Another Trip Back In Time
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my pending experiment with the old Hogan blades and Speed Slot woods. Well, I haven’t done that yet, but I did take another trip back in time of sorts, on Tuesday. About halfway between our offices in Victoria and Austin, there is a little town of Seguin, which has a wonderful old municipal course called Max Starcke Park. I hadn’t played it since my youth, but we thought it would make a good setting for work meetings for the day, so my Vice President and I met there early Tuesday morning.

Set in the Guadalupe River bottom land, the course is framed by towering old pecan trees that make for a beautiful setting. With few exceptions, this old course is exactly as it was when it was first built in 1939, a design by John Bredemus and Shelly Mayfield. Read up on those two and you’ll find some fascinating history. The course has been lengthened to about 6,900 yards, and represents a good test, but what impressed me is the difference in the way the greens and greensides were built back then, compared to what most modern courses reflect. And this gives some insight to what might be a core problem of the game.

The Starcke Park course features very few bunkers, and they are placed strategically to shape the course, not to penalize every errant shot. The fairways are generous, and only a couple of holes have small ponds that come into play. The greenside slopes are gentle to allow for chipping the ball when you miss a green in regulation. They all also feature the ability to run the ball up to the green on the approach, which was a much more common way to play until the 70s/80s. And the greens were much slower than what I’m used to playing.

In other words, this course, like most built back then, played much more “friendly”. It was a game, not a torture test, and you didn’t tremble in fear every time you missed a green.

In contrast, most modern courses have strong defenses off the tee and around the greens. Fairways are narrower, the rough is taller and fairway bunkers, water and OB stakes are everywhere you look. When you miss a green, you are either in a bunker, grass bunker, lake/pond/stream, or you are trying to figure out how to hit a delicate pitch to a fast green that slopes away from you. It’s no wonder handicaps are not changing with the advances in equipment, and the game’s participation rates continue to decline.

My opinion is that modern course are nice to look at, but too many are just too damn hard for recreational golf. Most of the guys that play Max Starcke Park on a regular basis would probably have their lunch handed to them on a “big city” course in Austin or San Antonio. So I’m betting most of them just don’t go. They like their little local course, have fun playing a round of golf in 3 hours, having a beer and going home. Wow, what a concept!

If you want to take your own trip back in time, find one of these historic little gems and go have some fun. Don’t expect the manicured, lush track you might be used to, especially if you belong to a private club or frequent a more modern course. Make it a field trip to connect with the roots of golf in the U.S. I can almost guarantee you will enjoy your day.
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[ comments ]
Dazinkster says:
I know what you mean, I'm fortunate that my home course that I'm a member of was founded in 1893 and the current course designed by Harry Colt in the 1920's. It measures a measly (by modern standards) 6,200yds Par 70 from the back tees but still provides a fair test of golf. You have to make sure you're on the right side of the greens and as you allude to, the odd errant drive doesn't matter too much. Very enjoyable track!
Banker85 says:
sounds like my kind of course.
Kurt the Knife says:
There was an account relayed to me on the links in Maui. A fella who plays a lot of east coast courses told me designers at one course analyzed 2nd shot divot patterns and after a particular cluster was identified, they stuck a bunker there.
TeT says:
How about #3; uphill long par 4... love that hole....
legitimatebeef says:
I agree that most open to the public courses don't need the tricked up rough and sucker pins and the like. Common sense dictates that most people who play these courses recreationally are plenty challenged, more than enough probably.
SD Charlie says:
I 100% agree with this week's column! For the most part, I've found tougher courses to be less enjoyable than "easier" courses. When you're on the tee and fearing trouble left, right, long and short it changes the tone of the round. When you're on the tee and can see your (generous) landing area, it takes the edge off trying to be perfect.
mtgolfidiot says:
I'm a 15 handicap and my local muni is a fair test that makes golf enjoyable. I have played enough 138-140 slope (ie, tough) courses to realize that I typically walk off after finishing a round shaking my head. I'm ticked because I lost 4 balls in penal water hazards and frustrated about shooting 12-15 strokes over my handicap. For this you are charged $ ain't worth it
Felipe Rojas says:
The course I play is also a design by John Bredemus, and it hosts an LPGA event every year (Lorena Ochoa Invitational). The players give a lot of praise to the course, some of them calling it "old style" and wondering how come they don't play more courses like that. So I guess professionals enjoy this kind of courses as well!
TeT says:
Everybody enjoys that kind of golf... Its relaxing ...
Shawn Dinwiddie says:
@TeT - Starcke is awesome and one of my hill country favorites. We were blown away at how packed the course was for a Tuesday morning in the middle of nowhere, TX. Maybe golf needs more munis? #3 is definitely a tough one...although the drought has removed the lake on the left. My tee shot first go round was right in the middle of what use to be a small pond. #12 is the one that gets me every time it seems. The grainy greens are fun as well...there isn't a straight putt out there.
drew1473 says:
Great article. We had a course like that here in Bristol, TN (Holston Valley Golf Course.. It is actually the course that I learned the game on. The owner used to give students a very discounted price. So I would play it pretty frequently. 9 hole municipal course off the beaten path, maybe 1 or 2 bunkers total. Always a fun time. Too bad he sold it to the guy that lived right next to it for farm land. They used to have $5 scrambles every Tuesday and Thursday during the late spring, summer, and early fall.
jwilder78 says:
That's the thing that bothers me most about the tricked up courses, that you pay a high premium for the privilege of getting your ass handed to you. Golf is hard enough without overly penal layouts that have no dynamic range, i.e. you either hit a great shot and you're on the green; anything less, even a decent shot, and you're screwed.
SteveS says:
6965 yards, par 71, rating 70.8, slope rating 115. Per the USGA, Slope ratings range from 55 to 155; with 113 listed as average difficulty. I just did a quick check of several courses I play and all of the forward tee are in the 115 to 120 range. Could be the reason the PGA/USGA is pushing the "Tee it forward" initiative in the next week or so.
oobscott2 says:
i dont think there is anyway the average slope of all the tees on all courses for men in the US is at 113. Almost every course I have ever played, has a slope over 113 on all the tees. I'd say the average is probably 120. Perhaps it was 113 35 years ago. I think the USGA needs to update their info. Another outdated example, they still list a recommended par 5 to start at 450 yards. They say a scratch male golfer should be able to hit a drive 250 and a shot from the fairway 200. What a joke, the average scratch golfer hits a drive probably 280 yds and can hit a shot from the fairway 250 yds. The longest professionals hit drives 350yds and off the fairway 300 yds. So for pros, perhaps par 5's should start at 650 yds (just kidding)
bkuehn1952 says:
The number 113 is not the average of all golf courses. You are correct that most courses have slope ratings above 113. Paraphrased from the USGA handicap manual:

A golf course of standard playing difficulty has a slope rating of 113, and slope ratings range from a minimum of 55 (very easy) to a maximum of 155 (extremely difficult).
windowsurfer says: An article about Banff Springs: 133 slope from the 6398 yd whites. Neither unduly punitive nor tricked up. No need - it challenges and even rewards. A 1911 lay-out that still stands up to jostling from the pros (from the tips) irrespective of all the titanium in titaniumville and all the Bubbas in Bubbaland. Wish they made'em all this way - just ask Bing or Clint.
SteveS says:
Keep in mind that the slope rating is a measure of difficulty geared to the "bogey" golfer, the rating is the expected score of the scratch golfer. There is such a thing as a "Bogey" rating; the score expected from a bogey golfer. You get this number by dividing the slope by a factor of 5.381 and then add the rating to the calculated number; so e.g.; a course with a rating/slope of 71 / 113; the Bogey rating would be 113/5.381 + 71 = 91.99.
pahdz says:
Love Starcke Park...played it all the time while at Texas Lutheran
Tim Horan says:
@kurt the knife that phylosophy was to be used when we had the new nine added at Wildwood. Here we are six years on and still no bunkers. The new 9 are hard enough without additional defences.
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