Some time ago I received the following e-mail from Jon Godfrey:
“My foursome got to talking after a round at the Exeter CC the other day about NH’s oldest golf courses, and decided it would be fun to play the dozen or so oldest courses in the state (which still retain some semblance of their original layout). The NHGA responded that they don’t know, and I wondered whether you might either know or be able to tell me where to find this information, short of making phone calls to all the courses in the state. Thanks for your time.”
I did the research and came up with some interesting findings. I thought these discoveries might be enjoyable reading for area golf enthusiasts.
But, you’ll discover the information Jon requested might never be available. That said the search was great fun.
I started the research in my trusted copy on the history of the world’s golf courses: The Architects of Golf. This incredible resource was put together by the late New England golf course architect Geoffrey Cornish. For many years it’s been one of my most trusted guides to information about golf courses (past and present) in every corner of the world.
I was confident that the answer to Jon’s question would be easily determined from The Architects of Golf.
But, after perusing Cornish’s book it became evident that accurately identifying “the dozen or so oldest courses in the state (which still retain some semblance of their original layout”) might not be that easy.
Unfortunately, the history of golf in New Hampshire is not well documented. In fact, more than one of the state’s courses lay claim to being New Hampshire’s oldest; but none site a source to document their claim. And, most of the older courses in New Hampshire have undergone major redesigns; in some cases these redesigns were not even documented. What a golfer might find today would have little resemblance to the courses that were built on these sites in the early years.
I decided that the first order of business might be to develop a list of the state’s oldest existing golf courses. From there it might be a bit easier to determine which have undergone the least amount of renovation.
In Table 1 you’ll see that the list of NH’s oldest golf courses consists of thirty-three locations (as determined by my research) on which “ground” golf has been reported to have been played continually from the date listed.
Although I’m confident that Table 1 is reasonably accurate on which of NH’s courses are the oldest, the majority of these courses look far different today than they did when the first golfers traversed their fairways. As a result, my attempt to direct Jon to the 12 oldest NH courses which have retained some semblance of their original design took some extrapolation.
Exeter Country Club (originally founded as the Exeter Gun Club) where golf has been played since 1895 was (1954) completely redesigned by famed New Englander Manny Francis.
Hanover Country Club, on its original nine-hole layout, hosted golfers as early as 1899. That course was (1922) redesigned by golf architect Orin Smith; and, at the same time, nine additional holes were built. Then, in 2000, Ron Pritchard did a redesign on the entire 18-holes.
Since 1899 at Abenaqui Country Club, where I have been a long time member, golf was being played on a 6-hole layout adjacent to the ocean and to the Farragut Hotel. Through the years some holes have been added, some have been replaced and ongoing redesign work has been done by a host of course architects. Manny Francis, Geoffrey Cornish, Al Zikorus and Brian Ault have all been part of the changes at Abenaqui; I doubt that any of the original 6-holes still remain!
In the fourth column of Table 1 I’ve included mention of some of the major additions/redesigns done to each course. I’m sure that there have been, through the years, numerous changes that were either not documented or escaped my research. It’s because of these course changes that it required going through the oldest 33 to find the “twelve or so” of the state’s oldest courses which might meet Jon’s requirement of “retaining some semblance of their original layout”.
All of that said – here’s my attempt at creating Jon’s list.
The “dozen or so”, which I’ve determined to meet Jon’s requirements turned into fourteen. It just wasn’t easy to determine where his list should stop.
Six were designed by Donald Ross – “The Father of American Golf Course Architecture”; two were done by AH Fenn; two by Ralph Barton; and one has been credited to Wayne Stiles; while three of the courses have no record of any architect.
Six of the fourteen courses making Jon’s list are 18-hole layouts. Only two, Manchester CC and Intervale CC, are located in the more populated part of the state; and six are in the White Mountain region. Five of the courses are private clubs which could pose a problem to those who’d like to play all fourteen. Of the remaining nine: four are semi private, three are public and two resort.
Take a look below; I’ve included some comments with each of the fourteen. Sadly, you’ll note that two of the fourteen might now be closed… I guess that would put my search back to Jon’s magic number of twelve.
Waumbek CC (1896/Public Course) – This 18-hole course is virtually unchanged since AH Fenn did his redesign in 1896.
Sunset Hill (1897/Resort) – Very short, 2,100 yard resort course that has not changed its character in well over 100 years.
Monadnock CC (1901/Public Course) – 9-hole course with, through the years, limited changes.
Intervale CC (1903/Semi Private) – Although there have been a number of redesigns to this 9-hole course, the original routing is still intact.
Dublin Lake Club (1910/Private Club) – The club was founded in 1901 as a boating facility; the golf course opened in 1910. Several changes through the years, but the original routing still remains.
Balsams Panorama Course (1910/Resort) – Great Donald Ross 18-hole course that remains very much the way it looked in 1910, but might be temporarily closed.
Maplewood CC (1910/Semi Private) – Very little change to this 18-hole course; if you make the trip you’ll even find a restored building that was part of the original hotel complex.
Bald Peak Colony Club (1922/Private Club) – Donald Ross aficionado Ron Force has done a complete course restoration. The objective of a restoration is to return the course to its original Donald Ross design characteristics. That being said, the conditioning of tees/greens/fairways is completely different today than what existed in the Ross era. For example, green speed in the 1920’s would have measured 3 or 4 on a stimp meter; today’s golfers demand that the greens roll at two or three times that fast.
Carter CC (1922/Semi Private) – I could not find any information on redesign work done on this 9-hole Donald Ross course.
Manchester CC (1923/Private Club) – There have been a number of greens rebuilt and some new tees added, but the original routing remains close to what existed in 1923.
Hooper GC (1926/Semi Private) – This is a true gem. Head to Walpole, NH and play Hooper GC; it will be like a trip back in time. The 9-hole Wayne Stiles course is lovely.
Lake Sunapee (1927/Private Club) – Same description as Bald Peak Colony Club. Course owner Doug Holman worked with Ron Force throughout the restoration to restore the Ross characteristic. They did a fantastic job; especially with the bunkering. Lake Sunapee CC is my favorite NH course.
Lisbon Village CC (1928/Public) – I’m not certain, but it appears that this course has undergone little change. If that’s the case, then it should be a treat to play. Lisbon designer Ralph Barton worked, under Charles Blair MacDonald, on the famed Mid Ocean Club; MacDonald’s crew, at Mid Ocean, also included Seth Raynor and Dick Wilson (two architects who went on to do some of America’s finest golf courses)! He (Barton) did the front nine at Concord CC and redesigned the front nine at North Conway CC; each of these 9-holes are absolutely spectacular. Lisbon Village may also be temporarily closed.
Profile Club (1930/Private Club) – Again, Ralph Barton…how could it not be great!
Well Jon, you really sparked my curiosity. I enjoyed digging through this information, and now I might even try to get out and play these courses myself. I hope that you and your group enjoy your pilgrimage. After you complete the rotation you might consider making it full circle and playing The Oaks which is New Hampshire’s newest course. And, keep me posted on your progress!
*If you have information which might make the list I provided Jon more complete or accurate… please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.