Culver Academies Golf Club
Indiana, United States of America
Forth hole, 355 yards (9th); The most famous hole at Culver, in part because Walter Hagan famously drove the green during his exhibition match here in 1926. Going nearly on a straight line toward the green, Hagan carried the ball a full 270 yards before it bounded the rest of the way onto the green. A great feat indeed and for the golf architecture student, the fourth is a prime example of how to route a hole with the steep embankment used to great effect. The extreme vertical nature of this embankment does not naturally lend itself to great golfing qualities but Langford maximized its dramatic quality by i) putting the first tee on it and ii) swinging the left half of this dogleg around it. In addition, the inside of the dogleg (i.e. the part of the fairway closest to the embankment) is itself fairly steeply inclined. Though the golfer is in the fairway, the ball will be well above his feet and a pulled approach is the natural consequence. In this case, a pull is a most dreaded outcome as the built up green pad falls nine feet away along its left side and around back. The right half of the fairway (i.e. the part farthest from the embankment) provides the more level stances. Though aiming for the right side of the fairway will have the effect of making this dogleg left play longer, the golfer may well conclude that sacrificing a shorter approach shot is more than made up for with the better stance that is afforded.
Fifth hole, 475 yards (1st); A half par hole made intriguing because the second shot for all but the longest hitters is blind over the shoulder of a hill. One has reasonable hopes to be around the built up green complex in two; getting up and in is another matter. As with every hole at Culver, the golfer marvels as to where Langford got the fill to build up the green complex to the extent that he did.
Sixth hole, 405 yards (2nd); A spacious hole as it sweeps to the right, one wonders why more holes aren’t found like this across the Midwest. There is nothing particularly compelling or unique about the property that this one hole occupies and yet its beauty can be found in how easily Langford draped the hole across it.
Seventh hole, 420 yards (16th); Certainly the hardest hole on the course today, just imagine what it played like in the 1920s with hickories! Architects in the Golden Age of golf design wanted to challenge the golfer by requiring him to hit every shot during the course of the round, including three and five woods into greens, as seen here. As always on such holes, the green was left open in front and though uphill, the unwatered fairways gave the golfer a chance to run one on. Bryon Nelson considered this to be the best hole on the course when he played here in July, 1943.
Eighth hole, 145 yards (17th); A highly original one shotter hole, the 8th featured a large green, narrow in the front, broadening toward the back with deep bunkers on either side. The front third of the green slopes away from the golfer, consistent with the fall of the land on this downhill hole. The front portion of what was once green has been lost in time and so have all its wonderful hole locations – trying to drop one’s tee ball onto the front (narrow) part of the green would have been a thrilling shot in its day, realizing that a slight pull or push results in a deep bunker shot that can be easily ping-ponged back and forth across the green.
Ninth hole, 485 yards (18th); For a course built more than eighty years ago and considering that the Lanford tee boxes have never been stretched back, the Culver golf course retains an amazingly high degree of challenge to this very day, thanks to the bold characteristics of the property as well as the bold features that Langford built. However, more than any other hole, the ninth may have lost some of its challenge as a dominate central bunker 110 yards from the green is no longer as fiercely in play as it once was. Still, the sensation of hitting a ball to the crest of the hill and then smashing a long ball across the valley toward the green remains a fine one.
Only after the round does the golfer appreciate that he has just played three one shot holes, three two shot holes, and three three shot holes. More importantly, there isn’t an indifferent hole in the bunch and fully restored, several holes like the second, fourth, and eighth would be among the finest holes in the country.
At present, the maintenance of the golf course falls under the general grounds maintenance budget of the Academy. Two people tend to the course and maintenance consists primarily of mowing the playing areas and hand watering the tees/greens. To begin the process of gradually mowing the greens out in an effort to recapture some of the most interesting hole locations would require a greater time allotment for this maintenance crew of two. Indeed, if the greens were fully recaptured, a third person would be likely required to handle the increase in mowing time for the putting surfaces. If that commitment in additional resources is not feasible, perhaps just restoring the third and eighth greens might suffice as a start as the hole locations that would be recaptured would handsomely reward all such efforts.
The prospect of these nine holes being restored is a thrilling one because the course enjoys so many advantages. The nine holes that were built occupy the most dramatic portion of the 250 acres that was made available to Langford and Moreau. Its location by Lake Maxinkuckee means that the great element of wind is always present. Throw in Langford’s routing and the features that they built, and every golfer will conclude that this is one of the finest collection of golf holes that he has had the pleasure to play. Indeed, few eighteen hole courses have as many inspired holes as the nine holes at Culver Academies Golf Club.
Equally enticing is the fact that so many of the leading modern architects are great fans of Langford’s work and any of them would be delighted to assist the Academy with any restorative efforts. Pete and Alice Dye spoke in glowing admiration when they toured the course in 2002. Indeed, architects that grew up in the Midwest have a particular affinity for Langford’s style and work. One such architect is Mike DeVries and he articulates his appreciation for their work as follows:
‘Langford and Moreau don’t get the recognition they deserve for creating fascinating golf courses that are fun, exciting, and testing for all golfing levels. Their ability to marriage bold man-made features into the landscape and make it appear to be the right, although not natural, formations for the golf course and surrounding area is brilliant. The severity of their features, whether the depth of the bunkers, height of the green-pad, or slopes and contours of the putting surface, challenge the best golfing skills while allowing space for the average golfer to play cautiously around them. The results are dramatic golf courses that everyone can enjoy — it doesn’t get any better than that!’
The Culver Family and Langford & Moreau did their part in building one of the great courses and bringing golf to this part of the country. Hopefully consideration will be given to restoring some or all of the features to this marvelous nine hole course. Just as the Academy itself is one of the great institutions in education, so too this golf course is one of the great designs and deserves to be acknowledged and treated accordingly.
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