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.
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.