Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Valley Club unveils its new West Nine

Tom Fazio course opens full time July 1

Express Staff Writer

Valley Club director of golf Stoney Brown launches a shot from the seventh tee box on the club?s new West Nine. Photo by Willy Cook

Looks hard and plays easier.

That's the executive summary of The Valley Club's new West Nine 3,610-yard nine-hole course designed by Tom Fazio that opens full time to club members on Sunday, July 1.

Sun Valley's only private golf and country club located between Ketchum and Hailey, The Valley Club will now offer 27 holes to its members. The first 18-hole Valley Club golf course opened in 1996.

Valley Club director of golf Stoney Brown said about the West Nine, "The greens are very challenging but the fairways are relatively generous with plenty of landing room. That's the genius of Tom Fazio. It's not as intimidating as it looks, with a few exceptions."

Width of fairways is one characteristic of Fazio, 62, generally considered the dominant golf course designer on any list of this country's most prestigious golf courses. Fazio creates driver-friendly golf courses that look hard and play easier.

The Valley Club West Nine, built and on line in just over one year, is a good example.

Brown said, "The West Nine course looks intimidating from just about all the tees. It's only when you hit a drive and get out there that you see what kind of room you have.

"We've got a strong new type of Pen Cross A4 grass for the putting greens. It tends to crowd out the Poa Annua grass. The green speeds could get up there good if you wanted them to. Also, the slopes on the greens can be interesting. Putts can get away from you, but it adds a dimension to the game that is kind of exciting."

Visual appearance, another Fazio strength, is another feature of the West Nine. Golfers will learn quickly that the brand-new golf course seems to have been around a long time.

Fazio is well known for skillfully using native vegetation and the environment to enhance the golf experience. He has created some of the most attractive golf holes in the world among the more than 120 courses he has designed.

Brown said about the 91 acres that comprise the West Nine course, "The land is dead flat like a cottonfield. Fazio has contoured the ground to harmonize with the terrain—with the mountain ranges and tree lines and native vegetation.

"That's a big part of making the new course seem like it has been here a long time."

Another distinctive Fazio feature is the image of a pristine landscape. He doesn't like his fairways lined with houses, Brown said. The only place you'll see houses on the West Nine is the 608-yard finishing hole—and they are set back 80 to 100 feet from the course.

It's a little wrinkle but a delightful one on the West Nine. When you reach the green at the 417-yard #1 hole that has plenty of sand and bunkers, you can look back down the fairway and not see any sand at all because of the contouring.

In his fourth year as Valley Club director after 29 years at Boise's Crane Creek Country Club, Iowa native Brown said about the arrival of the West Nine, "We have nothing but happy members. They've been eager to play the new course since the snow went away."

Local golfers have been playing the West Nine since Friday, June 15 but they have been restricted to Friday, Saturday and Sunday play, Brown said. The last three greens built were #5, #6 and #8, and they still need some "resting" during the week to finish their required 120-day growing cycle, he said.

By July 1, the West Nine will fall into the regular rotation of being open seven days a week through the peak summer season of July and August and into mid-September, Brown said.

The speed at which the West Nine has come on line is amazing, compared to the original course that took several years to establish its seeded grass.

Brown said, "They sodded the entire course and put 10 to 12 inches of topsoil all the way around. They planted 2,400 shrubs and 2,200 trees. They finished #1 green first, late last June and early July. The last hole completed was #5, which was by the big pile of dirt and topsoil. #5, #6 and #8 were the last greens they planted."

More golfers than ever will likely tour The Valley Club this summer, Brown said. "Last year was our biggest year ever. We've been growing our rounds every year. With the new nine I think we're looking at more rounds this year," he added.

A quick West Nine tour

Five sets of tees are offered on each hole—the longest Gold, Black, Blue, White and the forward White. It means the West Nine plays anywhere from 2,576 yards from the White tee boxes to 3,610 from the Golds.

Water is a big factor on the first four holes and the finishing hole. Sand is prominent.

Hole #1, par 4 (417 yards Gold, 321 yards White): Golfers will drive over a big lake, try to go right and land short of a fairway bunker. A nice starting hole, although the drive will generally be into the wind. "Every day it seems to be dead calm until 11 a.m. and then it starts blowing from the south," said Brown about the breeze.

Hole #2, par 4 (364 yards Gold, 235 yards White): Still playing into the prevailing wind, with the extra problem of the Hiawatha Canal spreading along the golfer's right. "It looks tight off the tee but you'll find a nice, wide fairway. It's our smallest green but it's got some neat bunkering," he said.

Hole #3, par 5 (600 yards Gold, 416 yards White): Take out the big boomer for this tee shot headed north, a shot made with the wind at your back except in the early morning. Water comes into play on every shot. Lay up or go for the green? Brown said, "It's challenging second shot. If you hit a 280-yard drive, you got to hit a 160-yard second shot to carry over the creek in front of the green. If you hit a 240-yard drive, you've got 200 yards to carry. Might want to lay up."

Hole #4, par 3 (211 yards Gold, 111 yards White): "It's a fairly large green, thank goodness, but you have to negotiate the water," said Brown. A pond in front, a bunker on the right of the green, cottonwoods behind and a rapidly-moving stream that will catch balls rolling off the left side of the west-sloping green. "The smart play is to the right side of the green if the flag is on the left," he said. "Fortunately you're done with the water until #9."

Hole #5, par 4 (445 yards Gold, 342 White): The "topsoil" hole, essentially downwind, is probably the best West Nine example of Fazio taking a flat piece of terrain and making it dip down to the course's lowest elevation until rising to the green in an amphitheater.

"The beauty of Fazio is that you think you're climbing the Alps, but when you get there you find it's the foothills instead of the peaks," Brown said. "The green has a lot of slope from back to front. It's tough to putt."

Hole #6, par 4 (360 yards Gold, 243 yards White): The West Nine's shortest par 4 introduces the golfer to native grass and barren sand landscapes reminiscent of Fazio's Pine Valley (N.J.) course. Risk and reward are big factors. Brown said, "On short holes the greens are a little more severe and smaller. You need to be more precise."

Hole #7, par 3 (154 yards Gold, 109 yards White): "It's a small green and a lot of trouble," said Brown, adding that it's patterned after #10 at Pine Valley. "Fazio did a good job of making it look intimidating."

Possibly the West Nine's signature hole, #7 is the first of three finishing holes that could be considered the course's "Amen Corner," like Augusta National, Brown said. The sand in front of the tee box looks like a stretch of North Carolina beach. Long is a better option than short, but the green slopes quite a bit from the back to the front. No bargain, at all.

Hole #8, par 4 (451 yards Gold, 345 yards White): More of the beach on the course's longest par 4. You need to belt it 185 yards to carry the sand off the tee if you're hitting at the right bunker, and 225 yards if you're aiming straight at the green. Playing into the wind, a golfer will gladly settle for a par in the afternoon breezes. Again, the landing areas are wide.

Hole #9, par 5 (608 yards Gold, 454 White): Options, options and more options with water completely down the left side of the fairway. You probably want to play right and make a safer shot into a large-sized green. And all of it, into the wind. Brown said, "I think intimidation is huge on this golf course. But this is a great finishing hole for a gallery."

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