It’s reckoned that when Waverley Country Club was founded in 1896, it was only the second private golf club established west of the Mississippi River. Chandler Egan redesigned and improved the layout soon after he became an honorary member in 1913 and Gil Hanse has been advising the club since drafting a restoration master plan at the start of the new millennium.
Since Hanse’s involvement, hundreds of trees
have been felled, improving strategy by creating more width. Many of
Egan’s Golden Age design elements had disappeared, so a good number of bunkers from
the original design were reinstated.
Laid out on a tight parcel of land beside the Williamette River, the course has hosted a raft of prestigious USGA tournaments down the years, including three US Women’s Amateur Championships (1952, 1981 and 2000), the US Senior Amateur Championship in 1964 and the US Junior Amateur in 1993, when Tiger Woods won the event for the third consecutive year. More recently the club hosted the 2017 Senior Women’s Amateur, won by Canada's Judith Kyrinis.
Highlight holes include the 177-yard 6th (“Trap”), the first of the par threes which plays downhill to a left-to-right sloping green, the 603-yard 8th (“Lone Pine”), where the fairway bends slightly left to a green protected by a necklace of bunkers on the right hand side, and the 532-yard 17th (“River”), which features an enormously long, two-tiered putting surface.
Making my way over to Waverley Country Club directly after an 11 hour flight from Europe was not ideal preparation. Although I did manage to watch Caddyshack in the plane and I hoped this may have provided some insights.
The first thing you notice as your confused Uber driver brings you through the gates and along the winding drive are the immaculate conditioning, the charming southern-style clubhouse, and the beautiful setting alongside the glistening Willamette river. Quite a first impression.
After being introduced to our caddies, we were immediately away at the first, a short right doglegging Par 4. After narrowing missing the green left, I noticed one of the great features of this course - short grass and the wonderfully tilted greens. It’s a classic gentle handshake. At the second you are introduced to another key feature of this course - the regular elevation changes of this undulating property. At the back of this green you have a graveyard that’s very much in play, where OB presumably stands for Obituary for your score should you hit it in there.
After a few holes of confusing my caddy (the habit of carrying my own bag is clearly a hard one to break), my mind was already made up: Waverley Country Club is by far the best parkland course I’ve played. The conditioning and views are great, but the strategy and playability are abundant. Short grass and clever bunkering everywhere. It takes some getting used to the fact it plays firm and fast - it’s deceptive, but you can run balls into these greens if you want. Sometimes it’s the best option. The greens themselves are not tricked up in any way, but they are quick, true, and at times severely sloping. If you’re not close, a 2 putt is often the best you can hope for. This adds up to a fun challenge.
Since Gil Hanse got involved with some restoration work, they’ve cleared out many trees and this gives the course a feeling of space and opens up views everywhere. It’s quite a big property in this sense and only the narrow 5th felt a little cramped. This space also makes it quite forgiving off the tee for weaker players. However, the greens and playing angles keep good players honest. Thus a perfect playability balance is achieved.
I had several favourite holes - with a beautifully framed tee shot and then challenging second up into the raised green, the 3rd is a complete joy and pleasure. The set of 5 Par 3’s are excellent, with perhaps 11 & 16 being my favourites. Trying to work out where to layup to on the Par 5 13th is a good puzzle (and one that I failed to solve). The vistas as you tee off at 16 & 17 are suggestive of Loch Lomond.
For me this is a very strong 5 ball, but it gets top marks because between the original designer Chandler Egan and Gil Hanse’s recent work, I think they have made the absolute most of the site. Which reminds you that some links courses can be a bit design lazy because of the great land they occupy, and it’s perhaps harder to paper over the cracks at a parkland venue. Waverley also has all the trappings of an exclusive US Country club, which on this occasion was a pleasing novelty for me that enhanced the experience. And then there’s the Waverley Cooler that must be sampled while out in the course. It’s just very cool to play a parkland course this good. My caddy was actually working here in part to win a college scholarship, but that is where the similarities to the Caddyshack parody ended: This was both serious Golf and serious fun, and it was hard to find fault.