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.
John 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 Sparkes 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.
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.