Monday, August 23, 2010

Ghost Hunters Features Otesaga Hotel in Wednesday's Show

Ghost Hunters, which appears on the Syfy Channel, is kicking off the season Wednesday (8/25) at 9 p.m. Eastern time with an episode on the Otesaga Resort Hotel, which is also a chapter in my book, "Haunted Golf." Rachel Donnelly, my friend who first told me about the Otesaga after having worked there and is quoted in "Haunted Golf," was extensively interviewed by Ghost Hunters but we'll have to wait and see if she made the cut. One person who is in the book but refused to talk with Ghost Hunters is Bill June. Bill shies away from publicity, for the most part, but was kind enough to sit down with me for close to an hour when I visited the Otesaga and relate some of the encounters he's had while working at the hotel. His stories really make the chapter.

I doubt that it will make even the briefest appearance, but the Leatherstocking Golf Course that is connected to the hotel is a wonderful design. Devereux Emmet is the architect of the original 9 and was involved with expanding the course to 18. A magazine piece Emmet wrote about the addition tantalizes readers with the intimation that other architects were on site advising him, but Emmet never lists names. With his connection to C.B. Macdonald, it may have been him and/or Seth Raynor. For now, it's a mystery.

(My photo is of the par-3 12th)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More Plans to Ruin the Seth Raynor 9-Hole Jewel at Hotchkiss

Imagine that from 1924 to 1926 one of the most prominent building architects in the country -- let's say Frank Lloyd Wright -- came to Yale University to create a structure that became the envy of not only every other Ivy League institution, but also of every college and university in the country. During his time at Yale, at the behest of prominent alums, Wright traveled some 60 miles north of New Haven, a trip of over two hours, to one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the nation to create a half-size version of his work at Yale. While there, he befriended an educator who so fell in love with the world of architecture that he left teaching to join with the architect and later forge his own lauded design career that would include returning to the prep school a few years later to update the building. Now, some 84 years later, this heralded institution has allowed the Frank Lloyd Wright building to fall into serious disrepair. Windows are boarded up, the facade is cracking, stones have loosened, some have even fallen out. In one instance, a portion of the building was removed so that a new building could take up that space. The original structure, once, perhaps, the finest of its kind at any preparatory school in the country, is a shell of its former self. The desecration is continuing. The school has plans for a new building to encroach on the the existing one, rendering another portion of it all but useless and seeming to herald the end of this once lauded structure.

At first glance, this appears to be a far-fetched idea, but in reality that is precisely what is happening, and has been happening for decades, at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. Instead of a building, it is a golf course and instead of Frank Lloyd Wright as designer, it is Seth J. Raynor, one of the preeminent golf architects in the history of the field.

Raynor was, in fact, working on the Yale golf course when he traveled to Lakeville, starting in about 1925, to create the 9-hole layout that includes versions of many of his famous hole styles. There are renditions of Short (first photo), Eden and Alps (second photo). The sixth green is one of the finest Raynor ever produced, a sentiment held by Raynor historian George Bahto. It is a wonderful design augmented by a delightful routing that takes golfers through and along the Hotchkiss campus with views of Wononskopomuc Lake and the surrounding hills.

During construction, Hotchkiss assigned popular teacher Charles Banks to act as a liaison between Raynor and the school. Banks became enamored with the craft to such an extent that he left teaching to join with Raynor and when his mentor died less than two years later, it was Banks that finished over a dozen of Raynor's projects, including Yale and the Fishers Island Club before going onto his own successful career as an architect.

The Hotchkiss course is in an embarrassing state, there is no other way to describe it. The large green pads with the trademark ridges, humps and swales, artfully crafted under Raynor's guidance, are reduced to small ovals as both photographs clearly illustrate. Many bunkers are abandoned or filled in. The condition of the turf is, in places, abysmal. The blame, in this situation, does not fall on the superintendent, because there isn't one. The small grounds crew that takes care of all the grass at Hotchkiss is also in charge of upkeep of the course, a recipe for failure.

Over the years, the architecture has also suffered. The seventh hole was shortened by approximately 40 yards and the original green destroyed to allow for a new driveway. Worse, the shortening of the second hole to make way for a new building was ill conceived and would never had happened if Raynor's work been held in proper regard. The gradual evisceration continues. There are plans for a structure to be built so close to the sixth green that it will impede play, a clear sign that the school will most assuredly one day decide a golf course no longer has a place in the long-term goals of Hotchkiss.

The administration needs to embrace not reject the Raynor-designed golf course and they need not look any further than Yale for reasons in doing so and guidance in how to accomplish the task. There, following years and years of neglect, the school, after repeated shoving from prominent graduates, realized the jewel it had in its midst and is taking virtually every measure it can to renovate and restore the layout to its original glory, much to the delight of numbers of its alumni, not to mention the administration which has seen revenue from green fees skyrocket. No longer merely an afterthought, the Yale golf course is trumpeted by the university. Hotchkiss has in its midst, its own showpiece and recapturing its luster will only add to the prestige of the school. If the administration, though, is unwilling or unable to see the value in the golf course then, following the lead of Yale, prominent alumni need to step forward and educate the educators, before it's too late.

(Photos courtesy of Brett Zimmerman)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WSJ Story on the Awful Summer; Nantz Just Doesn't Get Architecture

John Paul Dupont wrote an informative piece in the Aug. 7 issue of the Wall Street Journal, titled, "The Ugly Summer of 2010" that details the trials and tribulations superintendents are dealing with from the Mid Atlantic states up to New England as a result of the long, hot and humid summer. It's worth the read. He cites major problems at Huntington Valley Country Club, Golf Club at Cuscowilla and Winged Foot Golf Club among others.

Dupont deserves kudos for laying some of the responsibility for dead greens firmly in the golf bag of players.

"Golfers themselves deserve part of the blame for insisting that putting surfaces be mown short and fast even in weather conditions in which such practices are almost certain to ruin them," he wrote.

In an email to me July 20, USGA agronomist Jim Skorulski, who works in the Northeast Region, said the year was becoming one of the worst in 20. With the ongoing high temperatures since then, it surely is the worst. The one question that remains, is how many superintendents will lose their jobs over a set of circumstances that were almost entirely out of their control.


I happened to catch golf announcer Jim Nantz on New York City radio station WFAN chatting with host Mike Francesa, who knows little or nothing about golf but leads the league in kissing the behind of Nantz every time he appears on the Big Apple's top-rated sports talk show.

The conversation turned to this week's PGA Championship at the Pete Dye-designed Straits Course at the Whitling Straits resort in Sheboygan, Wisc. when Francesa, in a highly unusual moment of clarity, asked Nantz what were the characteristics of the Straits Course. It was a beautiful softball for Nantz giving him the opportunity to knock it out of the park with a concise and informative answer about Dye's style of strategic design that is based on angles and options. Instead, Nantz fouled out to the catcher. His reply: "it looks like the courses in Ireland."

Nantz should probably stick to telling us how every golfer that appears on the screen - and this week Whistling Straits founder Herb Kohler, as well - is a great guy and a wonderful family man.

My prediction is that on a number of occasions during the broadcast of the tournament, Nantz will fawn over the Straits Course telling us how beautiful it is, how it was built on what was formerly flat farmland, the fact there are over 1,000 bunkers but never discuss its strategic qualities.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

George's Prediction Comes True; Faxon and Others Love Old White

During my interview with Lester George last week, he predicted a 59 would be shot at the Greenbrier's Old White course during the Greenbrier Classic and he was right. The par-70 C.B. Macdonald-Seth Raynor design was no match for the length of the PGA Tour pros and the soft conditions, even from over 7,000 yards.

Australian Stuart Appleby did it in the final round Sunday on his way to winning by a stroke. He became the fifth player in Tour history to shoot 59.

Brad Faxon emailed me from the tournament.

"Course is unreal. Players love it but don't get it either!" he wrote.

Why should they get it? How many of the Tour pros have been exposed to great golf courses or been shown why bunker right, bunker left, in the fairway and bunker left, bunker right on a green that tilts back to front isn't great design?

Here are the others players who shot 59 at a Tour event.

  • Al Geiberger: 1977 Memphis Classic (29-30), Colonial Country Club (par 72)

  • Chip Beck: 1991 Las Vegas Invitational (30-29), Sunrise Golf Club (par 72)

  • David Duval: 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (31-28), PGA West (Palmer Course) (par 72)

  • Paul Goydos: 2010 John Deere Classic (31-28), TPC Deere Run (par 71)
This was the first time it's been done on a par-70 golf course.

"Look, I'll debate it with you. I agree," Appleby said. "I can see both sides of the fence. It is a number. I shot that number. But who says par is supposed to be 72? There's a lot of great courses that aren't 72."

For the big gallery around the 18th green, the par of the golf course did not matter as they exploded into cheers when Appleby's put for birdie dropped.