My visits to golf courses these days are architect-driven, I’m not ashamed to admit. There was a time in this country, when golf was young, that plots of spectacular land were available for golf course development. Now, it seems you either hear “They’re going to build a golf course there?” signifying “what an unconscionable decision!” Or you hear “They’re going to build a golf course THERE?” meaning “how in the heck did they get clearance to that piece of untouchable property?” I’ve walked, played and photographed enough courses like Sleepy Hollow, Shinnecock Hills, and Merion to know that the odds on Bandon Dunes or Sand Hills happening on the east coast are slim to none. There’s a reason that coastal Oregon, central Wisconsin and nowhere-in-Nebraska are the hotbeds for links golf. It’s the getting there that causes difficulty.
Our recent Adirondack tour closed a bit west of those mountains, although our hotel in Utica was called “Adirondack Gateway,” so there was a connection of sorts. We were to tour the Yahnundasis Golf Club, built in the 1920s by Walter J. Travis. If you know Buffalo-Niagara golf, you may have played Lookout Point, Cherry Hill, Orchard Park or Stafford. All four were designed by Travis, who was quite a competitive golfer before he turned to publishing and golf course construction.
Travis liked funk and quirk, but he also like to punish poor golf. It’s quite a combination, I’ll have you know. No other architect before or since combined those three elements. If they were competitive golfers, they liked to punish poor shots (played any Jack or Arnie courses?) If they were not, they found creative design a boon, but the courses most days allowed for missed shots. Travis found a way to combine the two and so I look forward to playing more of his courses (Scranton, Arundel, Hollywood, et al.) that I have yet to see.
Our time at Yahnundasis was enlightening. We imagined it would be brief, as every weather forecast called for downpours beginning 4-5 holes into our round. We set out and snuck the 18 in. By the time we were eating in the grill room, the skies had opened up and play for the day had ceased. What we learned was that the Arterial, a road built in Utica during the hey-day of the city’s military contracts had eaten into Travis’ work and that holes had been abandoned, rerouted and developed from new property. Although the course isn’t all Travis, 85% of it is, and the rest is pretty darned faithful. A difficult winter had the greens a bit longer as they recover patiently from the frost. Perhaps that’s how Walter wanted them to play. My partner spent most of the day hitting putt after putt from different points to other, different points, just to watch the ball race around the high walls like cars at Pocono Speedway.
As with many private clubs, we were fortunate to play Yahnundasis. What I suggest to you is, find a connection or make a phone call through your pro. You’ll be surprised how many private clubs have the ability to flex their guest policy when a compatriot intervenes on your behalf.