You Named Your Golf Course What?

You Named Your Golf Course What?

Article originally published by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2011.

To take a spin through the many online registries of golf-course brand names, as I did this week, is to be humbled by the imaginative power of those who dream up the names. In golf-course America, almost every valley is a Happy Valley. Eagles soar, buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope still play.

golf course names

There are, to be precise, 149 U.S. golf courses with eagle in the name, according to a count of nearly 13,000 golf facilities by the National Golf Foundation. They range from the Soaring Eagles Golf Course in Horseheads, N.Y., to the somewhat less inspiringly named Spread Eagle Golf Course in Spread Eagle, Wis. There is an Eagle Point golf course in Oregon and an Eagle Pointe in Indiana. The difference, primarily of interest to marketers, is approximately the same as between shop and shoppe.

Antelope-named courses predictably show up mainly in the West. Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona, for instance, each have courses known as Antelope Hills. But buffalo (alluded to in 131 course names) and deer (with 149 mentions, tying the eagle) span the country. The word “deer” is a convenient naming device because deer are ubiquitous, to the point of actually being a nuisance in many regions, thanks to a fall-off in natural predators. Yet deer still connote woodland innocence. Thus real-estate developers, the primary source of new golf courses for at least the last 40 years, retain plausible credibility when they transform previously featureless tracts of land into golf nirvanas with names such as Deer Park, Deer Creek, Deer Meadow, Deer Run, Deer Ridge and Deer Trace, not to mention Doe Valley and Fawn Crest. These samples barely scratch the surface of deer-golf nomenclature.

The allure, or illusion, of golf as a country sport, as opposed to an urban or suburban one, dates back to its late-19th-century arrival in America. The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., which built its first course in 1893 and has since hosted three U.S. Opens and a Ryder Cup, didn’t need more than that for its name because it was the first.

About 30% of U.S. golf facilities are still called “country clubs” (even though a quarter of them are open to the public and thus not true clubs). That’s down from 40% in 1990, according to the NGF, as naming conventions have grown less hidebound. Who needs “country club” when you can dub your new course The Wilderness at Fortune Bay (in Minnesota), Ragged Mountain (in New Hampshire) or Spreading Antlers (in Colorado)?

It used to be that golf clubs primarily strove to project images of tranquil refuge and stability. Thus you have scores of courses named Lakeside, Lakeshore, Lakeview and so forth. Also popular are meadows, valleys, springs and brooks, frequently in combination: Meadowbrook, Valley Meadows, Meadow Springs, etc. As for strength and stability, the only conceivable thing more reassuring than the mighty oak—Oak Hill, Oakmont, Royal Oak, Charter Oak, Lonesome Oak, Twisted Oak, etc.—would be some kind of stone oak. Sure enough, we have Stone Oak Country Club in Holland, Ohio.

But in recent years the pendulum has swung to the other side of the clock. To create buzz, developers are using macho names like Horse Thief Country Club in Tehachapi, Calif., Renegade Golf Course in Wyoming, The Bandit in Texas, The Hombre in Florida, the Devil’s Claw in Arizona and Thunder Canyon—one each in Idaho and Nevada. The names of some of the newer “The” courses are basically dares: The Gauntlet (Fredericksburg, Va.), The Fortress (Frankenmuth, Mich.), The Challenge at Manele (Hawaii), The Quest at Houghton Lake (Mich.) and The Nutcracker (Granbury, Texas).

If you were of a mind, you could plot a fine bachelor party based on golf-course names. First, ditch the bride and her friends at Chippendale Golf Course in Kokomo, Ind., and proceed 25 miles west to Bachelor Runn in Flora. From there, visit Rogues’ Roost in Bridgeport, N.Y., or Rogue Valley in Medford, Ore., drop by Rooster Run in Petaluma, Calif., and perhaps the LuLu Country Club in North Hills, Pa., before winding things up at the Studley Wood Golf Club in Oxford, England. The next morning, depending on how you feel, you might trot over to the Isle of Wedmore Golf Club, also in England, or decide to chuck the whole thing and disappear. Suggested destinations: Stoner Creek Country Club in Paris, Ky., or Par T Golf Course in Anchorage, Alaska.

Many such journeys could be planned. Golf-course names, if not the courses themselves, provide a fair gloss on American history. You could start at Plymouth Country Club in Massachusetts, and continue to Patriot Hills Golf Club and Rip Van Winkle Country Club in New York. Then, Peace Pipe Country Club in New Jersey, Pocahontas Golf Course in Iowa, the Links at Davy Crockett in Tennessee, Little Bighorn Golf Club in Indiana, Westward Ho Country Club in South Dakota, Oregon Trail Country Club in Idaho, Conestoga Golf Club in Nevada and, finally, Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla, Alaska (Sarah Palin’s town).

My favorite golf-course names, however, are the most whimsical. I love Clustered Spires in Maryland, True Blue in South Carolina and Ozzie’s Corner Golf Course in Hamlin, N.Y. Sadly, the Three Little Bakers Country Club & Dinner Theater in Delaware recently closed.

I’m also partial to the many names that play on golf’s unknowableness, such as Mystic Dunes (Florida), Mystery Hills (Wisconsin), Magic Valley (Tennessee), Druids Glen (Washington), Superstition Mountain (Arizona) and Spirit Hollow (Iowa).

Sometimes those responsible for naming courses simply try too hard, resulting in alliterative misfires like Tees and Trees, The Timbers at Troy and Krooked Kreek. In other instances they don’t try hard enough, such as the Outdoor Country Club, the Hi-Level Golf Course and the uninviting Naval Inventory Control Point Golf Course, all in Pennsylvania.

Far too many course names sound like they were lifted from children’s books: Candywood, Melody Valley, Happy Hollow, Sunny Meadows, Sugar Isle, Songbird Hills, Kissing Camels, Growling Frog.

Luckily, these are countered by a slate of names that seem to get golf’s personality just about right: Chagrin Valley, Crab Meadow, Bogey Hills, Grindstone Neck, Murder Rock, Nutters Crossing, Ruffled Feathers, Sourwood Forest and The Creek at Hard Labor.

I’m not sure how retirees respond to courses with names like Trails End, Twilight, Teetering Rocks, Tumbledown Trails, Coldwinters and Petrifying Springs. You’d think they’d prefer to play at Endwell Greens or Paradise Pastures.

House Speaker John Boehner was recently caught on an open mic describing his two-under-par round at a remote high-end course in Nebraska called Dismal River. There are a surprising number of similarly dour course names: Stoney Links, Stumpy Lake, Reedy Creek, Useless Bay, Potholes, Charwood, Rainsville, Furnace Creek and The Pit Golf Links, much less Mold Golf Club in Wales. Maybe the owners are just doing the best with what they have. If scenic knolls are all you’ve got, I guess you go with Scenic Knolls (Mitchell, Neb.). At least nobody, so far, has tried to perk things up by using the word “Golfe.”

Article originally published by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2011.

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