It was my editor’s idea. “Find an old golf course,” he said, “one that’s being renovated. Hook up with the architect and see if he’ll let you hang out with him. Follow the project from beginning to end and write it up as a series.” My editor even had a name for the series: This Old Course.
I thought it was a good idea. And once I had found my run-down golf course — The University of Florida Golf Course in Gainesville, Fla. — I thought it was a great idea. It was great because in the early months of 2001, whenever I saw an ice storm bearing down on Kansas City, I booked a flight to Gainesville. “They’re tilling on Tuesday,” I’d tell the office. Or, “They’re shaping the tenth green.” Six hours later, I’d be hitting range balls under the lights in central Florida.
Anyway, my editor’s idea turned into a 16-part series that ran in Sports Illustrated Golf Plus. We had a wonderful cast of characters: architect Bobby Weed, design associate Scot Sherman, athletic director Chip Howard, men’s golf coach Buddy Alexander, project engineer Jay Brown, construction superintendent Tom Weber, course superintendent Mark Birdsell, office manager Alaina Wesserling, shaper George Ross, turf farmer Jimmy Allen, two dozen Mexican laborers, 16 eager interns, one endangered plant species (Trillium maculatum) and — hovering over the plowed-up landscape like a stern deity — the ghost of Donald Ross.
Oh, the editor’s name was — and is — Jim Herre.*
* Their photography does not appear with the SI Vault versions below, but shooters David Walberg, Greg Foster and Bill Frakes performed brilliantly. We could have — nay, should have — published a This Old Course coffee table book.
THIS OLD COURSE:
February 12, 2001 “Look Out Below!”
March 12, 2001 “What’s My Line?”
April 16, 2001 “Committee Men”
May 7, 2001 “Not Out of the Woods Yet”
June 11, 2001 “Root of all Evil”
June 25, 2001 “Sultans of Sod”
July 30, 2001 “Background Check”
August 13, 2001 “Ground Force”
August 27, 2001 “Right on Track”
October 1, 2001 “Taking a Stand”
October 8, 2001 “Damage Control”
November 12, 2001 “Turf Battle”
4 responses to “This Old Course”
John- We’re a group of 7-10 heading over to Askernish May of 2012.
We consider ourselves to be savvy veterans of golf in Scotland- many of us have been making the pilgrimage for 35 years. Some are long time members at Royal Dornoch, and have played 50+ courses in Scotland. The Machrie was our last quest in 2010, so we figure Askernish should be next.
I’m not trying to brag or indicate that we are merely ticking a new box on the list; we are sincerely interested in the experience on South Uist, in hoping it will match with our sojourns to Islay and Machrihanish.
Specifically, our intent is to fly via Flybe from Inverness, after 5 days in Dornoch and spend 3 days playing Askernish, then fly on to Glasgow. Any advise would be greatly appreciated- a hotel recommendation especially.
Not to hang myself by my own petard, but I take exception to a few of your Top 50 rankings.
Castle Stuart ahead of Royal Dornoch? I rated it as half the course at twice the price. Wonderful clubhouse, friendly staff, but not true links turf, and “Americanized” greens- similar to the problem at Kingsbarns.
New Richmond? When were you there last? 20 years ago it truly was a fine gem.Today it is a rendezvous for Packer fans on Sundays waddling up to the bar in their green and gold Zubaz and cheddar head hats. Shabby and shaggy, sadly.
Of the rest on your list, I’ve played 14, and won’t quibble too much. I would rank the 1st hole at Machrihanish as the finest opener in golf. The new Machrihanish Dunes is complete rubbish, by the way, If Jones hadn’t skipped it on a lily pad at Interlachen, that course would be on the same level as Olympia Fields. Sand Hills should be in the top 5- not only for the course but for the experience. Perfect links turf in the middle of blissfully cell phone free Nebraska.
I go on too long.
I enjoy your missives.
The Borrodale Hotel is a 5 minute drive from Askernish and would be an ideal location for your stay. I played the course several times in August 2011 and would describe it as rustic and an absolutely fantastic experience. I was also blown away (pardon the pun) by recent trips to the old course at Machrihanish and Askernish is an equally rewarding trip to make. The greens will not be what you are used to coming from a course like Dornoch but it is simply the most natural golfing experience I have had. Enjoy the walk to the 7th tee where you will find spectacular views of the beach and across to Barra, before you play as good a par 4 I have seen that winds through the dunes to a plateau green. Absolutely stunning.
John, I don’t see you very often so thought I would leave a reply.
As a PGA member I have been interested in golf course architecture from the very first time playing a round of golf. I was so pleased when I read about your interest in our fifth hole here at Hillcrest. I often start my round there at number five in order to get a jump on the crowd. I enjoy how the ridge through the middle of the fairway can throw your center cut drive either direction. I like to think old D R. saw that prehistoric hump in the ground and thought to him self ‘what a fine instrument of torture to give golfers far into the next millennium’. By the way, I hit a sterling six iron from the front of ten green, over the trees on five, to about five feet from the cup, and made the putt the last time I played it. Gosh that sounds like bragging.
Hope to see you soon out at the old course.
Head Golf Professional
Hillcrest Golf Club
My husband, Mark Birdsell, was the superintendent at UF during the renovation of the course. I have been searching, in vain, for reprints of the articles that were in Sports Illustrated Golf Plus. Sure wish you had published a coffee table book. Could you point me in the right direction?