This is the beginning of a multi-part post on various golf courses that I have played (at least 5 times). I’ve included courses where I played regularly and other courses which tell a story.
Follow the links to Google Maps to see what these courses look like now. Be sure to look at them in Satellite view.
I started playing golf over 50 years ago. I asked my Dad (who at the time was not a golfer) if I could get some lessons. At that time we lived on Fort Sheridan, an old Army fort along Lake Michigan north of Chicago. Fort Sheridan had a 9 hole golf course, laid out mostly on the huge central parade ground. Fort Sheridan has a number of fairly deep ravines (great places to play summer and winter). Only one hole was close to them–a short par-3 over the ravine. Another couple of holes ran along-side the airfield landing-strip that ran east to west. Greens were small and fairways were generously-wide. IOW, there’s nothing too special about this course but a great place to learn the game. The Special Services MSGT who ran the course was also the teaching “pro” and my instructor. He wouldn’t let me onto the course until I had picked up enough skill to play it without holding anybody else up. (I was 12 at that time). One of the great advantages of living on an Army post in that era was that kids pretty much had the entire post as our secured playground. I frequently played the course by myself during the week.
My dad decided to start playing golf after I took up the game and we started playing the course together. He didn’t take any lessons and I routinely beat him.
The course was later expanded to 18 holes. Fort Sheridan was decommissioned in the ’80s and the course turned over to the Lake County Park District. Developers came in, rehabbed old quarters, converted the central barracks into condos, and built new houses. The golf course is gone but you can see hints of it on the central parade ground.
Ft. Buchanan and Ft. Brooke, Puerto Rico
Dad was transferred to Fort Buchanan, P.R. in 1957. There were very few golf courses in Puerto Rico at that time. There were two private country clubs, one in San Juan and the other in Ponce. The other three were military courses: Ramey AFB at the western end of the island, Fort Buchanan across the harbor from San Juan, and Ft. Brooke. But major changes were starting to happen, Rock Resorts was finishing up Dorado Beach, the first destination-resort on the island featuring a Robert Trent Jones championship layout. I got to play it on my 13th birthday–my first really nice course to play.
Fort Buchanan was another unprepossessing golf course. It was mostly flat except for the 9th hole which was bordered by a tall limestone bluff. (It was very steep–two of my schoolmates fell off that bluff while exploring and one died). The course had a few caddies. Once, a disgruntled golfer flung a club up against the bluff and it caught in a tree sticking out. He instructed caddy to retrieve it and the caddy refused. The guy tried to retrieve it himself, slipped, and broke his arm.
The greens had been constructed with a base layer of coconut fiber and were simultaneously firm but a bit damp in that climate. One time somebody decided to spiff up the course for incoming brass and replaced all the sand in the traps with beautiful white sand taken from a beautiful Atlantic beach. What a disaster that was. The sand was extremely fine and when wet was like hardpan. When dry, it was powdery and lofted shots sunk below the surface. It’s kinda hard to find a buried white ball in a white sand trap. IIRC, that experiment lasted about a month.
Fort Brooke was really unusual. It had been built in a large park-like area behind the El Morro castle. El Morro was built between the 16th and 18th centurys by the Spanish to guard San Juan bay. The US Navy shelled it during the Spanish-American war.
The golf course had 9 holes. Two holes were played in and around the moats. The player had to hit a blind shot into the moat on one par-3. The next tee required a lofted tee shot from the moat out to a relatively short par-4. Four holes crisscrossed each other in a large central bowl. This has to be the most compact 9 hole regulation-length golf course ever built.
There is not a lot of potable water in San Juan to drink, much less keep a golf course up in prime condition. The course was un-irrigated. Rain kept the fairways green and the greens were built from oiled-packed sand. Each green was a circle with the hole in the center. Unlike Kansas-style sand greens, you played your ball from where you lay. The caddy would drag a path from your ball to the hole and upon the group completing the hole, would drag the entire green circularly to fill in the spike holes. He used a drag which resembles the drag used to sweep the base paths in a baseball stadium.
You had to have a caddy. The caddy carried your bag, stood up on top the moats to give you a line for the two holes within them, dragged the greens, and protected you from incoming shots in the central bowl.
Fort Buchanan is still up and running. Fort Brooke was turned over to the National Park Service in 1961 and has reverted to a big public park. You can’t really tell from the satellite view that a golf course ever existed because it had no tree-lined fairways and small flat greens.
Next time, Kansas City golf.