“To The Nines” is a treat for golf history, course architecture fans

Golf course design is important because the design and layout of the golf course you are playing is an important factor in how your game goes. Forced carries, tight doglegs, narrow fairways and convoluted greens can make for a miserable day; on the other hand, flat, wide fairways and billiard-table greens, while great for your score (and your ego) make for boring rounds – and after all, we play this game for the challenge, right?
There is a small subset among golf fans, a dedicated cadre, who are aficionados of golf course architecture and golf history. Among the multitude of volumes on “Game Improvement” in the “Golf” section in the stacks at your local library or bookstore (remember those?) you will find, if you are lucky, some of the great books on golf course design. I have just read a new book that belongs in that group – To The Nines, by Anthony Pioppi, a senior writer for Superintendent magazine who has also written for Golfpunk, Golf Course Architecture, Links magazine, and the United States Golf Association.
The current edition of To The Nines, the second, is an update to the 2006 original. In the ten years since the first edition came out, the number of golf courses in the United States has dropped from near 17,000 to 15,405, with a drop in nine-hole layouts from 4,700 to 3,236. Pioppi profiles 16 dedicated nine-hole layouts in the book, including one, Midway, a sand greens course in Kansas which has since closed but which he kept in the book in remembrance.
Most of the courses that are profiled in the book are in the Eastern United States, where the game began in this country, and where many early courses were – or started as – nines; with a few that are located in the Midwest and South, and three on the West Coast. I am personally very familiar with one of those West Coast courses – the only golf course that lies within the boundaries of a national park – Wawona, in the southern reaches of Yosemite National Park.
Pioppi’s book is a fun read which by its very nature invites browsing, one chapter at a time. His knowledge of, and extensive research into, the history behind the courses and the architects who shaped (or re-shape) them is impressive, and a joy to discover in the pages of this slender volume.
Some of the names that are featured in the book are among the giants of classic golf course design – Seth Raynor, Donald Ross, Charkes Blair MacDonald – and a few are names that even non-golf fans will recognize, such as Katherine Hepburn and Howard Hughes (Hepburn was a talented golfer who played a lot of golf at Connecticut’s Fenwick nine-holer – one of the courses profiled by Pioppi – and years later played many rounds with Howard Hughes at Riviera Country Club in the Los Angeles area.)
I loved this book because I have always enjoyed learning about history, especially local history, and the history of golf and golf courses is pretty much by definition small-time, local history – no wars have been won or empires lost on golf courses.
To The Nines is a real treat for fans of golf history, and of the lore of golf course architecture. Pick up a copy and enjoy a walk through some small-time golf history, and an increase in your knowledge of the origins of the game in the United States.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *