This page is intended to go through Midland’s Hill’s original design, give background on its designer, Seth Raynor, and discuss interesting aspects of the original architecture and his Template holes. Some aspects have changed over time and some have stayed original for close to 100 years. Over time, I will continue to add to this page regarding Midland and its classic design, Raynor, as well as his well respected work.
Here is Midland Hills in 1945 and below in 2013. I’ve labeled the original routing, put a square on the original clubhouse and an arrow pointing at the original driving range across what is now Highway 280. Take a second and go through the original route as I’ve labeled the original greens.
There are several things that stick out immediately when you compare the 1945 Seth Raynor course to what you play today.
- First, and most obvious, is the lack of trees. Seth Raynor routed the holes the way he did for a reason, to see the fantastic piece of property that Midland sits upon and to take advantage of the prevailing winds. Midland sits upon top of a hill that over looks downtown Minneapolis. You might not be able to see it now with trees and buildings but this site was picked by the club founders for a reason, the land is the biggest asset. Raynor left several native trees on the property and those were again for a reason, to create specific strategy. Weren’t all golf courses wide open in the beginning? No, as most lauded classic golf architects designed courses to see as much of the property as possible from all golf holes and used land forms, uneven lies and non-preferable lines into greens from errant shots, true Seth Raynor traits.
Take a look at the East corner of Midland vs. Les Bolsted GC across the street in 1945. See a difference? This was on purpose. Seth Raynor was a highly skilled engineer who maximized the land forms into his designs. Les Bolsted was a different design from the start. It’s land was full of native trees and the course was designed around them. The trees dictated the design from the beginning of inception at Les Bolsted. Raynor designed his courses to incorporate the land forms as key strategies. Landing zones, uneven lies, difficult angles into greens from wide shots and well placed bunkers were part of Raynor’s key designs, not trees. His work is debated to have maximized the land into fantastic long-lasting classic designs more than any other architect.
- Width of the fairways and roughs created endless routes to play into the greens. Seth Raynor actually joined several fairways together. Our current 3rd and 5th were joined and the 5th and 6th fairways were also joined. The 8th fairway and the 3rd green surround were joined. This was to create a fun, interesting and highly varied ways to play the hole. If you missed a fairway, you could still advance the ball but you were left with a very tough line into the greens.
- Now look at the back 9 and how wide the fairways were on the current 10th, 11th, 17th and 14th fairways. How did they shrink? As the Ash, Pine and Spruce trees that were planted in the 1950s matured, the fairways shrunk with them and the variety of playing the holes lost their original intent and variety. Now the trees became the intent of strategy.
- Next thing to look at is the clubhouse and the driving range. The clubhouse used to sit on the current 4th tee box. It was moved in the 1950s to its current location. Coupled with the driving range moving to it’s current location, several holes were lost and/or redesigned by golf course architect Paul Coates.
- Maybe the most important hole that was lost was the original #6, The Short. The tee box for our current #1 was the same as the original #6, however the green was located ~140 yards from the tee, just left of the beginning of current #1 fairway. After the clubhouse moved, the current #6 green was rebuilt to the West. The current #4 green was then left and considered The Short. Look at the picture below and not how The Short is supposed to look and play. Completely surrounded by bunkers, it’s essentially an island in the middle of sand that has no backdrop. Our current Short no longer has a backdrop of trees but the bunkering is lacking that bold unmistakable Seth Raynor designed look. It’s only a 140 yard hole but accuracy is demanded.
- Our current 1st hole is not an original and has been tinkered with several times but it’s current look and playability does not match the rest of the course. With the driving range moving to the middle of the property, we lost holes that used to play across it. The original #7 and #16 were lost when this occurred, however the chipping green between #10 and #11 is still there, although much smaller now than 97 years ago. So that means that #18 is not an original hole and again it has been tinkered with as well over the years and yet again, it doesn’t match the look and playability of the original holes.
- Below is one of the most famous Template Short Holes from Sleepy Hallow CC. The effect of this hole is visually stunning, looking like an island and much more intimidating than the 140 yards on the scorecard. Our current 4th hole is supposed to mimic The Short, however you can see from a true Short, it lacks what we unfortunately once had. It could potentially be our best hole if still stood today as the original architecture.
- Our 2nd hole, which was the original 17th, was possibly considered the Road Hole, it’s design concept taken from St. Andrew’s 17th hole. The design aspects here was a dog leg right with a carry over some type of hazard. For St. Andrews, it’s a carry over the corner of the hotel, for Midland it was a carry over a steep hill of rough with an awkward lie if you found your ball there. A fairway bunker on the right side then blocked your view of the putting surface and a good measured shot would only be rewarded. If you look at how the hole is today, the tee is moved up the hill to the left, taking much of the dogleg out. As the trees matured, houses were built along the right side of the property, the hole then evolved more to the left. Notice how the 2nd and 3 fairways were separated by only a few feet of rough. Raynor wanted maximum width to create several options into the green. However, the further left you went (and distance), the skinnier the depth of the green it became, making it more difficult to hold shots. At some point the fairway bunker on the right was removed.
- Our 3rd hole used to be the original 18th. This hole has not been altered much since the original design. Interesting original designs of the holes is first the width. There is very little rough between the 2nd, 3rd and 5th hole. This was to create variety but also strategy. If your drive went right off the tee, you were faced with a shot with a terrible angle because we all know the green slopes away from that angle. The further left you played, the better angle into the green to hold your shot. This aerial is from 1945 and you can already see that non native trees were unfortunately being planted down the left side of what is now the lower fairway. Other interesting aspects about Raynor’s design is that the fairway on the 8th is connected and there is no rough going down the hill on the 3rd fairway, as well as the fairway bunker on the left side was removed in the late 1940s.
- The 4th green you play to now used to be the 2nd green but it played from the current 6th tee box. As you can see from the 1945 aerial, the old farm/clubhouse sat right where the current 4th tee box is, I’ve placed a square in its approximate location. When the clubhouse moved to its current location, several holes were rerouted. Imagine hitting into 4 green from 6 fairway-with the slope and angle of play, an extremely challenging 2nd or 3rd shot. The current 4th green has had slight modifications, most notably adding green surface to the back left corner of the green in the 1990s. Other interesting things to note about our current 6th hole: There was no pond, and there was a fairway bunker on the left side which framed the dogleg and helped protect balls from running into the parking lot. It’s assumed that the fairway bunker was raised up, interfering with your view into the green if you challenged the left side of the fairway for a better angle. Seth Raynor knew how and where to place fairway bunkers to not only challenge you if your shot ended up in one, but to interfere with your vision of the hole if you decided to take an aggressive lay up line.
- The 5th hole you play now was the 1st hole in Seth Raynor’s original layout. The green was eventually pushed back another 50 yards to its current location; the green you play to today is an attempted replica of Raynor’s design. The original green was flush with the ridge on the left side of the fairway, right before the approach so it played uphill the entire hole. Interesting things to note about the original architecture of the hole: There were no trees, as Raynor used the steep hill on the left side as a triple penalty. You had to navigate the rough, a side hill lie and a very tough angle into the green. No trees were needed to test your skills. There were only two trees down the right side of the hole and about 20 feet of rough between it and the current 3rd hole. The wide corridor, especially to the right, was designed to let the golfer get the best angle of attack into the green. Over time, we’ve lost the angle as trees have been planted.
- The 7th hole you play now was the original 3rd hole. It still plays almost exactly the same, 97 years later. A few changes have been made, a new tee box was built, making shorter and longer yardages available, and the bunker across the entire rear of the green was removed. It is interesting to note that you used to have to hit over the driveway to the club. This was common in a lot of older classic courses. The 7th is our “Eden” hole, modeled after the 11th hole at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland and is one of the famous “template” holes built on classic courses all around the work by the great C.B. MacDonald and his protégé Seth Raynor. Our Eden hole is a very strong representation of original Seth Raynor architecture, one that we should take a lot of pride in. The tree removal over the past 15 years in this area, although controversial at first, has brought back the vistas and grand scale of what Seth Raynor intended for this hole.
- The 8th hole has mainly remained untouched since 1919 and was originally played as the 4th hole. It is considered our Cape and/or Knoll Seth Raynor template. It’s a short par 4 that provides plenty of strategy, challenge and variety, most notably since over 25 trees were removed on the pond bank many years ago. As you can see below, by 1945, trees were already being planted up the left side of the hole which compromised the width that Seth Raynor intended. He wanted you to challenge the left side of the hole and if you went too far, you were left with a more difficult angle. Also interesting to note was the fairway bunker on the left side that also served as a practice bunker next to the clubhouse. There were no trees around the practice green for “protection” because then players on #8 tee couldn’t see if anyone was using it and couldn’t tell if they needed to yell “fore”. Trees are often thought of as protection but, in reality, they block the view of players hitting shots to see if anyone is in their landing zone. If you clearly see someone is in your landing zone, as well as your ball flight, you can warn them if your shot is errant. Also to note, the fairway came way over on the left side of the approach and all the way behind the green. This created more options, fun, as well as unrealized difficulty. If
- The 9th hole you play today used to be the 5th. It is almost a reverse mirrored layout as the current 8th. Seth Raynor used Walsh Lake to his advantage and wanted players to play around and visually appreciate it. In the original routing, the hole played to the current chipping green next to the 1st tee. When the rerouting took place, a new green was built in the 9th’s current location. Again, non-native trees were already planted on the pond side of the hole, most of which have been removed since, maximizing your view of the lake from the fairway. Interesting to note how 1 tree down the left side of the hole framed and created the strategy. Not how wide the fairway was on both sides. The further you hit your shot on each side, the worse of an angle you had into the green. Also there may have been a fairway bunker at one point on the left side of the hole that caught your eye from the tee and came into play for longer hitters. The current green’s shape is fairly decent, however the green surround has mounding around the back creating a backdrop, which is exactly the opposite of a Seth Raynor trait. Raynor wanted you to see nothing behind the greens as a challenge for depth perception as well as making sure the wind didn’t slow down around the greens. Not only did Raynor understand strategy, he also knew agronomy and if a green site doesn’t have quality air movement, putting conditions won’t reach their potential.
- The 10th hole you play now was the original 8th hole. The current tee boxes you play have been moved back but overall the hole remains the same. First thing to note is the width of the fairway and not a single tree in play. Imagine hitting off the fairway almost double the width of the current hole, that is serious variety and strategy. At the original width the rough didn’t stop the ball from rolling off track and creating difficult second shots. For example look at the landing zone down the right side and how the fairway bunker really came into play. Now in its original form, that bunker rarely challenges any shot or decision to advance the ball a certain distance. Other interesting changes was the bunker front left of the green was double the size and further back towards the tee. As did most of the fairway bunkers at Midland, the fairway ran right up and sometimes into the bunker. No rough slowed balls and prevented them from ending up in their intended hazard. The fairway went around that bunker, resulting in a very difficult 40 yard uphill shot. There also used to be a bunker left of the green but you can see by 1945, it had been removed already.
- The 11th hole you play today was the original 9th. The original tee box is in the same location as today, but was much smaller and so it offered less tee shot variety. With zero trees coming into play on this hole, Raynor was allowing the player to choose any line of play and challenging the player to hit to a very plateaued green pad. You can assume that the prevailing wind was stiff, putting a premium on choosing the proper ball flight. Note the first fairway bunker on the left, one large and long bunker. Notice how the bunker came out into the fairway, creating a proper hazard for those who challenged it. The back side of the bunker would have been pushed upward, creating a “wall” look from the tee box. If a player drove it into this bunker, advancing the ball to the green was doubtful. Next, notice the three other fairway bunkers, which have since been removed. Again, there is no rough between them and the fairway, so balls would undoubtedly have followed the contour of the ground and rolled into them. The fairway bunker on the left was at the base of the hill and probably had a very steep wall face. The green site is shaped much like todays, but there are some differences. Notice the dark shading around the backside. The area surrounding the green surface dropped off steeply, causing the ball to ricochet farther away from the hole if the green was missed, as well as producing a more difficult recovery shot. The reason the green now has a more gentle and “softer” surround is unknown, but it is likely that when the bunkers were changed, soil was spread around the green, creating mounds and filling in these steep drop offs. This, unfortunately, is when Midland Hills lost much of its Seth Raynor identity in its green complexes. Raynor designed the collar to go right to the down slope into bunkers and towards these steep fall-away slopes. Looking at such architecture from the fairway, it is unmistakable Raynor. I’ve seen it masterfully restored at places like Shoreacres, Chicago Golf Club and National Golf Links of America. The aesthetics of this style of architecture creates problems with player’s confidence, club selection and narrows the window of error on all yardages of approach shots.
Below is a great example of how some of our green pads have shrunk over time. This is our 2nd hole showing two views only a few feet apart. The top picture is how the green was designed and has stayed original, with the collar right on the edge of the slope. The second picture shows an area where the green has shrunk and several feet of rough has grown in to stop balls from the bunker. This has taken place on most holes at Midland because of the evolution of maintenance practices, combined with a bunker restoration that put the edges of the bunkers too far from the green surfaces.
- The 12th hole today was the original 10th. The tee box location and angle of play to the green were almost exactly the same as today. The tee box actually served as a shared split tee with the original 16th hole, which ran across the back of the current driving range to the south of the current first green location. There used to be a halfway house behind the tee box, which was converted to a storm shelter, and then to a flower bed (now removed). The green complex and both bunkers are almost as same as they are today. The 12th hole is a Template hole known as a Biarritz, known for the swale you play through. Some of Seth Raynor’s Biarritz holes had the swale inside the green, and some had it in the approach, as at Midland. However, Raynor’s swales were usually perpendicular to the line of play. When Midland’s Biarritz was “restored” in the early 90s, it seems that the swale was improperly dug, so that it crosses the line of the tee shot at an oblique angle rather than perpendicular. Unfortunately, we do not have ground photos of the Biarritz in its original form. You can see that there was fairway-height turf between the left and right bunkers and the green, again to cause off-line balls to roll into the hazard.
- Today’s 13th hole played as the 11th hole originally. Look at the width, especially the right side of the first half of the fairway. This resulted in endless options of how to play the hole off fairway-height turf, with no trees as part of the strategy. Raynor left the Oak tree grove up the right side; everything else was open. He knew that those trees would “frame” the slight dogleg, but wouldn’t obliterate your view of the horizon. The tee box is in the same location, although smaller, and there was only one tee. From the tee box, you stared down into a massive fairway bunker on the left, which came all the way out into the fairway. This bunker’s purpose was more to interfere with a player’s depth perception and view of the landing area than to catch well-struck drives. Raynor wanted to entice a player to play up the right side of the hole, and the left bunker-essentially a cross bunker-, probably served that purpose. It looks as if there used to be a grass bunker on the right side. The green complex and greenside bunkers were very similar to today’s, but again the fairway turf used to spill right into the bunkers. The shape of the green used to be at a slight left-to-right angle, instead of the straight-on circle it is today. This change more than likely happened because of topdressing practices and mowing greens with a ride-on triplex mower. Dragging in topdressing sand with a cart and a brush in circles over several decades deposited the sand consistently in a circular shape that is played today. This is why if you put your foot on the interface of the green and collar, you feel a distinct ridge. That sand ridge now prevents us from scalping down the surround to recapture the green easily. Green expansion work that we’ve completed on holes 2, 9, 17 and 18 were done with sod cutters, physically removing the ridge of built-up sand. Green expansion work we’ve done on holes 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, and 15 were done without physical removal of sod, but by slowly lowering the height of cut, and multiple aerifications. Given that a ridge exists all the way around 13 green, it would require a large sod-removal project to restore the original shape.
- The 14th hole used to play as the 12th. This hole is a Seth Raynor Alps and Punchbowl Template. This might have been the widest landing zone on the entire course — again creating a great variety of ways to attack the hole. With no trees up the left side of the fairway, Out of Bounds was very much in play from the tee. Options off the tee were also in play: you could play up the left side with your tee shot to avoid a sidehill lie and to keep your ball from rolling down to the right side. You’ll notice that there was a wider section of fairway at the beginning of the right side. This isn’t possible now; as the surrounding neighborhoods were built up, more storm-drain water came onto the property, and that area now is very wet. Without dredging the pond left of 14 and 17 and being able to drain the water in those directions, the area right of 14 will always be wet and not sustainable for fairway. The original width of this hole gave players several ways to navigate to landing zones based on how far they hit it off the tee. The tee box now is back farther than originally but the landing zones are about the same. You’ll again notice that the fairway spilled right into the Alps bunkers and actually went all the way around them. Even a ball rolling on the ground ended up in the bunkers, since there was no rough to stop it. The Alps Template is hole in which the topography rises up into the air with bunkers that blocks a player’s view of the green. Midland’s Alps is also a Punchbowl, meaning the green is surrounded by raised topography. This might be the most naturally soft-flowing punchbowl Raynor ever created and quite possibly his deepest. Most of his Punchbowls looked more like 13 green. The idea of the Punchbowl is that the green surrounds would flow onto the green, allowing even slightly wayward shots to roll onto the putting surface. Raynor often had several Punchbowls on his courses, ranging in size and depth. Raynor received most of his influence from The National Golf Links of America on Long Island. Their 11th hole is also an Alps/Punchbowl and considered one of the greatest holes in golf. I can attest that, like our 14th, it’s one of the most strategic and enjoyable holes you’ll ever play knowing what you need to accomplish off the tee and being surprised by your approach shot each time you play it.
- Midland’s 15th used to play as the 13th. One of the better short holes you’ll play, its green complex is one of the best on property. Unfortunately, over time, this hole has changed dramatically, mostly because of the planting of trees on both sides and subsequent shrinking of the fairway. The tee box you play from now is farther back and slightly to the East of the original. Notice that at the beginning of the fairway on the left, the wetland used to be free of cattails and came well into the line of a player’s eye. Raynor then enticed you to look to the right side to play the hole, although the green better accepts shots hit from the left hand side of the hole. The aspect of the green kicks shots hit from the right-hand side away from the putting surface. Now look to the front of 16 pond and notice that the fairway for 16 went right up to the pond edge. This wasn’t for players hitting their shots on 16, but to punish longer hitters who challenged 15, as their balls would roll all the way into 16 pond. You can also notice the dark color of the rough around the east side of 16 pond; this was longer “native” grass that was let grow to punish those who could hit it that far. Now look up the left side of 15 and notice how much farther to the east the fairway was. Again, Raynor didn’t want trees over on that side for two reasons: 1) He wanted the longer hitters to fear hitting into the lateral hazard/OB. 2) Ball placement on that side of the fairway was rewarded with a better angle into the green. The green complex and bunkers were almost the same as today. Again, there was no rough in front of the bunker on the right side, and the fairway actually went in front of the bunker on the left.
- The 16th hole originally played as the 14th. The tee box, although shaped differently, was very close to the same spot as today. Making par on this hole 90 years ago, with the clubs and balls of the day, and with no trees to block wind, was quite a feat. This is Seth Raynor’s Redan template. The Redan is a green that is sloped on the right side so that it feeds balls to the left. The left side of the hole has a bunker which extends out 1/4 to 1/2 way in front of the green, usually blocking the player’s view of that section of the green. The Redan may be the most copied green by all classic and modern golf course architects. There are a few issues with Midland’s Redan, some from evolution and, I believe, some from never being built to Raynor’s specifications. All the Redans that I’ve seen have the left bunker come out into the line of play. There is a large mound on the left side of our green that looks manufactured. This could have been in place of the bunker; that part is debatable. The green surface itself should extend up the hillside on the right, to get balls rolling down the hill more consistently, so you could play your shot way up the hill and use the topography of the surround to bring it close to the pin. My theory is that Raynor’s construction crew didn’t get the grass line correct, and Raynor didn’t return until after the grow-in was complete. Getting the green surface more up the hill will get this hole to play more as the architect intended, creating more excitement and ground game options. The 16th is a wonderful hole, but could be even better if restored properly.
Again, I’m going to reference National Golf Links of America’s Redan, as it’s touted as the best in American golf. First notice that you play over the bunker on the left side if you choose to challenge that side if there a pin position there. But also notice that the putting-green height turf extends up the slope on the right, helping to feed balls down towards the pin. NGLA’s green complex is very similar to Midland’s in that if you hit the ball too far, the slope will take your ball all the way through to the back left and off the green. Another aspect to note is the lack of rough between the bunker and the fairway/approach/collar, which feeds off-line shots into the hazard.
- The 17th hole used to be played as the 15th, a straight-away par 5 with no bunkers, into the prevailing wind: no guaranteed par! The original tee box was where the white tees play from today, but given the advance in technology, shots are basically played from the same landing areas. Notice the width of the fairway and the two trees, one on each side of the landing zone that came into play. Raynor wanted you to see those two trees from the tee box; by having only two trees, your eyes were drawn to them. The tee box is the highest location on the property, and in 1930, with few trees blocking the vista, you could see the entire back 9 and the large ridge of the front 9 that encompasses holes 1, 2, and 9. It’s also been said that you could see the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis from the 16th green and 17th tee at this time. Looking at the green complex, notice that the green used to be much wider than today, extending up the hill and onto the flat area on the right. The surround of the green actually connected to 13 fairway. The 17th green was so wide and up the hill that Raynor wanted players who missed a pin position up on the hill to be punished by the ball rolling all the way down towards 13 fairway. Imagine putting or chipping back up to the green complex from over there, Raynor demanded a fine touch with the short game with the original green complex. There also used to be fairway-height turf around the left side and behind the green, again carrying mis-judged shots farther away from the hole. It looks as though a grass bunker existed where the sand bunker is today.
- What used to be the 16th hole no longer exists. Unfortunately, it was a stunner. Sharing a tee with the current 12th hole, it played across the back of the driving range fairway and to number 1 approach, where the green used to lie. The land is tilted from north to south, with shots played up the right side catching the hill and rolling down the hill. Notice the cross bunker directly in front of the green. Cross bunkers were used by many classic golf course architects, in some instances to fool the player with depth perception and club selection; in others, to make a player hit a different club off the tee or as a second shot. With the cross bunker in front and bunkers behind the green, this complex gave players little room for error. The size of the cross bunker demanded the player’s attention. Unfortunately, Midland no longer has any cross bunkers remaining, losing a key part of the strategy and fun Raynor envisioned. When the clubhouse moved to its current location, with the rerouting of holes and the creation of the driving range, this green complex was used as number 1, with the cross bunker being rebuilt in front. Over time, the green was pushed back and rebuilt in its current location and status.
- The 18th hole you play now was created in the late 1950s when the clubhouse was moved to its current location. Unfortunately it does not resemble Seth Raynor’s work. We’ve brought the green back out to restore the false front, but without some construction work (along with number 1) it will remain one of the holes that don’t resemble the rest of the course or the rest of Raynor’s work. I’m not certain what was attempted with the mounds surrounding around our current 18th, but to me the green site looks like it could be restored to something such as the 5th hole on lower course at Sleepy Hollow CC in New York (shown below). This is a common Punchbowl green that Raynor designed-not by letting the surrounds create a natural bowl, but by building up the surround in a bowl-like manner. Not all Punchbowls were as deep as Midland’s 14th, and it was common to see multiple Punchbowls on an 18-hole Seth Raynor design.
This page has covered a lot of information regarding what was originally designed by Seth Raynor in 1919. Some of it no longer exists, some of it has been slightly altered over the years and, fortunately, some of it has remained the same for almost 100 years. The next photo, which was graciously created by a talented Midland member, is a superb way to look at both the original and current designs at the same time. This gives you a great opportunity to see the 1919 course laid over the top of what you play today. As you can see, the original design had more playing options with its wider corridors, and was more forgiving to the shorter player off the tee. Raynor wanted the course to be playable for all skill levels, and many times the fairway was wider in the shorter hitter’s landing zones. In the photo below, the original tee boxes are outlined in white, bunkers in yellow, and fairway contour lines in green. If your computer allows you to blow it up, I invite you to do so.
Below is a copy of a Midland Hills scorecard from 1935. It’s interesting to view how some hole’s yardages have/have not changed in almost 100 years. It’s also entertaining to compare how the course was handicapped compared to today.