Some golf courses are made for fun, relaxing rounds with your buddies or spouse. Others are thorough, hardcore examinations of your golf game, built to separate the players from the posers.
Seminole Golf Club, host of the 2021 Walker Cup, is as clear an example of the latter as you will find. Simultaneously charming and unsparing, traditional and timeless, it is one of the most bluntly honest tests of golf in the United States, which makes it a fitting host for one of the world's purest celebrations of the competitive game.
The 10-man teams from the United States and Great Britain & Ireland, respectively, will tangle not just with their opponents, but a course that will evaluate them under the hot spring Florida sun and in a reliable breeze. Firm, domed greens fall off on all sides into deep, hungry bunkers that demand the very best ball-striking from all players. The alternate-shot Foursomes sessions figure to be extremely stressful and exciting.
Founded in 1929 by New York financier E.F. Hutton, Seminole has been a winter retreat for well-heeled avid golfers since it opened. Despite getting its start at the outset of the Great Depression, it endures as one of America's premier clubs, entirely devoted to golf (its seldom-if-ever-used swimming pool was removed a couple years ago), typically played in some competitive fashion and always at a quick pace. No sooner will a caddie introduce himself or herself to a guest than will he or she gently admonish them about the three-hour and 40 minute pace-of-play standard that prevails. A sign reading "Play Well, Play Fast. Play Poorly, Play Faster." in the pro shop, just steps from the first tee, functions as an eight-word club mantra.
Donald Ross draped Seminole across a trapezoid-shaped 140-acre tract of sandy South Florida oceanfront. Two ridges, parallel to the Atlantic, dominate the property and Ross, genius course router that he was, took full advantage. Fully 14 holes bear up, down or across one of these two ridges, and the four flatter tests manage to add their own virtues to the course beyond functioning as connectors. The front nine mostly traverses the higher, inland ridge, offering views across the bowl-shaped property toward the back nine and the ocean beyond.
The years after Ross' death in 1948 brought further refinements to Seminole's design from great mid-century architect Dick Wilson, who moved two greens to their current locations in 1957. It's to the credit of both Wilson and the club's last 65 years of overseers that neither of these greens - the third and the 18th - feel out of place with Ross' original work.
At the end of the 2010s, Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw deployed their characteristically light but wise touch to Seminole, removing trees, refining the bunkering and re-exposing the sandy areas between holes that had been covered up by grass over the years. As a result, the course maintains a beachy texture throughout, tying it all together seamlessly.
Long averse to publicity or splashy outside tournaments - the annual Coleman Invitational is one of the majors of the mid-amateur golf circuit and the annual Pro-Member is one of the most whispered-about tournaments in the world - Seminole has had a coming-out party of late. In May of 2020, it hosted the TaylorMade Driving Relief event, with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff competing to raise money for COVID-19-related charities. The event gave knowledgeable golf fans a preview of what excitement the course can produce.
Now, the golfing public will be treated to a weekend's worth of appointment viewing in the Walker Cup, moved from its typical September date to the spring in order to catch Seminole at its end-of-season peak.
Seminole Golf Club: par 72, 7,256 yards
Match play lends itself to dynamic course setup not just in terms of hole locations but tee positions as well. And at a course where wind direction tends to dictate which holes play tough and easy one day to the next, the USGA has all sorts of options for how they may coax dramatic golf out of the top amateurs.
Hole 1: par 4, 400 yards
An easy opener, or what passes for one by Seminole's strict standards. A slight dogleg-right, the first proceeds from a horseshoe-shaped tee area shared with the 10th, just a few steps from the pro shop door. The tee shot here is more about position than power, as even a 3-wood from Walker Cuppers should set up a short iron or wedge approach. The green foreshadows what's to come; it's long, slender and plays even skinnier because the sides will shrug a ball off into one of four greenside bunkers or a low back-left chipping area. Still, plenty of matches will start with at least one birdie.
Hole 2: par 4, 453 yards
Seminole gets serious in a hurry with the first hole that tackles the aforementioned western dune ridge. A flat, straightaway tee shot between three fairway bunkers sets up an approach that plays 20 feet uphill. To say that missing the green to the right - in one of two deep bunkers - is a mistake is a colossal understatement, especially since a slope feeding the middle-left side of the green features one of the only places on the course where a ball can actually bounce and roll onto a putting surface, rather than off. If the wind comes out of the north, this hole will be a bear.
Hole 3: par 5, 553 yards
The first three-shotter plays downhill, then back up and slightly right. Bunkers through the fairway well over 300 yards downrange will nevertheless be reachable with the help of the same wind that frustrated players on the previous hole. A quality long-iron from just right of them could set up an eagle putt, but being out of position in one of three greenside bunkers could make saving par a chore. Missing in the correct spot could mean winning this hole.
Hole 4: par 4, 491 yards
One of Seminole's great virtues is how alternatively seductive and nasty it can be. This long two-shotter, which rides the top of the main ridge across the property and therefore affords one of the best vistas in Florida golf, is not just one of the toughest on the course, but one of the most brutal in America if that north wind blows. Bunkers pinch the fairway and a false front that takes up a third of the green will shed all but perfectly calibrated approaches. It would not be surprising if this hole yields fewer fours than the previous one, despite playing to a lower par.
Hole 5: par 3, 203 yards
The first of a world-class set of par threes greets players with a familiar demand: hit a spectacular iron shot or else struggle to get up and down, this time from one of six surrounding bunkers. The severity of the green complexes on Seminole's three sub-200-yard par 3s is turned up a notch, since players get to start from level tee-box lies.
Hole 6: par 4, 388 yards
This shortish par four, beloved of Ben Hogan, plays down through a groove in the property on the back side of the main ridge and up slightly to another long, narrow green. Sand and the property line will keep driver in the bag for most players, who will just want a reasonable approach to a green that Hogan often intentionally missed short, rather than risk going right into more deep bunkers.
Hole 7: par 4, 429 yards
A downhill tee shot and a view over the rest of the property gives this hole a stately feel. A pond that crosses the fairway may force long hitters to club down, but even so the approach will likely be with a short iron to one of the course's less ornery greens.
Hole 8: par 3, 262 yards
The fear factor on most approaches at Seminole is such that it does not sound ludicrous to suggest a par 3 of more than 250 yards may feel like something of a breather. But the eighth plays across the flat valley between the property's two ridges to the largest green on the course, with moderate movement and a relatively generous opening in front for a run-up shot.
Hole 9: par 5, 545 yards
The second three-shotter at Seminole plays along the property's southern edge to a bottleneck between bunkers and, further down, two lagoons, such that a courageous drive will gain a considerable advantage over a more timid one. Though there are bunkers on either side of this green, it is open in front in a way that will invite attempts to reach it in two.
Hole 10: par 4, 418 yards
Ross vamped on the blocking of the first hole enough that despite playing side-by-side and a similar length, the 10th serves up its own distinct challenge. Like so many at Seminole, this hole is all about the approach; a subtly insidious false front and a pond pressing against the left side of the putting surface make the start of the inward nine more stressful than the start of the outward one.
Hole 11: par 4, 465 yards
Ross laid this hole out in similar form to the second: a flattish tee shot and then a rising approach to a green perched about 20 feet above the landing area. But the driving demands here are slightly different, with staggered fairway bunkers leaving one side open whereas at the second hole, the sand lines both sides of the natural landing area. It's a cleverly subtle distinction that gives these two challenging par fours their own identities.
Hole 12: par 4, 370 yards
You can make birdies at Seminole - you just have to hit phenomenal shots. Players are going to approach this straightaway hole with wedges, but a slight misjudgment will have them scrambling, especially if the cup is cut in the skinny front wing of the L-shaped green.
Hole 13: par 3, 166 yards
Are there five more intimidating par-3 tee shots in America that don't involve the threat of a water ball than this one? The elevated green, pinned in the northeast corner of the property with the beach and Atlantic Ocean beyond, meanders from front-left to back-right, swaddled by nine bunkers. Even though the front-right ones are deep, it's the shallow rear bunkers that are the true terrors, because a shot from one of them has little hope of holding the green, which slopes away into oblivion.
Hole 14: par 5, 508 yards
After admiring the view from the dune-top tee box against the beach, big hitters will be able to get within a mid-iron of this elevated green, but just because the hole may play downwind, that doesn't mean it'll be much of a help. The green's elevation is such that approaches will arrive with more steam than players want, and the rear bunkers here are similarly treacherous as those at the previous hole. Two excellent shots here could mean an eagle, while an indifferent approach could mean a double-bogey.
Hole 15: par 5, 554 yards
The split fairway here - defined by four bunkers and a row of tall, skinny palms - likely won't present much of a decision, as Walker Cuppers are long enough to take the safer, leftward route and still reach this green in two. Besides, the right fairway is up against a pond. The green is just turtlebacked enough to present problems after a wayward approach, especially if a player finds himself short-sided.
Hole 16: par 4, 409 yards
The USGA may tinker with the setup of this hole, pushing the tees well forward to goad players into a decision they may soon regret. No fewer than 11 bunkers line both sides of the fairway and surround the green of this dogleg-right that drifts slightly uphill, back toward the ocean. A particularly devious front-right hole location here could cause trainwrecks for players who find themselves out of position off the tee.
Hole 17: par 3, 197 yards
If there are five more intimidating waterless par-3 tee shots than at the 13th, this is one of them. Seven bunkers surround this green, and any tee shot that drifts to the right will likely disappear into the biggest and deepest of them.
Hole 18: par 4, 445 yards
Playing from atop the oceanside dunes down into the flats and then sweeping back up and to the left, the home hole serves as a tidy, terrifying recap of the golf course. Choosing the right line off the tee will be key because of the angle of the fairway and the presence of half a dozen bunkers lining the landing zone. Then, the angled, elevated green reminds of the challenge at the famous sixth, with a bunker the members call "Big Mouth" to the right.