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.”
At some point during elementary school, I learned that the Mississippi River originated at Lake Itasca in Minnesota; as it’s unusually hip these days to deny established science, I might offer a counter-theory: There was once a monolithic ice cube east of what is now Davenport, Iowa. It melted. This is the only rational explanation for the topography at Davenport Country Club.
I was fortunate enough to play during an event where architect Jim Nagle was in attendance, and he gave the group a generalized overview of what he and partner Ron Forse saw in the club. At the top of his list was the routing, which he praised enthusiastically. It struck me as I listened; having played the course in the morning, the routing seemed so obvious. With land like this, doesn’t the earth declare to Alison where the holes should be, and not the other way around?
I reconsidered during my afternoon round, standing at the tee for No. 7, a par four that plays across two huge swells bubbling up from the left; a well-executed drive manages to stay atop the thin platform available, and the rest roll down to another area of shortgrass at the bottom of the hill (but pick up a few extra yards on the way). It’s a daunting look up to the next bubble, but a singular fairway runs all the way, and a well-placed iron will kick right off the slope toward the invisible green. Depending on what tee you play during a match, a bold basher may opt to attempt reaching the second bubble in one go...but the grass is long down in the valley between. If the above word-vomit is any indication, it’s a hole that defies easy explanation (I’ve attached a photo).
If I can hardly describe it, how can I claim the ability to route it? It would be easy to declare “ah, such bold movement! Surely a golf hole must go here!” Would I have created what Alison dreamt up? Doubtful. And that is the difference between he and I...the difference between being given a prime cut of steak and the ability to cook it.
Alison creates tasteful dishes across Davenport; the tee shot skyward across the dammed pond at No. 3, where the pond isn’t the hazard at all, but rather whether you choose the proper line to avoid gravity pulling the ball back down into a number of micro-valleys along the right side. The play across the Spencer Creek gorge at No. 10, to a green that, while not quite a Reverse Redan, calls for a long shot to feed from left-to-right down to the hole (the trip to the green will cross a Bel-Air-style bridge). No. 13, a par five of reachable length...but placed so that the dropoff to the right constantly imposes itself on the mind of the player, like Tom Petty cleaning his fingernails with a switchblade at contract negotiations...a subtle reminder that everything will be OK if you just do the right thing, man. To place this hole at a common, flat parkland property would be perfectly sufficient. To place it at this exact spot on the Davenport is appreciating your canvas.
Sometimes that means being smart enough to not get too smart. The most photographed hole at the club, No. 16, is one of the least interesting from a strictly strategic perspective. This is one where even I could have told ownership that a long tee shot downhill, across Spencer Creek (which flows in from the left), with a sheer rock face showing along the right side, is basic math. Alison didn’t need to do much, so he didn’t. I believe they call that “minimalism” in this day and age.
Messrs. Forse and Nagle deserve kudos for their work, as well. Aside from using Hirono as a touchpoint for restoring bunkers around the property (aerials from the era don’t exist), they were also tasked with creating new opening and closing holes (I was told by a member, who caddied at the club during the ‘50s, that the earliest No. 18 was an awkward 90-degree dogleg around the property cesspool). The new model is a par four of modest length, but requiring a forced carry across the creek to reach a tight green. Finding the proper angle means challenging the creek along the left. That said, those who desire distance over angle can attempt to carry the large bunker on the right to receive the reward of a tee shot kicked forward.
The course isn’t perfect, but just barely; the short par five that closes the front nine looks dramatic, with the creek flowing all along the right, with a perched green alongside, daring you to go for two. The trees along the left side of this pipeline fairway proves that Golden Age architects could be just as penal...although I didn’t have the guts to bring this up to Nagle, they could be removed. The better golfers might argue it would make this 520-yard five “too easy” but I challenge them to say that while trying to land an approach from 240 out to this lofted green. Coore and Crenshaw have proven time and again that the widest fairways in the world don’t make it any easier to score if the green is tucked in a corner against the hazard.
I’m generally pleased to associate myself with Top100GolfCourses, but I am especially pleased today, considering that this is the only site that currently lists Davenport among its Top 100 U.S. courses (GOLF and Digest need to look through their spam boxes for the memo). I think it belongs further up the list; in my personal rankings, I’ve even placed it ahead of one Top 100 World course from this site. This is not to say I’m correct...but to some degree, a golf course is a matter of taste, and Davenport ticks two of my biggest boxes. One of these is a superb routing. Often I celebrate Donald Ross for his many locations where he found ways to fit the optimal holes within tight parcels. Perhaps a greater challenge is to receive a magnificent piece of land and create a splendid answer to an open-ended question. I recently saw Tom Doak’s pitch for the Erin Hills project; it shook me.
Alison’s route at Davenport, and the landforms it sits upon, left me equally shook.
Davenport is just perfection! Every time you turn a corner or stand on a tee box you are blown away by what you see in front of you. Every hole seems very different from anything else on the property, but yet all the holes seem to fit perfectly together and route amazingly around the property. There are no holes even close to weak here, and there are too many amazing holes to detail. The start 1-2-3, the middle 7-8-9-10 and the close 15-16-17-18 are as memorable as you will probably ever play.
The highest compliments I can give to this course, is that every single shot you hit here will engage you and force you to think, and throughout the round I couldn't keep a smile off of my face (even with the ravine taking a number of my golf balls). If you play this course and don't enquire about becoming a member, or instantly want to play the course again I would be shocked.
To top everything off, the staff and members could not have been more welcoming and kinder to us as guests.
Go play Davenport Country Club!
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.