Hollywood Golf Club
Ever since his 1899 collaboration with James Duncan at Ekwanok Country Club in Vermont, Walter Travis’s imagination was captivated by golf course architecture. However, his sterling amateur playing career (United States Amateur champion in 1900, 1901, 1903 and British Amateur champion in 1904) and then the founding of The American Golfer magazine in 1905 left him little free time.
When Hollywood Golf Club approached him in 1916, Travis had only designed three eighteen hole golf courses. Nonetheless, the board at Hollywood clearly felt Travis was their man, in large part no doubt to his forceful writings in The American Golfer where he adamantly argued that hazards on most American courses were so poorly placed as to do little to challenge the tiger golfer. According to Travis, ‘A really good course should abound in hazards – and good courses develop good players.’
Hollywood was keen to convert their original 1913 Isaac Mackie design away from hazards that penalized the poor golfer and into a rigorous test for the better golfer. According to Bob Labbance in his Travis book entitled The Old Man, the club employed Seth Raynor ‘to correct some of Mackie’s mistakes’ but the end result remained unsatisfactory and Travis was contacted by the new green committee led by Frank B. Barrett.
From the start, the opportunity here in Deal, New Jersey must have appealed immensely to Travis as the sandy, 300 acre block of land was within one mile of the Atlantic Ocean. The property was not heavily treed (to quote Travis about his loved Garden City Golf Club, ‘trees of any kind are nonexistent – as they should be’) and thus was exposed to the winds (quoting Travis again, ‘wind should always be an ever present factor’).
Reacting to the club’s stated desire for a first rate course, Travis stayed with Mackie’s general routing but gutted all of his greens and bunkers. In addition, he combined Mackie’s thirteenth and fourteenth holes into today’s superb thirteenth and created from scratch the long, difficult one shot seventeenth. With 220 bunkers of all shapes and sizes and a wild set of Travis greens, the course drew immediate praise upon opening in 1919. How good was it? Willie Rickie, the 1921 Met Amateur champion, considered it second behind Pine Valley, followed by Oakmont, Inwood, National, Lido, and Garden City. Historian Tom MacWood found an article in a 1926 Metropolitan Golfer magazine whereby Johnny Farrell rated Hollywood the second best course in the country!
MacWood is also keen to point out that the green committee chairman Barrett deserves a fair share of credit for the final innovative design. A Vice President of a New York City construction firm, Barrett was the greens chairman from 1917 through 1930. MacWood points to Rickie’s observation that, “Hollywood is another course where the landscaping has had great attention. Hollywood in a sense is a monument to Frank Barrett as Pine Valley is to George Crump.” In addition, the New York Times wrote about Hollywood prior to the 1921 United States Women’s Amateur that, “Some of the holes, the creations of Frank B. Barrett, represent unique, almost radical, principles. There are two roads to every green, while the exceptionally large tees permit a variety of distances.” The article goes on to describe every hole.
While Hollywood’s eye-catching bunkering has long drawn praise, its greens are every bit as special. Some greens like the ninth and sixteenth with its diagonal swale through it have to be seen to be believed. Bob Labbance wrote in his November 2000 Feature Interview on this web site: There is no doubt that Travis wanted to test the ground game just as much as the aerial play, so special attention was paid to the subtle, yet perpetual movement of the green. Many times the slopes of the greenside mounds were reflected into the putting surface, and on every course there was one green with a substantial swale cut through it on a diagonal. So his greens were a challenging joy.
These comments certainly ring true at Hollywood. Be it at Cape Arundel in Maine or Country Club of Scranton in Pennsylvania or here, untouched Travis greens are standouts even by the high standards set during the Golden Age of Architecture. Too many of his peers built sets of greens that sloped predominately from back to front. Max Behr sniffed that such greens acted as a catcher’s mitt. Travis gave his greens much more variety, which comes as no surprise given what an outstanding putter he was. For those that have read his Art of Putting, there is no doubt that Travis treasured putting and his love for it shines through at Hollywood.
Holes to Note
Third hole, 460 yards; Variety is at the heart of great golf architecture and Travis delivered on that score at Hollywood with the placement and construction of his green sites. Consistent with courses built during the age of hickory golf, the greens of the long two shotters such as here, the sixth, and twelfth are open in front. Each of those three straightaway holes are respectively followed by greens that place a different demand on the golfer, either because the green is elevated such as at the fourth or angled such as at the seventh and thirteenth. This toing and froing always gives the golfer something to think about and it helps account for why each round at Hollywood remains a fresh experience.
Fourth hole, 150 yards; A completely manufactured hole, and none the worse for it. Given the course’s proximity to the Ocean, Travis envisaged it as being links-like in nature. To that end, when stuck with this piece of flat property near the middle of the course, he built faux sand dunes and sandwiched the green between them. Travis also put a sea of sand in between the tee and the green to emphasize the hole’s coastal setting but that sand has since been removed. Still, the seven bunkers cut into a pair of artificial hillocks – with two of the bunkers well above the green itself – is unique in world golf. Many love it, and a few hate it, but there is no denying that Travis the architect had the imagination and daring to create some of the game’s most distinctive holes.
Sixth hole, 425 yards; Hollywood occupies a block of property that is predominately rectangular with many of its holes running along a east/west axis. When the wind blows off the ocean, the third, fifth, sixth, ninth, tenth, and sixteenth play downwind while the first, seventh, eighth, twelfth, fourteenth, and eighteenth stretch out as they play into it. Obviously, the reverse holds when the wind blows off shore but either way, a hole like the sixth plays equally well because Travis left the green open to accept a wide variety of approach shots. Deep, or rather tall, fairway bunkers punctuate the right side while the green’s false front is but the first challenge that the golfer must contend with on his approach. In order for the course to play properly, the fairway areas leading up to the greens must play firm as Travis’s design intent would be undermined if the approach areas were soft. In that regard, Hollywood has made great strides in recent times, thanks largely to work being accomplished by Green Keeper Michael Broome and his crew. Arriving at Hollywood in December, 2009 from Saucon Valley Country Club, Broome has set about firming up the playing surfaces on a daily basis. According to Broome, focus is on “the constant addition of sand to aid in the breakdown of the thatch that had accumulated. We are performing vertical mowing to physically remove the thatch from below the playing surface. Importantly, some of these key areas before the greens are exclusively hand watered to insure that they don’t receive any more water than is absolutely necessary. Slowly but surely, we are removing the thatch that produced the spongy, mattress feeling of some playing surfaces.”
Seventh hole, 540 yards; The kind of green complex that is curiously rarely seen today, this one is angled in such a manner as to best accept shots from a certain position in the fairway. An oval shaped green simply doesn’t offer as strategic a target as this green complex does and yet, sadly, the world is more full of the former than the later. Such a green as here – and considering it was built in 1918 – is but another sign as to how innovative Travis was as a course designer. Pete Dye subsequently used such a ploy and angled many of his par five green complexes (e.g. the seventh at The Medalist, the eleventh at The Honors Course, the second at Kiawah’s Ocean Course, etc. ) but too few other architects have followed the lead established by Travis over 80 years ago.
Twelfth hole, 460 yards; A spectacle from the tee, this hole once had fifty-seven bunkers on it (i.e. this single hole had more bunkers than the entire course at Augusta National when it opened!). A majority of the bunkers remain to this day. Travis wasn’t a long hitter but he was accurate and this hole favors such a person. Only the man who hits the fairway can have a go for the green in two by carrying the nest of cross bunkers for his second. Not surprisingly given that this hole heads straight toward the Ocean, the last fifty yards and the front of the green are both wide open. Travis clearly is giving the golfer every opportunity to hit a low wind cheater, a shot that he thrived on when he won the 1904 British Amateur at Royal St. George’s.
Thirteenth hole, 335 yards; A clever dogleg left hole where it is most helpful to know the day’s hole location before hitting one’s drive. If it is left on the somewhat V shaped green, the golfer wishes to drive long right to the outside of dogleg. Conversely, if it’s right, the golfer ideally positions himself shorter off the tee and closer to the inside of the dogleg. Regardless, the hoped for birdie never seems to materialize as often as one might wish on a hole of this length. For any course to be considered great the requirement for finesse is essential and this hole is a sterling example of that need being met.
Fourteenth hole, 440 yards; Thanks to tees being moved back by ~ forty yards at the third, sixth, ninth, twelfth, eighteenth and here at the fourteenth, the two shots holes at Hollywood are just as strong today as they were in Travis’s day of hickory golf. Given that the golfer knows that a stream fronts the green, the pressure is on for him to get away one of his best drives of the day. Only by avoid the large bunkers off the tee and finding the fairway does he entertain any notion of carrying the fronting diagonal hazard and reaching the green in two. A hight point of Rees Jones’ 1998 restorative work occurred at this green when Jones expanded it by 30% back to its original size.
Sixteenth hole, 475 yards; At the time that it opened, only Oakmont and Pine Valley (depending on how one classifies a ‘bunker’) had more hazards than Hollywood in the United States. Approximately eighty bunkers have been lost with the passage of time but only a few of them would truly dictate play today. Here is one such case and hopefully, future club boards will allow Rees Jones to restore the diagonal bunkering that dictated the strategy for the second shot at the sixteenth (cross bunkers that were once 60 yards shy of the third green is another example). Such hazards are important on a course where many of the holes run predominately in an east/west direction due to the elongated nature of the property. Without such central features, the sailing is too clear up the playing corridors, meaning that the holes can become too straightforward in nature.
Seventeenth hole, 195 yards; Relative to the vast majority of courses built during the Golden Age, the club deserves to be proud how well preserved the course is. Still, times change and why not avail itself of such improvements? One such welcome addition in the past year has been the introduction of native areas. While old photographs show the plethora of bunkers that Travis employed to the give the course its inland links feel, restoring all the bunkers is not practical as a) many would no longer influence today’s play and b) doing so would needlessly increase the course’s maintenance budget. The club has found the perfect solution with the introduction of tall grasses native to the area. Their different colors add welcome texture while the sight of wispy grasses bending in the wind accentuates the links feel that Travis strived to replicate. Broome is pleased with the progress so far, remarking, “These naturalized areas contain grasses which require less water and fertility inputs while providing an aesthetically pleasing contrast on the golf course. They require almost no mowing and offer a cost savings in the long run.”
Eighteenth hole, 445 yards; A little over an hour up the Garden State Parkway in Springfield, New Jersey, A.W. Tillinghast built some of the best holes at Baltusrol on the Upper Course. Holes like the fourth and fourteenth aren’t among the heaviest bunkered on the property as they didn’t need to be: Tillinghast let the topography present much of the challenge. Such holes simply weren’t possible on the flatter Lower course so Tillinghast resorted to man-made features (i.e. bunkers) to provide the playing interest on the Lower. Similarly at Hollywood, the modest rolls throughout the property meant that Travis largely had to create the golfing quality in each hole. Hence, his finished design ended up with 220 bunkers but more importantly, all the bunkers (coupled with the greens) meant the course was chock full of character despite being routed over modest topography. Like Tillinghast, Travis prided himself in knocking character into each and every hole and the strong eighteenth caps off the course in a fitting fashion. One can readily imagine Travis hitting another of his laser straight drives, then likely hitting to the green first and holing a putt with his magical center-shafted Schenectady putter, assuming of course that he hadn’t closed out his opponent well before now!
Starting with the work carried out in 1998 by Rees Jones, Hollywood has made significant strides in returning the luster to this important and highly regarded design. First, the course has been seamlessly stretched to over 7,000 yards. The addition of several new back tees like at the third and fourteenth actually reduces the walk from the prior greens, which is always a neat feat to accomplish. Second, the course is regaining its open links feel from Travis’s day. Tree plantings from the 1960s and 1970s are being slowly – and thoughtfully – removed. In turn, playing angles are being recovered and as is the wind’s impact on play. Third, this helps to improve the quality of the turf. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Green Keeper Michael Broome, an extreme amount of care and effort is going into deep coring the greens and to introducing sand to the all important areas just short of the greens. Travis’s design shines the brightest when the ground is firm. The end result is that Hollywood of today is once again one the five most engaging courses in the golf rich state of New Jersey to play. Importantly too, this course will remind the golfer of no other course that he has ever seen, a sure sign that it is indeed special.