Geoffrey Cornish, Eastman Golf Links’ Architect
By Brad Moses • photos courtesy grantham historical society
The story of Eastman Golf links really begins in 1969 when Emil Hanslin, the noted land planner who created the New Seabury community on Cape Cod as well as Wesleyan Hill in Middletown, Connecticut, agreed to build a community at Eastman. Many said it couldn’t be done. Hanslin proved them wrong. With vision and imagination, Eastman became a reality. The same is true of our golf course, Eastman Golf Links.
From the beginning, golf played a major role in the Eastman development. With rolling hills and plenty of woods and water, Eastman had all the natural resources needed to create an exciting, challenging and scenic test of golf. But it was also a real challenge of another kind: The course had to be built solely on bedrock and uneven terrain with a limited amount of topsoil available.
Geoffrey Cornish and William Robinson, both of Amherst,Massachusetts, were selected to design the course with the understanding that the project be completed with minimum disruption to the ecology and natural, rugged terrain. When approached by Hanslin and landscape architect Bob Snow, Cornish was skeptical. Even after designing more than 250 courses in the US, Canada and Europe, the words that sprang to mind when asked about the project were “wild and rocky and impossible.”
The community development plans included building the golf course in the southern portion of Eastman. It was smart marketing to make fairways visible from the road as prospective land and home buyers drove through the property to the Visitors Center. Eastman Road was deliberately routed to provide teasing glimpses of the course as it curved toward the dramatic first view of the lake.
Construction of the course began in 1971 with a lot of dynamiting to break up the bedrock and extensive ledge underlying the course layout. Thomas Curran from Brookline, Massachusetts was hired as the course superintendent during the course construction. With the superintendant involved with the project from the onset – monitoring design, consulting on specifications, supervising construction and learning the peculiarities of the terrain and turf – he would be more at home with his course responsibilities and better equipped to oversee future improvements.
The first nine holes opened for play on August 13, 1972, which was also the year the first homes were built in Eastman. The original nine holes were not 1 through 9 as they are today, but were our current 1, 2, 14, 15, 16, 3, 4, 5 and 9. You can only imagine the long walks between the 2nd and 14th holes and the 16th and 3rd. The second nine opened in July 1976, and the sequence of holes became what it is today.
In the words of Geoffrey Cornish, the finished product was “a miracle.” And to show it off, Hanslin wanted a name for the course that was not generic, but distinctive and attractive to prospective owners. He called it Eastman Golf Links.
The initial “clubhouse” was a trailer where, in 1975, Dick Tuxbury found his home as the first Eastman golf professional. In case you’re wondering, during the first year of operation, the greens fee was $3 for 18 holes on weekdays, $3.50 on weekends. There were about 40 members and the property owner membership fee was $85.
In 1976, Tuxbury was still in that trailer, but construction had begun on a real clubhouse, a Yankee Barn design that opened on Columbus Day weekend. Over the years, the clubhouse was expanded several times. One addition was a snack bar called Harvey’s Handicap Room. To have some fun, players who came from neighboring towns submitted their lowest net score cards and at the end of each season trophies, called “Harveys,” were awarded to the winner from each town. Eventually, Eastman enlarged the dining room and locker facilities and moved the pro shop to another space.
Eastman built the driving range in 1979 but didn’t open the putting green until September 1991. Until then, practice putting was interesting. Cups were cut on the back portions of the 1st and 10th tee boxes so players could roll a few putts before teeing off. The same machine that cut the greens also cut the grass on those tee boxes to the same length.
Hall of Fame golfer Gene Sarazen, who won 39 PGA Tour events during his professional career, owned a home in New London near the entrance to Lake Sunapee Country Club. He became an Eastman honorary member and played here in 1979 and 1980. He started the “Gene Sarazen New London Hospital Pro-Am Tournament” first held here in the summer of 1979. Charity tournaments have been part of the Eastman tradition ever since.
Always a marketer, Emil Hanslin gave Sarazen an Eastman condominium to use and in return Eastman was able to use Sarazen’s name in promotions and presentations to prospects.In 1981, Eastman owners purchased the course, and Sarazen moved to a condo near Lake Sunapee. However, before moving, Sarazen recommended two course improvements: the addition of the trap left of the pond on the 17th fairway (removed during this last drainage renovation) to give better perspective of the distance to that landing area, and the creation of those grass mounds next to that pond to help keep balls from rolling into the water.
In September 1993, Harvey’s Handicap Room was renamed the Draper Mill Tavern. In May 1995, the entire clubhouse, tavern and all, burned to the ground. Dick Tuxbury, who had started his pro career here in a trailer, found himself back in one again. In 1996, Eastman celebrated its 25th Anniversary and built a brand new golf and ski center, which opened in January 1997.
Tom Curran retired in 1989, and Ron Hanson became course superintendent. He oversaw course maintenance until 2006,when Michael Gornnert, our current superintendent, was hired.
Also in 2006, Dick Tuxbury retired to Florida after more than 30 years as head pro. Current Pro Mark Larrabee took over soon after.
The original irrigation system was installed when the course was constructed. The sewer system was connected to the pond on the 14th hole so the processed effluent could be used to water the course, saving money (since the sewage did not have to be trucked away) and conserving natural resources. In 2000-2001, Eastman replaced and automated the entire irrigation system. Prior to then, sprinklers had to be turned on by hand, and it took three nights to fully water the course due to the lack of pumping capacity.
As more and more homes were built along the fairways, the drainage changed and the initial infrastructure aged; the course needed a real face lift. So in 2006-2007, Eastman refurbished all 18 holes, including new fairway drainage, new bunkers and bunker drainage. The course is now in its best shape ever.
Last season, EGL was chosen to host the New Hampshire Men’s State Amateur Championship. The accolades from the players and sponsors, from EGL members and guests and the hundreds of public players who have come to challenge the course since these improvements are a testament to its history—a history of vision, imagination, uniqueness and hard work. It may have once been called a “miracle,” but it is now known as a true “Upper Valley Gem.”