Beginning with a distant view of Long Island Sound and ending on a spray-soaked cliff beside the Pacific Ocean, this second nine of Sports Illustrated's Best 18 ranges across the continent. It is a watery closing nine that requires shots over a Pennsylvania brook, a Georgia pond (right), a South Carolina lagoon, a Colorado stream, a Michigan lake and an Oklahoma creek. The golfer who plays it may get his feet wet, but he will have seen nine holes, each in the position which it occupies on its own course, that—judged by standards of challenge, fairness, beauty and tradition—have no equal in America. Dan Jenkins took his 8-handicap and his waterproof shoes and tested them all. He describes what he saw—and how he did.
10 WINGED FOOT
Westchester County is a vast fresh-air factory just north of New York City. Populated primarily by commuting fathers and marching mothers, it consists of woods, hills, shopping centers, train platforms, station wagons and a variety of homes that range from Revolutionary War Ancient to Subdivision Modern. Stretching over an immense area between the Hudson River and Long Island Sound, it is America's most famous bedroom, one that is noted for towns like Rye, Scarsdale, Larchmont and New Rochelle, communities that have been made famous in both literature and lyric.
But even though many of its hills have been forested with television aerials and its forests have been paved, Westchester somehow retains a remarkable beauty and quiet. Contributing to this bucolic atmosphere are the numerous fine golf courses within its boundaries, more, no doubt, than in any other area of comparable size in the U.S. The most renowned of all these courses is Winged Foot.
February 22, 1965
Named after the Mercury emblem of the New York Athletic Club, some of whose members built Winged Foot's two 18s (West and East) in 1922, the club is located in Mamaroneck, one of Westchester's more popular and prosperous residential sections, yet it is not ultraexclusive by Westchester standards. To accommodate its large membership—650 active golfers—it has a clubhouse so vast that if the Duke of Windsor stopped by, which he has, the place would remind him of an old London home of his, circa 1936.
The worldwide attention that Winged Foot enjoys, and deserves, comes from the array of nationally known professionals who have peopled its golf shop—Claude Harmon, Craig Wood, Mike Souchak, Jack Burke, Shelley Mayfield and Dave Marr—and from the staging of two U.S. Open championships.
Winged Foot's West Course, which was the site of the 1929 U.S. Open (partly because the East Course did not get into shape in time), has those old-fashioned characteristics of raised greens, narrow openings, fast and severely contoured putting surfaces and bunkers with steep walls. Much of the course's toughness lies in its first and last three holes, which are simply long. It was on the 18th in the '29 Open that Bobby Jones holed one of his more critical putts, a 12-footer for a par 4 that salvaged a 79 and a tie with Al Espinosa. The next day Jones humiliated Espinosa, defeating him by 23 strokes in a 36-hole playoff. Thirty years later, when the Open returned to Winged Foot, Billy Casper sank putts of every conceivable length to win. In 72 holes he had but one three-putt green. This came at the 10th hole on the final round, and it was a fitting place, for it is the green at Winged Foot's 10th that makes the hole a most deceptive par-3.
Incorporated into the 10th is all of the real character that is Winged Foot. The green is rigidly flanked by bunkers, and the entrance to it is about as narrow as any hole on the course—only 15 feet. It rises sharply as it broadens, and there are heavy swells in the putting surface. "A lot of members say the green is slowly sinking in front," says Course Superintendent Sherwood Moore. "But it is only sinking in their minds."
Just hitting such a green is not enough. You can be on the precipitous front edge and, if the pin is in the back, you might be better off returning to the tee and hitting another three-iron at it. Or, if the pin is near the pinched front gate and you have been so foolish as to hit into the bunker on the left, forget it. Your explosion shot is going to roll right off the green.
Helped by a faint, trailing wind, my three-iron reached the lower right-hand edge of the green, and luckily the pin was there. I had a nasty 12-footer for a birdie, and I could not help remembering the old calendar that once hung in every golf shop in the country, the painting of Bobby Jones sinking a putt of about the same distance at Winged Foot in 1929. I posed for a similar sketch, but failed to hit the putt firmly. Short. Also wide. Artistically uninspiring, perhaps, but a safe par is a fine way to start the second nine at Winged Foot—and the second nine on America's Best 18.
Any golf course can have its memorable occasions. The club may be nothing more than nine sand greens under a railroad trestle, but its members will recall every detail of the day young Joe Zilch finished 3-2-1 to set the course record, or the time Mrs. Hattie Sausage lost 27 balls on the ditch hole. But, naturally, there are clubs with more classic memories than others, and none has more than Philadelphia's Merion. For one modest example, Merion is where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam in 1930 by winning the U.S. Amateur while a special Marine detachment protected him from a crowd of 18,000. For another, it was at Merion 20 years later that Ben Hogan, recovered from a near-fatal accident, won the U.S. Open, signaling one of the finest comebacks in sport.
Merion has been the scene of these and nine other major championships because it is a practically perfect example of American golf architecture. It is also the only course that could properly offer two holes for our Best 18. Merion's first hole began this series (SI, Feb. 15), and now the 11th, the historic Baffling Brook, follows as appropriately as the white sand follows a well-played explosion from Merion's bunkers.
This hole deceives you right from the tee. You think you have adequate room for your drive, but less than 100 yards down the fairway the terrain drops abruptly to a lower level, and this level, which is not visible from the tee, abounds with bunkers and trees. Yet the exciting part is still to come. Far back in a shaded setting of oak, beech and gum trees, embraced front, right and back by Baffling Brook, is the green. There is almost no fairway between the driving area and the green itself, only a broad, rocky creek bed, with the water rippling through the middle of it. The longer the golfer studies his club selection for a high, biting pitch that must carry the creek, the stones and the wall in front of the green, the wider and deeper the brook becomes.
The 11th first earned fame not for its difficulty but simply for its existence. It was the hole where Jones closed out his final match 8 and 7 against Eugene Homans to complete the Slam, and it was the last really competitive hole Bobby ever played. The 11th added to its reputation in the 1934 U.S. Open when Gene Sarazen took a one-stroke lead into it in the final round, attempted to play safe with a two-iron off the tee and ended up with a 7. Bobby Cruickshank had led through the second day of that Open, even though he made a 6 at the 11th. In the third round, the tiny Scot was still in contention at the 11th when his eight-iron approach headed into the brook. But the ball hit a rock beneath the surface and bounded onto the green. Cruickshank tossed his club in the air, tipped his cap and said, "Thank you, Lord," only to have the club land on his head. He did not recover from the shock of the shot, or the blow, and Olin Dutra won the Open.
My unhistoric drive put me in a good position for a seven-iron to the green. The pin was right and forward, on the edge of the Baffling Brook. Suffocating in all of Merion's tradition, I thought of Jones, Sarazen, Cruickshank and the probable drop area, then hit my own baffled approach. It carried the brook, sailed straight over the flag and somehow held the back part of the green, about 25 feet from the hole. Jones's old Calamity Jane itself could not have given the putt a better rap. It hit the middle of the cup for a birdie 3, proof once more that anything can happen at Merion's 11th.
12 AUGUSTA NATIONAL
Augusta National Golf Club is one of the most televised golf courses in the country, and certainly the best known. Each April millions watch the Masters on TV, and the challenge and complexities of Augusta's last four holes have become as familiar to the intent golf fan as his own bent putter. Largely because of this exposure, the final four holes, and especially the 15th and 16th, have come to be regarded as the crucial ones. But the pros know this is wrong, and so does the large gallery of several thousand that always gathers at a place called Amen Corner on the final day to watch the contenders play the 11th, 12th and 13th. These holes may be unfamiliar, since TV never shows them, but they are the holes where the Masters is won—and lost.
Amen Corner is an arrowhead of Georgia pines, fairways and flowers that is the farthest point on the course from the Augusta National clubhouse, and the three strenuous and wonderfully designed holes bend their way around this triangle. The 445-yard par-4 11th demands a strong tee shot out of the pines to a rising fairway. The second shot is a long iron down a hill to a green that is virtually a pier, with Rae's Creek curving around its whole left side. The corner concludes with an unnerving 475-yard par-5, a dogleg left that offers the enticing gamble of going for a near-island green in two. But it is the hole between this difficult pair that has become Augusta's severest test at Masters time. The 12th, confusing and frightening, may well be the most dangerous of all par-3s.
To the unknowing among the sun-warmed multitudes who come to Augusta each April for the Masters, the 12th hole looks benign. It is not long, after all. Just a little flip across Rae's Creek with a short iron or mid-iron, depending on the wind. But regardless of how it looks to the man with a ticket and a hot dog, it is considerably more than that to any player under pressure—say, the pressure of trying to win a Masters. And it is equally testing to any golfer who is standing on the tee, staring at a far-right pin position so precariously placed that it appears to bob like a buoy in Rae's Creek, and trying to guess what a puff of wind might do to his shot as it hangs over the green, which is hardly wider than a knife blade.
As long ago as 1937, only four years after Bobby Jones had laid out (with Alister Mackenzie) this best of all ryegrass winter courses and originated the Masters Tournament, the 12th was a decisive hole. It was in that early Masters that Ralph Guldahl, nursing a four-stroke lead the final day, played the 12th and 13th holes in 5 and 6 while Byron Nelson, behind him, went 2 and 3 (birdie, eagle) to win. More recently, Sam Snead won the 1952 Masters after chipping in for a round-saving bogey 4 at the 12th. But Arnold Palmer, the tournament's only four-time champion, has provided more last-day Masters drama at Amen Corner than anyone. He helped himself win in 1958 when he parred 12 after being allowed a free drop from an imbedded lie, and in 1962 he birdied the hole and went on to take a playoff. This helped make up for 1959, when he lost a two-stroke lead and a Masters on 12 by underclubbing and ending up with a triple-bogey 6.
Superficially, the hole is gorgeous and alluring as it sits at the foot of an azalea-and-pine-covered hill across the water, but it is actually a blithe spirit, full of devilry. You must clear the creek, which cuts almost to the putting surface, but you must not clear it by much, for there is no room. The embankment behind the green is steep, the rough is matted and there are two bunkers. A chip or explosion shot from this area, if not executed delicately, will roll across the green—and into the creek. The possibility of such a complete disaster makes the pros think twice about being bold with their recovery shots. This understandable caution makes it difficult to salvage a par.
There are two memorials at the 12th hole that commemorate brilliant play in the Masters. A bridge leading to the green is a tribute to Ben Hogan's 72-hole record of 274. A stone walkway, spanning Rae's Creek and leading to the 13th fairway, honors Byron Nelson's charge in 1937. With precisely the right club and enough fear, the golfer on the 12th tee can put his shot between these two bridges—and into the center of Rae's Creek. My five-iron, held up by a mysterious gust of wind, did exactly that. One of the reasons Bobby Jones particularly likes the 12th is because of the pitch shot that must be made from the drop area, which is still back of the creek. "It can be terrifying, indeed," Jones says. Jones is right. Unnerved, I hit a pitch that just cleared the water. From the 30 feet that were left to the cup, I three-putted. They can make a memorial to my triple bogey if they want, but it will have to be underwater. Amen.
13 THE DUNES
It is agreed among knowledgeable golfers along the Atlantic Coast that if a man plays the 13th hole at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. often enough he will eventually 1) lose every ball he owns and 2) perish by alligator bite. Farfetched as these probabilities may seem, they are not as farfetched as the 13th hole itself, a long, horseshoe-shaped par-5 that loops around a giant hazard named Singleton Lake. The hole, like the 15-year-old Myrtle Beach course, is the product of the sometimes fiendish mind of Robert Trent Jones, and in this case the esteemed golf architect outdid himself.
Your first impression, as you look to the right across the Superior-sized lake to the green and are then told to tee off in the opposite direction toward nothing in particular, is that here, here in relatively obscure Myrtle Beach, the sport of golf has at last arrived at its ludicrous ultimate. The tee shot, quite aside from going away from the hole, is impossible, for it must be long, accurate and daring, carrying past a row of pines and about 240 yards to the lake's edge. Fade it, and it is in the water. Hook it, and you are still 500 yards from the green. But the second shot is more absurd. It requires a full carry across the water with a three-wood. Nothing less will suffice. Now, assuming you manage all this, you still have a mid-iron to a vast green that is sternly bunkered and has two distinct putting levels. Finally, if you are truly knowledgeable about this hole, you are aware that at least six alligators reside in nearby Singleton Swash. They frequently come out to sunbathe in the fairway. Thus the hole is not only tough to play, it can be tough to walk.
Despite the hazards of the 13th at The Dunes, it is both a pretty and intriguing hole. Making a half circle from the tee to the green on the player's left are the pine, holly and scrub oaks that are moody features of this long, windswept par-72 course. The club itself is easygoing and informal. It was built by Myrtle Beach property owners (12 motels have golf privileges) to attract tourists to their ocean resort. But any relaxation that Myrtle Beach allows you on its sandy strands it seizes back on its golf course, especially on its 13th hole.
The first two shots on the 13th are clear gambles. You must drive close to the brink of the lake with the first shot to shorten the distance across the water on the second. If you do so, you can chew off as much of the hazard as you feel brave enough to risk. A good shot across the wide part of the lake leaves a seven- or eight-iron to the green. A safe shot leaves a two- or three-iron. When the U.S. Women's Open was played at The Dunes in 1962, Ruth Jessen took one look at the 13th and said, "It's a par-6." Mickey Wright said, "It's a great hole—if you don't get greedy." Then Mickey got greedy, and her misadventures at 13, including a double bogey, were one reason she finished fourth instead of her usual first. Only Mike Souchak has ever reached the green in two. Pro Jimmy D'Angelo, who has been at The Dunes since it was built, likes to recall with relish the day two British Ryder Cup players, Harry Weetman and Max Faulkner, emptied out the balls in their bags and stood swinging for an hour trying to get to the green in two. Neither did, and Singleton Lake fairly gurgled over with shiny British golf balls.
The lake seemed to be still gurgling as I drove perfectly—if breathtakingly—to its very edge. I caught a brassie just right to carry well over the water and into the fairway, only a seven-iron from the green. But I guess I celebrated these feats too long, for I shanked the approach 15 yards to the right of the green. A mediocre pitch rolled past the pin by 12 feet. However, the putt slid in for a par 5. Nothing to it. I just kept telling myself that a 5 was really a birdie and that alligators are things you make golf shoes out of.
14 CHERRY HILLS
For a proved championship course that has achieved an endearing place in golf history, Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver is held in peculiar irreverence by the game's best players. They regard it as a drive-and-putt course on which they would shoot some truly whimsical scores if they played it regularly. One reason for this feeling is that a well-hit drive goes roughly 6% farther in the thin mountain air of Colorado than it does at sea level. Another reason is an easy run of opening holes that tends to imbue the pro golfer with aggressive confidence. It was in this stretch on the last round of the 1960 U.S. Open that Arnold Palmer went 6 under par through seven holes, a streak that led him to a 65 and victory. On that wild Saturday afternoon Palmer came from seven strokes back and passed 12 players, and he treated the course as if Cherry Hills were host to the Potluck Invitational instead of golf's loftiest event. After Palmer's rush had leveled every serious challenger, Don Cherry, one of many weary losers, said, "We'd have all shot this place in nothing if it hadn't been the Open."
While there is a lot to say for the tension of an important championship and what it does to scores, there is also a lot to be said for Cherry Hills. It is not all that easy. Built in 1922 for a membership that has remained friendly, enthusiastic, self-made and western, it is a club with a fierce affection for golf, an affection that was best displayed by the hospitality, courtesy and efficiency it lavished on the 1960 Open.
Nor did the course suffer any great embarrassment from Palmer's blistering finish and the lingering belief among the pros that it can be demolished. The winning total was, after all, a respectable 280. Once past the early holes, too short for the modern big hitters, Cherry Hills played as severely as it had in 1938, when Ralph Guldahl won the U.S. Open there by being the only player to break 290.
Actually, the incoming nine at Cherry Hills is one of the trickiest in golf. It is narrow and exacting and it concludes dramatically with a championship par-4 across a lake and uphill to a green back dropped by a gabled, brick clubhouse. But it is in the middle of the homeward nine that Cherry Hills demands the very most of any attacker.
The 14th tee sits closer to an out-of-bounds fence on the right than any sheer wishes. The drive must carry well over a gradual fairway rise and come to rest close to a line of American elms shielding the boundary. Here the fairway slants down and left to a medium-size, undulating green, ringed by cottonwoods, locusts and Siberian elms. It is militantly guarded on the left by something called Little Dry Creek, which is not dry and is not playable. The creek curls around and behind the green, and the slightest hook will bounce briskly toward it.
Joseph Dey is particularly proud of the hole, for it was the USGA's executive director who, in altering Cherry Hills for the 1960 Open, shoved the fairway 35 yards up and to the right, bringing it closer to the tree line and farther from the green and making the 14th more of what Mr. Dey likes to call a "man's hole."
The thin air of Colorado did little for this man's drive. It left me a four-wood from the green, and I felt I was going to have to hit the shot with both feet off the ground to have a chance. The four-wood was not firmly hit, flying feet or no. It turned out to be a dainty hook that tried hard to become big-wet in Little Dry. It stopped a foot short of the creek and about 10 yards from the green. The wedge up left a 15-footer for the par, and I made the putt. It's like the pros say: Cherry Hills is nothing but a drive and a putt.
Almost every instrument that has been invented for golf since Mary Queen of Scots did or did not originate the game—the wooden tee, the wedge, the one-iron, the shoe cleat and the scooter, to name a few—has been designed to help the poor player get back to the clubhouse more easily. There is one notable exception: a dark and dented three-foot metal bar with long V-shaped teeth the width of a golf ball and a place to attach weights. This infamous instrument was used for 40 years to carve deep, awesome furrows in the deep, awesome sand traps of Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh. It was a crude device, never marketed of course, and used only at Oakmont. Why? Because William C. Fownes Jr., son of a steel baron and designer of the course, wanted to have one of the most difficult 18s anywhere when he laid it out in 1903. Furrows in the traps would do it, he decided, explaining, "A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost."
Well, Oakmont has lost an awful lot of shots, thanks to Mr. Fownes, who devoted his later life to the care and feeding of its traps, its obscured ditches that border every fairway and its enormous, ice-slick greens. For the first 50 years of its existence—in which it generated such traditions as singing Loch Lomond before all formal meetings, and lost Andrew Mellon as a member because he objected to the dues being raised—Oakmont was indeed known as a cruel course, perhaps even unfair. When the club first held the U.S. Open in 1927, winner Tommy Armour did not break 300, although Open champions had been breaking 300 for a decade. When the Open returned to Oakmont in 1935 the winner was Sam Parks Jr., a local pro who had learned to handle the greens, and his 299 total was the highest since Armour's. "In those days," Armour recalled recently, "you didn't play a shot at Oakmont, you manipulated it. And it was a great relief when a round was over."
All of this led to a classic debate in 1953 as Oakmont began preparations for still another Open Championship. As always, the bent-grass fairways and greens were in immaculate condition, but the furrows were deep as ever. Remove the furrows, said the USGA. Oakmont, a wealthy, sedate, golf-serious club, was aghast. The club's grounds committee, headed by Frank Magee, a retired president of Alcoa, told the USGA it would sooner remove the metal industry from Pittsburgh. A compromise was reached, but only after a fierce struggle. Oakmont would keep its hallowed furrows but would sharply reduce the depth of them by reshaping its rake. The USGA's Joe Dey, a writer before he became the most powerful figure in golf, remembers the argument well, for in the fullness of it he jotted down the following Ode to Oakmont:
O, the dune hills in the sand along the sea
Where the waves dash high with mighty, noisesome claps
Are as smooth as glossy silk or homogeniz-ed milk,
When compared with Oakmont's furrowed traps.
For a gentlemanly bunker, give me those
That don't ever show on topographic maps,
Where the soil's politely raked—neither carved nor sculped nor faked—
But deliver me from Oakmont's furrowed traps.
Deliver me, too, Joe. Oakmont to this day believes that each hole on its course is the best, toughest and most superbly conditioned anywhere. But the 15th is especially noteworthy, a par-4 with a blind tee shot up a hill and then an approach around a gentle dogleg to the right. The huge green—it is 50 yards long, and used to be 100—is set in a slight valley. There are furrows left and furrows right, most of them assembled row on row in a bunker 95 yards long and 15 yards wide that stretches to the back of the green on the right side. Nor are you necessarily home once the green is reached: it is large enough and fast enough to six-putt. My drive was safe up the left side, but I had a three-iron to go. Three-irons have a nasty habit of locating the biggest bunkers at Oakmont, and mine did. An explosion shot from the furrows is more a pop than a boom, but I got down in two putts from 80 feet for a bogey 5. If it had been the old days of the deep furrows I would be there yet, inventing another rake and reciting something besides poetry.
16 OAKLAND HILLS
When a golfer takes his first look at Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich., a few assembly lines out of Detroit, he wonders what all the fuss is about. He has turned from a busy, supermarket-lined thoroughfare into a driveway leading to an enormous white clubhouse, and now all he can see from the veranda is a wide-open, moderately rolling 18 holes surrounded in the main by housing developments. It is difficult for him to believe that this is the storied old course that has held four U.S. Opens, that had Walter Hagen for its first professional—his pro shop was a converted hen house—and that became notorious during the 1951 Open Championship after it had been revamped by Robert Trent Jones. It is only after the golfer makes his tour of Oakland Hills that he can fully appreciate what it once was, what Jones did to it and what it has become—a just and subtle test of golf.
Initially, Oakland Hills was merely a good course for its well-to-do Birmingham membership. Six years after it was built, the 1924 Open was held there, distinguished primarily for the fact that steel-shafted putters were permitted for the first time. And 13 years later, when Ralph Guldahl won an Open there, the course was considered a pushover as Open courses go. Guldahl shot 281, a new 72-hole record for the event. But Oakland Hills had a golfing destiny; two men saw to that.
Nowhere in any history of golf will the name of John Oswald be found, but he deserves a place. Oswald, a Ford styling engineer and an Oakland Hills member, was chairman of the greens committee for the 1951 Open. He steadfastly insisted that the course should be made tougher, and then twice as tough as that (shades of Oakmont). This gave Architect Jones, who had been hired for the remodeling, encouragement he hardly needed, and he prepared the most vicious course on which a major championship has ever been played—"the monster," Ben Hogan called it after his victory, or at least those are the words the press settled on, Ben having been somewhat more tart.
Jones made changes faster than a truck could haul sand. He added 66 new bunkers, some of them in the center of fairways. While Oswald kept smiling, fairways were pulled in as narrow as 19 paces in landing areas 240 to 260 yards out, a characteristic which prompted Sam Snead to say, "The only way you can walk down 'em is Indian file." Greens were reshaped and rebunkered to provide a definite "wrong side" for approach shots. The result was a course that forced the experts to think, plan and manage every stroke. But, as the pros predicted in unhushed agony, it was also a course that too severely punished the slightest mistake. Only two scores were turned in below 70, and Hogan's closing 67 for a 7-over-par 287 is still talked about as the finest single round ever played.
The ghoulish doctoring of Oakland Hills marked a turning point in USGA thinking. Since then, the organization has taken a closer hand in the preparation of its tournament courses, making certain that no such dragon appears again. Thus it was that 10 years later, when the Open returned to Oakland Hills, the monster had vanished. Numerous bunkers were gone, fairways were wider and Gene Littler won with a 281.
This series of alterations has left a marked effect on Oakland Hills, which has finally settled into that sound category: tough but fair. The course still appears open to the casual view, but take another look. That lonesome tree you see out there is in exactly the right spot. Every tree that has been planted since 1951, every bush, has been carefully positioned to enhance the playing quality. That is the secret of Oakland Hills. The 16th hole is a perfect example. There would appear to be room for all kinds of blunders, but actually you cannot err and get a par unless you know how to hit a shot from a lake bottom.
The 16th, or lake hole as it is called, was always treacherous, but gradual improvements have made it superb. Jones moved the green so that it protrudes into the water like a thumb. Behind it he inserted an array of bunkers, one of them a tiny pot trap that does a spectacular business. The approach, ideally played with a mid-iron, is a rugged challenge when the pin is set to the right, because the shot must carry the water—200 balls a month are swept from the lake—and then bite hard to stop short of the sand and a dangerous explosion shot.
For some reason that perhaps only golf architects can explain, there are many celebrated 16th holes in America. Perhaps the most talked about is the one at Cypress Point, that photogenic par-3 across the ocean (it is actually so difficult as to be unfair), and the one at Merion, a par-4 with a long carry over a rock quarry. But the 16th at Oakland Hills is the best, for its length is not killing and after a decent tee shot the golfer has that marvelous gamble of going for the flag over the lake.
There is a way to play 16 without much of a gamble, however. You can drive an ugly hook into the left rough, pray for a four-wood as it slithers in cowardly fashion along the left side of the fairway and execute a sloppy chip 12 feet past the cup. Then you misread the green and take two putts for a bogey. That is how I did it. I was not going to let Trent Jones and John Oswald make a fool out of me.
17 QUAIL CREEK
One day there is nothing but a bald hill, a swamp, a valley or a prairie, and the next day—zap—a new golf course appears, with a clubhouse that rears up like an airline terminal. Then a day later—zap, zap—a real-estate development surrounds the fairways, with four cars in every garage and a whole steer in every freezer. It happens anyplace in America where land is available, men have ideas and bank officers are optimists—a symptom of the prosperous '60s. But in few areas has it happened as suddenly, or rewardingly, as it did in 1961 on the northwestern edge of Oklahoma City. One day there was grassland where youngsters shot birds, and the next—zap—Quail Creek Golf and Country Club.
Unlike so many modern clubs that are built only to lure buyers for big homes, Quail Creek was never thought of as a cheap piece of bait. It was laid out as a solid 7,000-yard test of golf by ex-Pro Floyd Farley, and it includes a rambling rock clubhouse with broad glassed-in vistas and a cocktail lounge at every carpeted dogleg. After all this came the homes, a striking variety of them that range in cost from $35,000 to $250,000, many in such intimate proximity to the fairways that it seems a sharp hook off a tee could end up in somebody's electric oven. One of the houses hugging the 6th fairway has an exposed patio conveniently equipped with a Coke machine for thirsty players. The house belongs to Head Pro Ernie Vossler, and the machine belongs to his children. The proceeds may put all five little Vosslers through college.
As the first new club in Oklahoma City in 10 years, Quail Creek was an immediate success. The city's young executives and professional men flocked to it in twelvesomes, paying $4,000 initiation fees. Almost overnight the club had 525 members. Their average age was only 39, and while Oklahoma City Country Club and Twin Hills, which held the 1935 PGA Championship, still flourish, Quail Creek has become the city's leading golf community. It has staged the pro tour's Oklahoma City Open since 1962, and it now is being ranked in the Southwest with Fort Worth's Colonial, Houston's Champions and Tulsa's Southern Hills.
Quail Creek juts forth from its clubhouse in two directions, the first nine reaching out toward town and the Vossler Coke concession, the second toward the vacant Oklahoma horizon. There are lazy rolls on the course, a few ponds, numerous doglegs, and on the back nine there is Quail Creek itself.
Nowhere does the creek come into play as severely as it does on the 17th hole, a par-4 that is not only the best single adventure at Quail Creek but one of the best anywhere. To the left of the tee there are smallish elms, sycamores, sweet gums, a large bunker and a boundary line, all ready to capture a medium hook. On the right, winding near an assortment of large oaks and cottonwoods and altogether too near the golfer, is the creek. Nor is the center of the fairway overly inviting, for it rises slowly to a first, then a second level. If the player hopes to reach the green with an iron on his second shot, he must drive to the highest plateau of the fairway, which is some 230 yards out. Failing that, he must haul forth a three-wood, attempt to ignore the tributary of Quail Creek that crosses the fairway 80 yards in front of the green and hitch up his trousers like Arnold Palmer.
Palmer won the 1964 Oklahoma City Open at this hole by driving more than 300 yards, then nailing an eight-iron to within 14 inches of the cup for a birdie. My ambition on the tee was to stay out of the creek. The drive was safely straight but had the arc of a nine-iron. The green offered a large target—Quail Creek's greens are only slightly smaller than Bolivia—but I was a long wood shot away. I think I tried to guide the ball, for it quickly hooked in the direction of the sweet gums and infinity. But I had planned the shot well. First bounce: over the creek. Second bounce: off a tree trunk. Landing place: in the fairway 30 yards shy of the green. A pitch and two putts. Zap! Easy bogey.
18 PEBBLE BEACH
For those who believe man came from the sea and wants some day to return to it, there is no better place than the 18th hole at Pebble Beach. For 530 full yards there is nothing but sea to the left of the tee, fairway and green. If the pounding surf erodes the nerve of the player, it also erodes the 18th hole, and there is the fearsome feeling that the whole scene—fairway, trees, green, caddie and golfer—is about to be swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Until that happens, a man can do one of two things at the end of his golfing day at Pebble: he can finish his round with a glorious flourish and get his par or birdie, or he can mark an X on the scorecard, plop into an inner tube and float sullenly off in the direction of Hawaii. Thus Pebble Beach's 18th is dramatic, beautiful and stimulating; in sum, a peerless finishing hole.
Pebble Beach Golf Course is a public links—weekend greens fees $10—sitting at the foot of 17-Mile Drive near Carmel, Calif. on the Monterey Peninsula. It is part of that piney, hilly coastal area about three hours from San Francisco that ranks as one of the country's loveliest for both golf and living. The course is best known as one of three used to stage the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur each January. The others are no more than a short Mercedes ride and a couple of palatial homes away. If final proof of the peninsula's dedication to golf is needed, one has only to observe how many of the hanging, swerving, modern houses in the area are graced with such purposeful names as Shankrila.
All of this scenic and sporting splendor got its start in 1915, when Samuel F.B. Morse, still active as chairman of the board of Del Monte Properties, decided he wanted a dream golf course as an attraction for the development. Two men, Jack Neville and Douglas Grant, designed Pebble Beach for him, and it opened in 1918.
Mr. Morse knew what attracts, and the area has sprouted 500 homes since then. But the golf course has changed little. Only the 18th hole has taken on new characteristics. Through the early years the sea slammed against it with such fierceness that about 30 yards of fairway were torn away, the original tee which hung out in the ocean was devoured and the big bunker left of the green began to disappear, foot by sandy foot. Faced with the prospect of a 17-hole golf course, Del Monte officials had a stout seawall built and have maintained it at considerable expense. But the ocean had already succeeded in making the 18th a considerably tougher hole.
For example, the present tee, just behind the 17th green, tempts the golfer with an enticing shot over the water that will shorten the hole. But if crossing oceans is not your forte, there is precious little room to play safe. On the right is a string of tall Monterey pines and then the front yards of some modest mansions, whose lawns and gardens are out of bounds. From tee to green, then, the situation is this: trees and homes on the right, Carmel Bay on the left, and have a pleasant voyage.
Carmel Bay has claimed a lot of golf balls from both good players and bad, because the 18th is just short enough, with the prevailing wind from behind, to encourage a player who gets off the tee fairly well to try for the green on his second. Because of the gambling qualities it offers, spectators at the Crosby tournament—and at the U.S. Amateur championships in 1929 and 1961—have seen more than their share of startling finishes at the 18th. There was, for example, Gene Littler's effort in the 1959 Crosby. Playing beautifully down the stretch, Littler picked up eight strokes on Art Wall, the faltering leader, from the 65th to the 71st hole. Littler now needed a birdie on 18 to tie Wall. Gene had played the hole at least 30 times as a pro and amateur, and should have felt at home and confident. Maybe he was, but he hit a spectacular hook into Carmel Bay, proving the 18th, sooner or later, gets to everybody.
It got me psychologically. On the tee I was in an attacking frame of mind, because all I needed was a birdie to bring America's Best 18 to its knees with an 82. My drive was fine, taking off a corner of the bay, and it appeared that a crisp spoon shot would reach the green. For an instant I thought of playing safe for a par 5. Yet, as every golfer knows, 82 sounds infinitely better than 83. Eighty-two, in fact, sounds sort of like you would have shot in the 70s if the cleats in your shoes had been new. In a moment none of this mattered, because I suffered an oceanlock, a strange Pebble Beach disease. I swung, and the ball sloshed miserably off to the right, still 130 yards from the green. After that, I nine-ironed up and took two listless putts for the 5 and the 83.
It had been quite a round. I had played the best 18 holes in the country, holes that added up to a well-balanced 7,174-yard course with a par of 36-36—72. I had felt bad at times that the course could not have been 36 holes, so that I could have included Pinehurst, Medinah, Southern Hills, Broadmoor, Saucon Valley and Shinnecock Hills, all of which have holes that barely missed the cut. But I had seen enough to know what the best course in America is—Merion, if you must ask. I had managed to par nine holes and birdie one. I had, come to think of it, really humiliated myself with penalty strokes and three-putt greens only twice (triple bogeys at Augusta and Colonial). So I have decided to look at the bright side of my 83. It may not be a score to make Arnold Palmer take up soccer, but it would have been among the low rounds in the 1901 U.S. Open. Think of that. I feel better. Want to match cards?