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 U.S. 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.
Ekwanok is a fascinating course because it ties itself to the development of American golf early in the 20th century and then fast forward to the club's efforts in bringing back to life the Walter Travis connection.
Although there are back-and-forth holes at the beginning and of the round there is also the confounding and devilish greens that can quickly put a golfer on their heels. Prudent approach play is an essential ingredient. There is room provided for the tee game but failure to be in the correct position can mean a most trying time with one's flatstick.
The par-3 6th is quite fun to play -- just be sure not to miss to the right side as the probability in walking off the green with a par is certainly remote when the pin is cut on that side.
When you arrive at the renowned par-5 7th your eyes will be riveted on the mounding that protects the distant opening on this engaging hole. I was told that a visit by Davis Love III had him attempt to reach the green by driving his ball to the adjacent 8th green so as to avoid the mounding previously mentioned. I was also told no person had reached the green in two shots.
The terrain for the 7th is something one can only find on the real gems from years ago. Thankfully, the hole was not bulldozed to death because the features would have been forever lost.
One of my favorite holes is the uphill par-4 9th. The tee shot features a blind landing area and what you don't fully appreciate is the hidden fairway bunkers that flank both sides of the hole. Once again, it's grand to see the retention of such bunkers because they have a significant role to play at the 9th.
The inward half takes you into the hillier portion of the routing. The par-3 11th green from what I was told was created by Bruce Hepner and it's beautifully crafted with enough vexing movements to keep you on your toes. The uphill par-4 12th takes you over a massive rise with the green tucked on the downward side. The terrain adds to the joy in playing the hole.
The balance of the course works from the hillier terrain back and the par-4 15th is highlighted by water that works its way into the picture off the tee and then widens into a pond. The final three holes are a good mixture of two-shot holes. Originally, the par-4 17th served as the opening hole but that was changed a few years later.
The par-4 18th is a good concluding hole. One has to decide -- do you attempt the carry over a perpendicular creek or opt for the safer play and then face a much longer approach to a green elevated above you.
Travis did a number of fine designs but there are clubs that failed to keep his fingerprints front and center. Ekwanok fortunately has done that through the recent involvements of Hepner and Tom Doak. As I said, if you have issues with your putter Ekwanok will be inflicting some serious mental anguish throughout your round.
M. James Ward
Ekwanok is set in the scenic wilderness of Vermont with its fescue laden fairways set against the colourful mountainside backdrop. It is the only club in Vermont to host a USGA event with Francis Quimet winning the 1914 US Amateur prevailing 6&5 in the final. The course designed by Walter Travis makes good use of the terrain and after a quiet start (The first three holes run parallel) the course starts to show its true colours. Hole 4 is a nice par 3 over water and hole 6 again a par 3 has a devilish green which if you miss left or long you could rack up a cricket score. The 7th is a really nice par 5 that only the longest players can reach in two blows with its split level fairway and a severely uphill approach shot its two good shots to get up to the second level! I felt the best stretch of holes are between 12 and 15 this is where you get to test your course management across the undulating landscape. I was a big fan of the green complexes which is Ekwanok’s strongest attribute with a mixture of subtle and bold movements you have to concentrate otherwise a three putt is automatic.
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.
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. 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 Water Travis can be when designing the putting surfaces, each being a work of art with truly treacherous contours.