Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dirty Dealings on Golf Courses

The New York Times has a wonderful story about how many corrupt political deals take place on golf courses.

Here's a great quote from the article. “More politicians will succumb to a pricey golf outing than to a sexy woman in a negligee,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “You have a lot more privacy than in your office and in a restaurant, and it’s socially acceptable to leave your office for half the day to play golf.

Here's the link to the story:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Wild Punchbowl Green from 1921

This is 1921 photo of the wild 16th green at Westmoreland Country Club in Wilmette, Ill., which hosted the men's and women's Western amateur that year. According to a Golf Illustrated article previewing the events, William Watson was responsible for the original design and construction.

"The tees are large, the original greens were enormous and they tell a story of a famous British golfer who, after being constantly short of the cup with his approach putts, them with his driver," wrote Jack Hoag in Golf Illustrated. "Since that time many of the holes have been changed according to plans by Billy Langford and A.W. Tillinghast and the size of some of the greens were reduced by cutting traps right out of the original greens. This has made the bunkering so close that the element of luck has been practically eliminated and the course is famous throughout the West for the sportiness of its approaches."

During his hole-by-hole description Hoag, this time writing this time in The American Golfer, was critical of the 16th. "The three hundred and ten yard sixteenth is either a very good or a very bad hole, depending on the point of view, and the point of view depends largely on your drive. You play from a tee up over the ridge, the clubhouse is on your left and an out of bounds is on your right. If your drive has been a good one, you face a little niblick pitch into a punchbowl green, which has a cop six feet high completely surrounding it and hazards outside the cop. Granted a good drive, just a pitch into the bowl and slope of the sides will do the rest. But, if you miss your drive and have to play a spoon or a long iron approach, this same bowl is a tough baby to hit."

What Langford and/or Tillinhast created was a green that possesses qualities Robert Trent Jones produced on many of his par-4 holes, that of a putting surface heavily guarded in front by bunkers or hazards and only conducive to a short-iron approach without the option to run the ball on. The problem, for me, with this design style is that when a poor tee shot is the result, any attempt to hold the green with a long iron is virtually impossible. The only options, other than trying to produce a miraculous shot, is to lay up short of trouble or dump the approach in a bunker. Neither alternative is enticing.

No surprisingly, the 1921 version of the 16th green no longer exists.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Arawana Golf Course - A Slight Delay

The Middletown Economic Development Commission was scheduled to vote on my proposal for the city-owned land to become a golf course at the November meeting, but it was canceled as a result of the recent municipal elections and rescheduled for the second Monday in December. The elections should have no bearing on how the commission will vote. The only member of Middletown's Common Council, from which a majority of the EDC is comprised, who was not reelected is opposed to the golf course.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Great Set of "Lost" Bunkers

I came across this photo from the July 1921 issue of the USGA magazine, showing an amazing bunker on the par-5 fifth hole of Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md. That month the club hosted its only major, the U.S. Open. "Long Jim" Barnes smoked the field with a 289, nine strokes better than Walter Hagen and Fred McLeod.

Prior to the event, the course had been redone by architect William Flynn. However, it is likely this magnificent sand hazard that had to be negotiated on the second shot was not Flynn's but that of Walter Travis, who worked on the Columbia layout after architect Herbert Barker designed the first golf course.

A 1921 Golf Illustrated article prior to the U.S. Open says Columbia member Dr. Walter Harban, a member of the USGA executive committee, came up with the design but that is doubtful. What Harban might have done is hire Travis to upgrade the course and then make suggestions during the renovation. Harban and Travis were members of Garden City Golf Club, a Travis design.

This bunker is, in all likelihood, a Travis creation and fits in with other bunkers he fashioned throughout his career. It doesn't appear that Barker ever created a hazard like this on his handful of designs and Harban was never a golf course architect.

In that same Golf Illustrated, a description of the putting surface at the fifth also sounds like the work of Travis.

"One must hold this green like grim death, for steep sides and an even deeper gulch at the back await the unsuspecting shots that do not live up to their purposes."

Columbia CC remains, but the bunker is gone. The photo I posted above, is well-known at the club and is a favorite of the members, who refer to the hole as, "Lost Bunkers." Since the fifth-hole corridor is the same as it was in 1921, the hazard, along with the rest of the Travis-Flynn golf course that had other audacious features, could be easily restored but that will not happen anytime soon. In fact, from what I understand, there is not even a discussion about reinstating this bunker or any of the others. Where the fabulous creation once rose from the ground, a bland, elongated depression sits below the fairway.

This appears to be just another case of post-World War II golf course redesign where the distinctive and challenging architecture was eviscerated to accommodate the higher handicaps and shorter hitters. Again and again, difficult hazards and green complexes, no matter how well built, how effective as part of a golf hole, or how beautiful, are removed to make the golf course play easier for those golfers who would have the toughest time negotiating the test.

Where Columbia CC once sought to be among the finest golf courses in the country, it is now content to be nothing more than just another golf course in the Washington D.C. area.