The Middle Ages of Pinehurst

pg. 5

Part IV – (cont’d)

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.