Old Town Club, North Carolina, United States of America

Fourteenth hole, 340/315 yards; This is the gorgeous little sister with whom everyone falls in love. Maxwell perfectly benched a sliver of a green into the hillside, creating a teaser where generations of golfers have struggled. A skilled fade off the tee allows the golfer to look down the length of the green and approach from green level. Much more fairway exists left but that relegates the player to the lower ground and a disadvantaged angle. This drive and pitch with timeless qualities ranks as Maxwell’s best sub-350 yarder that the author has seen.

From the right side, this pleasant view encourages bold thoughts of a pitch and putt birdie.

From the right side, this pleasant view encourages bold thoughts of a pitch and putt birdie. Take note of the rear bunkers however. Coore and Axland wanted the golfer to see ‘alligator eyes’ emerging from behind the green. Voila!

From the left, the golfer needs to make sure his ball reaches well onto the putting surface as otherwise...

From the left, the golfer needs to make sure his ball reaches well onto the putting surface as otherwise…

... it can roll a full thirty yards away as happened to this dejected soul.

… it can roll a full thirty yards away as happened to this dejected soul.

The fourteenth green narrows in the back yet has a false front – what’s a golfer to do?!

Fifteenth hole, 250/190 yards; Most people prefer downhill par threes. To say that a weakness of the course is that the first three par threes all play downhill is to sound like a grumpy old man. True, the author likes uphill par threes and so did Maxwell based on holes like the tenth at Prairie Dunes and the eighth at Southern Hills. There are none like that at Old Town but to compensate Maxwell created this very long one shotter where he exploited the creek on the left to great effect.
Also, it is worth noting that each par 3 at Old Town faces a different direction, and each builds in distance.

Golden Age architects were the masters of the give and take. After the short fourteenth, Maxwell comes back hard at the golfer with this daunting one shotter. A draw is a very handy shot to possess as it can find Maxwell's opening on the right and bounce well into the green.

Golden Age architects were the masters of the give and take. After the short fourteenth, Maxwell comes back hard at the golfer with this daunting one shotter. A draw is a handy shot to possess as it can find Maxwell’s opening on the right and bounce well into the green.

Sixteenth hole, 365/360 yards; Maxwell’s imaginative routing ‘discovered’ this distinctive hole. When faced with the abrupt shoulder of a hill, what did he do? He placed the fairway on the highest ground, requiring the golfer to climb this massive landform.  Thankfully, the hole’s length makes it manageable and the approach to the perched green is quite attractive. Befitting this length hole, the green has two distinctive Maxwell rolls that place a premium on finding the proper portion given that day’s hole location.

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The view from the sixteenth can be disconcerting. The restored short bunker isn’t in play but it breaks up the view nicely.

With natural green sites like this, Maxwell didn't have to create extraneous features for the hole to become an enduring challenge.

With natural green sites like this, Maxwell didn’t have to create extraneous features for the hole to become an enduring challenge.

Seventeenth hole, 630/555 yards; Some of the author’s favorite par fives in the world – the sixth at Pebble Beach, the eighteenth at Yale, the second and thirteenth at Cabot Links – possess a ridge that must be scaled with the second shot. Do so, and a birdie may be at hand. Fail and the odds of even par are stacked against you. This hole joins that distinguished list.

This long view taken in the fall by Dunlop White shows the large bunker complex left that must be avoided off the tee and the central hazard ahead that one must pass with the second.

This long view taken in the fall by Dunlop White shows the large bunker complex left that must be avoided off the tee and the central hazard ahead that one must pass with the second.

 

Bill Coore's fascinating diagram highlights the multi-option nature of the seventeenth.

Bill Coore’s fascinating diagram highlights the multi-option nature of the seventeenth.

Some long three shotters end with a relatively tame green - not here!

Eighteenth hole, 445/370 yards;  Silas Creek along the seventeenth is the lowest point of the second nine and the uphill Home hole returns the golfer to the well positioned clubhouse high on the hill. The drive is into the crest of the hill but the ascent is more gradual and less daunting than at the ninth. Only the longest, best placed tee balls will afford the golfer a view of the putting surface. Most of us just see the top of the flag fluttering which is problematic as Maxwell saves some of his finest interior contours for the Home green.

The ninth and eighteenth holes share a common teeing ground. Rather than clutter up the area with a bunch of closely placed tee markers, the inspired decision was to use only one set and have them broadly placed. It works wonderfully well at a private club like Old Town where the number of full rounds is less than 15,000 per year.

The ninth and eighteenth holes share a common teeing ground. Rather than clutter up the area with a bunch of closely placed tee markers, the inspired decision was to use only one set and have them broadly placed. It works wonderfully well at a private club like Old Town where the number of full rounds is less than 15,000 per year.

The red brick clubhouse is the design of noted New York architect Aymar Embury II and serves the club well. Harold Macklin was the Associate Architect and his institutional work transformed downtown Winston-Salem before he passed away here in 1964.

Note the distinctive double greenside bunkering at the right front of the eighteenth green. The golfer's ball is at the apogee of its arc and dropped softly beside the hole.

Note the distinctive double greenside bunkering at the right front of the eighteenth green. The golfer’s ball is at the apogee of its arc and dropped softly beside the hole.

Though golf courses come in all shapes and sizes, their ultimate quality is dependent on the adherence to a few basic tenets. One is routing: how well does the architect incorporate the site’s features into the playing characteristics of the holes? The more abundant the natural features, the more distinctive the course will be if smartly employed by the architect. Another primary factor is the design details, namely the placement and construction of hazards as well as the variety found in the green complexes. Added to these two cornerstones of design are such things as general setting/surrounds and the variety of shots required. The evaluation of these variables is a good way to gauge a golf course.

The thing about Old Town is that it now scores uniformly high across the board in all meaningful categories. The course and its presentation have little weakness but in what amounts to a methodical and relentless march toward perfection additional refinements are on-going under the watchful eye of Dunlop White and Coore & Crenshaw. New vistas are being exposed across the interior of the property, fairways refined and more Bermuda rough eradicated.

The results are dramatic and the result of a thoughtful, measured process. The club properly placed its faith in a dedicated and knowledgeable golf chairman who hired the right people. After countless site visits and armed with historical data Coore & Crenshaw created a strategy and process to restore the features of Maxwell’s original bold ideas. The extraordinary results here and elsewhere are the product of a well-constructed vision shared by a respected club leader + the right architect + an engaged greenskeeper.  This is the template for the most successful transformations that this country has seen, including here at Old Town, California Golf Club of San Francisco, Sleepy Hollow, Los Angeles Country Club and St George’s on Long Island. No miracles occurred at any of these places: just good, smart work and it’s a pity so many other clubs move in small, half measures.

Coore, in his usual way, strikes a deferential tone when speaking of his hero, Maxwell. He says ‘I can only hope we did work that Maxwell would be proud of.’  I’ll tell you this – there can be no doubt.

The End