Friday, June 02, 2006

What Beyond the Scenery Made Pacific Dunes Great?

The second of the back to back par threes, the wonderful short 11th

There is no question the setting is unparalleled. The beautiful sand dunes and jaw dropping views up and down the coast make Pacific Dunes one of the most beautiful locations in golf. It bears a striking resemblance to the holes east of 17 Mile Drive at Cypress Point. It was undoubtedly one of the great sites to be given to any architect in recent memory. As Bill Coore said, “He was the right architect on the right site at the right time in his career”. He went on to suggest that he could not do a better job and since Bill Coore is the top architect in golf, this would be the ultimate compliment.

But it’s not just the site that makes the course great. The architecture is very provocative, and many of Tom’s decisions took courage to go against convention. While I really like Bandon Dunes, there is no question in my mind that Pacific Dunes is a superior golf course on an equal site. So why is that?

Well the best thing to do is give you a list of the unconventional ideas he used to make the course great. Number one is he designed a modest length golf course that would be called short by modern standards. Why would he do this you ask? Because that was what the best routing the site would yield according to Doak. He also pointed out that Bandon Dunes was plenty long so building a shorter course was not a big issue. So big deal it’s a little short. Well what this allowed Doak to do was build more short and interesting par fours than most modern courses. There are a couple of real classics in the 6th and 16th.

Looking down the coastline, over the blow out bunkers, on the spectacular 13th

Now I mentioned the routing, and that was where Tom took the largest risk and opened himself up to criticism by designing an unconventional distribution of holes. He used back to back par threes to open the back nine. They fit perfectly and placed two dramatic holes looking out and then along the ocean. These are two very memorable holes to play. He ended up with a routing on the back nine that had two (yes two!) par fours, since that was the best routing for the holes. Imagine a course with one three and one five on the front; then four threes, two fours and three fives on the back. Yet it was the right thing to do.

The final ideas are the details of the course. Tom also used alternate greens on the ninth and alternate tees on the tenth rather than choosing between two equally good options on the holes. Rather than bunkers he has blow outs that fit beautifully into the natural dune areas. He created very wide fairways for playability in high winds and then bunkered inside the fairway lines to preserve the width while providing some strategic challenge to each of the holes. He built wonderfully rolling greens that flow naturally out into the fairway of chipping areas so naturally that you don’t notice the transitions.

Finally Tom never worried about people finding the course not challenging enough and concentrated on making it the most beautiful and interesting place you may ever play. Playing it makes me think of my round at Cypress Point. What architect wouldn’t like that comparison?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

THe Hole Series in Score - #2

Click on the image to read full size page

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Stepping Back in Time at Allandale

The amazing opening green site, as good as anything I've seen

On Monday I met up with two friends (and fellow Stanley Thompson enthusiasts) to play Allanadale Golf Club. For Thompson fans Allendale likely gets passed over because it is only 9 holes, and is one hour north of Toronto. But for anyone who hasn’t made the trip for those reasons has missed out on a unique experience. Allandale Golf Club is probably the most intact piece of Stanley Thompson in Ontario. When you begin to go through the best known Thompson courses in Ontario you’ll find they are all altered. St. George’s has four green sites that are not original, Westmount has three new holes, even Cataraqui has a couple of holes on the front nine that Stanley didn’t do, and a couple of greens that were rebuilt. Allandale is all there, still intact, like stepping back to 1927.

Now I will say up front that about seven greens need recapturing to find the original contours, but that really is nothing beyond a year or two getting the grass back to green height. The contours will add a lot to the already fascinating contours that bring memories of Highland Links for their charm. The greatest improvement would be to recapture the back tier on the fascinating 5th. That is almost as good as the back pin at the 2nd at Catarqui.

Many of the bunkers have lost there lines, but because of the way they have grown in the old lines are fairly clear on most of them. The rest of the bunkers are now grass, but once gain because of the way they were removed the bunker complexes are all 100% intact waiting to be brought back to life.

The carry bunker, short of the green, on the 5th

The charm of the place is you get to play the same routing, the original greens, essentially the original bunker placement and even the old tees (there are a couple of new tees, but even they are barely noticeable). You can’t beat that for getting to experience what Thompson laid out. The owner, Brian McCann said that he has only planted three trees in all the time he has owned and operated the course, so even the width that Thompson created has not been lost by silly planting schemes that ruin a lot of Stanley’s work.

Brian mentioned that a few people have come through, including a member of the Stanley Thompson Society, and told him to spend big money making fixing things and making changes. But I just can’t understand why. He only needs to slowly recapture what has shrunk or been grassed in - Nothing else! I will be back to play there with my son, a perfect place for us to enjoy the game as it is meant to be. Did I mention that nine holes in this incredible setting is only $21. during the week. Go! If you are a Stanley Thompson enthusiast and you haven’t been there…..go!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How to Restore With Limited Information

A possible future look at Scarboro

I just found out today that I am one of three architects who have been asked to research and produce a long range plan for Scarboro Golf & County Club. I have been given an amount of time and a budget to provide this to the club. I’m very excited about this opportunity for a couple of reasons. One, the course is a standout, and once well restored or renovated could likely make the top 10 in Canada. While it has a few quirky spots, there are many more moments of shear brilliance in the architecture. Two, the course is attributed to A.W. Tillinghast and this would be my first time working with one of his courses. This now puts me on a path to learn as much about Tillinghast and his architecture as I can. I really like getting to understand the architecture and thought process of a new architect; I find the process very inspiring. I have already read a series of books and contacted a few architects and authors with questions about Tillinghast. I have done much of the intellectual research needed to understand his philosophy and I feel I’m one trip to New York away from collecting all the background information that I need. Third this is my first chance to really do things the way I want to which includes allocating the proper time to do things the best I can. This last freedom is one that I needed if I wanted to do better work.

As I’ve likely stated before I like to restore or renovate through research. I know that some of the key items at Scarboro do exist, but other information still eludes me.

I thought I’d spend the remainder of the blog dealing with the typical problem I may eventually face on this project. What do you do with the architecture when you don’t have any old photos, when the plans and aerials don’t provide enough detail to be accurate, and the existing landforms have been altered? This is the hardest point in a restoration; almost every course has a blank spot or series of blank spots in the information you have to use.

When I have discovered a lost bunker by plan but the original landforms are missing I like to; use the aerials to ensure location, the plans or notes to follow the intent, use the other existing landforms to provide the basics of any new form, and finally draw on a collection of his best work to provide examples to be borrowed. The idea of this is if any new shapes or bunkers need to be created to replace lost ones, the work is essentially still Tillinghast. It has been simply borrowed from another one of his projects to keep his true to his style (and to avoid any hint of my own). As restorers and renovators we are often put in this position. What I aim to do is to try making my work as accurate to the style as possible so that anyone looking at a new bunker may mistake it for an original. If you can’t tell what I’ve done, then I have succeeded in my work.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Article in Canada Golf – and A Thanks to Rob Thompson

Found on the last page of this months Canada Golf

Click on the image to read it

This may be an appropriate time to thank Robert Thompson. Robert encouraged me, not only to write the blog, but to begin to write about golf. He has been a huge help in letting me understand the basics of writing, the reasons why writing will help me with my career objectives, and how to go about getting my message out through what I write. He has been a huge help to me.

This article was the first thing I wrote after Rob had convinced me to begin to put my thoughts to page. I also thought Alison King did a marvelous job of cutting the piece down to fit. It took me a while to realize what was missing.

Life is good

So How Did I Become an Architect?

This may not be Pebble, but it's a mile away, and the middle guy won at Pebble four times.

Yesterday’s blog sort of spurred on the idea of telling my story.

I began watching golf during the Pebble Beach Pro Am when I was 12 years old. I remember watching this beautiful course and paying no attention to any of the players – I was in love with the holes. Dad reminded me a couple of years ago that I immediately grabbed paper and began drawing the holes in plan. Then the future architect took over and it lead to designing new holes. God I wish I still had those to post. Dad said a few months later I was still watching golf and drawing holes when I asked if this was somebody’s job to design courses.

He started me playing a year after that and I decided to write to the ASGCA for “help” They suggested I take Landscape Architecture and that course of action became set in stone. From day one I always wanted to be a golf architect so I went to both Ryerson and the University of Guelph for Landscape Architecture. While interning one at a large Landscape Architecture office, one of the designers suggested I call a really nice guy named Doug Carrick.

I called Doug and talked to him about my desire to be a golf architect and asked if I could go on site with him. He graciously invited me along to follow him around on site and I knew this is what I wanted to do; the only problem was he wasn’t busy enough to hire me. While he likely doesn’t remember that day, it was the best day I ever spent with Doug because he actually took the time to explain the design as we went. He finally did have an opening a year later but I would have had to quit with a couple of months left in school and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I eventually interview with Tom McBroom after graduating but I found him so argumentative and arrogant during the interview that I actually got up and said I was not interested in working there and walked out. Our half an hour argument was over whether you should be able to run the ball up onto most greens, I was already talking Thompson and Ross at this point since Dad gave me a steady diet of books to read. Funny thing is we have met for lunch and get along fine; I think he has no idea that he interviewed me.

I found myself working as a Landscape Architect for a while until out of the blue Doug called with an opening. We had kept in contact through the years and he hired me to come join with him. Now the important part to this is I actually talked to Doug on a regular basis for almost three years before I ended up working for him. If there is one thing a budding architect must know - nobody is hired off a resume – most know the architect informally well before hand.

I worked for Doug for 17 years. You could call the initial years an apprenticeship, Doug provided the basic education in the office and I handled getting drawings and specifications out on time. When we were up to date I was invited to tag along on site to listen and learn. The next stage was taking the responsibility for small renovation projects where I met with clients, did all the design work and then ran the job in the field - this eventually lead to large renovation projects. This was a great education in all facets of the job and was a great preparation for the final stage - being in charge of new project. I learned to write specifications, tenders, create new details, produce an entire set of working drawings, administer the project, deal with consultants, sub-consultants, deal with owners, planners and all the issues that nobody realize exist until they actually build a course.

I stayed possibly longer than I should have but I felt some loyalty to Doug. Finally after a long tenure with Carrick Design, and being accepted as a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, I was left with one goal left unfulfilled. I want to build a course from beginning to end where I am able to use all the techniques and strategies that I believe make a better golf course. This is not a knock on Carrick’s work, but rather a desire to go somewhere completely different, and that is how I come to be on my own.

So why the blog? Partially to slowly collect all my ideas on paper, partially to communicate with others interested in architecture, partially because I needed to learn to write badly, but mainly to organize my thoughts on what I want to do. I hope to be able to continue blogging right through to my first completed project. I think the run through the design process and construction would be fascinating to write about.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

How to Start to become an Architect

From Megan's website

The tough part about blogging is finding an idea on what to write about. Often something has taken place, an email has arrived, or I have read something that sets me off writing. Most of this blog has been written spur of the moment when I sit down to blog. I will admit there are days where blogging feels like a job, fortunately most of the time I still enjoy the exercise. This morning I woke up to finish my article that I’m writing for a publication (more to come later). I knew after that I would likely write the blog, but today was a rare day where I was stumped. I turned on the computer and my subject was waiting. Thanks Megan.

"Megan Heckeroth writes, “I always wanted to get involved in this part of golf because I get design ideas and have no place to channel them. particularly as I play all over the world and see unique features not used elsewhere. Any advice on how a tour pro can get involved in course design?”

Megan by the way has an interesting blog of her own:

What I would recommend is that you take this golf season to read a series of books first.

My essential five architecture books are:

Golf Architecture In America by George Thomas
Some Essays on Golf Architecture by Colt and Allison
Anatomy of a Golf Course by Tom Doak
Golf Architecture by Alister MacKenzie
The Architectural Side of Golf by Wethered and Simpson

Here are some other suggested readings:

1. Golf Course Architecture, Design Construction and Restoration by Mike Hurdzan
2. Golf Architecture A Worldwide Perspective Vol. 1 – 3 by Paul Daley
3. The Links by Robert Hunter
4. Any book by Geoff Shackelford
5. The Evangelist of Golf by George Bahto

In Megan’s case I would recommend working with a golf course architect. If you really want to learn the business then you’re going to have to learn, particularly on how to actually build courses, from someone with more experience. If your young and reading this, go work on a golf construction crew, the education is invaluable for the rest of your career. The process is then to gain experience, get the background education and finally end up either working for a design firm or starting your own. You will have to work for someone in some capacity before you can work for yourself – we all have.

Tomorrow - my road to becoming an architect and finally on my own