One thing that western New York lacks is a marvelous muni. We’ve a fair number of decent municipal courses, ranging from the town/city owned 18s at Sheridan and Deerwood (27 here) and a nice 9 at Cazenovia. If we could double the acreage at Cazenovia, maximizing the up-down topography, we might come close to what Providence, Rhode Island has in Triggs Memorial.
Buffalonians who have traveled a bit eastward, have played the Mark Twain course in Elmira. It’s on a nice piece of property, along a hillside, and it beats anything we have here in terms of municipal golf. The connection to this piece is its lineage: it was designed by the great Scotsman turned American, Donald J. Ross, jr. Ross designed so many great courses in the USA, but the problem is a simple one: they are typically private. In Buffalo, the country club of Buffalo; in Rochester, Oak Hill East and West, Monroe, country club of Rochester, Irondequoit and Brook-Lea…you get the idea.
Well, Ross did design Pinehust #2, but it will cost you a few hundred dollars to play. That kinda makes it a private club, doesn’t it? So what’s a working golfer to do? Well, Providence lucked out, let me tell you. Triggs Memorial sits on a hill above city center, on a wavy piece of land, and is an absolute cornucopia of golf shots and vistas. If you head in the same direction twice consecutively, you change pars (from 4 to 5, 5 to 3, etc.) Never does the wondrous Triggs offer a sense of sameness, a sense of “I’ve played this hole before.” Can you ask for much more than that? I doubt it.
There was a trend in the 1950s and 1960s, a sad one at that, to frame golf holes with bunkers up the left and right sides. Great green bowling alleys were created, leaving little to the imagination and even less to golfing creativity. Fortunately for our generations, Pete Dye, Bill Coore, Tom Doak, and others, recognized the folly of this type of golf course architecture. They didn’t look far for inspiration; they simply looked backward. The golden-age greats like Harry Colt, Walter Travis, Alister Mackenzie, and yes, Donald Ross, utilized elements like the top-shot bunker, the cross bunker, the centerline hazard, to offer options to the golfer. Play to the left, play to the right, challenge the middle. We don’t have many of those in Buffalo-Niagara, but they do at Triggs!
The hole above is a par five on the back nine. It plays 540 yards and after a splendid drive, I was left with a decision: lay up to 110 yards or take on the bunker seen in the center of the picture. The roustabout in me never hesitate, and I bashed my 3/4 metal at the green. I ended up in the bunker, just missing a clearance of the top lip. How fun was that? Take your Audubons, your Brightons, your Elmas and Grovers, South Parks and Delawares, and imbue them with centerline hazards. The game will cease to be mundane, and will take on a corsair’s sharp edge.
Many golf course managers became enamored of high and thick fescues, and saturated their courses with those native grasses. That’s all well and good, but when the grasses take control, balls are lost and wrists are injured. Triggs has some thick fescues, but they lie well off the proper path from tee to green. Above you see the types of whispy grasses that edge the fairways, like rambunctious frosting on a cake. 1 in 10 shots that lands in the fescue might cause a problem; the other nine instances merely lead to a bit of consternation and an adjustment of swing path or angle. That’s golf, that’s traditional golf course architecture, and we should have it in western New York.
Do you know what this is? It’s a drop-shot par three. Ross loved them. If you’ve played Terry Hills in Batavia, there is a massive one there, but it’s not a Ross. The ability to locate greens before fairways are considered, that was a trademark of the fellow who came to us by way of Old Tom Morris and Dornoch, Scotland. It’s all about the finish to each hole, I’ll remind you. The getting there is important, but the finish is the key. There is a hole at Bethpage Black (A.W. Tillinghast’s 4th hole) that easily could have doglegged left off an elevated tee, down a ready-made gully repurposed from a stream, no doubt. Tilly, instead, chose a different, higher route, and the result was one of the world’s great par-five holes. Why? He measured the green site as most important, and the subsequent fairway and hazards became the equal of that putting surface.
There’s not much land left in Buffalo-Niagara, nor money to build, for that matter, to erect a superb municipal course. If the replacement for South Park ever comes to fruition, I would beg the architects to follow the Pete Dye model at Whistling Straits. You have a flat piece of land, but you can push dirt around to create a rising and tumbling topography. To heck with level, let’s add a healthy does of turbulence to at least one golf course in western New York.
In the meantime, take the drive to Providence and play Triggs Memorial. Play it two or three times. And be sure to stay for lunch. I had pulled pork, on the recommendation of three officers of the law seated adjacent, and they didn’t let me down. Great food, great golf, great Triggs.