Saturday, April 29, 2006

Patrick’s Questions Part 2

The 7th at Ballantrae, crowned green, bunkers left, short grass all the way around. My tribute to the duece.

I was wondering if you could discuss bunkers from an architect's viewpoint. From what I can tell, they have many purposes, including giving a hole definition as well as to add strategic elements. Many are supposed to be penal, and for many amateurs they are. But for professionals, it seems like they will sometimes aim to be in them as opposed to the greenside rough since it's more likely that the lie will be predictable. Doesn't this seem to be the antithesis of their original intent? If so, how can this be fixed? I've read that some people advocate not raking bunkers. This is a good solution for match play, perhaps, but not for tournament play.

I’ll let Walter Travis answer with the following quote about bunkers. "The primary idea of a hazard is to punish, to the extent of one stroke, a poorly played shot, and to make the recovery exceedingly difficult, and even by the virtue of the following shot being extraordinarily good. If this end is not attained, the existing hazard fails to fill its functions."

The bunkering that is done today needs to lose the idea of “fairness.” The approach is to make them as playable as possible, not just in the maintenance, but also in the shaping. Most are designed to run the ball down to a good lie and give the player the best opportunity for success on the next shot. We even have a standardization of bunker sand in Toronto for consistency – what happened to adjusting to the local sand? This is a long way removed from the origin which was an exposed area of natural sand where a player had to simply extract themselves in the fewest shots possible. Now the fried egg, ball against a lip, standing partially in or out of the bunker is called bad design instead of bad luck. Bunkers need to return to being hazards that the player wants to avoid them rather than just pretty splashes of white used to add contrast to the lush green. They have lost there meaning in many modern courses.

How course maintenance is crucial to maintaining the strategic elements of a course. For example, here in California, almost all the courses in the Monterey Bay area are soft in the winter from the rain, which means that even if the wind is up, you can't really play the ball along the ground, even if the architect had intended it, since it just won't release from the fairway. Are there design features that make sense when a course is brand new but end up deteriorating over time because it's too difficult or expensive to maintain?

The 10th, surrounded by short grass and the defended by the rolls in the front

Architects account for the predominant conditions like prevailing wind direction in their designs, but anything beyond that is too much to try build into a design. As a player you must adjust your game and sometimes your expectations to shoot the best score in those conditions. I always win money in the rain because of that.

I designed the course at Ballantrae with chipping and putting from the hollows in mind. After a few years the banks of the run offs became very thatchy and you couldn’t bounce the ball off the banks or putt up the slopes because your ball died as soon as it hit. This is where maintenance can remove the most important aspect of your design and there is little you can do other than to ask the super to get rid of the thatch.

The thing that usually disappears is elaborate bunker faces because they require a lot of handwork to keep. This is where architects and superintendents need to be on the same page to preserve the character of the course. If not the superintendent will slowly make changes while your not there if they don’t believe in the importance of the architecture you produced. Most bunker changes occur through inadequate budgets or an internal desire to reduce the maintenance on the course. I would rather remove a few bunkers than lose really interesting architecture.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Patrick’s Questions Part 1

I had a wonderful email from Patrick, that I though would be best answered on line. Patrick was game for this too. I will have to do this in two parts.

If the Old Course is amongst the very best courses in the world, why aren't there more like it? I don't mean re-creating it, but incorporating the same ideas. Everyone who has seen it (I haven't) talks about how different it is from any other course. I have played Rustic Canyon in southern California, and my impression of it is that it's as close to the Old Course as I've seen in my limited experience. I loved every moment of that course. Is there something about this style that prevents it from being built more frequently? Are appropriate soil conditions for such courses uncommon?

The Old Course is all about playing shots. There are very few places on the course where you talk about the unparalleled beauty or the dramatic shaping of feature. The Old Course is on a plain piece of land where the best dunes are actually on the New Course (these are small by UK standards). The greatness of the course is found in smallest and subtlest of contours, the kind that the camera can not catch and most players don’t find “in one round”. This is a course that grows on you as you learn it, and you need to play it more than once to appreciate the courses different strategies depending on which pin you get that day. There is not one way to play any hole at the Old Course – you must figure out the best route yourself, because the architecture doesn’t visually tell you what to do. I think learning a golf course doesn’t suit our short attention span (blame MTV for the next generation being worse). Many golfers want everything clear from the first tee to the last putt. Well that isn’t the Old Course.

When you go around the Old Course you are blown away by how playable it is, how the green contours are far more important to scoring than any other course you have played, how often you have to hit blind or semi blind shots, how you seemingly can hit it anywhere, but you can’t score if you do, that sometimes results seem to be unfair (the “F” word), that a few of the holes are too easy (the Old Course has breather holes).

Yet you can not wait to play the course again, and each time you play the course your respect for the architecture goes up. That defines greatness.

So why isn’t anything built like the Old Course?

It’s partially it’s a fear of criticism, but mainly it’s because of the modern desire for holes that make great postcards over holes that play well. I think it was Sam Snead who called it a cow pasture on his first visit, and I must admit when I first saw the course I was not initially blown away. Most modern architect's could not weather this criticism. Modern architecture strives to give fair, well-defined courses with exceptional playing conditions. Blind shots, severe penalties, unclear strategies, and dull looking architecture can and will bring criticism. Architects are like most people, they have a need to be liked, and that is the failing of many. They play it too safe, and building a course based upon the Old Course would not be playing it safe.

On that note, if Pinehurst #2 is such a great strategic course because of its greens, why aren't similar greens built more often? Your website advocates shaved fringes (which are ubiquitous at Rustic Canyon and lots of fun), but it seems that this is a fairly rare feature.

You could talk about Pinehurst, Muirfield (in Scotland) and the Old Course all at the same time because they are all perfect pieces of architecture that look very plain. Pinehurst is knocked primarily because it is a tough course to photograph, it looks kind of plain and the property is not very exciting. It still remains the most compelling course to try score on where you can’t lose a ball. I built Ballantrae north of Toronto as a tribute to the concepts on “the deuce” and the course is very well liked for it’s green complexes. People do try to emulate parts of the duece, but very few carry the idea through the whole course.

I do think lots of architects have embraced the run offs and roll offs, I just think these areas need to be larger to have more impact on the short game, like Rustic Canyon. The ground game makes for the best and most creative golf, and once you play in Ireland and Scotland you wonder why people like parkland golf in the United States since it’s so one dimensional. I think the short grass around the greens has been embraced by architects and is being used a lot by the younger ones in particular.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Par 4 Redans

I was asked for a couple of examples, how about two from the same course, The Creek Club in Long Island.

The "puchbowl" reverse redan green at the 6th feature a high front left all draining through the small opening back right. The bunkers in front are DEEP. Probably my favourite par four of all.

The opener at The Creek Club by Raynor, notice the carry bunker, the deep left greenside bunker and the high right shoulder.

Redans I’ve built

St. Catharines, you can aim left of the bunker and feed the ball across the green. The green slope right the whole way.

I have built a few over the years.

The first true redan I ever built was the 17th at Ballantrae in Aurora. While the concept for the hole was good and the green worked as planned, the hole is too short. The original hole was going to be 200-210 yards before the housing lots got changed in the middle of construction to increase the lot sizes to increase the housing square footage. The hole was forced down to 165 yards (back tees) which allows players to always fly at the green surface every time. It taught me that there is a minimal length for the concept to work properly.

I have built two reverse redans; one at St Catharine’s (the green and fronting bunker at least) and one at Frog’s Breath (where bunkers are exchanged for rock and the hole is uphill adding length - very stunning looking). I have run a few greens away but have not built the feeding grade going into the green up to have the same impact as a redan would have on the approach.

There is no question in my mind that I will likely do a redan green on my next course. There just too much fun to play!

The Redan

The redan at Shinnecock Hills

My favorite hole concept is the redan. I feel there should be a redan green on almost all courses because of the interest it creates for the player. The redan is one concept that favors the shot maker as opposed to the bomber.

The “redan” can be described as quite an efficient technique in thwarting enemy approaches. The use of this unusual structure has caused many failed attempts at gaining on this position. This description could be describing the old fortification like the Great Redan in Sebastopol Russia, or it could also describe the most unusual and effective defense posed entirely by a green complex at North Berwick.

Horace Hutchinson interestingly described the front bunker complex as the redan. “The redan is a deep steep-faced bunker close to the green, but is of no great length or breadth. The driven ball may go nicely to the right of it and curl round as to lie on the green without crossing the great escarpment of the fortification at all. But it has an aspect of no little terror as one faces it from the tee."

He is right, that the name of the hole comes from the angle of the bunkering and the diagonal they create since they are similar to angle of the redan fortification. But in today’s context the name redan is used to describe the green contours and the concept of a fall away green set on a diagonal. To back Hutcheson up, the French word Redan actually means “jagged notch.” A redan is the extension outward of the wall between two parapets. The extension is projected outwards in the shape of a “V” and the redan is used to describe the extension. The tooth on a saw, if that helps you visualize it.

The redan hole is found in North Berwick and is thought to be a creation of the green keeper David Strath. The redan is a single shot of around 180 yards to a green that falls away diagonally to the left of the hole. The hole is partially blind over a couple of carry bunkers that provide the line. The left diagonal is defined by the “redan” created by the two deep fronting bunkers. The right has three deep bunkers short right and the green falls off sharply all the way around the back.

Strategically the hole is set up by the diagonal line presented by the front left bunkers, and the player must deal with the hazard, by playing over or around as Hutcheson suggested. Where the hole begins to get clever is that the land falls sharply off at the right, and if a player plays too safe away from the left “redan” bunker, they often end up in one of the three deep bunkers. The recovery shot from this position is the worst on the hole. The best position to miss may be long, but this area has some rough ground and you may come up with a delicate lie. The joy of the hole remains the dilemma from the tee, a high fade to hold the green, or a slight draw to feed the ball, either way it certainly is a fun hole to play. The key to the hole remains in a contour of the green that slopes away and to the back and left. Since there is no backstop or upslope commonly used to receive the ball, judgment and precision are put at a higher premium on the approach shot. The green is slightly funnel shaped so a ball finding the surface will be rewarded unless it comes in too hot to stay on the green, but anything missing the green leaves a tough recovery shot.

This green style has been used on par four’s by architects like Seth Raynor and been copied on countless par threes by Tillinghast, MacDonald, Thomas and Flynn just to name a few. Many copies of the redan were built at well over 200 yards since the architect’s like Flynn felt that length was important to retaining the original strategy. The green itself is an architectural technique, and a technique that should be used much more to combat the current equipment. This is one way to take back some of the technological advantage from the one dimensional “bomber”, and give the advantage back to the shot makers.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Time on Site – Part 2 – Other Examples

While many people lay claim to the idea that time on site equals quality, I would like to look at a couple of examples for perspective first. I’m not aiming to take sides on this issue, although I will say [for myself] I prefer as much time on site as I can get. For example, I like to edge my own bunkers to get exactly the look I want.

Let us start by looking at the time Alister Mackenzie spent at Royal Melbourne. We know on Oct. 25th he arrived at Melbourne, Australia. We know on Nov. 11th he was still in Australia, consulting at Royal Sydney. We know he was in New Zealand on January 1st. We also know that he consulted with many of the great courses while there, so that his time was well divided between different sites. So how did Mackenzie get everything done so well at Royal Melbourne in that short period of time? The answer is he didn’t, he relied on Vern Morcom and Alex Russel to get the job done while he couldn’t be there and after he had left Australia. I looked all day to find the exact time spent on site but I could not, but I do remember “a few weeks” was the description in one article I found years ago.

At Pacific Dunes Tom Doak’s plan was to visit the site every three weeks or so all the way through construction. He summed up his perspective well with the following two quotes from Dream Golf by Steven Goodwin (out fairly soon and a good read), “I work best when I’m working fast and am excited about what I am doing, but I understand that construction can’t really move that fast. When I was on site every day I would get tied up emotionally on every little detail of our projects….” So instead of being there daily, Tom choose to have Jim Urbina and he would join Jim for four or five days at a time. Each visit he would review the previous holes that were started during the last visit and would set up the next group of holes for Jim to work on. Tom said about this arrangement “I found that being away from the site off and on gives me a better perspective on how we’re doing…”

When Doug and I worked on Muskoka Bay, we went up every Friday for two straight years. I also made some additional trips during golf construction to make sure we kept on schedule. We flagged out all the tree removal, directed all the blasting, organized all the sand capping, placed all the tees and greens according to the space left by the outcrops of rock and trees. We even moved an entire par three during the clearing. We also approved each bunker and I was on site to approve every green contour in the field. Near as I can tell through my notebooks I was on site just over 70 times and I averaged 10 hours on the site (not including traveling time) each visit.

I’m not sure if one continuous period of teaching and planning is any better or worse that a cluster of days every few weeks. Whether a weekly visit is enough or whether daily supervision leads to a better product. I’m still inclined to think that time on the site makes all the difference to the quality of the course, but Tom’s point of being off site some times to avoid over thinking and to recharge the mind is a great idea.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Time on Site – Part 1 – Stanley Thompson at Capilano

The 15th during construction

Stanley Thompson sent a January 2nd, 1936 telegraph to John Anderson discussing his visit to Capilano, “Expect arrive Vancouver fifteenth instant spending several weeks west coast stop. ………” He obviously spent three weeks working on the construction and seeding of the course. I think each trip was likely of this duration due to the travel time and the limited number of visits he made.

His fees were $732 per visit “including all traveling expenses.” Each visit require four nights on a train in either direction. So three weeks actually meant 12-13 days on site. An interesting note was from those fees had commissions he received from the purchase of goods for the course (like grass seed) deducted from the total. He was not handsomely paid for Capilano and in fact had to send a letter in September 24th, 1938 still trying to collect $253.75 for the last payment.

In a letter on March 9th 1936 he states, “….I am coming to Vancouver in the end of March and I will spend three or four weeks during seeding time to supervising same and flashing the bunkers and greens. This will put the course beyond the tampering stage as regards to the architecture." Again it is clear that Thompson has from 12 to 18 days on site on this visit.

This is supposed to be the 6th hole during construction, but look at the photo below and see if you think it really is the 15th green.

We know Stanley Thompson went to West Vancouver in the spring of 1933 to inspect the site “and had his course design on paper.” Clearing began immediately under the direction of Stan Conway (they first cleared centerlines and worked out), so we can assume this trip began construction. When we look at the pay days we discover there is no record of him being paid in 1933, but he was paid in April 20th 1932. I personally think this is an error in the book Hathstauwk since he first met Taylor at the Waldorf Astoria in July of 1932. The pay date should read April 20th, 1933. This was obviously the visit to the site that produced the routing of the course. He submitted construction plans in June of 193 (this did include irrigation drawings - clearly referred to in another letter).

Using the notes for pay, his next visit came on October 24th 1934. The clearing at Capilano was absolutely brutal and I would bet that little actual course construction began until 1936. The site had to be cleared of massive trees (some of the stumps can still be seen and are 6-8 feet across. The site was also full of rock outcrops and strewn with boulders too. Just cleaning up after clearing must have been the bulk of the work judging by the photos.

The 15th at capilano today

His next visit was November 9th, 1935, followed quickly by a visit on January 31st, 1936. He was fully the golf course construction and was supervising the green contours and bunker shaping on these trips. He wrote 12 pages of Finishing Notes on February 4th, 1936 that outlined all the work he wanted completed on each hole to finish the golf course. Much to my chagrin, he included a great deal of suggestion on planting and even produced an extensive planting plan for the course. Play began in the late summer of 1936.

Near as I can tell Stanley only visited the site 4 times, once to route the course, once to supervise clearing and twice during the golf course construction. He spent about two weeks on average on the property for an estimated total of 60 days.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Doug Carrick - Thanks

I thought it was a good time to talk about how I got to this point. I have made it very clear how my father has helped and influenced my desire to be a golf course architect. I’ve talked a lot about my current influences on what I think about architecture and what I want to do now that I’ve gone solo. But the one thing I have neglected to do is thank the man who made it possible.

Doug Carrick and I first met when I asked him if we could meet on one of his construction sites (King Valley) to see what he was building (I’m still quite fond of King Valley and it remains one of my favorite works that he built). It was my first time on a golf course construction site for me, and Doug let me follow him around for a half a day. Doug and I kept in regular contact for about three years and I was waiting for an opening (hoping to get hired). Finally Doug hired me in 1989 to come work for him, first as a draftsman, but fairly soon after that he began to introduce me to construction projects. In the first 5 years Doug spent a lot of time teaching me what he knew about design and helped me understand what I needed to know about construction and contracts. I enjoyed those years the most, everything was exciting and new. For the next 5 years my role expanded as we got very busy, Doug allowed me to handle most renovation and got me involved with supervision of some of the new projects too. I also buried myself in learning construction, construction details, specification writing, and finally contracts. I spent the time to be the expert in the office in this area. Through all of this Doug was always very encouraging, and to his credit was willing to listen to new ideas.

Over the next five years the office grew, two more were eventually hired, and the business changed growing larger. As I look back in hindsight, when we became an office of four it was also the time when the work became more segmented and the interoffice collaboration stopped. It was not as much fun at Carrick Design anymore – and this was a factor in why I eventually moved on. I stuck mostly to renovation work because I enjoyed the autonomy, and Cam and Steve now handled most of the new construction. For the last two years I made the effort to try take things back to the way it was before and actively worked with Doug on Muskoka Bay and Frog’s Breath. We did everything together and I must say this was two of the most satisfying years I spent with Carrick Design. I enjoyed Doug’s company, I enjoyed the interaction between us and I enjoyed what we built. I also enjoyed rebuilding a little bit of that lost relationship that we had through the earlier years. I’m grateful I waited two more years to go to have that experience with Doug again. I simply enjoyed being with Doug on site.

So to Doug I say thanks and I owe you a debt of gratitude.