The Course at Yale


The only time "Jim Colton" and "Ivy League" have been used in the same sentence.

A quick detour from My Summer of Golf posts for a late, late fall entry. I just had the privilege of playing Yale Golf Course this week in an extremely rare merger between the words "golf" and "November" for me. Yale is my first foray with the Eric B. and Rakim of classic golf architecture, C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, and their trademark, tried-and-true template holes.

[Note: Yale is perhaps one of the most underrated courses in the country. It's listed among Golfweek's 100 Best Classic courses, but is only ranked 6th in Connecticut according to Golf Digest.  That's a travesty.  However, Yale was very highly regarded back in the day. Noted golf nut, highly-acclaimed author and budding historian (not-to-mention fellow Ballyneal member) Bob Fagan recently uncovered an article from the National Golf Review in 1939 that listed Yale as the 29th best golf course in the world (I can't believe they were ranking courses even way back then). Unfortunately for Fagan -- a man who has played all 200 courses in the Golfweek rankings -- there are quite a few courses on that list than neither he nor the rest of us will ever get the chance to experience.  #10 Foulpointe in Madagascar, C.B.'s very own #41 Lido and #94 Ville de Delat just to name few. I've only played six to date but part of me thinks Fagan's list might make good Bucket List material. Although I couldn't find the original article, I've posted Fagan's article in full below so you can see the list for yourself. Kudos to Bob for this find.]

C.B. Mac has been getting a lot of renewed attention recently, both good and bad. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that there's now a fourth course at Bandon Dunes, the greatest golf resort in the world. Old Macdonald, an homage to C.B. by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, opened in June under great fanfare. For most, Old Macdonald represents a refreshing break from the soulless, uninspiring courses built during the 90's golf course boom and harken back to the strategic principles of what made the game great. All while also exposing many golfers to the work of CB Macdonald, who is largely responsible for bringing the game over from Scotland.

For Ron Whitten, Golf Digest's architecture guru, Old Mac represents something else entirely. He sees over-reliance on the same old Redans, Capes and Biarritz's as the root cause of the downfall of the golf industry. In a Jerry Maguire-esque bad-pizza moment, Whitten wrote this incoherent rant skewering golf course architects for their lack of innovation. He can barely hide his disdain for templates in a follow-up review of the best new courses of 2010.

I could delve into Whitten's (lack of) argument, but thankfully Tom Dunne over at Out And Back already took care of it with a Joe Carter walk-off home run rebuttal. As Geoff Shackelford put it, Dunne "went all Benihana chef on it." Although I've yet to play Old Macdonald or CB's seminal work at National Golf Links of America (emphasis on the word "yet"), here's my amateurish take on templates: there's a reason they are THE templates...because over hundreds of years they've proven to provide strategic interest and fun over numerous plays. In contrast, the downfall of many courses built in the 90's was that they figured they could survive on one-and-done visitors at $120/pop forever. Give me a well-executed Redan any day of the week, even if I don't have a snowball's chance of doing well as a left-hander who couldn't hit a fade to save his life. Give me a course that's a good value AND one that I'd actually want to play more than once. That's how you survive in this economy.

My partner at Yale was none other than Mr. Benjamin E. Hana himself. Over the past year, this Tommy Deez (Dunne) has surpassed the other Tommy Deez (Doak) in my personal BFF rankings. Our relationship has sprung out a scary number of things in common: love of golf obviously, but also random things like old-school hip hop, The Wire, Settlers of Catan, Rock Band and a shared level of willies over the CEO of Cleveland Golf and his awful blue argyle sweater. If Tom liked Scrabble and hadn't given up on the NBA back in the late 80's, I'd be ready to swap him for Jefe and a Wyatt to be named later.

If this sweater gives you nightmares, you are not alone.

Our friendships hinges one on commonality above all the others: common left-handedness. We've thrived this year due a symbiotic relationship that might've never happened if he were a righty. We've managed to hook up golf days this summer on either end of a bunch of work trips I've taken to New York (more to come when Summer of Golf continues). Usually, I line up the golf. Tom provides the transportation and the sticks. It doesn't hurt that his back-up bag is stocked with the same irons (Mizuno MP-30) that I play at home. Now if I could only convince him to buy a TaylorMade R9 SuperTri, all would be perfect in my world.

We left early Friday morning from Tom's pad in Brooklyn Heights and, a couple hours later, we were in New Haven, CT and driving through the gates of the Course at Yale. It didn't take long to realize that we weren't in Illinois anymore -- the property is dramatic, with mature trees and large granite outcroppings throughout. Combined with Raynor's signature bold, angular features, I knew I was in for a treat. Enjoy the pics below.

[Note: It poured the previous day in New York and most of the way up to New Haven, and the forecast called for more rain and temps in the low 50's. Thankfully, I had a new weapon in my arsenal...brand new TRUE Linkswear golf shoes. I waited (im)patiently all summer for these new low-profile, spikeless shoes to come out, and Christmas came early at the Colton household when they finally showed up at my doorstep just days before this trip. With the wet conditions, fallen leaves, huge elevation changes and uneven lies, Yale was the perfect place to put these shoes through the ringer right away. And I can report that the TRUEs passed with flying colors. They are the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. It's really like wearing a slipper on the golf course. And the traction is as good or better than anything this side of metal spikes. I honestly will never wear another golf shoe again. I've been wearing those Ecco Freddie Couples spikeless shoes that were all the rage this summer, and while comfortable on the feet, they were just murder on my ankles. After one round with the TRUEs, I can't even bear the thought of putting those Frecco's on my feet again. Immediately after I finish this post, I'm off to buy the all-black model, which will likely be the shoe I wear both on and off the course.

Earlier this summer, two caddies set a record at Ballyneal by playing 100 holes in a day.  They even got mentioned in a blurb in Colorado Avid Golfer magazine.  What the story failed to mention was their main motivation was simply to get under my skin.  My gut reaction was to respond quickly by going out in July and putting up 101, but my left foot would've fallen off if I had tried it in the Ecco's.  Armed with the TRUEs, I'm proud to announce that I will be playing 108 holes at Ballyneal in June 2011.  Take that, Gary and Nick!  And better yet, I will be doing it to raise money for the Holyoke High School golf teams.  Please contact me at if you're interested in sponsorship on a per hole or other basis.]



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The original plans called for 36 holes over a 700-acre property, but the second (the one in orange) was never built.

1st Hole

2nd Hole.  It's not hard to see the influence that Raynor's work had on Pete Dye

This kitschy sign on the 3rd hole indicates the day pin placement on the blind approach shot.

4th Hole - A demanding driving hole, similar characteristics to the Road Hole

5th Hole: Short

Mr. Hana staring down his drive on the fantastic 8th

The 8th has a cool feature in the fairway.  Hit to the right spot down the right side of the fairway (like me), and you get a clear view of the green through this little gap in the fairway undulations.  Some call it Raynor's notch.

Come up a bit short and left on your approach (like me), and you're likely to find this deep bunker (Raynor's crotch?)

The star attraction: 9th hole, Biarritz

The swale that runs through the green is about 7-feet deep

Tom putting from the swale:

12th Hole - Alps

13th Hole - Redan

15th Hole - Eden

17th Hole - Principal's Nose

17th Green - Double Plateau.  I played another Double Plateau earlier in the summer at Shoreacres and they are great fun.  What's remarkable is the surrounding area is relatively flat, but Raynor created what is probably my favorite green on the course.  It makes you wonder the aren't more greens in the world like this one.

Golf’s “Finest Courses – 1939” by Bob Fagan

No, Golf Digest Magazine or Golf Magazine did not invent golf course rankings.  They existed many years before either magazine ever was envisioned.  In research for my upcoming book on the classic golf courses in America, I came upon a most interesting World Ranking of “Finest Golf Courses” dated 1939.  It was published by The National Golf Review in their Annual Review, and featured the usual golf literary talents of the day, Darwin, Rice, Keeler, Martin, and Bobby Jones.

Why is 1939 so interesting?  Well, for me that year defines the end of the Classic or Golden Era of Golf Course Architecture in America.  If you remember your world history, America was just coming out of the Great Depression and conflicts were starting to fester into what would soon become World War II during which no notable golf courses were built.  At the end of World War II, the modern style popularized by Robert Trent Jones would usher in a far different style of play.  When you added in television, irrigation systems, and the popularity of professional golf, the quirky challenging strategic ground game was taken over by narrow, “fair” courses in which the strategy was to keep the ball “down the middle” and the penalty fit the size of the error.  For better or for worse, the game certainly changed.  I maintain that The Old Town Club by Perry Maxwell in 1939 marked the end of a golf architectural era in America.

There are many interesting points in this 1939 list.  First is the panel’s deep affection for The Old Course – St. Andrews.  Three of my favorite courses, Cypress Point, National Golf Links, and Pine Valley were positioned among the very best, as was Pebble Beach.  The Country Club of Havana, long rumored to have once been a masterpiece, is included in the Top 25.  George Thomas’ Riviera and Bel Air Country Clubs were considered more than fifty spots better than his nearby Los Angeles Country Club, which today has risen in the ratings.  Relatively average layouts now like Ponte Vedra in Florida and Knoll in New Jersey were excellently positioned.  The magnificent long gone Lido Golf Club on Long Island, said by many to be America’s best course only ranked #41.  Many-time US Open host, Myopia Hunt Club did not make the list though California’s Lakeside was firmly entrenched at #58.  Two of my other favorites, Eastward Ho! and Fishers Island were only ranked in the 90s.  And Prairie Dunes in Kansas was only a 9-hole course at the time, but already had a following at #100.  Beyond that, there is an interesting inclusion of European, South African, and Japanese golf courses.  Several other list courses such as Timber Point, Laksers, etc. no longer exist, but fortunately the list does.  Here then is the 1939 “National Golf Review” article.

“The World’s Finest Tests”
“An Expert Panel Surveys the World’s Best Golf Courses”
“Not so long ago naming the world’s outstanding golf courses was a fairly easy task–one would simply look toward the historic links of Scotland and England. Thankfully the Scots are a generous lot and Scotland’s gift has been graciously accepted worldwide. Stretching from St. Andrews to Ceylon to San Francisco to South Africa, far and near you will not only find wielders of driver, brassie and humble niblick but also an astonishing number of links of the first class.

Perhaps it is human nature, the desire to identify the best. The game has seen various attempts to list golf’s ideal holes–Horace Hutchinson, Charles B. Macdonald, Bernard Darwin, Bobby Jones and many other noted men have attempted this assignment. Far fewer have tried to rate the very best courses. Joshua Crane’s scientific approach of some years ago comes to mind and unfortunately the results were quite disappointing–his folly, too much science not enough art. Today this assignment is even more difficult. To begin it is nearly impossible for a single man to reach every corner of our expanding golf world. And if he were able to overcome this daunting requirement, we are still be left with just one golfer’s opinion, tainted by his own singular tastes and prejudices.

Last spring our editors presented an informal look at America’s toughest courses. Although a brave attempt, and it did create considerable interest, the exercise was not totally satisfactory. The over emphasis on toughness was ill advised. Mindful of the past and present dilemmas THE NATIONAL GOLF REVIEW tackles this most difficult but exciting problem–identifying the world’s finest tests.
Our initial task was to set forth a proper method. The editors—namely Mr. Grantland Rice and Mr. William D. Richardson–began by assembling an eminent jury of experts. The first requirement for these prospective jurors: an understanding of the elements that contribute to excellent golf. The test of a golf course doesn’t concern its difficulty or its hardness. That is only part of the story. Some of the hardest courses are also some of the most dull. ‘We have one of the hardest courses in the country’, is often the proud boast of a club member. This may be true. But has he also one of the most interesting courses to play? The true test of a golf course is the amount of interest it can stir in the breast.

The second qualification was international experience. The game’s great tests are now found on far off shores. Each juror must have had occasion to play and study golf courses from around the world. Finding these globe-trotting golfers was a most difficult chore. Fortunately, we are pleased to report the illustrious group assembled has played over 7000 golf courses on every continent–excepting the South Pole and one or two of these gents may soon give that a try.

The jury consists of two women and fifteen men: Lady Heathcoat-Amory (nee Miss Joyce Wethered); Mrs. E. H. Vare (nee Miss Glenna Collett); Edward, Duke of Windsor; Robert T. Jones, Jr.; Walter Hagen; Arnaud Massy; Joe Kirkwood; Gene Sarazen; Percy Alliss; T. Simpson; C. H. Alison; Robert Trent Jones; D. Scott Chisholm; Hans Samek; Bernard Darwin; Mr. Rice and Mr. Richardson.
Every juror presented a list of golf courses with their corresponding numeric grade reflecting golfing merit. An easy task in theory but not so in practice. The predicament facing these judges would stymie the best of us. It involves a lot of mental sorting and reassorting, considerable memory work recalling what features made one course stand above another. Once the scores were submitted it fell upon Mr. Richardson, Mr. Rice and Mr. Darwin to tabulate and arrange the final poll.

It is fascinating to review the individual ballots, you will find both a diversity of opinion but also a fair number of like-minds. To illustrate we have listed the panelists’ top courses. Lady Amory, considered by Bobby Jones as the greatest golfer–gentleman or lady–chose St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and Augusta National. Arguably the greatest American lady golfer, Mrs.Vare listed Cypress Point, Newcastle County Down and Merion. The well-traveled Duke of Windsor also likes St. Andrews as well as Banff Springs and Walton Heath. Bobby Jones again has the Old Course followed by Cypress Point and Augusta National.

The flamboyant and colorful Mr. Hagen named Sandwich, Foulpointe and Hirono; his world-touring pal and showman, Joe Kirkwood chose St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne and Royal York. French champion and private pro to the Pasha of Marrakech, Arnaud Massy favors North Berwick, Hoylake and St. Andrews. Another links wayfarer Gene Sarazen is fond of Oakmont and Sandwich. British professional Percy Alliss, formerly attached to the Wansee Club in Berlin, has Porthcawl and Knocke on top. The majordomo of the Pacific golf scene ‘Scotty’ Chisholm lists Cypress Point and Gleneagles.

British golf course architects Simpson and Alison both like St. Andrews followed by Pine Valley, after that Simpson goes with Portmarnock and Alison with Burnham. Talented American architect Robert Trent Jones lists Augusta National, Jasper Park and Banff Springs. Noted golf czar of the German Republic Hans Samek places Le Touquet, Havana and Bel-Air at the head of his list. And our final threesome, Mr. Darwin: St. Andrews and National Links of America; Mr. Rice: Cypress Point; Mr. Richardson: Pine Valley and Timber Point.

1. St.Andrews, Scotland 26. Seminole, Florida 51. Kawana, Japan 76. Carnoustie, Scotland
2. Cypress Point, California 27. Rye, England 52. Engineers, N.Y 77. Burnham, England
3. Pine Valley, N.J. 28. Knocke, Belgium 53. Swinley Forest, England 78. Scioto, Ohio
4. Pebble Beach, California29. Yale, Conn54. Brookline, Mass.79. Capilano, Canada
5. Sandwich, England30. Gleneagles, Scotland55. Saunton, England80. Hot Springs, Virginia
6. National Links, N.Y.31. Le Touquet, France56. Bethpage, N.Y.81. Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon
7. Hirono, Japan32. Winged Foot, N.Y.57. Addington, England82. Ballybunion, Ireland
8. Banff Springs, Canada33. Pasatiempo, California58. Lakeside, California83. Porthcawl, Wales
9. Royal Melbourne, Australia34. Muirfield, Scotland59. Hollywood, N.J.84. Liphook, England
10. Foulpointe, Madagascar35. Walton Heath, England60. Woking, England85. Knoll, N.J.
11. Augusta Naional, Georgia36. Jasper Park, Canada61. Wildhoeve, Holland86. Tokyo-Asaka, Japan
12. Timber Point, N.Y.37. Portmarnock, Ireland62. Royal York, Canada87. Maccauvlei, S.Africa
13. Oakmont, Penn.38. Pinehurst No.2, N.C.63. Oakland Hills, Michigan88. Kingston Heath, Australia
14. Hoylake, England39. Prestwick, Scotland64. Morfontaine, France89. Chicago, Illinois
15. Newcastle Co. Down, Ire.40. Birkdale, England65. Brancaster, England90. Sea Island, Georgia
16. Westward Ho!, England41. Lido, N.Y. 66. Pulborough, England91. Alwoodley, England
17. Merion, Penn42. Ganton, England67. Manoir Richelieu, Canada92. Eastward Ho, Mass.
18. Riviera, California43. Durban, S.Africa68. Royal Adelaide, Australia93. Mid Ocean, Bermuda
19. Sunningdale, England44. Oyster Harbors, Mass.69. Hamburg-Falkenstein, Germany94. Ville de Delat, Indo China
20. Bel-Air, California45. Ponte Vedra, Florida70. Olympia Fields #4, Illinois95. Zandvoort, Holland
21. Shinnecock Hills, N.Y46. North Berwick, Scotland71. Chiberta, France96. Five Farms, Maryland
22. Portrush, Ireland47. San Francisco, California 72. Lawsonia, Wisconsin97. Turnberry, Scotland
23. Laksers, Illinois48. St.Georges Hill, England 73. Los Angeles, California98. Spa, Belgium
24. CC of Havana, Cuba49. Garden City, N.Y.74. Maidstone, N.Y.99. Fishers Island, N.Y.
25. Humewood, S.Africa50. Deal, England 75. East London, S.Africa100a.Royal Worlington, England
b. Prairie Dunes, Kansas

The final product of this distinguished group is most impressive. They have selected one hundred first-rate golf courses from eighteen nations. Actually one hundred and one–in the final position two nines have been combined to form a full sized course, Royal Worlington considered by many the world’s premier nine-holer and Prairie Dunes a fine new links featured on these pages last year.

With the splendid progress of modern golf architecture is it a little surprising which course stands above the rest? We can still say, as Mr. Hutchinson said nearly fifty years ago in the Badminton, that ‘there is one point which is happily and incontestably settled for us–namely, with which we should commence,’ St. Andrews still comes first. As Mr. Darwin explains, the Old Course is still ‘the most enchanting, exciting, interesting place in which to play golf.’

The runner-up to St. Andrews is the ethereal Cypress Point at Del Monte. Situated in a region of sand and pines, number three Pine Valley is regarded as the toughest course in the world. Playground to the Gods, Pebble Beach falls next and then the dramatic sand-hills of Sandwich. Charles B. Macdonald’s exemplar, the National Links of America, is number six. Seven is Japan’s tranquil Hirono. The majestic Banff Springs cradled in the Canadian Rockies and Royal Melbourne in the native heath and bush are eight and nine. The rugged seaside links at Foulpointe is ten followed by Bobby Jones and Dr. MacKenzie’s handiwork Augusta National–the very finest in modern golf architecture. And rounding out the gilded dozen is Long Island’s brutal and beautiful Timber Point.

We suspect this exercise lays the ground for a heated argument. Agree or disagree, we’d like to hear from our readers.”


  1. steven said...:

    Re: CEO of Cleveland Golf - It's the pleated pants that do it. The sweater is just a distraction.

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