The Cascades Golf Course
Tenth hole, 380 yards, Slippery Hollow; Arnold Palmer picked this hole among his favorite fifty-four holes in the United States. It is no wonder too that it stood out in Palmer’s memory as regardless of all the holes he has seen around the world, none is quite like this one. In some ways, this hole is ‘double blind’ with the fairway disappearing over the brow of the hill and tumbling down two distinct levels. Those that reach only the first half of the lower plateau are left with another blind shot down to the green. Flynn’s placement of the green in the flat below makes it difficult to read, as there is no predominant feature to orient the golfer as to which way putts break.
Eleventh hole, 190 yards, Lucky Strike; A crucial trait for an architect’s work to possess is that the golfer can’t tell where nature ends and man’s hand begins. In the case of The Cascades, though it doesn’t look like it, Flynn pushed plenty of dirt to create many of the green complexes and give them good golfing qualities, especially on the hilly front nine. Another case in point is the eleventh green complex which seems like a natural extension of the hillside to the left but is in fact totally manufactured. Flynn perfectly benched the eleventh green site into the left hillside.
Twelfth hole, 475 yards, The Vale; This hole is often singled out as the finest golf hole inVirginia. The fairway is placed in a sixty yard wide corridor between a steep seventy foot ridge on the right and a meandering stream on the left. What a sight the hole must have been in Flynn’s day and what a joy it must have been for him when he found this playing corridor when he was routing the course. Again though, time hasn’t been particularly kind to it. First, a cart path was added down the left, right alongside the stream. Then, in an effort to hide the ugly scar, trees were allowed to grow. In June, 2009, the twelfth fairway measured a scant thirty yards in width (essentially what a U.S. Open fairway measures), in stark contrast to the old photographs from Flynn’s day that indicate a fifty yard wide fairway with long views down the length of the hole. What a pity that the scale of this all-world hole has been compromised over the past several decades.
Thirteenth hole, 440 yards, Swift Run; The same stream from the twelfth runs along the left edge of the thirteenth fairway, informing the thinking man that this hole moves downhill. One’s eyes can deceive/betray the first time golfer into thinking that the hole is flat and in a rarity, amateur golfers frequently find their approach shot ending up well past the day’s hole location. The ground just in front of the open green is frequently the ideal place to land one’s approach as the ball will bumble its way toward the green’s middle.
Sixteenth hole, 525 yards, The Hemlocks; One of the game’s great gambling holes and the start of a thrilling 5-5-3 par finish, this hole combines great beauty with strategy galore. After a good drive past a nest of three bunkers on the inside of this dogleg right, the player debates whether to go for the green in two. The green is deep enough but is fronted by a stream/pond at green level. Anything short is wet and anything over the back bunkers is in the wilderness. Strict distant control is mandatory as is height on the 230 yard shot. If anything, technology has made this hole all the more exciting as the green is now in reach for many more than was true just a decade ago. Indeed, when the course opened in 1922, Flynn first had the green prior to the water hazard. He moved it sometime later in the 1930s once steel shafts had taken hold of the game.
Seventeenth hole, 515 yards, Cress Lakes; As the sixteenth sweeps to the right, the seventeenth goes to the left around the base of a hill. In keeping with the rest of the course, no one shot pattern is favored and a player that can shape it both ways (like Virginia amateur great Vinny Giles) enjoys a distinct advantage over his competitor. Those who hug the inside of the dogleg left are afforded the best angle down the neck of the fairway that feeds past a natural water feature and onto the putting surface. Those who play cautiously away from the hill and toward the outside of the dogleg are left with a gummy angle toward the green across the water hazard.
Eighteenth hole, 205 yards, Taps; Just as Garden City Golf Club finishes with a one shotter, so too does The Cascades. A front hole location between the two greenside bunkers may be as hard as any hole location on the course, given the green’s fierce back to front tilt. Fortunes can swing wildly over these last three holes, making it one of the most interesting closing stretches in the game.
In summary, Flynn’s use of the natural topography, ponds and streams provides a stern test that is altogether unique and reminds one of no other course in the world. If the golfer tries to fight nature, he will come off worn and broken. However, the intelligent golfer who uses the slopes and places his ball correctly is mightily rewarded. Decade after decade, golfers keep coming back to figure out how to play The Cascades. Surely, this is the greatest compliment an architect and a course can receive?
If only the course still played as Flynn intended. Fortunately, The Homestead changed ownership hands in 2007 and hopefully the new owners will reverse the years of negligence that the course has suffered. The Master Plan that was presented to the previous owners by Wayne Morrison and Tom Paul in 2006 should be dusted off and carefully followed. Creeks that were covered at the fifth, sixth and tenth needed to be re-exposed. Flynn’s fourteenth and fifteenth holes need to be faithfully restored. The cart paths need to be reworked/removed and/or hidden. Fairway width needs to be recaptured, befitting the grandeur of such holes as the seventh and twelfth. And finally, hundreds of trees need to be removed so that the golfer can more freely appreciate that he is enjoying a game of golf in one of the world’s most beautiful spots. Given that, and given the luxuries of the nearby Homestead, golfers will forever be drawn to this special valley in the Allegheny Mountains.
Please note: the author wishes to thank Flynn historian Wayne Morrison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
for sharing his research information for this course profile.