DURHAM, N.C. — There’s an uninterrupted historical presence at Hope Valley Country Club, from the moment entering the neighborhood on Dover Road through white brick gates to the standalone pro shop still staffed by a member of the Crichton family and on to the gleaming 1926 Donald Ross-designed golf course.
The scorecard even recites, “When you play Hope Valley, you are a part of golf history.”
“What do I hear people say mostly when they first play here? It’s classic golf, first off,” said Bob Byrnes, only the sixth professional in the 92-year history of Hope Valley. “They also say I can see how your members never get tired of playing here.”
The course is unique among the nearly 400 that Ross designed for two reasons. The course is true to its origin, unlike many Ross courses that have been overly doctored by other architects — excepting the 10th tee was moved about 30 feet, a creek right of the 11th hole was covered and the usual minimal lengthening and tweaking by architects Perry Maxwell, Dan Maples, John LaFoy and Brian Silva over nearly a century.
Most distinctive is that Ross’s knowledge was utilized in not only designing the course but also the surrounding neighborhood. Organizers insisted that Ross inspect the property beforehand to determine if it was suitable for “a high-grade golf course and country club.”
> Fun Meter: Hope Valley Country Club
Ross strove for a golfer’s privacy, therefore he had few residential lots directly on the course, just mostly roads and buffers. The names of the roads throughout also harken back to old England with names such as Dover, Avon, Exeter, Stratford and Chelsea. Ross even recruited noted clubhouse designer Aymar Embury II, a fellow Pinehurst resident, to design the clubhouse.
One person involved originally was Scottish-born professional Marshall Crichton. He was Hope Valley’s first professional, won the 1949 PGA Seniors Championship and served for 34 years until his death in 1960. He was succeeded by son David until he retired in 1981. Marshall’s daughter Maggie started working as a golf shop manager in 1959 and continues to this day.
The course is not overly long, at 6,700-plus yards and par 70 from the back tees, but the rolling landscape and fast, undulating Ross greens make it more demanding and fun. The par-4 11th hole, a long dogleg right, was noted by Ben Hogan as one of his memorable holes. The par-3 18th, uphill to the clubhouse at 210 yards with a sloping green, provides for a difficult finish.
It was at the 18th in 1945 during the PGA Tour’s Durham Open that Byron Nelson used 1-iron to make two birdies during a 36-hole finale – the fourth win in a record 11 consecutive PGA Tour wins that season. A marker behind the 18thtee memorializes that occasion. Craig Wood and Frank Stranahan also won Durham Opens and Doug Sanders captured the 1951 Junior National Amateur en route to a professional career.
Hope Valley’s efforts to promote the game are still evident.
Architect Kris Spence is preparing a master plan and designing a short course, comprised of three par-3 holes, adjacent to the first green and 16thfairway, to allow for a more fun and unintimidating introduction to the game. In August, the Hope Valley Junior Invitational debuted, bringing in top junior boys and girls players from the Southeast and offering scholarships for Durham-area youth.
For a course with a such a revered history, looking to the future provides a fine balance.
Ward Clayton has been involved with golf communications for 30-plus years, including the Augusta Chronicle and PGA Tour and currently with Signature Group and Clayton Communications. He lives in St. Johns, Fla.