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Developers Gonna Develop: So, Let’s Not Sneeze at Golf’s Flexible Utility

This story in The New York Times, published mid-February 2024, struck a chord. Not because I’m a golfer, but because I’ve written quite a lot about abandoned golf courses, the re-wilding of courses, even the resuscitation of courses gone fallow. As long ago as 1994, the NYT has even seen fit to quote me on the subject of how many golf courses is enough, and how many legitimately eco-friendly credentials an operative golf course can claim.

This recent Times piece proved a solid piece of reporting, and the comments section was chock full of even more examples of layouts that have been returned, in full and in part, to open space. In each case, everyone appreciated the fact that here was a gorgeous piece land where the public could now hike, walk their dogs, bird-watch, etc.

In a golf economy where 150 courses were shuttered annually — a culling the U.S. golf market endured every year from 2008 to 2021 — what to do with former course properties proved a fairly pressing issue. But that market correction appears got have stabilized. There were approximately 90 golf course closures in the U.S. last year (as measured in 18-hole equivalents), according to the National Golf Foundation. There were also more new course openings in 2023 than at any time since 2010: 24 18-HEQ.

For a variety of reasons, the golf establishment will always be expected argue for just how sustainable golf courses should be, as golf courses, and how many of them (and what sort of facilities) we really need, full stop. But it’s important to think about these issues in two different ways:

First, the issue actually hinges in critical respects on access. The real problem, in America, is that private clubs here are so very private. The idea that non-members in a particular community might use a private golf course property as open space is pretty much anathema. Whereas, in the U.K. and Australia, and across Europe, it’s common place. There, even the most private clubs often double as places where non-members can play golf — but also walk their dogs, cross-country ski, even hike. More important, this ethos trickles down to all courses, where golfers treat the property as a playground, while an even larger population of non-golfing locals treat them as quasi-public spaces.

We don’t do that here in the United States. Our private clubs are very exclusive in comparison — and this attitude trickles down, too. One doesn’t see walking paths for non golfers (and their dogs) even at public and municipal courses in the U.S. Why not? This is something the golf course industry can and should work to address. Why not build community walking and biking trails through public courses, which account for some 90 percent of the golf course facilities in America? Read all those comments on the Feb. 2024 NYT story above: Folks just want to walk these properties with their dogs, maybe hike a bit, or ride their bikes on these decommissioned course properties. If this is what the community seeks, and these activities can be enjoyed inside and beside operative golf courses, why not be a better neighbor? Who knows, you might sell more food & drink in your grille room, or find new customers for your banquet facility.

Second, it’s critical that golfers and non-golfer alike recognize that courses offer a level of flexibility that other development categories do not. As February’s NYT story illustrates, even golf courses that viably served a golf population for decades can pivot to other public services quite quickly and easily. I’m not sure that I agree with the subhead above: that most courses are in some way “paved over”. Many of the golf courses closed down the last 20 years were decommissioned to make room for housing, something desperately needed in this country. If that’s what we mean by “paving,” that’s another outcome I can live with. Yet here again, not all developments allow for such repurposing, not with such relative ease.

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What’s a Design Nerd to Think, “When Nines Don’t Match”?

[Ed. This piece appeared 25 years ago in a magazine called TravelGolf Maine founded by a fellow named Park Morrison. It didn’t last long (1998-2001) and, sadly, Park passed away last year. I’m including the story here because surely it never made it online — and because it appeared, in print, under a favorite pen name of mine. Another serendipitous fact: When I traveled to Lovell, Maine to “research” the story, the course ranger, lounging in a cart parked by the first tee at Lake Kezar CC, was none other than Bill Bissett, retired athletic director at Hudson (Mass.) High, one of the schools covered by The Hudson Daily Sun, where I served sports editor from 1989-90.]

By Henry Choi

Opinions differ when it comes to appraising so-called schizo layouts, those courses where one nine barely resembles the other. In northern New England — where scads of nines were laid out in the 1920s and ‘30s, only to be expanded many decades later by different architects — the issue is more salient than perhaps anywhere in America. Because there are just so many of them, the question remains: Does one decry the stylistic divergence or applaud the diversity?

Two courses in the border regions of Maine and New Hampshire inform the debate. North Conway Country Club and Lake Kezar CC are separated by 20 miles. And yet, the nines on each course feel even further apart, light years in fact, when it comes to style, terrain and vintage. That both tracks remains such good fun tips our fledgling debate toward applause.

This part of New England is remote but hardly underdeveloped. The resort nature of North Conway, N.H., cannot be lost on first-time visitors to its eponymous, semi-private country club, where the 1st tee is set back just 50 yards from a bustling main drag replete with myriad factory outlets, hotels and restaurants. Indeed, the clubhouse at NCCC sits directly beside the Conway Scenic Railway Station, a massive, red-roofed, Victorian-era structure painted a vivid shade of yellow.

It’s quite a sight, but nothing like the vista next door. The 1st at NCCC (the image above) is one of the great opening holes in all of New England, a 418-yard par-4 with long views of Cathedral Rock in the distance and, of more pressing concern, O.B. all along the left side. It takes some real concentration to block it all out and belt one — right over the train tracks! — to a fairway 70 feet (!) below.

Don’t get the wrong idea, however. The remaining golf at North Conway CC isn’t about dramatic elevation changes. At all. After this inaugural plunge, the course plays entirely in the subtly contoured flood plain of the Saco River. It’s scenic — with the river running through it and White Mountains surrounding it — but it’s relatively flat and eminently walkable.

The opening nine here dates to 1928, when Ralph Barton, a protégé of Seth Raynor, reworked a older, rudimentary loop. The charm of these opening holes lies in the subtleties of their small, steeply pitched greens guarded closely by deep bunkers. The 4th is a wonderful short hole, a make-or-break 140-yard pitch to a putting surface that falls away steeply on all sides. Every so often the land here does move with surprising drama. The 354-yard 5th plays right along the river; the back tee calls for a drive across a bend in the Saco to a swaled landing area, which is then crossed by a stream at 240 yards. The green looks harmless enough, until you look over the back side and see the ground fall away steeply some 20 feet.

The second nine at North Conway arrived much later, in the mid-1960s, courtesy of New Hamster-based architect Phil Wogan, and no — the two loops do not go together stylistically. The front side putting surfaces are set mostly at grade, while the bulk of Wogan’s greens are raised up in mid-century mode made fashionable by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Yet the backside putting surfaces are quite cool and challenging in their own right, especially the saddle job at the par-3 13th — and the epic volcano that sits at the business end of the sublime-but-potentially-cruel, 434-yard, par-4 14th.

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Thanksgiving in China: Two Stories Behind the Story

The Day After Thanksgiving, on the Norman Course at Mission Hills Resort, PRC.

It’s been a decade since this piece was published in the print edition of LINKS Magazine, under an original headline that, as I recall, played on the “China Syndrome” trope. I recently ran across it online. So I’ve shared it here, 10 years down the road.

Almost immediately upon publication of this feature, President Xi Jinping started calling out golf as a tool of corrupt bourgeoise elites. At the time, many observers viewed this rhetoric as merely opportunistic. After all, the mainland Chinese course- and player-development markets were booming. Golf had just been designated an Olympic sport — and the Chinese LOVE Olympic sports. Surely golf wasn’t in any real trouble there. Surely this was Xi scoring political points. Surely this anti-golf rhetoric would pass.

Well, that moment might well prove the historic high-water mark for both Chinese golf and the subject of my story, Mission Hills, then largest golf resort on earth. Because Xi wasn’t posing. The Central Government had banned new course development a decade prior, a fact that provincial apparatchiks and rich developers had chosen to ignore. See here a piece I wrote for GCM China a year after the LINKS story, in 2015, detailing the haze of politics and environmental concerns — some real, some manufactured — then swirling about the Chinese golf industry. Five years later, more than 100 courses had closed down. As many as 500 remain operational today, but their existence is maintained very quietly indeed. A robust golf media sector had once thrived in China; today that roster of magazines, websites and TV channels has disappeared almost entirely. Mainland Chinese still love their golf. For a while, later in the 2010s, they simply played the game on holiday in Vietnam, Thailand and Japan. Once COVID-19 emerged in February 2020, that brand of tourism (all tourism) ground to a halt.

A lot can happen in a decade.

A lot can happen in a single night, too, and that’s the other story behind this story. To report the LINKS piece, I had traveled to Shenzhen, home to Mission Hills and the beating heart of hyper-capitalist China. I had arrived in Hong Kong, via Manila, just before Thanksgiving 2013, when the idea of a mainland Chinese and pro-democracy protests seemed the stuff of dark fantasy. As per usual, I stayed with good friends, a married couple — she a native Hong Konger, he an American expat who has lived and worked there for decades. They treated me to a Thanksgiving supper at The American Club. That evening I treated them to dinner at The China Club, a famous old-world restaurant of the early British-protectorate variety.

My subsequent travel plan, endorsed and scheduled by my hosts, and Mission Hills itself, was simple: Get a cab after dinner to a special bus station located near the Chinese border. Hong Kong is, of course, an island. An archipelago actually. But its land mass also includes a famous hunk of mainland, Kowloon, which shares the border with Shenzhen. Because Mission Hills caters to so many Hong Kong-based members and resort guests, motor coaches run regularly from this station, over the border and back again, every day of the week.

So I poured myself into a cab, along with my big suitcase and golf clubs. It was 15 minutes to the bus station. Yet upon our arrival, it was clear the bus station was closed. I asked the guy where the border crossing might be. He nodded and dropped me 10 minutes up the road. After clearing customs, lugging my oversized bags up stairs and through tiny turnstiles, I emerged from the border facility to find the immediate environs completely devoid of taxis.

This had been my half-cocked alternate plan: Get over the border and hire a taxi to Dongguan, where Mission Hills and my on-site hotel were located. I possessed an early smartphone, but nothing like Google Maps or Translate existed at that primitive time. What’s more, I had not yet secured a People’s Republic of China SIM card — and there was no shop inside the border building — so my iPhone was essentially useless. Having visited China several times before, I knew it was always wise to have a Chinese friend or hotel concierge write out important addresses, in Mandarin, because very few cabbies in Beijing or Shanghai speak or understand a lick of English. These measures had not been undertaken as part of my half-baked, half-in-the-bag travel pivot.

Finally, I located not a cabbie but ‘a guy with a car.’ Sometimes, in China and Southeast Asia, that’s preferable. He and I spent quite a while trying to communicate exactly where it was I wanted to go. For all its celebrity and sheer size, “Mission Hills” meant nothing to this fellow. Neither did “Dongguan” or “golf”. I resorted to swinging imaginary clubs, then showing him my golf clubs. This seemed to result in a measure of recognition. So I got into his car.

Ten minutes later, he pulls over on a busy highway, where he gets out and starts chatting and gesticulating with half a dozen other guys by the side of the road. “This is where I get robbed, beaten up or both,” I said to my now-completely-sober self. Better to go down swinging, so I put my passport in my front pocket and joined them. Turns out my driver was basically selling my fare to the highest bidder! Soon I was transferring my stuff into a different unmarked car headed north.

Once again, I’d received no real indication that this driver had any idea where Mission Hills or Dongguan were, or whether he fully understood that these were my intended destinations. But lo and behold, 45 minutes later we pulled up in front of a hotel — my hotel! Filled with thanksgiving, I located an ATM and paid the man handsomely.

If a Tree Falls (or falls ill) at Augusta National, Does it Make a Sound?

Ed. I’ve contributed dozens of stories to GOLF Magazine through the years (I’ve served on the mag’s world top 100 course-rating panel since 1997). But none landed with such a thud as this one, published in the March 1999 edition. In 24 years, I had heard nothing re. the ill-health or subsequent removal of diseased loblolly pines at Augusta National GC — until April 7, 2023, when a massive tree fell during the second round of Masters Tournament play. See comments below… Of course, trees are removed, tees are added, and greens are thoroughly renovated at ANGC and we hear nothing about those events, either — not until the club issues an official statement, or we see it on television the second weekend in April. The place is leak-proof. For the record, The Eisenhower Tree pictured above was a loblolly pine. It was taken down in 2014, because it was hit by lightening. Or so reads the party line.

•••

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Overlooking each fairway like a glowering gallery of green giants, the stately Georgia pines here at Augusta National Golf Club represent arguably the most recognizable feature at a course replete with recognizable features. Because The Masters is the lone major championship played at the same venue year after year, competitors, spectators and television viewers have established an unrivaled connection with and affection for Augusta National. Where else could a slow-moving stream and a few magnolia beds take on such mythic, eye-moistening qualities? Of course, fabled Rae’s Creek comes into play on just three holes whereas the towering pines frame nearly every shot. Their lower limbs pruned up to 100 feet, these majestic loblollies stand silent, like so many Doric columns, quietly lining the verdant corridors of America’s foremost golfing shrine.

Okay, reality check: Nothing lives forever. The patrician powers-that-be at Augusta National may have kept commercialism at relative bay and held the price of a chicken salad sandwich under $3, but they can’t fight Mother Nature. Trees are organic. They die, and a number of Augusta’s trademark loblolly pine are doing just that; some allege before their time.

Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which comprise 90 percent of the trees at the National, can be felled by myriad “stress factors,” as arborists like to call them: lightning strikes, disease, root pathogens, even the dreaded southern pine beetle. They can also whither and die following long, healthy lives of some 300 years in their natural, forest environment. Yet some of Augusta’s prized loblolly aren’t so healthy and may not witness their second century of shot-making — or so say certain tree-savvy visitors to Augusta who have noticed a change. Robust loblollies sport needles so darkly green they appear almost black from a distance. However, a disturbing jaundice has afflicted the relatively young pines that stand hard along Augusta’s 18th fairway — a clear sign of ill health, the experts say. Last year, during his first trip back to Augusta in a quarter century, architect Desmond Muirhead was floored by their lack of vitality. Other veteran observers of Augusta, most of whom insist on anonymity, believe there is a problem in paradise.

In his forthcoming book, “The Masters: Golf, Money and Power in Augusta, Georgia” (published by Villard, a division of Random House), author Curt Sampson isn’t nearly so discrete. He alleges that many more loblolly pine, especially those positioned along Augusta’s fairways, are suffering from poor health — a matter not unrelated, he says, to the club’s obsession with Edenic course conditions. Tipped off to the pine problem by his friend Muirhead, Sampson maintains misplaced fertilizer and overzealous irrigation practices have wrought considerable havoc with the loblollies, which are xerophytes — a fancy word for plants accustomed to dryer conditions. Further, for many years Augusta National maintained turfgrass well into wooded areas off the fairways. Today, this practice is an acknowledged horticultural no-no, as experts agree that trees and grass compete for the same nutrients.

Sampson — who claims to have consulted “an arborist who worked with Augusta National” but won’t name him — asserts the ailing loblollies, overfed for too long, have been living too fast and will die young. “If you stand on a promontory like the 10th tee,” Sampson says, “you can see the difference between the interior trees and those along the fairway; it’s like new denim compared to faded blue jeans. The pine lining certain fairways are saggy and yellowish. The difference is striking.”

There are significant factors to ponder when considering anything at Augusta National Golf Club, especially an unauthorized book alleging what amounts to horticultural malpractice. First, only Chairman Jack Stephens can speak for the club, meaning horticulturist Tom Crenshaw and consulting arborist Ken Knox cannot publicly address Sampson’s assertions. Second, while Augusta employees are allowed to share pertinent research information with colleagues, few people in the golf industry care to speak “on the record” regarding the National, so extensive and powerful is the club’s reach. Arborists enthusiastic about discussing golf courses issues tend to become quite concerned with anonymity when the course is Augusta National.

That said, there are some meaningful distinctions to draw when discussing the health and life expectancy of trees on any golf course. First and foremost, experts agree they simply don’t live as long on golf courses as they might in a natural forested environment. Indeed, trees don’t live as long in any man-made setting, as it’s impossible to duplicate the complexity of any tree’s natural ecosystem — the ecosystem most conducive to maximum life expectancy.

“A tree living outside its natural environment — on a golf course, a city street or a suburban lawn — is far more likely to encounter stress factors incited by humans,” explains Dr. Jay Stipes, a plant pathologist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. “For example, soil compaction: Feet and tires compact the soil, reducing pore space for oxygen. Too much compaction and roots get oxygen deprivation, and they begin to die.”

“Golf course trees simply do not live as long as forest trees, all things being equal,” said one arborist who is familiar with the situation at Augusta National but requested anonymity. “Only a fool would say no trees are unhealthy at Augusta. It’s not a magical place. God isn’t treating Augusta any differently. But it would be very unfair to say they’re dying prematurely… Of the 20, 30 or 40 things that play a role in tree health, water and fertilization play relatively minor roles. Augusta isn’t different from any other golf course; they have problems. But, if anything, the life span of these trees has been enhanced by the work being done there. That’s for sure.”

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Late-Nineties Flashback: The Great Maine Golf Course Binge

[Ed. This piece from 1998 was assigned and purchased by, but to my knowledge never appeared in, Downeast Magazine. At that time, the U.S. was opening 400 new golf facilities every year. When I moved to New Gloucester that same year, only Fairlawn GC and Poland Spring existed nearby. In 2-3 years, Fox Ridge in Auburn (pictured above), Spring Meadow in Gray, and Toddy Brook in North Yarmouth all opened for play. Heady times, as the story below relates. The correction arrived in 2008, when the U.S. golf course stock began to suffer a net loss of some 150 golf facilities each year. That annual trend slowed somewhat during Covid, but not much.]

Developers of water parks don’t venture into the amusement industry because they’re particularly enamored of sharing flume capsules shaped like giant logs with so many screaming adolescents. Nor do hoteliers invest in that business because they “have a thing” for walking down antiseptic hallways looking for ice machines. It’s understood these business decisions are calculated — based on demographics, market niches, the potential for profit and perhaps a paucity of existing competitors. Romantic notions don’t often enter into feasible commercial equations.

Golf is a different animal, an arena where the line between work and play has always been somewhat blurred. While “business” conducted on the golf course remains a genteel hybrid of recreation and vocation, data gatherers at the National Golf Foundation (NGF) — the industry’s research and information organization based in Jupiter, Fla. — are continually amazed at the scads of starry-eyed golf devotees who fund/build their own facilities because it’s always been their dream. “It’s sort of like, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’ ” said Barry Frank, a vice president at NGF. “Unfortunately, a great number of shirts have been lost in this process.”

Even so, new golf construction continues to boom nationally and Maine’s dreamers have proved no less fanciful in their ambitions. An astounding number of golf course projects, many spearheaded by first-time golf developers, are now underway here in Vacationland. A dozen new 18-hole layouts have just opened or remain in some phase of construction while another 10 facilities are adding nine. When Point Sebago Golf and Beach Resort opened for play in 1996, it was Maine’s first new 18-hole course since 1988. This sort of inactivity won’t characterize the next eight years.

“As a former banker, I know golf construction in Maine has lagged in past years, especially compared with national growth patterns,” said Arnold Roy, a Turner resident whose development syndicate, Fox Ridge Partners, will soon break ground on an 18-hole course in Harmon’s Corner, on Auburn’s south side. “We know there’s another golf course going in 15 miles down the road in Gray, but in the last 20 years there have been no new golf holes built within 20 miles of our site. And the interest in golfing has never been higher, as far as I can tell.”

Following another national trend, Fox Ridge will be laid out on former farm land — so will the Gray course [Spring Meadows], a project developed by the owners of Cole Farms Restaurant on a fallow parcel directly across the street. Agricultural pursuits have also given way to golf down in Berwick; father and son Tim and Tom Flynn obviously believe their 160-acre parcel will prove more fertile when Outlook Farm Golf Club opens for play there next summer.

“I think what we’re seeing is pent-up demand,” said Brian Silva, the course architect who designed Outlook Farm. “Maine has been underdeveloped, in terms of golf for some time now. And the state certainly has its share of farmland which has seen better, more productive days.”

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Over or Under: Would a 16 handicap break 120 at Augusta?

by Hal Phillips 0 Comments

Ed. LINKS Magazine published this star-studded piece back in 2006, prior to the Masters Tournament claimed by Phil Mickelson. He prevailed over a course measuring 7,445 yards; Augusta National GC plays another 105 yards longer today. Yet the back tees continue to require but a single forced carry. Length would not be the issue: If our mythical 16-handicapper can’t make 5-footers, there’s no way he breaks 120.

•••

Sitting in the sports book at the MGM Grand surrounded by hundreds of television sets and the milling masses of Vegas hopefuls, one has the opportunity to place any number of over/under bets. But here’s one you won’t find on offer in the Land of Neon, or anywhere else for that matter: If a verified 16 handicapper were to play Augusta National Golf Club under tournament conditions — from the newly lengthened tips, playing to Sunday pins, putting everything out — would that average, workaday chop break 120?

“That’s a very interesting question,” answered Greg Norman. “On the surface, it looks promising for a 16 handicap, because he has about 30 shots to play with. But I think those 30 shots would go away in a hurry.”

One hundred and twenty strokes: Over or under?

We put this proposition to a collection of tour pros, golf course architects and high-profile swing gurus. All agreed our mythical 16 (the average USGA handicap is actually 15.2) would post a big number. But how big, and why? Have the recent course changes at Augusta, engineered in response to technology-aided balls and equipment, put 120 — that’s 12 triples bogeys and six doubles — beyond reach of the common man?

One of golf’s great appeals is its ease of transference — that is to say, while we can’t readily imagine ourselves shedding 280-pound tacklers on the floor of the Rose Bowl, we can see ourselves playing Pebble Beach or Pinehurst no. 2. And on a good day, the average handicapper can expect to produce a performance that is at least recognizable beside that of a professional. The response to technology, however, has begun to render this transference less and less tenable, and no major championship venue illustrates the growing disparity between pros and average golfers better than Augusta National, where back-tee yardage has gone from 6,985 yards to 7,445 in just six years.

“I think the golf course is a lot harder than people realize, in large part because of elevation changes and uneven lies,” Norman added. “The only true level lies you get at Augusta are on the tees! You can’t really appreciate these nuances on television, and they make club selection very difficult. And it’s a whole different ballgame now that they’ve added so much length.”

That said, our panel of experts felt the putting surfaces — for years, the layout’s primary defense against scoring — would bedevil our mythical 16 handicapper most of all. Back-to-back 490-yard par-4s, like 10 and 11, might oblige an average player (a smart one, at least) to simply play them like par-5s. But this sort of damage-control isn’t possible on the greens at Augusta, where flat-stick marvel Seve Ballesteros once described his four-putt at no. 6 thusly: “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.”

“People would be amazed at the number of putts they would take,” said architect Jim Hardy, himself a former Tour player and noted swing teacher. “The average 16 playing to tournament pins, with Sunday green speeds, could easily — and I know this sounds peculiar — take 55 putts at Augusta. If he normally shoots in the low 90s, he’s going to take 20-25 more putts than normal. That’s 117, so your over/under is right on the money.”

But would he break 120? “Just barely,” Hardy decided.

Rich Beem, PGA champion in 2002, has even more faith in the average player: “Every once in a while a 16 is supposed to shoot 88, so he can’t be that bad — and here we’re giving him another 32 shots. If the weather’s fine, our guy’s not completely intimidated by the course, and he can move it out there just a little bit, I’ll take the under.”

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Dugmar GC: The Curious Story of a Golf Course Submerged

Dugmar GC: The Curious Story of a Golf Course Submerged

[Ed. This story appeared in March/April 2003 issue Golf Journal magazine.]

The Swift River started rising in the rural Massachusetts town of Greenwich on Aug. 14, 1939, and soon enough the fairways at Dugmar Golf Club had become unseasonably soggy. After a time the layout’s bunkers and teeing grounds were completely submerged, and had the pins not been removed years before, their flags would have been some of the last things visible before this 9-hole track and the rest of Greenwich were lost for good.

It’s been 68 years since Greenwich and three neighboring bergs were systematically condemned and flooded, all in the name of Metropolitan Boston’s chronic thirst. This massive, Depression-Era public works project  on whose ass the loss of Dugmar GC was but a pimple, created the Quabbin Reservoir, then the largest man-made, fresh-water reserve on earth.

The Lost Towns, as they’re known today, were literally erased by the Quabbin’s introduction; every tree, every man-made structure in the Swift River Valley was burned or bulldozed to make way for it. The river itself having been dammed, the water rose behind it for seven long years, until 1946, when it first lapped over the reservoir’s massive spillways.

By then Dugmar GC had been largely forgotten — but not erased, for memories are made of stronger stuff.

Other layouts have been lost to history, of course. Some have simply been abandoned; others were sold off to make way for post-war suburbia. But so far as we know, Dugmar GC — opened for play in 1928, hard by Curtis Hill — was the only golf course to meet its end in a purposeful deluge, sacrificed (along with four 200-year-old communities) to supply tens of millions of faucets in larger communities some 60 miles east.

Hundreds of golf clubs were built, as Dugmar had been, during the heroic age of Jones and Ruth as the moneyed classes sought to bring the same sort of bravado to their own lives (not to mention a place to drink hooch in a country gone dry). More than a few of these establishments “went under” during the ensuing Depression, but none quite like (nor quite so literally as) Dugmar Golf Club, for unlike their unwitting, high-living contemporaries, Dugmar’s developers KNEW the club’s fate before the course was ever built — before the bentgrass was imported from southern Germany, before the elegant stone patio was laid beside the farmhouse-turned-clubhouse, before the first crate of Canadian Club was hidden from view.

It was, in short, a set up: a crafty land deal with golf at its core; a trifle built to amuse its backers, for a time, before enriching them at the public’s expense. “Those guys knew what they were doing; they made out,” recalls a chuckling, 85-year-old Stanley Mega, who caddied at Dugmar GC and still lives close by Quabbin’s shores, in Bondsville. “Those guys knew the reservoir was going in and they made a killing.”

In essence, Dugmar GC was conceived and ultimately proved to be the world’s first and only disposable golf course.

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Welsh golf exceeds the hype, in unexpected ways
The 11th at Royal St. David's (photo courtesy of Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

Welsh golf exceeds the hype, in unexpected ways

Royal St. David’s Golf Club and its singular Welsh backdrop, Harlech Castle

 

The British Open is nearly underway, and naturally there are myriad reasons to visit the U.K. with your golf clubs and, well, none of them have much to do with the British Open or any of the courses that host the Open Championship. Look at Wales, which is right next door to Birkdale (to all of England, to be honest) and the Open has never been held there. Yet the golf up and down the northwestern Welsh coast is outstanding. What’s more, when you venture into this section of the British Isles, you enter a region so remote, so removed from modern resort and tournament conventions, that a golf journey there feels almost, well… Arthurian.

Indeed, a hefty chunk of the King Arthur legend is Welsh, drawn from early poetic sources such as Y Gododdin that are, like the Welsh language itself, pre-Christian. The Druids, the priestly class of the class, considered the Welsh island of Anglesey sacred, and this ancient, mystical feeling still pervades the country’s dark hollows, its untamed coastline, even its trees (The Celts thought them sacred, you know).

Here’s an example of how this world and the modern golfing world can interact:

About 15 years ago my girlfriend, Sharon, who would later become my wife, and I went to visit friends in Market Drayton, Shropshire, just over the Welsh border, in England, and not far from Birmingham. In fact, I was there on assignment, writing a travel piece re. where to play in the Midlands while attending the 1995 Ryder Cup (and we can see what sort of promotional effect that story had; when was the last time you heard of anyone visiting Edgbaston, Beau Desert or Hawkstone Park?).

Anyway, we decided to head west a couple hours, over the Welsh border to seaside Harlech, home to Royal St. David’s Golf Club. I had written a letter to the club secretary requesting the courtesy of the club (remember letters?), and he had kindly obliged. Still, we arrived in coat and tie, ready for an audience and perhaps a drink in the bar before teeing off.

Now, Sharon was a pretty rank novice at this stage. She had her own clubs and arrived at the club looking pretty darned smart in a turtleneck and one of my vintage sport jackets with the sleeves rolled up (remember the ‘90s?). Still, the club secretary was dubious. I don’t know whether he suspected her inexperience (none of us had handicap cards), or he was merely a mild sexist when it came to sheilas playing the course. Whatever the case, he followed us to the first tee to witness our inaugural drives. I’m not sure who was made more nervous by this, Sharon or myself, but she drilled one right down the middle about 230 yards and off we went. Come to think of it, that may have been the day I decided she was the one…

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