Eleventh hole, 205/170 yards;  While other holes at Charlotte better capture Ross’s flair as an architect, this one is interesting in that it tracks Ross’s use of water as a hazard. According to an article written by Mr. C.T. Dunhan in 1913, ‘ A good healthy mashie shot will carry one over the intervening creeks and trouble and onto the eleventh green.’ At some point prior to 1932, the two creeks were made into today’s pond and the hole has played that way ever since. Presumably, Ross had role in this matter and perhaps the creeks were formed into a pond for practical reasons.  Ross was not a ‘do or die’ type architect (no skill can be displayed in recovering from water) and finding a fronting water hazard pressed tight to one of his greens is surprising. Given Robert Trent Jones’s involvement at Charlotte in the 1960s, it might seem likely that he either created the pond or shifted the green to water’s edge. Such is not the case.  Far more unusual in its time than now where water is ubiquitous as a hazard, the eleventh should be appreciated as a forbearer of what would come.

While the masonery work is new as of the 1990s, Ross's green location smack against the pond is over eighty years old, a startling fact.

Twelfth hole, 590/575 yards; There are several features to admire here. One is the forward tee located past Briar Creek and out of sight of the other tees as it is placed behind a fairway bunker. The second is a fine central hazard that was restored by Prichard. More often than not, if a hazard is controversial, it is extremely well placed! After all, a hazard out of play rarely excites ire, a sign that it may not even need to exist. Third, the three swales in the fairway in the 90 to 150 yard range from the green are a fine feature in themselves and negotiating them is important for those desirous of a level stance for one’s approach. Finally, Prichard pushed the entire green pad well back though few would ever guess that it isn’t Ross’s original location, so good was Prichard’s finishing work around the green.

For the second and final time, the golfer crosses Briar Creek with a tee shot. A 400 yard set of tees is beautifully placed beyond the left bunker ahead.

The single most controversial feature that Prichard restored was this fairway bunker in the middle of the twelfth fairway 205 yards from the green. It's a real menance to anyone who has found the bermuda rough off the tee.

Thirteenth hole, 520/440 yards; While being a Scot and being frugal are synonomous, Ross wasn’t alone in the Golden Age thinking that the game was best enjoyed when completed with the same ball. That’s what makes the eleventh green complex such an anomaly within the context of Ross’s work. Here at the thirteenth, other architects would routinely use the stream as a fronting greenside hazard but not Ross. In fact, this is the solitary instance where he placed a green even as close as thirty yards of it. There was the practical matter that Briar Creek periodically floods but more importantly, Ross liked to give players of all levels options and a stream that walls off a green doesn’t. Nonetheless, Briar Creek’s proximity to the green still serves the desired purpose of making it crucial to hit the bunkerless fairway if the golfer wishes to have a go at the green in two.

The only green located within one hundred yards of Briar Creek is found here at the thirteenth.

Fourteenth hole, 355/330 yards; The golfer has just played the course’s longest par three, par five, and par four in consecutive order and it is time to mix things up. After all, Ross never intended to brow beat or demoralize a golfer. Not a great hole in its own right, the fourteenth is nonetheless one that blends well within the context of the surrounding holes. The shortest par four on the course is seemingly one of the most inviting off the tee but looks can be deceiving. The right center of the fairway is clearly the prefered angle into second shallowest target on the course (the first green is the only green less deep). Here is what Ross had to say in 1930: “The 14th hole is the only one left that could be described as not up to the standard of the others. To improve it would require additional land for an extension on the green end, and I hope the land can be secured to make this change. With the 14th hole remodeled {accomplished during the 2007 restoration}, I am of the opinion that the course will stand out as one of the greatest courses to be found anywhere. It will have excellent golfing quality for all classes of players and unrivaled scenic beauty.”

Though seemly wide open, the desired approach angle into the fourteenth green is from the right, near the specimen oak tree that creeps into right edge of the photograph above. Though the inviting view from this tee is in fine contrast to the view on the next tee, they share the lack of any cart path to mar the vista. That's because Prichard removed over half of the cart paths (!) on the course, a huge positive that helps any parkland setting.

Charlotte's transformation is again highlighted by comparing the photograph above with this one taken of the fourteenth in 2006 which shows a straightaway hole of little strategic interest.

Fifteenth hole, 435/360 yards; Prichard’s new back tee stretches this hole from Ross’s day but the tiger still probably has only the equivalent of a mashie-niblick (aka a seven iron) as he would have in Ross’s era of hickory shafts. That’s a disturbing fact and it highlights the challenge that restoration experts like Prichard confront. Placement of tees and hazards in strict accordance to how Ross had them would render many courses as little more than pitch and putt affairs for the tiger. Latitude must be allowed today so that the architect might interpret what Ross would do given today’s technology. Certainly, finding tee locations that don’t ruin the green to tee walk or a sense of flow are challenging. In addition, the architect has to build the bunkers in a manner consistent with Ross. The placement of pop up bunkers on a site where Ross cut bunkers into landforms is the work of a hack. Here the new tee flows from the back of the fourteenth green well. In so doing, the Ross bunkers that Prichard recaptured in the fairway make sense for how today’s players drive the ball. The fifteenth is a successful restoration on all counts.

Charlotte calls for broad-shouldered hitting and in general the trees are back from play. The sole exception occurs here at the fifteenth where the golfer is keenly aware that he is playing between rows of trees.

Prichard did a fine job in restoring these bunkers down the right of the fifteenth fairway.

Understanding that this was a modest length hole in Ross's day, it is no wonder that one of the course's best greens greets the golfer, as seen from behind. This green is another sterling example of Prichard's use of swales and ridges to create a number of varied hole locations, all of which function well at today's green speeds.

Seventeenth hole, 175/160 yards; After Trent Jones, the sixteenth was an acute dogleg right and the seventeenth was a modest par three. Prichard softened the angle of the sixteenth and built a fine green site without having much in the way of natural features with which to work. Even better is his newly created seventeenth which was built on land that was previously heavily treed. Prichard waded in and discovered some nice land movement but the hole is most successful in how the well contoured green melds with the greenside bunker that chews into its front edge.

Ross was no stranger to building par threes that played uphill. The only difference is Prichard did this one!

At forty-five yards in width, finding the proper portion of the green is important. Today's hole location is lower right.

Eighteenth hole, 450/425 yards; The Old Guard, of which Prichard is definitely one, will tell you that it is what is on the ground that matters. Backdrops and distant scenery are irrelevant if the golf is engaging. This may be true (and the green that Prichard built here may well be the best of the best) but a sense of occasion also registers deeply with most golfers. As the golfer rounds the bend of this dogleg right, he is greeted with a full view of the sprawling gleaming white clubhouse proudly poised on the brow of the hill. Plenty of eyeballs are about to take in the action around the eighteenth green and the setting conspire to create for a most satisfying conclusion to the round.

A sense of occasion concludes the round as one rounds the bend at the dogleg right eighteenth.

As seen from behind, one of the best putting surfaces is saved for last. The large practice area in the distance was much improved as part of Prichard's overall work.

 

Another view from behind shows the wonderfully random contours now found in the Home green.

After Prichard’s restoration, two things were immediately evident. First, Ross’s best features were successfully reintroduced and the course exhibits a homogeneity to those built during the Golden Age. In particular, the exhilaration of Ross greens is once again at the heart of the design/challenge. Acknowledging this, the club’s new yardage book now lists only Donald Ross as the course architect whereas the prior edition had listed the several architects who had worked here. For Ron Prichard, this means ‘job well done’. Second, the two weakest holes (the sixteenth and seventeenth) have been dramatically improved, which is always the surest way to improve any course. These two facts coupled with the excellent work of John Szklinski as Green Keeper lead many people to conclude that this is the best that Charlotte Country Club has ever been. That’s saying something!

In categorizing golf courses, by one definition, the most important are those courses that get used the most and that are best integrated into people’s lives. In contrast to the game’s origins along the North Sea, the great preponderance of golf in America is played inland. Indeed, the term ‘parkland’ is largely reserved for a type course most commonly found in the United States. Its benefits can be proximity to one’s home/work, the sense of escape from a concrete jungle, and how it accentuates the changing seasons. The appearance of parkland courses reflect with the different seasons to a greater degree than links, heathland or prairie courses. Capturing a course in its changing moods is part of its delight as some of these autumnal photographs suggest.

The Queen City's skyline hints at Charlotte Country Club's proximity to downtown.

Charlotte, within the context of Ross’s body of work, is the best of both worlds. First, Ross originally designed the course in 1913. From the beginning, Ross showed an inate ability to route courses.  This never waned and all his broad playing corridors are in use today except for the newly created par three seventeenth. 1913 was a particularly rich year for Ross in North Carolina as he was given three of his best sites in the state: Pinehurst No. 4, Overhills and here at Charlotte.  As an architect, Ross evolved as did the level of sophistication in the construction of his green complexes. When Ross returned to Charlotte in 1930, he was in peak form. The economy wasn’t but he was and he had plenty of time to devote to Charlotte. Steel shafts were replacing hickory and Ross’s work in 1930 reflected as he added forty-three new bunkers and much more sophisticated interior green contours. Prichard’s work has restored these features, reminding us of the genius of the man from Dornoch.

In the end, what separates parkland courses from one another in quality is no different than what separates all courses. How interesting are the landforms? How diverse are the natural hazards? How well did man incorporate the property’s natural elements into a consecutive string of golf holes? Hopefully, the photographs above convey how well all this has been accomplished at Charlotte Country Club. Similar to Aronomik, Scioto and Oak Hill, a series of peaks and valleys coupled with a meandering creek gave Ross as good an inland palette as he ever had on clay soil. He knew what to do from there. As good custodians, the club and Ron Prichard can be justly proud to have brought back the delights associated in playing a Ross course.