Pocono Manor Golf Resort & Spa
Pocono Manor, PA
One thing Ross courses have that Pete Dye's and Tom Fazio's cannot have, at least not now, is decades of history. This is true even when a course is not as well preserved as the Sagamore or the Panorama. For example, Pocono Manor's East course, opened in 1919, is showing signs of neglect. There are mounds and grassy depressions along the fairways that were once sand bunkers. Several yards from the smallish greens, it's easy to spot contours that Ross intended to be part of the putting surfaces. Greens have a tendency to shrink over time due to careless mowing, and those areas are no longer in play.
I went to Pocono Manor because of its history, which I heard about from its head pro, Greg Wall. His father, Art Wall Jr., won the Masters in 1959 using his unique ten-finger grip. At the peak of his career, in the fifties and sixties, Art Wall Jr. represented Pocono Manor as a touring pro. A lot of the greats of that era played here. The course can still be seen on cable reruns of the old All-Star Golf series, featuring players like Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt and Cary Middlecoff.
Pocono Manor has eccentric holes that show how wedded Ross was to maximizing available land. He built each one, he wrote, so it "wastes none of the ground at my disposal and takes advantage of every possibility I can see."
That thinking produced some short holes here that would most likely not be built today. The third is a 194-yard blind par three, with a green in a depression twenty feet below the level of the tee. But the seventh is even odder, a seventy-seven-yard par three. The tee towers over a tiny green set behind a creek. It's like tossing a ball into a well.
"You have to hit it like it's a thirty-five-yard shot," Greg explained to me. "A lot of people swing for seventy-seven yards and wind up in the woods behind the green."
I followed his example and took half a swing with my lob wedge. The ball arced away, dropped forever, and finally landed on the putting surface with an audible splat. I made an easy two-putt par.
"I remember one time when I was a kid, Dad and Arnold Palmer played an exhibition here," Greg recalled as we walked off the green. "Palmer hit it into the creek, messed around a little and made five."
It's not often you can hit an easy lob and go two shots up on the King.
POCONO MANOR EAST: 800-233-8150, poconomanor.com. Yardage: 6,565. Par: 72. Slope: 118. Greens Fees: $30–$40.
Linville Golf Club
It's sometimes hard to identify a real Donald Ross golf course. As I worked my way south along the Trail, I found many a place that advertised itself as a Ross course, but upon investigation, it turned out that he may have only redone the bunkering on someone else's layout.
Some of Ross's real work has been destroyed over the years by green committees, resort owners and architects. There are ostensible Ross courses with "modernized" greens that feel akin to a Frank Lloyd Wright house covered in pink vinyl siding. The process of restoring a Ross course is a complicated one that calls for sensitive judgment by all involved. It helps if they are like Hugh MacRae II and Bobby Weed, the patriarch and the architect, respectively, engaged in the reclamation of Linville Golf Club.
MacRae, 80, was a toddler when Ross first arrived in Linville, a resort village in the mountains near the North Carolina–Tennessee border. A few years later, Ross came back to tinker with the course, adding a new, elevated tee to the ninth hole. MacRae remembers that second visit.
"He was dressed in tweeds and knickers and smoked a pipe. He had a nice twinkle in his eye," MacRae recalled. "He walked over the ground for a day or two, then a few weeks later you got your plan and your crew did the best they could to follow it."
The course Ross designed for Linville is a marvelous example of the way he preferred to use water. A stream called Grandmother Creek meanders through the valley in which the course lies. It touches fourteen holes but never gets close to a green. When it must be carried, the carry is short. It's in play for horrid shots, and it can grab bold shots by big hitters trying to reach a par five in two. But the average golfer can readily stay clear of it.
When Linville decided to restore the course, the club selected Weed to do the work, in phases each winter. Weed told me that for the first two years he worked at Linville (1997–'98), he didn't move so much as a shovelful of earth. Instead he played the course and talked to older members like MacRae. Weed also studied old drawings and photographs to distinguish between what Ross had intended and what time had wrought. Only then did he start making changes, removing several hundred trees, opening up the driving areas on many holes and restoring some of the strategic options Ross liked to incorporate into his holes. Weed rebuilt some tees and also added new ones, both farther back and farther up. He enlarged most of the greens, which had shrunk, re-creating their original contours.
On the third, one of Ross's great par fours, Grandmother Creek oxbows in the fairway about 150 yards from the green. This enabled Ross to design a hole that embodied his philosophy about the par four. "My aim is to lay out an alternative route on practically every hole," he wrote. "That is, the scratch player or long hitter has one way of getting home in two shots—he must place his drive accurately to do so—and the high handicapper or short hitter has another route to reach the green in three."
Originally 414 yards long, Linville's third provides precisely those alternatives. The terrain is such that a drive of 210 yards or less from the original tee left a long shot to the green from a hanging lie. It behooved the weak hitter to lay up somewhere over the oxbow and pitch on in three. But the player who could carry his drive perhaps 230 yards on the correct line was rewarded with a downhill carom and an approach from a flat hollow just short of the creek. Weed's new back tee restored those strategic alternatives, though now the hole stretches to 472 yards and the optimal tee shot might have to carry 270.
Weed and the club still faced some difficult choices. Ross's tenth, for instance, has a two-tiered green built into a mountain slope. When Ross designed it, greens were cut at about a quarter inch. Now they're cut to half that height and are much faster. A ball putted from the upper tier to a pin on the lower tier will not stay on the green. Should the green be reshaped so the slope is less severe? There are good arguments on both sides (ultimately the club elected to leave the green intact). Some might say that Ross never intended for all putts from the upper tier to roll off the lower tier. Others might say that the entire hole plays shorter than it did in the 1920s—a decent player today can reach the green with a sand wedge second—so Ross might well think that a player who can't hit the correct part of the green with a sand wedge deserves a bogey. After all, he once wrote, "A course that continually offers problems—one with fight in it, if you please—is the one that keeps the player keen for the game."
LINVILLE: Yardage: 6,952. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Greens Fee: $90. To play the course, visitors must stay at Eseeola Lodge: 800-742-6717, eseeola.com.