My Favorite Autumn Golf Holes
Two executives choose New England classics to watch falling leaves and to play some of the country’s toughest holes.
October 1 2001 by John Steinbreder
You wouldn’t think Stephen Warhover and Ivan Lendl have much in common. After all, one is a 57-year-old Chicago native who runs a frozen seafood company. The other is a retired tennis star from the Czech Republic, only 41 years old and recently inducted into his sport’s Hall of Fame.
But actually, there are a number of similarities between the two. They both run companies. Warhover operates Gorton’s Seafood and Lendl presides over his own sports promotion business Spectrum Sports. Both love the game of golf. And both say that their favorite place and time to tee it up is in New England during the fall.
“I really like the light that time of year, and when the leaves start to change colors it makes walking a golf course in that part of the world so enjoyable,” says Warhover, who works and lives just outside Boston. “It’s a very beautiful and tranquil experience.”
Adds Lendl, who has a house in the Northwest Connecticut town of Goshen: “One thing about New England is that it has some of the oldest and most classic golf courses in America. So that makes it a special place to play.”
Ask the two men to specify a favorite course for that time of year and they don’t hesitate. For Warhover, it’s the Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton, MA. “That is a beautiful old course with lots of wooded hills around it, so you really get a great sense and feel of autumn,” he says.
Myopia was organized in 1875 by Delano Sanborn, a one-time pitcher on the Harvard baseball team and one of four sons of then Boston mayor Frederick Prince. Originally, the club’s main activity was lawn tennis. The young men also formed a traveling baseball team, and because several squad members wore glasses, they called themselves the Myopia Nine. Eventually, that’s the moniker they gave their club.
Golf didn’t become a part of club life until 1894, when R.M. Appleton, the master of hounds for the Myopia Hunt, laid out a nine-holer. Two years later H.C. Leeds, a former captain of the Harvard football team and a golfing member of the nearby Country Club in Brookline, MA, was asked to revamp that layout.
The finished product, known as the “Long Nine,” was so highly regarded that the newly formed United States Golf Association held its Open Championship there in 1898. Three years later, Leeds built a second nine at Myopia, and the course went on to host three more Opens, in 1901, 1905, and 1908.
A century later, the private course is still regarded as perhaps the toughest U.S. Open in tournament history. In 1898, for example, a golfer named J.D. Tucker turned in a 157, and that was just for one round. Ernie Way hit a putt there that rolled off the green and into a swampy hazard, never to be found. It was the only time a U.S. Open golfer had ever lost a ball on a putt.
The course Ivan Lendl likes best for fall golf is the Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, and it, too, has a rich history. It’s not only a founding member of the United States Golf Association (USGA), but also the site of the first official U.S. Open and Amateur championships.
Newport was officially formed in 1893, but it actually got its start three years before when a group of men led by Theodore Havemeyer rented 40 acres of farmland near Brenton Point and laid out a primitive nine-hole track. They needed only a few days to build the course-one of America’s first. Fences and stone walls crossed the land, and although they interfered with play, there was nothing the golfers could do about them because the lease did not allow for any alterations of the property.
Club members played the Brenton Point course that first year, but in 1894 purchased another farm and had their head professional, William F. Davis, build a new nine-hole course there as well as a six-hole track for beginners. Newport joined with four other clubs to form the USGA. One of the association’s first duties was to sanction official national championships for professional and amateur golfers alike, and it selected Newport as the site for those inaugural events.
The course has undergone many changes over the years. Architect Donald Ross made significant modifications in the early part of the 20th century, and more changes were implemented when the club purchased a piece of adjoining land and asked another design great, A.W. Tillinghast, to reroute some of the old courses and design seven new holes.
Newport, like many old-line golf clubs, is a bit of a hodgepodge with several different elements of design and style. But that doesn’t detract from its quality and its status as a must-play among aficionados-especially in the fall, and especially for the tennis player-turned-golfer and sports marketing executive Lendl.
“It has a wonderful variety of grasses, all with different lengths, looks, and colors. Then you have the ocean, which you can see from several holes. Length is not at all important, but precise shot making is, and there are several holes that really test your ability with your short irons, especially your wedges. It challenges you to make decisions, aboutwhether to go for the green on a shortish par-four, for example, or whether you should lay up and use your pitch.”
Lendl visited Newport this past summer, in part to play a few rounds but also for his induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which is not too far away from the course. And he planned to return in the fall. “The wind seems to blow a bit more. You get fog, too, and the greens get a bit firmer and slicker and even more challenging to play.”