Rarely does one stumble upon inland topography this ideal for the
game, but that is exactly what architect Perry Maxwell discovered at the R.J.
Reynolds Estate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. If undulation is the soul of
golf, then Old Town Club rightfully earns its place among the noblest of
The year was 1938 when Charlie and Mary Reynolds Babcock, scions
of the Reynolds Tobacco family, set out to establish a private golf club next
to their homestead, known at the time as “Reynolda”— and today listed in the
National Registry of Historic Places as “The Reynolda House Museum and
One of Babcock’s business associates at his New York investment
firm, Reynolds & Company, was Clifford Roberts, co-founder of the Augusta
National Golf Club in Georgia. At the time, Roberts had commissioned Maxwell to
remodel many of Alister MacKenzie’s original greens for the Masters Tournament.
Delighted with the results, Roberts naturally implored Babcock to enlist
Maxwell to design the Old Town course at “Reynolda” as well.
Course construction commenced on December 6, 1938, just three
years and a day before Pearl Harbor Day. Given that WWII marked the end of the
Golden Age of golf course architecture, Old Town today is recognized as the
final significant course to emerge from that genre of venerated masterworks.
In a rare extension of luxury to any architect, the Babcock's
offered Maxwell his pick of 1,003 acres to rout the 18-hole, par-70 layout.
Never known as one to tout his own courses, Maxwell was clearly elated with the
165-acre horse farm from which he carved out the golf course.
"The Old Town Links is one of the seven finest in the
nation,” declared Maxwell in a 1939 Winston-Salem Journal article — not the
five finest, or even the 10 finest, but seven decisively. Maxwell, who by that
time in his career had visited and renovated many of the nation’s best, must
have given the subject a genuine degree of deliberation considering the precise
nature of such a billing. Also, for Maxwell to advocate Old Town as a “links”,
normally reserved for the sandy seaside courses of the British Isles, he must
have been awe-inspired with the grandeur of the property.
The Old Town landscape is highlighted by expansive, far-reaching
fairways, miles of meandering creeks, heaving uneven terrain, sweeping
cross-course vistas punctuated with artistic bunkering and fiendishly bold
green contours, widely known for their trademark “Maxwell rolls.”
Golfers never tire of these intricate green undulations, but it is
those wildly sloping fairways—producing a variety of awkward stances and
hanging lies—that are so fascinating. And if you’re lucky enough to play it
firm and fast, the humps and bumps literally come to life generating a variety
of bounces that help make the course so intriguing and infinitely different
from round to round.
According to Wake Forest alum Lanny Wadkins, it’s the swaying
stance of an uneven lie that often separates the good player from the great—the
fearless blow from the hesitant—and that’s precisely what makes Old Town “one
of the best proving grounds in the world for serious young golfers,” says
When describing the Old Town
property, Coore & Crenshaw shaping specialist Quinn Thompson submitted the
following: “Of all the land I've had the privilege of drumming on, Old Town may
be the most interesting. If there's a Lord, he surely pegs one up here every
Sunday, whether we know it or not.”