No other sport is as proud of its architects as golf. Not one baseball fan in a thousand can tell you who designed the home of the Milwaukee Brewers, and likely it would be just as hard to find a Milwaukee Bucks fan who could name the designer of Fiserv Forum. But even a casual golf fan knows the four courses at Kohler were created by legendary Pete Dye, in partnership with his wife, Alice, that Sand Valley Golf Course is a Coore-Crenshaw creation and that credit for the terrific Mammoth Dunes Golf Course goes to the Scotsman David McLay-Kidd.
But that's the thing about golf. Anyone can be a course architect. Just play cross country golf, and for just one day the course you know like the back of your hand is an entirely new place.
A day of cross country play has been a staple at our course in Bayfield for a number of years now. It started when one of our members – OK, it was me – was standing on the elevated 15th tee and saw there were multiple opportunities for shots beyond the conventional approach.
The 15th is a short par 4 that plays straight uphill. But turn around on the tee box toward sparkly Lake Superior and look at the other options. Just 70 yards straight downhill, the 14th green just left begs to be played again from another direction.
Off to the left, the steeply sloped 12th green is just a tantalizing 140 yards away. Way off to the right is the 13th green, but to reach it all but the longest hitters would have to play an iron to the 14th fairway, then add a mostly blind shot to the small, two-tiered 13th green that is hard enough to hit from its own fairway, let alone another. The eighth green was reachable from the 15th tee as well, though it required clearing a wall of trees that mostly blocked it from view. And since we would have to go back to the clubhouse anyway, the last hole was from the 15th tee to the ninth green, a par 6 or so, which meant crossing fairways and choosing a new route home.
For the first few years we played our six-hole cross country course on men's night, but word of mouth was so favorable that women joined in as well. The last two years we expanded to nine holes, creating new holes ranging from 180 yards to a mere 35-yard bunt from the 10th tee sideways to the ninth green.
It's harder than you think, and as fun as you can imagine.
Cross country wouldn't work on a course open to other play, given the logistics of jumping fairways and running carts helter-skelter. But if a couple of hours can be cleared for unconventional routing, cross country golf can offer challenges the original design never considered.
When traveling from the 15th tee to the ninth green, a pond that otherwise would never be in play is suddenly a yawning hazard. A friend rinsed two there and walked away with a nine. I suffered an eight when my attempt to clear the waste area with a blind shot ended in disaster. And those weren't the only big numbers recorded that day.
The opportunities are as many as there are tees and greens. The game captain could put 18 greens into one cup and 18 tees into another and using a blind draw "design" a golf course that has never been played before. So what if the 17th green is about 1,200 yards from whatever tee it is matched with – buckle up and start swinging. You'll get there eventually.
Think of it this way. In the fall, many golf courses are used by cross country runners. Why not take a few clubs along and join them?