The 94-year-old course that was designed through a late-career collaboration of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor had been closed since November 2019. New General Manager Peter Palacios Jr. has set finding a new Superintendent and restoring the course to its original design as top priorities, along with closing the disconnect between Yale University by “[getting] students involved and educated into what value the golf course can bring to them.” A new policy now allows free weekday play for students after 12 p.m.
After almost nine months of closure, Yale University’s Yale Golf Course in New Haven, Conn. reopened on September 28thunder newly appointed General Manager Peter Palacios Jr., the Yale Daily News reported.
The course closed for the season in November 2019 and remained out of service as the 2020 season began because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Daily News reported. During the closure, Yale lost Golf Course Superintendent Scott Ramsay, who had been at the course for 17 years, along with General Manager Peter Pulaski, who had served in that post for two decades. To fill Pulaski’s vacancy, the University hired Palacios in late August as the course’s new GM.
The position of superintendent remains unfilled, and Palacios, who came from the Wisconsin Golf and Country Club in Eau Claire, Wis., said that finding a replacement for Ramsay was going to be one of his priorities when the offseason begins this winter, the Daily News reported.
“There was no intent to move out of Wisconsin,” Palacios told the Daily News about his decision to take the position. “That [move to Wisconsin] was somewhat going to be our [family’s] final move, but with this opportunity coming up here at Yale, there was no question I had to put my name in the hat for this one. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Palacios is originally from Laredo, Texas and comes from a golf family, the Daily News reported. His father played on the Mexican professional tour and owned a golf shop in the Rio Grande Valley for more than 30 years, and his uncle worked as the resident golf pro for a country club in Saltillo, Mexico. Palacios himself was four years old when he started playing golf.
After playing golf and earning his bachelor’s degree at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Peter Palacios worked as the golf pro at the Laredo (Texas) Country Club before moving into his first General Manager job at Houston’s Raveneaux Country Club. Subsequent career moves have taken him from Texas to Florida, then to Wyoming and Wisconsin, before finally coming to Connecticut.
But it was in his native Laredo that Palacios really learned the business side of golf, the Daily News reported. Those lessons included learning more about the agronomy and the science behind landscaping that comes with maintaining a golf course, and about how to manage a country club course with more amenities.
Palacios is keenly aware of the importance of his position as General Manager, the Daily News reported. He knows the depth of Yale’s golf history, and he feels his time as a college golfer will help him balance the unique interests and challenges that come with managing a university course, as opposed to a country club.
One of his first changes as General Manager has been to make the golf course free to play for Yale students weekdays after 12 p.m., the Daily News reported.
“The goal is to number one, restore the golf course to its original design and bring the golf course playability conditions back up to championship-caliber level, in order to host NCAA tournaments and other big events,” Palacios said. “Even though we are three miles apart [from campus], apparently there is a big disconnect between the University and the golf course, and one of the main goals is to try and reconnect that. The primary goal is to get the students involved and educated into what value the golf course can bring to them.”
Palacios’ appointment represents a renewed commitment by Yale University’s Athletic Department to make the golf course a more central part of the department’s goals and objectives for the future, the Daily News reported. The Yale Golf Course, designed through a late-career collaboration between Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, is one of the most unique facilities the university has to offer—not only for its rich history, beginning when the course opened for play in 1926, but also in its semi-autonomous state of governance.
But until now, the relationship between the department and the course has been distant, Palacios said, with the university allowing the course to function mostly independently.
Most students are unaware of the rich history and the high esteem the Yale Golf Course receives in golf circles, the Daily News reported. It is a renowned example of Golden Age American golf course design, with large undulating greens, uncommonly deep bunkers and wide rolling fairways that frequently present blind drive and approach shots. The course features Macdonald and Raynor’s situational use of template holes based on famous original examples in Scotland and England, including the Road and Eden holes at the Old Course at St Andrews, the Redan hole at North Berwick and the Alps hole at Prestwick. The course is notable for its enormous scale, and the size of some of the greens and the depth of certain bunkers was rarely equaled in that era, or since.
Golf Club Atlas, a website that focuses primarily on golf course architecture and grades courses based on how much they uphold the values of the game, ranked the Yale course as the 127th best in the world and 58th in the U.S. in its most recent set of rankings, the Daily News reported. Those rankings were achieved despite the website commenting that the course’s place on the list could be much higher were it not for its “iffy presentation.”
Currently, the ninth hole, known as the course’s signature hole and named “Biarritz,” is closed due to construction on the damOther aspects of the course are also still closed—the course’s reopening guidelines explain that due to COVID-19 policies, all of the indoor facilities from the clubhouse to the driving range will likely remain closed for the short season that remains. Additionally, only residents of the state of Connecticut will be able to play until further notice.
This past summer, amid the vacancies of both the general manager and superintendent, the course’s conditions started to deteriorate, the Daily News reported. Course members, including two faculty members, raised concerns about the poor state of the course, prompting larger conversations about whether Yale’s nationally ranked course would “ever return to its former glory,” as Golf.com wrote in a headline.
“It was really after my time,” former superintendent Scott Ramsay, who is now at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va. said about the course’s subpar conditions this summer, the Daily News reported. “The entire university shut down, every single staff person went home, and the course suffered from that.
“Golf in Connecticut was considered an approved activity and the maintenance of golf courses was an approved activity, but the way the university is structured and the way that they wanted to protect employees, they drew a line in the sand and said there wouldn’t be any staff at the golf course maintaining it,” Ramsey added.
Ramsay said there are normally around eight to 10 union employees working on the course year-round, the Daily News reported, but that number fluctuates, especially in the summer when the course hires dining hall employees and student-athletes to help with the course’s maintenance.
Now, in addition to hiring a new superintendent, Palacios says that improving the course’s condition when it opens for the 2021 season will be a priority, the Daily News reported.
After starting at Yale in the fall of 2003, Ramsay’s work as the course’s Superintendent included an overhaul of the drainage and irrigation systems, the Daily News reported. While the average golfer might not notice this kind of upgrade, William Kelly, an expert of Yale’s golf history, professor of anthropology and Yale’s Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies, said it is incredibly important when one considers the large carbon footprint that golf courses can have.
“I play golf, I like golf, [but] I have a lot of doubts about the environmental sustainability of a sport like that,” Kelly said. “Scott Ramsay has been one of the people, as superintendents across the country, that has tried to introduce sustainable practices to the Yale course.”