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Playing Advice | The First Holes on The Bend, The Bay, and The Bog

Challenges abound across the 27 holes at Willowbend, and the best ways to play each one—maximizing your chances for birdie or par—aren’t always obvious. Here, in the first installment of a nine-part series of tips and playing advice, we take a closer look at the first holes on all three courses. We also include some sage advice from Michael Vidal, Willowbend’s Assistant General Manager, and Michael Carroll, Willowbend’s Director of Golf.


The biggest mistake members and guests make on the first hole of The Bend course is letting the scorecard dictate their tee shots. Playing just over 500 yards from the gold tees, the hole sets up on paper as one where players think they can be aggressive, so they pull driver from their bag. But a driver only works off the tee if the player can draw it off of the fairway bunkers in view.

When attempting to hit their driver, players typically make one of three mistakes. They either hit through the fairway and into one of those bunkers; they flair their drives to the right (making the hole play considerably longer); or—knowing that they have to keep the ball left of the bunkers—they aim too far down the left side and clip the trees only 20 yards from the tee box.

“Unless you know you can get home in two—and not many people can—take something that you can hit straight at the bunkers and be short of the sand,” says Michael Vidal. “Then you’ll have a layup and a short wedge on.”

Golfers playing the forward tees, however, can aim down the left side of the fairway. In fact, doing so will give them a good angle to hit their next shots, since there’s playable space to the right of the pond (and short of the green), which allows players to avoid hitting over the water if they so choose. “Plan for a two-shot approach,” Carroll advises those golfers. “The risk [of losing a ball] goes down dramatically if you use the space to the right of the pond.”


The first hole of The Bay course is no push-over, but it becomes exponentially more difficult when golfers try to cut the corner by hitting their tee shots over the fairway bunker on the right. The predominant outcome of such a shot is a challenging lie in the sand or the rough. Worse yet, it’s not uncommon for golfers to find their ball out of position in the trees down the right. Don’t forget, this green is small and well-protected by a pond short and bunkers left, so you’ll be better off hitting a short iron or wedge into it with your third shot than trying to go for the green in two with a fairway wood.

“It’s definitely a three-shot hole for 99 percent of golfers,” says Carroll, “so the smart play is to go just left or just right of the tree in the center of the fairway.”

Aiming directly at the tree is the best strategy for golfers who play from the forward tees, Carroll advises. “If you aim at the tree, the odds of hitting it are virtually nil,” he says, “since the contouring of the fairway will divert a ball away from the tree.” There’s also more fairway to the left of the tree than there is to the right; however, a water hazard does eventually come into play down the left, so you can’t bail out too much.


Looks can be deceiving at Willowbend, especially on the first hole of The Bog course. From the tee box, the perception is that you can swing away without much worry. However, the positioning of your drive is critical if you want a good look and an easy angle into the green for your second shot. The two pine trees in the landing area (one in the fairway and one just off the fairway on the right) complicate approach shots much more than it appears from the tee.

“It looks like such a wide open driving hole,” Vidal says. “But people don’t play their tee shot far enough left to give themselves a clear look at the green.”

Golfers playing from the forward tees will typically have two options depending upon how far they hit their drives. “Shorter hitter needs to aim to the tree in the middle of the fairway and then plan for a layup,” Carroll explains. “A longer forward tee player can take a similar line and then plan to hit their approach shot from there.” In both cases, those players will want to aim at or just left of the pine in the center of the fairway.

Positioning is no less important on your second shot, as the green slopes sharply from back to front. Being below the hole (with an uphill putt) is critical. Even approach shots that come to rest pin high but on the left or right side of the green will face slippery putts that break severely either left or right.

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