Saturday, May 14, 2005

Walter Travis' Lookout Point and Cherry Hill

Walter Travis reputedly was a bit of a bastard. One tough little man, he made his way in the game of golf by being able to get up and down from anywhere, especially important since he only hit the ball around 200 yards off the tee. John Daly he wasn't -- more Corey Pavin, but better. He is arguably the best putter the game has ever seen, even though he played at a time when green speeds and consistency surely weren't what they are today.
In Canada, Travis created two courses -- Lookout Point, in Fonthill, just outside Hamilton, and Cherry Hill, which held the 1972 Canadian Open and is just across the border from Buffalo. Both are fascinating clubs.
Lookout is built high on the Niagara escarpment, and features several plunging drops in elevation, small, wonderful greens and interesting fairway contours. Though rerouted slightly at some point in its past history, Lookout remains a terrific test of golf, though short by modern standards. Whatever it lacks in length, it makes up with interesting holes. Take the seventh, a par five that plays slightly uphill before encountering a fairway cut into the side of a slope. The cross slope takes all balls to the left of the fairway, making shot placement essential. The following hole, a par three that is slightly blind and uphill, wouldn't be out of place in Scotland.

The best the course has to offer comes on a series of holes in the middle of the back nine, but things get slightly derailed by ending on a series of short fours, protected only by wild, small greens. Nonetheless, Lookout, the home course of golf legend Marlene Stewart Streit, is worth going out of your way to play.

Cherry Hill is another Travis work, but seems very different from Lookout considering the two courses were built at almost the same time. Cherry Hill is known for its greens -- and on holes like 11, 15, and 16 -- they are among the most interesting anywhere in Canada. These greens are unlike almost anything you'd find on a modern Canadian course. Take the 11th, a mid-length par three. The green starts at its highest point in the left back corner, dropping precipitously to the front right. But rather than having clear shelves, like many greens, this one rolls gradually to the front, leaving its delineations less defined. It is great fun to play and put -- which is the challenge of the hole. Unlike Lookout, Cherry Hill does not have the same sort of elevation shifts, but it does gently roll over most of the property, making it, in some ways, a more consistent golf course with a better finishing kick.
That aside, the clubhouse is wonderful and the membership, which is 90% American, is friendly and inviting. What more could one want?

If you're interested in Travis and his work, it is worth reading the recent biography of the man, which provides a fascinating account of what he was all about, including a bit about his forays into architecture. It even quotes my good friend and Travis expert, golf architect Ian Andrew.

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