Longer and Straighter – 2016 Fairways and Hybrids

fwy hybrid

Noted golf course architect William Flynn turned out to be something of a clairvoyant. In 1927, he predicted the need for longer golf courses, a result of rapidly advancing equipment technology – even as early as the mid-1920s.

And indeed courses have become behemoths, especially by the standards of Mr. Flynn’s era. The idea of an 8,000-yard track is no longer a ludicrous notion, but a matter of reality (there are at least seven such courses in the US and a few more internationally). This means that the need for fairway woods and hybrids, and the combination of distance and control they offer, is more prevalent than ever. With the boom (pun intended) of distance improvements in drivers, that same technology is now being offered in fairway woods and hybrids. When looking for such a club, be careful to purchase one that covers distance gaps rather than just going for sheer distance. Otherwise, you might end up with a handful of clubs that all fly about the same distance as your driver.

Fairway Woods

big bertha alpha 816
Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 816
This club was not designed for the players with mid- to high-handicaps, as evidenced by its $300 price tag. Callaway doesn’t argue otherwise, either, even stating so on its website. The cup face technology is engineered to take high ball speeds and generate even more, allowing for longer distances. The shape of the face, too, has an impact, as it has a wraparound effect, creating for more forgiveness on off-center shots.
The club boasts a pair of adjustable features as well, including two sole weights in which the player can toy with the ball flight he desires – a higher flight will have him place the heavier weight in the back, a lower flight will require the heavier weight towards the front. The other feature is an adjustable hosel with eight settings, allowing for the player to adjust for desired loft and lie angle.

cobra king ltd

Cobra King LTD
“Become the King of the fairway,” is the slogan behind this club. It’s likely that the player can, too. Cobra has always been known for producing more forgiving clubs, but the LTD fairway wood is especially so, with a low center of gravity that provides forgiveness on shots both on- and off-center. There are, of course, adjustable loft settings, called 3-4 and 4-5, the former producing a longer, lower ball flight, the latter a higher, shorter ball flight.

But what’s unique about the Cobra King LTD is that it does not sacrifice distance for forgiveness. The crown is comprised of what is called TeXtreme Carbon Fiber, which is 20 percent lighter than standard carbon fiber. This allows for more weight to be repositioned lower and deeper in the head, creating both additional forgiveness and distance.

nike golf vapor fly

Nike Vapor Fly
It’s an aptly named product, as one does not usually associate a tremendous amount of weight with either the word “vapor” or “fly.” And, indeed, this is one of the lightest fairway woods on the market, with weight removed from the face and crown and distributed to the sole of the club to produce more forgiveness and a lower center of gravity. Credit some of that forgiveness, too, to a wider edge around the club face.
The overall look, however, remains Nike to the core – a bit obnoxious in its electric blue, and an in-your-face swoosh on the club head, complete with a honeycomb design. It’s attention grabbing, to be sure, particularly so because it’s the wood of choice of Rory McIlroy, though likely not for everyone.

ping g fairway

Ping G
Ping’s trademark has been that its products are easier to hit than other brands, and Ping has outdone itself with the Ping G fairway woods. They were specifically designed to be hit in “all situations,” per its website. How did they accomplish this? It lowered the leading edge by 3.6 mm, moving the impact position 12 percent higher on the face of the club. Simply put: It’s easier to get the ball in the air, no matter the lie. A drawback to this is that the center of gravity is lower, which will produce a higher ball flight, though a more consistent one as well. Adding onto that, the G also features the thinnest crown of any Ping fairway wood, another forgiveness-inducing feature.

taylor made m1

TaylorMade M1
TaylorMade has designed its most adjustable club yet, to the point that, yes, there’s even a “tuning manual.” Golfers can customize their shot shape and loft with a pair of sliding weights, and there are also adjustable features on the crown, front track system, and 12 possible positions on the loft sleeve. It’s a complicated way of saying that if there’s a particular ball flight you desire, you can have it with the M1. You just have to make a few adjustments.
Like the M1 driver, the fairway woods use a lighter material, redistributing that weight to the sole of the club, which adds forgiveness and reduces spin off impact.

Hybrids

mizuno jpx ez

Mizuno JPX EZ
As hybrids go, this one is especially unique, resembling more a 3-wood than a traditional hybrid. It’s longer from heel to toe and deeper from back to front, which will help create more ball speed and a more forgiving surface – even more forgiving than the typical hybrid.
The larger head will also create a higher launch angle, up by 2.2 degrees, and a subsequently softer landing. With all that in mind, it may initially appear as a club catered to the higher handicap crowd, though Luke Donald has slipped it in his bag on numerous occasions this season. Even the pros can use a little extra forgiveness.

titleist 916

Titleist 816H1/H2
No matter your preference of loft when it comes to your hybrid, the Titleist 816H1/H2 will have it. Between the bigger, more forgiving H1 and the more compact H2, there are nine loft settings to choose from when selecting this hybrid, ranging between 19-27 degrees.
The Active Recoil Channel (a channel across the sole of the club just behind the face) flexes at impact to create high ball speed and a low spin rate, allowing the ball to fly farther even on off-center hits. Like the Mizuno JPX EZ, the H1’s larger appearance will inspire confidence in players simply seeking solid contact, or forgiveness needed to keep the ball in play.

ben hogan vktr

Ben Hogan VKTR
Whereas many hybrids are concerned about forgiveness, giving golfers confidence in a longer shot they otherwise wouldn’t if they were handling, say, a 3-iron, the Ben Hogan VKTR is all about precision. There are four movable weights to adjust to change the ball flight, including direction, loft and spin. It can be argued that no hybrid is more focused on shot shaping and precision, which of course fits its namesake, who was known primarily for his remarkable accuracy with his irons. Like Hogan irons and wedges, the hybrids are offered in one degree increments, from 17-27.

Experience the Natural Beauty of Missouri Bluffs Golf Club

mo bluffs feature

Missouri Bluffs Golf Club has a photo gallery on its website. If you’re looking for one that represents a perfect summation of their golf course in Charles, MO, it’s best you click to No. 9.

It’s a portrait of a single hole, enclosed by nothing but wildlife. Trees – miles and miles of them. Flowers blossoming every which way. Multi-colored leaves creating a natural, breathtaking frame for the hole to weave through. If not for the cart path, there would not be a single sign of human life – no houses, no roads, no cars or even a trace of a building in the background. Just the way Bob Whittaker wanted it.

Whittaker is the grandfather of Kyle Whittaker, the current Director of Golf at Missouri Bluffs. In the mid 1990’s, the elder Whittaker set out with Denny Walter to design a course that was at once an escape from the bustle of everyday life yet just a short drive from one of America’s busiest cities, St. Louis. To accomplish that dream, the two brought in famed golf course architect Tom Fazio.

missouri bluffs

“I think it is very rare to find a course like this these days and I truly believe it makes it that much better of an experience for the customer. It feels like you are in the country a long way from St. Louis, yet we are only 35 minutes from downtown,” Kyle Whittaker said. “Fazio used the natural contour of the land, not making a lot of grade changes.  The woods and natural grasses line the fairways and surround most of the greens.”

Indeed, players will see much of this natural contour throughout all 18 holes, both on the greens and in the fairways.

“[Bob and Denny’s] goal was to make the Missouri Bluffs a very unique and one of kind experience for the customer and I believe they accomplished that as we are the only Tom Fazio course in the area,” Whittaker said. “Elevation changes both up and down on many holes make it difficult. A half to full club more is needed on some approach shots.  Plenty of large bunkers surround the greens and fairways throughout the course.  [The] greens are very large and many have plenty of undulation throughout the greens.”

missouri bluffs

Whittaker estimated that at least eight holes will force the player to change club selection due to the elevation changes, whether that be more club or less, it takes more than just a yardage number to know what to hit. That is particularly true on No. 15, which he considers to be the club’s signature hole.
It’s a beast of a par-5, playing 530 yards from the back tees. The distance and difficulty, however, is not what sets it apart. That belongs to the tee shot, which features a 120-foot drop from tee to fairway.

“It looks like the ball will go forever,” Whittaker said. And, lest you thought that was the last of the elevation shifts, the green marches the player right back up a hill, making for a difficult approach shot to an elevated green with a false front.

It sounds formidable, to be sure – elevation changes, false fronts, lengthy par-5s. And it can be, certainly. The back tees can play as far as 7,047 yards, but Missouri Bluffs also features tees ranging from 6,610, 6,205, 5,807 and 5,191 yards, catering to golfers of all handicaps.

missouri bluffs golf club

Beyond the length, the Bluffs is a typical Fazio design, featuring six easy holes, six of medium difficulty and six challenging holes. More often than not, a “challenging” hole precedes or immediately follows a birdie hole.

Take, for example, the opening two holes. Golfers are treated to an inviting and forgiving par-5 to begin their round, though it’s followed by a downhill par-3 where club selection is vital, as the long, narrow green can be a three-club difference depending on hole location.

And so it goes throughout the round, birdie holes backed up by take-a-par-and-run holes, a blend of challenging and easy, forgiving and cold sweat-inducing.

“I would say the customers do like this approach and it appeals to golfers of all different skill level,” Whittaker said. “The course can play very challenging if you play the tips or gold tee boxes, and also can be very forgiving from the blue [and] green tees.  A lot of the fairways funnel down towards the center of the fairway which most players out here love. “

missouri bluffs club house

It has proven its mettle, too. The Bluffs has hosted a Nike Tour event as well as several U.S. Open qualifiers and collegiate tournaments. At a recent collegiate tournament, not a single player managed to break par.

“I think just our reputation and the service we provide keep the big corporate events as well as the high end college tournaments coming back,” Whittaker said.

“I think it is very rare to find a course like this.”

For more information on the Missouri Bluffs Golf Club visit their website: www.mobluffs.com or simply give them a call: 800-939-6760.

A Bit of Golf History at Normandie Golf Club

Normandie Golf Club

When it comes to old school golf, almost no one is interested in returning to the days of wooden shafts, leather covered golf balls stuff with feathers, and a complete lack of drink carts traversing the course. (Although, admittedly, few things feel quite as good as hitting a pin high shot with your mashie niblick.)

One way you can harken back to the early days of golf, while still taking advantage of today’s modern equipment and drink carts, is to play at a course offering a vintage design. And perhaps the best place to do that in the St. Louis area – or even in the entire Midwest – is Normandie Golf Club.

Normandie opened in 1901, making it the oldest 18-hole public golf course west of the Mississippi River that’s still operating in its original location. This par-71 course offers traditional tree-lined fairways with plenty of changes in elevation along the fairways to make the course challenging.

The original designers placed most of the greens and tee boxes at the highest elevations on the course, allowing the fairways to traverse through valleys, creating some odd angle approach shots, difficult stances, and challenging elevation changes. Dog legs and tree-narrowed fairways in key spots contribute to the lure of Normandie.

“It’s more of a traditional layout, an old school layout,” says Jay Randolph Jr., the golf ambassador at Normandie. “It has a lot of the old school design features.”

Babe Ruth and W.C. Fields both played at Normandie in its early days, adding to the legacy of this historic course.

Normandie Golf Club

“In the 1970s and ‘80s, the best amateurs played here,” Randolph says. “We’re the oldest public course west of the Mississippi, and that is a drawing point. There’s a lot of history here. There’s just a feeling of comradery.”

The par-4 first hole will grab your attention at Normandie. Even if you’re playing an early morning round, you’ll want to make sure you’re awake and ready when stepping onto the first tee.

The first hole measures 446 yards from the back tees and requires that you place a lot of thought into your shots at the start of the round. If you stray a little too far left or right, you may not have a clear view of the green for your approach, even if your ball is hugging the edge of the fairway grass. The requirement of hitting a true drive from the first tee box can be a bit nerve-wracking.

“It’s a tough starting hole,” Randolph says. “If you make par on number one, you’re off to a good start.”

On the other end of the course, making par on number 18 is another really good score.

“It’s the toughest par-3 in St. Louis,” Randolph says. “No doubt about it.”

The 18th plays 250 yards from the back tees, requiring many players to use a utility club.

Another interesting hole is the seventh, a 572-yard par-5 that calls for a downhill tee shot into a valley before making a challenging approach shot back to an elevated green. The hole has a slight dogleg to the right as well, causing further potential trouble from trees, as the fairway narrows quite a bit from the 100-yard mark to the green.

Normandie Golf Club

The 412-yard par-4 11th hole serves as the course’s number two handicap hole, as a tee shot that drifts to the right will create a very difficult second shot, bringing the hole’s creek into play. The green is highly elevated on the 11th, causing many players to leave their approach shot a little short, which is a key mistake because of the tough conditions around the 11th green.

Working through the hills and valleys throughout the course makes club selection paramount at Normandie. And avoiding errant shots to the right or left is important with the abundance of trees.

“You’ll use just about every club in the bag here,” Randolph says. “The strategy required makes sure people never get tired of playing here. It’s different every time.”

The course may appear to offer plenty of chances for easy scoring, measuring 6,534 yards from the back tees and 4,899 from the front tees. But don’t mistake what appears to be a shorter than average layout for a course that doesn’t have some challenges.

“We have five par threes, and many of the par fives are reachable in two,” Randolph says. “There’s a mixture of short holes. But those drivable par-4 holes can turn into fives really quickly. They can sneak up on you.”

Two-tiered greens appear on many of the holes, requiring precise approach shots to keep the ball on the putting surface. Such approaches can be a challenge when shooting to a green at a higher elevation than the position of the approach shot. Randolph says the greens and overall course condition draws golfers back to Normandie.

Normandie Golf Club

“The greens have been really good the last three years,” he says.

Individual memberships are $1,600 with a cart and range balls for unlimited play, including no blackout dates or times. There’s also a senior membership for $199 with $10 greens fees Monday through Friday.

For daily greens fees, the course makes use of dynamic pricing. Normandie hasn’t been using this option for long, but the system has been successful, Randolph says. Through dynamic pricing, the daily rates for the course will change in real time, depending on course demand, weather conditions, and open slots. Dynamic pricing also includes special rates during certain times for seniors and women. The course hosted 30,0o0 rounds last year.

“There’s been a little bit of a changeover here” with dynamic pricing, he says. “You’ll always get the best rates at our online site.”

He calls the 50-year-old clubhouse “more of a gathering place after a round.” Food service at the clubhouse includes pizza, bratwurst, hamburgers, and hot dogs, along with soft drinks and beer. You’ll find a pro shop at Normandie too, which includes all types of golfing merchandise. To learn more, visit their website at www.NormandieGolf.com or call 314-355-2777.