Feature Interview

with

Bill Healy MD

January 2017

The inside of the book is as stunning as its cover photograph. The 13th, 14th and 16th holes are seen in the lower right corner.

Bill Healy MD is the author of The Golf Course at Eastward Ho!, which was released in August, 2016. Bill grew up in Boston and caddied at such fine courses as Charles River, Oyster Harbor and Needham. At Amherst College, he played football and rugby and later trained as an orthopedic surgeon at Johns Hopkins. He now practices Hip and Knee Replacement Surgery at Newton Wellesley Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. Bill is married to Angela C. Healy MD and they have four children and three grandchildren. The Golf Course at Eastward Ho! is sold through the professional shop at Eastward Ho! and is available to non-members by calling Brian Hamilton, PGA, on 508.945.0620.

1. I love your line in the Preface that “This book is a story of the golf course. It is not a comprehensive history of Eastward Ho!” What gave you the idea for what I consider to be a novel approach?

Thank you for noticing my focus on the golf course. It was intentional.

Golf clubs and golf courses all have stories, but they may not be the same story. Eastward Ho! has a long rich history as a golf club and as a social club. The club has provided members with golf, recreation, and social activities since 1922, and there is much information to collect in a club history. However, my interest in writing this book was the golf course.

My first round of golf at Eastward Ho! was in 1986, and I was mesmerized by the land, the design, and the golf holes. I had never seen, caddied on, or played a golf course like it. The experience was spectacular and memorable. At the time, I was a novice golfer, and my knowledge of golf course architecture was minimal. I did not understand golf course design; I did not understand the relationship of the land to design; and I knew little about strategic playing options and design. However, I did know that I wanted to play the golf course again, and eventually, I became interested in joining the club.

During the last three decades, I developed an interest in golf course design and architecture. I read books on golf design, I listened to golf course architects speak, I participated in symposiums and webinars on golf course architecture, and I visited many golf courses as part of a review or rating team.

This book began as an essay which I wrote for myself to test my evolving knowledge regarding golf course design. I did not start out with a plan to produce a 300 page book. When I shared my initial essay with a few friends, it was well received, and I decided to produce a book. When I met John Lucas, who agreed to design the book, we were clear from the outset that this would be a book about the golf course. As the project evolved, we included many aspects of club history in the book, but the primary focus was always on the golf course.

2. What did you hope to accomplish with this enormous undertaking?

This book was a hobby project—a labor of love, if you will. I wanted to tell the story of a great golf course. I also wanted to write an interesting and compelling book which presented the history, the land, and the design of the golf course at Eastward Ho!

3. As you highlight, Eastward Ho! is on a glacial landform that occupies 132 acres. Much of the front nine is located on the enticing – but narrow – Nickerson’s Neck peninsula. Talk to us about Fowler’s figure 8 routing and how you conclude that it ‘may be the strongest feature of the golf course.’

Routing a golf course is an artistic and scientific exercise. The architect aims to identify the best green sites, teeing grounds, and golf holes on a property while taking advantage of the terrain, natural features, existing drainage, scenic views, and wind to design interesting golf holes and to build an enjoyable and challenging golf course. In 1920, Herbert Fowler was familiar with many types of routing designs ranging from the narrow “out and in” consecutive hole design, which was prevalent on many links golf courses in Ireland and the UK, to the broader “fan design”, which was favored by Donald Ross at many golf and country clubs.

When Herbert Fowler visited Chatham in 1920, he encountered a small property with many acres of unplayable land. He was challenged to build a championship golf course on limited acreage, and he could not use all the land! The narrow Nickerson Neck peninsula presented him the opportunity to propose a classic “out and in” chain of golf holes with a clubhouse at the west end of the property. The front nine could have been routed west to east towards the sea, and the back nine could have been laid out east to west back towards the clubhouse. However, one of the first things Fowler determined during his initial survey of the land was that a clubhouse would be best situated in the center of the property with magnificent views of Pleasant Bay. He told the Founders that nine holes could be routed on the Atlantic Ocean side of the clubhouse, and nine holes could be routed on the inland side of the clubhouse.

The figure eight hourglass design allowed Fowler to incorporate features of the natural terrain (such as One, Six, Fourteen, Eighteen), place tees near greens to use the land efficiently (such as the junction of the third green and the fourth tee at the east end of the property and the adjacent thirteenth green and fourteenth tee at the west end of the property), design holes with and against with the prevailing and countervailing winds, and provide spectacular water views of Pleasant Bay, the Crows pond, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Fowler’s 1922 routing.

4. How did you discover that the founders initially contacted Willie Park Jr. and had him for a site visit?

The club has a letter from Willie Park Jr. to G. Herbert Windeler, one of the Founders Eastward Ho!, which documents Mr. Park’s visit to Chatham in October 1916. In this letter, Willie Park, Jr. wrote, “After going carefully over the land I am of the opinion it is admirably suited for this purpose. I should say it is one of the very best locations I have seen for the making of a Golf Course. There is good turf on most of the land, which could be worked up without ploughing and the soil is of the right kind……………I would say a course equal to, if not better, than any on this (U.S.A.) or the other side (Britain) could be made at very moderate cost.”

As a result of this favorable evaluation of the land by Willie Park, Jr., the club began to acquire land on Nickerson’s Neck in February 1917.

5. And just to confirm, there is no known evidence as to why Park or even indeed Donald Ross was not selected for the project once WWI ended?

Unfortunately, no. We are still looking for more information on the selection of the golf course designer. The only two golf course architects who are mentioned in club documents are Willie Park Jr. and W. Herbert Fowler.

Interestingly, since my book was printed, the club found an undated and unattributed sketch of a proposed golf course for Nickerson’s Neck at the Chatham Historical Society. This routing differs from Fowler’s design: the front nine is a clockwise loop beginning at the current ninth green and ending at the current first tee; Ten and Eleven are routed on the south side of the Town Road; and Twelve through Eighteen is a clockwise loop back to the first tee. This routing includes a central clubhouse near the first tee and the eighteenth green. We do not know who drew this sketch. Based on the timeline of Park’s visit, formation of the club, land acquisition, promotional material for prospective members, and Fowler’s initial visit, this sketch was probably created between late 1916 and early 1920 by Charles Ashley Hardy, G. Herbert Windeler, another member, a local golfer, or perhaps by Willie Park, Jr.

6. The founders were well traveled men, very accustomed to the delights of links golf in the United Kingdom. Is it fair to assume that helped contribute to the hiring of Herbert Fowler in 1920?

We do not know exactly why the Founders identified, selected, and hired Herbert Fowler to design their championship golf course on Cape Cod. Several of the Founders had visited the UK, and they played golf at Royal North Devon, Westward Ho! It seems likely that they learned of Herbert Fowler and his successful designs at Walton Heath (1903), Royal North Devon (1908), West Surrey (1910), and Woodcote Park (1915) during those trips.

We know that Willie Park, Jr. encountered health problems that may have precluded travel to Chatham when the club was ready to design and build the golf course. Perhaps Mr. Park suggested Mr. Fowler to the Founders?

We also know that in February 1920, Herbert Fowler opened an office for Fowler and Simpson Golf Architects in New York City and traveled to California before he headed back east to visit Chatham in May 1920.

7. Please share with us some of Fowler’s initial statements once he saw the land.

Herbert Fowler recorded his initial impressions of the land on Nickerson’s Neck in a letter to the Founders of the club on May 25, 1920. He was excited about the opportunity to design a championship golf course on this land and wrote, “I have carefully examined the ground which you have acquired for the purpose of making a golf course. I have seen very few pieces of ground to compare with this both as regards situation and the natural contours of the green. The situation is ideal and the scenic effect with the promontory running out into the sea is unique.”

Fowler also wrote, “There will be nothing approaching a bad hole, and I think you can safely reckon on at least twelve feature holes. I am quite aware that this is a very bold statement, but I make it with every confidence that it will be borne out by the future.”

Looking across the front nine.

8. How did he describe the opportunity when he next saw his friend Bernard Darwin in England?

After Herbert Fowler evaluated the land in Chatham and presented his thoughts to the Founders of the club, he returned to England for several months. While he was at home in the UK, he shared his thoughts about the “Cape Cod Project” with his friend, Bernard Darwin, who was the pre-eminent golf journalist of the time. Fowler wrote, “I am quite certain that I can design a course on this ground which will compare favorably with all but three or four courses in the United Kingdom and will be second to none of them.”

9. You make it quite clear that Fowler designed the course but that Charles Ashley Hardy deserves credit for overseeing the construction. Please explain.

Herbert Fowler deserves credit for designing and building the golf course at Eastward Ho! We have records of his visit in May 1920 to evaluate the land and design a routing for eighteen holes. We also have documentation of a Fowler visit to Chatham in May 1921 to monitor construction of the golf course and meet with prospective members. Herbert Fowler was a very busy man. He operated a golf architecture business on two continents. He served as Managing Director at Walton Health for almost forty years. He spent many summers at St. Andrews, and he was an active participant in the activities of the Green Committee of the R&A. Finally, he was committed to to his own golf game. In 1920, when he was 64 years old, he won the Franklin-Adams Golf Medal at Royal St. Georges! Unfortunately, we cannot validate more than two trips by Herbert Fowler to Cape Cod, so he must have had substantial assistance in the design and construction of the golf course at Eastward Ho!

Charles Ashley Hardy was an architect, stockbroker, and entrepreneur who lived in Boston and Chatham. Charles Hardy and several wealthy friends built the Chatham Bars Inn in 1912, and Hardy designed and built a nine hole golf course on the CBI property in 1913. Charles Hardy was one of the Founders of the club, which was called Great Point Golf Club, and he located the Nickerson’s Neck site for their championship golf course.

When Herbert Fowler returned to the UK in May 1920, Charles Ashley Hardy accompanied him on his trans-Atlantic trip and spent a few months with him in Surrey. We do not know what Hardy did while he was visiting Fowler in the UK, but we do know that when Hardy returned to Chatham, he supervised local workers who built the golf course at Eastward Ho! Charles Hardy documented his work building the golf course in an article titled “Efficiency in Golf Course Construction” which was published on October 17, 1921 in the Bulletin of the Green Section of the United States Golf Association.

In my opinion, Charles Ashley Hardy deserves considerable credit for building Herbert Fowler’s golf course design on Nickerson’s Neck, and I suspect several of the enduring features and subtle design strengths on the golf course accrue to Hardy.

10. Please tell us what you found on Fowler and blind shots!

Blind golf shots is an interesting topic which evokes diverse and divergent opinions from golfers and golf course architects. In general, I am not a fan of blind shots, but on land with topographical undulations and changes in elevation, like Nickerson’s Neck, blind shots cannot be avoided when routing eighteen holes. Donald Ross wrote, “On Undulating land, blind shots are bound to occur, and one or two of them are not at all serious. Truth be told, I rather like them, as they add a bit of spice to the game.”

At Eastward Ho!, blind shots can be encountered at 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, and 18. When I researched Fowler’s thoughts on blind shots, I found a quote in an advertisement for the firm of Fowler & Simpson Golf Architects. “The better ‘ole is never a blind hole, it must be seen to be appreciated. Every contour and trap, almost every blade of grass can be seen before construction starts.”

When Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson formed their partnership in the golf course design business, they used clay and plasticine models of their proposed golf courses as tools for selling their designs to clients. This quote clearly promotes the use of models to understand a proposed golf course design. In addition, I believe these words suggest that Fowler preferred that golfers could see the golf holes they are playing.

Fowler’s fascinating clay/plasticene model of Eastward Ho!

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