Feature Interview with Dr. Henry Terrie
Born in 1921, Dr. Henry Terrie has taught english at Dartmouth College since 1952. He was the Chairman of the Department of English from 1967-1972 and the Dean of Humanities from 1972-1976. He is a member of Hanover CC in New Hampshire, Ekwanok in Vermont, and Yeamans Hall in South Carolina. He is the chairman of the Friends of Seth Raynor Society and was the co-chairman of the Green Committee at Yeamans Hall from 1987-1998. During that period, Dr. Terrie was a driving force in Yeamans Hall pursuing a successful restoration project that has seen the course regain national prominence and recognition while becoming an even greater pleasure for its members to play.
1. How did you become interested in golf course architecture?
My introduction to golf course architecture began in 1967 on my first trip to Scotland when I played many of the classic courses: Turnberry, Troon, Prestwick, Hoylake, Birkdale, Formby, Gleneagles, The Old Course, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Dornoch. In the next few years I became increasingly aware of mismanagement on the courses at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. First, there was a charming little nine-holer designed for the College in 1927 by Ralph Barton, an alumnus who had learned his trade from Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor. This course, despite being of ‘executive’ length, had some very fine holes and was most suitable for students and others in the learning phase. Unfortunately it was divided by a public road; and, when the state rebuilt that road, the College refused the opportunity to make a tunnel. The six holes on the far side of the road have become a practice area; the three hither holes were abandoned to cross country skiers. This happened only a year or so before the College adopted co-education and enlarged the student body by a thousand! The 18-hole course, though there seems to be no record of an original architect, began to take shape in 1899 and was a memorable example of natural design, in which the course was fitted to the land rather than, as in much modern design, vice versa. Over the years this layout has been corrupted by a series of uncoordinated moves, such as building a modern ‘cookie cutter’ green or simply making errors in construction. Thus, when I came to Yeamans Hall in 1977 I had already developed a rudimentary sense of what not to do, though I did not come to Yeamans Hall with the idea of doing anything. The course and the club were a delight in any case, and it was only gradually that I came to see new possibilities.
2. Was there a key event that drove your club to decide to restore its golf course?
The key event in the whole story was the arrival in 1983 of a new Green Keeper, James Yonce. Jim very quickly began to show what a great course lay underneath the merely good one. He restored to visibility the handsome contours of the fairways, he improved the fairway turf so that the careless ‘preferred lie’ was abandoned, and he began to coax more speed out of the slow and bumpy greens. Meanwhile, he dug out Raynor’s old plans and revealed the changes that had come with years of attrition, some natural and some human.
3. At the time of the initial decision to renovate the course, what percentage of the members knew who Seth Raynor was?
Probably most knew Raynor’s name but few knew his work. Many members had no interest in golf.
4. Tell us about ‘The Friends of Seth Raynor.’
For a number of years Yeamans Hall had used a modest ‘Adopt a Tree’ program to maintain its valuable live oaks, and there were numerous examples of members volunteering to pay for repairs, decorations, etc. in the Club buildings. On becoming co-chairman of the Green Committee in 1987, I decided to build on that spirit and seek money to supplement our marginal golf course budget (which was, and remains today, less than half the national average). With Committee approval I brought to the Board of Governors a plan for ‘The Friends of Seth Raynor’: ‘It is observable that when money has to be raised by stock sales, assessments, or minimum charges, most members look on these measures as a child regards bad-tasting medicine. When money is applied voluntarily to chosen projects, on the other hand, the expenditures give pleasure. The present proposal is an attempt to multiply opportunities for that kind of pleasure, especially among lovers of golf.’ At first we planned to build a fund for the future by withholding 25% of each year’s receipts, but an early benefactor argued that our contributors would be most pleased and encouraged by visible results, and that has proven to be true.
To encourage wide participation we set annual dues for The Friends at $50 per person while at the same time asking for larger donations where possible. Each Friend was provided with a handsome bag tag to advertise the fraternity. In addition, we called attention to our effort by selling club neckties and jacket crests. We might have bumped along on this modest level indefinitely had it not been for Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. The playing surface of the golf course suffered only minor damage, but the surrounding woods were devastated and many buildings were injured. This was a moment when the Club could have been, so to speak, sold for scrap. Instead, two people with energy and imagination (a Treasurer and an ‘Angel’) turned it into an opportunity, leading the membership in a remarkable communal effort. Roads were cleared, trees planted, buildings restored: Yeamans Hall is probably healthier today than at any time in its history.
5. How did you go about educating the members that the golf course was worthy of being restored?
We began in 1987 with a vision of what our golf course could become but with no clear idea of how to reach the goal. Raising about $12,000 to $13,000 a year for the first few years, we were able to improve the course with a number of small projects. Adjusting a bunker here, a tee there, we did what we could to build a level of belief and expectation in the club membership. And we brought outside opinion to bear in two ways. First we talked about our dreams with reputable architects like Rees Jones, John LaFoy and Alice and Pete Dye – all of whom gave us encouragement and advice and confirmed our belief that we had a course with great unrealized potential. This belief was further strengthened by correspondence with John Bahto of Upper Montclair, New Jersey, who is an authority on the work of Charles Blair Macdonald and his protegÃƒ©s. John wrote a very helpful letter to our Board of Governors. At the same time we began to give the course some exposure among expert golfers. In 1990 we played host to the Carolinas Mid-Amateur. In 1993 we had the Carolinas-Virginias Match Play Competition. And finally, in 1997 we went national with the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. All these people were impressed with the course, both present and potential. The time was ripe.
Meanwhile, we had found our architect in Tom Doak, a rising young man with a special interest in classic designs and a personal acquaintance with great courses around the world. His Confidential Guide to Golf Courses caught our attention with a provocative account of Yeamans Hall and its potential. In addition, he had just finished a restoration project on another Raynor course, Camargo in Cincinnati. Tom was very patient with our changeable plans and our marginal economy. He and his shaper Jim Urbina, made a superb team with Jim Yonce to produce new fairways and new greens in only three months during the summer of 1998. The entire transition was accomplished for just $216,000, about 20% of what other clubs have spent on similar projects. Raising that sum was made possible by a challenge grant from one very generous member.
Essentially there were three factors in this remarkable economy. First, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina were willing to provide their advice and their shaping artistry while allowing Yeamans Hall to execute the plans. Second, the hard physical labor was provided by Jim Yonce and our own crew. Everyone turned out — including our head Professional Claude Brusse and one or two interested members! And third, we did not try to build our new greens to strict USGA specifications: rather we made them with the simpler soil mixtures available to Seth Raynor in 1925.
6. Can you be more specific about the kind of work done on your course from 1987 to the present?
In the years since Jim Yonce arrived he has expanded and laser-leveled our tees and fitted them with a finer turf. In addition, he has restored a number of greenside bunkers to their original depth and configuration and routed cart paths away from both tees and greens. Then in the big conversion of 1998 we not only rebuilt all the greens, using Raynor’s original maps, we also planted them with the new strain of Champion Bermuda. At the same time we upgraded all the fairways with Tifway 419 Bermuda.
7. Was there opposition within the membership for this project; and if so how did you deal with that?
Not so much opposition as skepticism. The club bookkeeper (who still kept our records in a ledger by hand) at first refused my founding check for ‘The Friends’ because she didn’t think I had Board approval and later tried to close out the account when we ran slightly over budget. One of my fellow Board members who voted for the proposal was heard to say he thought the project would last two or three years at most. As evidence of our work began to appear, however, so did support. Then after Hurricane Hugo the Grounds Committee testified to our progress with a flattering imitation called ‘The Friends of Frederick Law Olmsted.’ And just last year the Architecture and Building Committee got into the act with ‘The Friends of James Gamble Rogers.’
8. How much input did the Green Committee have on the architect’s master plan?
Members of the Committee, as well as Greenkeeper Jim Yonce, walked the course with Tom Doak and had a free exchange of ideas, but essentially both we and our architect relied on Seth Raynor. Happily, Jim Yonce and Tom Doak and Jim Urbina became good friends and collaborators.
9. Seth Raynor was an architect who utilized cross bunkering. How much of this has been restored and how much will be restored?
Here we have been selective in following Raynor. I quote from Tom’s most recent report: ‘I believe it would be nice to reintroduce some of Raynor’s driving strategies back into the course, if it can be done in a way that it doesn’t become a burden to the average member. Certainly, the bunkers we are considering will come into play, and there will be some complaining – if not, there would be no point in building them. Our goal is to choose the bunkers which will make the holes more diverse, and more interesting from day to day.’
10. Given how much technology has changed, will fairway bunkers be restored in their original location?
In general they are being adjusted to have maximum impact on low handicappers. In some cases this is being done by moving tees back to lengthen holes. In others we expect to move fairway bunkers out a bit to challenge the longer hitters.
11. What has been the reaction to your project so far by the golfing community? By your members?
We have heard nothing but praise from knowledgeable visitors, and the sincerity seems to be confirmed by our appearance on several national lists of both ‘classic’ and over all categories. Indeed, one member of a selection board said that their consistent excellence makes this the best set of greens he has seen. A few members have complained about the severe depression on our third green known locally as ‘the bath tub.’ Otherwise all seem to recognize the improvement.
12. The greens were expanded from 80,000 square feet to 144,000 square feet? Are they worth the additional maintenance effort?
Absolutely. Play is more challenging, more interesting for all classes of golfers. The special discovery for most players is that whereas the greens are much larger the targets are much smaller.
13. If you and the Green Committee had this all to do over again, what would you do different?
Before Tom Doak’s final transformation we did a lot of experimenting on our own, and we made some mistakes. But we were all the time educating ourselves to do what we finally did. One must remember that education is expensive.
14. What advice would you have for other clubs who might be embarking on a similar project?
Every club has its own special qualities and special problems, and each will have to find its unique solutions, in most cases by trial and error. Therefore, don’t be in a hurry to set things in concrete. Seek advice from a variety of sources before committing to a plan and an architect.