[NOTE: This was written in the SCOR Golf days, when our offices were in Victoria, Texas.]
I took a trip back in time of sorts, on Tuesday. About halfway between our offices in Victoria and Austin, there is a little town of Seguin, which has a wonderful old municipal course called Max Starcke Park. I hadn’t played it since my youth, but we thought it would make a good setting for work meetings for the day, so my Vice President and I met there early Tuesday morning.
Set in the Guadalupe River bottom land, the course is framed by towering old pecan trees that make for a beautiful setting. With few exceptions, this old course is exactly as it was when it was first built in 1939, a design by John Bredemus and Shelly Mayfield. Read up on those two and you’ll find some fascinating history. The course has been lengthened to about 6,900 yards, and represents a good test, but what impressed me is the difference in the way the greens and approaches were built back then, compared to what most modern courses reflect. And this gives some insight to what might be a core problem of the game.
The Starcke Park course features very few bunkers, and they are placed strategically to shape the course, not to penalize every errant shot. The fairways are generous, and only a couple of holes have small ponds that come into play. The greenside slopes are gentle to allow for chipping the ball when you miss a green in regulation. They all also feature the ability to run the ball up to the green on the approach, which was a much more common way to play until the advent of “modern” architecture. And the greens were much slower than what I’m used to playing.
In other words, this course, like most built back then, played much more “friendly”. It was a game, not a torture test, and you didn’t tremble in fear every time you missed a green.
In contrast, most modern courses have strong defenses off the tee and around the greens. Fairways are narrower, the rough is taller and fairway bunkers, water and OB stakes are everywhere you look. When you miss a green, you are either in a bunker, grass bunker, lake/pond/stream, or you are trying to figure out how to hit a delicate pitch to a fast green that slopes away from you. It’s no wonder handicaps are not changing with the advances in equipment, and the game’s participation rates continue to decline.
My opinion is that modern course are nice to look at, but too many are just too damn hard for recreational golf. Most of the guys that play Max Starcke Park on a regular basis would probably have their lunch handed to them on a “big city” course in Austin or San Antonio. So I’m betting most of them just don’t go. They like their little local course, have fun playing a round of golf in 3 hours, having a beer and going home. Wow, what a concept!!!!
If you want to take your own trip back in time, find one of these historic little gems and go have some fun. Don’t expect the manicured, lush track you might be used to, especially if you belong to a private club or frequent a more modern course. Make it a field trip to connect with the roots of golf in the U.S. I can almost guarantee you will enjoy your day.