Friday, March 23, 2007

1970-1980 Jack Nicklaus begins...

Another fascinating period for what it meant to the future of golf course architecture. As an important side note, what I’m going to continue to talk about is the major events and major players in the design business who have made a lasting impact on the way golf architecture is now practiced. This means I will skip by some who did have an impact. That was always the idea of this series – but I know that I’ve now entered the era where most architects are alive and many are in practice – and a few may be sensitive to being ignored.

This era was the initial sign of the future rise of the celebrity or “brand-named” designer. The first “name” designer was Jack Nicklaus, the designer of Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville, who remains even through to today the best known of the “brand-name” designers – those golf architects who are recognizable by name. His later successful transition from player to architect ushered in the next great architectural trend – one that remains prevalent today – the trend to hire a “brand name” designer to design a new course. Nicklaus’s serious interest began with his visits to The Golf Club to see what Pete Dye was building. While he struggled with many of the ideas that Pete had, he certainly became increasingly interested enough to get eventually involved with Pete - as only a consultant - at Harbour Town in South Carolina. Harbour Town turned out to be ground breaking and the flash point to beginning a new trend in golf course architecture. Harbour Town may have been the symbolic end to the Trent Jones era even though he and many others continued to build in that style long after the popularity had declined.

In 1973, Jack would work with Desmond Muirhead to develop Muirfield Village Golf Club, the new home for his Mermorial Tournament. The plan involved a tournament course - largely based upon Augusta National - and a housing community built around the outside of the course largely to finance the project. Muirhead planned the community and (according to most) routed the golf course. Desmond was a man with unusual ideas - and likely frustrated Jack – and they parted ways before the course was built. Jack hired Bob Cupp and Jay Morrish to be his staff and to see the course through to completion. Jay Morrish was the on site architect for Muirfield Village. The course displayed Jack’s ideas about play - demanding high soft approach shots - and aesthetics. H followed this approach until the last few years where he softened his demands on players and began to build courses that were a little more player friendly - and better from my view. With the success of the Memorial Tournament and the high praise for the course, Jack Nicklaus was in high demand right from the outset. He would become one of the most prolific golf architects in this era.

Pete Dye was definitely the rising star in golf architecture circles during the 1970’s. The decade began with Harbour Town, which immediately attracted golfer’s imagination during the Heritage Tournament. They were enthralled by his courses that looked so different than anything else they had seen. The timber banks, waste bunkers, pot bunkers, tiny greens, use of accent grasses in the bunkers, tight fairways, etc. This looked nothing like their home course and golfers traveled in droves to see this magical place.

This happened because this was also the decade where televised golf took off with large ratings brought upon by stars - like Jack Nicklaus. The public was now exposed to all these new courses through their television and this exposure was responsible for the rise of Pete Dye.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

1960-1970 – The Emergence of Pete Dye

The 13th at The Golf Club

This was another great era for the growth of golf where Trent Jones built another 100 courses all over the world. There was a whole new breed of architects that began the next great wave of golf course architecture and almost all were designing the way Trent Jones did. The modern (Trent Jones) school of design was the style that dominated the era almost completely. This was the era of modernization and “progress” where history was ignored for a more modern approach to everything. Maintenance and practicality often took precedence over artistry and aesthetics. Even the architecture in the United Kingdom, walked away from its roots and embraced the new modern American style of golf course. If Tom Simpson were alive, I have often wondered if he would have called this the second dark age.
Only a short rise in front of the green

There was one very fascinating exception to everything that was going on. Pete Dye made a tour of golf courses in Scotland with his wife Alice Dye and came back determined to build course that resembled those great links course and not the courses of Trent Jones. He was the very antithesis of the Trent Jones era doing almost exactly the opposite. He built shorter courses when length was in vogue. He believed in sharp abrupt features like swales and pits and hollows rather than long graceful lines. He built small difficult greens full of wild contour instead of the massive greens of the era. He moved as little dirt as possible, while new course were entirely shaped and cleaned up.
Bunkers unlike any others I have ever seen

He also brought back unusual features like railroad sleepers and pot bunkers. He also wasn’t afraid to use subtle features like a grass slope or long rough as a feature rather than always relying on a bunker. Some of his holes were very tight while others were unusually wide open. He built holes that were nearly impossible, while others offered a breather to the player. If there was one word to describe his style it was variety. This was all a return to much older ideas and sharply away from the modern idea of fairness that was slowly creeping into golf. Dye ran directly against the current trend in golf course architecture, and eventually influenced an overwhelming change in opinion.

The work Dye did at this particular point is some of the most influential on my generation’s architecture. He took us back to our roots, told us that we did not need to move the land, to make the details more intimate, look more closely at the early strategies, forget about length and just design interesting holes, and don’t be afraid to add a sense of humour back into the game.

The massive irony to me is everything he did at this point is an important part of what I believe now – everything that would come later seems like a contradiction to his early ideals.
Footnote added at 6:00pm
1. I forgot to mention Nicklaus came over to see what Pete was doing and this lead to harbour Town
2. See Tim's comments about televised tournament golf - this was an excellent insight that I was not aware of.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

1950-1960 – The Robert Trent Jones Era

Robert Trent Jones’s emmergence coincided with a change in how courses were built. Before the war, courses were still largely being built by hand, by the machine age was about to begin. Architects would soon utilizing large amounts of earthmoving equipment. Initially, this was done to speed up construction but it soon removed the limits on what could be accomplished. Architects like Jones seized this opportunity and began to move away from adapting their ideas to suit the site, and began a design era of adapting sites to suit their ideas. As harder sites were overcome, this eventually ushered in the idea that anything was possible and golf courses were built on more and more difficult sites – eventually capped off when Jones built Mauna Kea right out of old lava fields by crushing the rock and turning it into soil.

The 1951 US Open made Trent Jones’s famous because of the renovation to Oakland Hills. Trent created what he called target golf by pinching most landing areas on both sides with bunkers and heavily bunkering the greens to create difficulty. Depending on your point of view Jones was either the villain or the hero – but aside from that he was all of a sudden very well known. Trent continued to make use of this new found fame and actively promoted his work as a designed by Robert Trent Jones, and likely even coining the phrase of signature design too. Trent was a far greater salesman, than designer, and quickly became the architect that everybody sought out because he was the best known architect of them all. It could be argued this was the origin of the celebrity designer.

Trent Jones believed in what he called the heroic school of architecture, which was in his mind a blend of the penal school and the strategic school. While his origins point often to Tillinghast and Thompson,Trent Jones also had his own strong ideas including using lots of water right up against greens. He was particularly fond of this idea for par threes where the hole was all carry from tee to green, like the famous 4th at Baltusrol. The idea was one heroic shot would be memorable and using water created heroic situations for the golfer to overcome. The only problem with this was the technique became highly overused by not only Trent, when a hole lacked natural features, but also by everyone else in that period – and is still overused by many architects today.

There were other architects from Eddie Hackett to William Mitchel, but only one gave him any real rivalry and that was Dick Wilson. Wilson was a savvy salesman just like Jones, but lacked the same world wide connections to carry near as much work. His constant battles with alchohol likely kept him from having a far greater presence. His architecture was based upon his old employer William Flynn. It had a little more aesthetic appeal, but was slightly less demanding strategically. He designed Doral shown below among many other well known layouts.

Doral - this week's venue

The interesting thing about the work from this era is how much it has influenced half the golf course architects in practice today, and how much it is completely dismissed by the other group I will talk about at the end of this series.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

1940-1950 - The War Years

Biarritz, with the ocean holes long gone

Just as the golf industry seemed poised to recovery fully, the war completely stopped the progress of golf architecture. Not only did nothing get built, but the demand for the limited supply of oil and gas caused many courses to close and go to pasture. Both Maidstone and Augusta two courses belonging to the elite in society were forced to shut down till the end of the war.

To many of the seaside course the results were far more permanent. Turnberry was paved over to become an airstrip for the air force, the scars are still visible even today. Others like Princes and the famous Biarritz course in France were bombed out of existence. Oahu in Hawaii and Kawana Fuji in Japan were also severely damaged through bombardment. There were many smaller courses that were used for military training and even turned over for the production of vegetables to help make it through. Many courses disappeared for the greater good and rightfully so.
Paraparaumu and its wild undulations

The war would end in 1945 and reconstruction began, but golf was not an immediate priority. One early exception is also one of the only significant courses built. Paraparaumu in New Zealand was designed by Alex Russell (Royal Melbourne East) and made use of the severe and rolling terrain to make an exciting (and wind swept) golf course. The fairways feature pitch and roll with many greens set on natural plateaus placing a premium on shot-making. The course is the first of a slow trickle of new projects that came at the end of the decade, but many began to look different that their predecessors.

The end of an era saw Trent Jones make some changes to Augusta including the relocated 11th green and major change to the #16 hole. Both holes were clearly built to the new heroic school of architecture. This also brought the two “Bobby” Jones’s together, which led to the 1948 collaboration on the new Peachtree Golf Course in Atlanta. While this was supposed to combine the two talents, it became a pure expression of Robert Trent Jones instead. Peachtree marks the definitive end to the Golden Age and the definitive beginning to modern golf architecture. Robert Trent Jones built a course that featured huge tees and greens, huge flexibility in set up, including very defined pin positions built into very large greens. This architecture was very maintenance friendly with its ability to spread wear and offer massive flexibility in set up. It was flexible in the set up from long to short and from hard to easy depending on tee markers and pin positions. It also reflected Trent’s philosophy of a hard par and any easy bogie. It was the beginning of a new era.

Monday, March 19, 2007

1930-1940 – The End of an Era

Augusta National is built ushering in Parkland golf

The market crash of 1929 had a massive impact on golf, particularly in North America. This was a major turn of events where 600 courses would close and only 200 would be built over the next 30 years. Most architects fell on to hard times with many having to retreat to other professions to survive.

Interestingly the world faired much better than the United States. The British Isles had an average of forty new courses built each year and many great courses like Royal Birkdale, Turnberry, and Ballybunion went through major transitions during this time. Charles Alison built Hirono and his pupil Kinya Fujita built a series of great Japanese courses. Stanley Thompson may have had less work in Canada but built a series of courses throughout South America all while building Capilano and Highland Links. Things had slowed down but course construction was still reasonably strong.

Pinehurst #2 goes through a major change in bunkering and regrassing the greens

It was the United States that was really hurt by the depression. In the US, Robert Trent Jones had an ominous beginning when his first golf course Midvale had to declare bankruptcy upon opening. Even Donald Ross was forced to retreat back to Pinehurst and but fortunately for all of us began to rework most of the courses including the fabled #2 course to make improvements from turf through to the architecture. Much of what is admired from playing characteristics through to green contours on the #2 course came from this period when the bunkers were rebuilt, the greens raised up with an additional layer of sand and Bermuda grass was established on the greens.

Prarie Dunes is built which became the influence for Sand Hills

The busiest architect was the mid-west designer Perry Maxwell who was working with many communities that had money because of the oil industry mainly. He was brought in to design both Southern Hills and Prairie Dunes which became important layouts. Maxwell also worked in partnership with Mackenzie to get courses like Crystal Downs through to completion. Maxwell’s architecture featured some of the most clever interior green contours the game has seen. He also had the ability to blur the line between architecture and nature at Prairie Dunes, so that the course blends marvelously in with the prairie environment. His site sensitive design style and reliance on contours in the land and contours on the greens would eventually be emulated by the minimalist movement to come. Maxwell would also end up rebuilding a few greens at a little course in Georgia.

Augusta National may not be the best course in golf, but it certainly is the most well known. At one point I would have said the most influential too, but Augusta is marching currently completely out of step with the rest of golf. Augusta National was Bobby Jones dream course (designed with Alister Mackenzie) based upon the playing styles, options and freedom found on the Old Course at St. Andrew’s. I have an old article from before construction that describes many of the holes like the 4th as based upon the Eden hole and even talks about the original concept employing a Redan! The course features dramatic fairway contours, water hazards, winding creeks, tree-lined fairways and high flashed bunkers that essential set the standard for what is considered the American Parkland golf course. It was even set up with the spectator in mind, another idea that resurfaces again down the road.

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