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)

1 comment:

  1. Appreciate these insights! I am follower of and a fan of McDonald, Raynor, Banks...any new developments at this course?