08. April 2010 · Comments Off on Michigan Golf Tradition (1931) · Categories: Archive 2009

golf Depression?  Nothing a round of golf chased with smokes can’t cure. (Photo: U-M Bentley Library)

[Ed. Updated 4/8 with some info from Greg Kinney of the Bentley Library]

With this Masters upon us, it’s a great time to post this great photo from 1931.  I found it thumbing through ‘Michigan Links’ magazine who in turn published it courtesy of the great U-M Bentley Historical Library.  I’m guessing they are on the 18th tee box, with the camera pointed north toward campus.

Gotta love these guys with the middle pair (team captain J.R. Royston and John Howard) taking a break from enjoying their cigarettes for the photo.   The gent on the right is coach Thomas Trueblood, the man who organized U-M’s inaugural team in 1901 and the first varsity team in 1921, and who led Michigan to five Big Ten championships and two National titles (‘34 and ‘35).   Michigan was the first non-Ivy league team to win all the NCAA marbles.  Trueblood hung up his argyle socks on top after the 1935 season.

The Blue Course
Given that this photo dates to 1931 it was likely shot on the Michigan freshly built golf course that we all know and love today.   The land was purchased by Fielding Yost as part of the parcel bought for the Michigan stadium construction, in fact a portion of the property was on Yost’s short list for the location of the Big House when it was being mulled in the mid-1920s. 

While the stadium property was bought in 1926, according to Greg Kinney at the Bentley Library the deed on the golf course property was closed a little later.  Kinney wrote via email, “The deed for the main parcel that became the golf course was signed February 25th 1928.  This parcel of about 27 acres was purchased for $38,500.”  Can you imagine what those rolling hills so close to town would be worth today?  Let’s not give the athletic department any ideas!

Here’s a little course history more on course history from mgoblue.com:

The University of Michigan Golf Course was designed in the late 1920s by Alister MacKenzie, one of golf’s all-time greatest architects. The Regents unofficially opened the course in the fall of 1930 as the first golfers to play the new U-M Golf Course. The course officially opened in the spring of 1931 and immediately drew praise as one of the finest in America. At the time of its opening, the University Golf Course became just the fourth course to be located on a college campus.

Speaking of the Masters you may know that MacKenzie designed the beautiful track at Augusta National and only a handful of other courses in the United States.   While MacKenzie is credited with the design of the U-M course (and that’ll never change), there’s some question as to the extent he was engaged on this project.  I contacted Kinney asking for a photo of Yost with MacKenzie and he told me that the U-M course was indeed designed by Mackenzie’s design firm, but he wasn’t alone in laying out the course.  It seems he did “collaborate” on it with partner Perry Maxwell and their relationship is explained here:

"Chris Clouser, author of "The Midwest Associate," may have compiled the most comprehensive synopsis of Perry Maxwell’s body of work as a golf course architect. "Actually, Maxwell is misunderstood by many people," he notes with a hint of regret in his voice. "For example, he wasn’t Mackenzie’s associate, he was his partner." Clouser goes on to explain that, during their period of collaboration (1924-35), "Mackenzie would get the contracts, then they would collaborate on the design. Then Maxwell finished everything." History reflects this arrangement at such famous places as Crystal Downs and the University of Michigan Golf Course, but did you know they also did Oklahoma City Country Club and Melrose Country Club in Pennsylvania?"

Interesting stuff.   Kinney directed me to Julie Truettner at the U-M Campus Planning office for more info on the original designs and more importantly, who was acknowledged on the original documentation.  She promptly wrote me back with the following info:

Actually both names are on the golf course design drawing that we have.  The title block in print letters has:


Then it is also signed "P. D. Maxwell" under the McKenzie and Maxwell text.  (Yes, it is spelled McKenzie on the drawing.)

Truettner also noted the design is republished in the book,  The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie by Tom Doak, James Scott and Raymund Haddock (2001).


Related: When Radrick Handcuffed Eldrick (Tiger Woods’ troubles at Michigan other course, Radrick Farms)

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