Stevens redesign is class, by George
Perhaps the name of Burke gives a ring of legitimacy to a golf course, and Stevens Park in Dallas certainly has a history that includes the fact that Jack Burke designed the course there in 1922. This was just a couple of years after Mr. Burke finished second, a stroke back, to Ted Ray the first time Inverness was the site for the U.S. Open. His son Jackie would push it over the top by winning a pair of majors -- the Masters and PGA in 1956 -- among his 18 professional titles.
But for all the strength in such golf name association, the person I really think of when I hit Colorado Blvd., in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas and drive out to Stevens is George Kessler. I don’t know if he ever picked up a stick, but Kessler captures the essence of what Stevens Park has been and what it has become.
The beautiful, classic neighborhood that hugs the Stevens Park golf course is named after Kessler. So who the hell was he?
Kessler was born in Germany and was moved to Dallas by his father, who invested in a cotton plantation during the Reconstruction days. Kessler became one of the first in this country to dabble in city master planning. These cats are regarded flippantly by developers as artsy-fartsy types, but Kessler got in his digs back at ‘em.
The object to keep in mind while managing growth in a city, Kessler stated, is to make them “decent places for masses of people to live in. Cities grow mostly by accident in response to trends in the real estate market. Very little thought is given to their qualitative characters. But there comes a time when development must be subject to control, when further growth must be planned such that urbanization will no longer proceed at the expense of devastating nature.”
Nature has been shaped elegantly throughout Kessler Park, and the golf at Stevens Park makes for the classiest -- if sometimes quirky -- place settings on the table arranged first by Mr. Burke and now in the redesign by John Colligan and Trey Kemp last year. This golf course is part of the good collection of municipally owned properties by the city of Dallas.
I’ve got first-hand experience with the work of Colligan, who has set up shop at Arlington between Dallas and Fort Worth. He re-did Brackenridge Park, an A.W. Tillinghast design of 1916 that the city of San Antonio owns right near downtown. Fine place, though short at less than 6,500 yards just like Stevens, and my first experience with square greens on some of the holes.
Colligan, citing overhead photos he viewed that showed square greens in use at both places, went ahead and did the same thing at Stevens Park. When I came to the second square-form green at Stevens on the fifth hole, it looked like a piece of paper laying on a table and ruffled up and hovering here and there by a gentle little breath from underneath. And if this were a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” the greens would be paper-covers-rock because -- whether the green shape is square or, as Colligan says, is “as round as a Buffalo nickel” -- nothing comes flat.
The redesign’s routing progresses in mostly the same manner through the opening 12 holes, though there are changes. There are back-to-back 3-pars, instead of a 3 and “barely” 4, at the 7th and 8th. But those are good par 3s now, then you walk over to the elevated tee box at No. 9 and have 600 yards staring straight back at you. The 11th and 12th are similarly altered; the old 11th was a par 3 that’s been wiped away by extending No. 10 into a par 5, and the No. 12 that used to sweep nicely along North Plymouth Road has been divided into a short par 4 (now No. 11) and a par 3 of medium length.
But then you take the few steps across Colorado Blvd., and the world changes. Coombs Creek still flows through, but the re-design team totally changed it over there. They expertly cut facets into a nice gem. I mean it’s good.
No. 13 is a short par 4 doglegging left with risk-reward off the tee. No. 14 is strong near 200 yards over the creek. And 16 and 17 are a strong back-to-back collection: a par 5 with a landing area near the green that’s up on a bluff past the creek (I got stung by a wasp during one round there years back when the hole was a par 4 routed from the other direction), then an uphill par 3 of 150 yards that requires clearance of a pot bunker. The views are as different as liberal and conservative. Look back over your putt on the 16th green and you see the big, gleaming Emerald City skyline of Dallas. Check your alignment for the shot on the 17th tee and there’s a quaint little church up there. It’s all gorgeous.
Just about my only bicker with the new stuff is the 18th, where the trees the redesigners were mandated to save made them place a tee that’s short and forces a tee shot with the trajectory of a stinger.
The “Miniverde” strain of Bermuda they planted onto the greens are showing the signs of newness, not helped by the fact planting took place in the brunt of the drought here in Texas. But everything else around the 38 new bunkers and planting of 800 trees or shrubs looks of class.
As does the old stone clubhouse at the top of the hill. It’s where I walked in after nine one day and saw Frank Reynolds up on the TV screen giving the ABC News break-in report that President Reagan had been shot. But, better, I’ve had many a time to reflect and enjoy that golf has proceeded there, but it never came at the expense of devastating nature. George Kessler might well like it that Stevens Park is part of his old neighborhood.
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