Big Things in the Works at The University Club (FKA Tripoli)

I recently had the opportunity to check out a local private club I’d never played before: The University Club. You probably know it as Tripoli, and great efforts are being expended to change that.

Debuting in 1921, The University Club is part of the northwest side of Milwaukee’s “Murderer’s row” of classic tracks off Good Hope Road, alongside The Wisconsin Club (fka Bryn Mawr), Brown Deer Park Golf Course, and a mile or so from Milwaukee Country Club.

I was really impressed with The University Club. The conditions were terrific, I enjoyed the variety of hole layouts and was pleasantly surprised by the topography and scale of the property. I expected a smaller footprint and had no idea there’d be as significant of elevation changes. Plus, I thought their men’s locker room is awesome (full wraparound bar with TV’s and seating areas).

The University Club is one of the most intact Tom Bendelow courses in the country. In fact, sixteen of the course’s greens survived numerous renovations over the past 96 years and are absolutely stalwart Bendelow designs. Highlighting those are the putting surfaces on four and thirteen, both strategically as good as you’ll find in the Milwaukee area.

A  look at the 13th green, both undeveloped when Bendelow originally envisioned it and as a finished product nearly 100 years later:

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The 13th green – now and as raw land when Bendelow originally designed it (photos courtesy The University Club)

In conjunction with their recent merger with The University Club’s downtown dining location, the FKA Tripoli Country Club is making huge updates to their golf facilities, bringing in nationally renowned course architect and a friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design.

While attention will be put toward improving the course’s play-ability and environmental sustainability (potentially including strategic tree removal, utility updates and some course design adjustments), one of the highlights for Staples’ renovation is the development of a world-class on-site practice facility.

The University Club short game area plan

Staples’ concept for a new short game practice area (links to SGD website)

Adding in the practice area will require adjusting the 12th green and making several other tweaks to the area it will occupy, as laid out above.

While modern architecture rains praise on Bendelow’s best designs – Medinah, East Lake, Mission Hills and Olympia Fields, to name a few – there are factions of the golf world who for a time were critical of his general body of work based on the volume of courses he designed between 1898 and 1933.

Coined the “Johnny Appleseed of Golf” by Golf Digest Senior Editor of Architecture Ron Whitten, Bendelow designed between 600 and 1,000 courses and also served as the initial Superintendent at the country’s first municipal course: New York’s Van Cortlandt Park, starting in 1899.

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Tom Bendelow

As a salesman for Spalding sporting goods, Tom worked hand-in-hand with A.G. Spalding to bring the great game of golf to the masses. Scores of courses were developed, new players were introduced to the game, and you guessed it – Spalding sold a ton of golf equipment.

Tripoli was one of Bendelow’s first projects after leaving Spalding to work full-time for American Park Builders, the group responsible for arranging the construction of Tripoli, in 1922.

The original criticism against Bendelow was that he was the “18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” architect during his time with Spalding. Basically, that he would show up and put stakes in the ground to denote where tees, fairways and greens should be – all in a single day – and move on to the next project. I’m not sure anyone could do more than that and be attributed with designing 1,000 golf courses, especially in the early 1900’s when travel was I’m sure at least a little less convenient.

“18 stakes on a Sunday afternoon” changed when Bendelow took over for William Langford at APB. Now having access to staff and other great resources, Bendelow was able to contribute the time and on-site TLC toward his projects that greatness requires. Tripoli was an original benefactor of that.

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Tom Bendelow’s design of Tripoli as shown in a 1922 APB brochure; this is the most detailed original color rendering of the course that includes fairways vs rough, greens and bunkers

One thing noticed on Bendelow-designed courses is the ease of walking from green to tee. While I could tell The University Club would normally be a great walking course, it was far from an easy hike on our dreadfully hot 95-degree September morn. Several of the uphill climbs actually left me a little dizzy toward the end – as I was saying earlier, there’s a lot more elevation than I expected.

While having the next tee nearby makes for easy transitions, advances in golf equipment technology have made shots that were heroic during Bendelow’s days not only realistic now, but to long-ish hitters almost standard.

At 440 yards from the tips, and 418 from the first tees in, for example, the 16th should be a challenging par four. The course institutes in-play out-of-bounds to discourage players from trying to cut the corner, but a 240-yard carry here leads to a really good reward… And it’s not like someone who can carry 240 ever mishits the ball, which is a great thing because directly along the line of that 240 is the 12th green.

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The dogleg left par four 16th at The University Club

One potential solution to get players to play the 16th the way Bendelow meant for it to be played could be as simple as relocating the tee boxes further right. This would make the direct route toward the green much less possible and force players to aim down – or nearer to – the hole’s fairway.

Having to hit long- or mid-iron in over the creek to a heavily contoured green would bring back the bite on this pivotal par four.

Tripoli 16 & 2 & 12

The ideal tee shot on 16 is ~240 yards directly over the 12 green

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The 16th hole green complex and Tripoli windmill

Playing The University Club with Andy, it was fun to visualize his thoughts on the redesign. His great respect for the architecture that’s made golf’s golden age courses thrive over the past century I think will lead to changes that are often subtle to the eye, but will help reinstate Bendelow’s strategic themes while promoting a more fun environment for championship golf. These “subtle changes” should make massive impacts for a course that already has a lot going for it.

As shown in Bendelow’s 1922 color rendering (earlier/above), a lot of his time and efforts were spent on design features that have since been covered by trees.

It’s easy for club members to freak out when “tree removal” is mentioned. We hear numbers in the hundreds, even thousands, and imagine a course we’ve come to know and love looking like scorched earth (picture Lawsonia’s Links course or the updated Blue Mound Country Club). The truth is that most courses can lose hundreds, if not thousands of trees and leave the course visually comparable but strategically and environmentally better off.

“We don’t have a total number of trees in mind at this point. What I would say is, many courses of this age have seen trees planted for a variety of reasons, and now that they are 50-60 years old their impact on the course in terms of playability and turf health is significant. We’re going to concentrate on providing sunlight and air movement for all of the greens, and do our best to open up angles of play and approaches to greens that are more in line with how the course was originally intended to play.  This isn’t to say we’re going to remove all the trees.  We’re going to highlight the architecture through thoughtful removals and in some cases replacement, thinking about how members actually play golf.”

-Andy Staples

A few examples of areas where Bendelow’s design strategy has been overrun by tree growth:

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Mounding now in the trees on the right side of the fairway on 13

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Bendelow’s mounding on the right side of 15

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Looking toward the location of Bendelow’s original bunkers on the left side of 16

A notable up-and-comer in the industry, GolfWeek recently email blasted their entire readership with a list of four keynote speakers headlining their 2017 Architecture Summit at Streamsong this December: Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Rich Mack of Mosaic (developers of Streamsong), and Andy Staples. That’s some good company to keep.

An expert in the field of sustainable golf design, his most famous work is probably the development of Sand Hollow in Hurricane, Utah. A famously tough critic, Even Tom Doak gave Sand Hollow one of the highest scores (an 8/10) in volume two of his Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

It’s Staples’ recent renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Michigan, though, that is probably most relevant to The University Club project.

Host of the 1955 PGA Championship, Meadowbrook celebrated their 100-year anniversary by hiring Staples and closing down for 18 months to make course updates. They entered that shut-down with 86 members on a waiting list to leave… And emerged with a full membership of 325 plus a waiting list to join¹.

Staples’ work in Northville has been hailed as a massive success, and Golf, Inc Magazine has named it one of five finalists for the world’s best course renovation project in 2017. It’s easy to see why from the pictures – it looks spectacular:

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Meadowbrook CC renovation project: Hole 8 (par 3) – links to mlive article

Like at Meadowbrook, I’m sure it’ll be tough for the membership at The University Club to endure a season without golf, but I think they made the absolutely right choice in hiring Staples, and I’m excited to follow the renovation’s progress and see all the great things he and his team do when it reopens down the road.

 

¹ Source: Crain’s Detroit article: “Meadowbrook Country Club Golf Risk Pays Off With Membership Surge,” July 23, 2017

A [Small] Sneak Preview of Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley

This past May (therefore, a small sneak peak), I spent the weekend on Petenwell Lake in Adams County, Wisconsin, for my friend Scott’s bachelor party. Our buddy Kyle and I headed up to Sand Valley Golf Resort a few hours before our group’s scheduled tee times for a sneak preview of the second championship course on site, Mammoth Dunes.

I love Sand Valley. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the original course there expertly: It’s fun, challenging, unique, FAST, rugged and tremendously beautiful. It also makes visitors feel as if they’re hundreds if not thousands of miles from what they know to be Wisconsin.

I’ve written quite a bit about Sand Valley, but have yet to post anything about David McLay Kidd’s upcoming Mammoth Dunes. We were able to walk six holes [with a guide and without clubs – it was still an active construction site], and they looked spectacular:

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Hole 1: Par 4 (413/394/358/324/221/198)

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1st hole green complex at Mammoth Dunes

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Hole 2: Par 4 (410/406/360/330/286/236)

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Target area off the tee on 2

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From the central fairway bunker on 2

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A look back toward the tees on 2

If you visited Golf Digest’s website any time during 2016, chances are you noticed an interesting reader competition: “The Armchair Architect.” 532 entries were received and reviewed by David McLay Kidd, Mike Keiser and Ron Whitten, and the winning entry was by computer gamer Brian Silvernail of Rockledge, Florida.

Silvernail’s proposed hole is a split-fairway downhill par four where flying three traps on the right side will propel tee shots downhill and left, making it a potentially drive-able par four.

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Brian Silvernail’s winning “Armchair Architect” entry (linked to Golf Digest article)

I never submitted my entry for the competition, but after working on it with the topographic map that was provided I can see in person that my hole design probably wouldn’t have worked. My concept was to have distinct risk/reward areas where the smartest shot is a shorter one to a plateaued fairway on the left.

The right side would lead to longer drives and shorter approach shots, but those approaches would be made more challenging by uneven and tight lies, a blowout trap that obstructs the player’s view on that right side, tricky green contours that would make holding those shots difficult, and a more rugged path, in general. Meanwhile, a downhill shot from the plateau to the left would allow the smart player to hit a wide open green from an even lie, unobstructed view and receptive putting surface.

In person, I don’t think the area allotted has enough space to make something like that happen, and plus there’s a distinct possibility that the concept would look gimmicky, contrived and probably not be considered anyway.

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The par four 14th – subject of Golf Digest’s Armchair Architect contest – being roughed in

 

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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Hole 15: Par 5 (522/509/448/398/365/325)

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A beautiful, natural location for the 15th green complex

I had been drooling over pictures of the par three 16th for quite some time – it looks as good in person as it does online:

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Hole 16: Par 3 (180/164/134/134/113/113)

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The massive green complex for the par three 16th

The tee shot on seventeen brings players back out in to the wide open area used for the course’s first two holes:

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Hole 17: Par 4 (432/427/363/352/260/237)

The fairway on 18 is shared in parts by the first, 17th and 18th holes. Miss this fairway and you’ve got some real accuracy issues.

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Hole 18: Par 5 (536/511/488/473/438/360)

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The approach on 18 heading back to the Mammoth Dunes clubhouse

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A look back from the 18th hole green

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View from the patio of one of the suites in the Mammoth Lodge

The new clubhouse and lodge at Mammoth Dunes was done beautifully, featuring common spaces and private lodging in the rustic farmhouse design style that’s swept the nation stemming from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”

The Mammoth Bar and clubhouse are now finished and fully operational, but earlier this summer they looked like this:

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View of The Clubhouse from the first hole tee boxes – it has since been completed

One of my favorite things great golf resorts do is to add non-championship golf, golf-related facilities. Keiser created “The Punchbowl,” as well as the 13-hole Bandon Preserve par three course at Bandon Dunes; Paul Schock added the Gil Hanse designed “Horse Course” at The Prairie Club; World Woods has a wild, 2-acre putting green and practice holes; to a lesser degree, Streamsong has a fun par three bye hole.

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If Coore/Crenshaw’s design work on The Sand Box is comparable to their work on Bandon Preserve, visitors to Sand Valley will be in for a real treat

What do these things all have in common? They’re great places to spend extra time and especially initiate camaraderie through one-off competitions (aka gambling).

Sand Valley is finishing their first add-on golf facility: A 17-hole par three track designed by Coore/Crenshaw. The initial plan was to name it “Quick Sand,” but in conversation with Craig Haltom of Oliphant yesterday at Lawsonia it sounds like they’re now leaning toward “The Sand Box.” The short course is one of the things I’m most looking forward to checking out next season, and I don’t think they can go wrong with either name even though I love Quick Sand.

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The sandy area to the far left in this image is the site used for the Sand Box

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Sand Valley GM Glen Murray in the Mammoth Dunes pro shop, then still under construction

Preliminary plans are in the works for a weekend buddies trip to Sand Valley next Spring, and to say I’m looking forward to that trip is an understatement. Now we’ve just gotta make it through another long and cold Wisconsin winter…

Have you made your first pilgrimage to Sand Valley yet? If so, what were your impressions, where do you think the courses will stack up against the country’s best destinations, and what are you most excited for?

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Rome, WI

Sand Valley Golf Resort Website

A.W. Tillinghast’s Letters to the PGA

In my fifth year as a member of North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, I am always on the lookout for additional information on the club’s history and heritage.

Everyone knows there’s a lot of it, but very little has been kept around and what’s left of old newspapers is waiting patiently in microfiche for history enthusiasts to convert it to a form that’s findable.

A friend of mine, Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design, recently turned me on to the letters written by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast to the then president of the PGA, George Jacobus.

Tillinghast designed some of the greatest golf courses in the history of golf – 265 total –  including:

  • Winged Foot, West (Golf Digest’s #10 course in the US, #14 in the world)
  • San Francisco (#37 US, #81 world)
  • Bethpage State Park, Black Course (#38 US)
  • Baltusrol, Lower (#39 US)
  • Baltusrol, Upper (#61 US)
  • Winged Foot, East (#62 US)
  • Somerset Hills (#64 US)
  • Quaker Ridge (#76 US)

In 1935, Tilly was called to my home course of North Hills by PGA member John Bird to take a look at the then-“troublesome” par three then-sixteenth (shown in the header photo).

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Tillinghast’s letter to the President of the PGA concerning North Hills Country Club from November 16, 1935

Tilly’s difficult-to-read follow-up letter from 1936

The sixteenth, now the seventh since the front and back nine were flipped, was at that time a 127-yard uphill shot to a putting surface 20 yards short of where it is now above the Menomonee River. Redesigning this par three to have a ribbon green on top of the hill both stretched out the yardage and made the green more susceptible to holding tee shots.

Many competitive matches swing on the seventh hole at North Hills, which is my favorite par three on my home course.

I have my only ever hole-out from the tee on the seventh, and it’s literally a couple thousand feet from our backyard.

Other great “new” material about North Hills Country Club

As luck would have it, when I tried searching Google for the same Tillinghast letters on my laptop I found some great material that always evaded me: Proof that Ben Hogan and Sam Snead competed at North Hills.

The 1940 Milwaukee Open

I’ve heard this story before, and have told it to several guests. If I had to guess, this article points at the same occasion: On the 16th hole of the final round of a PGA tournament, Ben Hogan was tied for the lead on the uphill [now seventh, since the nines have since been reversed] par three. Hogan was on in two and three-putted. At the clubhouse following the event, Ben guaranteed everyone that the first putt he hit would never break that way again. They all walked in the dark (a walk I am awfully familiar with) from the clubhouse with their drinks and lanterns to the now seventh green; Hogan hit putt after putt, and the crowd watched them all fall the same way they did that led to his double-bogey that took him out of contention.

The seventh is my favorite par three on my home course, and is the site of my only ever sort-of-hole-in-one a few months ago. It’s a fantastic par three that, as Hogan proved, can make or break a match with ease.

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Chicago Tribune – August 5, 1940

Ralph Guldahl of Chicago won the 1940 Milwaukee Open at -16, followed by Ed Oliver (-14) and the great Sam Snead just three strokes back at -13. Hogan would finish fourth with a final score of 272 (-12).

References of the 1940 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. Bartlett, Charles (August 4, 1940). “Bulla cards 131 to take lead in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. p. 6, sec. 2.
  2. “Ralph Guldahl wins Milwaukee Open golf”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. August 5, 1940. p. 2.
  3. Bartlett, Charles (August 5, 1940). “Guldahl wins in Milwaukee Open with 268”. Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 19.
  4. “Guldahl makes blazing finish”. Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 5, 1940. p. 9.
  5. “Johnny Bulla leads Milwaukee Open”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. August 4, 1940. p. 10.

The 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open

Joe Kirkwood, Jr., more commonly known as Hollywood movie star Joe Palooka in those days, won the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open at North Hills. Joe “beat out Sam Snead by two strokes in a fighting duel for the third biggest prize of the year” ($2,750 for first place).

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Eugene Register Guard – July 23, 1951

Probably my favorite part of this article is Kirkwood’s celebratory remarks: “‘I’m glad to win for all my friends,’ and left for northern Wisconsin to go fishing.”

There is a photo taken on the 3rd hole (now 12th) at this event situated on the desk in Captain Frederick Pabst’s office at what is now “The Best Place” – a top spot for downtown weddings in Milwaukee.

References to the 1951 Pabst Blue Ribbon Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. “Joe Kirkwood cards final round 64 to win Blue Ribbon golf tourney”. St. Petersburg Times. (Florida). Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 11.
  2. “Ferrier leads in Milwaukee Open”. Chicago Sunday Tribune. Associated Press. July 22, 1951. p. 6, sec. 2.
  3. “Kirkwood’s 271 wins golf meet at Milwaukee”. Chicago Daily Tribune. Associated Press. July 23, 1951. p. 2, sec. 3.
  4. “Kirkwood edges Snead for first”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). United Press. July 23, 1961. p. 10.

The 1961 Milwaukee Open

Australian Bruce Crampton won the 1961 Milwaukee Open, winning his $4,300 share of the $30,000 purse.

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus tied for sixth place, which was great for Player but forfeited by Nicklaus as this would prove to be his final golf event as an amateur before turning pro the following week in the Quad Cities.

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Daytona Beach Morning Journal – July 24, 1961

References to the 1961 Milwaukee Open, as found on revolvy.com:

  1. “Massengale, Hawkins knotted”. Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. July 21, 1961. p. 2B.
  2. “Aussie wins Milwaukee with 272”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 24, 1961. p. 9.
  3. “Palmer bypasses Milwaukee event”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. (Florida). Associated Press. July 19, 1961. p. 7.

 

Prior research on North Hills Country Club

North Hills Country Club, Feherty Interview with Golf Legend Ken Venturi (2015)

Hole-by-Hole Review of North Hills Country Club (2013)

The 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow: My Preview

It seems like just yesterday I was watching Jason Day annihilate the field while marshaling at the 2015 PGA Championship at Wisconsin’s own Whistling Straits.

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Marshaling the 14th hole at Whistling Straits for the 2015 PGA Championship

A lot has happened over the past two years, though! Since that great tournament my wife and I have bought a new house, I started a new role at work, got married and we now have our first child, our son Charlie.

Time sure flies, and in the blink of an eye both the PGA Tour and Wisconsin golf season have sped along at breakneck speed. It’s August, and we’re suddenly one week from the fourth and last major of the Tour’s championship schedule: The PGA Championship.

While Jason Day’s record-setting performance at Whistling Straits is not likely to repeat this year at Quail Hollow, expert odds-makers are still showing him love with 19/1 odds to win.

Fresh off a remarkable finish at The Open, Jordan Spieth opens as the PGA Championship favorite at 8/1, just ahead of Rory McIlroy at 9/1. Spieth enters this week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational with a slight edge over Dustin Johnson for first place on the Tour’s money list with almost $6.8-million in earnings.

It’s hard to argue with Spieth as the favorite, and honestly I think he’s really good for the game when he wins.

Spieth, McIlroy, Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Day, the US Open champ Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm round out the favorites.

My picks for the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow:

  • Favorite# 1: Jordan Spieth
  • Favorite# 2: Justin Thomas
  • Long-shot# 1: Jason Dufner
  • Long-shot# 2: Patrick Cantlay

For the most part, I like the younger guys in this tourney and don’t see McIlroy or Day running away with it. More than anything, like with any major championship, I’m hoping for a great finish.

The entire field for the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow

 

* Quail Hollow header image credit to http://www.quailhollowclub.com

Introducing the Next WiscoGolfAddict, Charlie!

The past week and a half has been very busy for my wife, Kelly and me – on Friday, July 7 at 1:05 in the afternoon we welcomed our first child, Charlie James.

Charlie was born 7 lbs 5 oz and 20 inches tall, and we couldn’t be happier to announce that he and Kelly are both healthy and so far he’s a wonderful baby boy.

A couple pictures of our little guy:

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Just-born picture – welcome to the world, Charlie!

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First family picture of Charlie, Kelly and me in the recovery room

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7/7/2017: The birth of our first child and the next WiscoGolfAddict, Charlie!

Charlie watching golf

Charlie watching Mark Mulder win the American Century Championship with Dad