Looking back before my internship for Mungeam Cornish Golf Design, before I ever even heard of Tom Doak, when the game was still new to me, I can point to the two things that were most important to my discovery of golf course architecture. The first is a specific date, June 16, 2004, it was the Wednesday practice round for the US Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island. The second was more of a happenstance from growing up in New York City.
A Young Golfmeister
Wed. June 16, 2004: Shinnecock Hills, Southampton, NY. Hole #7.
The summer between Jr. and Sr. year of high school and The Golfmeister was lucky enough be to given a pair of tickets to the final practice round before the open. I had just completed my first season on the Millbook golf team and was determined to improve my game after being embarrassed in the New England Invitation Tournament that served as the Championship final match. I had probably played somewhere around 15 different golf courses, mostly through the school team before I got to Southampton. Oddly enough, one of the courses was actually The Hotchkiss School course designed by Raynor and Banks, although I wouldn't know it for years to come.
After spending the morning walking the course backwards in hopes to see as many different Pros as possible, I decided to rest the legs and sit down at a grandstand. I happen to pick the grandstand behind #7 tee. Group after group came to the tee of the 184 yard par-3, and ball after ball hit the green and rolled off to the left. Then one of biggest foursomes of the afternoon came through: Vijah Singh, Adam Scott, Darren Clark, and a 4th who escapes me, all dropping multiple shots on the tee, and not one could get it to stay on the putting surface.
Shinnecock Hills, Southampton NY 1891
(W. Dunn, Macdonald and Raynor, Toomey and Flynn)
I remember walking in to my parents room that evening after taking the train home, and telling my father about the seventh hole, how it was going to be the story of the week and was near impossible to play. Interested in what I was yammering on about, he turned on the Golf Channel Open preview, and there it was, one of the biggest controversies in golf course history.
It was a pretty special insight into the possibilities of golf courses.
Shinnecock Hills #7: Redan
There are ZERO golf courses on the island of Manhattan where The Golfmeister lived for the first 23 years of my, and where I still call home now in my 24th. That means travel is a must. Even with some of the city muni's reachable by subway, getting into a car is almost always necessary to play golf when you live in Manhattan.
I'm not exactly how it became my responsibility, but I was always the one in charge of picking our location, making the tee time, and finding the directions, whether my friend and I conned my mother into driving, were taking my friends car since he got his license early, or convinced my parents to lend me the car once I could drive. I had an assortment of publications for regional and local course listings that my parents had given me, and the internet to choose from.
The Hotchkiss School Scorecard
Lakeville, CT (Raynor)
It must have been because I had the strongest urge to play, but I just assumed resposibility, and kept scouring the pages of my books for better, closer, and different golf courses to try. Nobody I played with, mostly my mother and one friend, or occasionally my father on a weekend, really questioned my choices, as long as we didn't get to get up crazy early, and could be home in time to return the cars to their rightful owners!
I was clearly making decisions about which courses I didn't like, which courses I enjoyed and wanted to return to, and developing my own opinions on which courses I thought were worth a drive. Obviously the conversations about favorite holes, and the "would you go back?" would come up on the way home.
I wouldn't trade my situation, driving to NYC publics for a membership at a private club, as much as I would have loved it at the time. I probably wouldn't have developed by ability to question what I like about certain courses and holes if I played the same one for my entire childhood, even though I definitely would have been a better player.