Simplify, simplify.  That is definitely the motto of Ironwood.  The Buffalo-area public course comes off as very fresh in an era of overdone, upscale public courses.  Sure, it is too “bare-bones” for the typical golf course freak.  However, you have to respect that Scott Witter built a golf course that is easy to maintain and a hell of a lot of fun to play.  THIS is what minimalism is supposed to be.  Minimalism is not frilly-edged bunkers.  Minimalism is not a marketing slogan.  Minimalism is a golf course that follows the lay of the land, relies on a low construction budget, and allows for a low maintenance budget.  It is an ideal model for a cheap public golf course.  The golf world needs, but definitely is not getting, courses like Ironwood.

Ironwood, in the farmlands southeast of Buffalo, does not make it into the pantheon of the world’s great golf courses, or even a list of Upstate New York’s best layouts.  Of course, that’s kind of the point.  Ironwood is meant to be understated and reserved to reduce cost and increase the fun factor.  With limited bunkering, as well as limited irrigation, the golfer gets to hit all sorts of running shots into and around the greens.  He will play out of all sorts of lies.  He will drive the green on a couple of par fours.  However, the course will also confound even the best of players, and you’ll probably walk away with a higher score than you would expect.  What’s most amazing is that Witter needed to do so little to produce so much character.  This “less is more” motto is something that more architects and developers should follow, especially in the dire straits of today’s economy.

Despite Ironwood’s lack of greatness, it reminded me of minimalist features I had seen in other courses that I do consider among the game’s best.  Ironwood’s firm and fast, rough-around-the-edges maintenances brought me back to Yeamans Hall in Charleston, South Carolina.  The lack of irrigation hearkened to the Addington, J.F. Abercromby’s London-area masterpiece that, also like Ironwood, makes sparing use of bunkers.  Finally, it recalls Willie Park, Jr.’s Huntercombe, in Oxfordshire, England, which use 13 bunkers (Ironwood uses just 16) but maintains tremendous interest due to a variety of ground contours and clever greens.  All of these courses share common threads of simplicity and timeless appeal.  Ironwood might not world class, but it is simple and timeless enough to keep you coming back.

So why don’t more courses have the variety, simplicity, and fun of Ironwood?  Many organizations seem to suffer from misperception about consumer preferences.  Developers and owners might believe golfers want glitz and glamour, yet Ironwood is a popular venue for league and outing play.  Some think a course needs to be a novelty to survive, yet Ironwood presses on during hard economic times while other public layouts collapse around it.  If architects and owners wish to build feasible public layouts, and the golf industry wants to regain strength, the powers that be should make the pilgrimage to the Huntercombes, Addingtons, Yeamans Halls, and Broras of the world.  There, they will find courses that are quick to play, cheap to build, easy to maintain, and very high on the fun factor.  In short, they will discover the beauty of minimalism.