Tryall Club Golf Course Review
In very general terms, courses built during the dark age of golf architecture (1950-1970) were long in length and short in both character and charm. The bunkering was unimaginative, repeatedly forcing the same kind of aerial approach shots. Monotonously long holes resulted in the birth of the dreaded '7,000 yard championship course' phrase.
As with any generalization, there are exceptions with one of the most important being Ralph Plummer's design of Tryall Golf Club. Opened in 1958, the course measured 6,324 yards. Yet, thanks in large part to its sloping greens and the ever present trade winds, golfers of the highest calibre have failed for over five decades to tear it apart.
Recognized early on as the Caribbean's first course of genuine character, Shell's Wonderful World of Golf staged a match here in 1962 between Dow Finsterwald and Peter Alliss. Finsterwald won the match with a score of 72 to Alliss's 75.
Twenty years later, a desire by the club to host important events manifested itself and the Mazda Champions LPGA - Senior PGA were held at Tryall from 1985-87. This event was followed from 1988-1990 with the LPGA Jamaican Classic, which in turn set the stage for the Johnnie Walker World Championships from 1991 through 1995.
Just prior to the 1991 Johnnie Walker World Championship, a sports columnist not so shrewdly predicted that one of the professionals would break 60 as this par 71 course still measured below 6,800 yards. That year's winner was Fred Couples and not only did no one break 60 but Couples was the sole person in the field to break par for the four day event.
The subsequent winners of the Johnnie Walker (Faldo, Mize, Els, and Couples again) were all major championship winners, which suggests a quality course. What then are Tryall's attributes that promote the best to flourish?
Certainly, the course's island setting adds much to Tryall's allure and inspires one to play his best. However, it speaks little as to the lasting merits of repeated games here. The trade winds which average 20 miles per hour pose the same question as the winds in the United Kingdom: can the golfer control the trajectory of his shots? The golfer with the talent to do so shines here. Those who followed Nick Faldo during his 1992 win of the Johnnie Walker marvel to this day at his complete ball flight control with every club in the bag.
The first six holes at Tryall are routed near the coastline, and apart from the romance of such a location, Mother Nature didn't imbue this flat portion of the property with many natural features. Thus, Ralph Plummer did what every good architect should: he created the character but he did so in a manner that is peaceful to the eye. The land in no way looks tortured and the holes sit peacefully upon the property. In The Golf Course by Ron Whitten and Geoffrey Cornish, Whitten notes that 'Plummer was known for the attractiveness of his layouts and for his remarkable ability to estimates cuts and fills and shape greens and bunkers by eye.'
The only man-made water hazards on the course are ponds found on the first six holes, namely at the one shot 2nd and in the landing areas for the second shots on the par five 3rd and 6th. (Forty three years later, the Club acquired the property to build a true coastal hole - today's 4th - which is also a water hole, albeit a totally natural one). Plummer used the fill from the ponds to build up the tees and greens a few feet, thus providing the necessary drainage on these first six holes. With no extraneous land movement from tee to green, Plummer's low profile design at Tryall still enjoys a timeless appeal. This complete absence of clutter is most appreciated, especially relatively to other courses built after WWII. Plummer didn't build three bunkers when one would suffice. Plummer didn't follow Robert Trent Jones horrific example at Oakland Hills six years prior in 1952 of pinching in fairways with bunkers on either side. Instead of reducing width and ruining playing angles by overbunkering holes off the tee, nine of the fourteen non-par three holes at Tryall originally had no bunkers off the tee (the 3rd, 8th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th).
In addition, Plummer eschewed containment mounds and framing green sites. The challenge at Tryall intensifies the closer one gets to the greens - a tenet of classic architecture that allows the greatest range possible of golfers to enjoy a course (in fact, so fierce where Plummer's orginial green slopes that the greens on holes 7, 8, 11, 12, 13 and 16 were softened when Club switched from the old bermuda grass greens to today's swift tifton dwarf greens).
Starting at the 7th, Mother Nature's natural attributes are more profuse and Plummer took full advantage as he perfectly draped the holes onto the rolling foothills of the property. As with his other best west works like Preston Trail Golf Club, Great Southwest Golf Club, and the Cypress Creek Course at Champions Golf Club, Plummer's routing makes intuitive sense to the golfer as one good hole follows another with the green to tee walks always short.
The golfer's judgement is continually taxed at Tryall on the variety of approach shots required: the uphill approach at the 9th, the sharply downhill one shot 10th where one doesn't want to be long, the uphill approach at the 11th, the downhill one shot 12th where one wants to be long, the uphill approach at the 13th, the downhill approach to the 14th. The continually shifting demands keep the golfer off-balanced, a great attribute for any architect to achieve (though few rarely do) as it means the golfer will never tire of playing there.
Ran Morrissett is an avid golfer and host of the popular website golfclubatlas.com that features course profiles highlighting the finer virtues of golf architecture found in over 140 courses world-wide.
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