The Ghost of Devereaux Emmet

Posted in Golf, Golf Writers Column by on July 29th, 2015

unnamedThe list of links designed by Devereaux Emmet includes Bethpage (Green), Congressional, Ridgewood Country Club, Wheeling Country Club, and about 125 others.  A friend to Charles B. Macdonald, who built the first 18 hole course in America and founded of the USGA,  Emmet was also a talented amateur golfer and the source of a rather obscure rule in golf: In 1916, after he won the father-son tournament at Sleepy Hollow Country Club with Devereux Emmet, Jr., the USGA instituted the architects rule barring golf course architects from competing as amateurs in tournaments.

In this vaunted history, not often mentioned is a sleepy 9 hole lay out Emmet designed in Dudley Massachusetts, done at the behest of The Slater Family.  Historians reading this will recall Samuel Slater as the founding father of the industrial revolution for his Slater Mill, which turned on river waters and generated a burgeoning textile industry in New England, many of the mills along the Blackstone River Canal. (Pawtucket, R.I. and the town of Slatersville are both part of the newly designated Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.)  One of Slater’s primary mills was a complex that still stands along the French River in Webster, a town Slater founded and named for his friend Senator Daniel Webster.  A Price Chopper has made a food complex in and around a clock tower and mill building that still stand and these bear witness to the fact that, at the time of his death in 1835, Slater owned thirteen mills and was worth one million dollars.

Where Slater left us the legacy of the Power Loom, and now historic sites along the Blackstone Canal where we teach about the branch and loom and the beginnings of consumerism in the brass and iron knick knacks of America’s Textile History, the Slater family left us something else as well:  Living on in Webster, in 1926, Samuel’s heirs brought in Emmet – one could argue at the height of his powers — to design a 9 hole on Dudley Hill, a hilly town to the west of Webster by a mile or so.  And that is where this writer comes into the story.McGregor_Links,_Saratoga_Springs,_NY

Looking for a place to raise a family and escape the high rents of Cambridge and Boston, 18 years ago I moved to Dudley and bought a barn and married the most beautiful woman in the world and have made a micro farm on 6 acres of land a country mile off from the first tee of Dudley Hill Golf Club.  In between raising a son, now 16, rehabbing an old dairy barn, and raising honey bees, I have played Emmet’s layout upwards of 1000 times.  To be clear, I am golfer who is pursuing a decent round, of perfecting a stroke, learning to ‘think my way around a course,” as Bobby Jones implored.  I am not a male-bonder, beer-drinker, sit- around-the-clubhouse guy.  A family man with a career, in summers I come home, do a little gardening, put dinner on the table, and race to Dudley Hill.  In June and July, if I get out by 7:00, I can get in 9, and sometimes more, before catching up with the league players or youngsters kicking their bags down the fairways.

In this way, I have come to love Emmet’s layout in the way of an old friend.  It’s a country 9 and not a sublime layout of targets and cruel but fair hazards. In keeping with country courses made in a time before earthmovers and million dollars fees, there are 3 holes with blind shots that can annoy and tie up the line.  But the design does have markings of a great architect. Number 7 is a humbling 479 yard par 4, which, one can imagine in 1926, would have been all but impossible.  (It’s difficult even with the megalithic drivers and perimeters weighted clubs of today).

And there is one hole at Dudley Hill that is a supreme golf hole, as fine as any I have played (and I have played courses by Nicklaus, Trent Jones, Rees Jones, and many a Donald Ross. . .)

Image from DudleyHillGolf.net

Image from DudleyHillGolf.net

It’s a par 3.  Tee sits in shade of stately maples and the golfer looks over a 165 yard valley that houses a small frog pond bordered by thick cattail swamp that give ways to thick forest. And on the other side of the valley — at eye level — is a smallish green with its tempting pin.  All beautiful, yes, and what clinches the hole as brilliant is that the green stands before an ancient cemetery that holds the remains of the early town founders. Tilted granite slabs seem to grow from the slope and that have dates from 1650 on.  The combination of the green, reachable only with an excellent shot, and the cemetery backdrop, all adds up to golf’s enduring lesson: you only have a certain amount of time.  Number 3 at Dudley Hill whispers, nevermore.  Time shrinks.  As the long days allow me to push into the evening, searching for one par round, this is the lesson of my Zen practice, my spiritual journey, my yogic retreat, my happy place away from the madness of the world.  Getting to that sublime third hole, where the eternal footman snickers at every fat struck shot, I also encounter the smiling ghost of Devereaux Emmet, beckoning me to face the truth: what is stronger than death? Golf. Life, friend. Love. You only have to breathe in the cool summer evening’s sparkling light. There are still miles to go before we sleep. And I don’t know what happens after that.

 

Dr. Mark Wagner lives on a micro farm in Dudley, Massachusetts with his wife, Monica and their son Myles.  He teaches at Worcester State University.  A poet and musician, his latest book of poems is Homebuilding (2011, Finishing Line.) His latest cd – Two Less Than Zero –is available by contacting the author.

Courses Designed By Devereux

Emmet designed many of his courses in an era of wooden-shafted clubs. Because the holes are often short by current standards many of his designs have since been reworked.

Note: Dates indicate when the course opened.
Note: This is a partial list.

(originally designed by Herbert Strong, remodeled by Devereux Emmet in 1921)

(remodeled by George Fazio and Tom Fazio in 1977 and by Arthur Hills in 2000)

(renovated by Devereux Emmet and Alfred H. Tull in 1931)

(with Tom Bendelow)

(with Donald Ross)

(remodeled by Devereux Emmet and Alfred Tull in 1931)

 

 

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