The charming Ekwanok was designed by Walter Travis at the start of the last century and such was his golfing prowess at the time, he won the US Amateur Championship on three occasions, in 1900, 1901 and 1903 then followed those up by winning the Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s in 1904.
Actually, Ekwanok has its own connection to the US Amateur competition as it hosted the event in 1914, with Francis Ouimet crowned champion the year after he’d won the US Open at the Country Club, Brookline (one of eleven golfers so far to have won both events).
Scotsman John Duncan Dunn assisted Travis with the layout at Ekwanok and their construction of contoured greens, liberal provision of bunkers and imaginative routing have endured over the last 100 years, thanks in no small part to work in the 1960s by Geoff Cornish and more recently, by Bruce Hepner from Tom Doak’s Renaissance Design.
In particular, Hepner’s program of tree removal, restoration of fairway bunkers, propagation of native grasses and resizing of some greens to their original dimensions has helped to bring the Travis course back to life and give it greater relevance in the modern era.
The 595-yard, par five, 7th hole is one of the best in all of New England, a genuine three-shotter, even for today’s big hitters. The fairway rises to a hill half way along its length, so a wood off the tee is followed by a blind fairway wood or long iron shot to the other side, before an approach can be made to the putting surface. Modern day designers may baulk at such a design but it epitomises all that is good about the Ekwanok layout.
The following article was written by author Bob Labbance and is an edited extract from Volume Four of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective . Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected]
The first Walter Travis-designed golf course has been through the same changes as many fine clubs in the United States. Few century-old golf courses have remained true to their architectural roots throughout their lives. Most are the result of an evolution fashioned by the changing values and circumstances of the times, and Elwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vermont, is a perfect example of this progression.
Just prior to the turn of the century before last, James Taylor, the son of a Brooklyn industrialist, asked Travis and John Duncan Dunn – who had worked with his father Tom Dunn, designer of more than a hundred courses in England and Scotland – to travel to Vermont with him and look at a property he had identified as a possible golf course site.
Travis and Dunn were enthusiastic about the 200-acre farm Taylor walked them through. In early September 1899, the architects arrived to plan the routing. A crew of 42 workers, mostly local farmers and nursery workers, ploughed and harrowed the land, removing stones, placing drainage tile where needed, and seeding surfaces in hope of establishing turf before the long Vermont winter.
In 1901, Travis spent a month touring the United Kingdom, playing 36-holes a day at such outposts as Troon, Prestwick, Elie, Carnoustie, North Berwick, Muirfield, Hoylake, Woking, Sandwich, Deal and Formby. When he returned, he applied his new-found knowledge at Ekwanok, adding greenside bunkers, deepening other pits and installing mounding to complicate recovery shots.
Travis died in 1927 and the 1930s began nearly half a century of difficult times for many clubs in the United States, especially those in out-of-the-way locales like Ekwanok. Many members lost their fortunes during the 1930s and if it wasn’t for benefactors James Taylor’s dream course would have disappeared.
Even when the Second World War ended, Ekwanok was still struggling to reduce maintenance costs. In 1948, Donald Ross eliminated many prized mounds; in 1956 Robert Trent Jones Snr removed other original features. The club hired superintendent Paul O’Leary in 1958 from Warwick Country Club in Rhode Island, where he had been building nine holes with architect Geoff Cornish.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, O’Leary and Cornish did what they could to enhance playability while tailoring the course to the playing talents of an ageing membership. Together they rebuilt nearly half the greens, bunkers were filled to cut down on hand-raking, mounds were eliminated to speed up mowing time.
The 1990s ushered in a new era to US golf course architecture. Ekwanok engaged Bruce Hepner and Tom Doak of Renaissance Design to plot a cure to the woes that had eased the course’s resistance to scoring. Ekwanok’s outdated irrigation system was replaced, bunkers that had framed and narrowed driving zones were restored, mounding was enhanced, greens were defined (and) many trees were eliminated to re-establish the long sweeping views.
Praise for the restoration was unanimous, and in the new millennium, the venerable club has come full circle. The integrity, beauty, and challenge of one of the United States’ finest courses are once again apparent.
Walter Travis made it up to Vermont to create Ekwanok Country Club which is surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains in a beautiful setting.
The routing has a few interesting elements. The first three holes play parallel to each other and the last three holes play parallel to the first three. If you stand on the first tee-box, you essentially look out to six parallel holes that are almost mirror images of each other up and down the same slope. It’s a little boring.
With that said, it’s widely accepted that the genius of the golf course lies at the back-end of the property where the holes play over and around ridges, and move in many different directions across the landscape. As the members will openly tell you, this is a short and very straightforward course. The beast is let out of its cage when you get on the greens.
Having recently played Country Club of Scranton, I got a taste for how brilliant (and cruel) Water Travis can be when designing the putting surfaces, each being a work of art with truly treacherous contours.