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Maidstone In Her Original Glory

East Hampton, New York | While the near shutdown of new golf course construction in the U.S. has hurt the game’s top architects in many economic ways, it also has freed them up for another type of work: the revamping of classic layouts looking to modernize and/or recapture original design characteristics.
To be sure, the emergence of that market hasn’t totally made up for business that architects lost in the building slump. But it has helped pull them through tough times, and it also has been an enormous boon to clubs and courses that have taken advantage. In fact, it has launched another Golden Age in design, similar to the 1920s, when Seth Raynor, Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast were creating masterpieces at places such as Cypress Point and Fishers Island, Winged Foot and Seminole. Only now, it is happening in the form of very sophisticated nips-and-tucks. It may not be wholly original work. But what work it is.
A great example of that trend – and the very good results it can produce – is the recent restoration of the historic West Course at the Maidstone Club on Long Island’s East End. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the architects in charge, and the results of their efforts are nothing short of spectacular. They have deftly transformed what was already a very good course and widely regarded as a Top-100 track into one that deserves to be ranked in the top 25 in this country – and in the top 50 around the world. Founded in 1891 and named after the English village in Kent from which many of East Hampton’s early settlers hailed, Maidstone first boasted a rudimentary three-hole course and then a modest nine-holer. It was expanded to 18 holes in 1899, with
a club member handling the design work in close consultation with two-time Open Championship winner Willie Park Jr. In 1922, Maidstone acquired 80 acres of adjoining dunes land and asked the Scots- man, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, to handle that as well. Park built 12 holes on the new property, and combined them with the first and last three holes of the original 18-hole track to create the so-called West Course. A Scottish-style links hard on the Atlantic Ocean, the West was instantly regarded as an architectural triumph. Bernard Darwin, the great British writer, was so enthralled that he described the new holes that ran through the dunes as the finest stretch he had seen in America. Many golfers have expressed similar sentiments about Maidstone through the years, and understandably so. A par-72 track measuring just under 6,600 yards, it gave players a proper sense of golf as it was enjoyed in the Old World, in the wind, along the water and on ground firm and fast. But while its core design never changed through the years, its feel certainly did. And that induced Maidstone Club leaders to consider serious restoration. One of the biggest problems was the scrub brush and bushes that had engulfed most dunes. They not only eliminated Maidstone’s signature sandy look and obstructed views but also swallowed up errant shots so voraciously that play in certain areas could slow to a crawl. Another issue was the grass that was allowed to grow high and thick around bunkers, all but neutralizing a classic design element of links golf: that shots should be allowed to run into hazards and not be stopped on the way. “Maidstone’s heritage was as a classic seaside links, and we had gradually lost a lot of its traditional look and feel,” says club president Emil Henry.


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