During the weekend of July 16-18, Springville Country Club hosted the Buffalo District Golf Association’s Individual Championships for Women, Men, and Senior Men. For those not familiar with the course that lies on the northern border of Erie and Cattaraugus counties, it is one of the area’s gems. The course opened as a nine-hole course in 1922, and was expanded to 18 holes by Glenn “Pop” Warner. In the 1990s, then-superintendent Roger Bugenhagen led a revision of the course (to be detailed later) to eliminate danger zones. The results were spectacular, and elevated the club into the upper echelon of area courses.
Springville does not extend to anywhere near the 7500 yards found on a tour course in 2020. It also does not reach 6800 yards, typically considered the figure for a high-level amateur tournament. What does it do with its 6300 yards of through the green, to remain not only relevant, but respected? The answer lies in the essence of the club. A 2016 article in the Springville Times called SCC the friendliest club in western New York. For the sake of efficiency, we’re going to wrap the term friendliest into Most Complete golf club in western New York. Here’s why:
- Driving facility for full-swing practice~check
- Putting facility for putting practice~check
- Short game facility for wedge practice~check
- Location of all three near first tee~check
Let’s move to the golf course.
- Five driving holes favor an LTR (left to right) shot, but do not restrict an RTL (right to left) trace.
- Four driving holes favor an RTL, but do not impede an LTR.
- Five driving holes are essentially straight, allowing both LTR and RTL.
- Par three holes that offer an 80-yard distance range. The course could use a 230+ yard par three.
- Par four holes that offer a120-yard distance range. The course could remove pine trees behind the ninth tee, and extend the hole to 480 yards.
- Par five holes that range from reachable to nearly unreachable. For fun, the course could eliminate the trees to the right of 18 green and near-green, as well as the ones behind the green, allowing the hole to play an extra 50 yards, to the current 19th-hole green.
It is in the putting greens that Springville finds its true magic. For a course not designed by Walter Travis, Springville has the most beguiling putting surfaces in the area. Holes like the fifth run front to back, compelling balls to find the back fringe. Others run quickly toward Zoar valley, adjacent to the Amen Corner stretch of 12 through 14. Springville even has a blind approach, rising to the skyline green at the 15th, as well as a driveable par four (but who would attempt it in competition) at 16. Actually, Springville needs a bell at the 16th green, to ring when exiting, on the off chance that someone might have some fun with the big stick.
Let’s break down what exactly happened at Springville, to bring the course to its current level of excellence. For expert opinion, we turn to … me. I competed in the 1981 or 1982 ECIC championship at Springville, and remember the old layout. I did not return for a few decades (sometime in the 2000s) and when I did, I marveled at the work that was completed. Three images above represent the old, new, and alterations layouts. We will reference the third image (alterations, with the black lines) to maneuver you back and forth ‘twixt old and new.
The first thing that the club did, was access/purchase acreage to the north. A lot of acreage! The thick black line on the alterations image shows exactly where the old course ended. At least 25% of the physical course is now contained north of that line. Having done this, the course was able to eliminate two interior holes that were, at best, Mickey-Mouse holes. The old 4th was a 90-degree dogleg right, essentially two par three holes in one. Hit it out 200 yards, hit it right 130 yards. Blocked by trees on the right if you didn’t hit the tee ball far enough, the green could be inaccessible. The 5th was even more narrow than today’s 16th (then the 6th.) When faced with a three-hole sequence like that, you could be forgiven for losing your mind. Elimination of 4 and 5 removed two weird and awkward holes from the layout.
Next came the elimination of one of the worst par five holes in western New York. The old 13th hole (originally the 4th) was a menacing affair. Required trees on the left (to save lives on the old 5th hole) demanded that tee balls trend right, precisely in the direction of a pond. If you avoided the water, you had to play a second shot uphill, toward a green tucked into a coven of trees … not the easiest thing to do. The uphill play added yardage, increasing the demand. As most know, a putting surface hidden in the shadows of tall timber does not encourage good grass, and that was the case here. In sum, bad drive, bad second, tough third, inconsistent green. Yikes!
The next hole, a par three, is still a par three. Given the opportunity to tear the old one up, the membership did so. The new one is a mid-length affair, but what is beyond, is what matters. The train trestle that spans the Zoar Valley gorge is breathtaking. Removing trees behind the green not only opened up the vista, but also increased air flow, a known good for growing grass.
What made this all so brilliant? It was done in house. Another local club opted to bring in a golf course architect from the mid-Atlantic, untutored in (or purposely contrarian to) the tenets of golden-age architecture. Said architect proceeded to destroy two good holes, replace them with three follies, all in the name of situating a practice range close to the first tee. In total contrast, Springville used its superintendent, staff, and green committee to lay out a viable, long-term plan. Countless dollars were saved, and the work was a source of pride for the entire club.
If you need further evidence, your honor, that Springville is the most complete club in western New York, here it is: upon retirement, Roger Bugenhagen was able to hand off the superintendency to his son, Mike. The heir had worked on the grounds crew for over 20 years. He knew, as director of golf Dave Thomas (himself a treasure) indicated, every pipe and every wire that made up the irrigation system at the club. When his offer of a lifetime (Nanea, Charles Schwab’s special little course in Hawaii) came along, the torched was passed to his assistant: Brian Coyne, the current superintendent.
If you have the opportunity to join a fine club, consider this one. If you have the chance to visit as a guest, do not refuse.
This site rests, your honor.