Hollywood Golf Club
Ever since his 1899 collaboration with James Duncan at Ekwanok Country Club in Vermont, Walter Travis’s imagination was captivated by golf course architecture. However, his sterling amateur playing career (United States Amateur champion in 1900, 1901, 1903 and British Amateur champion in 1904) and then the founding of The American Golfer magazine in 1905 left him little free time.
When Hollywood Golf Club approached him in 1916, Travis had only designed three eighteen hole golf courses. Nonetheless, the board at Hollywood clearly felt Travis was their man, in large part no doubt to his forceful writings in The American Golfer where he adamantly argued that hazards on most American courses were so poorly placed as to do little to challenge the tiger golfer. According to Travis, ‘A really good course should abound in hazards – and good courses develop good players.’
Hollywood was keen to convert their original 1913 Isaac Mackie design away from hazards that penalized the poor golfer and into a rigorous test for the better golfer. According to Bob Labbance in his Travis book entitled The Old Man, the club employed Seth Raynor ‘to correct some of Mackie’s mistakes’ but the end result remained unsatisfactory and Travis was contacted by the new green committee led by Frank B. Barrett.
From the start, the opportunity here in Deal, New Jersey must have appealed immensely to Travis as the sandy, 300 acre block of land was within one mile of the Atlantic Ocean. The property was not heavily treed (to quote Travis about his loved Garden City Golf Club, ‘trees of any kind are nonexistent – as they should be’) and thus was exposed to the winds (quoting Travis again, ‘wind should always be an ever present factor’).
Reacting to the club’s stated desire for a first rate course, Travis stayed with Mackie’s general routing but gutted all of his greens and bunkers. In addition, he combined Mackie’s thirteenth and fourteenth holes into today’s superb thirteenth and created from scratch the long, difficult one shot seventeenth. With 220 bunkers of all shapes and sizes and a wild set of Travis greens, the course drew immediate praise upon opening in 1919. How good was it? Willie Rickie, the 1921 Met Amateur champion, considered it second behind Pine Valley, followed by Oakmont, Inwood, National, Lido, and Garden City. Historian Tom MacWood found an article in a 1926 Metropolitan Golfer magazine whereby Johnny Farrell rated Hollywood the second best course in the country!
MacWood is also keen to point out that the green committee chairman Barrett deserves a fair share of credit for the final innovative design. A Vice President of a New York City construction firm, Barrett was the greens chairman from 1917 through 1930. MacWood points to Rickie’s observation that, “Hollywood is another course where the landscaping has had great attention. Hollywood in a sense is a monument to Frank Barrett as Pine Valley is to George Crump.” In addition, the New York Times wrote about Hollywood prior to the 1921 United States Women’s Amateur that, “Some of the holes, the creations of Frank B. Barrett, represent unique, almost radical, principles. There are two roads to every green, while the exceptionally large tees permit a variety of distances.” The article goes on to describe every hole.
While Hollywood’s eye-catching bunkering has long drawn praise, its greens are every bit as special. Some greens like the ninth and sixteenth with its diagonal swale through it have to be seen to be believed. Bob Labbance wrote in his November 2000 Feature Interview on this web site: There is no doubt that Travis wanted to test the ground game just as much as the aerial play, so special attention was paid to the subtle, yet perpetual movement of the green. Many times the slopes of the greenside mounds were reflected into the putting surface, and on every course there was one green with a substantial swale cut through it on a diagonal. So his greens were a challenging joy.
These comments certainly ring true at Hollywood. Be it at Cape Arundel in Maine or Country Club of Scranton in Pennsylvania or here, untouched Travis greens are standouts even by the high standards set during the Golden Age of Architecture. Too many of his peers built sets of greens that sloped predominately from back to front. Max Behr sniffed that such greens acted as a catcher’s mitt. Travis gave his greens much more variety, which comes as no surprise given what an outstanding putter he was. For those that have read his Art of Putting, there is no doubt that Travis treasured putting and his love for it shines through at Hollywood.
Holes to Note
Third hole, 460 yards; Variety is at the heart of great golf architecture and Travis delivered on that score at Hollywood with the placement and construction of his green sites. Consistent with courses built during the age of hickory golf, the greens of the long two shotters such as here, the sixth, and twelfth are open in front. Each of those three straightaway holes are respectively followed by greens that place a different demand on the golfer, either because the green is elevated such as at the fourth or angled such as at the seventh and thirteenth. This toing and froing always gives the golfer something to think about and it helps account for why each round at Hollywood remains a fresh experience.
Fourth hole, 150 yards; A completely manufactured hole, and none the worse for it. Given the course’s proximity to the Ocean, Travis envisaged it as being links-like in nature. To that end, when stuck with this piece of flat property near the middle of the course, he built faux sand dunes and sandwiched the green between them. Travis also put a sea of sand in between the tee and the green to emphasize the hole’s coastal setting but that sand has since been removed. Still, the seven bunkers cut into a pair of artificial hillocks – with two of the bunkers well above the green itself – is unique in world golf. Many love it, and a few hate it, but there is no denying that Travis the architect had the imagination and daring to create some of the game’s most distinctive holes.
Sixth hole, 425 yards; Hollywood occupies a block of property that is predominately rectangular with many of its holes running along a east/west axis. When the wind blows off the ocean, the third, fifth, sixth, ninth, tenth, and sixteenth play downwind while the first, seventh, eighth, twelfth, fourteenth, and eighteenth stretch out as they play into it. Obviously, the reverse holds when the wind blows off shore but either way, a hole like the sixth plays equally well because Travis left the green open to accept a wide variety of approach shots. Deep, or rather tall, fairway bunkers punctuate the right side while the green’s false front is but the first challenge that the golfer must contend with on his approach. In order for the course to play properly, the fairway areas leading up to the greens must play firm as Travis’s design intent would be undermined if the approach areas were soft. In that regard, Hollywood has made great strides in recent times, thanks largely to work being accomplished by Green Keeper Michael Broome and his crew. Arriving at Hollywood in December, 2009 from Saucon Valley Country Club, Broome has set about firming up the playing surfaces on a daily basis. According to Broome, focus is on “the constant addition of sand to aid in the breakdown of the thatch that had accumulated. We are performing vertical mowing to physically remove the thatch from below the playing surface. Importantly, some of these key areas before the greens are exclusively hand watered to insure that they don’t receive any more water than is absolutely necessary. Slowly but surely, we are removing the thatch that produced the spongy, mattress feeling of some playing surfaces.”
Seventh hole, 540 yards; The kind of green complex that is curiously rarely seen today, this one is angled in such a manner as to best accept shots from a certain position in the fairway. An oval shaped green simply doesn’t offer as strategic a target as this green complex does and yet, sadly, the world is more full of the former than the later. Such a green as here – and considering it was built in 1918 – is but another sign as to how innovative Travis was as a course designer. Pete Dye subsequently used such a ploy and angled many of his par five green complexes (e.g. the seventh at The Medalist, the eleventh at The Honors Course, the second at Kiawah’s Ocean Course, etc. ) but too few other architects have followed the lead established by Travis over 80 years ago.