- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
After his first round in the 1984 Masters, Ben Crenshaw got in a car and drove 20 miles to Aiken, S.C., and the relic of a course there, the Palmetto Golf Club. He parked in the visitors' lot, an odd-shaped field of dirt and rocks, and walked over to the sagging pro shop manned by Tom Moore, who finds gutta-percha balls on his course after heavy rains. � Crenshaw looked around. No dining room. No tennis court. No swimming pool. A Stanford White clubhouse, but not a big sprawling building like the one White designed for Shinnecock Hills, just a cozy structure that practically leaned onto the 1st tee. Crenshaw headed out, tumbling off the 1st tee and into the 19th century.
Nothing has changed in the 23 years since. "It's pure golf," Crenshaw said last week. "Just golf. And so, so pure. The holes fit the land beautifully."
Palmetto, founded as a four-hole course in 1892, is a private club that opens its doors to the public one week a year, Masters week. For $750, a foursome can play a 6,300-yard, par-71 course, all mounds and slopes and hollows, with solid-steel tee markers made from pieces of train rail. (You don't kick them more than once.) At Palmetto you're playing a course that has been shaped by Herbert Leeds, Alister MacKenzie, Donald Ross, Rees Jones and Tom Doak, among others. Since a Ramada Inn in Augusta was charging more than $400 a night for a single last week, paying $750 for a foursome to play the beguiling Palmetto course seems a bargain. Bob Wood, who runs the Nike golf business, was a visitor last week, signing a poster with his name and a swoosh. Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's tournament director, was there too. For the modern golf executive, going to Palmetto is like taking some sort of ritual bath, a reminder of the game that first sucked you in.
Palmetto's roots (the club's, not the tree's) are patrician. Aiken was a winter colony for rich Northerners during a bygone time, and the names of the early members are out of the Social Register: Hitchcock, Whitney, Harriman, Byers, Grace (of the steel-producing Graces). Also George Herbert Walker, progenitor of a famous golf cup and, yes, two U.S. presidents. Now the club is populated by area people working regular jobs: plumbing contractors, engineers, the sports editor of The Augusta Chronicle. "If I can get in," John Boyette, that editor, said last week, "anybody can."
Rees Jones, who gets to Palmetto once a year, during Masters week, first played the course at the invitation of an old friend, Bobby Goodyear, one of the few Palmetto golfers who is also a member at Augusta National. Jones suggested some changes to the course, mostly in the area of bunker restoration, and oversaw the project. "I did the work for free because I love the place, and they have no money," Jones says. One of the things he likes best about Palmetto is that the members have no airs.
"Who the hell are you guys?" one of the aggrieved golfers asked Jones.
"Yeah--and who the hell are you?"
Courses like Palmetto--where golf is simple, interesting, unmanicured and fast in every way--can be found all over Scotland and Ireland. In the U.S. they are double-eagle rare. When you find those conditions in American golf, they're generally at an old-line club that the public can't sniff: Maidstone, on Long Island; Newport, in Rhode Island; Sankaty Head, on Nantucket. "You find courses like that where there are people who understand that scruffiness is a traditional golfing value," says Jones. "Where people are comfortable enough with who they are that they're not using their golf course as a status symbol." The curse of modern golf, to Jones and not many others, is that everybody tries to outdo everybody else. Augusta on TV has a lot to do with that. Palmetto is immune to it.