In 1923, the widow of former Bulldog football captain Ray Tompkins 1884 bestowed Yale with a sizable donation to be used for the University’s athletic programs. The University purchased a 700-acre swath of land close to Yale’s campus that golf course architect Charles Blair Macdonald once described as forest, rock and muck.
Eighty-nine years later, one of the country’s premier college golf courses occupies that area. Ranked by Golfweek as the No. 1 campus course for the past three years, the course at Yale will play host to an NCAA regional tournament for the fifth time in its history in 2015. Director of Golf Operations Peter Pulaski said the course stands as a prime example of early American golf architecture.
“It remains a very relevant, challenging test of golf for college golfers,” men’s golf team head coach Colin Sheehan ’97 said. “It really was one of the landmark courses from that golden age of design.”
Pulaski described the opportunity to play host to the NCAA Regional as an honor, especially in light of the quality of the courses that could have hosted the event around the country. He added that hosting the tournament will consist in both preparing the golf course and making the weekend memorable for the elite field of golfers that will descend upon the course.
“The regionals are an opportunity to be around some of the best college players in the country,” Pulaski said. “It’s a great event.”
After the school received the gift from Tompkins, Macdonald, along with his protégé Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, was selected to design and construct the course. Before becoming one of America’s leaders in golf course design, Macdonald began his architectural career examining the great golf courses of his native United Kingdom, men’s team captain Bradley Kushner ’13 said.
When he carried his craft across the Atlantic to the United States, Macdonald incorporated the designs he studied in England into a unique style that distinguishes his courses from others in the United States.
“You find holes and different hole features that are really unique to Yale and a few other courses around the country,” Kushner said.
Kushner added that Macdonald’s desire to respect and revise the English and Scottish courses that he had studied made the Yale course unique. MacDonald even named some of the course’s holes after holes in the United Kingdom in tribute — the fourth and 12th holes are named for the Road Hole at St. Andrews and the Alps Hole at Prestwick, respectively. He also added certain distinctive features to the greens of the Yale course, such as double-plateau greens and horseshoe greens.
Sheehan and Kushner both noted the scale of the course as one of its defining characteristics.
“It’s a marvel,” Sheehan said. “And it’s a behemoth.”
Sheehan added that the greens are three times larger and the bunkers are three times deeper than those on a typical golf course. He recalled once having to use a ladder to climb into a particularly deep greenside bunker.
One of the extraordinary characteristics of the course is its ability to withstand the technological developments and increased driving distances that have shrunk courses over the past few decades. Sheehan said the course has stayed relatively true to Macdonald’s original creation.
Because Yale owns the course, Kushner said that the men’s and women’s golf teams are the course’s first priority, which provides huge advantages for the teams in scheduling and use of the facilities. Women’s team head coach Chawwadee Rompothong ’00 echoed that sentiment.
“Not only is it always consistently ranked the number one collegiate course in the country, it’s also very challenging,” Rompothong said. “The bonus for us as a golf team being able to practice on it day in and day out is that it always challenges us.”