players are hitting shorter shots with higher-lofted clubs on many of these holes, aggressive contouring, mounding, and steeply graded run-off areas are all in play. “When you take strength and length out of the equation, golf becomes much more fun for a vastly expanded group of players.”
Adds Crenshaw: “The land is providing some opportunities for some lesser players to enjoy it, but also the good players are going to understand that this is not like a little pitch-and-putt. These holes are very interesting. There’s some real golf here.”
As it turns out, some real golf architecture also naturally existed on the site. According to Crenshaw, he and Coore approach each new project in much the same way that British and Scottish architects did when they were creating many of the classic courses in the British Isles more than a century ago. They scour a site for compelling natural landforms and let those features dictate a hole’s individual character. “Wherever we go,” Crenshaw says, “we scrutinize a landform out there and then try to seize upon that and make a hole out of it.”
At The Chain, there were plenty of those natural topographical features to choose from. On the 12th, for example, Coore & Crenshaw stumbled upon a deep swale, which they implemented as a hazard that occupies much of the space between the tee box and green. Similarly, the 14th features a blowout area with a bunker not far from the green, and those features—the blowout, anyway—already existed when the architects first surveyed the land. Coore & Crenshaw can’t even take credit for conceptualizing the horizontal Biarritz that characterizes the 16th green. They stumbled upon that, too.
Of course, a hole with the potential to be one of The Chain’s most memorable, the 189-yard 11th, is bolstered by an entirely manmade feature: a punchbowl green. The tee shot alone is dramatic—a sizeable carry over a water hazard that looks like it’s teeming with gators—but it’s the punchbowl green that sustains the drama long after those tee shots clear the front edge and disappear.
The course’s “preview play” stage, with 13 holes open, is set to continue through the end of March, and it’s the resort’s hope that all 19 holes will be fully grassed and grown in enough to support play by early January, maybe even sooner if warmer temperatures stick around through December.
As Coore acknowledges, Streamsong has thrived for the last decade because it’s vastly different than most—maybe every—other American golf resort. “It has this extraordinarily strong character unlike any other,” he says.
Streamsong’s latest endeavor, The Chain, is further proof of that.
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