Golfers who enjoy amateur golf at the highest levels need to, have to, must, tune into Golf Channel for this weekend’s Walker Cup from the historic and much-studied National Golf Links of America in Southampton, Long Island. A team of top U.S. amateurs will compete against a team from Great Britain and Ireland. The 44th Walker Cup is, as U.S. team captain Jim Holtgrieve said this week, “the greatest team competition of all time.”
Holtgrieve would know. The 65-year-old from St. Louis won the 1981 U.S. Mid-Amateur. He was a member of the winning U.S. Walker Cup teams in 1979, 1981, and 1983. Holtrieve captained the team in 2011 when the GB&I side won at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
In the middle of all that, Holtgrieve turned pro. That was in 1998. He played the Champions Tour and tied for second in a tournament the next year. But he eventually wanted to return to being an amateur. The United States Golf Association returned his amateur status in 2007. He’s an amateur through and through.
Meanwhile, the National Golf Links of America (NGLA) is in many ways the main show during this Walker Cup. The first Walker Cup was played at NGLA in 1922; this is the first time it’s returned to NGLA. Charles Blair Macdonald, the architect behind the ever-captivating course – one of my favourites in the world – had studied courses in Scotland and brought back his insights. He poured them into NGLA, where the wide fairways, massive, undulating greens, strategic options, and seemingly random bunkering make every round a deeply felt experience. The Walker Cuppers are in for an adventure – and golf should always be an adventure.
Macdonald, by the way, was born in Niagara Falls, Ont., and grew up in Chicago. Here’s the Wikipedia bio on the man who had so much to do with the flourishing of American golf. He designed the Chicago Golf Club, along with NGLA one of my favourite five U.S. courses (Pine Valley, the California Golf Club of San Francisco, and Cypress Point complete the list). He’s best known, though, for NLGA, so near to the more well known Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
It was during the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock that I first played NLGA. As I was making my way around, twisting my head every which way to absorb all I could, who did I run into but Ben Crenshaw? Crenshaw is a student of course design and an accomplished architect himself, along with his partner Bill Coore. They’re doing the second course at Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. It’s called Cabot Cliffs and it’s going to be something special. Anyway, there was Crenshaw, enjoying a round at NLGA during the week of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
“We think about that course a lot and we talk about its principles,” Crenshaw told Golf Channel’s Damon Hack this week. “Holes that are fun to play, holes that everyone can enjoy, that are spacious, really bold, and that have elasticity.”
Here’s what the late Herb Wind, the master of American golf writers, wrote in a preface to a 1985 edition of Macdonald’s seminal book Scotland’s Gift: Golf. He said it was a “stunning success,” and then elaborated.
“As the first illustration on this side of the ocean of what a real championship course had to have in shot values and overall character, it had an enormous influence on golf-minded people in all corners of the United States,” Wind wrote.
Macdonald at NGLA incorporated principles of some of the game’s sturdiest and imaginative holes: holes from various links, including an “Alps,” (Prestwick) and a “Redan” (North Berwick) and an “Eden,” (Old Course). He wrote in his book that the NLGA property was “more or less remote,” in that it was three miles from Southampton.
“When playing golf you want to be alone with nature,” he wrote.
Amen to that. And Amen to the Walker Cup, every two years, and especially this year, when it returns to its roots at the National Golf Links of America. You can watch on Golf Channel. And to get you pumped up for this Walker Cup, why don’t you have a look at this USGA video about Macdonald, the Walker Cup, and NGLA?
Ah, a weekend of pure golf. Foursomes and singles matches on both Saturday and Sunday. The Walker Cup at NGLA. I can’t wait.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein