KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - My golf ball has found many a dire lie.
Underwater. Next to a sixpack of baby alligators (seriously). Up a tree. Down a gopher hole. Lost in ditches, gorges, jungles and barrancas. But never has the situation been as grave as the day I landed next to Ambrose Taylor. The problem, you see, is Mr. Taylor wasn't my playing partner. My Titleist sat peacefully next to his gravestone. He passed away in 1943, well before the Oak Point Golf Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort was built by Clyde Johnson in 1989. He's one of a handful of headstones resting in the cemetery between the first and 10th fairways at the end of the driving range.
Hey, if you can't afford golf course real estate when you're alive, this is the next best thing right? A grave with a view. Okay, I shouldn't jest. I wouldn't want 20-plus handicaps taking a chunk out of my forever home. Plus, I'm as spooked by cemeteries as anybody. I watched too many scary movies as a kid (still do) and I don't mess around with spirits, ghosts, the walking dead and all that supernatural stuff.
I moved my ball - thanks for the free drop, Mr. Taylor - and played on. This same grave-meets-golf dance happens every day at courses around the world.
Courses and cemeteries are essentially the same thing. Open spaces of green pastures where old folks (dead and alive) congregate. Golf courses are just as likely to be built next to cemeteries as they are real estate developments, airports, railroad tracks and every other common neighbor you see from the tee. In honor of Halloween, we've found a few famous examples of courses and cemeteries intersecting. See one of the lead images above of Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in New York as a great example. Others that are less known, our writers have come across in their travels. Have a favorite course featuring a cemetery in the routing or close by? Let us know in the comments below.
Old course at Ballybunion Golf Club
Twice, I've made the joyous walk past the cemetery on the right side of the first fairway on the Old course at Ballybunion Golf Club in Ireland. It is a magical moment when you're standing on the first tee, ready to take on one of the world's great links. I do remember raw fear, though, when I glimpsed over that direction the first time I played it. What if I'm dumb enough to hit my tee shot in there? Do leave the ball or hop the stone fence? I wisely hit a hard pull up the left side and made bogey because of a bad lie. Some lies are worse than others, I guess. I took the lesser of two evils. - Jason Scott Deegan
When a private golf course has three 11th holes, you have to be prepared for just about anything. Out here at Devil's Pulpit in Caledon, Ont., 42 miles northwest of downtown, a couple of Canadian journalists, Chris Haney and Scot Abbott, took part of the windfall from a board game they had invented, Trivial Pursuit, and built a monument to golf excess. The design by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry opened in 1991 to rave reviews for its complexity and lavish presentation. The routing includes a brush with a small cemetery on the left of the par-4 sixth fairway. For a century the burial plot only included a memorial for one family; since Haney’s death in 2010 it also includes his gravestone. Befitting Haney’s garrulous, carefree character, there’s no penalty for landing there. The scorecard carries a local disclaimer that plays fast with the formal rules of golf: “a ball coming to rest within fenced grave site has two club lengths relief on the fairway, no nearer the hole." - Bradley S. Klein
Oak Point at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
I've already told my Oak Point story, but I found another good one. Check out this great article about courses and cemeteries in the Carolinas by fellow golf writer Patrick Jones. The ending about Oak Point is a good ghost story. - JSD
Winter Park Golf Course
Winter Park spills through the small Florida city, entangling several neighborhoods like an octopus squeezes a meal. Which brings us to the Near Palm Cemetery. Oh, it’s near alright. Very near holes three, four and five of the “WP9” to be exact. The first burial in Near Palm, which consists of 17 acres and 12,000 plots, was in 1898. And it can be assumed the first out of bounds ball was the day the course opened, which was in 1914. Along with a lot of my hopes and dreams of a good score, Loring Chase, who founded the city of Winter Park in 1886, is buried there. And as I leave the fourth green, roughly six feet above Chase and company, who are six feet under - even in the event I carded a triple on the short and deadly dogleg par 5 - I can’t help but think: 'It’s good to be alive'. - Matt Ginella
Bellerive Country Club
Say what you want about Bellerive Country Club, site of the 2018 PGA Championship won by Brooks Koepka, but here's one thing we can all agree on: Bellerive is one scary, tough golf course. It plays long and difficult, which I certainly found out during a preview round. And in the summer, St. Louis is pretty hot, so you've got to drink plenty of fluids if you want to avoid dropping dead on the golf course.
Fortunately, my playing partner and I avoided that fate, but as it turns out, there are bodies on the golf course. Yep, there are actual bodies buried beneath the first fairway, though nobody really knows to whom they belong. A little more obvious burial site, though, is quite evident beyond the eighth green. A one fifth-acre plot of land there is called the Hibler-Fitzgerald Cemetery, established by Samuel Hibler. Fourteen people are buried there, and they couldn't be in better hands. Like the golf course, Bellerive takes care of the cemetery as well. And no, if you fly the green, you don't get to play your next shot from hallowed ground. You simply take a free drop (just be careful about retrieving your ball). - Mike Bailey
Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort
The last time I played the Donald Ross Course at French Lick, I was the broken wheel in a group with three pro-level golfers, all eager to experience this renowned beast from the tips. From there I knew I was a dead man walking on this former PGA Championship host that still holds its own with slick greens and thick rough. Three of the four par 3s played more than 230 yards to elevated greens. The par-5 15th hole plays along the perimeter of the property and the tips on this hole play from behind the retention pond to a whopping 665 yards - uphill no less. After hitting a wipey fade off the tee that barely carried the pond, I knew I was in for a four-shot hole and trudged on. As I defeatedly inched closer to the green, I noticed the cemetery on the other side of the street and couldn't help but wonder how many corpses beneath the gravestones were golfers who took on the tips on this hole and never made it to the green. - Brandon Tucker
Crosswater at Sunriver Resort
From 2007-2010, spectators and PGA Tour Champions players at the Jeld-Wen Tradition walked by a tiny reminder of their mortality. The small Allen Ranch cemetery sits to the left of the 11th fairway at the Crosswater Golf Club at Sunriver Resort in Bend, Ore. The 30-foot by 40-foot cemetery has eight marked graves, but likely more bodies of the original homesteaders of the property, the Allens, under the ground, according to the Bend Bulletin. Crosswater is a gated resort and golf community, but one family gets access any time - ancestors of the Allens.
Keney Park Golf Course
Keney Park is one of golf's great recent resurrection stories. The City of Hartford (aided in part by Brad Klein) practically raised the dead when it took a decades-neglected Keney Park course and turned architect Matt Dusenberry loose, restoring the Devereux Emmet/Robert Ross design in places and putting his own classic spin on it in others. On the 12th and 14th holes, Soldier's Field Cemetery is just right of the fairway and is marked out-of-bounds. It makes the tee shot on 12 particularly uncomfortable. - Tim Gavrich
Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links
Across the Emerald Isle from Ballybunion is Portmarnocks Golf Links, a new links outside Dublin not to be confused with the nearby Portmarnock Golf Club that makes world Top 100 lists. This sporty resort links has its own first-hole cemetery, the St. Marnock's Graveyard, located slightly off the course. I still wonder about the deep bunker built nearby to catch any errant shots. I hope no contractor found an arm or a finger in his excavator during construction. - JSD
Oakridge course at The Landings at Skidaway Island
The Landings, a private community consisting of six courses in Savannah, Ga., has one special hole recognized by just about everybody as its signature - The Cemetery Hole. That's what members call the 15th hole on the Oakridge course, an Arthur Hills design dating to 1988. The small family plot to the left of the fairway of this 476-yard par 5 is where Elcy Waters resides in perpetuity. Waters was one of the earliest settlers on the island, dying in 1808. It isn't the only gravesite on the club's many courses. Philip Delegal, Jr. who died October 19, 1781, is buried on the 13th hole of the Palmetto Golf Course.
Darby Creek Golf Course
One of the spookiest cemeteries I've found in my travels is at the Darby Creek Golf Course in Marysville, Ohio, a rural suburb of Columbus. Adjacent to the fourth tee box is the Woods-Reeds Cemetery, the site of the first Presbyterian Church in Union County established in the 1800s before it burned down and was rebuilt in nearby Milford Center. The golf course maintains the cemetery. How would you like to be the person weed whacking around approximately 30 old gravestones? The oldest identified is of Rev. Samuel Woods, the first pastor of the church who died at age 36 in 1815. That's four years younger than my age when playing the course. Now that's scary. - JSD
The Heritage Club
There is a slave cemetery on the eighth hole at the Heritage Golf Club and George Pawley, the man Pawleys Island was named after, was buried just off the fourth hole. A slave burial ground is located in front of the eighth tee as well. About 15 miles north, just off the fairway on the 13th hole at Blackmoor Golf Club is another slave cemetery.
Gus Wortham Golf Course
Certainly one of the scariest holes at historic Gus Wortham Golf Course in Houston, which reopened in 2017 following a $7.5 million renovation, is the sixth, a par-4 that stretches to 460 yards. On this particular day, we played the 110-year-old course from the tips, into the wind, because ours was a group of single digit players who felt obligated to play the 6,400-yard course from the back tees. If that's not daunting enough, the approach plays mostly over Brays Bayou, but I couldn't help notice what was right of the water – an old cemetery. After a pretty good drive, I topped my long approach shot short of the water (but did manage bogey). I was even par going into that hole and hitting it quite well. Afterwards, I wound up making four doubles and even topped another shot or two. Coincidence? I hardly think so.
Anyway, it turns out that Forest Park Lawndale is the third largest cemetery in Texas. Among the interred are quite a few famous Texans – including, Jesse Jones (a billionaire who contributed greatly to Houston's growth), longtime U.S. Senator Lloyd Benson and the famous oil well firefighter Red Adair (who inspired the 1968 movie "Hellfighters," starring John Wayne). Maybe next time I play Gus Wortham I should pay my respects across the bayou and ask the spirit of Adair to put out a few fires for me should the need arise. - Mike Bailey
Bandit Golf Club
In Central Texas between Austin and San Antonio, New Braunfels was settled in the mid-1800s by a wave of German immigrants thanks in part to fertile land and spring-fed rivers. At The Bandit, an 18-hole course outside of town, the course winds around former ranchland of the Koehler family, whose cemetery remains near the 10th hole.
More golf tales from the grave
The Lincoln Park Golf Course in San Francisco was built on top of an old cemetery. Two large memorials on the municipal course still celebrate that history. It seems Atlanta did the same thing with Chastain Park Golf Course in the 1930s, according to this article.
There's even a cemetery made to look like a golf course, so your favorite golfer can truly rest in peace. No word on the dress code - collared shirts or not - at the Memorial Golf Park at Sunset Hills Funeral Home in Bellevue, Wash.
I'll leave you with this: Someday, the 36-hole Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey might have some cemetery views. It seems Donald Trump could have plans for an adjacent property to be his final resting place, according to the Washington Post. Maybe Mr. Taylor was right after all: Getting buried near or on a golf course is the way to go. I'll assume all the deceased are scratch players in the afterlife.