Yale golf course provided some comfort
In the fall, the Yale golf course becomes a majestic setting for the Connecticut foliage. The colors of fall -- yellow, bronze, orange, red, purple and brown -- blanket this 85-year-old masterpiece designed by Charles Blair MacDonald with help from Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. The ninth, a 235-yard par 3, is the signature hole in the layout because of its 65-yard long green with an 8-foot swale separating the front and back. The tee shot from a raised hillside requires a 190-yard carry over water into a 12,000-square-foot green that is flanked by two strip bunkers. Trees place the hole into a striking artistic frame -- giving order to its natural beauty.
The designers got the idea for the hole from a similar one in France that was built by Willie Dunn, the architect of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, N.Y. MacDonald had discovered the hole at the Le Phare Course at the Biarritz Golf Club in France on a trip to Europe looking for ideas for his National Golf Links. From there, he and his team took bits and pieces of concepts from the third hole at the Le Phare Course and built their own Biarritz hole at Yale. There probably is not a more beautiful and challenging par 3 in the United States -- especially as the bright fall colors fully blossom in New England in early October.
It was an autumn day in September, and nature hadn't blessed Connecticut yet with her full array of colored leaves. My favorite time at the Yale golf course was still a few weeks away. I wasn't supposed to be in New Haven or at the Yale golf course. I never played there before October, but I was back there on a Tuesday when the promise of the fall foliage was replaced with the gloom and despair of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
On that fateful morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I had arrived in my office at the Golf Digest Companies in Trumbull, Conn., from Grand Central Terminal in New York at about 8:45 a.m. ET, just as the first hijacked plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. At that moment, like many people around the world, I didn't understand what I had just seen. Could it have been an airplane that had simply lost its way and crashed into a building? But then the world knew that the United States was under attack when, shortly after 9 a.m., a second plane hit the south tower. After a third plane hit the Pentagon, we were told to go home. But the Metro-North train back to the city was shut down. I don't remember now how I got there, but I made my way to New Haven, where my great aunt had moved in the early 1950s to work in a once-thriving manufacturing industry in southern New England.
As soon as I got into New Haven, I knew I would go to the Yale golf course. I had played there with colleagues from the magazine, and I knew I didn't want to sit in my aunt's apartment and watch the scene unfolding at ground zero. There would be time for that later. Back in the city, my girlfriend was safe. From her apartment in Greenwich Village, we had been able to see the World Trade Center towers.
The golf course looked empty when I arrived there in the early afternoon. If there were other players there, I didn't see them. A Yale student from near my hometown in Georgia was working the counter in the pro shop. I wanted to hit some balls and then play.
That week the PGA Tour had tournaments in St. Louis and Tampa, Fla. The top players were at the WGC-American Express Championship in St. Louis at the Bellerive Country Club. Many of them were playing practice rounds when they learned of the attacks. Some would spend the rest of the day sitting in front of the TV watching the events unfold. Others spent time on the practice range or chipping areas.
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"As soon as I got to the course, I went to the locker room and someone said, 'Quick, come watch on TV. Something has happened,'" Robert Allenby said. "The first plane had just hit the tower."
Jesper Parnevik, then a flamboyant 36-year-old Swedish player, was in New York meeting his clothing designer at the time of the attacks. He was in a Midtown hotel when the first plane hit the north tower. He was stuck in the city for three days before he took a cab to Philadelphia, where he rented a car and drove home to South Florida. Parnevik said he couldn't sleep for months.
"I remember staying in Las Vegas, it was almost to the point I was sure something was going to happen," Parnevik said at the time of the attacks. "I was just happy to wake up every morning and see that all the skyscrapers still were there.
"Every time I saw an airplane, or I saw a strange car pull up to the hotel, I said, 'Who's that? What's going on?' It affected me for quite a while."
It had started as a typical Tuesday morning for Paul Tesori on the week of a tournament. Tesori, a former PGA Tour player who was caddying for Vijay Singh, was driving over to his boss' house when he got a phone call from his best friend telling him a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. He gave Singh and his family the news as soon as he got to the house. They turned on the TV and saw the second plane hit the south tower. "We were sitting in front of the TV in shock," Tesori said. "But it was time for us to go."
The two of them hopped into Singh's truck, and when they got to the airport, they watched the towers fall on TV as they waited for the pilot to get their private plane ready. When they got on the plane and were sitting on the tarmac, the pilot told them there was a chance all air travel could be indefinitely postponed.
"Vijay said now, 'Wait a minute, I don't want to fly all the way to St. Louis to get stuck. Let's wait 10 or 15 minutes to see what happens,'" Tesori said.
Five minutes later, they got the news that air travel had been shut down. So they went back to Singh's house, where they sat in front of the TV for the rest of the day.
"We were wondering what the ramifications for all of this. Were we at war? Nobody really knew," said Tesori, who now caddies for Webb Simpson. "Vijay has a legendary work schedule, but he didn't hit a ball that day."
Events on the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour and the Nationwide Tour all were canceled within a day of the attacks. It was the first time since World War II that tour events had been canceled, other than for weather. The 34th Ryder Cup matches, slated for later that month at the Belfry in England, also were postponed until the following year.
However, in an ironic twist, the PGA Tour resumed its schedule the next week at the Pennsylvania Classic in Ligonier, which is 25 miles from Shanksville, Pa., where a fourth hijacked plane crashed that Tuesday after passengers fought the terrorists. At that tournament, American flags were placed on all 18 pins and inside the tee markers.
For reasons I don't remember now, I decided not to play that Tuesday at Yale. I hit a few putts and chips with a couple of borrowed clubs. I didn't feel right playing golf, but I knew this was where I had to be. It reminded me some of being home in Georgia on my little city golf course, and to me that was comforting. So I walked the course backward -- treading lightly across the narrow, rolling fairways out of respect for the fallen ones and the brave souls who were at the towers fighting to save lives. As I got around to the 18th hole, a 621-yard par-5, my cellphone rang. It was my mother calling from Georgia. She had finally gotten through the busy lines. I told her I was fine but a little scared.
Because standing there in the gloaming, I knew the colored leaves would come in full and the fall would be ripe with football and golf in sweaters, but things would never be the same. All the hope I had in that moment was pitted in that wonderful old empty golf course.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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