Even if all you have is a smattering of interest in golf history, when you hear that the year was 1913, you know the place was The Country Club, the playoff opponents were Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, and that it was Francis Ouimet who fired the shot heard ’round the world and captured the U.S. Open, elevating the status of golf in America.
However, hardly anyone beyond the most ardent golf historians knows that almost exactly a year later, Ouimet won the title he most coveted, the U.S. Amateur, downing Jerry Travers 6 & 5 in the 36-hole final at Ekwanok Country Club in the resort town of Manchester, Vermont.
Whereas the Open catapulted The Country Club into the stratosphere of illustrious American golf courses, Ekwanok, by its own choosing, withdrew from the national scene, making two small reappearances. The first was in 1939, when it hosted a tournament on the 25th anniversary of the Ouimet victory; the second was the NCAA Championship in 1940. Since then, the club has gone about its business in nondescript fashion, nestled in a valley amid the Taconic Range mountains that loom over its 18 holes, secure in the knowledge it is the finest course in the Green Mountain State.
As would be expected, the land of Ekwanok is rolling. The highlight stretch easily could be holes 13 to 15. The 13th is a downhill 221-yarder to a green that most assuredly has to be one of the smallest for any hole of that length in the U.S. The best place to miss, as with many of the holes, is short. But par is no guarantee thanks to a tricky putting surface.
The 14th plays longer than its 341 yards, with an uphill drive over “the Pit,” a gnarly ravine billed in its earliest days as “the largest natural hazard in America.” The green is well-bunkered and the short approach must be solidly played to another smallish green.
From the tee, the downhill 389-yard 15th can appear benign, yet it is far from that. A stream skirts the left side for almost the entire length of the fairway before making its way underground to a small pond. Flirting with the left on the tee shot allows a player to stay away from the pond and go for more distance, but by successfully challenging the series of five bunkers that are carved into a mound in the right rough and bringing the pond into play, golfers find they have a much better angle into the green.
This kind of strategy dates back to Ekwanok’s 1899 beginning and to architect Walter J. Travis, one of the best amateurs of his day and the man who would rock the golf world a few years later when he became the first American to capture the British Amateur, in 1904. (Originally from Australia, Travis became a naturalized citizen.)
Known as “the Old Man” because of his late start in golf, Travis would go on to design or remodel nearly 40 other courses, including Garden City Golf Club. One of the longest courses in the country when it opened at 6,082 yards, Ekwanok is at once rudimentary and outlandish in much the same way as the Myopia Hunt Club, which Travis adored.
By the time the U.S. Amateur—to this day the only USGA championship held in Vermont—arrived in 1914, Ekwanok had staked its claim as a bastion of golf.
Currently, Ekwanok is undergoing a restoration with the aid of architect Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Golf Design. The process, which is nearly complete, consists mostly of restoring bunkers and greens that had been lost or modified over the years. When the restoration is complete, Ekwanok will retain the personality it possessed as the site of Ouimet’s triumph in 1914.
Ekwanok Country Club
Year founded: 1899
Architect: Walter J. Travis