The concept of a reversible golf course dates back nearly 150 years to St. Andrews' Old Course. In recent years, playing in reverse order has taken hold in the U.S. as two-way courses have opened in Michigan and Oregon
Tee It Forward was a joint initiative between the USGA and PGA of America a few years back, encouraging amateurs to take a fun approach to the game and make the experience less demanding. Here’s a different initiative, which also promises to be fun — tee it backward.
To be honest, the concept is not new. A multi-directional approach to golf architecture has been around about as long as course design itself.
Look no further than hallowed St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf. Most people familiar with the sport know of the Old Course, but they may not be familiar with the Bizarro World Old Course, better known as “the left-handed course.”
Beginning in 1872, Scotland’s most famous 18 holes also were played backwards, going from the No. 1 tee to No. 17 green and back around until the final hole, played from No 2 tee to the famous No. 18 green. No, Old Tom Morris wasn’t referred to as Young Mo Thomas and, yes, it was complicated. But the course was played in that alternative fashion into the early 1900s.
"Yer aff yer heid!” you might be saying, in your best Scottish accent. Nae, pure, it’s true.
And why wouldn’t it be? A reversible layout makes both sense and cents from a maintenance and conditioning standpoint. Divot patterns and wear and tear get distributed to different areas, turf has time to heal. The character of the holes change in terms of wind patterns and topography. Variety is the slice of life, and it’s not bad for golf either.
For land-locked architects, the two-sided approach offers a way to maximize the property. Over the years, a number of reversible courses have been created, mostly on private estates. Pocantico Hills in Tarrytown, N. Y. was built in 1930 on the estate of John D. Rockefeller. The boomerang layout, crafted by Shinnecock Hills designer William Flynn, can be played backward and forward, with 10 single greens and one double green. Pocantico Hills covers 5,673 yards with a par of 36-34–70.
Shopping mall developer Melvin Simons, a co-owner of the Indiana Pacers who passed away in 2009, commissioned Steve Smyers to carve a reversible on his property in Carmel, Ind. The result, Asherwood, had 10 fairways, 13 greens and 27 different tee boxes that could add up to 18 holes and 6,800 yards.
Another private estate course with multi-directional character is Three Ponds Farm, built in 1996 by Rees Jones. Located directly across from Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y., the course features four greens, nine holes and multiple tee routing. Of course, none of these creations opened their door to memberships or common duffers. But two relatively recent resort builds have brought the reversible concept to public life.
The Loop, which opened in 2016 as part of the Forest Dunes Resort in Roscommon, Mich., is the two-way work of renowned architect Tom Doak. The roundabout track sits alongside and provides a compelling contrast to Forest Dunes, a highly regarded conventional design by Tom Weiskopf.
Ultimately, the keys to the unique flavor of The Loop are found in its topography and the greens.
“It’s almost like they have to be approachable from 360 degrees around them, which limits how crazy you can make any contours,” said Brian Slawnik, Doak’s lead associate for the project. “But when you build a really interesting green, both of the holes playing into it become outstanding.”
Doak said he first became aware of the reversible concept in high school, reading a book by English course architect Tom Simpson, who designed a few multi-directional estate courses for wealthy individuals. "The concept just struck me as fascinating,” Doak said, “something I'd like to try if the right opportunity came along."
Enter Forest Dunes Resort owner Lew Thompson, who was looking for an additional golf attraction to keep guests entertained at the Northern Michigan getaway. When Doak saw the land, he realized it had the right ingredients for a reverse. While Weiskopf’s Forest Dunes is a classic woodlands experience, the property Doak tackled is relatively flat and sandy, allowing his sweeping, links type design to be unobstructed — in both directions.
On half of the holes, players approach the greens from straight in one way, and then from 90 or 120 degrees from the back of those greens. The Black course plays at just over 6,700 yards, while the Red covers just over 6,800. Both are par 70.
As for which is better … “Whichever way you’re playing,” Doak said. “It never feels like you are going the wrong way.”
Another reversible opened late last summer in Seneca, Ore. And if you think the reversible idea is kind of “out there,” than Silvies Valley Ranch is the perfect place for it. Owner Scott Campbell’s resort sits in the middle of Oregon’s central high dessert, a three-hour drive east from Bend, Ore., nearly four hours west from Boise, Idaho.
The resort also opened a seven-hole course last summer — McVeigh’s Gaunlet — that features goats as caddies, with names like Bruce LeGoat. The nine-hole Chief Egan “family” course also offers goat caddies.
At its heart, Silvies is a 144,000-acre working ranch, overseeing 4,500 head of cattle and 2,600 American Range goats. Providing a couple of four-legged loopers was no problem. They’re not much help reading greens, but as the back of the scorecard explains, “Goats and fun govern all play.” A sense of humor is one of the endearing quality of Silvies.
Designer Dan Hixson, who counts Bandon Crossings Golf Course in Bandon, Ore. among his credits, designed the reversible Craddock/Hankins courses at Silvies. Nine greens do double duty, another nine fly solo and 17 fairway corridors serve multiple teeing grounds. In the end, when you’re done mixing and matching, it’s 36 holes of captivating golf.
Hixson’s reversible is unique in that it covers ground with dramatic contours. The layout features 160 feet of elevation changes and travels over 130 acres of stunning frontier Oregon landscape. "It's eco-friendly," Hixson said. "You get two courses on the ground of one. It keeps people here for a couple days … and it gives us a story to tell.”
The story is fresh, when it comes to these inviting golf resorts. The story about reversible courses is a contemporary tale, to be sure, but one with lots of history and old-school charm.
Truth is, they’ve been playing it backward for a long time.
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