The Middle Ages of Pinehurst
“I missed the money in the Los Angeles Open. And we were driving to Oakland, California, and Valerie said, ‘You know how much money we have?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ We had eighty-six left out of the $1,400. So she said, ‘Well, what are we gonna do?” – Ben Hogan
The early professional golf tour was a rather bleak affair. Merely to stay afloat one had to finish very high in the tournaments – on a regular basis. Not finishing well could mean having to leave the tour and head for home – as happened to Hogan for a time. Players travelled around in cars without heat or air for enormous distances while doubling and tripling up in seedy motels. Not all of the players ate well – although the same can not be said with regard to drinking.
Things were a little different when the tour arrived in Pinehurst.
“The North and South Open at Pinehurst was one of tournament golf’s most anticipated events, a beautifully run tournament most marquee players regarded as only a whisker below the National Open and the PGA Championship in terms of prestige and stature. Players’ wives adored the North and South because the tournament’s hosts treated them like visiting royalty, providing manicures and massages, lush buffet luncheons, special teas, garden tours, horseback rides, and black-tie socials and dinners in the elegantly draped dining room of the Carolina. There were always fresh spring flowers waiting in the guest rooms, along with imported bottles of French mineral water, and guests were invited to take in polo matches off the hotel’s vast side porch or attend evening band concerts in the village square.” – James Dodson
From end to end, the entire village was filled with luxuriant displays of dogwood, azalea and wisteria. Playing the best competitors on the brilliant course within this otherworldly ambiance – at the height of Spring – was an experience unlike anything these hardscrabble players had ever known.
It was the perfect tournament – a tradition like no other.
Courtesy of the Tufts Archives
“For many years, the old North and South Open on No. 2 was sort of a Masters before there was a Masters. Touring pros and golfing enthusiasts alike remember the North-South and Pinehurst as the tour’s annual brush with charm and elegance. Black tie and evening gowns for dinner. Eventually, it was the favorite tournament of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, who each won it three times and in fact considered it a major as did the equipment and apparel companies who gave bonuses to the North-South winner just as they did for the winners of the U.S. Open, PGA and Western Open.” – Dan Jenkins
There were many extraordinary battles which occurred in that half century of supreme tournament golf. The 1920 tournament was most assuredly one of the best. A spirited battle went on with a great deal of tension until Walter Hagen came to the 18th hole of No. 2. Like Payne Stewart many decades later he also needed a par to win and a bogey for a playoff. Also like Payne he was left with a 20 foot par putt for a dramatic victory. Unlike the man whose statue now resides behind the green, Hagan missed the putt. He then had a four footer for the play off.
“A loud and distinct groan went up from the wall of onlookers as they saw that putt had missed by three inches. But their golf hero stood up straight and just laughed.” – Golf Illustrated
Hagan on the final green of the 1920 North South Open
Don’t feel too sorry for the Haig – he ended up winning the tournament three times. Incidentally, he won the Western Open five times. That was considered a major at the time, as well. When historians make their lists of all time greats they would do well to take this more into consideration.
Oh, and by the way he won five PGA’s, two U.S. Opens and four (British) Opens, as well. Can you imagine the regard he would get if this was pulled off today – especially given his effervescent style and personality? Regarding his personality, all you really need to know is that he preferred to end the day’s round with his butler standing beside the green – in full regalia – delivering a perfectly chilled martini on a tray. Of equal or perhaps even more importance was the fact that he was the one who personally transformed the status of pro golfer from tradesman (who were not allowed in the clubhouses) to something along the lines of an upper-mid level businessman. Only the Haig could say “Hey Eddie, hold the flag, would you please,” to the future King of England and get away with it gracefully.
The earliest days of the North South were dominated by none other than the Pinehurst pro himself. Ross won the title six times. Most people don’t know that while a pro at Pinehurst…Ross won the U.S. Open in 1907. Well, actually that would be Alec rather than his brother Donald. Alec was quite a renowned player and won many titles all over the world. Brother Donald held up his end of the family golfing honor not too badly as well. In the earliest days he won the North South three times. Most people don’t remember the master architect also finished in the top ten in both the American and British Opens.
Among many other dramatic North South competitions was the 1940 version. Coming into the tournament Hogan had yet to win. He had been close several times only to crumble at the end. It had gotten to the point where he had a reputation as a guy who could not pull it off. This was starting to get the diminutive man more than a little steamed up. In fact, before this tournament he cancelled two lucrative private matches which were guaranteed money even larger than the North South purse. It was a very determined man who showed up a week early to sort matters out before the big event.
And for the first three rounds sort matters out he did. With the brand new MacGregor driver Byron Nelson had graciously given him he took the lead early and held it through the first three rounds. With one more to go he was four ahead of the man who irritated him the most. The tour was still in the stage of trying to establish respectability and, to put it mildly, Hogan did not care for the hillbilly routine Sam Snead trotted out at events with the overalls and straw hat he’d put on to amuse everybody. Still, Snead was an unbelievable talent and a proven champion many times over. And he was breathing right down old Hogan’s neck.
Also in second place going into the final round was “The Squire” – Gene Sarazen. At this point Sarazen had already won seven majors. The Squire didn’t think there was quite enough pressure on the long suffering Hogan – so he took the liberty of goosing him a bit before the final round. The previous night while holding court at the Carolina, Sarazen said “he has never won before, he won’t win this time. Hogan’s been out front before. Someone will catch him”.
Apparently, Hogan wasn’t entirely pleased with this newspaper quote.
“I was there primarily to see how Sam did in the tournament and the other buzz surrounded Byron. The crowds were there to see those two slug it out, but after I watched Ben play there was something about him that I couldn’t take my eyes off. He betrayed absolutely no emotion but there was something about him that was like an animal let out of a cage. I’d never seen anything like it.” – John Derr
Well, not only did he win the tournament – he set the all time record – leaving all those formidable competitors in the dust. It was quite a breakthrough – and a turning point because he rattled off several more wins that year. The rest of his career needs no comment here.
That is just a little sample of the many all time matches which occurred during those halcyon years. There were, of course, many more. But, matters went to an even higher level at one point. In a moment of competitive golf that has not been reached before or since, in 1951 the Ryder Cup was held the week prior to the tournament.
It was indeed a singular moment in time…which ended in ignominy.
As did the fabled North and South – for that was the year the magical tournament ended.
Poster on the veranda of the Pine Crest Inn
“…what happened is that through decades of labor and artistry Ross rendered four luminous courses of ornately detailed craftsmanship – a golfing dream world – out of nothing.” – From A History of Pinehurst No. 4
Weaving a masterfully realized course through primitive land with no reference points is an accomplishment which requires a phenomenal level of talent. Envisioning the seamless placement of eighteen holes from the natural features of the terrain in such a way that the flow and strategy create a unified logic over and above the individual variations is quite a triumph.
In Pinehurst, Ross brilliantly interlaced and perfected the nuances of seventy-two contiguous holes. The four courses not only had a compelling rhythm within themselves but as they related to each other. There are innumerable articles regarding the golf at Pinehurst but one fact that has not received due consideration is the ingenious balance of challenge and style as the four original courses made up differing elements of one complete world of golf.
The Magnum Opus (Courtesy of the Tufts Archives)
The land which Ross found in a primordial state was ideal for golfing. Eons ago, it was under the Atlantic – lately to become the edge of a continent – before receding 100 miles distant. In its wake remained a loam which provided a grounds more than suitable for weaving an elaborate four sided master plot of golfing configurations. A sandy based soil…but not entirely sand.
Pinehurst is 25% clay.
This mixture – a clay and sandy compression – provided the correct balance needed for grassing lands firm enough for golfing – yet porous enough to provide the designer a canvas upon which subtleties and formations could be introduced and retained. A heavier soil would not allow for such because a lack of drainage leads to frequent muddy areas – and this places considerable limitations on which design features can be crafted. Soil that is entirely sand is not what you’d want for golfing either. That would be called a desert – and that doesn’t work out too well. Modern technologies do expand the percentage of land which can be worked for golfing. The difference being the earlier designs worked, of necessity, in close harmony with the natural world.
“There is something so undeniably pleasant about a natural hazard that it seems out of the question to duplicate it artificially. Take, for instance, a creek found on a property. Something about the way banks have shaped themselves adds greatly to their attractiveness. But when a like effect is attempted artificially, it falls far short, no matter what pains and expense are taken. Man cannot do in a few days what nature took years to accomplish.” – Donald Ross
“It’s the only way. If you’re going to make a tree, for instance, you have to copy a real tree. No one can “make up” a tree because every tree has an inherent logic in the way it branches. And I’ve discovered that no one can make up a rock. I found that out in Paths of Glory. We had to copy rocks, but every rock also has an inherent logic you’re not aware of until you see a fake rock. Every detail looks right, but something’s wrong.” – Stanley Kubrick
Latter day modes of course design are more of mans imposition – clever though they may or may not be – upon the land. An intimacy with nature is one of the irrevocable keys to a proper golfing experience.
Beyond an ideal soil was a terrain which rolled about here and there – not too sharply pitched – yet rich with character. As with the sand/clay mixture it had a proper balance between the two edges of a continuum. The turn of the earth upon the ancient compacted sediment combined to provide an ideal canvas. All that was needed was someone with talent enough to bring it to a full golfing realization. Pinehurst was rather fortunate in that regard.
As architect, Ross roamed this land for decades. Identifying feature after feature which could provide playing interest of a caliber which continues to beguile more than a century on. As architect he would have been familiar with the land in a fashion most people could not begin to fathom. You can be quite sure he was familiar with every hill and hollow – and importantly the distances between.
When this sort of artistry is performed at the highest level the course will look like it has always been there and the sequencing of the holes was effortlessly born out of obvious choices. Actually, rendering a course of outstanding (rather than mediocre) quality requires a complexity of thought on a level that is parallel with advanced mathematics. It is a highly involved exercise to assess the vast number of variations which a land suited for golf offers. It’s not a matter of identifying one well conceived hole at a time. They must all relate to one another in a smooth progression. When visualizing a hole the skilled designer is simultaneously assessing how the others will relate to the one he is concentrating on at the moment. This can lead to adding or eliminating elements of the current hole – while retaining a high degree of quality of that hole. To weave the entire affair together in a way that resonates with a measure of grandeur is creativity on a grand scale. And, as stated before, in Pinehurst this was done times four.
In addition, the designer must contend with a constant stream of practical matters such as the owner, the craftsmen, the budget and many other issues – each of which can give the designer unexpected difficulties at any time. One would imagine contending with this high wire juggling act for an extended period of time would leave the designer quite happy to be done with the course and not overly enthusiastic about initiating another one of these demanding projects. That was not at all the case with Mr. Ross though. He did this about 400 times. Not only that – but at Pinehurst he spent decades refining these courses over and over until they were…perfect.
An ultra rare view of the land prior to its transformation for golfing and residential purposes. (Courtesy of the Tufts Archives)
The four courses taken as a whole were a virtuoso performance on a level which ranks with the master works of the broader culture. The achievement in course design was matched by the charmed nature of the village itself. The entire enterprise reflected a sensibility of understated elegance and an adherence to the highest level quality in all matters. All in all, it was a spectacular achievement.
The dedication to a supreme level of quality was a reflection of the Tufts family. Beginning with founder James and continuing on with his son Leonard, it was their very personal involvement which was the key to the elevated nature of the resort. The place was so finely wrought that it was only with the greatest reluctance that visitors would take leave of this most uncommon world.
From Golf Illustrated – 1920:
“Before entering in detail on the play for the three championships, a description of the courses and the Pinehurst atmosphere may be of value to these unfortunate fans uninitiated to Pinehurst. If you had left the North in a snowstorm, as we did, you could appreciate it all the more. It seemed almost unbelievable, after an all night ride on a train, to be greeted at this Carolina oasis men call Pinehurst by a white flannelled, sun-tanned coterie of “regulars” there; to step off the train and be ashamed of an overcoat and the pallor of a snow-bound North. Summer suns beamed on one. Flowers poked their bloom out of green shrubbery; sprinklers played on green lawns surrounding the beautiful cottages with which the thriving golf village of Pinehurst is filled. Red-breasted robins twittered with other feathered harbingers of spring, laughing at the bus-loads of new arrivals as though to say, “You’ve just found this place? Why didn’t you fly down here long ago like we did?
The verandas of the big hotels are littered with knickered groups of golfers waiting for the buses to take them to the club for the morning round. Inside the baggage of new arrivals is piled high. Woe unto him who has made no reservation. It was like a golf scribe’s dream to look around in those lobbies. Francis Ouimet was there, arranging a match with three other national stars; Walter Hagen in another corner with Gil Nicholls and other pros getting up another preliminary match; all of them there, fancied the fan, to battle for his pleasure, to furnish him reams of copy. They talk, eat and sleep golf at Pinehurst. It’s the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. They play 36 holes with golf sticks in the day-time, and with tongue and pencil at night. They are there from every corner of this broad land, there to play golf. They represented our greatest stars, and our greatest business men. They had come, all of them, hundreds of miles because they couldn’t wait for the season to start at home.
There must be something in this game of golf, after all. Perhaps the modern accommodations at Pinehurst; the fact that robins on your window sill and warm sunshine wake you up for breakfast and from your table it is the shortest walk or ride to the club; that once there you have four eighteen hole golf courses laid out for you with all the skill and cunning of Donald Ross.”
In 1920 no less than 15,000 requests for reservations had to be turned away.
When he passed away in 1948 the ingenious quadrilateral was left in the hands of a gentleman who was entirely dedicated to golf. Leonard’s son Richard graduated from Harvard and some influential people called him the most effective president of the United States Golf Association. His behavior and manner were said to be beyond reproach.
He was the perfect choice to carry on the legacy.
Richard Tufts with Donald Ross (Courtesy of the Tufts Archives)
And yet, it was in his hands and at his direction that Ross’s extraordinary golfing dream world…was torn apart.
Millions of people play this most challenging game. Of that group a few become prominent on a regional level. Within that group of sharp practitioners a mere handful have the talent to fully compete with the best in the world. There is another level – far beyond the everyday world – where a few extraordinary individuals perform in a manner which veers closely to the province of fiction.
It is not a matter of dedication – because there are innumerable players who could not be more diligent in their attempts to master the game. What happens is that a few times a generation in various areas of endeavor nature produces these anomalies which shine a little more – or more than a little – brighter than the rest.
To those privileged enough to witness such in full flight, it leaves an indelible mark. This mark lasts a lifetime and is recalled many times over with a wonder than never diminishes but evolves into something along the lines of a folk tale or myth. It is within these myths that the sport and its adjacent areas derive a great deal of vitality. Without such stories the game would be a pale, anemic replica of the robust, life enhancing reality it actually is. Further, history shows us that there is always an undeniable correlation between when these rather fantastical stories take place and the health of the sport.
These folk heroes are necessary on more levels than is commonly perceived. For instance, the overall business, which provides a livelihood for tens of thousands of families, grows in all areas. The importance to those families is not one to be taken lightly. Another fact which merits profound consideration is that children grow in the image of those who capture their imagination. One casual glance at the daily paper will tell you it is infinitely better for them to be enamoured of healthy pursuits than the dark antithesis. Adults find themselves actually jarred up out of their recliners and moving about with their own dormant pursuits awakened by the electricity which emanates from these folk stories. They stumble about ineptly with their emulations but that is not what matters – and once and a while a little magic does come through their own game. It’s an elevating scenario all around – a necessary counter balance to the tedium and adversities which beset and burden their daily lives. For well into antiquity all cultures have required a few who were not entirely of their kind to perform rituals which affected the tribe in a way which was not entirely comprehensible – but which provided the community with a service necessary to sustain well being and foster a progression toward that elusive better world.
Harvie Ward grew up as the son of a pharmacist in the small town of Tarboro, N.C. His native talent with the game led him to the golf team at the University of North Carolina. It was during these collegiate years – which included the individual NCAA title – that it became evident he would be a world class player. It was also during these years that it became evident his golfing ability was almost matched by a personality which had magnetism so irritable that even the most stoic of individuals could not help liking this singularly charmed individual. After all, how many fellows could amble up to the first tee late – for a match with the supremely inscrutable Ben Hogan scowling away – and have him laughing right away with a casual sideways comment?
Everybody loved Harvie. It was impossible not to. That’s the way it was.
Arnold and Harvie in the semi-finals at the 1948 North South Amateur. Courtesy of Corbis
This extraordinarily gifted young man was the number one protégé of no less than Bobby Jones himself. Jones lunched with the amateur on a weekly basis for quite some time. He also went to some lengths to ensure that all doors were open so that his talent could bloom to the fullest measure.
Harvie’s star really began to ascend to that rarified level in Pinehurst. The turning point of his playing career was his victory at the 1948 North South Amateur. This event almost did not occur – because it was in the middle of this particular tournament that Mr. Ross passed away. In fact, there was serious debate as to whether they should postpone or cancel the tournament. However, the directors of the tournament decided – correctly – that the patron saint of Pinehurst would have preferred for the show to go on. And go on it did with Harvie ousting a Pennsylvanian by the name of Arnold Palmer in the semis before tangling with the world class Frank Stranahan en route to a highly celebrated victory.
The golden boy followed up this turning point with many victories. It was after his 1953 triumph at the (British) Amateur that he moved into that circle of all time players. In 1955 – when the U.S. Amateur was still a major – he won the tournament (9 &8 in the final match). The following year found him again in the same winners circle. It was at this point in time that he was regarded by many knowledgeable people as… the greatest golfer in the world.
It was also at this point in time that the USGA board took actions which unnecessarily destroyed him.
Care to guess who was the president of the board?
Well, there you have it. The world’s most well run tournament terminated…the golfing dream world disassembled…and perhaps the world’s best player destroyed…a trio of dark chapters that were all largely authored by the same hand.
And so, what are we to make of this person? Was he a bad man?
Actually, he was not. Richard Tufts was merely human – which means even among the best and brightest there are facets of the character which are not as developed as the areas in which they are so gifted. In his case, as is not uncommon among leaders, it was not due to malice or bad intent but to a degree the result of a perspective which was limited in some areas. But he was not a bad man. He was what you would call a perfect gentleman with immaculate manners who was entirely dedicated to the game and to Pinehurst. So what happened? How could this Harvard graduate, USGA president and third generation scion take such ill advised routes?
To answer these questions precisely is not entirely possible. However, it is possible to gather some measure of understanding by examining what we do know. And being a golfing story (as well as a general human story) of some significance it is a tale worth considering. It is through a review of how such real life dynamics played out that we move a little bit forward in understanding the world and ourselves with the hope that each successive generation can carry on slightly better than how the best efforts of the fine people of previous days played out.
What’s interesting is that concurrent with the latter stages of this era when Pinehurst lost its way is that a similar dynamic was being played out quite tragically on a much broader and much more important stage. Do you suppose Lyndon Johnson wanted things to go badly in Vietnam? Do you think Richard’s efforts were geared toward making Pinehurst a lesser place? Of course not. Those leaders and many others sat around those tables with their lieutenants and made the very best decisions in the very best way they knew how. It must have really broken them up to see such well intentioned and elaborate plans go so badly awry. These are fables which will continue to bear greatly as long as large scale ideas are put forth – as they must be. Perhaps the only silver lining is the knowledge extracted from prior generations. Leaders must actively consider broad initiatives from a number of viewpoints before committing the well being of organizations and people to a path which appears optimal but in fact leads to a regrettable state of affairs. Then again, second guessing can go on endlessly – so there must be a balance to their contemplations.
The North and South Open was terminated by Tufts largely due to a dispute with the touring pros regarding money – and unseemly behavior of some of the pros – during the 1951 episode in particular. The Tufts family could not have been more gracious to these pros since the inaugural event in 1902. However, by the middle of the century the professional tour had climbed its way out of a state where the pros had quite a challenge making ends meet to a proper American business enterprise. Ultimately, the pros became reluctant to participate in events which they believed did not show them the consideration they thought they had earned. But before they reached the tipping point there was a long, slow, steady path of increasing tension between the various factions of this narrative. And the mercenary aspect of the tour was in direct contrast to Tufts belief that the game was solely intended a recreation – in which “material considerations have no part”.
Needless to say, being from the third generation of a very wealthy family did not provide Richard with a profound understanding of individuals and families that had not yet established themselves on any lofty plane. In the United States the average income in 1950 was $2,992. Living in a world with this sort of severe economic limitation (which the majority of pros knew all too well) was entirely alien to the millionaire. It was a stark contrast that was not resolved.
Less than twenty years after the professional tournament ended the Tufts family was forced to sell the resort. Whether or not this could have been avoided by keeping the tournament going is a question worth considering. The state of California reaped an economic benefit of $142M in hosting the U.S. Open in 2008. Some projections have Wisconsin earning over $200M for the 2017 Open. Obviously, the earnings of many decades before are dramatically different. But never-the-less it does show the high degree of profitability which upper tier tournaments can bring. Retaining the annual North-South Open could have greatly benefited the economic health of the resort. It is difficult to say whether or not this could have prevented the resort from being sold – but it is likely that terminating the tournament was not a wise decision – economically or otherwise.
A similar dynamic may have been involved with the extreme re-arrangement of the courses. That is, while there may have been an immediate benefit in having an additional course, the long term economic status may have been compromised. The diminished quality of the courses led to many tourists choosing other resorts – of which there was an ever increasing number.
It is interesting that at the same time he was making the controversial decisions he was handling other aspects of his responsibilities in an exemplary manner. It is not small matter to run a large number of tournaments, manage a large resort and oversee the development of a sprawling design initiative. The lesson in this is perhaps that handling 360 degrees of responsibility well is not something which often occurs. It is not a rare thing to see an individual who is remarkably proficient – even brilliant – in one realm have profound deficiencies in another. The concentration level required to reach the heights in one area can often be accompanied by a neglect in other areas. The best of leaders are aware of this or at least have people around them who can offer the feedback necessary to keep the ship on course.
Returning to the North-South, there were other layers involved in the dismantling of the tournament. From very early days the resort “invested heavily in developing Pinehurst into a haven for a certain segment of America’s sporting enthusiasts – those with the necessary time, disposable wealth, and proper heritage.”
What the powers that be wanted in Pinehurst was a charming world of gentility. A lovely world is what they wanted and any elements which diminished or were perceived to diminish such were not only not wanted but prevented from casting shadows on their dreamy little world. Those not always so refined pros had some coarse members in their lot. The attendant gambling, drinking and all around dubious characters were not at all what many prominent families wished to have running around the village or the clubhouse or the courses.
That aspect is an old story that played out in many places in many ways. It was an entrenched social conflict with no easy resolution. Even to this day stories related to this dynamic play out and presumably will continue to.
So why did they have those rough riders come to town in the first place? It was largely a business matter. In order for the resort to attract visitors they needed notoriety. Getting these tournaments written up in all the newspapers brought enormous publicity which stimulated interest in visiting the resort.
“The North and South Golf Tournament is placed as nearly as possible at the end of the season. For twenty odd years it has been used to lengthen the season and especially to get publicity for the few remaining weeks that we are open. It is a question in my mind as to whether it has always operated in that way and whether it hasn’t possibly been considered as our final gasp for business—and when people say that the North and South is to be on a certain date they say that is the time everybody leaves Pinehurst. If the original idea is a success in lengthening the season we should give very careful thought to what we do with the prominent players for of course the more prominent the contestants the greater publicity we will get.” – Leonard Tufts (Richard’s father )
“For Tufts and Ross, the players, spectators, and the integrity of the matches were important but, still, secondary to business considerations. Once Tufts received commitments from a pair of famous golfers—the strategy was to generate interest in a competitive match—the resort would get free publicity from the nation’s network of sport writers who kept their readers abreast of golf matches between the leading amateurs and professionals. Also, having the best golfers at Pinehurst supposedly attracted visitors interested in associating with celebrities. Tufts and Ross often conferred about the benefits of these strategies.” – Larry R. Youngs
At first the resort owned and rented out the houses built in the village. After a number of years they began to sell the houses. As people became citizens rather than visitors they began to make certain demands.
“Just after James Tufts’s death, a group of men and women—many who became local property owners and Pinehurst’s most devoted commuters—began contesting Leonard Tufts’s escalating emphasis on nationally promoted tournaments. Both as avid golfers and as members of the resort’s seasonal community, they worried about issues of character, camaraderie, and the meaning of competition.” – Larry R. Youngs
The growing number of well heeled families who became citizens primary interest was in playing matches amongst themselves. Most were not at all keen to have a wandering herd of vagabonds tramping around their hallowed links. And they began to pressure the Tufts family regarding this matter.
So, there was pressure from a considerable number of prominent citizens along with pressure from the pros who demanded more money that lead to the termination of the tournament. It is not a simple matter and there were no doubt more aspects to the story. However, this should illustrate to some extent what led to the events of 1951.
The evolution – or rather de-evolution – of the four courses happened right after Donald Ross (and his essential colleague superintendent Frank Maples) died in 1948. The fact that the changes happened so quickly after those wizards passed away indicates the pervasive transformation had been given considerable forethought. Tufts must have known Ross would not have approved of the path they set upon with his painstakingly realized golfing fields. Ross would not have abided such changes and even though Richard was the owner, the stature of the designer was such that his word was final regarding the courses.
Courses 3 and 4 were changed almost beyond recognition. No. 4 was enormously re-routed. For many years the original No. 3 was used for the first two rounds of the North-South Open. Now this high caliber course was cut into two separate pieces. A third of the holes made up the new No. 5 course with the remainder of the newly missing holes being created out near the old dairy. The core structure of No. 2 remained the same – but with the design elements seriously modified. The impetus for the modifications to No. 2 was the 1951 Ryder Cup.
Courtesy of the Tufts Archives
The belief was that the course needed to be toughened for the international match. The course was lengthened to over 7,000 yards and this found the poor visitors using fairway woods more often than they were accustomed to for their approach shots en route to their defeat.
“Brassies, brassies all the way, as the poet might have said — and it was not long before my partner and I agreed upon it as an admirable battlefield for the Sneads and Mangrums of this world but no fit stomping ground for aging investment brokers and golf correspondents.” – Henry Longhurst
The added distance was not the aspect of the “update” which took the masterpiece away from its traditional moorings. The most grievous changes involved the bunkering. Newly created bunkers were established on both sides of the landing areas of many holes. Also, the bunkers which lent such a dramatic flair to the relatively flat landscape were re-worked to the point where they bore little resemblance to their prior brilliance.
Photo from “Golf Architecture in America, Its Strategy and Construction” – by George C. Thomas
Richard’s co-conspirator in the mid-century changes was Frank Maple’s son Henson. The apple fell far from the tree in this case because Henson’s ideas bore almost no resemblance to the artistry his father realized in his unusually close association with Ross.
Richard Mandell’s excellent book on the history of Pinehurst takes us through the breath taking changes which were enacted in this era. Here are some quotes from his Pinehurst book:
“Prior to the depression and for a period thereafter, all of the sand bunkers at Pinehurst had been hand raked. In an effort to minimize the time it took to rake the dramatic faces Ross implemented. Henson’s crew re-built many bunkers on the courses with grass faces, creating a flatter bottom along the way. In other words, the dramatic flashed-sand Ross bunkers were no longer a feature at Pinehurst.”
“Instead of a golf architect leading the charge, it was superintendent Henson. Changes were made to cut down handwork and other time consuming efforts such as sand bunker maintenance.”
From Frank’s grandson Dan Maples:
“Most of the Pinehurst courses were flashed by Ross. My dad (Ellis) told me that my Uncle Henson took them off the faces and put them on the bottoms to save money.”
Mind you, these changes occurred when the national economy was on the upswing. And the fact that they spent such a large amount of money on this overall plan shows that the coffers were hardly in an unhealthy state. After all, this was the period after that long dark passage through the Depression and global war. Although the European economy was still worse for wear, the Americans were turning to leisure pursuits in great numbers.
Taking apart the exquisitely crafted bunkers was not enough for the new regime. The greens also were subjected to a similar sort of regrettable treatment.
“Some green shapes were also changed to bring additional cup locations into the mix.” – Richard Mandell
About a decade later No. 2 hosted the 1962 U.S. Amateur. This found the Richard and Henson yet again moving the course away from it’s late 30’s early 40’s pinnacle.
“The 1962 renovation pushed No. 2 further away from the strategic design that Ross and Frank Maples had introduced. Irrigation improvements also allowed for the Bermuda grass to slowly creep into the pine needle rough. From both a strategic and maintenance standpoint, the rough took on more importance than Ross’s framing bunkers.”
“Due to the introduction of motorized rakes, the bunkers continued their transition from the dramatic Ross flashing to a lower profile. Because the rakes couldn’t maintain the high sand slopes, the bunkers became more grass-faced and lost much of their character. Irregular, natural shapes were replaced with boring kidney shapes and circles. Most bunkers had clover shaped sand lines adjusted for the limitations of the mechanical rakes. The increase in higher maintenance standards also transformed the bunker lines to clean, defined edges instead of rough-edged hazards.”
“Also for the first time, imported sand replaced native sand in all of the bunkers.”
So there you have a small overview of the sweeping changes which occurred in these middle years. Regarding the perspective of the men who initiated the large scale overhaul of the resort, this paragraph from “The Story of Overhills” may give the reader some insight into the matter:
“We are all quite familiar with the theme of a master architects work being modified over time. As I’ve said elsewhere I don’t think there was any bad intent on the part of the custodians. I think they didn’t understand what they had on their hands. In his day Bach was, to a large extent, viewed as a mere craftsman – not as a genius who was turning out transcendent works of profound lasting value. I think perhaps there is something of a similarity with a few of the earlier golf architects. In the eyes of the majority they were viewed as craftsmen – gifted perhaps – but the lofty art of some of the works were clearly not fully appreciated by the majority. That is all too evident from the way so many of the major works have been blithely reworked. There was little if any hesitation in changing some of the masterpieces – although I do think that has changed to a degree now.”
The finest works of the golden age architects are viewed by a number of contemporary critics in a manner far removed from how such works were regarded at the mid-century mark. Today’s keen observers appreciate these masterpieces in a fashion similar to the way the substantive works in museums are viewed. In other words, a course such as Cypress Point may be perceived as the peer of many masterful paintings. It is all too clear this was not the prevailing view in the post WWII world when many of the finest works were thoroughly transformed. For had that been their view they would have been as hesitant to re-work those fairways as they would to take their paints and brushes to one of the museum masterworks.
It would not be fair to judge Richard and Henson entirely by today’s point of view. The appreciation of later years was on the periphery of the design concepts of the day. However, the fact remains that the four courses taken as a whole were a stellar achievement and those fellows did, in fact, diminish their extraordinary quality. Even though they lived in an age in which today’s theoretical considerations were certainly not at the forefront of thought, history will not accord them a place among the highest practitioners in the field of design.
“I never felt like Harvie got a fair shake at all.” – Byron Nelson
It was during Richard’s tenure as USGA president that Harvie was brought before the committee about his status as an amateur. This issue in question was that he had accepted money from his employer for travelling to tournaments. He was part of a group of championship amateurs who didn’t possess the personal wealth to pursue their golfing endeavors out of their own pocket. In this gray zone the employer would pay the travelling expenses and the golfers would conduct cursory business meetings so that they would be able to say the monies they received were compensation for work. Certainly, this was not the cleanest manner in which to operate. However, such practices had traditionally been tolerated as practical and necessary for vitality within the amateur ranks. There had been some flash points along the way with the likes of Francis Ouimet and even the immortal Bobby Jones himself. Such situations had been handled in a gentlemanly manner with the result that they had been able to continue to pursue their interests without having a scarlet letter branded on their chest.
Further, in the case of Harvie, the employer in question was none other the Eddie Lowery. Eddie was on the USGA board and told Harvie their funding process was within the parameters of acceptability. Coming from a board member, this was naturally good enough for Harvie – especially since Eddie was the famous caddy for Francis Ouimet’s epochal victory over the Brit’s at the 1913 U.S. Open.
And so our hero made his way up to Illinois to meet with the ‘blue coats’ from the organization without a great deal of concern. In fact, according to one of his best friends, Tufts told Harvie that he was going to receive “a slap on the wrist”. However, as soon as Harvie saw the look on Richards’ face when he entered the room of the inquisition he knew bad news was coming. That was indeed the case as his amateur status was stripped from him. To Harvie it seemed more like his honor had been stripped from him. That is a very serious thing to do – and not one without consequences. In this case the ramifications went far beyond the matter at hand.
The manner in which Harvie was treated is one of golf’s great tragedies. The factors behind this treatment of the reigning U.S. amateur champion can not be entirely discerned. What is known is that there had recently been government investigations regarding some of the very large wagering which had always been a not so noble part of the sport. Even though this did not involve Harvie directly it was on some level a factor of the committee’s disposition. There were undoubtedly a variety of factors which culminated that day in the Illinois. Although it is not entirely possible to pinpoint all of these factors it is extremely clear that the action they took was unconscionable.
And the effect on Harvie…well, it’s best just say it was far reaching and leave it at that.
With piercing irony, the result of this indelicate attempt to purify the amateur ranks is that it was the event which ended the glory days of amateur golf. As with the reconfiguration of the four courses, the result of the action was the precise opposite of the intention.
“It certainly changed the state of golf forever. I mean, at that very moment, you had Hogan and Snead and Byron coming to the end of their remarkable reign but amateurs like Billy Joe Patton, Ken Venturi, and Harvie making a great case for the validity of amateur golf. But taking into account what happened next, the year after Harvie Ward was sanctioned, Arnold won his first Masters and suddenly everyone wanted to be him.” – Herbert Warren Wind
And so, America’s Home of Golf fell into an age where the luster on the dream was more than a little tarnished. The 1969 transfer of the resort to the corporate robots of Diamondhead (“we have a lot of La Costa type ideas”) completed the club’s journey to its nadir. There have been legitimate questions as to whether the whole affair can regain its rightful place in the constellation of golfing’s supreme destinations.
The answer to that question is yes it can – and it will.
As you know, that redemptive journey is already well on its way. The crown jewel has – through brilliant decisions and stunning craftsmanship – resumed its rightful place.
A fully satisfying return of the overall resort will involve no less visionary undertakings. To a large extent, that will happen as well…all in good time. (Let’s start with a proper reintroduction of No. 1, shall we?)
The magical tournament which once held such a supreme place in the golfing world did not make it back into the fold. The unique spirit conjured by the mix of the highest caliber competition on the highest caliber of courses at the height of spring has been emulated for decades down the road in Georgia. Pinehurst itself did have various professional tournaments through the years. Fine affairs they were, but not on any transcendent level. However, that has been more than amended by Pinehurst’s establishment within the national championship rota. If any event signaled the resurgence of this resort it was the spectacular first playing of that event.
Not unlike the venerable No. 2 Course itself, there were those who seriously questioned whether, after the fall, Harvie would make it back to a deserved perch in the world where he once shined so very brightly. After an extended journey through the less desirable regions of personal experience he did…in Pinehurst…”the only place I ever felt truly at home.”
On the final day of the 1999 U.S. Open – and before he practiced putting for forty-five minutes – Payne Stewart was hitting balls on the driving range – the first one in America, actually. After duck hooking a 3-wood he heard this Southern drawl call out “I didn’t teach you to hit like that!”. Payne didn’t need to turn around to see who that was. He had lived at the Pine Crest Inn for months to study under the old master.
Harvie did some good playing in his later years, but it was in teaching a singular knowledge to students of the game that became his primary niche. In his very last years he played mainly at Forest Creek in Pinehurst. As he was making his way back to the clubhouse from one of his last rounds there he happened upon a friend who inquired about how he had played.
“Did you shoot your age today Harv?”
“Aw, hell no…I didn’t play that bad.”
Donald Ross was the man who handed the medal to the winner of Pinehurst’s major tournament. What sort of experience do you suppose that was? All those years of chasing the dream across those endless fields…and then the sun setting over the iconic clubhouse with the Scotsman offering congratulations in a voice still reflective of his native land. It would have been one of those handful of golden moments in life which remain a spectral presence far beyond the duration of the given day. In fact, most of the visitors during this era had their own mesmeric experiences. Only it was not usually with such fanfare. In smaller and quieter ways the same scenario played out with individual variations; such as in the exquisite stillness of a late afternoon on the veranda, a moonlight walk to the Carolina or a soaring four iron to the heart of one of those distinctive greens. In a way, you could say such sublime experiences have always been the raison d’etre of the village. Was it not for this so many travellers returned year after year?
Donald Ross would not have been pleased to see the winding path his magnum opus took after his long years of toil through that longleaf forest. However, this ongoing journey back to the intended essence would have impressed him greatly.
And some of the best chapters haven’t even been written yet.
Chris Buie is the author of The Early Days of Pinehurst
The Tufts Archives (you are encouraged to donate to this worthy organization)
“Creating America’s Winter Golfing Mecca at Pinehurst, North Carolina: National Marketing and Local Control”
Larry R. Youngs
Department of History
Georgia State University
“Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf”