Designed by Hugh Alison when he was running the Colt & Alison design office during the early 1920s out of Detroit, the near century-old course at Davenport has remained largely intact, apart from a remodel by Bob Lohman in 2000 when he created a new 1st hole and realigned the 9th, moving the green close to Conduit Creek.
Ron Forse and Jim Nagle were called in to upgrade the layout in 2014 and they described their ten-month project as neither a restoration nor renovation, opting instead for the term “retro rebuild,” which is rather a neat way to explain the process of re-establishing a course’s identity through updating its course infrastructure.
Director of agronomy Dean Sparks oversaw the work, using 5,700 tons of greens mix, 4,600 tons of sand and 2,000 tons of pea gravel to redo greens and tees, re-grass fairways and rebuild bunkers, reducing the number of sand traps from 49 to 37. The jagged-edged bunkers don’t resemble the original ones at Davenport but they fit the setting superbly.
The signature hole is the 423-yard 16th, a brilliant par four that’s played from a wonderfully elevated tee position, with the waters of Spencer Creek threatening the tee shot. Described as an “all-American golf hole” by Sports Illustrated magazine, it’s here that Sam Snead famously came to grief during the final round of the 1951 Western Open.
Ron Forse was interviewed by golfclubatlas.com in November 2020 and he mentioned his work at Davenport:
“From the moment we saw the stick and circle routing on the topographic map we thought that there was something special here, even before our visit. The routing is definitely the course’s strong foundation. We had no early aerial photos so we had to rely on our own instincts.
A big tool in our arsenal was photos of Hirono, Japan, designed by Charles Alison who designed Davenport in 1923. This made a huge difference in the features. We have often relied on other golf courses by the same architect to enhance the character of a course.
DCC is somewhat Spartan on a number of bunkers. We added a few more than the original design sometimes for the practical purposes such as ball containment on a very hilly site. We also rebuilt 6 of the 18 greens, modifying some. One of Alison’s greens was so flat we decided it didn’t fit in with the rest and added more subtle undulation to it.
Alison’s routing had #18 playing as a 90 degree right turn up the hill. This old green is now the practice putting green. Midwest architect Bob Lohmann deserves a lot of credit for the current routing. He placed the green across the creek, keeping the hole in the valley. Not only is it a much better green location, but the player encounters Cardiac Hill only after he is done with his round.
Poor Bob had to route his fairway round an existing sewage treatment plant. Jim and I were able to remove the unsightly object and push the fairway towards the creek. What was a poor ending to a great golf course has been over time reiterated into a strong, strategic finishing hole that no one would ever guess was not original. It fits right in topographically and architecturally.”
The renovation work done at Davenport C.C. was a huge success. Each hole has its own unique character, yet all fit together collectively. This is a golf course that contains all the elements most players love: memorable, beautiful, fun to play, and numerous risk-reward options.
Finally got the chance to play this gem that has long been on my list. I can tell you that it is appropriately ranked. The property DCC sits on is amazing and you seem to play great hole after great hole with none of them feeling the same. Its such a unique blend of golf holes that still flow together, it provided me with a very enjoyable experience.
My favorite hole on the front nine came at #7 which is a straight away par 4 with a tow tiered fairway and a green that has a steep drop off to the left. It is a challenging hole and more often than not will result in a somewhat blind second shot, but the view from the tee will stay with me. Hole #9 is also a great hole. A creek runs along the right side of the par 5 and while it can be a two shot hole, the approach is intimidating with the creek to the right of the green and a bunker on the left. Its also another hole that just looks fantastic from the tee box.
The back nine was even better than the front. #10 is a par three over a big ravine (great hole and the view from the bridge driving/walking across is pretty). Next at #11, the hole appears to be an easy straight par 4 but the defense on this whole comes from the undulating fairway that can make the short approach difficult. Of course #16 is considered the signature and its also where Sam Snead threw away the Western Open. Its a beautiful hole form an elevated tee box that requires quite a bit of forced carry with the driver over Spencer's creek, but the creek also comes into play up the left side. It is an intimidating tee shot and I think the hardest hole on the course. The finishing hole #18 was recently renovated and it is a great golf hole. Also an intimidating tee shot, to go along with a tough approach which makes the closing stretch at DCC tough.
In regards to the condition of the course, it was great. The bent grass fairways were pure and the greens were fast and firm. They rolled very true. Frankly, this is a course that I wish was my home club. It was such a joy to play, and the membership should feel very lucky to play it with frequency.
The skills of Charles Hugh Alison graced a few sites throughout North America, but arguably the best of the lot is at Davenport Country Club which truly took my breath away.
In recent years, the genius of Ron Forse and his talented team renovated this 1924 layout to levels never seen before. The inspiration of the work came from iconic venues like Hirono Golf Club in Japan, which is a testament to the incredibly high standards that the architects were working towards. The evolution of the routing has been changed gently over the time including the repositioning of the 1st hole, the extension of the 2nd hole into a par 5 to escape a flood-basin and the reconstruction of bunkers to capture Alison’s design principles. Thankfully old aerial photos have been preserved inside of the clubhouse to give a foundational understanding of the sheer number of trees that have been removed at Davenport.
The layout is sublime, healthy and bursting with charm. The scale of the property is something which Alison took advantage of to discover the most appealing green-sites. For example, the holes around the turn majestically play along wonderful rock formations, over massive ravines and make the topography so enjoyable to experience. The creeks that navigate the property facilitated the construction of magnificent bridges throughout the course that offer up so much character. With the extensive tree removal, the vistas from the elevated points bring multiple holes into view all carefully calculated by the architects to make the most of the canvas.
On the back nine, the swooping 14th fairway with renovated features is a gorgeous hole that leads up to the wonderful short 15th hole which possesses the best bunker by far on the property. It screams ‘Hirono’ in its shape and design as it wraps around the right-hand side of the green. The view from the famous 16th hole (where Snead once lost the Western Open by hitting a 1 iron into the creek) is once again breathtaking as your eyes feast on the exposed rock formations down the right-hand side which the creek cuts diagonally to the left.
The collection of par 3s at Davenport offer so much enjoyment, splendour and variety, as is common with Colt/Alison designs.
The closing stretch of holes are among the best I’ve seen at any classic course as they rise and fall effortlessly with nature and portray some of the most beautiful large bunkers I’ve observed. I was truly blown away by the awe-inspiring layout from start to finish, and wholeheartedly agree with the previous reviewer that this hidden gem is worthy of the highest awards and recognition.
The golf in Iowa is exceptionally strong, and now more than ever, it’s time to celebrate the efforts of the outstanding restoration/renovation work that today’s architects are creating.
Wow! Where has this course been hiding for nearly 100 years? Its location at Pleasant Valley does not do this classic layout justice. The valleys that are used to great effect in the routing are pleasant enough but the course is way more than pleasant – it’s brilliant. This is certainly one of the best courses I’ve ever played that I’d never heard much about nor has it ever been ranked particularly highly by the magazines for some unknown reason. The member I played with told me that Forse and Nagle took inspiration from Alison’s bunkering at Hirono. I’ve not played Hirono but if the bunkering style at Davenport has been imported from Japan then it certainly sits comfortable at Pleasant Valley. I have to applaud Tom Doak who listed Davenport in his Gourmet’s Choice in his Americas summer destinations Conf Guide. By the time I’d finished my round I was eager to play the course again it was so much fun. Sadly I only had time for one round but when I’m next in Chicago I‘ll make the 5hr round trip as I want to play this gem again to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.