Long Lost Links
In the blue-green haze of a West Virginia morning last week, a few miles northeast of The Greenbrier and the Solheim Cup competition, Sam Snead perched his walnut-hard gutta-percha ball on a pinch of sand, gripped his hickory-shafted brassie and gazed out over the 1st hole at Oakhurst Links. For the edification of the small crowd gathered to watch him play a few holes on the oldest golf course in the United States, Snead pointed to a half dozen sheep on a nearby fairway and remarked, "Those are the mowing machines at work." Then, with a swing still as sweet and smooth as homemade custard, Snead lifted the ball into the chilly autumn air and watched it disappear, far and sure, over a small hill.
Oakhurst Links, which until last week had not been used for nearly 80 years, was founded in 1884 by four native Scotsmen and a transplanted Bostonian, Russell Montague. Laid out over 35 acres of Montague's private estate, the nine-hole course played to 2,700 yards, with fairways which frequently crisscrossed because of the limited flat spaces for the postage stamp-sized greens. At the time, golf was so new in the States that a curious public would often drive out in coaches from the Springs to watch what one spectator of the day described as "grown men following a big marble over the hills."
After four of the five founders moved away in the early 1900s, the course lay abandoned until Lewis Keller, a Virginia real estate developer, avid golfer and a longtime friend of Snead's, bought the property in 1960 from Montague's 82-year-old son, Cary. Thirty-four years (but only four months of excavation) later, Oakhurst Links is nearly ready for regular play again.
When Oakhurst officially reopens next spring, its limited membership of 300-400 golfers will be allowed to play the twisting course using only wooden-shafted clubs and gutty-type balls. They will no doubt find the course more difficult to play than Snead did last week. A cleek in his hand, Snead hit his second shot on the par-4 1st hole right at the pin; it flew the green, settling in some thick grass on a severe downslope several yards behind the hole. The legendary wedge player wasted not a moment, carving the air with an ancient iron and dropping the ball three feet from the makeshift pin. Snead flashed his crafty, confident smile, and the tiny crowd cheered.
Somewhere, Russell Montague did too.
Rookie of the Year
One of this season's most impressive newcomers is the Michelob/ PGA Tour 19th Hole, a 77,000-pound interactive playground on wheels. The 19th Hole is billed as a fan information and entertainment display, and it doesn't fall short in either category.
The multimedia information system has two touch-screen monitors that give the intrepid fan access to a bevy of facts about regular and Senior Tour players and tournaments. Player information is literally at the fingertips, as are updated stats for scoring average, driving distance and the money lists. Past tournament results and even hole-by-hole aerial photographs of the course being played that week can be called up, and there are two other monitors that have updated scoring for the event in progress.
An enclosed theater for 10 houses a 60-inch video screen on which a loop of highlights and bloopers is shown. Just outside the theater, features on the Tour's charity and alcohol awareness programs as well as a live Iced from the tournament's television coverage can be viewed on TV screens. Despite the availability of all that information, however, the crowds are predictably drawn to the interactive entertainment.