H.C. Leeds, the Papa of American Golf Architecture

Kevin Mendik, p. 5

During the last several years, Myopia has undertaken a program of restoration associated with tree removal in an effort to bring back much of the historic golfscape that existed during the turn of the last century. Large stands on trees on the interior of the course have been removed in stages, and vistas not seen for many decades are now open. This reflects the conditions during the late 1800s where most of New England’s terrain was comprised of treeless expanses and rolling terrain, ideal for golf courses.

In addition, the club has, within today’s environmental constraints, attempted to restore how holes played many years ago. To that end, instead of moving the 13th green (and tee) back to their original locations (requiring a tee shot over the now hidden pond), a pair of large deciduous trees bordering the 12th green and 13th tee were removed and the 13th tee box was moved back and to the right. This allowed for the second shot to more closely resemble the original mid to long iron approach that was required before the era of 350 yard drives and 175 yard wedges.

Taken from the first green which offers players the first look across Myopia’s golfscape including holes 2 and 13 with portions of 4, 7 and 8 in the background.

 

Photo taken from today’s #2 Tee with #13 green at left and #9 green visible in the distance. This view has not been open since the 1930s.

Looking back at the 16th green.

 

The cross bunker at 11 several years ago and …

 

… today, which features a much stronger sense of the New England landscape.

 

The 16th hole offers considerable challenge with many unseen bunkers. The clubhouse and 18th green are also visible from that spot.

 

The clubhouse veranda connects the main clubhouse and the locker room building. It offers a wonderful respite both before and after a round. The 18th green is visible in the background.

 

Taken from the 8th tee looking back towards the second green (flag) with the 13th green visible at far left and the 1st green at far right.

“Papa” Leeds, as he was then known, was appointed as Myopia’s Captain of the Green in 1907, a post he would hold until 1917. Leeds continued to tinker with Myopia for many years and was known to carry white chips and stakes to mark where the better drives landed. Often another bunker or hazard might appear in that area. He was doing this knowing that the best players in the world often played over those holes; not unlike the constant tinkering that goes on at many tournament venues today.

The last work attributed to Leeds was the 1913 expansion to 18 holes of the then 9-hole course at the Bass Rocks Golf Club, located in Glouster, MA.[1] During the last several years, Bass Rocks has undertaken considerable restoration work well beyond extensive tree removal. Numerous rock walls, ledges and mounding have been uncovered, and large stands of grasses fill out the rough and abut many hazards. The course has an old look and feel, along with the intact challenges (rocks and ledge) Leeds worked with when laying out 18 holes.

Looking back towards the clubhouse from behind the first green. Note the use of greenside mounding and considerable rocky terrain which requires a strong (and blind) first shot to give players a look at the green.

 

The 5th hole approach requires navigating ancient cherry trees as well as a complex green.

The 5th hole approach requires navigating ancient cherry trees as well as a complex green.

 

The green on the par 5 8th hole is set among rocks and sits on a knob that rejects all but the best played shots.

The green on the par 5 8th hole is set among rocks and sits on a knob that rejects all but the best played shots.

 

The 11th hole plays back towards the water through terrain typical to the golf course with areas of exposed ledge, mounding and well grassed rough.

 

The approach to the 12th green requires playing around and over mounds, exposed ledge, boulders and stone walls. It is typical of the kinds of terrain through which Leeds found and designed golf holes. Nothing of the sort is found on any of today’s modern courses. Some players are thankful, others enjoy the quirky aspect of early American golf.

The approach to the 12th green requires playing around and over mounds, exposed ledge, boulders and stone walls. It is typical of the kinds of terrain through which Leeds found and designed golf holes. Nothing of the sort is found on any of today’s modern courses. Some players are thankful, others enjoy the quirky aspect of early American golf.

 

The 15th hole is located on the original golfing grounds which were comprised of 6 holes. Today’s 15-18 play over that terrain, with Leeds having added bunkering.

 

The par 3 17th at 218 from the forward tees provides a considerable challenge given the sloping terrain that feeds into the deep greenside bunkers.

 

The iconic double lighthouse for which the club gets its name is visible beyond the stone walls which crisscross today’s holes 15-18.

The iconic double lighthouse for which the club gets its name is visible beyond the stone walls which crisscross today’s holes 15-18.

During 1913, after Francis Ouimet’s U.S. Open victory in Brookline, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray again visited Myopia, along with Bernard Darwin, Britain’s counterpart in golfing prose to America’s Herbert Warren Wind. Darwin described the course as follows:

At some holes nature has done so well that not a single artificial hazard was needed, but as a rule she has been powerfully enforced by whole armies of bunkers, showing a strong predilection for getting just as near the flag as they possibly can. They are emphatically good bunkers, not only because they are cunningly placed, but they are good in themselves, workmanlike in shape, and yet with a certain serpentine grace, severe without being relentless.

C.B. Macdonald is often credited with introducing the concept of golf architecture to America through his use at National Golf Links of America of many features from the great golf holes found in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Alexander Findlay was arguably the most prolific golf architect in America during the late 19th and early 20th century and many of today’s great clubs got their starts on his layouts.

Leeds, the only of the three to be born in America, designed and built equally challenging and interesting holes at Myopia well before NGLA was conceived, and before he had focused closely, during his 1902 visit, on the great links of the UK. If CBM is considered the father of American golf architecture and Mr. Findlay golf’s Johnny Appleseed; in this author’s opinion, Mr. Leeds is clearly the Papa of American golf architecture and deserves his place among the best.

Herbert Corey “Papa” Leeds died in Hamilton, MA on September 29, 1930 at the age of 76. His entry in the Harvard University Fiftieth Anniversary Class Report stating in its entirety “No special activities of interest.”[2]

August 7, 2016

All photos Kevin R. Mendik unless otherwise indicated.

 

[1] Lundberg, Dr. Robert N. Bass Rocks Golf Club 1896 1996 (1995). ISBN 0-9625660-3-9 See also online Club History at www.bassrocksgolfclub.org

[2] See fn.1

The End