After his second year at the U.S. Military Academy, Lynn Collyar gave away his uniforms and returned home to Huntsville, Ala. It was 1977, and Collyar figured he was done with West Point. Done with the relentless pressure, done with the grueling academic demands, done with feeling the wrath of his superiors.
But Collyar had second thoughts. So he drove back to the academy and parked at West Point Golf Course. As a member of Army’s golf team, Collyar had found refuge in the Robert Trent Jones-designed course. It was the place where he says he “got to put on civilian clothes every day and forget about the rest of the academy.” Collyar spent several days sleeping in his car, showering in the locker room, walking around Washington Hall . Finally, he decided to return to West Point.
“I just couldn’t quit to leave my classmates here to go through two more years of crap without me being here with them,” Collyar said. “That’s the bond . I call it weakness now.”
Collyar figured he would serve out his five-year military commitment and move on.
“I outlived that by 30 (years),” he says.
On Sept. 1, Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar retired after more than 35 years of service, the past two years spent commanding the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville . He and his wife, Col. Sarah Green , a staff judge advocate with 30 years of service, shared a joint retirement ceremony in June.
Ask Collyar why he stayed and he’ll say simply, “I’ve had fun in the Army.” Press him and he’ll talk about the unparalleled job satisfaction of leading soldiers and the letters of gratitude he received from troops who survived bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the armored vehicles he helped supply.
A few days after retirement, Collyar was back at West Point, playing golf on the course where he and teammates posted a 68-4 dual-match record.
“Course knowledge counts for a lot,” Collyar told us as we played the front side.
“Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other days, on other fields, will bear the fruits of victory.” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur
Athletics are integral to the academy’s mission; every cadet participates in a sport at some level. And Army has long had a successful golf program, posting a .685 record in dual matches in its 93-year history . During the past four years under coach Brian Watts, Army has won one Patriot League team championship, posted two seconds and a third, and also has had three individual champions , most recently Peter Kim, the 2013-14 conference player of the year as a freshman .
The man charged with sharing the secrets of how to play West Point Golf Course was Capt. Austin Luher , who played on two conference championship teams, three NCAA regional teams and was an all-conference selection in 2005 and 2006 .
Like Collyar, Luher found refuge in golf. In a place where cadets have to cram “30 hours of activity in a 24-hour day,” Luher clung to the discipline of his sport.
“It’s exactly like golf: take it shot by shot,” he said. “I took it step by step, class by class.”
On the course, that approach could be tested if one were to face many holes like West Point’s 12th, our third hole of the morning. “This might be one of the most intimidating tee shots in the Northeast,” Luher said. Making par requires as much strategy as in a counterterrorism operation. One must advance the tee shot far enough up the sliver of watery, heavily treed fairway to get a look at the smallish target perched on a hill around the dogleg left .
By 15 tee, Luher said, “The course is more in front of you the rest of the way.”
Indeed it is, though there’s a premium on second shots, short game and the local knowledge to which Collyar alluded, particularly on the front nine, much of which plays along the side of a mountain.
Sandwiched around golf at West Point Golf Course were visits to Pound Ridge (N.Y.) Golf Club, 32 miles southwest of the academy, and The Garrison Golf Club, on a bluff directly across the Hudson River.
Pound Ridge, No. 4 on Golfweek’s public-access list in New York , was built by Ken Wang, brother of fashion designer Vera and president of U. S. Summit Co., which has marketing and distribution operations across the Far East .
Wang had an affinity for architect Pete Dye’s work from having played TPC Sawgrass, a fact he attributes to his training at MIT as a mathematician.
“I had this feeling that everything was so geometric and so precise. . .,” Wang said. “I noticed all of these very precise tradeoffs. If you tried to hit a shot that you couldn’t hit, it felt like the line between being able to make it and not make it was very stark. Everyone does that, but it just seemed like he dialed it down to the nearest yard.”
So Dye was Wang’s choice when he built Pound Ridge. Dye’s handiwork is evident throughout: the misdirection on tee shots, the highly sculpted mounding, the uneven lies. In truth, the corridors are more narrow than Wang would like, owing to large environmental setbacks. One of the tightest target lines is on 13, which struck me as a modern riff on the Road Hole, complete with a large boulder obscuring the fairway, much as the Old Course Hotel does on the 17th at St. Andrews.
As a whole, Pound Ridge is a difficult test, though Wang finds it to be “peaceful.”
“I like it for the right reason,” he said. “I don’t do it for the ego of being a golf course owner. I just feel really happy when I’m here.”
The Garrison, meanwhile, makes a statement from the opening tee, which looks across the Hudson River directly at West Point’s Michie Stadium. The Garrison has two distinct identities, depending on the nine you’re playing.
The first two holes play downhill, and much of the front nine reminded us of a tropical locale: heavy vegetation and shaded even on a sunny morning. There are some decidedly uncomfortable tee shots on the front, particularly on Nos. 2, 4 and the long, uphill par-3 eighth. It wasn’t until we struck our tee balls on the uphill ninth that we emerged into the sunlight on top of the hill. From there, the tenor of the layout changed dramatically. Garrison became less penal, while also showcasing its Hudson Valley vistas.
“I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player.” – Gen. George C. Marshall
Marshall probably had someone like Larry Dixon in mind. The day after playing at The Garrison, I watched the senior running back run over, around and past helpless Buffalo defenders for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
These days Dixon and his teammates get their marching orders from new Army coach Jeff Monken. With his square jaw, deep drawl and no-nonsense demeanor, Monken looks as if he would be just as comfortable leading basic combat training as orchestrating his inscrutable option attack. After the Black Knights steamrolled Buffalo for 341 rushing yards in a 47-39 victory, Monken was asked how often he hoped to feature the passing game. “I’d like not to feature the passing game at all,” Monken growled. “We’re a running team. I like to run the ball.”
Yep, Colonel Monken should fit right in at West Point.
Sometimes, though, you need an aerial attack. As it turned out, Gaylord Greene, one of my golf partners at West Point, had a hand in one of the most famous passing plays in Army- Navy history, a 68-yard TD reception in 1992 that helped Army rally from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 25-24. (Greene insists that kicker Patmon Malcom was “the real hero” for his decisive 49-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.) That was 22 years ago, and Greene still looks as if he’d be a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks.
These days Greene works in the athletic department, with an eye toward one day being an athletic director. Such an opportunity likely would mean leaving West Point.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving until football is back and we’re beating Navy,” he said, then paused. “Or they decide that Greene is part of the problem,” he added, roaring with laughter.
The impressive season-opening victory hinted that perhaps the Army football program was on the rebound after winning only eight games in the past three seasons and not having defeated Navy since 2001. The team’s performance is important to Greene and everyone at West Point. But Greene is quick to remind a visitor that the West Point experience involves many “mountaintop moments” that have nothing to do with sports.
That’s a perspective that comes with time. As a young cadet, Collyar nearly left the academy. Nearly four decades later, he says, “You don’t realize what you got from here until you leave.”
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2014 issue of Golfweek magazine; click here to subscribe.