Old Macdonald was first on our 36-hole opening day and it was a pleasant way to break in. It’s a tad more open and forgiving than its three older brothers.
The green complexes are enormous. I encountered a few putts of 125 feet or longer. Old Macdonald’s greens cover 6.3 acres. By comparison, St. Andrews’ greens are 6.1 acres. Mike is probably the best putter of the four Meehan brothers. He missed two fairways and still shot in the mid-80s, thanks to numerous three-putts. His second shots usually found the green but were a cab ride away from the cup.
Old Macdonald is a tribute to famed American course architect C. B. Macdonald, who as a youngster played at links courses overseas and incorporated those characteristics into his designs on U.S. soil. Tom Doak and Jim Urbina followed similar tenets designing Old Macdonald, which opened in 2010.
“It probably most resembles what you’d find at the Old Course, that’s a comparison people make who have played both,” director of golf Jeff Simonds said. “Everything is right out in front of you. You hit it, find it and hit it again. It has the largest greens complex in the U.S.
“That doesn’t necessarily make it easier. You look at it and want to think you can overpower it and you can’t. It’s important to understand the principles of the design. Keep it in the fairway and try not to cut corners and get caught in bad situations.”
Old Macdonald starts out gently with a 304-yard par 4. The second shot is the key with a raised sand trap in front of the green becoming an issue if you don’t have the proper angle. The second hole is a par 3 with a devilish pot bunker in front and a tough, back-to-front sloping green. A ‘3’ is worthy of celebration. I left the celebrating to two of my brothers after a faulty chip failed to reach a back pin location.
Aim your blind, uphill tee shot on the par-4 third just right of the cedar tree. You’ll find plenty of open fairway space after walking to the crest of the hill. The fifth hole is just 134 yards but mounds on the sizable green require a calculated tee shot. When we reached the green, we could hear the sound of ocean waves crashing and the temperature dropped several degrees.
Nos. 7 and 8 are flat-out gorgeous. The seventh requires a placement drive and an uphill second shot to a wide, shallow green. Bring your putter and your camera to the green, which gazes out into the Pacific.
“We put the turnaround snack shop up there,” Simonds said. “We joke that it’s probably the best job at this place because of the ocean views and the smiles on players’ faces.”
The tee shot on the par-3 eighth had us scratching our heads and wishing we’d hired a caddy. With an elevated tee box, stout cross wind and a green that could double as a football field – aside from the swale in the middle – we made our best guesses on the distance and all four of us hit the green. Three of us three-putted. My second putt was from 12 feet.
The 399-yard 11th resembles the road hole at St. Andrews. I missed the angled green and found a bunker left. I had to hit it out sideways and scrambled for bogey.
The four finishing holes are memorable. The par-5 15th is reachable in two. I reached too far, with my second shot skittering over the green but just 30 feet from the hole. I was 65 feet away after a lousy chip. Three putts later I marked down a ‘6.’
The 16th, a 433-yarder into the wind, is a handful. A well-struck drive to the right side of the fairway will give you a view of the green, otherwise you’ll face a blind second shot. As you exit the green, ring the bell to let the group behind knows it’s safe to hit their approach shots.
No. 17, a 515-yard par 5, is reachable in two but you’ll have to navigate past numerous fairway bunkers and a large trap left of the green. The combination of a red pin and the wind at our backs left our foursome with long putts – mine from 140 feet.
The 18th is 426 yards but played shorter with a tailwind. Use the ridge on the back left side of the green to funnel balls toward pins located in the middle and to the right.
“That four-hole stretch is fabulous,” Simonds said.
The course is wonderful, and not just because I drained a 25-footer for birdie on No. 1. Old Macdonald was a close second behind Bandon Dunes as my personal favorite.
“You can have golfers of all skill level and ability and you can play the same ball,” Simonds said. “It’s not tricked up. There’s nothing to worry about other than where to hit the golf ball, no forced 2carries, just golf. You could play that place with a putter.”
Maybe that’s where we went wrong!