Saturday, April 01, 2006

My Thoughts on Being a Member of the ASGCA

Two of my good friends, Gil hanse and Art Schaupeter

Ever since I was about 13 years old, I wanted to be a golf course architect and eventually become a member of the ASGCA. I finally got voted in three years ago. The funny part was while I was eligible for many years; I did not join due to the cost and the lack of clarity in the application process. While the standards are simple (5 new courses where you have a lead role in the project), the grayness of standards leaves a lot of confusion.
I always wondered if I was eligible due to Doug’s insistence on routing all the courses before handing them over. Well it turns out that is fairly common in large firms and is understood by the committee; but you still have to spend about $5,000 that you cannot recuperate, to find out what they think. That sucks in my books. I finally joined when my wife told me should would not go anywhere with me and the kids until I had joined. I always bailed and took the kids to Florida in the winter with my initiation money.

“I never quite knew what the ASGCA experience would hold for me, and I was skeptical about joining.” from one of the current associates

Well I have now been to two meetings and I’m honestly not convinced of whether this is the right or wrong thing to do. It certainly is an expensive habit and I still don’t understand the benefits beyond great friendships. I hope that will simply come with time.

I went to the last meeting with some thought about dropping the idea of the ASGCA if the money became a burden - but I must admit that the week definitely made me change my mind. I don’t know how this will play out, but I was convinced to stay. A few new friends (members) in particular spent a lot of time with me sharing their experiences and ideas for how to run a small successful business. Essentially we all convinced each other that we are not crazy and set up a nice support group for each other. This is priceless to me.

meeting Jack and Arnold, priceless

I enjoy the camaraderie and many close friendships that I have already picked up very quickly. The younger architects, in particular, are open and like to share ideas and enjoy constructive criticism to improve. The older members are always a highlight of each meeting, with their swapping of stories, I like being part of that history. The publications and initiatives to educate agencies are good for the future of golf development, and their benefit to me is obvious. I guess the question is more selfishly am I getting enough, when I’m spending so much money, which I really don’t have a lot of.

There are a few things that bother me about the society beyond cost. I find it hard to get involved, particularly since the committees don’t meet or report. I’m also at a loss in how the executive is appointed and how the membership has any role in the process. I’m fairly certain we do not, which is not very democratic. The society seems to be run by and for the larger firms at first blush. This will always sit poorly with me if I learn this is the reality.

I do want to get involved, Jeff Brauer tells me that is the way to get the most from it, but I’m not clearly sure how. I would also like more interaction between members so that I have more opportunity to share with them or learn from them. I want more clarity in how the society functions and have more input in its direction. I hope the new development of a Master Plan/Directive for the Society way help alleviate all these concerns. I’m certainly hopeful to this end.

So far it is certainly fun, the question is, is it beneficial?

Friday, March 31, 2006

Pinehurst #2

the 8th, my favourite green site

Well, another course that I have played a couple of times and walked once backwards too.

The “deuce” is one of my favorite designs for its ability to get the weaker player around with the width between tree lines, light rough and limited amounts of bunkers in play. The higher handicap is unlikely to lose a ball and quite likely to find the occasional par to make a very memorable round.

The quality of the deuce is its ability to ratchet up the pressure and difficulty on a better player. The greens are the course and probably the only reason that the deuce is held in high esteem. Many people think the deuce is ugly and boring, since the crowned greens are supposedly repetitive. Well I certainly don’t agree. Each crown comes at different heights and many have to be engaged with different types of shots to remain on the surface. For example you must run it into #2, while you have to fly it into #9. A running draw (for me – the lefty) helps at #11, whereas a delicate pitch is required at #12. The course can not be broken down to domed greens that are hard to hit where a player has lots of chipping; that is selling the course far too short.

I went to see if the course was too hard and the greens were too fast for a reasonable game. I found out the course is kept at 9 feet for resort play, which means the greens would rarely be out of control. They are still very challenging even at 9 feet. Yes the crowns are severe, and yes I did putt into a bunker after hitting a green in regulation; but there is nothing there that can not be managed with smart play. My personal issue was a horrendous read of a putt combined with a frightening pin position.

the incredibly difficult 9th green

The things that I had forgotten from a previous trip were how incredibly difficult the par 3’s are. The 15th green has only about 2,500 sq.ft. of “real” green to pin. They were all exceptionally good holes. I also forgot how truly plain the deuce is, while brilliant in design, the course is fairly benign until you get close to the greens.

Still, the deuce is a great model for a public course. Hard to lose a ball, lots of room through out the round, very little difficult maintenance, lots of alternate options to hitting shots, encourages the ground game, rewards only a thinker, and test the putting skills. Great architecture - when put in that context. She ain’t pretty – but she is nearly perfect.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Thoughts on Tobacco Road

approach to #16

Round One

The first hole is a good example of what lies ahead. The tee shot is intimidating and the blind carry over the dune in the second landing area is enough to make the knuckles white. After watching my playing partner 4 putt the reverse redan green. I wondered what we were in for. The course is high on the intimidation scale, with a lot of similar character to Pine Valley. There is lots of room, but don’t you dare miss!

My general impression was that the course was far more playable than I expected, and that after the opening three the course really got going. There was far more room off the tee than expected, but often that was not clear because of his use of deception and intentional blindness. Yes Mike intentionally created many blind tee shots. When I say intentionally, it is because he shaped the entire site. The shaping at the course is some of the best in golf, there is no question that Mike Stranz is an artist.

The joy of the course is the optional routes. He often provides an overly aggressive route with huge reward, and a lay-up option for a much safer and well, boring option. He is certainly a master of enticement, because you can’t help but try the shot that is most daring. His architecture sucks you into his strategy - and into areas of greater punishment. This is excellent gamesmanship on his part.

The bunkering and detailing have few peers in golf, and really the greatest contention lies in the blindness and the greens. The blindness did not bother me, with all but a few shots being perfectly obvious, despite not being able to see the fairway. The greens were the most surprising feature. They are some of the boldest greens I have seen. Some are magnificent and others are too far over the top even for my taste for wild greens. There were situations where you had no possible way of getting from one tier to another.

Overall, I would say this is a must play for anyone who loves golf, and in particular for anyone involved in golf architecture. Mike Stranz swung for the fences all day and hit a home run in my books.

approach to the blind punchbowl at #13

Round Two

I intentionally arranged two rounds because I was worried about having a rash judgment about the course. The return visit had an interesting effect. Knowing where to go and what the risk was made playing a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable. I found the course manageable, fair and quite thrilling to play. Much of the intimidation was gone, and now the risk lay in over-reaching my abilities. He was still sucking me into taking way too many chances. I couldn’t see to help it, some routes draw you like a siren to the rocks.

The other effect it had was in helping me see a few things with out the initial “wow factor” blindness. The super wide greens (150 yards!) struck me as a feature that offered nothing but a chain of small greens and a horrible aesthetic. I did not get this idea. I did not like the idea. The second hole, 3rd tee and 11th tee is shoehorned in and creates one of the strangest and most dangerous situations I have seen. Some holes, like the 7th fairway. Were too over-shaped but in general it is damned good

I did decide on the second time through I liked most of the super wild greens and that different pins made a substantial difference to the enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole round, taking big chances (swinging for the fences), playing aggressive when I could. I played a lot of Ross courses that I enjoyed over the week, but I still think that Mike’s course is the one I would want to play “next.”