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Glory Days: Past PGA Championship Courses Steeped in History

By: Jay Flemma


Trying to find somebody to beat Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship is like trying to locate a virgin in a maternity ward. Woods is going hazelnuts at Hazeltine, carding a 5-under-par 67 to take the first-round lead (with many players still on the course at this writing). Maybe one of these days the powers-that-be will learn that length is no defense to scoring in a major championship, while multiple strategic options are.

Let's take a look at some courses that held the PGA Championship in the past and hear what golf design experts and fans think about them.

Siwanoy G.C., 1916, Bronxville, N.Y. - Jim Barnes won 1-up over Jock Hutchinson, (who makes the all-name winners' team with Olin Dutra, Paul Runyan, Johnny Revolta, Chick Harbert and Vic "Gozer the Gozarian" Ghezzy). Barnes won $500 and a diamond medal.

From Kelly Elbin, Director of Communications for the PGA of America: "There is no question that historically Siwanoy [pronounced 'SIGH-wa-noy'] is an indelible part of the PGA of America's history. We were founded in New York City, and it made sense that a greater metropolitan New York City club would host the first PGA Championship. Moreover, the tournament was won by Jim Barnes, a well-known player and long hitter, who then won again at Engineers Club in Roslyn, New York, in 1919, another great classic club."

Inwood G.C., 1921, Far Rockaway, N.Y. - Walter Hagen beat Barnes 3 & 2. After a great Tom Doak restoration, the course now resembles the layout where Bobby Jones won his first U.S. Open in 1923. Doak's work is on a par with the renovation and restoration of Atlantic City Country Club.

Baltimore C.C. (East Course at Five Farms) - Lutherville, Md. - In 1928, Leo Diegel of Tijuana, Mexico, snapped Walter Hagen's 22-consecutive-match winning streak. Hagen had also won the last four PGAs in a row.

From member, Jim Franklin: "It has one of Tillie's favorite holes ever, the par-5 6th, called the 'Barn Hole.' It's his tribute to the Road Hole, but bends left not right. The course is well-balanced with long and short holes, and a close number of holes moving left and right. The routing is terrific."

Twin Hills C.C. - Oklahoma City, Okla. - In 1935, Johnny Revolta beat Tommy Armour to win the Wanamaker Trophy.

From Chris Clouser, biographer of Perry Maxwell: "Twin Hills is one of Maxwell's best early designs. They haven't made any changes to the routing, but most of the original Maxwell work remains. The greens are pretty flat and old-style, but the terrain is remarkably varied and he routes into the teeth of the hardest, most severe natural features with lots of perpendicular hazards. It also has his early clamshell-shaped bunkering."

Cherry Hills, 1941, Denver - Ghezzy beat Byron Nelson on this charming Denver layout, which has also held U.S. Opens and U.S. Women's Opens.

From Tom Doak, who did a recent renovation: "The course plays short but tricky because of the altitude and because it's windy there. There are only a couple natural features - two hillsides and a creek - but they are in play on about 15 of the 18 holes, so the routing is really good. There is quite a bit of William Flynn; only three greens were changed and we just tried to bring them back to the way they were before, but most of the course is untouched, just a lot greener than it used to be."

Plum Hollow C.C., 1947, Southfield, Mich. - Australian Jim Ferrier defeated Chick "I'm-not-the-caddies'-scholarship-guy" Harbert 2 & 1. After losing in the final again in 1952 to Jim Turnesa, Harbert finally broke through with a win in 1954 at Keller G.C. in St. Paul.

From Chuck Brown, golf architecture expert and former member of Detroit's Birmingham C.C.: "Their invitational is the high point of the year for them. It has a mid-level membership socially. It's chock-a-block with manufacturer reps of the auto industry. Colt/Alison is listed as the designer; it's maybe more Alison. It also held the Western Open in the '50s. It's a hilly, tree-lined layout built across a tributary of the Rouge River."

Minneapolis C.C., 1959, St. Louis Park, Minn. - Bob Rosburg, the great TV commentator who died in June, beat Jerry Barber and star-crossed Doug Sanders in only the second PGA Championship contested in a stroke-play format (Dow Finsterwald won the previous year after losing in the last match-play PGA Championship in 1957).

From Bill Hall, member of the Minikahda Club: "Minneapolis C.C. is another good area Ross course, a city course with excellent greens. Two claims to fame are a 360-yard drive on the long dog-leg left 7th hole by Phil Mickelson in Tom Lehman's tournament, and Jack Nicklaus's complaint that 'there are too many trees.' "

Aronimink, 1962, Newtown Square, Pa. - Gary Player held off Bob Goalby at the future site of Tiger Woods's AT&T National Tournament.

From Tom Paul, golf-architecture expert: "Donald Ross built this wonderful old Philadelphia club. Interestingly, Ross said at the club's opening day: 'Not until today did I realize how well I built courses,' which is an odd remark. It has excellent greens that are still almost intact. They are towards the end of Ross's career, it's a par-70, and it's really long and hard, but lacks a little variety. There aren't really any good short holes. It's a big, brassy, long, tough championship course with great greens."

Pebble Beach, 1977, Monterey, Calif. Surprise! Yes, Pebble has hosted a PGA, which Lanny Wadkins won in 1977.

From Jon Kulok, golf-architecture expert: "It's Pebble! The cliff-side holes are great, but don't underestimate the holes cut through the Del Monte Forest."

Oak Hill, 1980, 2003, Rochester, N.Y. - Jack Nicklaus, meet Shaun Micheel. That's sort of like "Payne Stewart, meet Michael Campbell" (in the U.S. Open).

From John Blain, member: "Basically the East course at Oak Hill CC has 14 Donald Ross holes and four holes that were blown up and redesigned by George and Tom Fazio in 1979. In 1974, the USGA came to Oak Hill and told the powers-that-be that if they wanted another major championship the club would need to toughen up the golf course. The Fazios blew up the par-4 fifth, par-3 sixth, par-3 15th, and par-4 18th. Although the course is now a mismatch of architecture, the club was awarded the 1980 PGA Championship."

Riviera C.C., 1983, 1995, Pacific Palisades, Calif. - Hal Sutton held off a hard-charging Nicklaus on Sunday, and Steve Elkington denied Colin Montgomerie in a playoff, in these two PGAs. "Elk" shot 64 and looked to be the winner before Monty closed with a 65. At the time, they each broke the 72-hole record for a major, 267. It has since been broken by David Toms at the 2001 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, whose 15-under 265 beat Phil Mickelson. Talk about star-crossed, back then Phil couldn't even break the 72-hole scoring record and win. Lefty finally got his hands on the 30-inch-high, 27-inch-across, Walter Hagen "misplaced" Wanamaker Trophy in 2005 at Baltusrol by beating Elkington and Thomas Bjorn by one and Tiger by two.

For those of you scoring at home, New York and Ohio have hosted the most PGA Championships with 11 each, though Ohio hasn't held one since Inverness in 1993. Pennsylvania is next with nine, while Illinois and Oklahoma have each held six.



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.