published Friday, July 11th, 2014

Metro taking Brainerd back to its Ross roots

An email from a friend startled Richard Keene and almost made him cry.

The Tufts Archives at the Given Memorial Library in Pinehurst, N.C., had placed online dozens of original designs by Hall of Fame golf course architect Donald Ross. Among the images were 18 sketches for the Chattanooga Municipal Donald Ross Course.

It's now formally known as Brainerd Golf Course -- and lovingly referred to as Brainerd National.

"I'd heard all my life that Ross did Brainerd, but there was no proof," said the 56-year-old Keene, who grew up playing the course. "Then I saw the drawings."

Keene, a co-chairman for the Chattanooga Men's Metro Championship, decided that he'd put the old drawings to use this week for the annual city championship that rotates among member clubs of the Chattanooga District Golf Association.

Two holes that normally are par-5s for those who play the city-owned course will be played as par-4s and make it a par-70 course for the next three days -- just as Ross planned.

"As soon as I saw those drawings, I thought, 'Heck, we're doing this because that's how it's supposed to be,'" Keene said. "A few people have given me flak. But I tell them, 'Guess you're a better golf course designer than Donald Ross.' They don't say much after that."

They can't.

Ross, a native of Scotland who died in 1948 at the age of 75, is credited with designing or redesigning more than 400 golf courses across the country, including the fabled Pinehurst No. 2 (which held the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open last month), Seminole in Florida, Aronimink in Pennsylvania and Inverness in Ohio.

Brainerd -- which several sources say opened in 1936 -- is among those courses, too.

"It's a classic golf course," said tournament co-chairman Mike Jenkins. "It's pretty special that they were able to find the original drawings."

The course has withstood the test of time. Tweaks have been made here and there. The original front nine is now the back nine, probably a move to sell more beverages after nine holes. Nos. 4 and 18 were lengthened at some point to be par-5s and make the course a par-72. And the Army Corps of Engineers dug culverts through a few holes long before the Brainerd Levee was built. And the course switched to mini-verde Bermuda greens two years ago.

Brainerd never will be compared to the legendary Honors Course designed by Pete Dye or Lookout Mountain Golf Club, which was designed by Seth Raynor. But it still has appeal to golfers from across the region and represents a fair test of golf, fair enough to determine the city champion golfer of 2014.

"You hear people say that it's a fun course to play," said Jenkins, whose home course is the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. "With the new greens, people are raving, and people say they always enjoy playing Brainerd."

The Metro Championship will begin with a field of 108 players and be contested over three days for the open championship, over two days for the 23-man senior division and just today for the Harold Lane Memorial team trophy.

"Very few golf courses have 100-year-old oak trees lining the fairways," said Keene, who caddied at Brainerd as a teenager. "It's a place where many golfers grew up. It's where many people got their first start."

Keene is eligible to play in the senior division, but he'll play alongside the younger players in this Metro championship just because of its location.

"We rotate it amongst the area courses about every 12 years, so I'll probably be 110 years old the next time it comes back here," joked Keene, who won the 1995 championship. "But this will probably be the last time I play in the Metro at Brainerd. "

But it won't be the last time he plays the course designed by a legend.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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