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INFINITELY INTERESTING – KINGSLEY CLUB

An in-depth look at Mike DeVries’s brilliant design at Kingsley Club

Our conversation was supposed to be focused on Mike’s thoughts about Kingsley as it approaches its 20th birthday. Before I knew what had happened, he had flipped the spotlight on to me and how my experience of the course has evolved over the years of playing it regularly. We did eventually get to his perspective, and in the process, I gained further insight into what makes Mike DeVries a great architect. Like all good designers, he studies the land and draws from a mental database of feature and hole ideas to lay out a course. There is an extra dimension that makes Mike special though. He is genuinely interested in how players experience a course. Not only those who play like he does and not only good players—he thinks about ALL players and he strives to create courses that engage them, regardless of how they play the game.

Taking into account that range of factors—the land, routing, strategy, aesthetic beauty, interesting features, drainage, agronomy, maintenance functionality, and the potential shots that any golfer of any skill level might hit—is a tall order. In fact, it is beyond the capability of a person with average mental computing power to handle. Mike DeVries is a world-class architect because he has that power and he cares to use it in pursuit of creating golf courses that will hold their interest over time and repeat play. That is what he accomplished at Kingsley Club, and that is fundamentally why I love it now more than ever.

Great or Not at All

Spend any time with Ed Walker, and it quickly becomes clear that sitting still is not his thing. His gears turn and he stays in motion, so it comes as no surprise that when faced with the choice between the waiting list at Crystal Downs and building his own course, he opted for the latter. That decision was by no means a repudiation of Dr. MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell’s northern Michigan masterwork. Quite the contrary. Walker and his partner Art Preston sought counsel from Fred Muller, long-time Crystal Downs professional, who suggested Mike DeVries. “I spent thousands of days at The Downs, playing with family and working on the grounds crew,” recalled DeVries. “Every day I was there, I learned something about architecture.”

The group of men began to explore a piece of land that Walker and Preston had access to in the fall of 1998, with DeVries working on various routings. “Art and Ed just wanted a great golf course, and I wanted to create an experience like The Downs,” DeVries recounted. “We agreed that if we couldn’t meet that standard with that land, we wouldn’t build it at all. We’d go find a parcel where we could.” With an adventurous and walking-focused routing finally determined, construction began. The front nine was completed in 2000 and the back nine in 2001.

DeVries drew upon his home course for inspiration at Kingsley, and he also looked to the Home of Golf. “The Old Course is a riddle that players have to unlock,” said DeVries. “My goal was for Kingsley to have that same quality. It is very playable, but not simple.” The kind of design that he delivered only reaches its full potential if the right agronomic and conditioning choices are made though. “Fortunately, the ownership and membership care more about how the turf plays than how it looks,” explained DeVries. “When it comes to growing fast and firm fescue, (Superintendent) Dan Lucas is a genius.”

The course was more than a decade old when I first experienced it in 2013. After a full season of play, it inspired me to share a novice perspective on what captured my attention and heart—the interest, variety and beauty. Looking back on those early impressions, they were on point for me at the time. But the question remained, after several more years during which I would see many of America’s greatest courses, would Kingsley’s stature endure? Would it continue to hold my interest when compared to the best among its contemporaries, as well as the works of the Golden Age masters?

Exploring the Depths

Mike DeVries has gone on to design and build other outstanding courses including Greywalls at Marquette Golf Club and Cape Wickham, in addition to his noteworthy retrovation work at classics like Meadow Club. His experience in his craft has broadened and deepened. With that perspective, how does he feel about Kingsley today? “I’m still super excited about it,” he responded without hesitation. He continues to enjoy watching players pick their lines and navigate the slopes of the greens and surrounds. What thrills him most is encapsulated in an early encounter. “Dan Lucas and I were out in a cart checking grass lines and discussing work to be done,” he recalled. “We came upon two members, one of whom played a lot of golf at a course that was more about execution than strategic thought. He stopped us to excitedly share how Kingsley changed his perspective, with all the shots to try and figure out.” DeVries chuckled as he told the story, satisfied in the surety that these and so many subsequent golf souls have been brought to the light.

As Mike talked, he illuminated how my own paradigm has shifted over the years and numerous loops around the course. After my initial introduction to Kingsley, I knew it was a riddle, but I still believed that it could be solved. I now see that the right answer to the question, “What’s the best way to play this hole?” is always, “It depends.” It depends on the day’s pin position, the weather, the wind, the time of day, and the stiffness and fatigue of my muscles. Add to those variables a brilliant design and the rub of the green delivered by the ball bouncing over firm turf, and there is truly no bottom to the well of Kingsley’s variety. The happiness of playing the course does not come from solving the riddle, but rather from the experience of trying.

Further, I understand Mike’s enjoyment of watching others play. It is my great pleasure to host fellow geeks at Kingsley. There is joy in watching these newbies take on the challenges of the course, with a mixed bag of victories and defeats a veritable certainty. I used to act as tour guide, explaining what I thought my comrades should do on each hole. These days, I try to keep my mouth shut, preferring to observe their voyage of discovery. Perhaps it’s mischievous to watch ping pong between the bunkers on the 2nd or a putt seemingly breaking uphill on the 12th without offering guidance. Kingsley is full of mischief, so I offer my apologies (and condolences) for hosting in a similar vein. To date, it has proven far better for each visitor to take their own dive into Kingsley’s depths.

The Course

Kingsley was initially intended to be walking only. It has evolved to allow for cart traffic, as well as other minor changes. Astute observers will note some of the differences between the original course map and the course today.

What remains the same are the wild movement of the land and the bold green complexes that give the course its character.

The seasons in northern Michigan are distinct and the weather is highly variable. Kingsley draws a moody personality from its setting. In the photo tour that follows, I am assisted by Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and Noah Jurik (@Noah_Jurik) in bringing you those moods.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

As players stand on the elevated 1st tee with a giant center bunker staring them in the face, they often voice a question that is a theme. “Where am I supposed to hit it?” The par-5 plays over that hill down into a valley, and then back up to a two-tiered green in a partial bowl. The 2nd is a short par-3 that runs along one of the several dune ridges of an area known as the “south forty”. First-timers have the easiest time with this tee ball, as they don’t yet carry the scar tissue associated with missing the tiny green.

The next two four-pars run back and forth over undulating ground. The 3rd swings gently right to an angled green that plays like an inverted biarritz. The 4th is straightaway over a heaving fairway to an enormous putting surface in a bowl. Players don’t know if they have found the same section as the hole until they crest the fronting ripple. Quite the thrill ride!

The par-3 5th has some pins that are easy to access, and others that are nearly impossible. Regardless, it is always fun to throw a ball onto the left hillside and watch it scoot across the green. After conquering yet another sloped dune on the par-4 6th, players face what appears to be a benign approach. Arriving at the greensite, however, they find that shots left or long fall far away down steep slopes.

The stretch of the 7th through the 9th hugs a ridge created by two tall dunes on the west side of the property. On both the par-5 7th and par-4 8th, DeVries used the topography to create partial blindness and awkward angles. The one-shot 9th has a green that looks like a spaceship landed below the clubhouse when viewed from the hilltop tee boxes. Holes in one are a regular occurrence—almost as regular as double-pars.

After making the turn, players begin a journey into a new section of the site on the 10th. This two-shotter lays out simply and works its way up to a green at grade. Subtle internal contours often lead to head scratching on the putting surface. The par-3 11th has a canted green with easy hole locations front left and crazy tough ones back right. Many a pin seeking tee ball ends up tumbling off the right slope.

The lay-of-the-land 12th tumbles downhill with nary a bunker in sight. The thrill of hoisting a shot up against the blue sky from the elevated tee and then watching it float down to the fairway below is one of the most exhilarating on the course. The drivable par-4 13th offers players options off the tee and one of the boldest greens they’ll ever see, featuring high front and rear plateaus with a low bowl in the middle.

The tee shot on the par-5 14th is semi-blind to a fairway that turns right and then heads downhill. The tiered green is set in a nook between bunkers and a stone wall. The 15th turns back to climb uphill, providing Kingsley’s stoutest challenge. Hitting the angled and elevated green with one’s second shot demands precision on both the line and distance. The wooded stretch concludes with Kingsley’s redan-esque 16th, taking the player back up to a high point.

The rollercoaster par-5 17th begins the closing stretch. Tee shots that carry the hill run down far enough to leave a short second into the green, making birdie or better a real possibility. DeVries tests players with one final strategic par-4 on the home hole. Ideal position off the tee is dictated by the pin which can be in the open left, or tucked right side of the green. Until the very end, the mind and swing are fully engaged.

Back when I penned my first impression of Kingsley Club, I was eager to get to know the course much better. At the same time, there was a tinge of concern that someday I would arrive in the parking lot and not feel the same excited anticipation for the adventure ahead. Today, that fear is gone. The infinite interest of the course, painstakingly built by Mike DeVries and expertly presented by Dan Lucas’s team, is sure to engage me and other lucky visitors for decades to come.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS – PRAIRIE DUNES

An in-depth look at the design synergies created by the work of Perry and Press Maxwell at Prairie Dunes Country Club

When the membership of Prairie Dunes Country Club decided, almost 20 years after the opening of what was described as the greatest nine hole golf course in America, to have Press Maxwell complete the course started by his father Perry, skepticism would have been forgivable. Family businesses that pass from founders to heirs frequently underperform. We need look no further than the Jones family to see that relationships between fathers and sons are often complicated in art and commerce. And rarely was a Golden Age course added to or altered decades later for the better. The deck was stacked against Press, but in the end he delivered on his father’s vision in his own way. Prairie Dunes is not just a great original nine with nine more. It is a unified and cohesive father and son golf adventure. It is the Maxwells’ masterpiece.

The Sum of the Parts

Take a trip to the same course with the same buddies four straight years and two things happen. First, after dozens of rounds—from all tees, at all times of day, in all weather—you get to know the course well. Second, if those buddies be geeks, every aspect of the course is discussed and debated. Prairie Dunes is one of those rare courses that, over numerous rounds, not only holds attention, but deepens it.

A question arose in our discussion this year, posed from different angles: Which nine do you prefer, Perry or Press? Front or Back? The chalk answer is Perry/Front, giving maximum love to those holes designed by Perry Maxwell. The respect is deserved as the old man knew what he was doing, and arguably used the best land for his nine. To date, nobody has responded Press/Back. Sorry, junior. But some, including myself, give the somewhat nonsensical response Perry/Back. How could one say that they prefer Perry’s work, but choose the nine that only has three of his holes? For me, the surface reason is that my least favorite hole is on the front, and the three Perry holes on the back are among my favorites of his nine. Deeper consideration of this seemingly discordant perspective reveals the source of Prairie Dunes’s interest and greatness. The combination of the work of father and son produced a richness and variety greater than either could have achieved alone.

Several factors aligned to set Press Maxwell up for success in completing his father’s course. While in school, Press would come home to work on the construction crew on Perry’s projects under the direction of his uncle, Dean Woods. He observed first-hand how Woods translated the elder Maxwell’s vision into features on the ground, including the greens. Press also absorbed his father’s design principles, most notably the aversion to machinery driven earth moving from tee to green. Perry preferred to highlight the land, rather than remake it. By the time he graduated from college and joined the family business, Press was well indoctrinated into the Maxwell method. And finally, in routing the full eighteen, Perry did not simply tack on nine more holes in a separate area. He added three holes on one side and six on another, thereby blending together the old with the new.

From this foundation, Press completed the course staying true to his Perry’s principles. In some instances, he seemed to consciously play off his father’s holes. The 4th plays similarly to the 2nd. The 5th runs uphill along a dune like the 17th. The 12th green shares characteristics with the 6th, but amped up. And the 14th is the inverse of the 8th from tee to green. As most sons would, however, he did stretch his wings by adding creative flourishes that are among the most memorable on the course: the tee shot down to the angled fairway on the 3rd; the green-front hump on the 11th; the trees guarding the approach to the 12th; the lower back tier on the 14th green; the flanking trees on the 15th tee. Each of the eighteen holes at Prairie Dunes fits the land beautifully, is strategically bunkered without being cluttered, and is punctuated by an all-world green. While retaining that Maxwell consistency, father and son expressed their own artistic perspectives, resulting in the course’s singular greatness.

Could It Have Been Even Better?

The most common knock against Prairie Dunes centers around the three-pars. As single holes, each one is terrific, but as a set (the argument goes) they lack variety. All four play uphill. The yardages are in a narrow band: 161, 168, 185, 200. Holes 2, 4 and 15 play in a similar direction, diminishing the variability provided by the wind. Those who withhold the word “perfect” when describing the course on this basis are not entirely without standing. Our group fixes the yardage issue with creative teeing. Playing the 2nd up (138 yards), the 4th back (171 yards), the 10th up (128 yards) and the 15th back (203 yards) provides all the variety a player could want. It turns out that Perry Maxwell had it in mind to avoid the compass direction and elevation change issues with his original routing of holes 3 through 5, but that stretch was not built according to his plan.

What happened in the handoff from father to son? Based on a scan of the fantastic timeline research done by Ed Oden on the Perry Maxwell Archive, we know that the work on the first nine concluded in September, 1937. At some point prior to his death in 1952, Perry Maxwell completed the plan for the full eighteen. When Press began discussing building the remaining holes with the club in 1954, he reportedly had the plans in hand. By June, 1955 a newspaper prints the routing below, indicating the course we play today.

From the Hutchinson Herald / Perry Maxwell Archive

Zooming in on the current par-4 3rd, par-3 4th and par-4 5th, we find them looping around a dune ridge, with the 3rd and 4th on one side, and the 5th on the other.

Club lore and historical sources suggest that Press ran into “drainage issues” while trying to build the longer par-5 5th from Perry’s plan. But conflicting accounts muddy the water. In The Midwest Associate, Maxwell historian Chris Clouser points out, “But in an interview with Ron Whitten, (Press) would later say that he could never find the original routing his father created.” Did the son rebelliously disregard his father’s wishes in order to do his own thing, or was he simply solving a problem in the field not foreseen at the time of the original design? We’ll never know for sure. We can, however, speculate as to how Perry might have built this stretch of holes to solve the issue of par-3 variety.

It is generally agreed that Perry’s 3rd hole would have played to the current 4th greensite, retaining the distinctive drive while adding drama to the approach. Walking off the back right of that green and along the dune ridge above the 8th, players would them take on a drop-shot par-3. In Clouser’s account, that hole would have played in a direction too similar to the 10th, so I have taken the speculative liberty of flipping it, using the existing fantastic 3rd green as a stand-in. A slightly farther walk to the tee yields a short, downhill par-3 facing a different direction on the compass. The 5th could have remained a par-4, been stretched to a par-5, or both.

Press made the decision to build these holes as he saw fit for reasons unknown. Would his father’s version have been even better? Opinions vary. The fact that variety among four great one-shotters is the only criticism speaks to how strong Prairie Dunes is, and only a fool would repaint a portion of the Mona Lisa because it might be possible to make it a little bit better. Walking the fairways with fellow geeks, however, such harmless conjecture and daydreaming does add to the fun.

The Course

Returning to the course today, players find two nines with complementary characters. The outward half is compact with internal loops, two of which return to the clubhouse. The inward takes more of a wander out to the far corner of the property, and then back again. And as a bonus, at the right time of the day, visitors can easily play the Perry nine (1-2, 6-10, 17-18).

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

If the opening holes are any indication, Perry Maxwell was not a big fan of gentle handshakes. The 1st is a dogleg left par-4 with a wildly contoured green and surrounds. The 2nd is a short, uphill par-3 that is hard to hit, harder to hold, and harder still to putt. Getting out of the gate at level par is an accomplishment, especially when the wind is blowing.

Previous commentary notwithstanding, the first group of Press holes is terrific. The 3rd green is overlooked—it falls away on both sides and behind, and features brilliant, subtle internal contours. The 4th, with its shallow green above is quite demanding. Regular players are accustomed to the agony of watching approaches, and even putts, trickle down the false front. The 5th fits the land nicely, with a benched green that inspired Bill Coore’s work at Sand Hills.

Perry’s par-4 6th tumbles downhill from a dune-top tee. The green is deceptively fronted by a bunkered mound and has a glorious set of Maxwell rolls. The 7th is a sneaky good five-par that is reachable in two with the right wind and a confident drive over a rise in the fairway. Flanking bunkers guard a putting surface that pours out the back. Tricky recoveries abound for errant shots on the 7th.

The 8th is quite simply all-world. This par-4.5 plays up over a large hill to a green seemingly floating in air. Getting above the hole on the tiered putting surface is death. The 9th is an underrated straight-away four par with a rolling fairway and a table-top green that falls away on three sides. The one-shot 10th sits masterfully among the dunes, bringing to mind Maxwell’s work with Dr. Alister MacKenzie on the 14th at Crystal Downs.

Press next throws four straight four pars at players, each with its own distinct features. The dogleg left 11th is brawny, but its little green-front mound provides the biggest challenges. Sentinel cottonwoods guard the approach to the wild 12th green. A massive blowout tempts the bold on the inside of the bend on the 13th. The 14th swings downhill inviting players to have a go when the wind is right. Birdies are a possibility in this stretch, and so is a four hole ride on the bogey train.

From the back tee, the par-3 15th delivers one of the course’s most iconic looks. The tee ball must shoot the chute and then land softly on the elevated green. The 16th works uphill and right to a wonderfully angled green with a high left shoulder.

Prairie Dunes closes with two final Perry holes, each of which is magnificent. The uphill par-5 17th, with its tiny and tricky green, is a close relative to the 8th at Crystal Downs. Strategically brilliant, sometimes brutal. The home hole is a par-4 that calls for one more downhill, angled tee shot. Many a player has hopefully hoisted an approach only to helplessly watch it trickle off the left slope. Prairie Dunes ends as it began—making demands on the skills and patience of players.

Perry and Press, father and son, decades apart. With the complicated dynamics and gap in time, the creation equation at Prairie Dunes could very well have yielded mediocrity. Instead, the Maxwells’ course is exceptional in every sense of the word. The land, the vision and the execution add up to a whole much greater than the sum of the parts.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT – CROOKED STICK

The fifth edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series asserts that Crooked Stick is among the three most important courses in the history of golf architecture in America

Golf course architecture in America has been marked by several eras, each with a short list of courses that epitomize the craft in their time. Early in the 20th century, Charles Blair Macdonald’s quest to create the ideal golf course, based on principles gathered from in-depth study of the courses of the British Isles, resulted in National Golf Links of America. Macdonald’s method set a new standard for design that would drive the Golden Age up until the Great Depression. In the early 1990s, a beloved professional and a largely unknown architect partnered to build a throwback masterpiece in the middle of Nebraska. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Sand Hills Golf Club would be the spark that ignited the modern renaissance of course design that we are still enjoying today. These two courses, among others from their respective eras, are rightly held in esteem for their merit and importance. But what of the intervening period? Was there no course built between 1945 and 1990 that belongs in the same discussion? Indeed there is, and it is called Crooked Stick.

The period during which the Dyes cemented their legacy has been retrospectively dubbed the “Dark Ages” by some. This blanket condemnation is misplaced and fails to recognize the context in which architecture was practiced. Coming out of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans were feeling heroic and unbeatable. Architects, led by Robert Trent Jones, wielded technological power to create courses where growing numbers of players could demonstrate further heroism. There was an unfortunate sense of “out with the old, in with the new” that was an understandable reaction to emergence from such a dark period in world history. Pete and Alice Dye stood apart during the Heroic Age in their desire to blend the old with the new, and Crooked Stick was where they pounded their historically significant stake into the ground.

The Course (and Careers) that Might Not Have Been

Before diving into the aspects of Crooked Stick’s importance, a little context is appropriate. The success of the Dye’s development project was far from assured during its infancy, much like their budding careers as designers. Pete and Alice were accomplished players and had several courses under their belts, but to call them prominent architects nationally would have been a major overstatement when they set out to build the country’s premier modern golf club in the mid-1960s. They didn’t have the land, the money or the gravitas that would have made realizing the dream a safe bet. They did have support from a few key players in Indianapolis and Alice’s family, but it was not offered without a bit of trepidation. “The O’Neals were likely not entirely enthused about Pete and Alice’s career choice,” confirms club historian Chris Wirthwein, whose book Crooked Stick Golf Club: A Story of the Original Masterpiece from America’s First Couple of Golf chronicles the club’s history. Even Bill Diddell, founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and early mentor to the Dyes, attempted to steer them in a less risky direction.

Pausing to reflect on this moment in time illuminates the first aspect of Crooked Stick’s historical significance. Pete and Alice, standing at a crossroads, could have chosen to abandon their dream, returning to comfortable lives of amateur golf, the insurance business and raising a family. Nobody would have judged them, and Alice’s family might even have celebrated. Instead, they courageously pressed on, and an arduous decade later, their vision and persistence was rewarded.

Had they given up, it is hard to imagine where course architecture would be today. Not only would there have been no counterbalance to the influence of the Jones and Fazio families, but the Dye Family design tree would never have existed. Might we have never heard from some of their progeny?

To name a few…Dave Axland, Chris Cochran, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Brian Curley, Bob Cupp, Tom Doak, P.B. Dye, Perry Dye, Roy Dye, John Fought, Chris Gray, Gil Hanse, John Harbottle, David Heatwole, Bruce Hepner, Rick Jacobson, Stephen Kay, Tim Liddy, Jim Lipe, Jason McCoy, Tom Meade, Scott Miller, Chris Monti, William Newcomb, Jack Nicklaus, Jack Nicklaus II, Greg Norman, Tom Pearson, David Pfaff, Scott Pool, Dan Proctor, John Robinson, Lee Schmidt, Scot Sherman, Bobby Weed, Rod Whitman…in addition to the next generation of talented designers and shapers now coming into their own.

One thing is certain—the architectural landscape would have been far less interesting had the Dyes chosen a different path.

Where the Old Met the New

Pete and Alice brought to the table a design perspective based on their exposure to great Golden Age courses such as Camargo, Culver Academies, Pinehurst #2, Scioto, Seminole, the University of Michigan Course and many more. In the spirit of C.B. Macdonald’s study trips abroad, the pair made a point of visiting 30+ courses in Scotland while there to compete in the 1963 British Amateur. They took in the links and took photos to create a database of ideas for later use. Like National Golf Links, Crooked Stick was built upon the principles that gave those courses their timelessness, but with a fresh twist. Modern architects like Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Dave Zinkand and others followed Macdonald and the Dyes’ footsteps, honoring the maxim, “To be a great architect, see great courses.”

As a bridge between eras, Crooked Stick now belongs on the priority list for study, which is exactly what Chris Wirthwein has done. His extensive research, which included numerous conversations with the Dyes, provides a deep dive into the design process. Walking the fairways with Wirthwein is like being taken on a tour of a museum with its curator. Sources of Pete and Alice’s inspiration are built into every hole, each with its own evolutionary story. Beginning at the tee, Crooked Stick is a throwback. Dye embraced angles and hidden landing areas to make players uncomfortable on the tee. The holes are decidedly not “right there in front of you.” Some landing areas have speed slots to discover, offset by uphill slopes that kill drives. Dye further channeled the Golden Age by laying out several of his par-4s as switchbacks. If a left-to-right ball flight is optimal from the tee, right-to-left is recommended on approach, and vice versa. The greens and surrounds are an homage to the couple’s favorite courses and architects. Players will find six MacKenzie (3,6,10,13,14,15), four Ross (1,2,8,9), three Raynor (5,7,18), one Dunn (4), and three Dye original (11,16,17) styled greens. From methods to strategies to features, Crooked Stick is a significant link from the past to the present.

Revisionist History

Pete Dye was not afraid to tinker, even if that meant having to revise features and entire holes. Crooked Stick is historically important because it provides a window into the evolving mind of a master. Rare indeed are those courses where the architect had a chance to come back year after year to experiment, test and fine tune their ideas in the ground.

The tinkering began with construction and shaping. During construction, the club was not flush with cash and so the Dyes had to be creative in conjuring a course from the flat farmland they had acquired. Large lakes and “Dye-pressions” were dug to provide fill to build up fairways and green sites in other areas. They used bulldozers, farm equipment and any other available machinery for earth moving. For the finer shaping, Pete invented a method to achieve the look he wanted. “So somehow I figured out to take an old farm disk—and a farm disk is rigid—and crack the frame so that it would float over the ground,” Dye explained to Wirthwein. “Then I’d take the loader, dump some dirt, and get on the tractor and just pray to God when I go over those hills that something good would happen. Well that disk would ride on the surface and you’d end up with all these different undulations you couldn’t get with a bulldozer.” This spirit of invention extended to the detailing, and even the agronomy, giving the course an old-world feel.

Architects will often say that they wish they could go back and make edits after seeing their courses years later. At Crooked Stick, Pete took advantage of the trust bestowed upon him by the membership by acting on that impulse. Driven by a steady stream of high profile championships, large-scale renovations took place in 1978, 1985, 1986, 1989, 2001 and 2009, with plenty of tweaking in between. Each iteration got a bit better than the last while keeping members, guests and competitors on their toes. Has all of this revision resulted in perfection? Surely, Pete and Alice would say no. The result has been to leave a fascinating design record born of the Dyes using the course as a living laboratory.

The Course

Players today find a Crooked Stick that is at once beautiful, vexing and fun. The spirit of the place can perhaps best be summed up by an excerpt from a Board of Directors resolution honoring Pete Dye’s work:

“WHEREAS, there were fields without fairway; there were water holes without land; there were holes with streams so fiendishly criss-crossed that a ball missing the first criss would surely catch the second cross, or (if exceptionally well struck) the third criss; there were some great sand traps like the Gobi Desert and many small ones scattered about like buckshot; there were some greens so large as to require putting with a full backswing; others so small so as to leave no room for the hole; one green requiring a wedge shot over a trap at its mid-point; some greens so contoured as to roll in two directions at once, and still others so buried in the woods as to be invisible from any direction…NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED…that words are inadequate to describe our gratitude to our founder, PETE DYE, who has done so much to so few with so little provocation.”

For lovers of variety and fun challenges, Crooked Stick provides an endless supply. The course winds its way around the created countryside, changing directions regularly and giving a different look on every hole, while maintaining unified themes central to strategic golf. Every hole has an aggressive play and a safer option. The nature of the player’s adventure is theirs for the choosing.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

The front nine begins with a straightforward (by Pete Dye standards) par-4 to a small, tricky green. An initial dose of thrill comes at the 2nd as it turns left around an imposing set of bunkers. The 3rd is a tough three-par that requires a confident tee ball to a canted and contoured putting surface. At the par-4 4th, players are confronted with an unsettling tee shot, followed by an approach to a large green that plays much smaller to certain pin positions. The opening stretch is capped off by the first par-5, punctuated by a bold green that would make Seth Raynor proud.

Water is a theme for the next set of holes, beginning with the often photographed par-3 6th. The large specimen tree back-right is sadly gone, but the hole is no less gorgeous and treacherous. The drive on the par-4 7th is blind, followed by an approach reveal into another Raynor-inspired green complex. The 8th is Dye’s cape hole, wrapping around a lake left to a peninsula putting surface with very little margin for approach error. To complete the outward half, the par-5 9th makes players think position, with a creek cutting across and and the green set back among the trees.

The inward nine starts with a tough three hole stretch. The 10th heads out, the lake running along the right, to a deep, false-fronted green. The par-5 11th plays up over a rise and then down to a fairway that winds left around the Dye’s rendition of the church pews. The two-shot 12th begins with the most disorienting tee shot on the course to a canted fairway with a deep valley right. The green, inspired by the 5th at Maxinkuckee CC, might be the best of the bunch.

The next set of holes begins with a serpentine creek and ends with a boomerang. The par-3 13th is a unique little one-shotter over the water to a green partially obscured by a hillside. The dogleg left 14th asks players to take on the creek again off the tee. The bold are rewarded with a shorter approach into the difficult putting surface. The par-5 15th plays up over a rise and then to a beautifully set green inspired by MacKenzie and Maxwell’s work at UofM and Crystal Downs.

From both everyday and championship perspectives, the closing holes at Crooked Stick are grand. The 16th comes back over the fairway hump and then down into a modified biarritz green with water right. The 17th is a stout three par that demands a well judged and executed tee ball from an elevated box exposed to the wind. Various forms of disaster await misses on either side, or long. The home hole angles right around the lake to a big green with an amphitheater setting in the shadow of the clubhouse. Holing out, it’s not hard to imagine the crowd roar cascading down the hillsides. A special finish to a special course.

Pete and Alice Dye had a vision for a pure golf club, a place where kindred spirits could come together to share in camaraderie and the joy of the game. In turning their dream into a reality at Crooked Stick, they not only achieved their goals for the club, but they created a course that sits among the most historically important to golf architecture in America. As a bridge between eras, a jumping off point for so many careers in design, and a window into a hall of fame designer’s mind, Crooked Stick is worthy of its place among the all-time greats.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf