The Chain At Streamsong Is A Concept Golf Needs More Of

Ego is a difficult thing to strip away in golf. Every time you arrive at a course, you’re looking to prove something to yourself and others.

The pressures can be internal and external, but they arrive all the same. Each golfer, no matter the level, is in constant pursuit of a magic number, a score they have in their mind that determines whether a round was successful or not. From there, you have a desire to push yourself to play better at a higher difficulty. Golfers routinely try to push their limits by playing from further back tee markers, even though they may have no business there. That’s ego. The old idea of tees for men, seniors, and women linger and are hard to break free of, even if the game can be more enjoyable once you do.

It’s hard to let go of those thoughts at a traditional course, particularly if you play to keep a handicap. But Streamsong’s new short course, The Chain ($79 for preview play, $139 starting October 1), forces golfers to think differently and let go of that ego by getting rid of the concepts that govern a traditional course.

The 19-hole Coore and Crenshaw design, which features 6-hole and 13-hole loops, can be played from 1,576 yards to 2,916 yards and, quite literally, anywhere in between. That’s because there are no tee markers and there is no score to par. The course was designed as a match play course, with teeing areas designated by old dragline chains (hence the name). Links are embedded in the ground designating the start and finish of the teeing area. Where you hit from in between is entirely up to you.

Matt Hahn/Streamsong

I got the chance to play The Chain at the beginning of May as part of a press trip, as Streamsong invited half a dozen writers down to see the course now that it’s fully open for play. We played as a 12-some in two-man teams — which is easily the largest group I’ve ever been a part of, but Streamsong is happy to send out larger groups (up to 8) on the Chain — playing a scramble for skins. The result was one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I’ve played in a long time, and it made me think about golf a bit differently.

We played The Chain as the third of four rounds at Streamsong, playing each of the courses on property: Black upon arrival, Red and The Chain on our second day, and Blue the morning before flying home. One of the things that I found most impressive is how playable all three of Red, Blue, and Black were, no matter the skill level, while still presenting a great test of your game.

Striking the balance between fun and challenging is difficult, because if you lean too far one way or the other, you’ll lose interest from either low or high handicap players. The courses at Streamsong toe that line extremely well. Each present a unique challenge since they were all crafted by different course designers, but there are shared characteristics that carry throughout the property.

There are very few forced carries, the fairways and greens are generous, and most greens present the option to run the ball up just as successfully as flying it to the pin. There’s room for mistakes, as there’s no out of bounds on the property. But to score well, you have to be precise. The fairways are large, especially at Blue and Black, and missing them puts you in a waste bunker or native area. You’re immediately put on the back foot to make pars. Greens in regulation is a meaningless stat on the large green surfaces, as having any chance at birdie requires finding the correct level of the ever-undulating green complexes. Any miss on the wrong side of the hole will make two putting a challenge, whether you’re coming up or down a slope, and patience is a must, as you have to accept that a 12-footer is often the best look you’ll get.

The Chain follows the formula of the other three courses similarly, with difficult green plots and even more size variance than the big courses — a few of the greens are tiny in comparison to Red, Blue, and Black. They present a number of challenges and precision is a must to give yourself looks at a two. The best example of the movement of the greens comes at the signature 11th hole, which features a massive punch bowl green with a few huge ridges and a 14-foot tall pin so you can see it from the tee.

Scott Powers/Streamsong

Well-placed bunkers gobble up loose shots around the greens, and playing the slopes properly is vital to getting it (and keeping it) close, as runoffs can leave tricky chips back up to the green surface. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw made clear when constructing the course that it would not be a “pitch and putt,” and that holds true when you play it. Ball control is everything at The Chain, both in being sharp with distances and in shot shaping.

As such, it is not ease that makes The Chain such an enjoyable experience, but the freedom of concept to give yourself the challenge you want.

Being a match play course without par on the card further encourages you to get more aggressive and creative. The only impact of a bad hole is losing that hole, not derailing the entire round. That, in and of itself, loosens up a mental block and allows you to swing freely. I saw the impact of that firsthand on one of the guys in our group. He battled the shanks on both rounds at Red and Blue book-ending our visit to The Chain, but in a 6-team scramble where the pressure was alleviated, he hit every single shot square out of the face on the short course. The internal pressure was removed, and suddenly that swing was flowing once again.

So much of golf is about dealing with the constraints and the mental stress the course presents you. The Chain still offers challenges, but also the ability to eliminate danger or bring more into play with where you tee it up. That opens the game up so much, particularly for groups that have wide variance in terms of handicaps. You can make The Chain play how you want it. That could be extremely difficult, constantly hitting mid- to long-irons into firm, fast, sloping greens, or you could play 16 of the 19 holes from inside 120 yards and put your group’s wedge game to the test. You can also play it every day of a trip and not hit the same shot twice on one hole.

Matt Hahn/Streamsong

From Shorty’s at Bandon Dunes to The Hay at Pebble Beach, golf resorts are adding more short courses to their properties. That’s largely to open up opportunities for groups to play multiple rounds in a day. At Streamsong, peak season is in the winter, meaning only the first hour of tee times have a chance to play 36 at Black, Red, and Blue. The Chain allows for another round — either 6, 13, or 19 holes — even when light is short during non-daylight savings.

However, within that short course boom, The Chain offers something unique and, I think, needed in the world of golf. It’s not the first course designed specifically for match play, but it’s one of the very few that’s available to the public. For a destination built for groups of friends to come in and play golf together, it’s such a natural fit that it’s a bit surprising there aren’t more like it. It encourages groups to have let go of the ego, get a little more creative, and have a bit more fun.

Uproxx was invited on a hosted trip to Streamsong Resort for reporting on this piece. They did not review or approve this story. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.