At BuffaloGolfer.Com, we like to introduce our interview subjects well. In the case of Anthony Pioppi, he does such a thorough job of presenting a nuanced, intricate self-portrait that we will stop right now. Read his words, buy his books, and enjoy your January. Without hesitation, Anthony Pioppi.

1. Tell us who you are and how you are involved in the game of golf.

I’m a freelance golf writer, historian and archeologist living in Middletown, Conn. I’m also a Senior Writer for Superintendent magazine.

I caddie on weekends at Hartford Golf Club and I’m the executive director of the Seth Raynor Society.

For 12 years I was a daily newspaper reporter, the first nine as a sportswriter, and the last three as a police reporter.

I burned out and quit writing, ended up working on a golf course in Tallahassee, Fla., mowing grass, at the suggestion of two childhood friends who were down there, Ricky and Mike Courtemanche. At that point, I didn’t know the difference between a bed knife and a seedbed, but learned to like the job a lot. After about nine months, came back to Connecticut and worked on a few courses up here for over a year. I met Brad Klein, Golfweek architecture writer, who was editor of the now-defunct Superintendent News and he asked me to write a one-off column. That turned into a regular freelance gig and a few months later hired me for fulltime. From there I went to work for Golfdom and then to Superintendent magazine where I am now, as a freelancer.

2. You authored a book on one of our favorite subjects, the nine-hole golf course. Tell us a bit of your interest in shining a light on 9-holers.

I wanted to write a book and my first thought was, “hey, what about one that trumpets all the best 8-hole golf courses out there?” but that didn’t work. Neither did the idea to write one on 7-hole golf courses. At that point I thought of giving up but then my good friend golf course architect Brian Silva suggested I write one on 9-hole layouts, and the rest is history He’s a smart guy—really short and nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is—but smart and a wonderful designer.

I grew up in Central Massachusetts and there were 9-hole golf courses all around me, private and public. It’s what we played.

Cohasse Country Club, a 1918 Donald Ross 9, is in my hometown of Southbridge, Mass. It’s the first course I ever set foot on. When I was a tiny boy, my grandmother brought my brother and I there while babysitting us.

I never thought of 9-holers as half a golf course or not a real golf course. It was a golf course. Every great course designer of the Golden Age of Architecture designed 9-hole layouts. My goal was to show golfers they need to look at nine-hole layouts and not past them.

3. How did you begin golfing? What kept you playing the game?

My recollection is that my Aunt Josie and Uncle Pop, neither who played golf, had an 8-iron and some golf balls that he found in their little coop. I would go out in their yard and hit balls to the base of a small tree. I was probably seven or eight.

Then at some point my older cousin took to play my first real round. It was at this very quirky, cool 9-hole layout called Woodstock (Conn.) Golf Course that dates to 1896. First hole is 170 yards and the second is 270 that plays around a natural hillock, so the straight line to the green is about 240 yards. We went there in the mid 1970s and the place still had little dirt tee boxes.

When I was about 30, I was ready to give up golf because I wasn’t getting any better. I was scoring in the high 90s. I decided, though, to take lessons and work at my game. The better I became the more I enjoyed it.

4. Another book of yours is Haunted Golf. Assuming the premise is not about the yips, can you tell us about it and how you were compelled to write it?

I was approached by the publisher, Globe Pequot Press, which has since been bought out by Rowman & Littlefield, about writing the book. Rowman & Littlefield is the publisher that brought back To the Nines, for its second edition.

Haunted Golf was part of a series that includes titles like Haunted Texas, and Haunted Pets. I’m afraid to read that one.

I needed some help with this so I enlisted my friend Chris Gonsalves and we dug around for ghost stories that had a connection to golfers or golf courses. The work must have affected Chris deeply. He went on to write Haunted Love. It’s a fun read.

The Haunted Golf project was a hoot. I’ve had some great feedback on it. One chapter scared the bejesus out of a friend’s daughter so bad that the kid spent the night sleeping between her parents. I consider that story one of the high-water marks of my writing career.

5. What do you look for, personally, in a golf course? Are there positives that draw you to them and negatives that keep you away?

At their most basic, all great golf courses contain two traits, options and angles. OK, let me ramble for a bit. Options means there is more than one way to play a hole, not just for the good players, but also for all skill levels.

For instance, on a par-4, the crack golfer might be tempted to take it over a bunker on the tee ball, which opens up the green on the second shot, while a golfer with less length can play around the bunker but have to carry a hazard at the green to get on in regulation. The third option is that someone can play around the first bunker, play around the second bunker and have to chip and putt to make a par.

Angles are found on the greatest courses, from National Golf Links of America to Pete Dye Golf Club. Instead of just playing straight away, the most talented golfer is revealed. The person who can move it left and right will have the opportunity to score the lowest.

I don’t just mean angles such as a dogleg, but say hitting a drive to the left of the fairway, which means challenging a stream, and then playing back to the right to get a kick off a slope that bring the ball onto the putting surface.

NGLA, to me, is one of if not the best example of that. The fairways are huge, as they were originally on most Charles Blair Macdonald designs, (as well as the layouts of his acolytes, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks), but there are preferred routes that give the greatest reward if negotiated.

Augusta National was designed that way but the tree planting and growing of rough has reduced the options greatly.

The finest links courses also have alternate routes for differing wind conditions.

What drives me away are courses with no strategy. Tell me a place has “narrow tree-lined fairways” or “everything is right in front of you” and I’ll go do something else. I find places like that maddening and not at all enjoyable. When I’m on courses that have bunker left, bunker right off the tee, bunker left mound right or vice versa at the green and also frequently have a bunker in front of the putting surfaces, which invariable tilts back to front there is a distinct possibility of me popping a vein before the turn.

6. You wrote a history of the Minikahda Club in Minnesota. How does research and execution for a club history differ from other golf books?

A lot of research work went into Minikahda because it has such a rich history and is one of the great forgotten courses in the U.S. It hosted the 1915 U.S. Open won by Chick Evans, Bobby Jones won the 1927 U.S. Am there, the place also had a Walker Cup, a Curtis Cup and a U.S. Women’s Am. They have the U.S. Senior Am this year.

I approached that book and all the club histories I research and write (I’m just finishing up Shoreacres) as a historian would approach writing about the Gilded Age or biographer would approach writing about Knut Hamsun. I want to dig up as many facts as I can because they invariably tell a great story. Plus, if you go deep enough, you’ll invariably find information that has been all but forgotten.

If I infer a point, it’s because I have facts to back it up. I don’t ever want to reach. I want to carve into stone what is true and exorcise wives’ tales and club legends, while making it an entertaining read.

To the Nines had a lot of research in it. I wanted to make sure the stories I told about the courses were accurate. One chapter is about Highland Links on Cape Cod. The story was that Donald Ross loved the 9th green so much (two-tier with the right side higher than the left) that it influenced his work. Great story, right? One problem, I discovered the green was built a couple of years after Ross died. I’m guessing it had no bearing on his work, but I could be wrong.

The book, The Evangelist of Golf, a biography of Charles Blair Macdonald, states that Seth Raynor had a son. No he didn’t, I checked. Raynor had no children. Raynor’s grandniece told me that.

Haunted Golf didn’t require that much diligence but Chris and I made sure when facts were involved we took every step we could to make sure they were correct.

7. Have you done much tournament golf reporting? How would your approach differ from when you focus on the golf course?

I live about 7 miles from TPC River Highlands, which hosts the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship and was a sports writer for the Middletown Press newspaper. I covered the tournament from 1989 to 1996 or so. I still get credentials every year and do some writing for my blog on it.
My approach was much the same as all my writing. You want the facts to tell the story, but do it in a compelling way. With tournament golf, or any story that involves live people, quotes from the really add to the narrative. The problem is that not every player is great quote and not every situation warrants great quotes.

I’ve never had a golf course talk to me yet. I’ve talked to a lot of them, but there has never been a response. For the most part, though, I’d still rather write about a golf course than a PGA Tour player. Come to think of it, I’d rather write about a golf course than interview almost any professional athlete, with the exception of hockey players. I covered the Hartford Whalers when I was at the Middletown Press. That was fun.

8. What’s the state of your golf game these days?

I’m about a 9 handicap and getting better. Don’t play that much because I’m carrying other people’s golf bags on weekends. Last two years I’ve been taking lessons from some very talented PGA pros who are friends and trying to break some bad habits. (E.J. Altobello at Tekoa Country Club, in Westfield, Mass. He’s one of the last pro-superintendents left. Dave Steffan and Richard Bray at Hartford (Conn.) Golf Club. Richard is Welsh and we hold that against him as often as possible.)

I have the worst alignment if I don’t pay attention and I’ve been taking the club way too far inside for who knows how long. Towards the end of 2016, it started to click and I put up some good scores. I was a six handicap once and would like to get back there.

Also, my girlfriend who took up golf last year, said I need to pick up my on-course swearing game. Apparently my vocabulary is fine but my delivery is lacking, so I’ll working on that. It’s good to have goals.

9. What question has not been asked, that you wish we had? Ask it and answer it, please.

I wish you had asked how it feels to win $426 million in the lottery but since I don’t know it’s probably good that you didn’t.

You could ask me what I’m working on now and the answer would be a book tentatively titled The Finest Nines: North America’s Best 9-Hole Golf Courses, as well as the 25th anniversary book for Willowbend Country Club on Cape Cod. It was founded by Paul Fireman, the guy who started Reebok.

I’m writing Finest Nines for Skyhorse Publishing and I believe the release date is around Christmas of this year.

I’ve narrowed the list down to 25 courses using my own knowledge as well as tapping into the brainpower of writers, golf nuts and architects whose opinions I value.

I don’t want to give away the ending but I will tell you The Dunes, Mike Keiser’s golf course in Michigan, is not no. 1.