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 playing fields.
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 Gardens.”
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 Wadkins.
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.”