Led by club president Paul Drobbin, the club called on Renaissance Golf Design, the firm headed by Tom Doak, and the project soon took a dramatic turn.
They initially contacted us simply to rectify those issues, said Brian Schneider, an associate with Renaissance who handled the project. The more that we studied the present course compared to what it was in 1918, we realized that there was a great opportunity to recapture something special that had been lost over the years.
Hollywood’s 1918 course was actually the fourth course in its 20-year history, but the fourth time proved to be the charm. After abandoning its original nine-hole layout from 1898, then a smaller 18-hole site, the club moved to its current location off Roseld Avenue in Ocean Township in 1912. The initial course on the property was laid out by Scottish professional and greenkeeper Isaac Mackie and built for $5,000. However, within a few years the club brought in Walter J. Travis to completely rework the layout, along with Frank Barrett, the longtime chairman of Hollywood’s green committee, and the duo produced a course that immediately earned wide praise and landed a USGA championship.
Hollywood hosted the 1921 U.S. Women’s Amateur, won by Marion Hollins, who defeated three-time defending champion Alexa Stirling in the final, 5 and 4. Glenna Collett Vare, who would go on to win the championship a record six times, was the stroke-play medalist.
Some well-traveled golfers considered it among the very best courses in America, said Schneider. When [renowned British champions] Harry Vardon and Ted Ray played it in 1920, they both said it was the best course they had seen on the trip, and that included courses such as Merion and Brookline [The Country Club].
According to Schneider, who uncovered a New York Herald Tribune article by Grantland Rice on the Vardon-Ray tour, one aspect of the course that set it apart from its contemporaries was its length.
Vardon and Ray played the course at 7,000 yards, which made it one of the longest courses that had been built at the time, said Schneider. Because it was so long and bunkered the way it was – it had 220 bunkers – coming in and restoring what was there made it totally applicable to the better golfers of today.
Travis, a three-time U.S. Amateur champion who doubled as a course architect and publisher of American Golfer magazine, is celebrated for his subtle yet demanding green complexes.
The putting surfaces are fantastic, said Schneider, whose Renaissance associate, Bruce Hepner, has consulted on restoration work for several Travis designs. Frank Barrett deserves equal credit for the design – I’ve never seen a Travis course that is bunkered remotely like Hollywood, so that may be where Barrett had more input. But the greens are distinctly Travis; you can see a lot of similarities with other Travis courses.
Among Travis’ more than 50 courses are Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club (which hosts the Travis Invitational), Cape Arundel Golf Club in Kennebunkport, Maine; both courses at Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club, Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester, Vt., and Sea Island (Ga.) Golf Club. He also provided counsel on such renowned courses as Pine Valley and the National Golf Links of America.
Pine Valley was being built at roughly the same time as Hollywood, and Travis spent time there with [designer] George Crump, said Schneider, who before joining Doak’s firm worked as a greenkeeper at courses such as Pine Valley, Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills, Merion and St. Andrews in an effort to absorb their nuances. That certainly influenced what he did at Hollywood.
Its location at the Jersey Shore also means that Hollywood is buffeted by winds off the Atlantic Ocean, scarcely over a mile to the east. The wind can be blowing in one direction at 8 a.m., said Drobbin, and as you make the turn you realize that it’s coming from a completely different direction.
The most eye-catching aspect of Hollywood is its preponderance of bunkers, the most famous example of which is the demanding par-4 12th, which was long ago nicknamed the Heinz 57 hole for the approximate number of its dizzying array of bunkers. One bunker on the left side of the hole, about 50 yards from the green, rises at least 10 feet above fairway level. Another bunker complex, on the par-4 16th hole, is referred to as The Volcano for its distinctive appearance.
Unlike a lot of courses around the country, Hollywood didn’t lose a lot of bunkers during the Depression, said Schneider about the practice that clubs typically undertook to reduce maintenance costs. That’s not to say that the ravages of time, along with other architects’ handiwork (Dick Wilson in the late 1950s, Rees Jones in the late 1990s), didn’t alter the original layout.
As you go through the golf course now, you see bunkers of every shape and size, said Schneider, who relied on early course photos as well as aerial images from 1940. Before we did our work, a lot of them had been rather homogenized – it was exciting to bring back the variety in the bunkers.
The physical restoration wasn’t begun until last September, and after working into late December, the project was finished between March and mid-May of this year. Schneider thinks the club should be proud of the undertaking.
The group of members there who spearheaded this project really appreciated that something had been lost, he said. They gave us a lot of trust and a lot of freedom to do what we thought was best. I’m really glad the USGA is going back there because it’s become one of my favorite golf courses.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.