One of the continuing delights of the computer is stumbling upon something from the nearly forgotten past, then pursuing that subject for an update. Timely enough with the Masters golf tournament nearly upon us, my Googling was links-connected.
Pursuit began with curiosity about the Blue Hills Country Club whose Kansas City origins go back to 1912 and a location some 30 blocks south of where jazz greats developed their talents. By the time my TV Guide employment got me transferred to the city in 1959, Blue Hills was deep into plans to build a new a very grand course.
I was introduced to the original layout as a guest of Bill Bates, then general manager of WDAF Radio & TV. Two other members of the foursome were Jay Barrington, manager of WDAF Radio, and Bob Hanger, then co-owner of Jones & Hanger Advertising.
What Blue Hills left behind became one of those deals that young golfers today can't believe possible in a sport that has become very expensive. In my case, there were a couple of standouts. The Winnetka Club, designed by Chick Evans, cost $100 for a year's membership when I moved to the Chicago North Shore community in 1968. Golf was unlimited and there were no greens fees if you lived within the city's limits. The other remarkable bargain was the left behind Blue Hills whose membership was $90. The greens fees were $10. Unable to recall the new name for the course, I attempted to chase it down without success. The Blue Hills website fails to recognize its origins, a bit of seeming snobbery in view of the now course-less Blue Hills Neighborhood of affordable housing and where the streets are named after jazz greats.
If it's possible for a man to be in love with a golf course, Bill Bates was that man. Infatuation is not a strong enough word and Bill's deep and abiding affection was touching. Even when the new course was completed in all its magnificence (it is called by many the best K.C. links today), he preferred to play the old course.
The four of us saw a fair amount of other courses including the south side's Hillcrest and our tendency there was to play very early in the morning to beat the often intense heat; a companion factor, perhaps of greater import, was the course's modest 19th hole featuring inexpensive beer. Our enthusiasm peaked late one morning that extended way into the afternoon when the four of us wafted 64 16 ounce rascals. We kept track of our tippling by stuffing each round's empty cups into four mounting stacks.
We all managed to impair our marriages that day and in one case irreparably. It was Barrington's whose ended shortly thereafter with Hanger eventually marrying Jay's ex-spouse. If memory serves, it was the day of the great quaff that Hanger made the second of consecutive eagles on the second hole, in each instance holing out a six-iron. Hanger, easily the best golfer among us, accomplished his feat on succeeding Saturdays and it may have been that our drinking began in celebration of it.
Barrington and I would hook up in Los Angeles when I was transferred there in 1966. Jay was teaching sports celebrities, including Los Angeles Dodger Maury Wills, how to work with the media. More anon about Jay whose second wife once tossed all his clothes out of a room at what is now San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel. That last thought, whose construction includes references to both name and clothes dropings, may be a first for me.
Memories came flooding back when I googled the Hillcrest website and found a lede paragraph drawing attention to the course's signature hole, the 243 yards first. I mention it because, following our 16th round of beers, we decided to tackle the course again. Details are a bit beclouded but I seem to recall a general inability to coordinate the golf swing in addition to entangling my golf cart with Bates' bag carrier. There were claims I did the latter twice while managing to win the hole with an 11. We played no further.
One Saturday in 1964 found us playing what was then the world's longest course, according to the Guinness Book of Records. The accurately-named Dub's Dread was designed for masochists by touring pro Harold "Jug" McSpaden in Wyandotte County--just west of Kansas City and close to Monticello where he was born.
Dub's Dread had little character other than being very long. My recollection is that there were few trees. The course, then of 8,204 yards, today is a cut-down version of 7,224.
McSpaden was one of the best on tour winning 17 tournaments. In 1949, when Byron Nelson finished first a remarkable 19 times, McSpaden won none but was runner-up 13 times. They finished 1-2 so often they were called the Gold Dust Twins. Ten years earlier playing with Nelson in a warm-up round for the Texas Open, he shot 59. It was Nelson and McSpaden who invented the golf shoe. Their take was 25 cents a pair.
Nelson and McSpaden remained friends up to McSpaden's death by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1996. He was 87 and there is no evidence suggesting his demise followed a bad round at Dub's Dread although the course's location remains within a short drive of where he lived all his life except while on tour.
Commenting about his pal, Nelson told the Associated Press: "I feel like I've lost a wonderful friend. We never had an argument in all the time we played together." McSpaden once told him: "If you wouldn't have been born, I'd have been known as a pretty good player."
Dub's Dread, while longest no more, is acclaimed by people who care about such things as the course that inspired other 8,000 yards links. McSpaden's creation, it must be emphasized, occurred in the pre-titanium era when a course of 1,000 lesser yards was considered long. It wasn't long before The International Club in Bolton, Massachusetts came up with The Pines whose 8,325 yards still plays to a punishing par of 73 from what are called the "Tiger" tees so named well before Tiger Woods' birth. Lesser challenges may be found at members' tees where the yardage is 6,547.
A bit smug about "longest leadership," The International people have had to move aside for The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club located in a very mountainous region of Yannun Province in China. At first glance, it appears the course's scorecard must be a mistake of some kind; its par is 72 although it plays to 8,548 yards from the back tees. Among the par 5s is one measuring 711 yards plus two others that exceed 600 yards. There are five par 4s longer than 500 yards. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the ball flies 20 percent further at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain's 10,000 feet of elevation than, say, at Dub's Dread. For golfer's there's nothing quite like elevation redemption as a rationale for playing Jade Dragon. Still, that 20 percent of extra length gets the yardage down to a reasonable 6,839. Let's tee 'em up and don't forget the oxygen.
Appearing to be a threat to Jade Dragon was the El Grande Hombre, an 8,600 yard marathon announced for Las Vegas in 3003. Judging from the way the Sin City economy is going, the last thing Las Vegas needs is 8,600 yards of golf course--still on hold.
Reflective of the many bizarre moments available at the Nullarbor Links is the Dingo Den hole where a resident crow is prone to stealing golf balls. The Dingo Den is part of the world's truly longest golf course located on the southwestern outback of the country. So long is the course (848 miles) that it is spread over two states, South and Western Australia. Holes average 50 miles apart.
It is the vast emptiness of the area that got promotion-minded Aussies thinking about the tendency of motorists to hurtle down the Eyre Highway never bothering to stop, take in some sights, and, just maybe, spend a little money. That was five years ago and this fall the Fourth Annual Chasing the Sun Golf Festival will be held.
Seven holes are on existing courses while 11 were built at roadhouses. While The Masters course has a tradition of naming its holes after flowers and shrubs that lend to the majesty of Bobby Jones' masterpiece, the Nullarbor (Latin for "no trees") Links has been inspired by outback landscape resulting in such tests as Watering Hole, Oyster Beds, 90 Mile Straight, Border Kangaroo, and Golden Horse.
Plans are already underway with the tournament set for September 30-October 6. Last year 50 golfers participated and an even larger field is expected this year. Surprises are being arranged at the formidable Cocklebiddy's Eagle Nest hole in addition to the highly challenging Fraser Sheep's Back. Greens at the roadhouse holes, some made of AstroTurf, others of sand and oil, await golfers with fairways in their natural state. The world's longest golf course is appallingly arid with grass almost as rare as a wink-less Sarah Palin.
More than 2,500 have played the Nullarbor Links so far. Should you decide to tee it up, keep a sharp lookout for snakes, wayward wombats, and kangaroos. There's a road sign at the Cockleberry hole indicating the human population is eight, kangaroos: 1,234, 567.
You might consider hitting cheap or cut balls at Dingo's Den where the crow hangs out.
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