"Cross Winds Golf Course is the only golf course in the world with every hole designed by a different architect," Ron Whitten, Architectural Editor, Golf Digest.
There's only one golf course in the world that has each hole conceived by a different designer. It's Cross Winds Golf Club in Greenville, S.C., and the reason you've never heard of it is because it's an 18-hole par-3 course. Yes, it's a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that works. What otherwise might have been just another fun-to-play but quickly forgettable par-3 layout is instead both fun-to-play and rather memorable. The holes stick in your brain long after you leave. You can instantly remember the Dye hole, or the Jones one or the Cupp one, and while you might have to think a minute about who designed some of the other holes (using the scorecard as a cheat sheet); you certainly can recall the salient features of each hole, because each is distinctive and different. There were real golf course architects involved, some very recognizable names, in fact. None of them were paid.
They provided their designs gratis, as a favor to their friend, Greenville golf architect John LaFoy, who is the epitome of a Southern gentleman and obviously a persuasive talker. He promised each of them a free dinner for their time and effort. LaFoy came up with the idea in the mid-1990s, while he was serving on the board of directors of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. He would later serve as its president in 1999, the year after Cross Winds opened. Asked to build a little course on just 30 acres of land right across the highway from the Downtown Greenville airport, right in a flight line, in fact, LaFoy figured he'd have to provide something different if he wanted the course to draw any business. He started asking his architect friends if they would sketch up an idea for a short hole and most of them agreed to do it! Some of them provided just preliminary sketches, but others gave more detailed drawings.
Mike Hurdzan even gave a name to what would become his 130-yard sixth: "Hump 'n' Hollow."That pretty much describes the green and its surrounds. LaFoy handled the routing, assigned individual holes and supervised the construction. He didn't want each person to conjure up the toughest hole possible, so he provided some parameters. He asked a couple of designers to draw up the best hole they could think of without any bunkers. He asked a couple of others for a hole with two bunkers and a couple more for holes with three bunkers. Nobody got to choose what hole they'd get to design. Well, that's not exactly accurate.
Rees Jones agreed, on the condition that he'd get to design a water hole. LaFoy had only one retention pond planned for the layout, so to get Rees's participation, he gave him that hole but as it turns out, the pond was never built. There's another irony involved with the Jones hole. As an architect, Rees is the Duke of Definition, the King of Clarity, but his little 104 yard 7th features a frontal bunker that can't be seen from the tee because of a big mound between tee and green. I have a hunch LaFoy added that mound and hid that bunker as something of an inside joke.
The 144-yard 4th is called the Tom Fazio hole, but Fazio's long-time associate Tom Marzolf actually provided the design which has six bunkers and more sand than the previous three holes combined. Marzolf, the current president of the ASGCA and a stickler for detail, even made a couple of trips down from his home in Hendersonville, N.C., during construction to make sure the hole was built according to their plan.
The yardages on the front nine are all rather short. The shortest is the heavily-bunkered 90-yard Jeff Brauer 8th. The longest is the 153-yard Pete Dye 9th, where a frontal bunker edged in railroad ties tells you it's a Pete Dye. But the hole was actually designed by Pete's wife Alice (another former president of the ASGCA), who sketched a hole vaguely based on the 13th green at Harbour Town, another hole she designed without Pete's involvement. When she sent LaFoy her sketch, she wrote on it, "This is an Alice Dye hole, for which Pete Dye will take all the credit!"
The front nine is shorter than LaFoy wanted because he had to reduce several holes to make room for the clubhouse and parking lot after an early location on the west side of the property proved unfeasible. While you can play the opening nine with just a couple of irons and a putter, the back nine is 200 yards longer and will give your medium irons a good workout, even your long irons if the wind is up. Yet the most memorable hole on the back nine could be the Dan Maples-designed 84-yard 11th, which drops 40 feet into a ravine and has a tricky shelf in the back of the green.
The Tom Clark 12th plays down the ravine, hard against a tree-lined creek on the right, and the Denis Griffiths 160-yard 13th plays back atop the rim of the ravine to a green guarded by a mighty deep bunker for such a playful little course. The remainder of the back nine is characterized by huge humps covered in tall native grasses. I snap-hooked my tee shot into one of them on the Jay Morrish 166-yard 15th, dug through the ankle deep stuff and found a dozen balls. None were mine. I'm told the owners are thinking about mowing down the knobs, but I think that would be a mistake. They're hazards, in plain view, off to the sides. If customers don't like 'em, they should stay out of ’em!
Jay Haas, a Greenville resident and one of the original investors in the course, was asked to design the 143-yard 17th hole. But he couldn't sketch anything and he had a hard time expressing just what he wanted. Finally, he went to LaFoy and told him he wanted to throw golfers off-guard visually, so they installed a bunker 20 yards short of the green that looks, from the tee, to be right up against it.
The closing 120-yarder is LaFoy's design, maybe the best on the course, given the diagonal positioning of its bunkers and the subtle slopes in the green. I imagine John spent a little extra time shaping and raking this hole, so it would compare favorably with those of his brethren. LaFoy recently told me that he learned two things from this exercise. First, continuity on a golf course is overrated. The disjointed nature of Cross Winds, from the big humps on the Dick Phelps 5th hole, to the pot bunkers recessed into the sides of the Bob Cupp plateau green at the 10th, to the graceful flow of the landscape surrounding the Robert Muir Graves 16th, is what gives this course its charm and personality.
Second, designer labels are overrated. Cross Winds doesn't pack them in because of its novelty. Most people play it because they're beginners, or with beginners, or just like the fact that they can get in a quick round in the evening under the floodlights, which line the fairways and encircle the greens. But LaFoy figures few seek it out in search of an original Fazio or original Jones golf hole. I think he's being a little hard on that second point. The fact is, the various owners of Cross Winds have never marketed the course for its unusual collective design. If it were my course, I'd conjure up a Camel logo, sell bag tags and golf towels sporting the names and likenesses of each of the architects and create some sort of modest yardage book (yes, a yardage book for a par-3 course) with a little write-up about each architect, and some of LaFoy's back story about each hole.
Cross Winds is not a great specimen of golf architecture, but it is a really fun par-3 course with enough variety to hold everyone's interest. I just think it needs a better name. (I'm told the owners came up with the name Cross Winds because it sits across the road from an airport.