Of the many new golf courses which have just gone through their first complete season of play, there are two exceptional ones we should be hearing a great deal about in the years to come: Old Warson, situated on the outskirts of St. Louis, and the new 18 undertaken in Jericho, L.I. by the Meadow Brook Club to replace their old stamping grounds which New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses requisitioned for one of his endless parkway extensions. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Old Warson but from all reports it is the best course designed by that peripatetic rearranger of the earth's surface, Robert Trent Jones, since he did Peachtree in Atlanta shortly after the war. The new Meadow Brook, designed by Dick Wilson, lies within a more neighborly distance, and I have had a chance to look it over three times. To my tastes, it is the finest golf course that has been built in this country since Bob Jones and Dr. Alister Mackenzie produced the Augusta National back in 1931. While the course is still much too young for the turf to have taken on body and for the whole 18 to have taken on a final aspect, Meadow Brook has struck me from my first visit on as a "born classic" destined to be mentioned in the same exalted breath with Muirfield, Hoylake, Pinehurst No. 2, Pine Valley and the other acknowledged touchstones of architectural greatness.
TOUR IN THE RAIN
The first trip I made to Meadow Brook was on a chill, rainy, windy, thoroughly medieval Sunday last December. My companion and guide was George Heron. George is a Scot whose hair should have been white a long time ago but is still the color of marmalade, and he is altogether a walking advertisement of how the outdoor life keeps a man young and foolish. The son of an Aberdeen professional who laid out the famous course at Cruden Bay, George was imported from the Stoke Poges club in 1922 to become the professional at the old Meadow Brook. He was the selection of Capt. H.C.C. Tibbett, then the club's manager, an Englishman who met up in the trenches of France during World War I with that old Meadow Brooker, the late Devereux Milburn, and soon after the war accepted Milburn's invitation to come over and run the club. (In the event, you haven't made the connection before this, this is the same Meadow Brook, to be sure, which the exploits of Milburn, Tommy Hitchcock and others made the capital of American polo.) Anyway, old George Heron has been at Meadow Brook for 33 seasons now, the first 32 as pro, this last one as superintendent of the new course, with Shelley Mayfield succeeding to his old job.
The new course is the apple of George's eye. As we pushed over it that unlikely December afternoon with our teeth chattering Morse code, George would poke me in the ribs from time to time, point proudly ahead to a stretch of tundra and yell above the wail of the wind some remark on the order of "Di' ya iver see a bonnier two-shotter?" Well, he wasn't far off, and that is the reason why I recount our little un-constitutional. From the second tee on—there is nothing at all wrong with the first hole but my umbrel a hadn't yet blown inside out and I wasn't quite in the spirit of things-Meadow Brook, despite the weather, still made itself felt, hole after hole, as a course of exceptional golf beauty and character. When we had finished the round, I found that I could visualize each of the 18 holes as distinct personalities. This has always seemed to me a dependable criterion for judging the quality of a course—the number of individual holes you can remember—and I would like to recommend another yardstick of a different type. If the greens, the bunkering and the fairway contours appear to have been built by nature and not by bulldozers, the designer has created a successful course. When we walked Meadow Brook only three months after the fairways had been seeded, it looked as if it had been in business for 50 years.
The second time I saw the course, a fine day last July, I made the mistake of playing it. As a result, while I can vouch for the integrity of the rough, I learned nothing about the golf values of the shots one gets from the fairways. I remedied this the next trip by going out with Heron, an accurate medium-length hitter, and Mayfield, an accurate long-hitter. For players of both categories, the course is loaded with wonderful golf shots—tee shots on which a player must decide with care whether to play safely or gamble on carrying traps that beset the more direct line to the green; a fine variety of approaches to exceedingly large and irregularly shaped greens with sharp, Scottish-type traps frequently nipped in to the very edge of the putting surface. The routing of the holes has a nice change of pace. The first nine has a definite British complexion to it, the fairways tumbling like dune land, the trapping reminiscent of Muirfield. On the second nine, you move into a semi-coastal American-type stretch, the greens somewhat more plateaued, the fairways shut-in a shade more consciously by the lovely woods of oak, dogwood, evergreen and birch. From the back tees the course rambles some 7,101 yards, and the par is a very stiff 35-36-71.
As you can deduce from the drawings of the 8th and 17th holes, you must think strategically every shot of the way at Meadow Brook. These holes were selected for illustration simply because they are a strong par five and a strong par four, but it shouldn't be inferred that they tower in difficulty or design over the other holes. For a golfer of championship caliber, like Mayfield, the course does have one comparatively weak sister, the 14th, a 480-yard par five which dog-legs slightly to the left and then runs uphill to the green. The day we played, Mayfield drove to the corner of the dog-leg and got home comfortably in two with a one-iron. (As a matter of fact, he put that shot eight feet from the can.) The correction, as everyone at the club is well aware, is easy enough. For a championship competition, the markers on the 14th would be pushed a bit forward and the hole would play as a par four, and a very rugged one. In this general connection, all of us who have seen Meadow Brook are extremely hopeful that the members will step right up and offer their course to the USGA as a site for a future National Open. It's been a long time, incidentally, since the club last was host to a national championship. That was back in 1895 when a Mrs. Brown carried off the first United States Women's title with a sparkling 132 for 18 holes. She was sinking those pesky 6-footers that day, and you know how they cut your score down.
The major credit for Meadow Brook belongs, of course, to Dick Wilson, the architect. A middle-aged Philadelphian with a genial, direct manner, Wilson, as golf architects go, is neither as rapid as some nor as slow as others, but he certainly didn't dally much on the Meadow Brook job. It took him only a week to select the site, though he inspected 20 different site possibilities. This settled in October 1953, he then spent the incredibly short time of six weeks working out his plan for the course. In April 1954, the dirt movers, Troup Brothers of Miami, came in with their machines and cleared the fairways, prepared the traps and did the rough shaping of the greens and tees and fairways. The piping and the tiling for irrigation and drainage went in that summer, and grass was sown the first week in September—seaside bent for the greens, a mixture of Astoria bent and Chewings fescue for the fairways. The course rode out the winter well and was officially opened for play last June the 4th.
A SKILLFUL ARCHITECT
A word more about Wilson. Dick has been one of our most skillful architects for quite a number of years now. Until 1946 he was associated with the old Philadelphia firm of Toomey & Flynn and in this capacity worked on such projects as the Cleveland Country Club, the two courses at Boca Raton, Indian Creek, the new nine at The Country Club in Brookline, Spring Mill, Shinnecock Hills and Springdale (outside of Princeton). Since going into business for himself, he has been responsible for such superb courses as the West Palm Beach Country Club, Hidden Valley in Roanoke, Va. and the two 18s for the National Cash Register Co. in Dayton, Ohio; and he is currently preparing a very interesting group which includes the Villa Real layout near Havana and an unusual course for Deepdale on Long Island. Knowing Dick Wilson, each of these projects and whatever assignments he undertakes in the future are bound to possess sound golfing merit and considerable flavor, but something tells me that whatever the excellence of these other opera, Meadow Brook will be regarded as his masterpiece.