"The mere laying out of a golf-course is one thing; its development into conformity with championship conditions is quite another. The one may be the work of a day; the other is generally the result of years experimenting and rearrangement. All of the famous Old World courses have been perfected after this fashion, and our American links are now passing through a similar process of change and evolution.
It is only by the test of actual play that the golfing character of any piece of ground can be developed to the best advantage. What may look feasible in theory is often impossible in practice, and, contrariwise, a radical departure from orthodox canons may be amply justified by its practical outcome. It is a problem that may have many answers but only one solution. It is only after successive trails that we can be sure that we have found it.
The U. S. G. A. has selected the course of the Morris County Golf Club as the scene for the amateur championship meeting of 1898, and the choice is a wise one. The club’s location is central, the accommodation for visitors is excellent, and the playing conditions are of the first order. The length and arrangement of the holes and the character of the turf and hazards make the course a fair proving ground for the best of golf, and it will be the best man who shall win out in the championship meeting.
But golf at Morristown is a very different thing from what it was at the organization of the club four years ago. Not link remains of the original course, for even the holes in and around the well known “punch-bowl” have been changed, both in location and in the playing direction. The first hole was originally situated upon the left hand edge of the “punch-bowl”; now it is in the far right-hand corner. The home hole has been changed twice, and now occupies the old croquet-ground. The old seven-holecourse covered some fifteen acres and aggregated about 1300 yards in playing distance; the present eighteen hole round runs over ninety acres and foots up 5960 yards.
Of course it was the “punch-bowl” that first suggested the idea of golf to the Morristown pioneers. Its steep hollows and long grassy swales gave it a sporty appearance, and promised infinite possibilities. It is still an interesting feature of the course, but custom and the growth in golfing skill have robbed it of its old-time terrors. The three holes within its borders are now accounted as easy. The original saver whole round was ridiculously short—hardly more than a putting course. Most of the holes could be reached by a moderately good drive, and there was not a true second shot in the round. This weakness soon became apparent, and in 1895 the club acquired the lease of sixty five acres of outlying land, and proceeded to install the full number of eighteen holes. This addition brought the playing distance up to two and three quarter miles, and two of the holes were well over four hundred yards. This was a decided step in advance, but the playing qualities of the course was very far from perfection. The artificial hazards were badly arranged, with unfair traps in the way of trees and fencing; the fair green was rough and stony, and the putting-greens were small and far from true.
In 1896 the course was radically rearranged. Some of the flat meadow-land was abandoned and new ground was taken in. The club having been organized as a stock company, the whole tract was purchased, and solemnly consecrated to the interest of golf, and of golf alone. The green committee had many difficulties with which to contend, but at the close of the season (when the first woman's championship meeting was held upon it) the course was in very fair condition, and afforded a good test of golfing ability.
In 1897 it was determined that still further changes were necessary if the course were to conform to championship conditions. The club secured written opinions from ... several professionals upon the best possible utilization of the playing area, and these several suggestions were carefully sifted down and weighed against each other. The result is the course as it exists today, and in practice the various changes have been more than justified. Moreover, when the club decided to apply for the amateur championship meeting, the resolution carried with it the expensive necessity of laying water pipes to every separate green, and the thorough overhauling of the mid course. This has involved an immense amount of work, but it has been done, and done well. A forest of trees has been cut down and tons of stones have been carted off. Not a fence remains to bar the player's progress, and the big grass tees are a welcome innovation upon the ridiculous elevations of stone hard clay, which were once considered the only proper thing. The putting greens are all of the largest size, and most of them are upon the natural lay of the land - true, smooth, and beautifully undulating. The fair green is as good as it can ever be upon as inland course, and the playing distance is very nearly three and one-half miles. As the arena of the forth coming national contest, it will be interesting to examine it in detail."