H.C. Leeds, the Papa of American Golf Architecture
Kevin Mendik, p. 3
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. He shot 39 on the first nine. The Boston Journal noted that the scores “prove conclusively that no player can average better than 40 strokes on a course of over 3,000 yards.”
Through the 1890s, players were still using gutta percha balls which tended to soften up as they got warmer. They played the ball down as it was found. The rough was pretty much like it is today. No cleaning the ball or repairing ball marks before putting. Most bunkers still had hard pack or dirt; if there was sand, it wasn’t raked. That the course remained challenging enough for top level play beyond the 1899 introduction of the Haskell Ball is further testament to its advanced design.
Following the 1898 Open at Myopia, Leeds persuaded his fellow golf committee members to utilize club lands not already devoted to golf and well as purchase additional lands in order to make “a proper links.” Over the next two years or so, Leeds’ vision came into being and is largely the course that we play today, although he would probably be disappointed that not all of his bunkers remain. He challenged players with earthworks and cross traps before greens, he penalized short hitters with features like the angled bunker on today’s par three 3rd, still a two shot hole for many golfers. He gave long hitters options to cut corners on holes like the fourth. He utilized horses with padded hooves to pull grass cutters on holes such as 5 and 6 where the turf was often wet due to the brook which still comes into play today.
The short ninth continues to confound golfers with the deep bunkers surrounding the green, and requires a shot over the bulrushes.
On today’s 12, Leeds utilized a challenging mound for his green site. Thirteen was lengthened and no longer plays over the pond now surrounded by forested wetlands. Leeds wanted the challenge to be on the approach to the green, and was apparently never quite satisfied with what he considered a plateau green, having envisioned the green higher up on top of the ridge, (see 1913 and 1923 maps below). Fourteen was considered one of the most bunkered and challenging holes in the country, having a dozen bunkers, several mounds and of course the ubiquitous rough.
On 15, he built four foot high earthworks in the fairways and a yawning trap in front of the green, now with an opening in the middle. Leeds lengthened the 16th (originally the 9th) by adding 90 yards, making it a blind par four. He gave in on that one after too many complaints about Myopia’s abundance of blind shots, and restored the hole to the downhill par three in play today. The new eighteenth provided a risk reward that continues to challenge players with deep bunkers in front of the green. He left an entrance (photo below) for the occasional lucky shot.