Tag Archives

2 Articles
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.


Read More

Desert Golf Safari Conjures Memories of Bob Labbance

Desert Golf Safari Conjures Memories of Bob Labbance

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Bob Labbance lately. Bob was a good friend, a golf writer and historian, a counter-culturist after a fashion, and, as my grandfather would have described him, one of nature’s gentlemen. Note the tense. Bob suffered a traumatic fall and paralysis in 2007. He fought back to regain a great deal of motion and a large measure of his life, only to contract Lou Gehrig’s disease, degenerate quite quickly and pass away in Aug. 2008, at the tender age of 56.

You learn a lot about a guy when horrible shit befalls him. You talk more deeply and seriously about things with that person. You learn more about the man — more than you ever would have if, as we do with most acquaintances, both parties were to skate together through life largely unaffected by tragedy.

Bob loved the desert, and I thought of him as my family and I toured the American Southwest last week and played a fine Johnny Miller design in St. George, Utah: Entrada Golf Club at Snow Canyon. Bob grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, went to school in Maine, and lived much of his adult life in Vermont. He was a New Englander through and through, and he was what I like to call an unreconstructed hippie. But he loved golf, and the counter-culturist in him allowed an appreciation of desert golf — something a lot of golf design nerds reflexively disdain.

I first met Bob in about 1994, and only later in his all-too-short life did I learn that he fancied the idea of retiring to Flagstaff, Arizona. I got the impression his family wasn’t as keen on this particular idea, and in that way his untimely death mooted the issue. I thought of him as we passed through Flagstaff twice last week. We were there to play some disc golf but found far more than an excellent track tucked beside the athletic complex at Northern Arizona University. More than a mile high, surrounded by open chaparral and sitting in the shadow of the 10,000-foot San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff is physically gorgeous and a pleasing college vibe pervades. Many towns in the north of Arizona — hell, in all of Arizona and much of the West — are striking (to a New Englander especially) for just how new or post-modern they feel. Flagstaff has some of that, but it also has a proper, turn-of-the-19th-century downtown where today funky galleries and a wide variety of non-chain, quite excellent restaurants abound.

I didn’t start playing disc golf until after Bob had passed away, and playing in Arizona made me wonder what he’d have thought of it. Hardcore golfers tend to look askance at this golfing cousin, and while Bob was in many ways a counter-culturist — he lived in a commune after college on the shores of Sabbathday Lake, for chrissakes — he was something of purist when it came to golf. He revered the old course designs, soaked up the game’s rich history, and collected old clubs and books… But when he wrote books on course design, his subjects were Wayne Stiles and Walter Travis, not Donald Ross and Alistair Mackenzie. Bob also organized an annual Cayman tournament at his place in Vermont, where competitors holed out by chipping the ball either against a car tire (1 stroke) or into said tire (no stroke).

I’m betting Bob would have liked disc golf, recognizing that between the ears it’s essentially the same game — minus the status-seeking, the collared shirts, and the reliance on expensive, ever-upgradeable equipment. I’m also betting that as an eminently practical unreconstructed hippie, Bob would have recognized that to love one game doesn’t prevent the love of another.