June 8, 2007
When the subject matter turns to golf course architecture, there are two basic types of golfers.
One set falls in love with a single golf course, usually found at a local country club, and usually after initially joining the club as a young member. The particular design features of their course become second nature to these players. They take great comfort in the familiar surroundings and the unique course knowledge they develop.
It not usually wise to bet against these folks, if you aren’t equally familiar with their home course.
The other set falls in love with the whole idea of golf courses and course design. They can’t wait to try their luck at a wide variety of layouts, discovering for themselves what the architects had in mind in fitting the golf courses into a dizzying array of landscapes.
Anthony Pioppi is definitely in the second category, as he shows in his new book, To the Nines, (Sports Media Group; $24.95).
A longtime journalist and golf nut, Pioppi took a break from the newspaper business in the late 1990s to work on greenskeeping crews in a few states. He then returned to writing, but also kept up his interest in golf courses and their design.
This book focuses on some of the unique nine-hole golf layouts found throughout the United States. As a group, nine-holers make up about one-quarter of the entire golf course inventory in the country, so it’s a bit surprising that it took this long for someone to focus on these places as an apt subject for study.
Pioppi obviously took advantage of both of his careers in taking up this challenge. In the first place, his greenskeeping work helped him appreciate the hard work that many of the owners of these courses put into their little gems.
These layouts often present the only opportunity for golf in their geographic area, and they’re not always situated on the most favorable properties for a few thousand yards of turf. Some even continue the tradition of oil-coated sand greens, such as the Midway Golf Course near Inman, Kansas. Pioppi delights in recounting how courses like Midway meet a recreational need in the Midwest—and also how putting on sand greens can ruin your putting stroke when you return to greens covered in poa annua, Bermuda, or bent grass.
His primary career as a reporter also helped, in knowing how to uncover some of the obscure, long-hidden histories of several courses, such as the now-gone Ocean Links course in Newport, Rhode Island, or the Fenwick Golf Course in Connecticut. He shares his delight in finding some features of the Ocean Links course hidden under piles of overgrowth. Pioppi also recounts some of the Fenwick golf stories that will be familiar territory for fans of one of the club’s famous former champions, Katherine Hepburn.
Pioppi found some good examples of nine-hole courses laid out by some of golf design’s greatest, including Donald Ross and Charles Blair Macdonald. He also appreciates the artistry of far less well-known designers, such as Albion Knight, the Episcopal bishop who co-designed the nine holes used by students at the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee. Among the modern nine-holers, Pioppi found much to praise about Mike Keiser’s Dunes Club, also described at length in Stephen Goodwin’s Dream Golf (Algonquin; $24.95).
This is a fun book for students of golf course architecture, and a useful addition to any golf library that is focused on more than the great players. My only quibble with the book, in fact, is that the two chapters about the Ocean Links course include repetitive material. Another editing session to remove those segments would have been appreciated–but perhaps Pioppi’s natural enthusiasm for his subject is the best explanation for the oversight.
It’s perfectly understandable.