Old golf courses are like old farms. Some of them were at one point, or old orchards, which is almost the same thing.
This country saw its first few courses built in the 1890s. My old stomping grounds, near Chicago, saw its first course in 1892, the first site of the Chicago Golf Club built in Downers Grove. A year later, the course was moved to neighboring Naperville, where it still exists today. But that course, as old as it is, has never held a PGA Tour event. And even if it had, it wasn’t of the caliber and prestige associated with any of the courses whose logos appear above.
Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, the site of many tour stops over the decades, most recently held the U. S. Open, universally accepted as the toughest test of golf in the world. Pinehurst’s No. 2 course is the site of the PGA of America’s tour qualifying school, located in North Carolina. Pebble Beach Golf Links is probably the most famous of any U. S. venue, perennially hosting the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, an event played by celebrities as well as club and touring pros.
Shinnecock was built just after the aforementioned Chicago Golf Club in 1892. Pinehurst and Pebble Beach, as their logos show, 1895 and 1919 respectively.
Some old logos get to me, in one way or another. But old golf course logos are like old dishes passed down from your great grandmother: they have quaint styles based on old ways of seeing, reflecting old customs, and show old ways of regarding how they fit in the world long gone before two world wars and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
The country clubs were started by industry barons getting together and deciding they needed a getaway where they could carouse, smoke their cigars in private, and enjoy their spoils garnered from the toil of imperialistic business practices of the late 19th century. In a large way, to have a big, gigantic land-based yacht.
These old establishments were also segregated (some still are) and a large percentage didn’t allow women to play until at least the 1960s. Golf courses such as these were literally extensions of men’s clubs on beautiful acreage. True, they gave to charities and put on big dances and banquets. All to appear more altruistic to the public. Of course, in order to take part in and profit from all this pageantry, one had to join: you had to pass muster to get in, vetted carefully for whatever shortfalls you or your family had in the closet.
But all that only brushes against what their designs were on the door or stationery. Some tradition is good, but not so everywhere.
Shinnecock’s design above is a reflection of a old custom of grabbing an icon and using it in spite of itself. The course itself has long been the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Shinnecock Reservation about a land grab back in 1859, that the land was not bequeathed to the industry barons by the tribe, whose representatives say is tribal burial grounds.
Anyone who’s paid attention to sports news in recent years knows that icons and names derived from native Americans is no longer considered fashionable. It’s controversial at best and shameful at worst. Yet Shinnecock holds to their tradition of displaying it, placed in front of an arrow and a golf club!
This smacks of genuine hypocrisy. But that’s the way it was back in 1892. It’s time to let it go.
Then we have Pinehurst’s design. Upon close inspection, it looks like a boy standing on a piece of turf (a green?) either putting or chipping a golf ball. He was probably supposed to look like a caddy, which I’m interpreting from the way the hat is perched on his head. This is very quaint for several reasons: one, that golf is learned best if played from an early age (true); two, that caddies aspired to be like their members and learned to play after the day’s rounds were played; and three, it reflects a typical custom of the times when bronzed statuettes had children depicted adorably in recreational pastimes not to be taken seriously.
This design is charming, yes. But it’s also stodgy and belongs in someone’s attic along with grandpa’s humidor. Update it.
Then there’s Pebble Beach’s design. Now this is nice: a design that’s literally timeless, reflecting its location on the Monterrey Peninsula with that Monterrey Pine growing mightily out of that rock, simply encircled with the name of the place. You can’t attack this design from 1919. And you can’t really improve it, either. Does it need a golf club or ball in the design? I don’t think so. You don’t need to be literal if the design represents a place that, in this case, transcends its locale. It becomes less provincial and in the mind, over time, more magical.
Traditional golf tends to put its own history before its place as a pastime and its old courses as shrines above places to play. History in golf is fine, but will be lost going forward as future generations take to the fairways. Pebble Beach is more than a golf mecca and knew that even in 1919.
Something that places like Shinnecock and Pinehurst could learn from.