Friday, February 09, 2007

Some Writings that Shaped Me

Golf Architecture In America by George Thomas

This was the first golf course architecture book I ever read. I had to read a photocopy of the book because I had no idea of how to get one and the reprint had not yet come out. The basics of routing and design are found in this book. Through his courses he also teaches you about creating strategy and uses wonderful illustrations of many ideas which help make the concepts easier to follow. Nothing can match the photos that accompany the text and provide us with a window into another era. Still my sentimental favorite.

Some Essays on Golf Architecture by Colt and Allison

Rather than a manual on how to design a golf course, I would consider this more a series of lessons. The essays work well to allow Colt a little more freedom to explain some of the views on subjects on the periphery of golf architecture. The writing is excellent as anything he writes since he tends to clear and concise with his thoughts. Short and expensive, the book is still worth it.

Toronto Golf Club Field Notes

Within the notes is a one page explanation on how to build a bunker. Very short and very concise, but if you can’t figure out how to make great basic bunker forms from this, then accounting is your calling.

Anatomy of a Golf Course by Tom Doak

Even though by the time I had read this book I was already a practicing golf course architect, I still found that Tom’s thoughts were interesting enough to spur on my thoughts about convention versus less conventional holes. The book, while mostly an excellent step by step walk through what you have to think about to design a golf course, also contains many thought provoking moments about strategy. Slightly less technical that Thomas book, and clearly based on it, this may be the best starting point for anyone interested in golf architecture.

The Confidential Guide

For me personally, this book is a source of clever insights along with some very pointed criticism. The lessons on architecture are found in both. While criticism hurts people’s feelings, often some of the greatest lessons come from when someone explains what not work and why. In older versions the why is covered in much greater detail than the current ones. The real joy of the book is the 31 flavours where he offers many clever little insights into some really great architecture, occasionally on courses you didn’t know, from my perspective there needs to be more courses covered in the future reprint.

Golf Architecture by Alister MacKenzie

Conceptually this was the book that most shaped my perception of the game philosophically. His view that a course should challenge the player yet give them the room to play struck a cord. I also love the concept, which I somewhat borrowed for my personal philosophy, that a bunker is not meant to punish shots but to make the game interesting. There are great quotes throughout the book like, “a hazard placed in the exact position where a player would naturally go is frequently the most interesting situation, as then a special effort is needed to get over or avoid it.” This could arguably be the best book to understand all the facets of the game including the philosophy of golf architecture, while some of the nuts and bolts of the other great books are missing, his explaination on how the architecture influences and effects the player is essential reading.

The Spirit of St. Andrew’s by Alister Mackenzie

The explanation of the contours of the 16th green at St. Andrew’s and how they effect play all the way from the tee changed my perception of the value of great green contours. The Old Course is the foundation of architecture, and this is the best short course anyone could provide into the subtleties and intricacies of that magical ground.

Mike Strantz – Golf Club Atlas Interview

This is the one interview that I have turned to multiple times for inspiration. In the beginning I read his interview before seeking out Monterey Peninsula so I can understand how he thinks. I read the interview again after playing Tobacco Road an found what he had to say inspirational. I don’t want to design like Mike, but I appreciate the conviction he had for what he believed and I enjoyed that he had a well determined philosophy on what he was trying to do. Mike helped me clarify my own philosophy and to add to my palette of options.

Other Influences:

The Architectural Side of Golf by Wethered and Simpson
The Links by Robert Hunter
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
The Future of Golf in America by Geoff Shackelford
The Golf Course by Cornish and Whitten
There are a lot of articles by Walter Travis and A.W. Tillinghast not mentioned here from Golf Illustrated and American Golfer that also had an impact too.

Monday, February 05, 2007


This is the 16th at St. George's, I was stunned by my research, so which are not original bunkers?

One thing that we all want to know about the historic courses that is how much is original. This sounds really easy and too often we want to make easy simple pronouncements based upon what we see or what we find. We have a tendency to repeat the conclusions found in books or magazines and take them as fact. Occasionally we find ourselves repeating a legend, assuming it to be true, right up until somebody presents information to the contrary. The inaccuracies come from making an educated guess, without compiling all the information necessary to form an accurate conclusion.
Let’s look at all the possible sources of information first. The first is the routing plan; it provides us with a window into the architect’s intent - not what was built - but the intent before they began. Some architects tend to be very close, whereas many architects like Thompson tended to stray from the plan. When you can combine this with an early aerial we often begin to see a reasonably good picture of what was there. But to offer you perspective there were already 8 bunker changes between opening day and the 1939 aerial at St. George’s, so taking an aerial at full value is dangerous, particularly because of the influence of the depression. The plan in the clubhouse also has a series of bunkers that were never built between the 17th and 18th hole too. So be careful with plans and aerials.

Nothing beats a “full” set of opening day photographs like Cataraqui has. It makes it much easier to put everything together, with the only important limit being that it is from a single angle that often hides other details. If you can combine this with a good aerial then you usually have a pretty accurate picture on what was there. For Stanley Thompson courses, I can only think of five that have this much information readily available.

Burlington's 13th is a great example of a green with every last detail so perfect that it matches the other greens - yet it is an old rebuild. Nobody could deduce this one by sight or by aerial.

Once we move outside of this area everything begins to become an educated guess. The architect’s on site instructions or letters can often provide a wonderful window into intent, but they seem to be very rare. Membership remembrances have provided wonderful clues as well as writings by reporters from that era. The Canadian Golfer and Golf Illustrated occasional even have course profiles that give us an idea of what we are looking for. Note that I said, what we are looking for, not what was there. The problem often comes from either the accuracy of these or what they don’t tell you. For example all St. George’s greens were rebuilt (verified by the bill) , but the author never told us by whom, and how much actually changed at each green. So are they Thompson greens or not? I find this is a good last resort, although ever once in a while you find a member who is both sharp and old enough to provide stunning windows into the all the changes of the course. This is likely the most underutilized resource at clubs, and one that is literally dying as we speak.

Working drawings are rare, but provide excellent detailed direction, but don’t tell you the important on site adjustments that made the really creative architects special. There are architects that believe you should follow the working drawings exclusively when restoring, but that to me is not honoring the built form that the architect created. So that leaves the course itself. I would put my knowledge of Thompson’s architecture up against anyone, but even I know I can’t just look at a bunker or green and say that’s definitely Thompson. I can only make an “educated” guess. Yet many people make a visit to a course, look at the architecture, look at the few items of historic value and then make a pronouncement on what is there. Here’s the problem, there almost always wrong, and this is compounded when that person is from a society that celebrates a particular architect because they will be taken at their word. So if you are going to provide accreditation, you better make sure it’s accurate.

The best way I could describe this process is forensic research, where you try peel back as many layers as you can find looking for the “closest” answer you can get.