Saturday, April 22, 2006

Weekend Schedule

Sorry about the late post, but I'm into my second day with a hockey tournament. We're 3 and 0 and that is why I posted late today. I may be late tomorrow unless I get something done tonight.


The Flow of Merion – the best in golf

The difficult approach to the 11th

I have become obsessed in understanding how the flow of a golf course influences the way you enjoy a great design. One example is how Cypress Point was a slow build to a wonderful Oceanside climax, to me that reminds me of music or a great book. Where I’m more interested is how to use flow to effect the way a player thinks.

Darwin was a fan of Hunter’s book ‘The Links’ – but in the book Hunter argued that the 10th at St. Andrew’s (I believe it was 10th or maybe the 9th) was great golf hole. Darwin said he couldn’t possibly believe that, it was a non-descript breather. But Darwin said it would be a crime to touch the hole, it came at a natural point in the round (between some very challenging/confounding holes coming in and then going out) and its place in the greater scheme of the golf course was perfect. His thoughts are similar to Simpson’s who believed that the ideal golf course must possess at least one bad or odd golf hole

This got me thinking of Merion, a difficult start, a breather or shorter stretch, and a big nasty tough finish. I was at Merion last year and there is something special in the way Wilson has presented his eighteen holes. I was taken by the way every hole fitted together, but more so about how the course unravelled like a three act play. The first six holes are a build of difficulty to the 5th and 6th, where precision is paramount. He then takes down the distance with a run of short holes which are fraught with difficulty and lots of options. It is the thinking part of the course. It also presents the most pressure for a good player, since good players feels they should score well and gets really dejected when the inevitably drops too many shots. Finally Wilson comes in with a really tough finish getting progressively harder to the extremely difficult 18th. Each shot is more difficult than the last finishing with the iron to 18. The pressure and build to the final shot is almost epic.

The bunkering on the 3rd

Merion left me wondering if this flow happened with the holes just working out that way, or if this was an ingenious technique to mentally test and manipulate the player’s emotions. Most architects typically try to build the round like a good story leading to a climax. There usually try to build through moments of excitement interspersed with fun holes (peaks and valleys) along the way; all leading to something more dramatic or clever at the end. Merion’s lessons are very poignant and very eye-opening in regards to flow. The next time I do a routing I will test the flow as well as the holes to see if I can offer something unique.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Pine Valley, the greatest collaboration in golf

I had a recent chance to play a course that I still think is the best I have seen. The day I was set up to play, was during one of those periods where my game was just not sharp (and I had very few answers for it). I showed up in the morning to find out my caddie had been caddying at the course for 40 plus years. I made an unusual choice for me (I don’t give away control easily), and said you not only have my bag but I’m also going to let you make every decision today too (never done this before). I told him I would like to spend the round looking at the architecture, and if there is something you would like to show me about the course, please take the time to point it out to me. That was my second smart move; my caddie pointed out many things that I had missed on my first trip, primarily by looking backwards to understand the influential slopes. They were more apparent backwards as it turned out. I had also told him right up front that score doesn't matter, and all I hoped for was a couple of memorable shots that I could fondly remember. At the first tee he looked at me with a great deal of curiosity and suspicion, but proceeded to hand me clubs, which I simply swung till I was done all 18. I had more great moments than I would have expected; but more importantly I found I had simply soaked in the day (and most importantly the nuances of the course).

This wonderful experience got me thinking about the value of collaboration in golf beyond the player caddie relationship. The obvious relationship is the architect and shaper. Everyone knows that an architect is great assisted by the abilities of the shaper. In many cases the shaper has more skill than the architect and spends his time making a bad architect look good. In the ideal situation they become co-designers where the architect brings the way he wants to dictate play and a concept of what he want to see. The shaper brings an eye to how to lay this concept in the land and how to make the adjustments to the land appear natural. I can name every good shaper I worked with for the last 15 years and how most take their coffee.

The next thought is the great examples of collaborating architects and the great work they produced. Pine Valley is the site of the greatest known collaboration in Golf Architecture history. Look how many great minds contributed to such a great course. George Crump may have had the final say on what we know as Pine Valley, but the ideas of so many great minds, help make up the greatest collection of holes on one course.

The 10th at Friar's Head, a great par three

The second type of collaboration is of two architects who choose to work together to make better courses. Thomas and Bell, Colt and Allison are two of the greatest teams that come to mind. There is no question in my mind that Crenshaw and Coore is the leading architecture firm of our current era. The reason for this is that Bill and Ben not only trust each other, but they trust everyone else’s instincts who work for them. They allow the creative people that they work with enough room to bring additional ideas to the design. That is why they build better work than other firms.

So why do so many modern architects have such a need to lead the company rather than to collaborate? Dana Fry has suggested it may insecurity, I think it is the opposite reason, ego. His office is well known for their charette approach to designing golf courses. The layout that has the best routing gets built regardless of who routed it, or if it was worked on by a series of different people. Yet many other architects control it all. I left Carrick Design because that was Doug’s approach, we were allowed minor imput but that was really it. I don’t think it was insecurity, I think it is more likely that he become so sure of his design ideas that he was not interested in exploring other alternatives. Before you dump on Doug or others in that group, you must realise how many great architects did operate this way. I know through a couple of anecdotes that Stanley Thomson was not interested in any suggestions from his staff. Like everything else there are two ways to do things, I myself would enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with another architect, it would be another great learning experience. Others perfer to go it alone.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Part II – The Impossible Decision

The 9th tee, notice the cedars on the left protect the 8th hole and on the right protecting the 18th hole

So finally we come to my dilemma. At Peterborough Golf and Country Club the 17th green, 18th tee, 9th tee and 8th green lie all within about 100 yards. The 8th and 17th greens are original Thompson greens with restored bunkering around them and represent some of the best remaining examples of his work at Peterborough. There is definitely no where to go left of the 17th green since the 15th hole is already too tight on that side. Fortunately the planting of large spruce helps to mitigate this proximity from being a bigger problem. To separate the holes for more safety, the only possible direction is to shift all the holes after 17 green to the right. The 11th green would also have to be relocated and is another of the (few) original Thompson greens left and a real beauty. Spreading the holes out towards the right and shift the 11th green right of its existing location will reduce the risk but it will not get eliminate the problem. If this change is made, all three Thompson greens would be gone (something I wanted to avoid if I could) and all the existing trees between the 18th, 9th, 8th and 11th would be removed with the readjustment of holes. There would have to be replanting of this area for safety and separation.

Looking down the 11th hole with the 8th green on the left, note the close relashionship.

The next option I looked at was to move the tees forward which would pull them out of the bottleneck, but badly weaken the holes by removing the length on these strong par fours. This would definitely lessen the chance of these tee shots finding the adjacent 8th and 17th fairways, but would increase the possibility of the approaches from the 8th and 17th (both par fives) hitting the players on the shorter tees. I think this is simply an exchange of one problem for another. As an architect I would become liable for creating the new problem.

The 17th hole with a line of cedars on the right seperating it from the 18th hole

The last option is what to do about the planting of cedars and maples between the holes. To deal with many issues I have removed all the trees between holes to make the safety issue clearly visible. This allows the player to be clearly forewarned about the risk they are about to enter into, and also makes it easier for an adjacent player to yell a warning from the tee. This works to solve a lot of issues, but in this particular case it comes with a risk. For the full tee shot or ball that has a proper flight this would be the answer. Where this increases the risk at Peterborough is with the quick hook where the ball will take off at body height. The cedars do an effective job of knocking almost all these types of shots down and making the holes safer against this particular type of miss. Also, on the approach shots to both par fives, the cedars do a nice job of knocking down the drifting approach from getting into the adjacent fairway. The tightness of the cedars on the 17th in particular encourage players to play a lay-up rather than risk losing a shot in the cedars if they have a difficult approach of a tough lie. If the area was opened up, many more players would be attack the green from out of ideal positions and would pose a greater risk for the players on the tee on holes 9 and 18.

So as you can see as an architect, I literally have a question without a correct answer, and yet I will be liable for whatever I write. This is not such a simple job as you think is it?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Part I - Old Courses, Safety and Liability

The 17th green at Peterborough G&CC

I can't believe how much liability is taking over decisions in golf design, it really is depressing at times.

I was at Peterborough Golf & Country Club yesterday to review the golf course. The golf course is on 150 acres, but it has two locations there are triangles of unused land, because of this Peterborough has a series of safety issues. Some are solvable or at least can be minimized with some alteration to the golf course. Others are far more complicated since the distance between holes doesn’t meet “current” safety standards. Herein is the problem with a lot of golden age designs; they may have been fine with the equipment of the 20’s and 30’s combined with the limited amount of play (about a third the amount as compared to the present), but in today’s context many of these courses are not safe and have no flexibility to move holes to make them safe. What further complicates the issue at other courses is the housing surrounding most of these golden age layouts is way too close to the holes. At Peterborough they are fairly fortunate on this end; housing issues are fairly minor compared with the internal issues they face.

To explain how this issue has grown, when I first began working with Doug Carrick the safety set back between holes was 60 meters at Mandarin, the last project I worked on with Doug the minimum distance we used was 80 meters and Doug was often looking for 90 meters. This is how equipment has altered not only the game, but the safety of the game. When Thompson renovated Peterborough he stayed with the very common technique of keeping the tees and greens close for convenience, because they did not have the worries of safety, or more important (now) liability.

Liability in golf has changes so dramatically in the last 20 years. At one point it was understood that if you built a house next to a golf course, you have assumed the risk of getting golf balls in your backyard with your decision. The decision at Islington last year has put that assumption into question since the judge felt that the club needed to make alterations to minimize the safety issue on the 3rd hole. Now golf courses are placed in the position of becoming proactive with a safety issue to avoid liability for not addressing the issue.

Up until recent times the possibility of a player getting hit by a golf ball on the course that was considered the inherent risk of playing the game. A player who hit himself with a golf ball at Osprey Valley sued the course and architect because he blamed “them” after he hit his ball into a stacked wall of stone that was left on the hole. How many players would take a full swing from 10 feet in front of a 4 foot wall of stone? That case was settled out of court. Well now a member at Peterborough, hit by another player’s ball, has sued Peterborough Golf & Country Club suggesting that the congestion of holes on the course caused him to be hit in an adjacent fairway. This is where liability is going and it has huge implications on the courses. It will push the course and architect into making changes to the course (that they really don’t want to do) just to avoid lawsuits.

There is a chance that lawsuits and liability may become the biggest driver of changes to golf courses in the coming decade.

Tomorrow Part II – The Impossible Decision

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Question of the Week 3 - Which Thompson would you most want to restore?

The old 4th green at St. George's

If you had a chance to restore any Thompson course which would it be? Would your choice be influenced by the amount of information available (ie. sketches, routing plans, photos, personal accounts, etc.) that would allow you to restore the course as accurately as possible? Or would you prefer to work on a course that has been apathetically" (props to CP) renovated by others so that you could restore it to its former self? Jeff Mingay

Let’s look at some of Stanley’s best courses to help make that decision.

While I would dearly love to fix the 3rd hole at St. George’s to finish the job, the rest of the course is essentially restored for the most part. I was very fortunate to have that opportunity and I still feel it was the most important contribution I have made to golf. I would love to return the 4th and 15th to the tough par fours they were but that is not in the cards, so St. George’s would not be my choice.

Highland Golf Links is definitely a strong contender because it is quite intact, and fairly easy to restore. The so called restoration by Cooke made a bit of a mess to the bunkers and introduced some of the worst paths in history, but most of that can be fixed without major surgery. What Highlands has going for it is the quality of old photos and other background information, so this would be a good candidate.

Jasper from around 1930

Jasper Park would be fun because this is likely the most intact and well preserved course and they also have a great collection of plans and photos available too. I would love to work there just for the shear joy of being on that property. As much as I’m in love with Jasper, I would choose another if I had to select one. Plus they need the least help of any of the clubs.

Banff Springs is an interesting one since so much has been altered. I have to believe that all the photos and plans are still in the Fairmont archives. While restoration would be fun, it will only happen if Thompson is made “a person of historic significance”, so that the Parks Services would see to a “restoration” actually taking place. The greens are a dicey issue with the Mercury and the number of rebuilds but the rest could be returned. I will pass until they stop tinkering with the original works.

Capilano has the least information and only limited interest in “true” restoration. The layout is stunning, but this is an easy one to pass on.

Westmount is the course with 15 Thompson holes and 3 outstanding Robinson holes which exceed the originals (kudos to Robbie). Here is an interesting one to consider, the historic information is a bit sketchy, but the potential is far higher than many of the clubs listed before. The original bunkering is gone completely, the challenge of recreateing that from scratch would be a challenging test that I would relish. Tree removal and a bunker restoration/renovation would put this “easily” back in the top 10, definitely a top contender.

The rest don’t really jump at you. Cataraqui has had most of the work done, so there is not a lot to do. St. Thomas, a spectacular hidden gem is half Thompson and half Robinson; while one of the finer layouts in Canada, restoration is a questionable route.
And finally former great layouts like Montebello are essentially gone.

13th at Highlands without the trees

My choice would be Highland Golf Links. It would be based on the thorough collection of photographs, memories, and other information that would make an accurate restoration easily achievable. It would also be a pleasure to undue one of the worst [so called] “restorations” done where the architect did not do his research or care about accuracy. Highland Links could be everything a great restoration is about; preservation, restoration, respect, education and leaving a legacy. It would be an ideal project for me.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Finding Harry Colt

The Colt Plan at Toronto Golf

In the early 1960's, Toronto Golf Club was in the process of replacing their pro shop. John Hunt, the long time head professional and an avid golf collector, was rooting through the old pro shop to see if there was anything left to salvage or keep before the building was demolished. He found, hidden in a cubby hole on an old wooden roller, the original parchment plan drawn by Harry Shapland Colt. Toronto Golf Club had selected H.S. Colt because at the time, he was widely recognized to be the finest architect in golf. John had found one of his rare drawings. In hindsight we recognize that John rescued one of golf’s great historical documents. He took the document home to keep it with the rest of his collection. Upon his retirement, John had the plan restored by the Royal Ontario Museum and professionally framed. He then presented the plan to the club. John’s motives for returning it were simple: “That is where it should be. With the club.” The club is currently in the middle of a historically based restoration, and the Colt plan will help inform key decisions in this process.

It seems incredible to think that important documents such as this would not be prudently cared for. But it is important to take perspective on what was occurring in golf at the time. Modernization was the vogue – not only for golf, but for society. Think about how many historical buildings were knocked down to make way for modern structures of glass and steel and cement. The idea of preserving or restoring anything – let alone golf courses – was not a consideration. “New” was in fashion and history had little or no value at this time. Rob McDannold, the respected pro of Hamilton Golf & Country Club put it best “In those days a typical club would not be aware of the history they possessed, because to them it was not yet history.”

Hamilton Golf and Country Club, the site of the 2006 Canadian Open, received a call in 2003 from the recent widow of a former club president. She had found the original Colt hole by hole drawings as well as the course layout. They were in her basement and she wanted to know whether the club would be interested in them or should she put them in the trash.

Rob McDannold strongly feels that the former president saved the plans and that, “If the club had them, they would have been destroyed.” Between the 1950’s and the 1970’s many amateur historians or collectors removed artifacts from clubs, particularly when the club showed no interest in preserving and keeping the documents. Sometimes they had the club’s blessing, sometimes they did not. Often they would take it home before it got tossed away. Unfortunately, many of these same people are now left in an awkward position – how do they return these historically relevant items? They may choose to hold on to them rather than face questions about how they acquired them.

The Colt Plan for Pine Valley

The latest example of this occurred recently when a Pine Valley plan became available on eBay. A gentleman found a fascinating old golf course plan drawn on vellum while visiting a flea market in Berlin, New Jersey. He doesn’t recognize the plan since he knows little about golf. Since it is dated 1913, he decides to spend the flea market price of $54 and take his chances. He keeps it for three years and then decides to put the plan up for sale on eBay. He expects to get between $500 and $1000 because he has figured out that the plan is of a highly regarded golf courses. But this is no ordinary plan. This is the missing H.S. Colt plan for Pine Valley, for which many research historians have been looking for decades. It is the plan that will help solve the endless debate over who designed Pine Valley.

A historian named Wayne Morrison made arrangements with the gentlemen to verify the plan. Upon authenticating the plan, he then assembled a group of historians to privately purchase the plan for $15,000, with the intention of returning the plan to the club. To the credit of the seller, once he realized the significance of the document, he also wanted it to find its way back to the club. The club decided to reimburse the purchasers for the amount they had spent to return the plan. Only a well-heeled club like Pine Valley, or a wealthy collector, could afford to acquire a document as important as this. The club was fortunate in this instance, because this was a collector’s dream.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hole Series in Score Begins

The hole series begins in the Spring 2006 issue of Score Magazine.