Hale Irwin’s Experience Provides A Great Test In The Jewel
By Will Brogan
At the end of June, an article was written in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Hale Irwin in anticipation of the Constellation Senior Players Championship, a Champions Tour Major Championship. Irwin, now 67, is a three-time U. S. Open champion. Only four men have won our national championship more times than Irwin has. His driver play, accuracy with long irons, and toughness propelled him to victory in the “toughest test in golf” three times in a sixteen-year span with wins in 1974, 1979 and 1980. Irwin’s playing style has since made its way to the golf course design business, and no course is a more perfect example of that style than The Jewel Golf Club.
Both driving accuracy and distance are important components to a low score at The Jewel. That’s the way Irwin prefers the game to be played. According to that Post-Gazette article, written by Gerry Dulac, Irwin feels that “driving skills are always a great measure of how well a player can play.” Solid driving skills are certainly needed to navigate The Jewel with any kind of success, as hitting into trouble on any hole puts par in serious jeopardy.
The Golf Course: At 7,050 yards, The Jewel has the length to be considered among the state’s elite courses. The challenge kicks off with the longest hole on the course (and toughest by handicap), a 584-yard par 5. Effectively straight from tee to green, bunkers challenge both the tee shot and approach for long hitters, and cause concern for those laying up as well. Another effectively straight hole, the 474 yard, par 4 4th, presents the opposite challenge: no water, no bunkers, but a chute-like tee shot framed by thick trees on both sides accompanies a multi-tiered green to provide all the challenge needed to make golfers very happy to leave with par.
The back nine starts with the most daunting three-hole stretch of this challenging layout. The dogleg left par 4 10th, surrounded by water, requires both directional accuracy and distance control. The long, par 3 11th hole features more than 200 yards of carry (mostly over water) to reach a green that runs left to right, but isn’t very deep from front to back.
However, both pale in comparison to the tee shot on The Jewel’s 461-yard par 4 12th hole. Depending on the tee placement, a carry of over 240 yards may be required from the back tees in order to reach the fairway. The landing area is just 22 yards wide, so accuracy and distance need to be perfect on this hole. Should you find the fairway, the second shot does get a little easier, as a mid-iron to a green protected by a large, solitary bunker is approached best by a right to left shot.
A carry of similar length is also required on the par 3 15th hole, measuring over 240 yards from the back tee to the center of the green. While the hole houses three bunkers, there is plenty of room to play a low, running shot onto this green if golfers choose that route as well.
Only two greens are surrounded by something other than runoff areas cut at fairway length. Thus, on most holes you’ll have an opportunity to hit a crisp but challenging chip from a good lie if you miss a green, as opposed to that thick rough that Irwin and his opponents would be faced with so often at U. S. Opens. Still, there are plenty of bunkers on the course to avoid, especially on the 388 yard, par 4, 3rd hole. While adding a touch of natural beauty to the property, water isn’t exactly an overly dominant aspect of The Jewel, truly coming into play on only four holes.
The Clock is Ticking… sort of! Only seven years old, The Jewel is finally starting to receive the recognition that it deserves. The course’s tough but fair layout and impeccable maintenance have led it to be consistently rated among the top five public courses in the state by various publications. The management team at The Jewel, led by Head Golf Professional Kent Blaschko, aims to provide the best private club experience it can possibly offer, and the mix of hospitality and such a pristine golf course delivers that to every golfer.
Luckily for the daily fee golfer, the recent economic troubles this country has (unfortunately) faced have given The Jewel the opportunity to keep their doors open to the public longer than originally anticipated. Considering themselves “progressively private”, The Jewel Golf Club will become fully private when the time is right, though that date is on an undefined horizon. The club has seen record breaking numbers driving to Lake City to experience one of the best golf courses in the Upper Midwest this year, so take advantage of the opportunity to play The Jewel as soon as you can!