Play it conservative at Seven Oaks Golf Course

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Pictured is the view of the 18th green at Seven Oaks Golf Course in Hamilton, N.Y. from the adjacent water hazard.

HAMILTON, N.Y. – If a poker player saw me make my first play, he would have advised me to fold, gather my chips, and go home. Sometimes, it just isn’t your day.
We visited Seven Oaks Golf Course Monday afternoon, the we including Rick Ferris, Mark McLaughlin, and Mark’s friend, Bill. This was Bill’s “working lunch,” so we are leaving his last name out of this article upon request.
I gained some solace that I wasn’t the only one who suffered through poor play. In fact, I think we all struggled with not only poor shotmaking, but terrifically challenging greens that were as fast as any we have seen this season.
Mix in fluffy rough, water hazards, big, greenside bunkers, and pin positions that were in tricky spots, you would think the course was set up for a tournament.
Upon review, Seven Oaks was, indeed, host to a recent tournament as the U.S. Junior Amateur Regional Qualifier was held the previous week.
The course, challenging on any given day, was still flexing its muscles from the tournament conditions.
“I think the greens were a little faster and the rough was a little longer because of the (qualifier),” McLaughlin said.
Early on in the round, my playing partners let me know that Seven Oaks is a Robert Trent Jones design. Jones, who died in 2000, was among the more prolific golf architects designing ­– or redesigning – about 500 courses in the United States and around the world.
A Trent Jones design makes liberal use of bunkers and water hazards, and encourages “high risk, high rewards” play.
For us, it was all risk with very little reward. Not a one of us posted a score worth mentioning here, although I did set a new season high with seven three-putts. “When you’re used to playing slower greens and then switch to really fast greens, it’s a big adjustment,” Rick said to me, offering up the excuse I was thinking of using.
What Rick did add to his statement is that the normally quick greens of Seven Oaks were at a lightning pace, so if you found yourself above the hole (I was several times), it was extremely difficult for the once-a-week golfer (me) to gauge the speed.
Aside from my opening stroke, a cold top down the left side of the first hole, I didn’t completely embarrass myself in the ball striking department through the first two-thirds of my round. I saved that embarrassment for the end.
Rick, normally a solid stick off the tee, hit about two or three fairways all day. Yet, he found the putting to his liking draining a 30-footer for par toward the end of our round. “If you took my putting and your ball striking, we would have shot around par,” Rick said to me.
Maybe not par, but certainly much better than our actual scores. The greens, like En Joie Golf Club from a week ago, are sizable. They present a number of pin options, and depending on depth, can change the length of the hole by nearly 30 yards.
“Some of the pin placements were only two or three paces from the fringe, so if you were on the short side in the rough, it made the chips really difficult,” McLaughlin said.
Note to self:  Look for the fat side of the green at Seven Oaks at all costs.
As much rain as Central New York has received over the last six weeks, you would have thought Seven Oaks in the midst of a six-week drought. The greens were hard, fast, and by first and second glance, bone dry.
The firm greens has to be a testament to the extensive drainage system in place in the course, and the dry conditions is also the reason why Bill and Mark were soaked by a brief sprinkler dousing on the ninth green.
Someone must have noticed that the course was drying out much too quickly, so the mid-afternoon sprinkler deployment helped quench the dehydrated grass.
Dry greens or not, I never did solve the mystery of the greens’ speed, and compounded my woes with some stupid choices.  Number 17, a short dogleg left, offers the option of taking a big drive over a winding creek to cut off 40 or 50 yards to the hole, or you opt for safety to the right with about a 100-yard shot into the green. I chose the former, and subsequently racked up my worst score of the day.
The allure of taking a chance for a big reward was too much for me to resist. In fact, there are a number of holes at Seven Oaks where you can stray from the conventional lines in hopes of securing a much easier approach to the green.
Having witnessed my final score soar to new heights, I recommend that the average golfer take the conservative approach at Seven Oaks.
“The course does play long, and you have to have pretty accurate drives,” McLaughlin said after the round. “Keeping the ball out of the rough plays a big part in what you shoot. (Monday) was a rough day for us, but I have always found the course to be in great condition.”
Yes, the course was in much better condition than our golf games.

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