Three Nines, Three Renowned Designers
Alexander H. Findlay is known as the Father of American Golf. Robert Trent Jones is the most prolific golf architect of the post-World War II era. Edmund Ault was one of the most respected golf architects in the ASGCA and had the distinction of being a top amateur golfer of his era. At Centre Hills Country Club, all three of these remarkable golf course designers came together to contribute to the twenty seven hole course in bucolic State College, Pennsylvania.
The first nine at Centre Hills was opened in 1923 and it reflects the routing approach of the time; namely, sloping fairways, small diabolical greens and stiff penalties for going astray. As with A.H. Findlay’s designs at Pittsburgh Field Club and Basking Ridge C.C. in New Jersey, there are fearless uses of slope on all shots and all putting surfaces, yet the design is pleasing because the distances are manageable and the holes are framed along natural contours. A good case in point is the spectacular fifth hole measuring a mere 337 yards, but requiring accuracy, patience and a brain to tackle. The tee shot is launched from an extremely elevated tee to a steep left to right sloping fairway guarded along the entire left side by a cascading stream. Break out the driver and bust away, however its clear that this gains the golfer nothing and introduces trouble. Alternatively, bunt an iron into the fairway and see if you have the steady hand to hit the elusive target and putt for birdie. Ideally, the play is a 250 yard drive and a well struck pitch, then a smooth stroke on a small and slippery surface. Strategy over strength and brains before muscle are a recurring theme on the opening nine at Centre Hills and its a great way to test all of one’s skills.
The walk from the ninth green to the tenth tee does not include rapid time travel, but the jump in golf course design eras is readily apparent looking down the tenth fairway. The hole is relatively flat and straightaway and the limited contours are man-made, yet the look and feel are again quite pleasing. Likewise, the beast that is the eleventh hole traverses flatland, but is made appealing by solid fairway bunkering and a slightly raised green complex. This theme is repeated throughout the Robert Trent Jones second nine and it’s effective in garnering the golfer’s interest. Without question, the Jones nine ratchets up the length and provides plenty of challenge. The fourteenth is a classic dogleg left par-4 that has the added benefit of Mount Nittany looming in the background. Followed by a beefy 190 yard fifteenth, the ball better be struck solidly to escape with with your round intact. The eighteenth is a marvelous par-3 more in keeping with the original nine as its a long iron to a green guarded by the stream and a left green side bunker.
The Ault nine is a delightful mixture of holes and the overall impression is that a marvelous 18 hole track was in the making. The landscape is slightly more barren and the contours are not quite as natural, yet its obviously the work of an accomplished architect and talented player. Also, Ault’s involvement with the Golf Course Architecture Society Society is revealed in the superlative conditions on the third nine. The logical conclusion is that Ault employed his knowledge of turf grass to use in the construction process.