The 2012 New England Swing
On July 16 through July 29, 2012 the New England Golf research tour will take place. Commencing in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, culminating in Maine on a tour of 10 states with one objective. Alexander H. Findlay began his historic tour of New England beginning in 1897. Hired by Wright & Ditson to promote golf in the United States, Alex started designing a complete set of matched golf clubs for potential consumers in his new land of choice. One problem faced him only 10 years after setting foot on American soil. There were very few golf clubs to play a round of golf. That began a huge project of designing and building enough clubs to satisfy the interest in this new game. Over a hundred courses would be laid out in just the next 5 years. Some or no longer in existence, but many are still up and running. It is these courses that I am endeavoring to visit and play this summer. The tour will conclude with a discourse in Islesboro, Maine at one of his famous designs on that island that transports one back in time to a gentler time when golf was a game to be enjoyed. You will be reading all about this tour come August, next agenda Williamsburg, VA to give a speech to the Golf Collectors Society at their annual meeting. Nebraska follows with Alex’s induction into their golf hall of fame. Now this is going to be a most interesting discourse that will be presented to the folks in Omaha.
Starting July 16 thru July 29 I will be traveling north to visit as many of Alexander H. Findlay's golf courses as possible. I hope to play a number of them and to photograph the unique innuendos of each course. I will endeavor to keep you posted on a day to day basis. I would also appreciate any input you may have or any direction you would like me to pursue. The highlight of the trip will be a visit to Islesboro Island in Maine and the Tarrantine Golf Club, built in 1913 by Alex. I plan on giving a special talk on the island outing the early development of golf in the United States, This will be a rare experience for me to actually see and play some of the oldest golf courses in the United States. I think you will be impressed with the tour.
Monday July 16 - We started our tour through New Jersey, stopping at Medford Lakes Country Club in Medford Lakes outside Camden. Built before the great Depression of 1929 and owned by my Grandfather and Father until the monetary collapse in October of 1929. The course is doing well with new membership and a newly refurbished design by Steven Kay. Of course, the course was closed on Monday and did not have an opportunity to play the track, hoping to do so next week.
Pine Valley Country Club: No stop would be worth the trip unless you made the trip to Pine Valley. It reminds me very much of Crystal Downs in Michigan, very non-descript as you approach. Actually not one sign that says you are there. George Obrien mans the entrance to the parking lot. A nicer man you will not meet, very diplomatic and gracious, but firm. We hope to return one day and play the perennial number one course designed by my grandfather’s fellow Philadelphian and friend, George Crump.
Tuesday July 17 - Made the trek to Greenfield, Massachusetts and The Greenfield Country Club designed by Alex in 1898. The clubhouse burned down last year and is now nearly completed in the rebuild. Of course, it was hotter then Africa on Tuesday and even though we did not play a most amazing early American golf course, we did take the cart and toured the course. Can't wait to get back and try our skills on this amazing course.
Northfield Golf Club - Located in Northfield Massachusetts about 15 minutes from Greenfield. Built in 1905 according to the most recently recovered records. It is being maintained in excellent condition by Joel Monette, the golf course Superintendent and his associate Devon. The have proven to be exactly what this old course needs, purists of the history and the integrity to the game. Bob Ross, a long time member and player for over 40 years now is also the local historian. He thinks that the 2nd hold is the first and oldest Saddleback green in America, particularly since it dates back to 1910. I can't wait to return and play an original.
Wednesday July 18 - Played Meadow Brook Golf Club in Reading Massachusetts. The course was designed in 1898 by Alex. Have you ever played a course that dates back to the 1800's? This course is in pristine condition, not easy, actually only a couple of the over 400 members (not all are golfers) shoot below par. I did not do as well as I thought I could, undulating greens, fast and tough. I three putted two of the greens but ended up with a 3 over par, birded only one hole but my wife went around in 11 putts and 5 over, she loved=s the course. A monstrous storm came through just as we finished the first 9 holes, and of course the weather was still hot about 95, so we were finished. A special thanks to Bob Morelli and Terry Bane for their help and hospitality.
Thursday July 19 - 800 miles on our little Mini Cooper Clubman. Starting from Portsmouth, NH we discovered the Portsmouth Country Club that Alex designed back in 1901. But alas, this present course was built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the 1950's. A little digging we found out the original Portsmouth Country Club designed by Alex was to become a military course when the military bought the property. In the 1990's the land was given back to private use and the course now changed it's name to The Pease Golf Course a public layout with 27 total holes and the original 9 by Alex. While at the Portsmouth country club the professional was on the telephone and mentioned a course at Rye Beach named Abenaqui Country Club. So we traced it down and contacted the Club manager, Lee Pavlas. He had little knowledge of who designed the course but he did have a history of the course prepared and written by Bob Labbance. Lee gave us a copy of the book and as I opened it, low and behold on page 17 a feature article about Alex Findlay indicating that Alex is the designer of this beautiful course. Thank you Lee!
Mt. Washington New Hampshire. The Mount Pleasant Course. This would be the original course designed by Alex Findlay in the mid 1890's. It is also the location of the match play between Alex and Harry Vardon in 1900. We were not able to meet with the appropriate people as we arrived late in the day. Could be they do not want to jeopardize their Donald Ross mystique. Don’t get me wrong, I love to play Ross's designs, but let's face the facts. He arrived in 1900 years after Findlay and Fenn did the work on the original design. The atmosphere here reminds me very much of the Greenbrier in West Virginia. It is absolutely a beautiful scene with the Green Mountains and Mt Washington in the backdrop. Pinch me, I think I am dreaming! Tonight we are staying in Gorham, NH on the backside of Mt Washington. The weather has cooled off and we are expecting it to drop into the 40's tonight, sure glad I am not on top of Mt. Washington tonight!
Friday July 20 - Poland Springs today and a 3:00 PM tee time. This is also the location of the famous matches between Vardon and Findlay. Arthur Fenn was the professional here and a very good friend of Alex as well as a partner in many of his matches against Harry Vardon. The course is attributed to Donald Ross in 1915 and is typical of a Ross course or a Findlay course. Not especially long by today’s standards, but challenging. It requires skill in hitting the greens, mostly a bump and run approach. If you fly the greens you will usually roll through. Shot fairly well on the front side, 2 over but not as well on the back and ended up with a 83, guess all my blood had moved from my brain into my stomach and was there awaiting food. In leaving Poland Springs and driving down to Portland, may I suggest that you acquire a room before you start out. That would be prudent on your part. Apparently, that gene in my brain had also vacated and headed toward my stomach and was also awaiting food. So we were not able to acquire a room in Portland, unless you had $450.00 for one nights stay and it would have to be a smoking room. So onward we pressed heading northward on interstate 295. No it was approaching 8:30 and every sign we saw was “no vacancy”. Sometimes amazing things happen when you least expect it. Our GPS identifies hotels as we go along. So Cece calls the The Country Inn (207-729-1359) near Brunswick and Katherine answers and says yes indeed she has a room available. We were only 4 miles away, so petal to the metal. What a wonderful little Bed & Breakfast the Day’s operate. As we were struggling with our bags Don Day overhears that we played Poland Springs that day. He comes down and assists and we start this wonderful discussion about golf. He just returned from a week playing every course in Ireland. He loves the game! Oh, by the way our tummies are still churning; we ask Don and Katherine Day if there is any place to eat around there. Don suggests that we go into Freeport and go to Azures restaurant (207-865-1237). Best meal so far on our trip. Get the Salmon. Ask for Eric as your waiter, knows golf, great service, great food. By now the cool summer evenings Maine is famous for have struck. A sound evening sleep and here is why it will benefit you to stay at a B/B. Home cooked breakfast, blueberry muffins, great coffee, egg soufflés, orange juice, fresh fruit cup, toast, meat if you so desire and great people from all over the planet. On top of all that, Don has set up a driving range on his 45 acres. Don also is a plus one golfer. We will be back!
Saturday July 21 – Off to Lincolnville where we will catch the ferry to Islesboro Island and one of Alex’s 1913 nine hole golf courses. Amanda Hobart and Tom Heyer, assistant golf pro here have made arrangements for us to give a talk on Monday evening about Alex and also play a scramble in the afternoon on Sunday at the Tarratine Golf Club. But they also made arrangement for a ‘getting to know you’ introductory cocktail party on Saturday evening. There were about 60 people at the party, amazing how many come from Philadelphia and Washington D.C. as well as Richmond, VA.
Sunday July 22 – We are the guests of Judy and Phil George from Miami, who have a beautiful home and property right on the bay overlooking the golf course and the bay. This morning Phil wanted to boat over to Camden for a breakfast/lunch, the weather and sky were beautiful. Only problem, we had to get back for a 2:00 scramble at the course. I played with Phil, Ken Senior and Liberty Redmond. Liberty is close to 90 and we had to limit the use of her tee drives because she was long and straight down the middle. Must be the air and water up here. At any rate my wife’s foursome won the low gross score. She is one happy camper. Well. Off to the club for dinner, jackets for men. It overlooks the 1st hole and the bay. Pebble Creek only has mobs of people more then Tarratine Golf Club. What a beautiful location and challenging course. I need to get busy on my talk for tomorrow evening at the community center, but now I have all the ammunition that I need to make this talk come to life.
Monday July 23 – Breakfast at the George’s. Off to the club for a heated match play with Phil George, Ken Senior, David Weaver and myself. I had the men play from the back tees, that would make it even, as they know every weed and hill on the course from the middle tees, now they wouldn’t know where they were from this tee box. As it were David and I won the trophy. A used Calloway golf ball from Ken Senior. All in fun, but it was a good time for all.
The afternoon was devoted to walking the Georges garden and grounds, he even has a beautiful putting green with real grass that is cut every day to match the speed of the course. My favorite location on the property is the little house built overlooking the water that opens up to the bay. What a serene location to meditate or read or just be by yourself. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to working up the talk for the evening. About 50 folks showed up to hear about Alexander H. Findlay the designer of their club and the “Father of American Golf”. I think the members here realize the importance of owning a real Findlay club. I gave some suggestions on improving their course, like extending the tee boxes on hole 4 by utilizing the now overgrown tee box. Also by installing a new green between 2 and 3. What an unbelievable location could be used jutting out into the bay. It would then become the hall mark hole for the course, perhaps for the state of Maine. A real world class hole! The members looked at me in astonishment and quickly dismissed the recommendation. I appreciate their integrity to the original design and for their exclusivity to their course. They are not interested in Tarratine GC becoming a mecca for the masses to invade their sanctuary. I don’t blame them in a heartbeat. Just a thought. After the talk Tom and Julie Heyer from St. Louis, assistant club pro invited over to their bungalow for a bite to eat. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, great conversation and then it was time to go back to our digs for the night.
Tuesday July 24 - AN early morning round of golf at the Tarratine Golf Club. Our clubs were waiting us when we arrived. Decided to play the tips today, wanted to see what the course was made of. It is a much different look from the back tees. I noticed that some of the original tee boxes were not in use, this would open the course greatly and make it much more challenging. After the round our host wanted to go to lunch back in Camden which meant taking the boat over again. I will never get tired of the magnificent views going back and forth. That evening my golfing partner wanted all of us to come to his cottage for some cocktails before we head to our official cocktail party that evening. The one nice thing about Islesboro Island is it's detachment from the world, no hustle and bustle activities there. We did not watch TV or even listen to the radio nor did we pull up the internet, what a beautiful retreat.
Wednesday July 25 - After a morning round of golf we had a quick lunch and then had to catch the ferry back to civilization. Barley made the 1:30 ferry. Drove down to Camden to look at another Alex course called Megunticook Golf Club. It is well maintained, membership is limited and about 60 are waiting to join. It is 9 holes with a beautiful ocean hole and a most unusual par 3 that has to be seen to understand. Left there and drove up to Augusta Maine as Alex also designed a course there. I visited the Augusta Country Club, but they insist that their course is a Donald Ross, hummmm! It was built around 1916, but who built the course that was there first? The one thing you must keep in mind when traveling through Maine in the summer is to carefully plan your motel stops, we didn't and were forced to find whatever we could. So we know someone that knows someone that lives in Maine, oh, by the way, what is their telephone number. Give them a call and see if they can accommodate us tonight. No problems.
Thursday July 26 - On our way from Maine to Greenfield, MA and to the Greenfield Country Club. Established in 1896 and a real jewel of a golf course dating from the late 1800's. The pro there is Buckey has been there pro for almost 44 years, way to go Buckey! Have you played some of the earliest golf courses built in this country? You will find a number of them in Mass, New Hampshire and Maine. Greenfield is a test of your skills and it will require all of those skills. Accuracy is a must, the greens are wonderful. Bill Conant arranged for us to join him and a group of his friends from all over the world as we played his course. Looking at Greenfield Golf Club as you drive up to it you might develop over-confidence thinking you will crush this course. Bring your A-game, this course is most deceiving. For your reference I had the privilege of going around the first 9 holes, Alex's design in one over par, not bad considering I drove 250 miles, arrived at the course, Met Bill, hit one practice swing and started to play right out of the barn. This getting old is for the birds.
Friday July 27 - Left Greenfield and drove to Hartford to get a nice nights sleep. In the morning drove into NYC, I was wondering what that stabbing pain in my chest was all about. Cece says it's because your driving a 6 speed Mini Cooper, you haven't driven a stick shift since you sold your old 1967 P-1800 Volvo 25 years ago. OK, now I know it wasn't my heart. I feel better since I got through the city. Also figured out how to drive from Maine to New Jersey without paying a toll on any bridges or interstates. We decided to head to Philadelphia and over to King of Prussia and spend the night there. Had a great meal at Bahama Breeze, great Mojoto's.
Saturday July 28 - In the morning headed to Reading where Alex designed three great courses. Reading Country Club, Manor Golf Club and Galen Hall Golf Club. I have played Reading Country Club a few years ago, so we decided to head to Manor and Galen Hall. We met the folks at Manor and promised to return to play the course another day. Galen Hall is only a few miles from Manor so we drove over and met the assistant pro, Derek who encouraged us to play the course. He actually drove the first two holes with us describing the particular elements of the course. We had a wonderful time there, shot a 77 from the tips. Also had a great Bean Burger that the chef made up for us at the bar. How would I describe this Gem of a course? Last year I played Crystal Downs in Frankfort, Michigan recognized as number 12 in the world, a truly great course. Galen Hall is the equilivent to Crystal Downs on the east coast. The holes are very challenging; greens are good at perhaps a 9 to 10 on the stimpmeter. If they were a 12 as is Crystal Downs it would be as hard if not harder. Put this course on your bucket list and let me know what you think.
Sunday July 29 - Stayed at the Hampton Inn in York, PA got up and drove down to Columbia, MD to visit with my wife's mother there. Had a nice lunch with her brother Rick (His wife wants’ everyone to call him Richard, but that's my name, so what are you going to do, Rick it is). Made it back to Richmond by 7:30 pm and put on 2200 miles at about 43 MPG on our little frugal Mini. Had a great time, played a number of Alex's courses, visited many more and developed a great fondness for these old courses that so many folks dismiss as too tame to play. All I can say is thank you, all of you who maintain these beautiful old courses and thank you for being a purist in maintaining the course to as close to its original design as possible.
Epilog: Next year we would like to do another swing perhaps through New York State, Vermont, more of Massachusetts and New Jersey. Trying to cover 500 golf courses in a lifetime is quite an accomplishment, you have to love golf to do what my wife and I endeavor to do. Why not take time and have a round of golf with the grandson of Alexander H. Findlay, the first golf course Architect in the United States.