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

 Kevin Mendik, p. 2

17 at Kebo Valley. Below, the hole today.

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Leeds used mounds in many locations at Kebo Valley, including fairways above, and greenside.

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Intricate bunkering behind the green compliments the mounds to be cleared on approach, as seen below.

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In early 1895, Leeds traveled to The Palmetto Club in Aiken, South Carolina and assisted in bringing their initial 4 hole course up to nine holes at 2,278 yards. The first Southern Cross Tournament was held at Palmetto that summer; Leeds won the second and fourth contests in 1896 and 1898. Leeds was among many Boston area residents who traveled to Aiken for the winters.

Between 1895 and 1897, the course was expanded to 18 holes by himself and Scottish professional Jimmy Mackerell, Palmetto’s first professional. The greens were made of sand, relatively uniform at 60 feet in diameter and perfectly level, but the course was considered extremely challenging.[1] The terrain movement and hazards are reminiscent of Myopia, but today’s bunkering and greens show the work of Dr. MacKenzie.

Leeds won the Southern Cross at Palmetto in 1896 and 1898.

Here as well, Leeds took advantage of the terrain he found, incorporating ravines, creeks and stone walls. He added cross and greenside bunkers as deep as four feet. One green was on a hillside, protected by a bunker with a ravine behind the green. Others had stone walls and roads close up. The holes had names like “Crazy Creek” and “Rat Trap,” and some were described as “puzzling” to play.

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Leeds Palmetto, circa pre-1900.

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From the first tee at Palmetto. Above, before Dr. MacKenzie’s work.

The first hole today with MacKenzie’s work including grass greens and additional bunkering.

Leeds used cross hazards, some without sand, but often including stairs.

Tight greenside bunkers on this elevated par 3. Tee is at far right out of frame so this bunker must be carried.

Tight greenside bunkers on this elevated par 3. Tee is at far right out of frame so this bunker must be carried.

Cross bunkering has long been the rule rather than the exception at Palmetto.

Cross bunkering has long been the rule rather than the exception at Palmetto.

Pamletto’s terrain offered considerable movement along with underlying sandy soils. Both Leeds and MacKenzie shaped bunkers and utilized natural waste areas.

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The clubhouse at Palmetto, completed in 1902. Stanford White, Architect.

In 1896, Leeds joined the Myopia Hunt Club, was promptly appointed to the Golf Committee, and asked to lay out what would become known as the Long Nine.[1] He was Myopia’s Club Champion that year, the only year he held that honor. In 1898, he again won the Southern Cross and was the low amateur in the 1898 U.S. Open played at Myopia, the first of four such contests held there during the next 11 years (1898, 1901, 1905 and 1908). Reviews by the contestants and the media provided equally high praise of Leeds’ work there.

In 1898, Leeds also won the Myopia Handicap Cup, a large crystal and silver cup which was purchased at auction in 2008 and returned to the club the following year. It resides in the clubhouse along with many other pieces of Myopia’s historic competition fabric.

Myopia pre-1903 above shows the open nature of the terrain. The players are on the original 4th hole, which today is in the area between the 10th and 11th holes. Courtesy Myopia Hunt Club, MDR.

Today’s fourth hole circa 1900. Note the water and sand buckets for making tees.

The fourth hole continues to confound those who leave the approach short. The green is among the most treacherous with many a putt ending up in a bunker.

The area between todays 10th and 11th holes again resembles its historic conditions. Players on the long nine would hit over the large mound (Pre-1903 photo) and play left around the oak tree; followed by a sharp dogleg right up to today’s 11th green.

It is important to note that there was virtually none of what we consider golf architecture in most early American courses. While there were a few Scottish transplants such as Alexander Findlay and Tom Bendelow, the land they worked with was more often flat or gently rolling, was taken as it was found, holes were straight with perhaps a stone wall or two coming into play.

Leeds was determined to use whatever the terrain offered in terms of challenges. Whenever he could use sloping or undulating terrain, he’d place a green. A great description is found in Mr. Week’s book at pages 34 and 35. Leeds dug out areas around greens, using the material for mounds. He collected stones from walls and made more mounds. Other walls he left intact or would mound one side. Bunkers were carved. Given that Myopia has had a longer tradition of equestrian activities than golf; it is not unlikely that Leeds drew many of his ideas from the steeplechase where walls, water hazards and undulations in terrain are omnipresent.

The course he developed during 1896 and 1897 played to 2,928 yards. At that time, the best players could hit a ball 175 yards which might include 50 yards of roll if the sheep had been out. At a long drive contest held during the U.S. Open in 1899, Willie Hoare won the contest with a poke of 270 yards. This distance may have been achieved with the new Haskell ball.

Myopia was understandably proud of their course, and offered it to the newly formed U.S.G.A. as the site of the 1898 U.S. Open. Liking what they saw, the date was set for June 17 and 18, 1898. The 1898 contest was the first U. S. Open to require medal play (72 holes), as well as the first time the Open and U.S. Amateur were held on separate courses on separate days, the Amateur still being match play.

In those days, the professionals were considered workingmen and were not permitted into the clubhouse. A marquee was set up around where the present 18th green is to allow them to change, eat between rounds and perhaps have a beverage or two. Several came in from overseas for the event. Scotsman Fred Herd won the event with scores of 84, 85, 75 and 84 (328). This was with considerable wind (only 28 of 49 in the field finished). Leeds was low amateur, tied for 8th with a 347, and shot 39 on the first nine.

 The Long Nine at 2,928 yards was considered among the most challenging in the country as evidenced by numerous newspaper accounts of the day. Leeds was largely responsible for expanding the course to 18 holes, undertaken during 1898 and 1899. British Champions Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor played the new course in the spring of 1900, and while Taylor set a new course record of 78, Vardon had a less than stellar time of it and later stated in his autobiography My Golfing Life that while most American courses “suffered from a lack of bunkers,” Myopia was “unfortunately rather spoiled by an excess of them.”

The par 3 9th hole alone (#3 on the Long Nine)[2] includes 7 bunkers, all accessible by stairs. The entire green complex including the bunkers was shaped from materials excavated from the area that is now the pond. This is the only place on the golf course where this type of considerable earth moving and shaping was done. That this green complex was constructed well before 1900 offers testament to Leeds’ vision and talent as a golf architect. While it is not clear where Leeds got the inspiration for its features, Myopia’s 9th hole is widely considered among the great American par three’s.

Myopia’s 9th, the original 3rd hole, remains one of America’s most iconic short par threes. The hole is that more exceptional given it does not have a template hole in the UK or Continental Europe.

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Sources:

[1] Since 1899, the order has been as follows with the original numbered holes in parenthesis: 1,2 (1), 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (2), 9 (3), 10, 11 (4 played from a tee above the 9 green to today’s 11th green, although routed around the large oak between today’s 10 and 11 fairways), 12 (5), 13 (6), 14 (7), 15 (8), 16 (9).

[2] Weeks, Edward. Myopia, A Centennial Chronicle 1875-1975. (1975) Published at Hamilton, Massachusetts. Leeds remained at Myopia for many years, and was Captain of the Green from 1908-1917.