Ohio State University Golf Course, OH, USA
When one thinks of the Ohio State University Golf Course, two of golf’s greatests immediately come to mind — Dr.Alister MacKenzie and Jack Nicklaus. MacKenzie, the designer of the Scarlet and Gray courses, is widely considered the greatest Golf Architect to ever live and Jack Nicklaus, who called these courses his collegiate home, is without dispute the greatest golfer to ever play the game. One name that doesn’t come to mind is that of Lynn W. St.John, but were not for this man’s vision and guidance, there very well may not have been a MacKenzie, a Nicklaus, a Jesse Owens or a Woody Hayes as part of Ohio State’s storied athletic history. Lynn St.John is the architect of Buckeye athletics and the father of the Ohio State Golf Course.
L.W. St.John attended Ohio State in 1900 and lettered in football, but due to a death in the family, he had to return to his home in Monroe, Ohio. After graduating with a bachelor of philosophy from the College of Wooster, St.John returned to the Ohio State University in 1912 at the request of first year Athletic Director and Head Football Coach John Richards. He was hired to coach both the baseball and basketball teams, and also as an assistant coach for the football squad. In addition to his coaching responsibilities he was Business Manager of Athletics and some how found time to attend Medical School in hopes of fulfilling his ultimate dream of becoming a physician.
1912 also marked the year that Ohio State joined the Western Conference, the Buckeyes would become the tenth school to join the conference which would soon be known as the Big Ten. Following a stormy first season as head football coach (marred by 37-0 loss to Penn St., in which Richards ordered his team off the field because of their opponent’s ‘overly rough and unsportsman-like’ play), John Richards resigned under pressure. With two major vacancies to fill, the Athletic Board acted quickly to promote St.John to the position of Director of Athletics (oddly he was never consulted or asked if he would be interested in the position and only learned of his promotion after it had been officially announced). The surprising promotion ended St.John’s aspirations for completing his medical degree.
Then as now, Football was the king of collegiate athletics. The game’s enormous popularity had started in the Northeast with the powerhouses of Princeton, Harvard and Yale, drifting across the Appalachian Mountains to the rising powers of the Midwest. The Western Conference was dominated by two national heavyweights — the Universities of Chicago and Michigan, and their legendary coaches Amos Alonzo Stagg and Fielding Yost. The region also featured a third emerging power, Notre Dame led by the famed Knute Rockne. St.John’s ambition was to elevate the stature of the Ohio State’s program, a football program that to date had been little more than mediocre (the impetus for applying for entrance into the conference was a 3-3 tie with Michigan in 1910, it marked the first time Ohio State had scored in the series since it started in 1897). Ohio State was now entering the big time.
It wouldn’t take long for Ohio State to make an impact, winning its first Big Ten championship in 1916, followed by crowns in ’17 and ’20. With the excitement generated by the football team’s success, it was soon apparent that Ohio Field’s 14,000-seat capacity would not be adequate. A committee was formed to look into building a new stadium and it was generally believed that a stadium of 30,000 to 35,000 seats would be appropriate — not unlike the stadia at Chicago, Michigan and Notre Dame. After all it didn’t make sense for a university with an enrollment of only 7000 to build anything larger. But St.John had bigger ideas and in 1922 under his leadership the university constructed the mammoth horseshoe, Ohio Stadium. With a seating capacity of over 70,000, Ohio Stadium was larger than the famous Yale Bowl and launched the OSU Athletic program into the upper echelon of collegiate sports. ‘The Horseshoe’ has been the stage for everything from Jesse Owen’s track & field exploits to legendary coaches Paul Brown and Woody Hayes’ 5 national championships, and remains to this day the symbol of the university.
With the Stadium project successfully completed and the financial stability of the athletic program secured, St.John could now contemplate further developments and a local event would have a major impact. There was tremendous excitement in Columbus in anticipation of the 1926 US Open. Scioto Country Club was scheduled to host the national championship and a contingent of the worlds greatest golfers, including the beloved Bobby Jones. Scioto also happened to be the home of Ohio State’s golf team and the club’s head professional, Englishman George Sargent, doubled as the Buckeye’s golf coach. The scholarly Sargent, the 1909 US Open champion, 1912 Canadian Open champion and the President of the PGA had been instrumental in securing the event. St. John’s Assistant Athletic Director, George ‘Red’ Trautman, was appointed Chairman of the championship and he in turn appointed St.John as Gallery Chairman. The event was an unqualified success, with Jones rallying in the final round for a single stroke victory — the entire experience would have a profound effect on both St.John and Trautman.
With Golf’s popularity at an unprecedented level, the 20’s was time when colleges began entertaining the idea of constructing their own golf course facilities, not only as the home their men’s and women’s golf teams, but also for the enjoyment of their student-body, faculty and staff. In 1921 fellow Big 10 member Minnesota had built a golf course designed by Seth Raynor and Yale had created a stir in 1926 with the opening of a world class golf course, designed by the noted C. B. Macdonald. Late in 1927, inspired by the financial success of the stadium project and the excitement generated by the US Open, St.John decided the time was right for an Ohio State Golf Course. He formed a Golf committee, headed by Trautman, to study the feasibility of ‘a Varsity golf course’ and to search for a possible site. In the summer of 1928, Trautman reported a positive finding to Athletic Board; in addition he successfully identified several potential sites. The Athletic Board then instructed Trautman to communicate with Donald Ross ‘relative to him coming to Columbus to survey the proposed golf sites and that Mr.Ross’ fee in this connection be authorized.’ Ross, the most famous Golf Architect of the day, was no stranger to Central Ohio, having designed no less than eight area courses — Scioto, Columbus, Granville, Wyandot, Delaware, Springfield, Elks and Aladdin (that total would ultimately swell to 10 with Zanesville and Lancaster). Ross recommended a 297 acre tract of rolling pasture land, 2 1/2 miles northwest of campus, situated between the water sheds of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, and bisected by the meandering Turkey Run. The Athletic Board approved the golf site and by November 1st the President of the University gave the go ahead to negotiate for its purchase. It wasn’t until April of 1929 that an agreement for the purchase of the land could be reached. (The delay was due to St. John’s search for a new football coach. Interestingly the search centered on Knute Rockne who was coming off his poorest season at Notre Dame. Rockne had expressed interest in the Ohio State job, dissatisfied with Notre Dame’s small stadium and tiring of having to constantly go on the road to play in larger venues. In fact Rockne ultimately accepted St. John’s offer, contingent on Notre Dame giving him his release, a release that would never come and tragically in 1931 he would be killed in a plane crash).
Now that he had the golf site secured, St.John set out to hire an architect to design the golf course. Donald Ross, the Scot based in Pinehurst, had selected the site and was the logical choice to carry out the design. But for some reason St.John became interested in another Golf Architect of Scottish ancestry, Dr.Alister MacKenzie. MacKenzie had been a physician who had turned to Golf Architecture after returning from the Boer War. Dr.MacKenzie’s designs were a combination of sound strategies and flamboyant images, not unlike his personality. A highly educated man and a gifted writer, MacKenzie was best known for his entertaining charm, sharp whit and legendary drinking ability. He had come to the United States early in 1926 before traveling to Australia and New Zealand — designing several fine courses, including the world famous Royal Melbourne. Upon returning to the States he set up shop in Northern California and created such wonderful courses as the Meadow Club, the Valley Club of Montecito and the spectacular Cypress Point. By the time of the Ohio State search, MacKenzie was in the midst of constructing Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz and Crystal Downs in Frankfort, Michigan.
What precisely caused St.John to favor Dr.MacKenzie, is not known. What is known is that St.John ‘consulted with George Sargent, Bob Jones and other friends.’ Two knowledgeable ‘friends’ whom he may have asked were sports writer William D. Richardson and USGA executive Prescott Bush. W.D. Richardson, the prominent golf correspondent for the New York Times, had been put on the OSU payroll by St.John as a ‘special publicity agent’ prior to the 1925 Columbia football game. Richardson and his equally famous friend and writer Grantland Rice were among a small group of Easterners familiar with MacKenzie in 1928. Prescott Bush (father of President George Bush) was the son of Scioto co-founder Samuel Bush and a Columbus native. He had been introduced to MacKenzie’s genius on the Monterey Peninsula by Roger Lapham, Vice-President of the USGA. Lapham was the co-founder and president of Cypress Point, and the two men were involved in setting up the 1929 U.S.Amateur at neighboring Pebble Beach. It is also possible that St.John himself had been exposed to MacKenzie. The St.John family had been vacationing in Northern Michigan for many years and owned a bungalow on Lake Otsego. As an avid golfer in area with very few courses, he may have been drawn to MacKenzie’s Crystal Downs in nearby Frankfort.
One can speculate about many possible factors that effected St.John, but undoubtedly the biggest influence came from golf coach/professional George Sargent and his good friend Bobby Jones — two of the most brilliant minds in the game. Sargent, a disciple of Harry Vardon, was an extraordinary teacher — among his innovations was the use of moving pictures to analyze the golf swing. He had been a guiding force in the formation of the Professional Golf Association, eventually becoming the organizations second president. Sargent was also a very fine golfer and competed in every US Open from 1912 to 1925 with such notable men as Donald Ross, H.Chandler Egan, Herbert Strong, Max Behr and A.W.Tillinghast. There were few men in golf better connected than George Sargent. His friend Bob Jones was known as much for his intellect, as for golf game. Over the years he had become an avid student of the game, including Golf Architecture. And, although it was not common knowledge, he had been planning to design and build a dream course of his own. While studying golf design, he had become a great admirer of MacKenzie theories, who he had met at St.Andrews and eventually he would select the Doctor to design his ideal course. With this kind of support it is clear why St.John was sold on Dr.MacKenzie, now all that was needed was to convince the Athletic Board.
Contact was made with Dr.MacKenzie in the summer 1929, informing him that the University was interested in building a golf course. He wrote back that he was extremely busy with preparations for the US Amateur at Pebble Beach, but he was expecting to be in the area in August, at which time he hoped they could meet. MacKenzie and his assistant Perry Maxwell arrived in Columbus the third week in August, meeting with St.John and inspecting the proposed site. With only handful of schools bold enough to contemplate building a 9-hole or 18-hole course, St.John shared with MacKenzie that it was his desire to build two 18-hole courses – one a stern championship test, the other a shorter sportier affair. (Author’s Note: Although there are two courses, the Scarlet & Gray courses have always been referred to as a single entity — ‘the golf course’)
Following the meeting, MacKenzie sent a rough plan to his construction engineer and a letter to St. John, ‘I have sent to Mr.Wendell Miller a rough map suggesting how the two courses could be laid out and also showing the position I would advise for the placing of the clubhouse, the site is considerably south of the point we discussed. I have explained to Mr.Miller that the ravine running through your course is so admirably adapted for short holes that it would be a pity to have it near the clubhouse, as holes at the beginning or the end of a round are not suitable for short-holes. I may say in conclusion that I was very favorably impressed indeed with the land available for (the) courses and I think that the big course in particular would compare favorably with any in the middle west and indeed would in my opinion be much superior to many courses where they have in the past held the American Championship.‘ St. John was also given four references — Marion Hollins of Pasatiempo, Peter Bryce of the Valley Club of Monticeto, Roger Lapham of Cypress Point and A.H.Smith of Melrose in Philadelphia. All inquiries were replied to promptly and the recommendations were universally strong. St.John wrote to Dr.MacKenzie:
My Dear Dr.MacKenzie:-
You made a most favorable impression on everybody on the occasion of your recent visit to Columbus. I am looking foward to your meeting with us on the first occasion you are back this way at which time we will be able to have the Golf Committee together, particularly, Mr. S.N.Summer. I anticipate at that time we may be able to reach a definitive conclusion.
L.W. St. John
Director of Athletics
MacKenzie and Maxwell were back in Columbus on October 7, 1929 at which time the Athletic Board and Golf Committee was hastily called to order at 1:00 PM. MacKenzie took the floor and presented his vision for the golf course. Precisely what the Good Doctor said is not known, but immediately following his presentation, the board went into executive session and there was a motion that he be commissioned to layout the courses. Carried unanimously, Board adjourned at 2:15. Seventeen days later, on Thursday October 24, the stock market and the golf course project came crashing down.
Despite the devastating economic downturn, St.John convinced the University that it needed to get MacKenzie under contract. That contact was signed in November, at which time Ohio State paid Dr. MacKenzie his retainer of $1000 — insuring submission of detailed plans for both courses. MacKenzie, St.John and Miller met at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago on December 7th to discuss the project, although with everything at a standstill it seemed more a social event than a planning session. Following the meeting MacKenzie left for New York from where he would disembark for South America to design and build the two courses for the Jockey Club in Buenos Aires and a course for the GC of Uruguay across the bay in Montevideo. After returning to the States in the spring of 1930, MacKenzie would again be back in Columbus to study the site and begin work on a formal plan. ‘He spent a week in person on our campus making copious notes on the lay of the land. Supplied with a topographic map of the then farm land and his notes, he went back to his room and drew up plans of the course as now completed. His own remark about the terrain and design was that it would be ‘a fair test of excellent golf for the average player and a difficult problem for the professional golfer whose ambition is to play a sub-par game.” No mention of what manner of drink he may have enjoyed while designing in his room.
1930 was the year of Bobby Jones’s ‘Grand Slam’ and MacKenzie was busy following the progress of his young friend on both sides of the Atlantic — he was on hand for three of his four triumphs. It began to appear that Dr. MacKenzie might be spending too much time following Jones’s exploits, St.John had been given an informal plan for the layout during last visit, but he had yet to receive a formal plan. MacKenzie may have felt that the numerous site visits by his construction engineer Wendell Miller , who had an office in Columbus, would satisfy Ohio State. Miller was no stranger to the University. He had grown up in Sunbury just north of Columbus and was an instructor of Agriculture & Irrigation at Ohio State in the early ’20s. At that time he became a good friend of Professor George McClure, the man now in charge of preparing the tract for the eventual construction. Despite the presence of Miller, St.John was not satisfied; he wanted the formal plans. St.John then received an ill timed letter from MacKenzie’s legal representative William Boekel in June, ‘will you kindly inform us to the status of the construction work which was contemplated by this contract, in order that we may bill you for any moneys due Dr.MacKenzie.’ St.John immediately fired off a response to Boekel, ‘Dr.MacKenzie has not submitted to us formally any plans for the course. We would like to hear from Dr.MacKenzie at his convenience for we are getting to the point where the submission of plans would be desirable.’ An apologetic MacKenzie replied, explaining that he was under the impression that he had already submitted the plans for the two 18-hole courses. He also said that he had been working on the detailed plans for the greens and he hoped to have them finished in two to three weeks. He said, ‘I understood from Mr. Wendell Miller that there is no mediate hurry about the Ohio (State) University courses as you did not contemplate doing anything this year. I hope you will let me know if there is any urgency.’
St. John wrote back that no formal plans had been received. MacKenzie then immediately wired Wendell Miller and requested he send the plans to Ohio State. Unfortunately Miller sent the only plans that he had in his files, a preliminary plan for an 18-hole course that was drawn up in the early stages. By this time St. John was bewildered, what in the world happened to the plans for the 36-holes? It was reminiscent of the tale of MacKenzie and Maxwell at Crystal Downs. After apparently struggling for several days to come up with an acceptable routing at Crystal Downs, Maxwell was sent into town for further provisions. When he returned he was greeted by an inebriated and excited MacKenzie who proclaimed, ‘I’ve got it. Have a look and see what you think.’ After studying the plan, Maxwell expressed admiration and said ‘Alister it looks terrific, but the front nine only has eight holes.’ It seems St. John was saying to MacKenzie, ‘Alister it looks terrific, but it’s missing eighteen holes.’ MacKenzie again apologized for the confusion and stated he had found his tracings for both courses. He then made arrangements to be in Columbus at the end of September, following the Amateur Championship at Merion, at which time he would make a further inspection of the site. Following this forth visit, St. John still had not received the formal plans and wrote to MacKenzie inquiring on their status. MacKenzie responded on December 22, ‘ I very much regret that I have not sent the plan as promised, it has been an amazingly difficult matter to think out the arrangement of the holes to suit the change of location of the Club House, but I have now succeeded in doing so. The chief cause of the delay however has been due to the fact that my wife, who helps me in these plans has been ill for several months. She has now recovered and we hope to get the plans finished shortly after Xmas.’ True to his word the formal plans for thirty-six holes arrived on January 6, 1931.
Despite the Depression, 1931 was another very active year for MacKenzie. The first half the year he was busy with the Bayside golf course outside New York City constructed by Wendell Miller. Miller wrote St.John, inviting him to come to New York and observe the progress. Following the completion of Bayside, it was announced that Bobby Jones was to build his ideal course and his choice of a Golf Architect was none other than Dr.Alister MacKenzie. The Augusta National project would occupy much of the Good Doctor’s concentration for the next year and a half, but with the Ohio State project at least two years from getting underway, there was no conflict. Besides St.John himself was pre-occupied with the 1931 Ryder Cup which was being held at Scioto. George Sargent had been instrumental in getting Scioto’s second major event in a five years and ‘Red’ Trautman was again Chairman of the competition, with St.John returning to his roll in charge of the gallery. This was a quiet period for the golf course project, with little or no correspondence between St.John and MacKenzie.
With Augusta National completed, MacKenzie wrote St. John in January of 1933 to inquire into the progress of the Ohio State project. In the letter he promoted the economic virtues of his courses, citing that Bayside and Pasatiempo were ‘an indication of the low cost of construction and maintenance of my courses.’ And finally he dropped the name of his famous collaborator, ‘You will be interested to hear that I have just had a telegram from Bobby Jones in regard to the opening of Augusta National on Saturday last. It reads as follows ‘The opening has been a thorough success despite bad weather. Everyone likes the course wish you were here to hear all the nice things said about it, the whole crowd sends regards and appreciation to you and Mrs.MacKenzie. Best ever Bob Jones.’ The letter was an indication that the Depression was finally catching up with MacKenzie. His prospects were beginning to dry up and the lack of work was having an effect his personal economic situation, illustrated in the fact he was unable to attend the official opening of his most important design to date. 1933 was a year of little or no golf course work and MacKenzie would turn to writing in an attempt to supplement his income. He completed his book ‘The Spirit of St.Andrews’ and began to write another book devoted to another area of expertise — the art of camouflage. Late that year Dr. MacKenzie developed a heart condition and suffered an attack in January of 1934. Alister MacKenzie died on January 6, 1934 at his home in Santa Cruz, California.
The death of Dr.MacKenzie was the second major blow to the Golf Course project. The Depression had delayed the project from the start, but that was only a temporary set back. The death of the great Alister MacKenzie was much more significant, and just as the university began to contemplate the resumption of the project. On the positive side, they were in possession of MacKeznie’s master plan for both courses, and it was believed he had completed detailed drawings for the greens, although they had yet to be received. Another positive was the fact that Wendell Miller, MacKenzie’s trusted construction engineer and the man who had built Augusta National, had volunteered his services to Ohio State. The very capable Miller was confident that he would be able to carry out the plans for both courses just as the Doctor had envisioned. And his impressive resume included more than just Augusta National, he was responsible for the construction of Lakeside in California for Max Behr, Mill Road Farm in Chicago for William Flynn and a new project Southern Hills in Tulsa for Perry Maxwell, not to mention St.Charles, The Jockey Club, Bayside, St. Andrews-on-the-Hudson and Palmetto for Dr.MacKenzie.
In March of 1934 St. John wrote to Miller, ‘There are signs of life in the University golf course matter, even though it has not yet determined exactly what we will attempt to do, if anything. The death of Dr. MacKenzie leaves us somewhat up in the air. I am wondering if the Doctor did not have detailed sketches of some of our greens prepared. You, no doubt, can learn about this matter and if possible secure such drawings as may have been made of any of the greens for our course. I wish you might find it possible to stop here…. and have a conference with some of our golf course people.’ Miller wrote back that he did not have the green plans, but he would contact Mrs.MacKenzie asking her to search her files for the plans. He also went on to explain that ‘his green plans were never to be considered anything but a guide to the engineer, and were not intended to be followed in detail. Because of his instruction to us, the actual shape and contour of the greens on all the courses we built for him, were determined to a great extent by our own organization.’ He went on to say because of his training in the MacKenzie ideals, he hoped to be given the opportunity to complete the Doctors work at Ohio State. ‘I had the entire charge of the construction of the Augusta National and want to see Ohio State gets an equal or better job.’
Shortly after his inquiry of Wendell Miller, Mrs.MacKenzie’s attorney contacted St.John. The letter stated that Dr.MacKenzie had completed detailed plans for some of the holes and the plans for the remaining holes could be completed with a little extra work. They understood Ohio State was contemplating the construction of the courses and suggested ‘that H. Chandler Egan, a former partner of Dr. MacKenzie’s and who is familiar with the principles embodied in Dr.MacKenzie’s plans, be given the responsibility of finishing the uncompleted drawings and of personally supervising the construction of the courses.’ A very nice thought, but with Wendell Miller on board, Egan’s services wouldn’t be necessary.
After suffering two major setbacks, the Depression and Dr.MacKenzie’s death, St.John and the Golf Course project finally received some good news. In the summer of 1935, the Athletic Board gave the go ahead to begin construction contingent on approval of funding through the Works Progress Administration. The WPA approved the request, but because of the limited nature of the funding, the Board decided it would be prudent if it constructed 27 holes to start — the final nine holes would be built when finances improved or additional WPA funding became available. After six long years, Ohio State finally had the funds to start the Golf Course project, not to mention a large WPA labor force to carry out the work. And with Wendell Miller in charge of the construction, St.John’s dream of creating a ‘MacKenzie’ golf course was about to become a reality — that is until he would received word on August 15th that Wendell Miller was dead. Miller had been struck down by a heart attack while constructing the new Southern Hills course for Perry Maxwell, he was 39. St.John was now without MacKenzie and Miller, one step forward two steps backward.
St.John struggled ahead; his first move was to call on Professor George McClure, the man in charge of preparing the golf course site and an expert Agronomist. McClure no stranger to golf course work, had been a turf consultant at Augusta National, St. Charles and Bayside, the result of his relationship with Wendell Miller. St.John then contacted MacKenzie’s former partner Perry Maxwell, who had been involved with the project from the very beginning, (Maxwell at this time was a relative unknown, but he would go to create Prarie Dunes, Southern Hills and Old Town, and revised Augusta National, Pine Valley and the National Golf Links of America) asking if he could be in Columbus on short notice. After consulting with both men, St. John then wrote the newly appointed Chairman of the Athletic Board & Golf Course Committee — Colonel Grosvenor L. Townsend. St.John suggested that the Committee interview both men immediately, it is ‘necessary for us to have an Architect and Engineer. I favor making a deal with Perry Maxwell and … McClure… for the necessary services.’ After interviewing McClure on September 5th, the golf committee tentatively agreed he should supervise the construction. The committee requests that McClure submit a detailed description of his responsibilities and the financial terms upon which he would accept the job — McClure submitted a proposal, setting his fee at $2500. (For some reason the proposal was not accepted by the Board for over a month, it is finally accepted after the urging of Col.Townsend) The following day Maxwell arrived from Tulsa and after his interview, it was agreed he would oversee the architectural work. Maxwell returned to Oklahoma the next day with the contour maps, a copy of the MacKenzie master plan and an informal agreement to handle all design responsibilities. In less than a month, St.John had been able overcome the latest turbulence and had righted the ship, a ship that appeared to be going down. Unfortunately there was another storm on the horizon.
In the fall of 1935 Ohio State became embroiled in a controversy with newly elected Governor of Ohio, Martin L.Davey. The issue centered on Davey’s veto of more than $10,000,000 in appropriations for OSU. Newspapers mournfully predicted that among other things, the veto might result in the cancellation of the football schedule. Davey responded with a sarcastic statement that he realized football was the most important activity of the University and that is why he had placed more than half the football team on the State payroll. That set off a firestorm from coast to coast, with charges of subsidizing and professionalism. The Big Ten Commissioner Major John Griffin launched an impartial investigation into the Ohio State Athletic program. Understandably St.John needed to devote all his energies toward clearing Ohio State of these charges and temporarily yielded responsibility for the Golf Course project to the newly appointed Chairman of the Athletic Board, Colonel Townsend. (The investigation culminated 1/14/36 with an exhaustive report from Major Griffin completely clearing Ohio State of Davey’s malicious charges)
After years of obstacles, construction of the Golf Course finally began on October 28, 1935. Perry Maxwell, with McClure at his side, began staking out the greens, tees and fairways, as well as changes to the course of Turkey Run. Unfortunately early on it became apparent that the two men were not seeing eye to eye. Under normal circumstances the Architect was the man in charge, the final word on design and construction decisions, and the construction Engineer simply followed orders. But for some reason McClure acted as if he was the manager of the project and Maxwell needed to answer to him — a highly unusual arrangement and potential recipe for disaster. Within the first week, McClure voiced concerns to Colonel Townsend, the temporary authority, that Maxwell did not understand who was in charge. Colonel Townsend reassured McClure, ‘have just come from the golf course where I had an interview with Mr. Maxwell. I gave him the general set-up, telling him that you were in charge of the entire project with particular emphasis on your specialties…He said something to me about desiring to return to Oklahoma for a few days and I told him that he could go when he got a clearance from you, that we particularly wanted the detailed plans…When I finished there seemed to be no doubt in his mind but that you were the superior as far as the work on the ground was concerned and that he was to report to you in case he was in doubt about any particular situation, as under me you had the final decision in all matters pertaining but if he does not, please let me know.’ It seems McClure, who had agreed to provide his technical services, was not satisfied with the construction responsibilities and he had found a powerful ally in the inexperienced Col.Townsend, ROTC Commandant and golfing neophyte.
Maxwell remained in Columbus for two days following his meeting with Townsend, but then returned to Tulsa where he was completing his design for Southern Hills Country Club, then returning to Ohio State within a week. Despite the conflict, construction was moving along at a brisk pace, at times there were 1000 men working on site. At this time Maxwell began setting the grade stakes for the greens and the tees, much to the dismay of McClure, who was upset that he had yet to provide detailed plans for the greens. Ironically at the same time Maxwell was starting work on the greens, Ohio State lawyers had reached a tentative settlement with Mrs.MacKenzie. She had found detailed plans for seven of the greens, several miscellaneous sketches and notes for the two courses. McClure was asked to inspect the plans before the settlement would be final; he was satisfied and a check was then forwarded to the Estate of Dr.MacKenzie. Ohio State was now armed with partial set of the Good Doctors plans and hopefully Maxwell would be able to fill in the gaps with the help of Dr.MacKenzie’s master plan and notes.
After returning to Tulsa for Thanksgiving, Maxwell was back on December 2, greeted by a 3-page letter from McClure. In the letter, which was copied to Colonel Townsend, McClure recited a laundry list of complaints he had with the Golf Architect. He was unhappy that Maxwell had yet to provide the detailed plans, he didn’t agree with some of the green and tee locations, he questioned the height of some of the greens and tees, and was unhappy with the size of some of the greens and tees. It was also apparent in the letter that McClure was not comfortable making construction decisions when Maxwell was absent, a possible indication of his lack of first hand construction experience. He wrote,’Please understand that this letter is not written in a spirit of criticism. The Athletic Board has commissioned me to act as their representative in coordinating all phases of the construction work. In this capacity I must continually keep in mind the necessity of building the course at the lowest possible cost of both labor and materials. This does not mean that quality must be sacrificed, but it does mean that every man concerned with the planning of the course must cooperate with phases of the construction work other than his own particular field.’ Maxwell stayed on until December 7th and then went home for the holidays. On December 12, McClure sent a letter to John McCoy in Chicago. McCoy, a graduate of Ohio State in Agricultural Engineering, had been Wendell Miller’s gang boss and superintendent for more than ten years and had been involved at MacKenzie’s St.Charles and Bayside. McClure attempted to convince McCoy to come on board, that there was a great need for someone with his experience and expertise. He then wrote a letter to Townsend dated December 22, documenting all of Maxwell’s absences since construction began on October 28th — on the job 24 days, absent 14 days. There was no mention of the time he spent rendering plans or that comparatively speaking, Maxwell’s attendance was much greater than the typical high profile Golf Architect of that day, including MacKenzie in his prime. Strangely McClure also fails to mention his recurring complaint of not receiving detailed plans from Maxwell — a possible indication that he now had them in hand. John McCoy arrived on the scene Christmas Eve and immediately began work on the project, unfortunately McClure had not cleared his invitation with the Athletic Board and didn’t have the authority to hire anyone. By the start of 1936, Maxwell seemed to be completely out of the picture and the Athletic Board approved the hire of John McCoy as the superintendent of construction and the permanent superintendent of the course at the completion of the project. Ironically, McCoy would now take over the responsibilities of construction that McClure had originally proposed to oversee and McClure would now assume the roll that MacKenzie and Maxwell had before him.
When construction resumed in the spring of 1936, the team of McClure and McCoy did so with a complete set of green plans — the exact origin of these plans remains a mystery and may never be known definitively. But what does seem certain is that they are from the hand of a single person and that person was not Dr.MacKenzie. MacKenzie green plans were quite distinctive, having a three-dimensional quality and an artistic flair, which is absent from these drawing. These plans are for the most part very flat or two-dimensional, with elevation changes marked simply by numbers and simplistic attempts to depict mounding. MacKenzie always sketched flags to mark his hole locations, these plans have an ‘x’ marking the pin placements. It is known that MacKenzie’s detailed plans for seven greens, all on the front side and turned over during the settlement of his estate — those original illustrations have never been located. Many of the green plans for the outward nine display MacKenzie’s design flair in bunkering and green contouring. Another curious oddity is found with the plan for the eighth green. On MacKenzie’s originally master plan, he called the two courses the Red and the Blue, and when the project was renewed they were understandably changed to the school colors of Scarlet and Gray. The entire set of green plans are for the Scarlet or Gray, with the exception of the 8th green plan, it is for the Red course — although it is obviously not in his hand, it is clearly a MacKenzie design. Another common trait is the angular outline of several of the greens, very similar to other MacKenzie’s green designs over the years that have eccentric shapes and sharp angles. And finally there are examples of his extraordinary ameba-like bunkers, free-flowing creations that almost seem to be alive, unfortunately the drafter of the plans wasn’t quite able to depict them with the same artistry as Dr.MacKenzie, but few men could.
Many of the other green plans, especially on the inward nine, exhibit a Maxwellian style — simpler in shape, both in the outline of the greens and bunkers. Perry Maxwell was not artistically inclined and his green plans were somewhat plain and unsophisticated, in fact he many times would ask his daughter to lend her artistic touch to his renderings. Mr.Maxwell’s greens however are not simple in contour, and the back nine possesses the steepest grades of the set. Also several of the bunkers display islands of grass — a theme Maxwell adopted from MacKenzie and incorporated into many of his projects of this period, including Crystal Downs, Michigan and Southern Hills (for some reason these islands were never established in the finished bunkers). Maybe the most unusual scheme was the par-5 14th — a bunkerless green flanked by eleven mounds of differing heights, with several in the eight and ten feet range. The green appears to be based on the 8th at Augusta National and since McClure was involved there as a turf consultant, it could be concluded he was responsible for the design, but it seems more likely that it was Maxwell’s design — a tribute to his two dead friends. It is known Maxwell had been to Augusta prior to his Ohio State involvement and he had also worked closely with Wendell Miller, the builder of Augusta National — the two very well may have discussed the unusual nature of the hole. What also seems to point away from McClure is the fact the design was never carried out, the mounding was incorporated but it is one-half to one-third the scale of the original plan — it seems unlikely that McClure would alter his own design that drastically. There is however evidence supporting McClure’s involvement with the creation of these plans, an article that appeared from this period stated that McClure ‘was asked to begin where Dr.MacKenzie had left off and complete the detailed designs of the greens.’ In the final analysis the facts point to McClure as the actual creator of the drawings, but it seems likely that those drawings were in fact based on plans submitted by both Dr.MacKenzie and his former partner Perry Maxwell.
As construction progressed through the spring, St.John returned to the Golf Course project, but he was beginning to have doubts about the two men now in place and their ability to produce his ultimate goal– a MacKenzie course. On May 12 of 1936 St.John wrote to his old friend George Sargent, who had left Scioto at the urging of Bobby Jones and was now the professional at East Lake in Atlanta. ‘When we were starting on the University Golf course, you had a good deal to do with our selection of Dr.MacKenzie as Golf Architect. MacKenzie gave our layout careful study and supplied us with a very desirable routing for the holes. He also prepared drawings for eight greens….We desire to come as close as possible to building a typical MacKenzie course. Incidentally, I do not consider the Augusta National to be a MacKenzie course…Cypress Point Course is a wonderful expression of what I consider the MacKenzie character. We are anxious to have this University Course in its final form a MacKenzie Course. We will probably have need in the very near future for an architect to come in here and do some work with our group in the planting of greens and the trapping of greens and fairways. We would like an architect who might be sympathetic with our ideas relative to completing this course as nearly like Dr.MacKenzie might have done had he been alive. I know of no one whose judgement I value and respect as I do yours. I, therefore, am asking who might be approached on this matter.’ Sargent reply indicated he was aware of Maxwell’s past involvement, he wrote, ‘I met Maxwell at Augusta during the Masters tournament, he was pretty much a novice in the course construction game at the time your courses were laid out; am wondering if he has had the sufficient experience…..Donald Ross is undoubtedly the best man in the business, but he would want to substitute his own idea’s entirely. Let me know what you think of Maxwell, in the meantime will talk to Bob Jones to see what he knows about him or if possible he knows of anyone that could follow up MacKenzie’s work.’ Six days later another letter from Sargent, ‘Talked to Bob Jones about your situation; he gave me the names of two men that were familiar with Dr.MacKenzie’s ideas. They are Robert Trent Jones of New York and Bob Hunter Jr. of Santa Barbara….Bob thought either of these men would be quite capable of taking a set of MacKenzie plans and properly carrying out the Doctor’s ideas. Also asked Bob about Maxwell, but he was not familiar with any of his work: so do not believe it would be well to consider him.’
At same time St.John was contacting Sargent, his close friend former assistant Athletic Director and now the Commissioner of AAA Baseball ‘ Red’ Trautman, was contacting well-known golf writer and editor Herb Graffis, asking his recommendations of a Golf Architect. Graffis’s reply, ‘I think the two guys who would come closest to interpreting MacKenzie’s ideas and plans are Robert Trent Jones, New York City and Perry Maxwell of Ardmore, Oklahoma. I wouldn’t say for sure, but I am inclined to think Jones, who is a younger fellow, although extensively experienced and highly competent might stay in considerably closer adherence to MacKenzie’s plans than Maxwell, who is an older man, but a grand architect. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and though Maxwell has been considerable influenced by MacKenzie and knew him quite well, there may be some points where Maxwell would consider that the course would be much better off if the MacKenzie plans, under these circumstances, were thrown overboard here and there. I take it what you want is a MacKenzie course and you have paid for the plans. The old man was certainly a hell of a grand architect….Maxwell has done a number of grand courses. So has Jones, the Banff course among them. You can’t go wrong on either one of these birds because they are excellent, careful constructors and I think their dough requirements would be very nicely in line.’
St. John once again was faced with a decision. From the very beginning he desired a MacKenzie course and after everything he had endured, it would seem unthinkable to change course at this late date, for that reason Ross was out of the question. Maxwell received mixed reviews, recommended by Graffis, although he preferred Trent Jones and not recommended by Sargent or Bob Jones. (Bobby Jones’s lack of support was particularly ironic, the following year he would hire Maxwell to carryout several significant alterations to Augusta National) But even if St.John wanted Maxwell, it’s doubtful he would want anything to do with Ohio State — the damage had been done. Robert Hunter would have been a natural choice, he was MacKenzie’s former partner and his American Golf Course Construction Co. was made up of old MacKenzie hands from oversees, they had been responsible for the construction work at Cypress Point and Pebble Beach — two St.John’s favorites. But when the Depression struck, the independently wealthy Hunter retired from the business, moving from Pebble Beach to Santa Barbara and embarking on cruise around the world. Robert Trent Jones, who was recommended by both Graffis and Jones, was a Golf Architect on the rise. He had been very effective at promoting himself, evidenced by Graffis crediting him for the course at Banff Springs, a course actually designed by his partner Stanley Thompson. Although Jones would later brake out on his own, in 1936 he was the junior partner in the firm of Thompson and Jones. Ironically MacKenzie admired Thompson’s work, whose style was very similar to the Doctor’s — designs that featured strategic options, very bold bunkering and an artistic flair– he also enjoyed his whisky. But it would seem unlikely that Thompson, very independent thinker, would feel comfortable carryout the design of another man, even a man he greatly admired. At any rate, years later Trent Jones was surprised to learn he had been considered by Ohio State, he had never been contacted. In fact it is doubtful any of these men were ever contacted. The project was almost entirely WPA funded and every detail needed there approval, with such tight financial constrains, St.John may have concluded hiring an architect would be deemed an unnecessary luxury.
Now with McClure and McCoy firmly entrenched as the two guiding forces, the construction progressed without controversy. The two men worked well together because McCoy, although the more experienced, understood McClure was calling the shots. Years later McCoy would admit quietly that he didn’t always agree with some of McClure’s ideas. His biggest bone of contention was the size of the greens, McCoy felt they were too large, but McClure was in charge and his ideas won out. By the summer of 1937 the construction was complete, except for the establishment of the turf and McClure estimated the 27 holes would be ready for play the following Spring. The university also received news that the WPA had approved an additional grant to build a clubhouse and the final nine holes. On May 1, 1938 the Scarlet course and nine holes from the Gray opened without much fanfare, no official opening or dedication. It did receive a very positive article in Herb Graffis’s Golfdom, calling it one of the nation’s finest courses and praising St. John for his foresight and determination in seeing that MacKenzie’s plan was carried out.
After the initial opening of the course, the two men began construction of the final nine of the Gray, sadly George McClure suffered a stroke in 1939 and the final nine was built entirely by John McCoy. Those holes (3 – 5 & 10 – 15 of the Gray) incidentally feature some of the smallest and most interesting greens on either course. Two of note being the par-3 11th which features a tightly trapped L-shaped green and the driveable par-4 14th, with a heart-shaped green with false-rear between the two lobes of the heart — everything from the back middle of the green gathers down into a grassy depression. One wonders what McCoy would have produced for the first 27, had he been allowed to carry on without interference. Two years later, both eighteens were complete and the dedication took place on May 18, 1940 featuring an exhibition with Patty Berg and Chick Evans. The Scarlet, at 6850 yards, would be the longest course MacKenzie ever designed; the Gray was 6000 yards par 70. Interestingly when the courses opened there wasn’t a single fairway bunker — with limited funding it was decided fairway bunkering could wait, all emphasis was placed on the green complexes and honoring MacKenzie routing.
In the subsequent years John McCoy, now the superintendent, added the fairway bunkering under the instructions of Head Pro and Golf Coach, Robert Kepler — the fairway bunkering is probably the weakest aspect of the current design and does not exhibit any of the MacKenzie flair or strategic thought. Ironically St. John was in the hospital and unable attend the ceremony, but ‘Red’ Trautman was there to act as toastmaster, ‘The golf course is pretty much a child of the brain of the Director. This Golf Course was designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, as most of you know. Dr. MacKenzie died before construction of the course was well underway, but his ideals have been preserved and we have what we consider a MacKenzie course. Dr. MacKenzie’s greatest course is probably Cypress Point, but he has other great courses to his credit and we think this is one of them.’
From the beginning it was Lynn St.John’s dream to build a premier golf complex for the Ohio State University. When other institutions were contemplating 9 and 18-hole courses, St.John boldly proposed thirty-six holes and 36 holes designed by the world’s greatest golf architect. From that highpoint in October of 1929 when Alister MacKenzie was chosen, the Golf Course project suffered one major setback after another – the Great Depression, the untimely death of Dr.MacKenzie, the death of Wendell Miller and the unfortunate alienation of Perry Maxwell. But through it all there was a constant, St.John’s unfailing desire to see that the university build a ‘MacKenzie’ course. After every crisis, it would have been easy to go another direction or to cancel the project all together, but he persisted and the result was as close to a MacKenzie creation as was possible under the circumstances. Not only should St.John be given credit for his dogged persistence, but also he should be given credit for what he didn’t do. He could have easily hired Donald Ross or Trent Jones, and had he Ohio State may have a more polished product today, but St.John was convinced of MacKenzie genius and history agrees. Cypress Point, Augusta National, Royal Melbourne and Crystal Downs are considered among the world’s greatest courses. No other architect, living or dead, can match his impressive list of accomplishments. St.John was confident that MacKenzie would provide Ohio State with a similar world class design and after his death he showed great foresight in insisting that his plan be followed.
The greatness of the present course is its framework, a sensational routing utilizing the natural features of the site and a set of intriguing greens. In some respects McClure and McCoy involvement may have been a blessing, these two relatively anonymous men were wise to realize their limitations and showed great restraint. And thankfully over the years very little in the way of tampering has taken place. Ohio State has a great opportunity, an opportunity to complete a masterpiece that because of several unfortunate twists of fate has never been fully realized. The frame is there, all that is needed is an artist to complete the painting by introducing MacKenzie’s brilliant bunkering and strategic genius. And there has never been a better time to find qualified practitioner, but those making the decision must have the wisdom and vision of St.John, and only settle for the very best in the world. The Ohio State golf course has been in a deep freeze awaiting breakthrough, waiting for someone to complete what the good Doctor’s started. And when that work is finally carried out, St. John and Ohio State will finally have their ‘MacKenzie’ course.