Middletown author says a quality golf course is art
MIDDLETOWN — Golf writer Anthony Pioppi is a revolutionary — of sorts.
When the author of five books and senior writer at Superintendent Magazine published his first golf book, “To the Nines,” in 2006, it praised the virtues of then not-so-popular courses and he unknowingly inspired another writer clear across the North Atlantic.
But for Pioppi, now 55, his fascination started much earlier. He grew up playing nine-hole courses in his hometown of Southbridge, Massachusetts. At 5, his grandmother took him to the Cohasse Country Club, where she was a member.
“There I was, traipsing along as my Nona rode alongside in one of those three-wheel golf carts steered by a metal bar,” he wrote in the book. “I flailed away for what seemed like hours under a broiling sun, never getting a shot airborne.”
Pioppi may have been enthralled by nines at the time, but not the rest of America.
“They had lost their cache. They kind of became not really golf courses. People referred to nine-hole golf courses as ‘little golf courses’ or ‘half a golf course,’” said Pioppi, who has been covering the industry for 18 years. “It was demeaning.”
So when he began his research, he made a discovery.
“It turns out, there had never been a book written on the history of nine-hole golf courses in the history of literature on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Pioppi.
“To the Nines” spurred renowned Irish golf writer Ivan Morris to visit every “half-course” in Ireland and pen his own volume. The two have since become friends, said Pioppi, who just taped a segment about his new book, “The Finest Nines: The Best Nine-Hole Golf Courses in North America,” for the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show. It is expected to air next week.
Pioppi, who has written for the United States Golf Association website, Golf Course Architecture, the Chicago Tribune and Golfweek, was also a reporter for The Middletown Press from 1988 to 1995.
One of the things that really hurt the popularity of nines is that the USGA (which issues handicaps) didn’t allow golfers to post their scores for these rounds, Pioppi said.
“They were saying to these fantastic, world-class nine-hole golf courses, ‘You’re not a real golf course,’ and that didn’t change until the 2000s,” Pioppi said.
“I’m not really the architect of the revolution, but I’m fighting on the front lines. I’ve been wounded on a number of occasions but I persevere,” joked Pioppi, whip smart and lightening fast on the uptake.
“The Finest Nines,” with a foreword by PGA Tour golfer Zac Blair, features 25 courses, from Hawaii to Canada, and includes three in Connecticut: Norfolk Country Club, Birchwood Country Club in Westport and the Hotchkiss School Golf Course.
The latter, a public course at the private preparatory boarding school in Salisbury, was designed by the same architect who created the premiere Course at Yale: Seth Raynor.
“What Raynor originally created at Hotchkiss stood with his best work. Aerial photography from the early- and mid-1930s shows large, bold green complexes defended by yawning bunkers and strategy throughout. This was no second-rate effort,” Pioppi wrote.
He takes a specific approach to writing about courses.
“My criteria of golf courses is solely based on architecture. I don’t care about anything else. I don’t care about practice ranges, I don’t care about clubhouses, and for the most part I don’t care about the condition,” Pioppi said.
Purists know golfing isn’t a one-and-done recreational activity, he said.
“A quality golf course is art, and just like any other good art, you have to experience it multiple times to fully appreciate it. That’s counter to the way most Americans are. We want it to be simple. We don’t want to have to think or put in effort it understanding.”
The trend toward golfers playing nine holes is being driven by people hard pressed for time.
“It takes too long to play 18 holes, so the idea of playing nine holes is making a comeback,” said Pioppi, who also caddies for the Hartford Golf Club during the season.
Prior to World War II, playing nine holes was commonplace, Pioppi said. In the 1950s, country clubs were hubs of social activity. “There were golf clubs for virtually everybody.”
The popularity of 18-hole courses has waned over time, Pioppi said, because not many people have time to spend four and a half — or more — hours golfing.
“For the dedicated golfer, that’s their recreation, so they carve out that time,” Pioppi said, referring to 18-hole players. “A lot of golfers where I caddy come in, warm up play and go home. They’ve got stuff to do.”
Pioppi has also authored “A History of The Minikahda Club Golf Course,” “Shoreacres, The First 100 Years: 1916-2016,” “To the Nines” and “Haunted Golf” (co-written with Chris Gonsalves).
In 2013, he spent three months at Machrihanish Dunes on the Kintyre Peninsula in far southwest Scotland. “It was quite the experience. I caddied for golfers of 13 nationalities, including Alex Salmond, then the First Minister of Scotland, on a pure links golf course.”
Blair told him about the Kahuka Golf Course in Hawaii, included in the book “The Finest Nines.” Pioppi has never been there. In fact, he has only played at 19 of the 25 courses he wrote about.
“I tapped into the knowledge of a lot of people,” he said. “I talked to golf course architects, shapers (the guys who move the dirt for the architects), other writers, and those who are knowledgeable and play a lot of golf. I didn’t write about a golf course where I didn’t have an extensive description by somebody who was very familiar with the golf course. I could walk you through holes of golf courses I’ve never been to.”
For more information on “The Finest Nines,” which retails for $19.99, see skyhorsepublishing.com.
Pioppi has two book signings coming up in Middletown: Tuesday at Celtic Cavern, 45 Melilli Plaza, from 6 to 9 p.m., and April 19 at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore, 413 Main St.