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Golf is part of the plan at Chautauqua

Ronald S. Montesano

Golf came to the lands above the lake in fits and starts. The first holes were laid out in 1896, although the first organized nine-hole course, crafted by Seymour Dunn, was not unveiled until 1914. The second nine were added in 1924 by Donald Ross; then a seventy-year lull intervened, until a second eighteen opened in 1994. Jack Voelker, director of recreation and youth services for nearly a quarter century, has been waiting a long time to explain why golf is important at Chautauqua.

“With its history of educational lectures and classes, symphonies, opera and ballet performances, and renowned preachers, how does golf (or any other recreational pursuit) find a place at Chautauqua? The answer lies in the vision of our founders, John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller. They sought a place where the whole person could be nourished—mind, body, and spirit. From the beginning, they made recreation an equally important part of the Chautauqua experience. ... Famous sportsmen such as the legendary coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg, made Chautauqua a summer destination. And on her way to deliver a lecture at Chautauqua in 1929, Amelia Earhart landed on what is now the Lake Course’s seventeenth hole.”

Voelker goes on to describe how the grand old game evolved at the Institute: “The Lake Course is our Donald Ross course. All but three of the eighteen holes are original to Ross’s design. Two of his original holes are now part of our Hill Course. Ross reworked Chautauqua’s original nine-hole course and did his design, as he often did, working from topographical maps. It is believed that he did not come to Chautauqua.”

The storied practitioners who’ve tested the golfing grounds of Chautauqua Golf Club include the first winner of the Masters, Horton Smith, who played an exhibition with Walter Hagen, and thirteen World Golf Hall of Fame golfers, including Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, and Jimmy Demaret. Other golfers of note include Bill Clinton, Vince Gill, Dinah Shore, and Sandra Day O’Connor.

In the early 1990s, a decision was made to expand the golfing property, and the unusually named designer Xenophon Hassenplug was selected to design and build the new Hill course. Hassenplug gave the new course a very different layout from the one designed by Ross. Voelker explains, “The Lake is characterized by open tee shots, parallel fairways, and demanding approaches to small, often steeply sloped greens (a Donald Ross trademark). The Hill course provides scenic views and is a shot-maker’s course, with tree-lined fairways, frequent dog legs, and small but more gently sloped greens.”

In 2008, a practice facility made its debut. Keeping the Institution’s goal of life-long education in mind, the Learning Center boasts a lengthy practice range, multiple chipping and putting greens, and three practice holes. Its non-intimidating appearance aims to foster simultaneous improvement in comfort and ability. Built over twenty-five acres in the middle of the formal golf courses, the mission of the practice center mirrors that of the Institute. As Voelker says, “We hold group clinics, special junior golf camps, and family golf events, even a preschool introduction to golf with modified equipment. By introducing new players to the game, delivering high-quality professional instruction and providing space for golfers to practice (and improve) their game, and thus their enjoyment of the game, we hope to help build a stronger golf community.”

If you can envision a finer place than Chautauqua to pass a dozen hours, play two rounds of golf with a bit of lunch and a nap in between, let us know.



Ronald S. Montesano is a teacher at Nichols and the founder of buffalogolfer.com.

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