LAKE ORION, MICHIGAN l Bernhard Langer has been in and around golf most of his life. He started caddying at age 7 in his native Germany, began his apprenticeship as a teenager and turned professional at age 15. He has traveled the globe with his clubs. The two-time Masters champion has done it all and seen it all.
Or so he thought.
“Never seen anything like it,” Langer said after experiencing the mammoth 18th green at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, which returned to the major stage for the U.S. Senior Open.
That’s because the 18th green on the Wilfrid Reid design is “unique.” Well, that’s the word the golfers are using to describe it.
Olin Browne, the 2011 U.S. Senior Open champion, said it reminded him of something else.
“I see a lot of that kind of motion when I’m on my boat,” Browne said.
The 18th green at Indianwood is 24,000-square feet of knolls and rolls, waves and graves. That’s half the size of a National Football League gridiron. A football field measures 100 yards from goal line to goal line and 53 yards from sideline to sideline. That’s 48,000 square feet.
“The putting green is 51 yards deep,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules, competitions and amateur status. “The tape measure did stretch that long. So we were complete.”
That’s a healthy wedge for many golfers. And a three-club difference for the best.
“When we looked at the 18th green, I think it was a case of which (hole positions) don’t we want to use,” Hall said. “There are plenty of choices. There are almost mini-greens throughout that particular green. But we’re looking for challenging hole locations. There’s a lot of variety.”
Langer’s meticulous approach to the game is well-documented. He doesn’t measure by yards. He measures by feet and inches.
“The 18th is so big you can spend an hour trying to chart that thing down,” Langer said.
Tom Pernice, Jr., said, “I would never design a green like that, but it is what it is.”
Pernice is in the majority because nobody else ever has, either, except for Reid, an English professional golfer who studied under Tommy Armour’s father, Willie, in Edinburgh. For historical perspective, Reid was the third English golfer who came to the United States for the 1913 U.S. Open in what was called the British Invasion of American golf. The others were Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Against enormous odds, the American teenager, Francis Ouimet, won the championship and changed the course of golf in this country. Reid, who tied for 16th at The Country Club, played with Ouimet in the third round after sharing the second-round lead with Vardon.
Shortly afterward, Reid returned to America to remain and became an executive of the PGA of America.
He settled in the Detroit area and, after his death, was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. Reid is credited with 58 course designs and 43 remodels.
Indianwood fell into a state of serious disrepair three decades ago. It was essentially left for dead until Detroit area industrialist Stan Aldridge staked his claim. Aldridge uncovered a gem and his instincts told him he had to renovate, revive and restore Indianwood to its glory days. He started with the physical property, the clubhouse, which now rivals any in the country for its Renaissance appeal.
Then he went to work on the course by securing the 1989 U.S. Women’s Open as Indianwood’s first showcase event. It’s where Betsy King finally broke through to win her first national women’s championship and where Nancy Lopez was runner-up. When the United States Golf Association needed an emergency replacement for the 1994 U.S. Women’s Open, Aldridge made Indianwood available on short notice. The championship was won by another member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Patty Sheehan. Great courses produce great champions.
“It’s the same way that van Gogh and Monet and guys like that are classic and they’ve endured the test of time,” Browne said. “And they’ve got people painting pictures now, and they don’t have it. I can’t explain it. You know what it is when you see it.
“Great golf courses allow guys like me and Corey Pavin to compete at the same level as guys like Freddie Couples. Classic courses are classic because they stand the test of time, and they receive the championships well, and the champions that win on those courses represent great golf … You can’t fake that and you can’t paint a picture that doesn’t fit.”
The USGA owed Indianwood a favor and Aldridge wanted a Senior Open but couldn’t get it with the old Ford Senior Players Championship, down the road in Dearborn, Michigan, still in town. The instant it left after 2006, the USGA called Aldridge and the 2012 U.S. Senior Open became a reality.
And the world outside of this little corner of Michigan discovered, once again, Wilfrid Reid and the uniqueness of a classic course with a quirky 18th green. Reid built it, Aldridge re-built it and they came. They will come again.