The current third hole, which used to be the original 18th at Midland, is a hole that remains very much the same as it was 100 years ago. And if you think about that, it was an extremely difficult closer! Being almost exactly the same length, and comparing how far the average player hit it with hickories and Haskell balls, it was almost certain that your approach shot into the green was blind. The only thing that you could aim for was the flagpole, which stood between the green and the corner of the original Farm/Clubhouse. The picture below was taken from the current 8th fairway, looking West, towards the current 5th tee (then the #1 Tee).
It was very common for Raynor to design a hole in which the approach shot was blind, but was guided with a flag and/or aiming pole. Raynor learned this from the first golf course he ever worked on, The National Golf Links of America (see below), specifically on the 16th hole, the Punchbowl. Also interesting, that the closing hole at NGLA, has a flagpole that distinguishes the edge of the green for players, before it tumbles down into the Great Peconic Bay.
Coincidence that Midland also had a flagpole behind the 18th green? Not in Jim Urbina’s eyes. Jim’s interpretation is that Raynor had intended it as the entire lower part of the fairway and green as a Punchbowl. Raynor and Macdonald had designed many variations of Punchbowls, some literally had sharp landforms built around them to make an artificial bowl effect (Chicago Golf Club), and some were very broad and subtle, like Midland and NGLA. But the semi/blind approach into a green, that was most often below the player, was the biggest determination of the Template.
If you look at Raynor’s drawing, you’ll notice that the tee location was almost in the same spot as it is today. You’ll also notice there was a fairway bunker on the right side of the hole. That bunker, and the fairway bunker on the left, from the tee box, are set into the landform as to create a semi-blind landing zone. This creates an uncomfortable tee shot, and knowing that the green slants from front right to back left, the ideal side of the fairway into the green is from the left side. The first fairway bunker isn’t to collect golf shots, but aim you left, towards the other hazard. If you hit into the right fairway bunker, you’re probably playing from the wrong tees! Also look at the line drawn that wraps behind the green, and note that there no smaller perpendicular lines drawn on it, such as those on 3rd and 8th greens. Those small lines depicted a topographical drop off. So does the lack of those lines mean that the slope went upward? Creating more of a Punchbowl effect? Or did Raynor depict that there should be a slope that tied into the clubhouse? We’ll never know. But we also don’t know if Raynor’s ideas were implemented in the first place, since we know he wasn’t on property for most of the construction. One more interesting thing to notice is the caterpillar-looking drawing left of the green. Was this supposed to be a feature to stop tee shots hit from 8 tee onto 3 approach? Again, we’ll never know, but it’s something that is still on the back burners to figure out. Stay tuned!
Expanding the fairways was a large part of restoring this hole. This gives the player more of a chance to challenge each side – the longer player could hit it past the left fairway bunker, and the shorter player can try to cut the slight dogleg up the right side and stay in the fairway. We expanded the right side so far that we had to remove 3 trees that were in the current fairway!
Also, the rough in front of the left bunker was removed, and an aggressive shot challenging that bunker will now more than likely roll into it.
We were beyond fortunate with the weather during the project. There were only a few times when we we were slammed by heavy rain, and the results were not ideal. Below you can see the front right green-side bunker, which was prepped for sod, when we took on a thunderstorm. The damage of this scenario was disheartening, but even more frustrating, when you have to wait several days for things to dry to even begin to clean up the mess and start over. Again, we were fortunate that this was not a frequent trend that we had to contend with.
Once you make it to your approach shot, you’ll first notice the lower fairway has also been expanded, bringing the bunker front right of the green much more into play. The rough to the left, and behind, the green was replaced with short grass. This does two things: a player that just barely rolls off the green will now still have a recovery shot from short grass (hopefully with a putter!), and an aggressive player that attacks a pin and misses the green, the short grass will take their ball even further away from the target, where the rough kept them close.
There was little change to the green surface itself. A topdressing ridge that was created over the decades was removed in front of the green. This process involved our talented staff, removing the sod, excavating the build up of sand, then laying the sod back down to match the surrounding grades. This allowed us to slightly expand the green, and correct the mowing line presentation.
Some key tree removals this Winter will improve the already fantastic vistas of the hole, and restore what Raynor saw 100 years ago.