Scruffy is Beautiful

An ode to the munis that get it
23 Lipping Out Scruffy is Beautiful

Here is Canal Shores: 18 holes bisected by Evanston’s North Shore Channel, slotting seamlessly into the miles-long procession of municipal waterside parkland. It is just more than 3,600 yards from the back tees, and it doesn’t cater to slicers. Your big right miss could find a house, or the Evanston hospital, or the only Bahá’í House of Worship in the United States. Anything left is wet. If you start on the first hole, you’ll cross the road 10 times in a full loop. During youth soccer season, when tykes in Umbros rule the first with plastic spikes, you won’t.

Here is Blue Hill Country Club: nine holes, 1,700 yards, shaggy as Scooby-Doo’s dopey friend. Four holes play out along the water, the Atlantic off Maine’s coast threatening to embarrass you. The fifth is a glorified chip shot: 86 yards over rocks and reeds or the lapping surf, depending on the tide. Show up at the right time and you might bump into both a crew of older golfers ready to talk about how the course played back in the 1950s and a gaggle of kids hitting putts with varying degrees of interest, sent to fritter away a summer day.

Here is what I think: These courses are what golf, mostly, should be. Compact. Casual. Open to dog-walkers, hackers and sticks alike. But what of competitive golf, you ask. In Blue Hill’s 2022 club championship semifinal, a U.S. Mid-Am participant faced a man in his 70s. Guess who won.

Here is what I know: A different kind of short course is now in vogue. The Cradle at Pinehurst, the Hay at Pebble, the Preserve at Bandon. Over the last decade, slick par-3 courses have germinated at every golf resort in the country. They’re born in marketing huddles and built for Instagram stories. They are to real golf what Taco Tuesday is to Mexican cuisine. They’re fun enough. But when you’re being encouraged so aggressively to be casual and relax, the whole experience becomes a little too frictionless. This is not a way to make golf work for everybody; it’s a maximalist, pristine, complicated game of cornhole.

Here’s what I see too often: big, private, boring golf courses. Here is a haiku:

Acres and acres

Straight par 4s, bunkers left, right

Please, God, make it stop

Championship golf courses have their place. But that place is not almost every-fucking-where. Not every parcel of land warrants a 7,000-yard track. And for those that do, let’s consider a few alternate uses, shall we? Hours after the Open ended this year, kids were building sandcastles in the Road Hole bunker at the Old Course. But they weren’t the intruders: Rory McIlroy and Cam Smith were. As we know, Sundays in St. Andrews belong to the townspeople, not the golfers.

Here is the White Course at East Potomac: a nine-holer that is, for my money, more interesting than its bigger brother, the Blue. It also won’t take you five hours to play. The par-3 fifth, from a new back tee some 65 yards behind the old one, is perhaps too difficult. It would be frustrating if you played the White for a score. 

Here is what these places understand, or at least what they’re selling (and I’m buying): Limits are fine. Necessary. Beneficial, even. Unbridled creativity begets filter-friendly sameness, and adherence to tradition breeds mind-numbing slogs. Long live the scruffy, shitty, mid-length muni.

Chris Almeida is a staff editor for Sports Illustrated. He’s been a Broken Tee Society member since 2021.