You don't have to be Jack Nicklaus to score well at Long Bay Club, but it doesn't hurt to play like him.
The characteristics of the 18-time major champion's game are in demand on the 7,025-yard Nicklaus design featuring a plethora of bunkers and challenging approach shots to shallow, sloping greens that are sometimes elevated.
"It's a great course but I think Nicklaus designed it for himself," said Mike Depauw of Sunset Beach, N.C., a caddie and retired subway car mechanic who took part in a review of the course in late March. "If you can't hit the ball high and land it soft, you'll have a tough time."
Joining me and Mike, a 5-handicap, in the review foursome were snowbird Brian Mielke, a retired menswear store owner from Etobicoke, Ontario, who carries a handicap of 11, and his wife, Marika, a retired middle school vice principal and 15-handicap.
"There wasn't a weak hole on the golf course," Marika said. "I keep trying to think of a dud and there wasn't one. The course is very solid and scenic, and a great challenge. It's top-notch."
There are more than 70 bunkers on the 22-year-old course. Some are large waste bunkers that run nearly the entire length of a hole, some are pot bunkers, some are conventional, and many are grouped together on one side of a fairway or green.
"Everything is well bunkered and that's typical of Nicklaus," Brian said. "The sand is excellent. I thought the bunkers had the best sand of any I've played down here. If you know how to play sand shots you'll never leave it in the bunker."
Most holes are tree-lined but there are ample landing areas off tees aside from fairway bunkers or water. When water is present it usually comes into play. It's a significant factor on seven holes, including three par-3s, and the 13th hole has an island green.
There aren't many flat areas on greens that feature an older form of TifDwarf Bermudagrass that was overseeded with poa trivialis when our group played. Many greens are protected on several sides by bunkers, including front and back.
"This course tries your patience," Mike said. "You have to take what it gives you. It's tough but fair. . . . The greens are so wide and shallow in places it helps to play to the correct side of the fairway to have the correct angle to get to the flag."
Marika appreciated the consistency of the fairways and waste bunkers. "I can take a sand wedge here on both the ground and in waste bunkers and the club doesn't bounce, which is important for women because we're not always that strong," Marika said. "The fairways, sand traps and greens were all in wonderful shape, though a few greens had rough edges."
Long Bay Club doesn't surprise you. "One thing I like about the course is you can see everything in front of you," Brian said. "I don't like courses where things are hidden over hills and other things. . . . It's also evident [Nicklaus] was a fader because there are more doglegs right than left."
The group found the entire staff, including bag drop and pro shop workers, to be welcoming. Marika also liked the mild speed of the greens, recognized the course's superior drainage - including in the sand traps - and appreciated the routing of the cart paths. "The cart paths are out of the way," Marika said. "You have to hit a shot well offline for them to come into play."
Marika wanted to see yardage markers on the driving range measuring yardages to the flags set up on the range, and thought the shallow greens limited shot options. Brian and Mike also found many of the greens to be too shallow, particularly on the par-5s. "There were no bailout areas on approach shots to the par-5s," Mike said. "The shots call for a lot of precision, which is very difficult for the average golfer."
The greens that were particularly shallow weren't soft enough to hold shots from most amateurs. "I thought the greens were a little severe," Brian said. "They weren't holding."
The 182-yard, par-3 fifth hole measures 149 from the men's white tee and features a downhill tee shot with water left and front left of the green, and a bunker running from the front right to the left side of the green. "I last played here in 1989 and I remember this hole," Brian said. "All the par-3s are pretty solid and scenic, and I like that because I can remember them."
The 179-yard eighth is 147 from the white tee and has a fairly large heart-shaped green nestled between a long bunker on the left and smaller bunker on the right, with water lurking farther left. The 156-yard 13th is 123 yards from the white and features an island green and small front bunker with a putting surface that is ample size for the length of the hole. "The island green is beautiful," Marika said.
The 203-yard 17th is 170 from the white tee with a wide and shallow green dropped between numerous bunkers. "The par-3s have good length and are very scenic," Mike said.
The par-4s make up much of the yardage from the tips, as five holes measure between 432 and 472 yards. Only one par-4 is longer than 400 yards from the white tees. "There are no weak par-4s," Mike said. "They're long and the room to drive was good."
The 401-yard third hole has one of the more severe greenside areas with a deep bunker fronting nearly the entire width of a shallow green that is backed by a collection area and bunker below the putting surface. The 472-yard fourth hole has waste bunkers down both sides of the fairway and a rare accessible green. The 370-yard ninth has water down the entire left side pinching the fairway in front of the green.
The 10th is just 352 yards and the fairway is a peninsula inside a horseshoe-shaped waste bunker passing in front of an elevated green to the left of the fairway. The 432-yard 14th has a green elevated above a valley on the right side of the fairway with four pot bunkers in the slope up to the green, and the 433-yard 16th is a unique hole with a narrow waste bunker crossing the fairway from left to right. The more you try to cut off on the slight dogleg right, the longer the carry becomes.
While the par-4s are formidable from the black and blue tees, their difficulty lessons considerably from the forward tees. "I didn't find the par-4s that difficult from the [senior] gold tee," Brian said. All but two par-4s are less than 300 yards from the women's red tees. "The par-4s are all very good but many have short yardage for women," Marika said.
The 568-yard second hole measures 524 from the white tee and has a shallow green protected by a waste bunker in front and pair of bunkers behind. The 543-yard seventh is 485 from the white tee and presents a risk-reward second shot following a good drive as the green is tucked behind a water hazard on the left that begins 200 yards from the green, which has bunkers front, left and right. No. 7: "It's a fair, scenic and wonderful challenge," Marika said.
The 552-yard 11th is 498 from the white tee and features a pocket of bunkers on the left side of the fairway to avoid off the tee and horseshoe-shaped waste bunker that leaves only the right side of an elevated green open. The 492-yard 15th hole measures 449 from the white tee and has a creek crossing the fairway 275 yards from the back tee on the left side and 309 from the back tee on the right. The creek runs through the right side of the green and a bunker sits in a mild mound to the left of the green. Big hitters can take a shot carrying the creek off the tee from the white tees forward.
"There's a good combination of par-5 holes," Brian said. "For the average player there's not much room to hit the green and keep the ball on the green on the par-5s."
All three players liked the 156-yard island-green 13th hole measuring 121 yards from the gold and 86 yards from the red tee. Marika said it was "friendly, scenic and challenging." She also liked the par-3 fifth and par-5 seventh measuring 424 yards from the red tee. "The second shot was a nice challenging shot," she said.
Brian enjoyed the scenic par-3 fifth hole that measured 136 yards from the gold tee, and both Brian and Mike thought the 18th hole was "a great finishing hole." The 18th measures 445 yards from the black, 412 from the blue, 368 from the white and 328 from the gold and doglegs right around a lake with a bunker buffering the green from the bulkheaded water hazard.
"If you need a par to win a match or tournament, it will test your nerves," Mike said.
Least favorite holes
Marika's least favorite hole was the par-4 third that measured 295 yards from the red tee. "I couldn't hold the green," she said. "It was too small and severely sloped."
Brian didn't like the possibility of some players having to lay up off the tee on the par-5 15th hole, and neither Brian nor Mike appreciated a bunker in the middle of the fairway about 70 yards from the green on the 443-yard paf-4 12th hole, which measured 353 yards from the gold tee and also had a total of seven bunkers in the landing area and around the green. "From the tips it is difficult enough, [Nicklaus] didn't have to put that there," Mike said. "They should remove the bunker so you could run the ball on the green."