Seventh hole, 595 yards; Certainly the most famous golf hole in Vermont and perhaps in New England, the monster 7th exemplifies how architecture has changed over the decades. At the time, Dunn and Travis worked with the land and the result is a uniquely memorable hole with a hill that bisects the fairway from the 300 to 370 yard mark. Conversely, the vast majority of architects today would make the land fit the hole by dynamiting the 60 foot hill into oblivion. While the 7th is no longer the absolute terror that it once was (a good player is likely to hit 3 wood off the tee into the bowled fairway, a 4 iron over the hill, and a 7 iron onto the green), the golfer must still bear down on all three shots, a trait often found wanting in most three shot holes built after World War II.
Eighth hole, 340 yards; An interesting hole in that there is no clear way to play it. The golfer can blast a driver long down the right hand side in hopes of minimizing the hill on the left and gaining a flat lie. Of course, just in the right rough at the 250 yard mark is a recently restored menacing bunker. Conversely, the more the golfer edges away from that bunker, and takes the more direct route to the hole, the more likely he is to encounter an uneven lie from the shoulder of the hill that dominates the play on the 7th. Cornish suggested that this green should have two distinct tiers and such plans were carried out in the 1960s.
Twelfth hole, 375 yards; A year after Ekwanok opened, Travis was afforded the luxury of going to the United Kingdom and playing/studying numerous of their most famous courses. Though Travis wasn’t a popular figure with the Brits during much of his playing career, he was quite taken by how the links holes used the land to their maximum advantage. This U.K. trip greatly influenced his design philosophy in the years to come. No doubt Dunn and Travis must have been pleased by how the rugged New England topography offered its own opportunity to create distinctive, hard to replicate holes and they seized the opportunity at the 12th.
Thirteenth hole, 220 yards; A beautiful long one shotter with a sprawling bunker fifteen paces shy of the putting surface on the direct line from the back tee. However, the left side of the green is open and the left to right slope of the surrounding land encourages any ball played to the left to chase toward the green. The ground game was very much in the forefront of Travis’s mind when this hole was laid out.
Fourteenth hole, 340 yards; With the dramatic 7th overshadowing all the other holes at Ekwanok, this hole has never received its just recognition as a superb short two shotter. Played from an elevated tee across broken, unkempt terrain, the fairway is on a diagonal past an array of bunkers down the left hand side. Though Travis wanted his courses to be playable for a wide range of golfers, he wasn’t reluctant to have several forced carries as seen here and at the 13th . The green is one of the best anywhere and features a severe right to left pitch at its front right corner and a swale in its left side that gathers balls into the waiting left hand greenside bunker.
Some course critics sight the shortcoming of Ekwanok to be that holes 1-3 and 16-18 parallel each other while playing up and down the hillside that the clubhouse is located upon. While the back and forth across the field is not ideal, each of those six holes has its own merits, and each one plays uniquely to the others. For instance, the diagonal use of the stream along the 1st fairway, the sharply tilted green at the 2nd, and the stream that fronts the 3rd green provide each of those three holes with their own distinctive playing characteristics.
To the authors, the greater shame is that more of Dunn’s and Travis’s work does not remain. Only a few of the greens are original and many of the bunkers have been removed and/or made shallower. Ekwanok’s membership evidently may not view ladders leading into certain bunkers with the same sense of challenge/joy as Travis and Dunn did!
Fortunately, in recent years, the Club has entrusted Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Designs to bring back some of the lost Travis/Dunn character to the course. In particular, Hepner has overseen the removal of several hundred trees, the restoration of many of the fairway bunkers to their original rugged appearance, and the promotion of more natural native grass areas. In addition, several of the more interesting hole locations have been recaptured as greens are restored to their original size.
The Club should be commended for heading in this direction. They have a course of major historical significance that is made all the more memorable and fun by the restoration of its unique features. For instance, one can only hope that more of the scar bunkering that once dominated the top of the hill that bisects the 7thfairway will replace the golf cart path that presently mars the hillside. Hopefully, the Club will continue to provide similar encouragement and support to Hepner in the months to come.
While Travis’s efforts at Garden City Golf Club and his design at Hollywood Golf Club are regarded as his finest work because of their more interesting angles of play, Travis was personally more attached to Ekwanok and this part of New England in general. Despite his hectic schedule as a world class player, course designer, and founder of The American Golfer, Travis always found time to escape to Manchester, Vermont. Indeed, he is buried nearby here and his famous Schenectady putter is proudly displayed in the clubhouse library.
Those lucky enough to play this charming course and to spend time in the area will fully appreciate why Travis fell under their spell.