Lefty, throw FH & BH, 320-350 D with backhand of late.
250-270 with FH, dotn use as much as used to.
How I generally do Course Reviews: I like courses with variety of challenges. I'm a simple man, really. I like courses to have 3 main things. Trees, elevation, and water. If a course has all three, usually I'll give it a good review. Some great courses only have two out of three, usually just trees and elevation, (though in Houston usually elevation is the part lacking) but they are designed very cleverly, which makes up for one missing piece.
I like playing holes that are unusual and fun. Not an open, flat field with scattered trees, like many courses are. If I play a hole, and want to describe it in my review later so others will want to play it too, thats probably a good hole. If the course rewards good shots, and offers risk-reward then those are also pluses.Even if the hole is fairly standard, throwing in an interesting twist makes me want to come back and play it again. Examples include: Pin on the edge of a cliff or on top of a boulder. Island greens. Terraced greens. Tunnel shots. Blind shots. A Lake or river in play. A hill or valley in play. OB sidewalks/roads. An unusual shaped line.
All these things, if used well, can make a hole noteworthy, instead of just another hole. Admittedly, few courses could include all of these things, due to limitations of the land they are built on, but making use of what's there for a fun and challenging experience is really what matters. Admittedly, not all courses are created equal. Some are built on land that really isn't all that interesting. Not every course can be, or needs to be a championship course. Some of my favorite courses to play are ones I might have only rated a 3.5, and some of the most challenging courses I've played are ones I might have rated less than a 3. If its fun and interesting, with variety, then it probably got a good mark.
The thing that separates good from great, in my book, is the wow factor. Was this course stunningly beautiful, with a variety of challenges and memorable holes? Usually this means challenging, yet fair. Its a hard balance to achieve, and I have utmost respect for the course designers that are able to reach this pinnacle.
Some things that count against courses in reviews:
One thing I don't like is repetitive holes. Some courses have many holes that are essentially the same. This isn't very creative, and gets pretty boring for me as a player. Also, some courses manage to be challenging without being fun. If there is only one way to play every hole, and the course does not force a variety of shots, then it probably got marked down for it. For example, if a course can be played easily with just RHBH, without any extreme annys or other shots, then its probably not challenging enough. at the same time, if you can just go over the top on every hole with a spike hyzer or a tomahawk, that takes alot of the strategy out of the game as well.
Admittedly I'm biased towards courses in the woods, because areas with only scattered trees are usually too forgiving, in my opinion. Also, I like courses that are technical enough that distance isn't the single most important factor. Most DGers I meet don't throw over 325, so how does a course test skill if its just long open holes that you just need a lot of distance to par. That, IMO is boring, and takes a lot of the strategy and decisions out of the game.
I think maintenance is probably not as important to me as some. I like concrete tee pads, but dont really care that much as long as the tees are flat and level. As long as I know where to go, its not a big issue for me how FTF a course is. Some of the courses I've ranked highest are very un-FTF, but I liked playing them so much that this wasn't really an issue to me. However, a really run-down course might otherwise be great with a little TLC.
Conversely, I feel like some courses are overgroomed. Their fairways are too wide and the holes lose some of their challenge. Some courses that are among the most well-maintained get marked off for making it too easy. Its another delicate balance.
What I've started to realize, after looking for a common theme in the courses I gave 4.5 or 5s to, is that a course doesn't need all three main elements (Trees, Elevation, Water/OB, generally in that order of importance) to be one of the best. If it has an abundance of one of the three, or lots of 2 of them and creatively plays to its strengths, for a unique and challenging experience, it can more than make up for lacking in one element. Here are some good examples of how to make up for a lack of one thing:
Fountain Hills Park, AZ- Open with few trees. Water everywhere and moderate elevation.
Blue Ribbon Pines, MN- almost no elevation, but tons of huge trees and several ponds in play.
Justin Trails Big Brother, WI- No water, but tons of crazy elevation and 2 generous scoops of trees.
Lambs Creek, WI- Crazy amounts of all three.
So, to recap,
3 MAIN Elements of Potentially Good Courses
Water/paths/other misc OB (tho water is usually best)
Other SECONDARY, Complimentary Details
Risk Reward Opportunities
Hole Variety-different curves, diff lines
Length Variety-some long, some short
Tee Pads/Signs/Benches/Mowing/Course Flow/Maps
Thickness of Shule
Width of Fairways/tunnel shots
IT Factor- signature & unusual holes, scenic views, etc
Well, hope that all makes sense, and maybe answers some questions about why I review the way I do.