The Maidstone Club
Green Keeper: Robert Williams
Willie Park Junior is a largely forgotten figure among golf course architects. Yet, his design style without doubt bridged the gap from the straight forward Willie Dunn era to the Golden Years of the 1920s. Certainly, his work at Sunningdale Old in 1899 and Huntercombe in 1901 had a profound influence on many subsequent architects, including Hugh Alison, J.F. Abercromby and Sir Guy Campbell. In fact, after seeing Huntercombe in 1901, Walter Traviswrote in Golf Illustrated that it was:
‘…easily the best laid out links I have ever played over anywhere. There, in order to negotiate the round properly, you must be a master in the art ofboth scentific slicing and pulling, and be able to get the full measure of every conceivable stroke that occurs in the game, orelse can be subject to some penalty – in short, every shot has to be played for all its worth. That is GOLF.’
Travis’s remarks sum up Maidstone as well, though Willie Park Junior didn’t design Maidstone for another twenty-one years. In fact,around the world in 1922, Willie Park Junior may well have been the architect of choice. For instance, he had recently completed Woodway Country Club in Connecticut, having been selected ahead of Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and Seth Raynor!
While at the height of his powers, Willie Park Junior was given his finest piece of property in North America when Maidstone acquired the 80 acres of the Gardiner Peninsula in 1922.The south end of this peninsula is framed by a 1,000 yard stretch of sand dunes with the Atlantic Ocean just over the other side and the soil is sandy throughout.Today’s 4th green all the way through to the 15th hole reside on this thrilling parcel of links land. No other architect at Maidstone ever had this property at his disposal, from Willie Dunn who laid out a rudimentary seven hole course for Maidstone in 1894 to Seth Raynor who drew up re-design plans for the club in 1921.
Willie Park Junior‘s routing on the 80 acres on Gardiner’s Peninsula and the remaining 50 acres is masterful as he introduces numerous forms of hazards at all sorts of angles to the player, including a marsh, Hook Pond, sand dunes, beach grass, reeds, well placed bunkers, out of bounds and the ever present wind. With such a variety of hazards with which to contend, Maidstone reminds one of the famed Royal North Devon in England.
Having won the Open in 1887 and again 1889, Willie Park Junior was aworld classplayer and obviously appears to have had akeen appreciation on how to challenge the golfer. One skill which he particularly admired was the art of putting and few links can compete with the imaginative green contours he created here, such as those found on the 6th, 10th, and 18th greens.The greens are central to the challenge for the ace player at Maidstone and Green Keeper Robert Williams has for years and years maintained them in a fast and firm manner that would certainly please Willie Park Junior.
Holes to Note
2nd hole, 535 yards; An advantage that the Golden Age architects enjoyed over modern ones is that they could incorporate out of bounds into their designs. In today’s litigious society, that is not possible. Take the 2nd holefor example. A road parallels the hole along the left from tee to green and Park made no effort to shield the golfer’s eye from the road (though obviously far less traveled then, it was nonetheless out of bounds). In addition, out of bounds hems in the hole from the right but Willie Park Junior angled the green so as to best accept an approach from the far right side of the fairway. Given the same bit of property, a modern architect would almost assuredly have to ‘hide’ the road with artificial mounds (thus reducing a psychological terror of the hole) and could not tempt the golfer to seek the better angle to the green by going down the right side of the property.
3rd hole, 410 yards; One of the few straight holes on the course, Willie Park Junior created interest at the green with a false front as well as a step in the green. Whether down wind or into it, the greenisbest approached along the ground.
4th hole, 170 yards; The 4th hole transitions the golfer onto the portion of the property that contains genuine links land. The tee itself is in the middle of Hook Pond and the author wishes he knew more about what was required to build it.
5th hole, 325 yards; When the hole location is left and front, this hole can be had by plenty of players. However, many more times than not the hole location is either behind the right bunker or on the raised back portion of the green. When that’s the case, the odds of success shift away from the player and to the course.
6th hole, 405 yards; With reeds down the right, the golfer’s tendency is tobail left with his tee ball. The problem then becomes two fold. First, Willie Park Junior cut a dominate bunker into the ridge to the left of the green. Second,he also built one of his finest greens ever with the left portion a good two to three feet above the lower right portion. Together, the left bunker and green contour reduce the chance of success from an approach from the left.
7th hole, 335 yards; Doglegs on tree-lined courses often accept nothing more than a straight shot off the tee, thus compromising any strategic merit. Nothing could be further from the case at Maidstone where the golfer must judge how much of Hook Pond to bite off on this dogleg to the right (and at the 16th and 17th holes as well).With the Atlantic Oceanwithin 200 yards, the wind is the real issue and the proper line changes from morning to afternoon, making it a prime example of why Maidstone remains fresh to play year after year.
8th hole, 150 yards; Though it is the start of one of the great – if not the greatest – three hole stretches in the game, the partially blind 8th hole is not as Willie Park Junior intended. As exemplified at Sunningdale Old, his strategic approach to course design eschewed blind approach shots while seeking to provide pleasure to the greatest number of people. In the case of the 8th, heavy storms throughout the 1930s and 1940s moved the sand dune inland and made the shot completely blind. An irate board member in the early 1960s leveled the sand dune with a tractor to the way it more or less is today. Though Willie Park Junior might disagree, the hit and hope aspect of today’s 8th is a rare treat/thrill in American golf where the quest for perfect visuals and ‘fair’ holes has contributed to a sameness of design for decades.