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CONTINUOUS CHANGE AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL

A Then & Now photo tour of the always exciting and ever-changing Augusta National Golf Club

Bobby Jones set out, with his beloved Old Course as inspiration, to create the ideal golf course at Augusta. His collaborative partnership included Dr. Alister MacKenzie, Clifford Roberts, Marion Hollins and others—a meeting of the minds with a singular focus. In spite of the early challenges associated with stabilizing the club, the group certainly achieved the objective of designing and building a golf course worthy of acclaim. Dr. MacKenzie gave his assessment of their creation in an essay that was included in the program for the First Annual Invitation Tournament held in March of 1934:

“If, as I firmly believe, the Augusta National becomes the World’s Wonder Inland Golf Course, this will be due to the original ideas that were contributed by Bob Jones.

What is the “ideal” course? Bob and I found ourselves in complete accord on these essentials: 

  1. A really great course must be pleasurable to the greatest possible number.
  2. It must require strategy as well as skill, otherwise it cannot be enduringly interesting.
  3. It must give the average player a fair chance and at the same time require the utmost from the expert who tries for sub-par scores. 
  4. All natural beauty should be preserved, natural hazards should be utilized, and a minimum of artificiality introduced.

I want to say quite frankly that if our finished work is favorably received, it will be in part due to the excellent material at our disposal. We had plenty of land, towering pine trees, beautiful shrubbery, streams of water, a mildly rolling terrain of great variety, a rich soil for growing good fairway grass and a naturally beautiful setting from an architectural standpoint.

The property was originally settled by a Belgian Baron by the name of Berckmans. He was an ardent horticulturist and in this property he indulged his hobby to the limit of his resources. I don’t suppose the old Baron suspected that golf would someday become a popular sport in America and his property used by the world’s greatest player for a golf course. But if Bob’s great grandfather had foretold to the Baron what was to occur, the Baron could not possibly, in my opinion, have devised a beautification program that would today better serve our purposes. 

There are azaleas in abundance and a great variety of small plants, shrubbery and hedges, and a real cork tree. There are also scores of camellia bushes, that are now really trees—in size. But the most impressive of all is the ancient double row of Magnolia trees (said to be the finest in the South) that will border the driveway entrance into this ‘Golfer’s Paradise’.

Now to get back to our golf course. Doubt may be expressed as to the possibility of making a course pleasurable to everyone, but it may be pointed out that the “Old Course” at St. Andrews, Scotland, which Bob likes best of all, very nearly approaches this ideal. 

It has been suggested that it was our intention at Augusta to produce copies of the most famous golf holes. Any attempt of this kind could only result in failure. It may be possible to reproduce a famous picture, but the charm of a golf hole may be dependent on a background of sand dunes, trees, or even mountains several miles away. A copy without the surroundings might create an unnatural appearance and cause a feeling of irritation, instead of charm. On the other hand, it is well to have a mental picture of the world’s outstanding holes and to use this knowledge in reproducing their finest golfing features, and perhaps even improving on them. 

At Augusta we tried to produce eighteen ideal holes, not copies of classical holes but embodying their best features, with other features suggested by the nature of the terrain. We hope for accomplishments of such unique character that the holes will be looked upon as classics in themselves.

The acid test of a golf course is its abiding popularity. And here we are up against a real difficulty. Does the average golfer know what he really likes himself? When he plays well, he praises the course, but if his score is a high one the vigor of his language would put to shame a regimental sergeant major. It is usually the best holes that are condemned most vehemently by those who fail to solve their strategy. Bob Jones realizes this so strongly that when his opinion about the design of Augusta National, he said that the course would differ so markedly from others, that many of the members at first would have unpleasant things to say about the architects. A few years ago I would have agreed with Bob, but today, owing to his own teaching, the work and writings of C.B. Macdonald, Max Behr, Robert Hunter, and others, Americans appreciate real strategic golf to a greater extent than even in Scotland, the Home of Golf.

I do not believe the Augusta National will impress anyone as a long course, as although undulating it is not hilly. There are no irritating walks from greens to tees and moreover it will be so interesting and free from annoyance of searching for lost balls, that players will get the impression that it is shorter than it really is.”

The ink was barely dry on MacKenzie’s writing when changes began to be made. The course evolved, as every course does, but very few have undergone the continuous tinkering that Augusta has since that inaugural tournament that would come to be known simply as The Masters. Perry Maxwell, Robert Trent Jones, George Cobb, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio have all left their marks. 

Debate rages among lovers of the course and the tournament about whether the evolutionary arc of Augusta National has moved it closer to or further away from the ideal standard envisioned by its founder. Regardless of where one stands on that question, we can all agree that the roars on the back nine on those magical Sunday afternoons in April are tough to beat.

The Course Then & Now

For the second time in its history, The Masters tournament was not contested during its normal slot on the spring calendar. Thankfully, our fellow geeks took to social media to bring us a spirit-lifting look at Augusta National during these troubled times. The tour that follows is a modern collaborative effort featuring historical photos and commentary from Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) and Brian Schneider (@BSchneider126), as well as the Good Doctor himself. For recent contrast, Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) has provided his photos and thoughts. The evolution of the course is evident, and we leave it to each geek to decide which era they love most.

In spite of our familiarity with the course from years of watching the tournament on television, those who have had the good fortune to attend as patrons are unanimous in the opinion that no video or photo can convey the feeling of being there. Obviously. Do take note, however, of the scale and movement of the land that is conveyed in Jon’s photos, taken during a recent practice round. Thinner crowds coupled with his interesting vantage points made for compelling images. Enjoy the tour!

Click on any gallery image to enlarge

HOLE #1 “Tea Olive” – 445 yards – par 4

“A drive that is long and straight, skirting a group of trees on the right will be in a favorable position for the second. It is difficult to obtain par figures from any other position.” – Dr. MacKenzie

A wide fairway welcomes the nervy opening tee shot at the Masters, but the dogleg right demands precision, and the green undulates like the ocean in a gale. There isn’t a player in the field who wouldn’t take 4-4-4-4 here.

HOLE #2 “Pink Dogwood” – 575 yards – par 5

“This is an interesting three shot hole down hill. Each shot will have to be placed with great accuracy if par figures are obtained. On the other hand, it is quite possible for a powerful and accurate player to reach the green in two shots.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The green on the par-5 second is perhaps the only one on the course that might be MORE interesting today than it was in 1934. In its early days, there was just one greenside bunker. The left-hand bunker would be added in the 1940s, followed by the back-left expansion of the green a number of years later.

A blind tee shot to a fairway sweeping left and hard downhill leaves an approach from a downhill lie to green sloping hard left-to-right. The first birdie opportunity and generally one of the easiest holes on the course.

HOLE #3 “Flowering Peach” – 350 yards – par 4

“This green is situated on an interesting natural plateau. The left hand side of the green is very narrow; whereas the right side is broad. It is easy for anyone to reach the wide portion of the green with their second shot, but difficult to reach the narrow end where the pine will usually be placed.” – Dr. MacKenzie

No. 3 has seen its share of trainwrecks as players attempt to drive the ball on to this extremely shallow, severely sloped green. Laying up can leave an awkward half-wedge and bring the enormous fairway bunkers into play.

HOLE #4 “Flowering Crabapple” – 240 yards – par 3

“This is a very similar hole to the famous Eleventh (Eden) at St. Andrews. There have been scores of attempted copies of this famous hole but there is none that has the charm and thrills of the original. Most copies are failures because of the absence of the subtle and severe slopes which create the excitement of the original hole, and also because the turf is usually so soft that any kind of a sloppy pitch will stop. Previous failures, followed by, comparatively speaking, increasing successes may have given us sufficient experience to warrant us in hoping that here at last we may have constructed a hole that will compare favorably with the original.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The original 13th and 14th Holes at Augusta National (now the 4th and 5th) were both modeled after great holes from The Old Course, as was the spirit of the course itself. The par-3 13th was a loose replica of the famed Eden 11th and the 14th, a version of the infamous Road Hole 17th.

 

The first par-3 of the round is a monster considered by some to be the toughest par on the course. The guarded green is sloped right-to-left and back-to-front. No problem if you’ve got a 240yd high cut in your bag.

 

HOLE #5 “Magnolia” – 495 yards – par 4

“This will be a similar type of hole to the famous 17th at St Andrews. A group of trees will form the corner of the dogleg instead of the station masters garden and the green itself will be situated on a similar plateau to its prototype.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Lengthened by 40 yards before last year’s tournament, this hole now demands a 300 yard carry to clear the enormous fairway bunkers inside the dogleg. The green is eye-poppingly sloped in front, making three-putts common here.

HOLE #6 “Juniper” – 188 yards – par 3

“This will be similar to the Redan at North Berwick but here owing to its extreme visibility, lie of the land and beauty of the surroundings, we have no doubt that we will be able to construct a much more attractive hole than the original.” – Dr. MacKenzie

A personal favorite and a terrific par-3, Juniper plays downhill over hillside spectators to an incredible green protected by a huge bunker. Seeing the back right pin position in person for the first time is a true revelation.

HOLE #7 “Pampas” – 450 yards – par 4

“This hole is similar in character to the Eighteenth Hole at St. Andrews, Scotland. There is a deep hollow at the front of the green which it is necessary to attack at the correct angle for par figures to be obtained. At this hole it will also be desirable to play a run-up shot as it will be exceedingly difficult to retain a pitch in the usual position of the flag.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Substantial changes have turned one of the easier holes on the course into one of the toughest, as one of the narrowest fairways on the course leads to one of the shallowest greens, which must often approached from a downhill lie.

HOLE #8 “Yellow Jasmine” – 570 yards – par 5

“This is a three shot hole uphill. The green is in a punchbowl surrounded by large hillocks nine to twelve feet high. It is completely visible for the third shot and a player who is sufficiently long to get up in two will be able to define the position of the green owing to the size of the surrounding hillock. It may be compared to the Seventeenth Green at Muirfield (Edinburg, Scotland).” – Dr. MacKenzie

Clifford Roberts was a fan of the 8th green but was bothered by the way the surrounding mounds inhibited spectator viewing. In the late 1950s, he had them removed while retaining the putting surface itself… sort of. Jones hated the change so the green was quickly rebuilt, with flanking bunkers replacing the lost mounds. With the help of Byron Nelson, the mounding would be restored in the late 1970s, giving us the 8th green complex we know today.

The second of four exceptional three-shotters, the 8th plays uphill and blind into an elongated green bowled in by enormous mounds (restored by Byron Nelson in 1979). Any miss left is stone dead. A great risk/reward hole.

HOLE #9 “Carolina Cherry” – 460 yards – par 4

“This is a hole of the Cape type played slightly downhill. A long straight drive to the right will give an easy second to the green.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Players quickly figured out that the best line into the 9th was often from the 1st fairway… reminiscent of various holes at St Andrews. To force players to approach the hole “properly”, Roberts had Perry Maxwell rebuild the green (twice) and add bunkers in the face of the hill.

The tee shot here is to a blind landing area, but Carolina Cherry is all about the approach, which is steeply uphill from a downhill lie, and the green, which slopes sharply from back-to-front. The back-nine awaits.

HOLE #10 “Camelia” – 495 yards – par 4

“This is a comparatively easy down-hill hole. A long drive over hillocks on the right will land on a plateau from which an iron shot can be played to the opening of a large nature-made punch bowl green. The driver that pulls his shot to the left of the fairway is called upon to play a difficult second shot over a large spectacular bunker, with small chance of getting near the pin. This hole embodies the most attractive features of the Thirteenth hole at Cypress Point, California, and the Fourth at Alwoodly, one of the best of the British inland links.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Today’s 10th Hole is obviously VERY different than what’s shown here as the 1st Hole. Jones and Roberts hired Perry Maxwell to relocate the green to its current location in the summer of 1937. Moving the green back 60 yards turned Mackenzie’s sprawling greenside bunker into the beautiful but oddly-situated fairway bunker that we find today.

And so it begins – the most exciting back nine in major championship golf. As a first timer, I was mesmerized at the remarkable length and steepness of the downhill 10th. Historically, this is the toughest hole on the course.

HOLE #11 “White Dogwood” – 5050 yards – par 4

“The green is situated in the bend of a stream. The approach has a marked tilt upwards from left to right, so that the further and more accurately a drive is placed to the left the easier the second shot becomes. This should always be a quite fascinating hole. I don’t know another quite like it.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The fairly sharp dogleg of MacKenzie’s original 11th has been straightened and lengthened considerably over the years. Extensive tree planting has also turned a wonderfully strategic tee shot into one of the tightest and toughest on the course. The 11th green has been rebuilt and raised numerous times, and the current pond was once a little bend in Rae’s creek that guarded the front-left of the green.

White Dogwood begins with one of the day’s toughest tee shots down through a narrow chute of trees and culminates with an approach into a green guarded by a pond left, big mounds front a slope right and Rae’s Creek long. In the April 21, 1958 issue of Sports Illustrated, Herbert Warren Wind coined the phrase “Amen Corner” to describe the 11th green, 12th hole and 13th tee. The evocative name stuck immediately.

HOLE #12 “Golden Bell” – 155 yards – par 3

“This is an interesting pitch shot to a long narrow green immediately over a stream. The bold player will go for the pin on the right, while the less ambitious will steer for the larger landing space on the left side of the green. There is a steep sandy bank covered with beautiful trees beyond the green.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The par-3 12th is a very simple hole (though certainly not easy), which has likely helped it retain its original character as much as any hole at Augusta, but it’s almost hard to imagine that it once played as the 3rd considering the massive role it plays in the event each year.

Perhaps the most famed par-3 in golf, Golden Bell is just 150-some yards through a mysterious and beguiling wind to an angled, kidney-shaped green across Rae’s Creek. Has any hole produced more major championship drama?

HOLE #13 “Azalea” – 510 yards – par 5

“This is played along the course of a brook with the final shot finishing to a green over the stream with a background of a hill slope covered with pine trees. The hole has some of the best golfing features of the Seventeenth hole at Cypress Point, California, and the ideal hole depicted in C.B. Macdonald’s book.” – Alister Mackenzie

Augusta’s great 13th (former 4th) is the second hole for which MacKenzie cited other holes that influenced its creation. This is the “ideal hole” mentioned, a design he himself created for a competition in Country Life magazine related to Macdonald’s Lido project.

Probably the best par-4-and-a-half in the world, and definitely the prettiest. The club’s acquisition of land from neighboring Augusta Country Club could see this hole lengthened by as much as 60 yards. I wouldn’t change a thing.

HOLE #14 “Chinese Fir” – 440 yards – par 4

“This hole embodies some of the features of the Sixth Hole at St. Andrews, Scotland. A long drive skirting or played over a bunker on the right will give a visible shot to the green. From the left the green is semi-blind and moreover a run up approach will be required over a succession of hillocks and hollows.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The 14th green complex is an absolute marvel, surely among the most interesting that we get to see on TV. If only the pros hit longer clubs into this green rather than short irons—here are few shots more satisfying to watch than a running ball that climbs onto the top shelf.

Since 1952, the dogleg-left 14th is the only hole at Augusta National without a single bunker. The defense here is the tricky green, which features a false front, beyond which it runs away to the back and hard left-to-right.

HOLE #15 “Firethorn” – 530 yards – par 5

“This is a three shot hole to most golfers. It is not only an interesting three shot hole, as one will be maneuvering for position from the tee shot onwards, but also a magnificent two shot hole, as a skillful and courageous player will, aided by a large hillock to the right, be able to pull his second around the green. A pond in front of the green provides the penalty for the long player who fails to make a perfect second shot.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The second of two incredible par-4-and-a-half holes on the back side and the site of Gene Sarazen’s Shot Heard Round The World in 1935: a 4-wood for double eagle. A tremendously exciting hole for the patrons and players alike.

HOLE #16 “Redbud” – 170 yards – par 3

“This is a somewhat similar hole over a stream to the best hole (seventh) at Stoke Poges, England. It is probably a better hole than the one at Stoke Poges as the green is more visible and the background more attractive.” – Dr. MacKenzie  

In the late 1940s, Robert Trent Jones dammed up the creek on what’s now the 16th, shifting the tees and flipping the green to the other side of the water. While it would have been fantastic to have played MacKenzie’s original hole, the changes made by Trent Jones in creating the current 16th certainly added variety to the set of one-shotters.

“IN YOUR LIFE have you seen anything like that?” Verne Lundquist’s iconic call of Tiger Woods’ amazing chip-in on Sunday at the 2005 Masters is still the first thing I think of when I see the 16th at ANGC. And it always will be.

HOLE #17 “Nandina” – 440 yards – par 4

“The construction of this green is somewhat similar to the famous Fourteenth at St. Andrews (reversed). It will be necessary to attack the green from the right and it will be essential to play a run-up shot if par figures are desired. We hope to make the turf of such a character that an indifferent pitch will not stop on the green. Until players have learned to play the desired shot this will undoubtedly be one of the most fiercely criticised holes.” – Dr. MacKenzie

This green at Augusta was the opposite of the 14th at St Andrews, with the strong contour on the left rather than the right. Maxwell subsequently added the bunkers to the mound.

The 17th was best known for the Eisenhower Tree, a giant loblolly pine 210yds from the tee that the 34th President wanted cut down. He belatedly got his wish courtesy of Mother Nature when a 2014 ice storm brought it down.

HOLE #18 “Holly” – 465 yards – par 4

“The tee shot is played over a valley and a bank running diagonally from left to right. The longer the drive to the right the easier the second shot, as the approach to the green is bunkered heavily on the left.” – Dr. MacKenzie 

Note the central fairway bunker and how the green extends well down the hill alongside the left greenside bunker. The original green on what’s now the finishing hole was massive compared to today’s version.

The narrow chute demands a straight shot from this pressure-packed tee. The fairway bunkers up the left side are enormous and deep. The green is severe and a short-side is an automatic bogey. Otherwise, an easy finishing hole.

Two things can be counted on with relative certainty: First, the golf course at Augusta National Golf Club will continue to evolve, and second, it will produce exciting championships for golf geeks and casual fans alike every year. 

For even more on Augusta National and The Masters, we highly recommend:

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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ENDURING DESIGN AT PINE VALLEY

A then and now look at Pine Valley and what has made its greatness endure for a century

The early days of golf in America were imbued with enthusiasm. The quirky little stick and ball game that had migrated across the Atlantic from the British Isles captured hearts and minds with its blend of outdoor recreation, a test of physical and mental abilities, competition and camaraderie. It did not take long, however, for a sense of restlessness and discontent, particularly directed at our playing fields, to set in. “Why,” players asked, “are our courses so inferior to the Scottish links?” Nevermind that those courses had evolved and improved over centuries on ground that was ideal for golf. Such is the nature of American culture—we want the best, and we want it now.

It was this impulse that sent Charles Blair Macdonald across the pond on a search for the ideal holes that he would use as inspiration for the National Golf Links of America. He was not the only one pulling on this thread. In Philadelphia, a group of avid amateurs led by George Crump was turning their own dissatisfaction into a plan. It is not clear that these men intended to create a course that would be considered among the world’s best for decades to come, but at Pine Valley that is exactly what they did.

The Dreamer

“The late George Crump must have had more than a touch of prophetic imagination…what was in Crump’s mind when he first thought of Pine Valley was that somewhere there ought to be one course where as far as humanly possible, the best man of the day should win because every bad or indifferent shot should meet with its reward.” – Bernard Darwin

To onlookers, the man who is doggedly pursuing a dream might not appear as a visionary. Instead, he is crazy, or to the more charitable, a poor fool. Perhaps that is why those who could not see the picture in its creator’s mind labelled Pine Valley “Crump’s Folly”. And given the hardship that was endured to bring the course first to life and then to long-term sustainability, their short-sighted judgment was not entirely baseless. In the end, which George Crump would tragically not live to see, his detractors would be proven quite wrong about the course in the New Jersey pine barrens.

George Crump surveys the land that would become Pine Valley

Along with New York, Boston and Chicago, Philadelphia was a hotbed of activity in golf’s formative years. At the center of that scene was George Crump. Hospitality was his business, but the word also applies to the way he lived. By all accounts, he was the kind of genuinely engaging and friendly person to whom others naturally gravitated. It is no surprise then that he was at the center of a group of Philadelphians who shared a love of the game of golf, and each other.

These men, who were referred to as “the fraternity”, were avid sportsmen, successful businessmen and bon vivants. They were members at local clubs including Merion, Philadelphia Cricket Club and Huntingdon Valley. They played matches against one another, traveled to Atlantic City and beyond for winter golf, and supported the growth of the game in the city through the creation of Cobb’s Creek. Their ranks included architects George Thomas and A.W. Tillinghast, and Merion’s Hugh Wilson, as well as George Crump’s close compatriots Howard Perrin and Reverend Simon Carr, who was described as America’s Top Priestly Golfer”. Not only did they play together, but they also collaborated and wrote about the issues of golf administration, architecture, rules and handicapping. They were leaders in this nascent period of the game.

Fraternity members William P. Smith, A.W. Tillinghast and George Crump

How often have men gathered and, fueled by libations, indulged in the making of grand plans that never progress beyond the threshold of the barroom? In order for dreams to become a reality, there must be an individual who acts as a catalyst. For the fraternity, George Crump played that role. The group had been disgruntled both with winter course conditions in Philadelphia, and with their own performance against rivals from Long Island and Boston. A new, better course located off the train line to Atlantic City would kill two birds with one stone—Crump set about making it happen. He took a study trip to the British Isles and Europe, and while there met Harry Colt. Sunningdale and the other courses of the London healthland were particularly inspiring, and so it came as no surprise when Crump sought out the famous architect for assistance with his dream chasing.

Prior to Colt’s arrival, George Crump had exhaustively explored the land, and he held strong inclinations about holes to build. Nonetheless, he let his architect work unencumbered by preconceived notions. After a week spent studying the site, Colt produced a routing, which Crump then married with his own. This marked the beginning of a year’s long process of soliciting ideas and then synthesizing them into the bigger picture. Input was readily accepted, but the final decisions were Crump’s. In his brilliant history of Pine Valley’s creation Crump’s Dream, author Andrew Mutch summed up the collaborative process. “A friend to all, Crump was the colander into which countless experts poured their ideas,” wrote Mutch. “He sifted the collected intellectual property retaining what he intuitively knew would prove useful. Behind the affable sportsman was an uncommonly driven—even stubborn—man who would stop at nothing to attain his dream. The real genius of Crump was in using the gifted minds from the Philadelphia Fraternity to assemble his mosaic upon the beautiful lands of Sumner.”

Harry Colt’s plan for Pine Valley

The hard work of clearing the land of trees and building golf holes got underway. Progress was slow but steady, with Crump unafraid to deviate from the plan when a better option presented itself. For example, William Evans wrote of a change to the 13th in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “Ground for the fairways had been cleared along the ridge…It occurred to Mr. Crump that the panoramic view from this ridge would be very desirable, and consequently he sent a gang of men in there to fell the trees. When the work was done, a magnificent golf hole was in evidence, a far greater hole that the one originally planned.”

In addition to being an architectural savant, George Crump also had a knack for promotion. He pioneered the concept of preview play. As holes were finished, play began as soon as possible for members and guests. A steady stream of high profile visitors stopped by to see the new course including C.B. Macdonald, Donald Ross, Robert Hunter, Walter Travis, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, William Fownes, Ben Sayers, Glenna Collett, Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans, Grantland Rice, Bernard Darwin, Max Behr, Jerry Travers, Alexa Sterling, John G. Anderson, Long Jim Barnes, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. Reviews were almost entirely glowing, but these visits served another purpose. Crump’s intent was for the course to evolve based on observing players and listening to their feedback. He continued to make mental notes and tinker as construction progressed. Over time, he expected the course to make a steady march toward perfection.

Progress was acutely painful at times, however. The field of agronomy was far from the established science that it is today. Growing healthy turf involved trial and error, which in the case of Pine Valley, amounted to a great deal of dead grass on the fairways and putting surfaces. Once again, Crump gathered ideas and anecdotes from all quarters, but the troubles mounted. Coupled with the financial and operational strain of attempting to build a golf course during war time, as well as other health issues, the visionary’s will to proceed finally ran out with fourteen holes completed. Tragically, George Crump took his own life before he was able to see the entirety of his dream course materialized.

Following through on what he started would fall to his friends in the fraternity.

A Cast of Characters

“George A. Crump, who died in 1918, loved golf for its own sake, and he loved the good shots of the game. More than most men, however, he realized that the making of good shots must be encouraged by good courses. Mr. Crump’s ideas led to the building of a course that will always be a monument to him. The Pine Valley course to a greater degree than any course that I have ever seen possesses individuality…Mr. Crump worked constantly on the whole landscape garden as if it were a picture, adding the needed touch here and there with the patience of an artist.” – Chick Evans

In spite of the deep sorrow felt by Crump’s friends at the loss of their ring leader, they resolved to carry on and complete Pine Valley. Hugh Wilson was the first to make a big impact. He built the remaining four holes from the Crump-Colt plan and managed to solve the agronomic issues. The turf would finally be on par with the design.

Next, it was decided that the intended improvements should be carried out to the fullest extent possible. A two day Advisory Committee meeting led by founding members Howard Perrin and Simon Carr was convened in which participants racked their brains for any recollections of Crump’s intended tweaks. C.H. Alison was tapped to provide his thoughts on course upgrades, which neatly dovetailed with the findings of the Committee. That work was carried out faithfully, and it was agreed that it finally met George Crump’s lofty standards.

The course continued to evolve in the years that followed as it matured and was played by more members, guests and competitive golfers. The pimple was removed from the putting surface on the 18th in 1928. William Flynn added a second green on the 9th and softened the bunkering in front of the 18th green. In 1929, Perry Maxwell, who by then was a member, made further modifications. He tuned up several greens and their surrounds, including the 4th, 5th and 9th. Through all these changes, present was the steady hand of greenkeeper Eb Steiniger, who consistently delivered playing surfaces that allowed Pine Valley to shine.

Eb Steiniger studies the bunkering on the 15th in 1954

Today, the course is under the care of Superintendent Richard Christian and consulting architect Tom Fazio, who has been a member since the 1980s and whose Uncle George was the club’s playing pro in the 1940s. Fazio built the companion short course, and has undertaken some tree removal and bunker renovation. George Crump did not intend for Pine Valley to be a static golf course—he desired continuous improvement. Would he want trees cleared and vistas restored? Would he like the new aesthetic of the bunkers and sandy wastes, or would he prefer they be more rugged? What would he make of modern agronomic capabilities? We, like Fazio and the membership, are left to speculate and debate. One thing is certain though, he would have loved to be in on lively discussions with friends, and he would hopefully take some satisfaction in Pine Valley’s position among the greatest golf courses in the world.

The Course Then & Now

“I personally feel that of all the golf courses that exist in golf, Pine Valley may be the only one where by moving a tee, fairway or green, you may not be able to improve it. You may be able to move something for the sake of change, but in terms of actually moving or recreating or adding something relative to the design of the golf course, I personally don’t think you could make it any better.” – Tom Fazio

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

In hindsight, there was an alchemical process that led to the creation of Pine Valley. Inspiration drawn from Scotland and the London heathland, applied to suitable ground that had been meticulously studied, influenced by brilliant design minds like Colt, Tillinghast and Wilson, allowed to freely evolve as opportunities for betterment arose. A formula that seems destined to yield greatness as we look back at it now was far less apparent when the alchemist was working through the steps. George Crump gave himself completely to Pine Valley, and through the course, his dream endures.

A course as timeless as Pine Valley is worthy of a tour delivered through both past and present lenses. Fortunately for the curious, the historical record is filled with the observations and impressions of many of golf’s greatest minds from the last century. To the fullest extent, their words have been employed, with links allowing for further exploration. Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) has generously opened up his treasure trove of historical photos covering almost every hole, which are contrasted with the modern photography of Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems). A fortunate few players are afforded the opportunity to directly experience Pine Valley’s brilliance. For the rest of us, the hope is that the tour that follows allows for vicarious pleasure. Enjoy!

HOLE #1 – 421 yards – par 4

Crump was a match player, and he thought of his opener as both a first and potential 19th hole, drawing inspiration from one of his personal favorites at Hoylake—scorable, yet able to cause acute difficulties. Ran Morrissett of GolfClubAtlas wrote of Pine Valley’s 1st, “The demand for clear thinking is immediate: with the front portion of the green ample in width, is the golfer content to take two putts to get down? Or is he confident enough to chase after back hole locations where the green narrows? A wonderful dilemma posed by a bunkerless green site.”

HOLE #2 – 368 yards – par 4

Players quickly realize that, at Pine Valley, the yardage on the card is meaningless vis a vis a hole’s level of difficulty. “My word, do you play this hole, or just photograph it?” wrote John La Cerda in his profile for The Saturday Evening Post in 1945. Golf Digest’s Jerry Tarde further describes the experience. “The 2nd is the longest, most treacherous 368 yards in golf,” he explained in his flyover video tour. “Church pew bunkers run up both sides of the fairway to a rising hill with a lunarscape of sand pits. You can only see the top of the flagstick.” Tom Fazio referred to the second shot on the 2nd as the impetus for building the short course. He just wanted to hit that shot over and over. “The green is even more perilous,” continued Tarde. “A missed shot is a death sentence. As the members say, Welcome to Pine Valley.’”

HOLE #3 – 198 yards – par 3

The collection of one-shotters at Pine Valley may be the best on the planet. They are varied, and all demanding of well-struck tee balls. “As sightly a hole as the golfing artist could wish to view; and as severe a test of golf skill as the expert iron player could crave,” wrote founding member Simon Carr in a 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated. “The green, a perfectly beautiful natural conformation, lies about fifteen feet below the level of the tee, with every part of its surface fully in view…A weakly hit ball, or a slightly pulled ball, needs no urging to trickle, or to shoot, into the depths of the graceful, serpentine bunker that winds around the whole left side of the green. On the right side, just at the distance the ball should carry, the bunker pushes two hungry mouths partway into the green, ready to gobble a ball the least bit too far to the right…There is no puzzle, no trick, no blind chance of play. It just requires the skill and nerve of a very finely controlled long iron shot.”

HOLE #4 – 499 yards – par 4

Crump was not shy about confronting players with intimidating looks from the tee. The experience elicited colorful reactions from early guests and visiting journalists. “(The course) has sandy wastes so extensive that they should be crossed only by camel,” wrote John Kieran from the New York Times. “From the fourth tee, the indignant visitor looks out over nothing but sand. The caddies point somewhere along the skyline and say, ‘Aim up there.’ There should at least be a pyramid or an obelisk as a roadmark for wayward golf traffic.” There is more to this stout four-par than the tee shot, as explained by Morrissett. “Crump was a master at fitting the green to the hole,” he wrote. “It comes as no surprise to find the green is open in front and is one of the biggest on the course. The green itself follows the general slope of the land, which is from front to back.”

HOLE #5 – 238 yards – par 3

There is a distinct satisfaction in successfully producing a shot at the very limits of one’s ability. The architects of the Golden Age often included a long par-3 to provide the opportunity for this thrill, and at Pine Valley, it comes at the magnificent 5th. Bernard Darwin described the experience well when he wrote, “What a memorable short hole is the fifth—one full spoon shot over a tremendous chasm stretching from tee to green, a wilderness of firs on the right, big bunkers on the left. To land the ball on that green—and there is no reason in the world why you should not do it if you are not frightened—provides a moment worth living for.”

HOLE #6 – 394 yards – par 4

“When the ridge along the 6th is reached, the panorama is so magnificent that it grips and holds hard like a spell,” gushed A.W. Tillinghast in American Cricketer magazine. “I defy any bred-in-the-bone golfer to stand on the ridge, gazing over that marvelous sweep of country, without feeling a glow of great satisfaction stealing over him, and he must say in his heart, ‘It is good to be here.’” Although the maturing of the forest has changed the view from that which Tilly saw in his day, Pine Valley is still spell-binding on every hole, including this dogleg right par-4 that invites players to challenge the corner for an advantageous approach in to the angled green.

HOLE #7 – 636 yards – par 5

In the modern age, where three-shotters often only take two, Pine Valley holds players to a more demanding standard, requiring consecutive shots that are both well conceived and struck. “The 7th is the longest hole on the course, 636 from the back, with Hell’s Half Acre, the hazard at its midpoint,” said Tarde. “You might say there are no bunkers at Pine Valley. It is one big bunker with occasional patches of grass. There also are no rakes at Pine Valley. Golfers are asked to smooth their deepest footprints, but otherwise the sand is left to be tended by the wind and rain.”

HOLE #8 – 328 yards – par 4

The clever architect creates a variety of challenges. As noted by Morrissett, “Since Crump’s death in 1918, Pine Valley has never once fallen prey to the false quest for length that first gripped courses in the 1960s.”  The greatest courses test skill with every club in the bag, including the short clubs. When players are given an opportunity to have wedge in hand, those shots, including the approach to either of the two greens at the 8th, are no gimmes. “Pine Valley is generally considered to be the most terrifying course in the world,” penned Darwin, “and I, for one, have small doubt that the eighth hole is the most terrifying on it. After a good drive, the trembling wretch takes his mashie niblick and pitches for that little triangle of safety. If he fails, well…”

HOLE #9 – 458 yards – par 4

The 9th is the second straight par-4 that had an alternate green added, although it plays quite differently than the 8th. The approach shot to Crump’s original left green is the more demanding of the two. According to course historian James Finegan, “The player’s instinct is to take plenty of club in order to get up. Shallow bunkers in the back may contain the too aggressive shot, but eight or nine feet beyond the green, the earth falls abruptly away down a wooded slope so long and steep that the ball, if it doesn’t fetch up against a tree trunk, may actually edge out into the 18th hole, which, for all practical purposes, might as well be on another planet.”

HOLE #10 – 161 yards – par 3

If there is one hole that has come to embody Pine Valley in our consciousness, it is this short par-3. Simon Carr summed up the experience beautifully. “The tee is built out on the very edge of the ridge, with the valley on the left, 50 feet below,” he wrote. “The green is located on a knoll in the side of a huge sand hill. In the distance, the green looks like an uncut emerald, as it rests amid the yellow and white sands of the surrounding bunkers. It is the jewel of the round…The wind always blows out on the edge of the ridge where the tee is placed; it tests one’s judgment soundly to gauge this important factor accurately in playing the shot. Tee shots at this hole are either good or bad…One must play the shot just right, or fail.”

HOLE #11 – 397 yards – par 4

“Every hole at Pine Valley is dramatic and memorable,” wrote Tom Doak in Golf Magazine, “even the holes that nobody talks about, like the medium-length 11th, with its perfect tee shot into a saddled fairway and perfect pitch back up a narrow valley.” This hole presents subtler challenges, but playing an approach from an uneven lie to a well-defended green is no less demanding than facing a wall of sand, water hazard, or the Devil’s Asshole.

HOLE #12 – 337 yards – par 4

In the modern era of aerial golf, angles still matter at Pine Valley. From the right tee, the fairway is wide and allows for advantageous positioning into the long axis of the green. Finegan explained the versatility of the 12th, “If the hole is played from the oft-neglected left-hand tee, elevated and tucked well back in a glade, the forced carry is more like 170 yards than 150, the landing area is not in view, and the subsequent shot to the narrow green is longer and rather on a sharp angle, with only the top half of the flagstick visible. The left-hand tee was built in 1962 for the express purpose of toughening this hole. It succeeds admirably.”

HOLE #13 – 486 yards – par 4

One of the course’s many strengths is the variety. Lengths, directions, elevation, constantly shifting, keeping players on their toes, epitomized by the stretch from eleven through thirteen. “Pine Valley blends all three schools of design—heroic, penal and strategic—over the whole course, often on a single hole. For rugged grandeur, 13 may be the best of the best,” gushed Tarde. “486 yards, first to a perched landing area on the right, then a long second sweeping left, with death or glory at hand.” Simply put, an all-world four par.

HOLE #14 – 220 yards – par 3

Wiley architects often use beauty to mask peril, a tactic that players must guard against at the par-3 14th. “For the photographer or painter, the hole is enthralling,” wrote Finegan. “For the player, it is unnerving. The ‘island’ green awaits far below in its picturesque setting of water and trees and sand. Because of the falling nature of the shot, the hole plays less than the measured distance. The breeze, generally off the port bow, can be tricky, often hurling a softly flighted ball directly into the water short of the green or into the forest that is everywhere the water is not, yet sometimes failing to influence in any fashion a crisply lined iron that, alas, now splashes in the water beyond the green.”

HOLE #15 – 615 yards – par 5

The second of Pine Valley’s two par-5s is straightforward, and just plain hard. “It might have been 15 that Robert Trent Jones had in mind when he called Pine Valley the most difficult course in the world,” explained Tarde. “For most of us, this par-5 requires four full shots and a putt. Is it unfair at times? Maybe so. But isn’t that the ultimate test? Can a player hit a good shot, only to be crushed by a horrific result, and still find it within him or herself to rise to the occasion on the next one?”

HOLE #16 – 475 yards – par 4

The 16th switches back and runs down to the water, before the course turns and heads for home. Position off the tee is important to approach the green set up against the lake. “Those who can clear the sand from the tee on the optimum line will have the luxury of hitting an iron from the right side of the fairway to the left side of the largest green on the course, which is to say hitting away from the lake,” expanded Finegan. “A grand and wonderful hole it is, and one which, like its predecessor, fully rewards the big basher.”

HOLE #17 – 345 yards – par 4

One can imagine how exciting match play can be coming down the stretch. Opportunities for triumph and disaster abound. Morrissett peeled back a layer when he wrote, “(The 17th) highlights how revolutionary George Crump truly was and how well he understood the psychology of the game. Like Donald Ross, Crump understood that there must be give and take by the course architect and he allows the golfer a chance to birdie the penultimate hole to break 80…or 90…or 100. Of course, rash tactics that place the greedy golfer above the day’s hole location on this sharply pitched green can be the undoing of an otherwise fine round.”

HOLE #18 – 483 yards – par 4

The home hole encapsulates much of the spirit of Pine Valley. There are forced carries on both shots, first over sand and then over water and sand. There are intimidating hazards complemented by subtle contours. There is incomplete visibility—it’s all there on the 18th, but not necessarily all there in front of you. Both the fronting bunkers and green surface have undergone changes, making both less penal than they were in Crump’s day. Newspaperman Ted Hoyt described the infamous feature that was later removed. “The famous pimple on the 18th green at Pine Valley,” he wrote, “has probably been cussed out more by aggravated linksmen than any other single hazard in the country.”

“The world doesn’t need a lot more courses that are just like Pine Valley. Designers have been trying to imitate it, and they will forever fall short. But if more golf courses were developed by guys who cared as much as George Crump did, we’d be on the right road.” – Tom Doak

Is Pine Valley difficult? Of course it is. In fact, although many consider it to be the greatest course in the world, those who prefer a more relaxed feel for their everyday golf would not designate it their favorite, precisely because it is relentlessly demanding. But it is so much more than a hard golf course. From the use of the land in the routing, to strategic placement of hazards, to the contours of the greens, it is evident to all that the course was a labor of love for a group of golf’s best minds during the Golden Age. Its greatness endures because it taps into the satisfaction one feels having overcome a true challenge, even if only for one shot. At Pine Valley, every victory, large or small, is earned.

Beyond the play of the course though, let’s not forget that the founders sought to create a place of natural beauty where enjoyment of time spent on sport with one’s fellows would reign supreme. As was often the case in the early days, Simon Carr put words dripping with a religious fervor to the feelings of visitors then, and now: “It is then a golfing Paradise. It is so peaceful, so secluded, so restful, that you feel as if you were a thousand miles from the rout of the big city…As you wander over the Pine Valley hills and through its dales, your eye is feasted, with nature’s sweet, wild beauty; the odor of the wholesome pine delights your nostrils; you seem to gather health and cheerfulness at every step. There is the peace of seclusion, nature’s godly beauty, the pure joy of most excellent golf. With a sturdy old friend by your side to share it all—what more could an earthly paradise be?”

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LINKSGEMS AUSSIE ADVENTURE

A photo recap of Jon Cavalier’s 2020 trip down under

Jon Cavalier kicked off his 2020 golf adventures in style by taking a trip that will likely remain a dream for even the most ardent American golf traveler—Australia. The word epic is overused, but a quick look at the stats indicates that it applies to this trip: 15 days, 20 courses, 23 rounds, 6 cities/islands, 10 flights, 25,000 air miles, 6 rental cars, 1,500 road miles, dozens of new friends and thousands of great memories.

Jon got a heaping helping of Aussie flavor that he captured with his breathtaking photography. Compiled below, the photos will surely bring back great memories for those fortunate enough to have strolled those fairways, or will serve as fodder for those of us who can only live vicariously. Enjoy!

Click on any gallery image to enlarge

ROUND 1: YARRA YARRA GOLF CLUB

The Australia tour kicked off in Melbourne with a round at Yarra Yarra Golf Club, a beautiful 1929 Alex Russell design with recent upgrades by Renaissance Golf. Great par-3s and unbelievable greens—some of the best I’ve seen anywhere.

ROUND 2: ST. ANDREWS BEACH

A 2004 collaboration between Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, St. Andrews Beach is long on gorgeous scenery and wildly fun greensites. Doak and Clayton largely took what the land gave them here, and Mother Nature was, as usual, quite generous.

ROUND 3: VICTORIA GOLF CLUB

This venerable sandbelt classic, influenced by the great Alister MacKenzie in 1928, recently received a facelift via restored greens newly seeded with Pure Distinction grass and new fairway irrigation. Truly a treat to play.

ROUND 4: WOODLANDS GOLF CLUB

I’d never heard of Woodlands before this trip, but I’m certainly glad we got to see it. Reminiscent of the great members clubs back home, the course features some terrific greens, great par-3s and several world-class short par-4s.

ROUND 5: BARWON HEADS GOLF CLUB

An incredibly pleasant surprise, this historic links dates to 1920 and was designed by Vic East, head professional at Royal Melbourne. It’s the Australian version of England’s Rye and America’s Kittansett, and it is amazing.

ROUND 6: ROYAL MELBOURNE WEST

In a word, amazing. Designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1926 and built over five years by Alex Russell and greenskeeper Mick Morcom using only a horse-drawn plow and scoop, this is golf at its very best. World-class in every respect.

ROUND 7: ROYAL MELBOURNE EAST

Is it possible to have a better day of golf without getting in your car than an afternoon round at Royal Melbourne West followed by an evening round on the East? I don’t think it is. Quite possibly the best “B” course in the world.

ROUND 8: KINGSTON HEATH GOLF CLUB

A true charmer on an intimate parcel, Kingston Heath brings to mind Garden City Men’s or Chicago Golf as a masterpiece of strategic design on flat ground. Cliche, but I could play here every day and be quite happy. Lovely spot.

ROUND 9: ROYAL MELBOURNE WEST

A place so nice we played it twice—I could play it a hundred more times and still never experience every aspect of its brilliance. Rare that a course with such high expectations exceeds every bit of them, but Royal Melbourne does.

ROUND 10: PENINSULA KINGSWOOD NORTH

Of all the places people recommended that we see in Melbourne, none was more popular than this 2019 redesign by Mike Cocking. To all who suggested it, our thanks—this is a remarkable golf club and a brilliant design.

ROUND 11: PENINSULA KINGSWOOD SOUTH

A quick sunset loop around this 2019 Mike Cocking redesign was a real treat. The two courses here are both a lot of fun, but each has its own unique feel. The Peninsula Kingswood members are quite fortunate to have two of the best in town.

ROUNDS 12 & 13: CAPE WICKHAM GOLF LINKS

WOW! This 2015 links byMike DeVries on the northern tip of tiny King Island beneath the Cape Wickham lighthouse is absolutely incredible.Everyone who has previously hyped this course is right: Cape Wickham is off-the-charts dramatic, stunning and fun.

ROUND 14: OCEAN DUNES

A surprise stunner, this 2016 Graeme Grant design hugs the rugged coastline of King Island. Jagged rocks, colorful ice plant and huge breakers highlight the coastal holes beginning each nine, while the inland holes play through giant dunes.

ROUND 15: KING ISLAND GOLF & BOWLING CLUB

King Island’s oldest course, the Golf & Bowling Club has 16 tees and 12 greens, which combine to form an extremely fun 18 holes with ocean views everywhere. Reminiscent of the original Sheep Ranch and the back nine at Pacific Grove.

ROUNDS 16 & 17: BARNBOUGLE DUNES

As authentic a seaside links as there is outside of the UK, this 2004 design by Tom Doak, Mike Clayton and Brian Schneider is draped in and across huge dunes on Tasmania’s north coast. A brilliant design in a beautiful location.

ROUND 18: LOST FARM

This 2010 20-hole Bill Coore design sits northeast of Barnbougle Dunes across the Great Forester River and is a wonderful mix of holes in large seaside dunes and expansive sandy parkland. Put together 38-hole complex at Barnbougle is truly world-class.

ROUND 19: BONDI GOLF & DIGGER CLUB

It was pouring rain during our morning visit to this beautiful little 9-holer, but we came back to the area for dinner at dusk and I nabbed this shot of the course atop the cliffs, Bondi Beach and the lights of Sydney.

ROUND 20: NEWCASTLE GOLF CLUB

A drive two hours north of Sydney brought us to this sandy gem cut through a beautiful forest of eucalyptus. Newcastle Golf Club has fairway contours that rival the very best of the sandbelt, and some fun greens to boot. Great spot.

ROUND 21: NEW SOUTH WALES GOLF CLUB

We wrapped our visit to Sydney with a stop at the incomparable New South Wales. Conditions weren’t great for photography, but were perfect for golf. This place is truly a stunner—great design on an incredible piece of land. Unforgettable.

ROUND 22: KOOYONGA GOLF CLUB

Our penultimate stop, Kooyonga was strongly recommended by many of our friends and followers as a must-see in Adelaide, and as usual, they were right. Five Australian Opens have been contested on this 1923 W.H. Rymill design.

ROUND 23: ROYAL ADELAIDE GOLF CLUB

Our final round, and we saved one of the best for last. What’s not to love? Royal Adelaide features red sand bunkers, a brilliant routing, with a strong MacKenzie influence, and best of all, a train running through the course. Remarkable!

BONUS: KOALAS

Australia is full of amazing animals, none more majestic than the sleepy koala. These little guys have been devastated by deforestation, fire and disease, but Australia’s wildlife sanctuaries are working hard to protect them.

For fans of Australian golf and Jon’s photography, stayed tuned for updates to the galleries on this page. More photos to come over time…

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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BLUE’S GREENS

A look at the heart of Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, the tremendous set of Seth Raynor designed greens

For a golf course to be great, its different components—land, routing, strategy, hazards, greens—should ideally work together, and have independent strength of their own. Ask a large enough group of golf geeks which of these course elements is the most important, and the answers will likely run the gamut. Such is the varied nature of the game, its playing fields and the opinions of its players. A strong case can be made that the greens are the heart and soul of any golf course. Their orientation, magnitude and contours create a game within the game, and when well-conceived, dictate strategy all the way back to the tee. It is nearly impossible to have a truly great course without a set of high quality greens. Pebble Beach is the exception that proves this rule, and only by virtue of its setting in one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places on planet golf.

Seth Raynor, in collaboration with both Charles Blair Macdonald and Charles Banks, belongs on the Mount Rushmore of green builders. The size and boldness of his green complexes is matched with contouring of the putting surfaces that oscillates between wild and sublimely subtle. His greens can take a lifetime to master on the approach and with the flatstick. Among the MacRaynor cognoscenti, the sets at National Golf Links of America, Chicago Golf Club and Camargo often get the nod as the best. Few will put Raynor’s work at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in that rarified company, but perhaps they should. Recent work on expansions, surrounds, bunkering and opening up the property through tree management is placing a spotlight on Raynor’s genius, and placing Blue Mound in the must-see conversation.

Mr. Raynor Goes to Milwaukee

“Very little has actually been written about that course,” said Seth Raynor historian Nigel Islam, “but we do know a few things.” After moving from its original location, the club recruited Raynor, whose reputation as a solo designer had been elevated in the Midwest with the openings at Shoreacres and Camargo, as well as the rework of Chicago Golf Club. Indeed, Macdonald gushed about how his protege had proven himself a prodigy. “He scarcely knew a golf ball from a tennis ball when we first met,” recounted the mentor in Scotland’s Gift – Golf. “…he never became much of an expert in playing golf, yet the facility with which he absorbed the feeling which animates old and enthusiastic golfers to the manor born was truly amazing, eventually qualifying him to discriminate between a really fine hole and an indifferent one.”

On a gentle piece of ground on a plateau above the Menomonee River, Raynor designed the course to be an enjoyable challenge for players of all skill levels. A pamphlet issued by the club in 1924, prior to the opening of the course, described the holes and passed along a message from the architect to the membership. “Mr. Raynor says that any player who can get a carry of about 100 yards will keep out of trouble,” it read. “ It will be an interesting course to the great number of players who score 90 and over, and at the same time, it will tantalize those few golfers who are able to shoot 80 or better.” Raynor intended for players at Blue Mound to have room to chart a suitable route to each green where they would ultimately find abundant interest and challenges on the putting surfaces.

Seth Raynor still greets players with a watchful eye on the 1st tee at Blue Mound

Over the decades, both fairways and greens shrank at Blue Mound. Thankfully, that trend has been reversed. Retrovation work got underway as the highly-regarded Bruce Hepner consulted with former Greenkeeper Steve Houlihan on tree removal, changes to mowing lines and greens expansion. The process has continued, driven by the Greens and Grounds Committee and energetic, new Superintendent Alex Beson-Crone, including reconstruction of the Alps and Short bunkers, and firming up of playing surfaces. The club is eschewing flash, instead honoring the simple elegance of Raynor’s design by focusing on the finer details. “Blue Mound is not trying to be something that it is not,” explained Beson-Crone. “Raynor’s engineered contours produce an effect. Being outdoors on this course is a spiritual experience. It just feels right.” With that level of reverence and enthusiasm, the membership is right to be excited for what lies ahead.

Returning to the greens, Beson-Crone’s appreciation has grown with each passing day. “Sometimes I find myself standing in the middle of a green getting lost marveling at what they built,” he said, with a tone of awe in his voice. A sign of their quality reveals itself in the difficulty of choosing either the strongest or the weakest among the set. “I will probably have a new favorite green this year,” laughed Beson-Crone, “and every year.”

Heat maps illuminate the variety of contours possessed by Blue’s greens – Click on gallery to enlarge

Hepner is equally effusive in his praise. “What makes Raynor’s greens so interesting is that they are huge with all these internal contours,” he shared in a presentation to the club. The architect went on to make his case for following through on the expansion work. “The process is to get them out to the precipice, to the edges of these plateaus. Men and horses and mules built these greens and I guarantee that they wanted putting surface on every inch. Otherwise, they wasted a lot of sweat.” With each passing year, the retrovation progresses, reintroducing the variety of hole locations that Raynor intended to keep the course interesting for everyday play.

The Course

The land on which Blue Mound sits is understated, but far from boring. The outward nine loops around the perimeter, culminating with a four hole stretch that interacts with the ridge and slope above the river valley. The inward half meanders around the center, flirting with a tributary creek.

As we take a tour through the course, our focus will be on the greens, which have been captured beautifully by club member and architecture geek Jerry Rossi (IG: @putt4dough24). Special attention has been paid to the one-shotters, which are stellar. Hepner stated his position clearly to the club, “You have the best set of par-3s of any Raynor course that exists.” For those interested in greater tee-to-green detail, Blue Mound produced a series of flyovers featuring architect commentary that have been compiled into a YouTube playlist.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

Raynor comes right out of the gate with strong par-4s back-to-back. The two-shot redan 1st plays into an angled and elevated green with a high right side. The 2nd features an enormous double plateau with transition contours as grand as any he ever built. “Macdonald invented the double plateau at National Golf Links,” explained Hepner. “It gives that ‘floating in the air’ feel and forces you to trust your eye. That’s how modern architects get professionals.”

Macdonald’s inspiration for the most polarizing of his ideal three-pars came from Biarritz in France, and its famed Chasm hole.

Although they did not build one of these long par-3s at The National, subsequent designs at Piping Rock, St. Louis Country Club and Lido Club included prominent renditions.

The Biarritz at Piping Rock – Photo credit: Jon Cavalier

Raynor continued to employ the concept at Fisher’s Island, Shoreacres, Camargo, and on the 3rd at Blue Mound. Although the game has become more aerial in nature, creative shotmakers can still enjoy the fun of the low-running approach that the architect intended.

The next stretch of three par-4s works its way over to the river ridge and includes some of the most famous concepts. The Alps 4th recently had a retrovation of the cross bunker by Hepner that fronts a green which he describes as, “…a semi-punchbowl that is subtle, but on which there is a lot of contour.” The 5th is an uphill Road hole with an infinity green angled front-right to back-left. The 6th, named Strategy, presents players with options to position themselves for an optimal approach into the canted and contoured green. “I think this is one of your coolest holes,” Hepner told the members. “It’s patterned after the 1st at National Golf Links.”

The Short hole concept was brought back by Macdonald from the sleeper-fronted original at Brancaster.

Photo Credit: Simon Haines

Golden Age architects such as Ross and MacKenzie, as well as the Dyes in the modern era, shared the belief with Macdonald that at least once in a round, a player should be required to step up and hit a precise shot with a short iron. No bailout. Do or die. National’s version initially donned the Brancaster look, but the wood sleepers were ultimately removed.

Photo Credit: Simon Haines

Raynor had a knack for locating his Shorts in the most scenic spots on the course. With the Mount Mary campus as a backdrop, his setting at Blue Mound was no exception.

An alteration to the front bunkers over the years caused the 7th to lose some of its MacRaynor feel.

Bruce Hepner and the Blue Mound crew excavated the original footprint and returned the moat look, once again providing that all-or-nothing thrill.

Bunker shaping complete, prior to regrassing

Today’s 7th stirs the soul and quickens the pulse, just as Seth Raynor intended.

The front nine turns for home at the Punchbowl 8th, which because of its uphill orientation, has an Alps quality to it. “It is so strong,” mused Hepner. “It’s the coolest green I think I’ve ever expanded.” The par-4 9th plays past a set of string-of-pearls bunkers to a green that falls away hard to the left.

Lest players fret that Raynor peaked too early with the stellar close to the outward half, the 10th quickly signals more greatness to come. “Raynor poached the best ideas from the 2nd and 3rd place winners in the Country Life Magazine design contest that MacKenzie won,” shared Hepner. His “Prize” hole ends with a green that is among the most interesting and unique that he ever built. At the Cape 11th, the architect plays with Macdonald’s concept by angling the elevated green in opposition to the gentle sweep of the fairway. The drive on the Hog’s Back 12th grabs attention, but making a par four requires overcoming the equal challenge of subtle green contours.

“Take a narrow tableland,” wrote Macdonald of the concept he borrowed from North Berwick, “tilt it from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally, and you have the Redan.” The original was inspired by medieval fortifications…

Photo Credit: North Berwick

…which Macdonald and Raynor morphed to create their first at National Golf Links. In every subsequent design, they made this brilliant three-par a hallmark. It is no mistake that architects continue to follow in their footsteps by building Redans today.

The Redan 4th at NGLA – Photo Credit: Simon Haines

The negative impact of over-treeing is no more acutely evident than in a photo of Blue Mound’s 13th prior to Hepner’s retrovation. The aesthetics and strategy of the hole, suffocating under tree branches, cried out for freedom—a call that the membership and Hepner wisely and mercifully answered.

The Redan 13th now plays as intended. Aerial and ground attacks are both options, but deep bunkers lurk beyond, waiting to ensnare the overzealous.

Every great routing has a rhythm, with ebbs and flows. The stretch from the 14th through the 16th provides a quiet complement between the heart of the course and its closing holes. “14 and the Leven 16th have the opposite strategy,” said Hepner. “They work well together.” In the middle is the par-4 15th, with yet another outstanding green.

The final par-3 takes its name from the Eden estuary that runs behind the green at the original on The Old Course at St. Andrews. The three front bunkers have given players fits for more than a century, including Bobby Jones.

Photo Credit: St. Andrews

Macdonald and Raynor often represented the rear hazard with a long bunker, as was the case with their first rendition at The National.

Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Raynor took creative liberties with his design of the front bunkers on Blue Mound’s 17th. They serve the same purpose though—present a strong defense of the canted and contoured green.

With one final nod to The Old Course, Raynor concludes Blue Mound with the Long par-5 18th. The finisher requires three well-struck shots to have a good birdie look to close out a round. The green setting delivers a finishing touch of class, as Hepner explains. “Whoever sited the clubhouse did a great job in relation to the 9th and 18th. It is set at an angle, which enhances the view.” The difference between good and great, details.

Indulge me, for a moment, in the construction of a logical question:

If greens are the most important component of a golf course, and Seth Raynor was among the very best green builders in history, and his finest set of par-3s is at Blue Mound, and the strongest greens at Blue Mound are not on the one-shotters, and it is extremely difficult to identify the weakest green on the course, because they are all strong…Then, does it not stand to reason that Blue Mound is highly underrated among the Golden Age greats?

Perhaps my leaps of logic are too broad to accept, but this much is true—the club membership has a newfound zeal for polishing their hidden gem, and they have charged Hepner and Beson-Crone with recapturing all of its upside potential. Wherever one might have rated the course in the past, a return trip to Seth Raynor’s Blue Mound is sure to be cause for serious reconsideration.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WIN-WIN-WIN SOLUTION AT SAN GERONIMO

This installment of the GeekedOnGolf Community Golf series looks at the fight to save and reinvent San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin County, CA

For centuries, a story has been unfolding in the San Geronimo Valley, highlighting the relationships between people and the land, and each other. Important questions about stewardship, land use, ecology and community have been raised over the years, with complex and ambiguous answers. The fight to save the San Geronimo Golf Course is just the most recent chapter in the history of an area where tensions between competing interests make finding win-win solutions to problems more challenging. The question about the immediate future of this community course will soon be answered, and the next phase of the relationship between the people and this land will begin. What remains to be seen thereafter is what will become of the relationships among the residents of the valley and Marin County at large.

An Evolving Landscape

The San Geronimo Valley is in the heart of Marin County, over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It is home to several small towns surrounded by open space preserves. Creeks meander down from the hillsides and combine to form the ecologically important Lagunitas Creek Watershed that is habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Native American tribal territories – Credit: Drake Navigators Guild

The oldest known stewards of this land were the Coast Miwok people. Evidence suggests that going back more than 4,000 years, these indigenous hunter-gatherers used controlled burns to manage vegetation, promoting the growth of oaks that provided them acorns. They also caught fish in the creeks and hunted deer. Among their first contacts with European explorers was Sir Francis Drake, who reached the coast in 1579. Other settlers and fortune hunters followed, reducing the Miwok population from thousands to the low hundreds when their lifestyle and stewardship gave way to ranchers and farmers in the mid-19th century.

By the 1950s, Valley leadership recognized the need for a plan to better organize resources for the growing community. Recreation was a part of that plan, including a golf course.

The San Geronimo Valley in 1952 – Credit: Josh Pettit

A Scot and an Irishman came to America long after the Englishman Drake, each making their own mark on the West Coast. The one that most golfers have heard of is Dr. Alister MacKenzie, designer of Meadow Club, Cypress Point, Sharp Park and Pasatiempo. The other is Arthur Vernon Macan Jr.—a top amateur golfer who spent his days in the company of luminaries such as Bernard Darwin and Charles Alison, competing on and discussing the storied courses of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1908, he emigrated to British Columbia in Canada and earned his first commission as a course designer at Royal Collwood, which opened for play in 1913.

“Royal Collwood set the standard for West Coast architecture before Pebble Beach or Cypress Point,” said Jeff Mingay, golf course architect and student of Macan. “He was brilliant at routing, was a master green builder, and his courses drained really well—he pioneered golf course architecture in the west.” Macan made his way south to the Bay Area, working at high profile clubs like California Golf Club of San Francisco. His decades-long career would end in the San Geronimo Valley, with the opening of the community course in 1965. It would include his trademark, solid routing and challenging green contours, in a lovely natural setting. “Macan made clay models of his greens,” explained Mingay. “The only surviving model, which is now at the British Columbia Golf Museum, is from San Geronimo.” The course, which would be enjoyed by the community for generations to come, was an important piece of the history of golf architecture in America.

The San Geronimo Golf Course in 2017 – Credit: Josh Pettit

Of course, most of the players and other visitors to San Geronimo Golf Course could have cared less about the design pedigree of their local gem. For adults of all ages and skill levels, it was a place to get outside, connect with friends and nature, and have a go at capturing the magic of a few well-struck shots and holed putts. For boys and girls, it was a welcoming spot to learn the game and perhaps graduate to playing on one of the high school teams that used the course for matches. For non-golfers, it was an open space to walk the dog or take a stroll while good-naturedly pondering why on earth a sane person would ever become obsessed with trying to get a little white ball into a hole in the ground. San Geronimo was ground for recreation, and it was beloved by its community.

The facility had notably overcome two of the major issues plaguing courses across the country—financial and ecological sustainability. The Lee family, which owned and operated San Geronimo from 2009 through 2017, turned solid profits, in spite of the ebbs and flows of golf participation during that period. They emanated an inclusive spirit and embraced a multi-use approach to event hosting, activity offerings and tending of a community garden.

The Lees were also sensitive to the ecological impact of their golf operation. In 2014, the comprehensive Coho-Friendly Habitat and Operations Plan for the San Geronimo Golf Course was created in partnership with the community, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN). It set out to provide analysis and actionable recommendations for enhancement of riparian habitat, stormwater management, water use, integrated pest management and invasive species management (click here to see the Coho-Friendly plan). The document is thorough, holistic, well-conceived and a credit to the collaborative process of those involved.

It is worth highlighting that the Lees voluntarily participated in that process, and followed up by taking action on the recommendations for pest management, water use and invasive species management. Community volunteers also began pilot projects to enhance salmon and trout habitat in the creeks. “The previous owners of the golf course did a good job of not modifying the creek,” said Eric Ettinger, aquatic ecologist with the Marin Municipal Water District, in an interview. “I don’t think the golf course was ever the problem for salmon in the watershed.” The Lees and their partners in the community were taking action not because they had caused the problem, but rather because they saw an opportunity to be a part of the solution.

A Shift in Direction

In the midst of community-driven progress, San Geronimo was sold 2017, setting off a regrettable chain of events that has left the course in limbo. Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni led an effort to entice the Trust for Public Land to purchase the golf course at a premium, presumably to ensure that it would not fall prey to developers. Once the TPL ownership had been secured, Marin County would step in, purchase the land and “rewild” it into parkland. From the perspective of a single-minded champion of conservation, this plan likely seemed like a stroke of genius, justifying the lack of public consultation and transparency. The community had a different reaction.

The residents of Marin lean activist, to say the least, and when they got wind of the Rodoni-TPL deal, they got active. When attempts to get their voices heard by County Supervisors and TPL representatives failed, the San Geronimo Advocates group filed a lawsuit to block the resale of the golf course to Marin County, ironically on environmental protection grounds. The Advocates won, causing the county to walk away from the deal. The Trust for Public Land continued operations at the course for a time, but it now lays fallow. The community did not confine its advocacy to the courts, however. They organized and collected more than 12,000 signatures to qualify a ballot measure for March of 2020 that would protect the existing designation of golf as the primary use of the San Geronimo land, unless a future public vote determines otherwise.

The faces of San Geronimo – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

Reading through the letters-to-the-editor and local news stories regarding the fight to save San Geronimo, two things become abundantly clear. First, the battle is over more than a golf course. It is about the right of the people to participate in the process of determining how land in their community will get used. Second, this fight has become emotionally charged, with trust diminished and nerves raw. In violating its publicly stated principle to “work with communities to ensure that development happens for them, and not to them,” the Trust for Public Land has done damage that will take some time and effort to repair.

The Path Ahead

Why should valuable public land be used for the benefit of a few rich, white guys? This hackneyed question that the game of golf’s detractors love to trot out when debating public resource allocation is particularly misplaced at San Geronimo. The broad spectrum of players at the course, and the thousands of local ballot initiative supporters make this point emphatically. Golf provides recreational benefits to its players, and San Geronimo’s value as an open, green space and managed fire break extend well beyond golfers.

Further, the logic inherent in the question is fundamentally flawed. It implies that one kind of outdoor recreation (e.g. hiking, playing on a playground) is better than another (golf), and therefore more worthy of taxpayer support. The goal of any process of public land use planning should be to maximize recreational value to as many stakeholders as possible, ideally touching on aspects of ecology and community as well. It should not be to impose the values of the few on the many.

Josh Pettit has heard the “Why golf?” question while making the rounds to evangelize and pitch a new vision for the course. He grew up in Fairfax and learned to play the game at San Geronimo. Pettit went on to obtain a degree in Landscape Architecture and start his own business, Pacific Golf Design. He has been involved with the effort to save San Geronimo, offering his design services pro-bono. “San Geronimo always had a great reputation,” he recounted. “People from all over the area would come to play it. Given the overwhelming local support, the residents clearly still see the value in this golf course.” Pettit has sketched out a long-range plan that delivers wins to numerous stakeholder groups, and stands ready to jump in if given the chance by TPL, or a future owner.

Like the residents who wrote letters and collected signatures, Josh Pettit is both frustrated and determined. “The people at TPL initially expressed interest in my ideas, but it became clear that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. The new owners seem not to have learned their lesson regarding connecting with the community as well. They have one website set up to gather public comments, with an air of open-mindedness. Another is dedicated to defeating the Advocates’ ballot measure. Given that the Trust for Public Land already has golf course properties in Colorado and New Jersey in their portfolio, their anti-golf stance at San Geronimo is curious. “One of the project managers who was not a golfer told me that he got emotional watching Tiger Woods win The Masters this year,” shared Pettit. Golf can have that effect. There is still hope.

For those in positions of authority and power who are convinced that their way is the right way, there will always be a temptation to bypass the messy democratic process and impose their will. This is a recipe for suboptimal outcomes and backlash. A vastly superior outcome for San Geronimo can be achieved if the various stakeholders work together, as they have in the past. The risk of refusing to do so is that one group gets their way with the land, but the fabric of the community is torn in the process. What point is there in winning the battle, if both sides ultimately lose the war?

The sun has not yet set – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

It has been thousands of years since the San Geronimo Valley was wilderness. In the eras since, people have called the area home, managed the land, and used it for food, commerce and recreation, including golf. At the very least, for fire safety and ecological responsibility, generations to come will need to carry on that stewardship. In spite of missteps and conflict to this point, the opportunity still exists at San Geronimo to evolve the land once again to create an outstanding community asset that delivers immense recreational and ecological value. Here’s hoping that all parties involved take a step back, take a breath, and find that win-win-win.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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EMBRACING MACDONALD’S LEGACY AT SLEEPY HOLLOW

An in-depth look at the evolution of the C.B. Macdonald-designed and Gil Hanse retrovated Sleepy Hollow Country Club

“From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow…A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.”

— Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Perhaps there was a time when the public’s consciousness of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s work at Sleepy Hollow Country Club fit this description from Irving’s classic tale. With a retrovation of the course led by Gil Hanse now largely complete, players and architecture enthusiasts are fully awake to its greatness. In The Legend, suitors Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones vie for the heart and soul of Katrina Van Tassel, climaxing in a ghostly confrontation at a crossroads in the woods. That story foreshadows the challenge Hanse, consultant George Bahto and the club’s leadership would ultimately have to face. Standing at a crossroads, haunted by ghosts of architects past, which path would they take? By committing to recapturing the heart and soul of Macdonald’s Sleepy Hollow, they laid those ghosts to rest in a fashion that can best be described as legendary.

The Evolution of a Design Philosophy

By all accounts, Charles Blair Macdonald was a man of both feisty temperament and erudition. He was worldly and his wide-ranging interests included commerce, art, sport and architecture. Through his studies, he became aware of the work and writings of Humphry Repton, who was influential in Britain around the turn of the 19th century, coining the term “landscape gardener”. As Macdonald would later be considered the father of American golf course architecture, Repton’s publishing of The Art of Landscape Gardening in 1797 conferred upon him similar patriarchal status in his field. A passage in the book was particularly resonant with Macdonald and would send him down a path of evolution toward his distinct brand of design: “I can only plead that true taste in every art consists more of adapting tried expedients to peculiar circumstances than in the inordinate thirst after novelty, the characteristic of uncultivated minds, which from facility of inventing wild theories, without experience, are apt to suppose that taste is displayed by novelty, genius by innovation, and that every change must necessarily tend to improvements.”

Perhaps a respect for the traditions of the game and its playing fields came from time spent with Old Tom Morris in St. Andrews, but even while pushing the craft forward, Macdonald retained a connection to the unequivocal greatness of the old links. He did not believe that new and different necessarily equated to better in creative pursuits.

George Bahto, wrote the book on C.B. Macdonald, literally. In assembling his compendium of Macdonald’s life and work, The Evangelist of Golf, Bahto and his collaborator Gib Papazian illuminated the progression from a restless dissatisfaction with the quality of America’s courses to the creation of the ideal golf course at National Golf Links of America.

Another writer, Horace Hutchinson, built on the intellectual momentum of Repton when he published articles in Golf Illustrated in 1901 exploring the best and hardest holes of that time. Macdonald was affected by the articles’ premise. “These discussions certainly caught the attention of Charlie Macdonald,” wrote Bahto. “Why shouldn’t America have golf equal to that in the British Isles? In his mind, the content of the article was the definitive listing of those holes reverenced by the world’s greatest players. If America was to have golf that compared to that in Britain, its courses must be based on the same timeless genius as those across the Atlantic.”

From 1902-1906, a series of voyages back across the Atlantic ensued. With an assist from Devereux Emmet, a study was made of the greatest holes of the British Isles with the original intention of replicating them on American soil. “Now why should not one try to absorb that sanctified tradition of each hole by copying its features in another climate where in time tradition might sanctify its existence,” wrote Macdonald “The flowers of transplanted plants in time shed a perfume comparable to that of their indigenous home.” The plan to transplant holes morphed into a distillation of the strategy and features that could be drawn upon to create new courses. Bahto described that shift of focus, “It became clear to Macdonald that his original concept of topographic duplication was not as relevant to the quality of the course as the individual strategic elements.”

The land on which The National was built was optimal for Macdonald’s first experiment with his ideal concepts approach to design. It shared characteristics with traditional linksland—unforested, with topographical movement that was interesting, rather than severe. The project also fortuitously connected Macdonald with Seth Raynor. The combination of the former’s ideas with the latter’s surveying and engineering brilliance, applied to that land, resulted in a masterpiece. But what about more “peculiar circumstances”, as Repton put it? Would the approach hold up on wilder terrain? The duo’s next three projects at Piping Rock, St. Louis Country Club and Sleepy Hollow, which opened for play in 1914, proved that the ideal concepts could be applied to great effect on any site.

The original course explored the slope, the ridge and the valley, with the greater portion on the clubhouse side. Although the routing stayed mostly close to home, there was an adventurous spirit to the manner in which Macdonald and Raynor laid their ideal holes out on the dramatic landforms. Their creation was well received, but it would not take long for the course at Sleepy Hollow to begin evolving away from this starting point.

Calling in the Cleaner

How did a man who was a dry cleaner by trade become the foremost authority on the work of one of the Golden Age masters? Serendipity, or rub-of-the-green, had a strong hand in George Bahto’s story. He took up golf as an adult in New Jersey and found himself drawn to courses with bold features. Curiosity about the who, how and why behind his favorite holes and courses led him to the discovery of Charles Banks. Research on the protege Banks uncovered the mentor Seth Raynor, which subsequently brought him to Charles Blair Macdonald. The men’s creative approach fascinated Bahto, and down the rabbit hole he went, resulting in an avocation as a golf architecture historian.

Bahto connected with Gil Hanse, who got him involved in his first construction project at Stonebridge Golf Links, a course that drew some design inspiration from the philosophy of Raynor. It would not be his last. In writing The Evangelist of Golf, George Bahto enlightened the world on the value of C.B. Macdonald’s approach to design. He cleaned up Macdonald’s image, and the thinking of many club Green Committees who had been directly or indirectly degrading his courses for decades. It should therefore come as no surprise that some of those clubs would turn to Bahto for counsel, including Sleepy Hollow, which brought him on as a consultant.

It is worth noting that in all of Bahto’s writing about Charles Blair Macdonald, one word is conspicuously absent. That word is “template”, which has become shorthand when referring to the holes Macdonald, Raynor, Banks and others created using the ideal concepts. Unfortunately, the term carries with it the potential for an intellectually lazy inference that Macdonald and Raynor’s design process was somehow akin to dumping out a bag of cookie cutters and arranging them willy nilly across the landscape. The strength of each of the holes at Sleepy Hollow, with their strategically placed hazards and wondrously varied greens, is evidence that any downgrade to the ideal concepts approach as involving shortcuts is entirely off-base. The application of timeless and proven design elements to a unique landscape is more demanding because the architect is choosing to adhere to a constraint. There is no bailout, and no acceptance of inclusion of weak holes on a course. Bringing the course back up to Macdonald’s higher standard, and his constraints, was the challenge that would occupy Gil Hanse and his team for more than a decade.

The Retrovation

By the time that Gil Hanse found himself standing at a design crossroads with George Bahto at Sleepy Hollow, he had already traveled a long road to gain an understanding and appreciation for the architectural roots that gave rise to America’s Golden Age. He followed in Macdonald’s footsteps by taking an extended study trip to the British Isles, returning to initially work for Tom Doak before venturing out on his own. In 2003, as Hanse Golf Design was beginning to gain momentum, Hanse contributed an essay entitled “Stop Making Sense!” to Paul Daley’s Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective in which he shared a point of view that at first glance seems discordant with respect for Macdonald’s philosophy.

“The use of natural landforms to create interesting and creative golf holes should not be held to any formulas,” wrote Hanse. “If a rule must be stated, it should be that no rules apply to the use of a landscape to create playing grounds for golf. The golf course architect should be creative in utilizing natural features to dictate the strategy of the course. Inherent in the unique character of every site are unique golf holes just waiting to be discovered. Is this not the true challenge of golf course architecture, to build fresh and innovative holes that derive their beauty, playability, and interest from their natural surrounds?”

Repton might have raised an eyebrow reading those words. There are certainly times when exercising one’s creative license courageously involves blazing a new trail. Making the choice to honor tradition is not mutually exclusive with creative freedom by default though. As it turned out, Hanse’s focus on working from the ground up, coupled with his reverence for the Golden Age, was exactly the remedy needed to cure Sleepy Hollow’s ills. Over the years since Raynor completed the original eighteen, the course had changed considerably. New holes were created by Tillinghast and others when land was sold and the club expanded to 27 holes.

The expanded 27-hole routing after Tillinghast’s addition

More recently, other architects and green committees without the benefit of Bahto’s knowledge of Macdonald made further modifications that altered hole strategies and aesthetics for the worse. The initial wave of retrovation focused on consistency of style, primarily of the bunkering, prioritizing the Tillinghast holes. Those phase one changes having been well received, Hanse and the club’s leadership decided to fully embrace Macdonald’s ideal concepts. This decision was momentous at two levels. First, they were removing the work of A.W. Tillinghast in the Westchester neighborhood where he reigns supreme. Second, they were choosing to accept Macdonald’s standard for greatness. They were all in.

“Deciding to remove the work of Golden Age architects, especially one as prolific as Tillinghast, is always a difficult choice,” explained Hanse’s associate Ben Hillard, who worked extensively on the Sleepy Hollow retrovation. “If you consider golf architecture in Westchester County, Macdonald & Raynor have one course and Tillinghast has a handful, including a couple of masterpieces. With the bulk of the holes to be restored/renovated being Macdonald & Raynor, a more cohesive course could be made by taking the Tillinghast holes and replacing them with holes like ‘Road’, ‘Knoll’ and ‘Double Plateau’, some of which had been lost when the club sold land to the North side of the property in the late 1920s.”

It would not be enough to simply add those features and holes back into the mix, however. They had to do so in a manner that would fit the land as well as if the Macdonald and Raynor had done it themselves. In being attuned to the landscape at such a high level, Hanse was able to channel the true genius of Macdonald’s ideal concepts. The Leven 1st, Road 8th and others are new, but could easily be mistaken for originals. The remaining holes were brought even further into line with the ideals. The following montage of the Short 16th illustrates the extent of the transformation over time.

The original short – Credit: Simon Haines

Before the retrovation began, with misfit bunkering – Credit: GolfClubAtlas

After phase one of the retrovation with trees removed, bunkering and green partially restored

Excavation of the tee and green surface begins – Credit: Ben Hillard

Restoring the thumbprint – Credit: Ben Hillard

Grassing the newly shaped putting surface – Credit: Ben Hillard

Gil taking in the finished product – Credit: Ben Hillard

Bunker and thumbprint fully retrovated

A place where magical moments happen at Sleepy Hollow

Like Macdonald and Raynor, George Bahto would sadly not be alive to see this current, magnificent iteration of the course that began a century ago. The spirit of all three men and their ideals can be found in the completed work of Hanse and Hillard, and one can safely surmise that generous praise and approval would be forthcoming.

The Course

“…there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity.”

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

The club takes its name from the Pocantico River valley in which it sits. The Dutch name for that river was Slapershaven, or “sleepy harbor”. Although it might have accurately described their maritime activities, “sleepy” is not an adjective that applies to the land the course traverses.

Arriving at the grand front gate, visitors are immediately aware that an awe-inspiring experience awaits. The drive up to the mansion that now serves as the clubhouse provides tantalizing glimpses of golf holes arrayed across the hillside. After a warm welcome from staff and members alike, players walk onto a porch with stunning views of the Hudson River and Palisades of New Jersey beyond. Before striking the first shot of the day, the spirit is already soaring.

The first two holes bring players up the western side of the ridge that serves as the anchor feature in the routing. The 3rd through 15th explore the terrain high and low on the eastern side. The iconic 16th returns players to the top of the ridge, from which the final two holes return home. A loop around Sleepy Hollow has a literary quality that would make Irving proud. The story builds in a broad arc toward climax, interspersed with moments both dramatic and quietly sublime.

The Hanse retrovation unified Sleepy Hollow, and Superintendent Tom Leahy and his team continue to refine and present it beautifully. It is a highly cohesive golf course comprised of eighteen holes, each worthy of study and appreciation. To allow for an examination at depth, the tour that follows includes original sketches by Gil Hanse (@Gil_Hanse), the artwork of Tom Young (@BallparkBlueprints), the photography of Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and commentary from Ben Hillard (@Ben.Hillard). Playing the course has a wonderfully transportative effect—we invite you to get similarly carried away as you read on.

HOLE #1 “Leven” – 418 yards – par 4

The 1st is finally a worthy start to this golf course. Gil Hanse knocked down trees and opened better views, and turned a flat, boring green into a wild one. Though it doesn’t get the publicity that some of the other holes do, this is low-key one of the most improved holes on the course. “This hole was not in either of the first two renditions of the golf course and was built at some point in the 1930s,” explained Hillard. “We transformed it into a Leven by introducing a whole new strategy to the hole. Golfers are encouraged to play towards or past a big bunker on the left edge of the fairway to provide the best angle into the green which is protected by a mound short right.”

HOLE #2 “Climbing” – 372 yards – par 4

The short par-4 second is a transition hole—it’s main purpose is simply to take a player from the bottom part of the course to the upper shelf. These kinds of uphill transition holes are usually rather boring, but this is one of the better versions of its kind, thanks to an exciting green sloping hard back-to-front and a deep bunker front right. This is a birdie opportunity, but it’s also a hole that can bite the careless player. We speak from experience when we say that you can be on this green in two, in the front bunker in three and walking off with a triple before you know what happened.

HOLE #3 “Eden” – 172 yards – par 3

The 3rd is the first of Sleepy’s brilliant foursome of par-3s, and maybe the best of the bunch. With a panoramic view of the Hudson at your back, you play over the ravine to a huge, sloping green protected in front by a deep Strath bunker. Hanse’s restoration of this green opened up an infinite number of outstanding hole locations, and it’s not uncommon to have a putt that breaks more than 10 feet.“The green for the third hole originally played as a blind ‘Alps’ from somewhere near the current 5th tee area,” recounted Hillard. “This can be seen in the earliest plans of the course. At some point the hole changed to being the mid-length par-3. Although called an Eden it lacked the proper characteristics. The decision was made to build an entirely new green and bunkers for the hole—only the very deep bunker on the right hand side of the green was original.”

HOLE #4 “Headless Horseman” – 415 yards – par 4

Be sure to take in the view of the famous 16th and the river behind and check the pin location on the blind Punchbowl 15th, then try to avoid the fairway bunker up the right. Long tee shots will clear the ridge and offer a view of the skinny, deep green, which was expanded by Hanse’s crew. The connected complexes and shared bunkers of the 4th and 14th are a personal favorite.

HOLE #5 “Panorama” – 435 yards – par 4

Another strong par-4 on the front side, and a LinksGems favorite. The tee shot over the hill is completely blind, and players need to stay to the right to avoid rolling out into the rough on the left. Cresting the hill in the rolling fairway is one of the great visual reveals in all of golf, and the uphill approach to this infinity green is among the most exciting shots on the course. The putting surface has been significantly expanded to the right and the views from this spot are some of the best on the property.

HOLE #6 “Lookout” – 475 yards – par 5

The first of only two par-5s at Sleepy, the 6th is an eagle opportunity if you can manage to put your drive in the upper fairway—easier said than done. A Principal’s Nose bunker guards the layup zone, and the green itself is canted sharply front to back. If you’re trying to hang a number, you need to make no worse than five here. “One of the coolest Macdonald/Raynor green complexes we’ve ever seen,” gushed Hillard. “George Bahto said that he’d never seen a Macdonald green like it.”

HOLE #7 “Redan” – 221 yards – par 3

The 7th holds the place of LinksGems all-time greatest reverse Redan. It plays steeply downhill to a green sloping HARD away toward the back right. Right-to-left shot shapes can attack the green directly, but a straight or left-to-right tee shots must use the slope. Shots played to the fairway left of the green will tumble all the way down to the right side of the green. Recent tree removal has brought the wind back as one of this hole’s many defenses and the green has been expanded to allow for additional hole locations.

HOLE #8 “Road” – 488 yards – par 4

This monster par-4 is the toughest on the course. Hitting the hog’s back fairway is a must, as players will then need to contend with the treacherous Road Hole bunker guarding this green front left. It looks big and plays bigger than that. Par here is a great score. “We converted this Tillinghast hole to a Macdonald ‘Road’, repurposing the existing hog’s back in the fairway, which adds a layer to the strategy of the hole,” said Hillard.

HOLE #9 “Knoll” – 424 yards – par 4

“The fairway bunkers on the 9th are truly penal, and any shot that misses the green left is in major trouble. The green itself—one of the few cut off from the fairway by a section of rough—can play relatively easy when the pin is up front, but is much tougher when the hole is cut on either of the back tiers. This is one of the most improved holes on the course. “We converted this one to a ‘Knoll’ with rough across the approach, which was a bit of a bold choice but it separates the playing and visual characteristics of the 9th and 11th holes,” Hillard elaborated. “We were particularly excited about how the 8th and 9th turned out, especially when looking down the two holes from the halfway house.”

HOLE #10 “Lake” – 168 yards – par 3

The 10th is a picturesque par-3, and the only hole at Sleepy Hollow with water near a green. “This is an all new green expanded out to the lake edge,” detailed Hillard. “We lowered it to make the green expansion work.” The two sets of tee boxes—one attached to the back side of the 9th green and the other short and left of it—combined with the huge spine installed in this green by Gil Hanse allows the 10th to play like four different holes in 1, depending on the day’s hole location. Putting across the spine is a lot of fun but not very healthy for your score.

HOLE #11 “Ichabod’s Elbow” – 433 yards – par 4

This par-4 favors a left-to-right tee shot, as it’s no fun trying to hit a long iron into this volcano green if the drive doesn’t get far enough up the fairway. It’s really a ‘hit it or else’ proposition—anything short will roll all the way back to the fairway, a miss left or right catches the deep bunkers (if you’re lucky), and if you go long, you might just want to keep walking into the clubhouse.

HOLE #12 “Double Plateau” – 536 yards – par 5

The second of the two par-5s and the first hole substantially changed by Gil Hanse, the 12th used to play as a hard dogleg par-4 to a green along the woods line. Hanse turned the hole into a beautiful par-5 playing through a rocky valley and over a winding creek to a beautifully designed Double Plateau green. “The Tillinghast green is still visible short and 100 yards right up on the hill,” Hillard said. “We also formalized the meandering brook to help with drainage and add strategy to the hole.”

HOLE #13 “Sleepy Hollow” – 408 yards – par 4

The 13th is the LinksGems selection for most underrated hole on the golf course. The ridge in the fairway hides some terrific squared off bunkering up the left side, while the green is guarded by one of the deepest bunkers on the course. As on the 11th, there are few good misses here—the little bunker in the face of the rise helps players more than it hurts them. “Very soft alterations were made to the front of the green to expand the pinnable area closer to the false front,” added Hillard.

HOLE #14 “Spines” – 414 yards – par 4

The par-4 14th marks the beginning of a four hole run from the highest point on the property to the lowest. Staggered cross bunkers make this an exciting tee shot, but the green is where the fun really begins. Formerly an unremarkable complex, Hanse restored two spines running from the back of this green toward the front, effectively chopping the huge putting surface into three smaller ones. “The original Macdonald green was manipulated at some point and significantly reduced in size,” Hillard explained “In looking at some aerials of the golf course from the 1924 aerial, we found a larger squared green with two spines running from the back well beyond the center that were begging to be recreated.” It is now in the realm of possibility to be on this green in regulation and make double.

HOLE #15 “Punchbowl” – 502 yards – par 4

With the exception of the 4th at Fishers Island, this is the LinksGems favorite Punchbowl. Blind from everywhere, the green can be hit directly, but players who aren’t long enough to make the full carry can land approaches 50 yards short up the left side and use the chute to bounce a shot into the bowl. When the hole is cut on the little shelf on the left edge of the bowl it plays a full shot harder. “We made minor edits to the green to introduce more pinnable space,” detailed Hillard, “and completed the punchbowl to ensure all balls that make it over the hill find their way onto the putting surface.”

HOLE #16 “Short” – 149 yards – par 3

One of the most photographed holes in the world (due in no small measure to LinksGems), this par-3 is as memorable as they come. From an elevated tee over a ravine to a square green ringed with sand and featuring a deep thumbprint, with the Hudson River and the Palisades below and beyond, this is like playing golf in a postcard. “Working off of an old photo from the club’s archives as well as what we saw in the ground, we figured that the original green had been manipulated at some point but not completely rebuilt,” said Hillard. “The horseshoe was still there, but the surface either side of it had been filled in. The high point of the horseshoe was identified and then we delicately removed that extra material to expose the original contours—an incredible moment for a shaper.” When the pin is in the middle, you’re thinking of making an Ace, but the real fun is playing to a pin on one of the edges—the green is pinnable to all eight sections outside the thumbprint.

HOLE #17 “Hudson” – 446 yards – par 4

On most courses, this hole would be the signature, but even after the 15th and 16th, the par-4 17th with a bridge and harbor view still impresses. The sharply canted fairway plays games with your head—the line is farther left than you think, and the bunkers down the right catch everything. The large green, which was expanded by Hanse’s team, makes the distance of the approach hard to judge. Trust your caddy, it’s farther than it looks.

HOLE #18 “Woodlea” – 426 yards – par 4

“This hole was built at the same time as the 1st hole in the ‘30s. A new, larger green was built inspired by Macdonald and Raynor, featuring a large false front and much flatter rear tying into the clubhouse steps,” concluded Hillard. “It sits much better on the landscape.” Playing back up to the mansion, this is your classic gut punch par-4 finisher—it will make your earn your match. The large tree on the right is murder on leaking tee shots, and the false front rejects indifferent approaches. The new back right section of this putting surface makes for some tough but fun recoveries, especially when the patio is crowded. A fitting finish for one of the greatest courses in the world.

Stories are often told of the great artists reaching inflection points in their work. Those moments when they can stay in their comfort zones or push forward into new territory. To leave a legacy requires the courage to take the latter path. In embracing the philosophy of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor at Sleepy Hollow, not only did Gil Hanse evolve as an artist, he left a legacy for the membership and the game at Sleepy Hollow. The Legend’s author sums up best the impression left on the fortunate by a visit to this special place.

“If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.” 

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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OPENING BANKS

Part 28 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at our work to stabilize the canal banks and create vistas throughout the course

“What are you doing down there?” That is a frequently asked question that floats down from the ridges and bridges as we undertake work on the canal banks. The short and pithy answer is “weeding”. As is the case with many aspects of the journey along the shores, the full answer is a bit more involved, touching on golf, ecology, community and aesthetics. Retrovation work on the banks provides and instructive example of the broader effort to maximize the potential of our community golf course.

What is Retrovation?

Land is constantly evolving, subject to the forces of nature and the hand of man. During the process of creating the Ecological Component of the Canal Shores Master Plan, we were informed by the experts of the simple fact that a true restoration of our site was not possible because the canal is man-made. Restoring our property to its natural state would require filling in the canal. This is the same problem faced by many golf club green committees. It is often impossible to go back to square one, leaving it up to the leaders of a renovation project to decide how to proceed. Similar to many golf courses and clubs, we decided to move steadily forward with renovating Canal Shores while honoring its roots. We’re undertaking a “retrovation”.

What that means is that we have studied the ecological history of the area, and the design history of the course. Insofar as we can given contemporary constraints, we are basing enhancement projects on that historical perspective. For example, the photo above shows an early view of the canal, with the El bridge between the 12th and 3rd holes. The slopes are grassy, with dotted shrubs and trees. This hardwood savanna habitat is one of several native options recommended to us by the ecologists, with prairie and wet meadow being the others. This original intent for the land has been lost under invasive overgrowth, but we can retrovate it over time.

Restoring Scale

A priority for our clearing efforts has been in areas where issues of playability and safety exist on the golf holes. As the recap video below indicates, improving scale and visibility were the goals of the work performed on the 16th hole this fall.

The thrill of taking on the challenge of clearing the canal on this par-3 can only be fully experienced if players are able to see both the water and the land on the far side. Knowing the punishment for a poorly struck tee shot heightens the excitement and quickens the pulse. Pulling off the carry and seeing the ball land safely on the other side is the satisfying payoff that keeps players coming back. An added benefit of our work is that visibility improves safety in this section of the course that is highly trafficked by walkers.

Beyond the 16th, our ridge and bank clearing has focused on areas adjacent to tees and greens. The more buckthorn and invasive vines we cut back, the more sunlight gets to the ground and air flows over it. Those are the conditions necessary to keep our turf healthy and happy.

Bank Stabilization

One of the many problems created by the invasive species that have overrun Canal Shores is erosion. This seems counterintuitive for those who are used to looking at the course from eye level. They see green and assume that all is well. Taking a closer look beneath those green leaves reveals bare ground caused by the thick canopy of buckthorn and vines. That exposed dirt slowly washes off, destabilizing the roots of the trees. The trees begin to lean and ultimately fall, ripping up the bank as they go. The cycle of erosion continues. In some places on the property, the issue is quite evident and will need to be addressed with machinery in a larger renovation. For now though, we can help to stabilize the banks through clearing.

Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

A seed bank of grasses, flowers and other forms of ground cover exists throughout the course. When we clear brush, vines and dead trees, the sun hits the ground allowing the seeds to grow. Plant coverage is what holds the banks together best, and although some of the plants that grow are undesirable, we are also seeing stands of goldenrod, phlox, milkweed and other pollinator-friendly natives. After clearing, we can enhance the areas over time according to the guidelines of the Master Plan.

Compression & Release

In addition to being a fun and playable golf course, we also want Canal Shores to be visually interesting and beautiful for the broader community. Diverse, healthy habitat is one factor in achieving that goal. Employing the design principle of compression and release is another. This concept was advocated by Frank Lloyd Wright and his landscape architecture contemporaries, and basically refers to complementing confined spaces with more expansive ones.

As players and walkers make their way around Canal Shores, they will find alternating sections—some with dense vegetation and trees, and others with open vistas containing specimen trees or small copses that have been tagged by the ecologists for preservation. These complementary spaces create a rhythm to the journey of compression and release. The map below indicates (in purple) where we have begun to create the vistas.

At the north end of the property an opening is planned right of the 6th green, allowing players to see Wilmette Harbor and Lake Michigan from the upper tee on the 7th.

Restoring playability and visibility to the 9th is well underway. A vista between the 3rd and 11th greens has also been started.

Clearing to increase light and air for the 13th green and 2nd has begun to improve turf health, while also creating a vista. The areas between 14 green / 15 tee and 17 green / 18 tee are also being opened up.

In keeping with our theme of community, these vistas also allow visitors to catch glimpses of other people enjoying outdoor recreation. There is a pleasurable camaraderie that is fostered by seeing our friends and neighbors at play that extends beyond the course out into the community.

At present, these clearing and enhancement efforts carry on in “pilot project” mode, but with an eye to bigger retrovation steps in the future. We welcome volunteers willing to come pitch in labor, as well as donors who would like to sponsor improvements. As we make progress, we hope that you come out to visit and enjoy our open banks.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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COASTAL BIASES – ST. LOUIS C.C.

A look at how C.B. Macdonald unleashed his creativity across the rolling hills of St. Louis Country Club

Charles Blair Macdonald was not lacking in self-assurance. He expressed his supreme confidence through action and proclamation. The action was to create a portfolio of golf courses, topped by National Golf Links of America, that would revolutionize golf course architecture in the U.S. and spark the Golden Age. One of his many pronouncements was that the greatest ground for golf was in New York, specifically on Long Island. To go along with his healthy ego, C.B. had a coastal bias.

I fancy myself to be less egotistical than Charles Blair Macdonald, but do I share his bias? As a third coast Chicagoan, I live in the area considered by those in the East and West to be flyover country. The best of the country’s golf, the coastal players say, is in places like Long Island, Westchester, Boston, Philadelphia, Monterey, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The courses in Chicago are nice, but they don’t quite measure up. In smaller midwestern cities like St. Louis? Not even in the conversation. While I bristle at slights to my hometown, introspection reveals that coastal bias has seeped into my consciousness. Perhaps that is why I never quite believed claims made about the greatness of St. Louis Country Club.

My buddy Derek is well-traveled, and a man of typically impeccable taste. Among his endearing qualities, however, is a penchant for coming out of left field with a hot take. Many a raucous debate has arisen from this tendency. That is why, after returning from his visit to St. Louis Country Club, I was both skeptical and intrigued when he claimed it to be among Macdonald and Raynor’s very best designs. The coastal bias in me discounted Derek as temporarily insane for comparing St. Louis to The National or Piping Rock, but my inner geek hoped he was right. I resolved to see for myself, and set about making preparations.

Architectural Ideals Move West

By the time that C.B. Macdonald received the inquiry from the membership at St. Louis C.C. about designing a new course on recently acquired land in Ladue, his architectural collaboration with Seth Raynor was clearly ascendant. The pair had confirmed the merit of Macdonald’s concept of employing timeless design ideals at National Golf Links, which opened to acclaim in 1910. They subsequently proved themselves beyond one-hit-wonder status at Sleepy Hollow and were hitting their creative stride as the opportunities began to roll in. To that point, Macdonald and Raynor’s work had been largely concentrated in the Northeast. One can speculate that as they headed west to the Gateway City, coastal bias and curiosity might have been engaged in an internal tug-of-war. Would the ground be good for golf? Would the players be sophisticated enough to appreciate their concepts?