Could flat ground in central Louisiana inside the state’s 10th-largest city be among the most significant seven acres in American participatory golf?
Established in the late 1920s, Bringhurst Golf Course provided a faster-to-play, easier-to-maintain option before golf innovators and developers realized the appeal of shorter courses. The country supported 659 par 3 courses in 2021, according to the National Golf Foundation. None are believed to be older than Bringhurst, a 9-hole, 793-yard facility owned by the City of Alexandria, overseen by the non-profit Friends of Bringhurst, and maintained by the group responsible for managing the crosstown 18-hole Links on the Bayou.
“We are kind of playful and we call ourselves the ‘Oldest Par 3 Course in America,’” says Frank Brame, a Bringhurst regular since the 1960s whose family helped revive the course. “Nobody has disproved us yet.”
Short courses are now industry staples, with revered facilities such as Augusta National, Pine Valley, The Olympic Club, Pebble Beach, The Greenbrier and Pinehurst using compact courses within upscale operations to entice members and guests. Municipalities in nearly every state offer fast and affordable golf to residents, and family-owned and -operated par 3 courses are common in rural communities. Only Bringhurst, though, displays the following four lines on an entrance sign:
Golf Course“The Oldest Par 3 Golf Course in America”
Bringhurst blends golf history with Americana. The facility gives Alexandria, a 45,000-resident city 190 miles northwest of New Orleans and 240 miles northeast of Houston, unmatched sights and experiences. Playgrounds, athletic fields, houses, a zoo, a funeral home, and a gas station surround the course. Affectionately referred to as “The Brink” by denizens, Bringhurst’s footprint is just seven urban acres. Numerous sights and sounds are uniquely Bringhurst. The Alexandria Zoological Park is behind the second green and noises from squeaking monkeys reverberate. Kramer Funeral Home sits across the street from the sixth tee and mourners watch tee shots fly as they wait for viewing hours. A fence encloses the course, but Bringhurst meshes with its surroundings. Expect to hear a siren or two in your backswing and prepare to wave to children riding the zoo train.
The Brink was twice on the serious brink of being shuttered permanently. Fortunately, determined loyalists saved it both times.
In the late 1950s, the city closed the course for financial reasons. Francis Trotter, who ran an electronics store, formed a non-profit to save the course and the city voted to lease the course to Trotter for a nominal fee. Trotter’s son, William “Bugs” Trotter, operated the course from 1962 to 1990. William turned the course over to his nephew, Jamie Trotter, who also maintained the 9-hole course owned by LSU Alexandria. The run of Trotters operating Bringhurst ended in 2006 when Jamie opted against continuing the lease. The city then closed the course again.
Led by Scott Brame Sr., “Friends of Bringhurst” formed in 2008 and raised funds for needed capital improvements, including adding greens irrigation, installing new turf varieties, thinning clusters of live oak and pecan trees, building tee boxes, removing multiple bunkers, and restoring original architectural features. Jerrett Watson, then-superintendent and now director of operations at Links on the Bayou, shaped greens using a mechanical bunker rake and oversaw the grow in.
“It was a pretty big undertaking taking care of another golf course and doing the project,” Watson says. “Mr. Scotty wanted to leave it as close to the original design as possible.”
The restored course reopened in 2010 and features uniquely Bringhurst operating hours and pricing structure: Thursday through Sunday, and free. Scott Brame died in 2019 at age 90. A pair of Brames, 73-year-old Frank and his 52-year-old cousin Jack, are on the five-member Friends of Bringhurst board of directors. Community members with strong Bringhurst ties keep the course viable. Friends of Bringhurst generated more than $10,000 in its most recent fundraising effort despite aiming to obtain $5,000, according to Frank Brame.
“The price is right. It’s free for people to play,” he jokes. “When we were doing the renovation, we just decided that we could do enough with donations to keep it up and that the trouble and responsibility of trying to keep up with money was just not worth it.”
A paid marshal ensures play flows and golfers feel safe on open days. Once a drop-off-your-kids-and-let-them-roam environment, golfer demographics shifted around the turn of the century. Links on the Bayou professional and Alexandria native Joey Wancewicz first played at Bringhurst as a 3-year-old and has hit thousands of shots on the course, including 25 holes-in-ones. Wancewicz experienced 100-hole days at Bringhurst as a child.
“If you grew up in Alexandria, this was it,” he says. “My generation was probably the last generation playing out here. I’m 38 and we didn’t have an 18-hole course growing up. This was the cheapest babysitter in town. Fifty dollars a year in those days got you a membership.” Retirees and “Bringhurst regulars” now outnumber children on most days, Frank Brame adds.
Two nearby 18-hole public facilities — Links on the Bayou and Oak Wing Golf Club — opened in 2002. The city has an agreement with Mitton Management to manage and maintain Links on the Bayou. The company also oversees the maintenance of Bringhurst. Playing conditions are significantly better than anything Bringhurst lifers remember.
“They had a walk mower and backpack sprayer, and that was about it,” Wancewicz says. “As far as the day-to-day, if you wanted bunkers raked out here, it was on us. If you wanted new pin locations, it was on us. This was our sandlot.”
Watson estimates around 35 hours of formal maintenance per week is devoted to the course. Local firefighter and part-time golf maintenance professional Addam Kelly logs more hours than anybody preparing the course for play. His regular duties involve walk mowing 12,000 square feet of greens. The equipment fleet includes two walking greens mowers recently purchased from Squire Creek Country Club, a triplex mower, zero-turn mower and Gator utility vehicle. Sprayers and aerifiers are shared with Links on the Bayou and Watson serves as the primary plant protectant applicator. Frank Brame and his friend Corky Yates donate time to maintain landscape areas and trim overgrown vegetation.
Players begin holes from synthetic mats or Celebration Bermudagrass tees, a striking contrast to what Frank Brame and his friends experienced as children. The longest hole is the second at 124 yards, the shortest is the third at 51. The course has just four bunkers. Shade, nematodes and a municipal water source with high pH levels provide agronomic obstacles, according to Watson. But conditioning challenges decrease as Bringhurst ages.
“It’s night and day better now,” Frank Brame says. “It was really rough in the old days. We had a guy who was a one-man team. He hand-mowed the greens with a push mower. He watered the greens manually. We had a spigot near every green. We had no tee boxes. It was just bare ground between the tee boxes. The sand traps were pretty rugged.”
Helping preserve Bringhurst represents a career highlight for Watson, a native of Ferriday, Louisiana, a 3,500-resident town east of Alexandria. The LSU-schooled agronomist arrived at Links on the Bayou in 2002 and it took him a few years to realize the importance of Bringhurst to the community. A golf enthusiast with aces on the third and fourth holes, Watson frequently plays the course in his free time despite balancing a demanding job with family obligations. Those seven significant acres in the middle of the city have a way of becoming ingrained in lives.
“This is a very unique facility for Louisiana,” Watson says.
It’s also unique for America.