WEST POINT, N.Y. – For as long as I can remember, people have told me that few fan experiences are as memorable as attending a football game at Army.
I finally was able to do that Sept. 6, as part of Golfweek’s annual “Greens & Gridirons” series. (The story appears in our Oct. 3 print issue.) That series has run annually since 2007, as my colleagues and I have visited college campuses during the fall and played some of the best courses nearby. Needless to say, I don’t have much trouble finding colleagues eager to spend a few days on the road playing golf and watching a college football game.
When the chance arose to do a “Greens & Gridirons” story at West Point, I jumped at it. It hardly matters that Army’s football team has averaged fewer than three wins per season since the turn of the century. You go for the history, the pageantry, the sheer spectacle. From the Cadet Review in front of Washington Hall three hours before game time to the iconic setting along the Hudson River to the post-game singing of the alma mater, the experience is everything it’s cracked up to be.
As it turned out, the golf was pretty good, too.
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was working in New York, my editor at the time told our staff about a course he had happened upon while driving in the lower Hudson Valley. Garrison Golf Club, he told us, was only 55 miles north of the city, on a lovely piece of land, with stunning views of the Hudson River.
On this trip, I finally got to see the course, now known as The Garrison. It was much as I had envisioned. Most notably, the course still has those multimillion-dollar views. I visited courses all around New York and New Jersey during the eight years that I worked in the city, and I’m hard-pressed to recall a more striking first-tee setting than The Garrison’s, which looks across the Hudson River to Michie Stadium at West Point.
The Garrison is not an especially long course – it tips out at 6,497 yards –but it changes character mid-round. The one thing that doesn’t change is that The Garrison demands some level of precision, whether you’re navigating the tight, tree-lined lowlands of the front nine or trying to score on the more forgiving back nine. I played at The Garrison with an old friend and colleague, and both of us favored the back side, not least because it plays along elevated terrain that showcases the Hudson Valley.
The trip also was an opportunity to get a first look at Pound Ridge Golf Club, the Pete Dye design that opened in 2008 and has zipped up to No. 4 in Golfweek’s New York state rankings of public-access courses. It has a reputation for being a grueling test. Even owner Ken Wang quipped, “If I didn’t own it, I wouldn’t play it. It’s too hard.”
Joking aside, playability really shouldn’t be a problem if you pick the proper tees at Pound Ridge.
At West Point Golf Course, Army golf coach Brian Watts arranged for Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar, newly retired, to join our group for nine holes. Collyar brought along his classmate, Eric Mumm. Both were back at the academy for their class’ 35th reunion.
From Collyar, who played on the West Point golf team, I got some sense of the bonds that are forged at West Point.
“The challenges of going through (the academy) for four years make very, very tight bonds,” Collyar said. “I’ve seen Eric three times since we graduated. It’s just good to see him, and I know what he’s talking about or what he’s going to say.”
As we played West Point’s front nine, Collyar talked about the importance of golf in his student life – even indirectly playing a role in his decision to stay at the academy when he was considering leaving after his second year.
Now, after 35 years of service, he has some perspective on why golf and other sports are central to the academy’s mission.
“Golf is an individual event, but you’re part of a team, you’re representing your university, and the pressure that (creates),” he said. “It’s not the biggest sport in the world, but it teaches these guys to be a part of a team, to cheer for each other and help each other along, and ultimately every one of them is going to leave here and lead soldiers.”