I’ve fast-tracked this article for Tuesday the 27th, since you won’t have time beyond Sunday, October 2nd, to play the lower course at Peek’n Peak. It’s closing, for reasons not completely understood, or explained, or even justified. Unlike Westwood’s end of day, when membership dwindled and efforts to re-image the course/club failed, the Peek’s lower track seemed to have decent numbers, and presented a complement to the more challenging upper course. Perhaps that’s the wistful thinking of a golf aficionado, perhaps not. Here’s a look back at the course, on its final tournament day.
Flat but slightly foreboding
The lower course at the Peek was designed by Fernando “Ferdinand” Garbin, of the ASGCA (American Society of Golf Course Architects), the governing body of official golf designers. Of the greats, only Tom Doak is/was not a member. Membership means you know what you’re doing and you get a cool plaid jacket for official business wear.
The principal features of the lower course are the trees that line the fairways, and the burn that snakes through a number of holes. It’s way too narrow to be called a creek, a stream or a river, and the Scottish roots of the word burn seem appropriate for a layout whose swan song is nigh. The burn appears when you least expect (and need) it to, snatching balls hit a bit too far, or right. The presence of running water is a welcome element, hinting at movement, life, vitality. In contrast, a pond seems too much like a trapper does to a wild beast: it waits to ensnare, docile, passive.
The lower course is replete with doglegging holes, giggling as golfers, time and again, draw driver from their bag in anticipation of a deep and hurtful strike. Golf balls hit too left, too right, too far, rattle around in the trees. If only a long iron or hybrid had been selected instead. The ensuing, inevitable punch-out invariably etches a look of chagrin on the golfer’s face. He knew better, but could not resist.
Dead course walking
The last tournament on the lower course was held on the course’s penultimate weekend of life. The Midwest Prep Classic, a tournament that began nearly a decade ago in western Pennsylvania, brought top high school teams together from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Erie and Buffalo. Girls and Boys divisions were contested, golfers shot sub-par rounds, and coaches toured the 18, offering advice, support and consolation. The golfers walked every inch of the 36 holes of the two-day event. I had the fortune of being one of those coaches, and I did my best to ignore my golfers’ efforts. Instead, I drove slowly round the layout. My emotions ranged from disappointment at the loss of a western New York course, to embarrassment, from not having played it more. As I watched golfer after golfer hit crisp irons, stroke long drives, and roll accurate putts, I felt that the course was at peace with its demise, enjoying the final shots of a new generation.
Some of these tournament golfers might turn out to be amateur or professional historians. They might return to Peek’n Peak one day, accompanied by children or grandchildren. They could look out over what replaces the lower course, and recall a September weekend in 2016, when their younger legs strode those long-absent fairways, their stronger shoulders ported golf bags filled with the technology of the day, over those tees and greens consigned to the memory of transient generations. If only for a time, the course will return to life, springing green again for just a time.
There is a line in the movie The Motorcycle Diaries, spoken by Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. Seated high in the Andes, at Machu Picchu, he wonders “How do you feel longing for something you never knew?” This disambiguation comes from the crafted stories of our tellers, placing subsequent generations in a time and place, using their mind’s eye to recreate and to sense. Make no mistake: the lower course was never to be confused as a Cypress Point, a St. Andrews, or a Highlands Links. It was never intended to be one of those. Without doubt, its fairways, greens and spaces in between were much more than nothing, and their loss will be grieved. For monetary reasons (it was cheaper than the upper course), by the countless buddy groups who will never again face a fair but manageable test of golf in Clymer. Sure, they’ll play the upper course, and crow about playing a course that hosts a professional event. They’ll lose balls, they won’t shoot a personal best, and they might get frustrated.
In contrast, few balls were lost, many personal lows were recorded, and smiles abounded at the 18th green of the lower. We’ll miss you, old gal.