Friday, June 08, 2007

Architect #17 – Herbert Fowler

Best Course: Walton Heath

Other notable work: Los Angeles CC (South), Berkshire (Red&Blue), Eastward Ho

Notable Renovations: Royal North Devon, Cruden Bay, Royal Aberdeen, Royal Lytham & St. Annes

(image courtesy of Geoff Shackelford's "the Golden Age of Architecture)

Overview: In an era where a new course was often planned in as little as a single day, Herbert Fowler spent two years planning and creating his new course at Walton Heath. Fowler spent numerous visits on horseback first finding the best natural green sites and then tracing them back to uncover natural holes. He repeated this process over and over until he had found his course. This was a process he continued on once again even borrowing a horse from Myopia Hunt when he was laying out Eastward Ho.

In the early 1920’s Fowler partnered with Tom Simpson, with Fowler concentrating mainly on the work in the British Isles while Simpson did a majority of work on the continent. Fowler spent a considerable time in the United States working on a series of projects in California and the great Eastward Ho near Cape Cod. One interesting note is that his firm for a short period of time also included both JF Abercromby and Arthur Croombe.

Praise for the work: Bernard Darwin said of Fowler, “I never knew anyone who could more swiftly take on the possibilities of the ground” Fowler had an interesting approach of finding natural par three locations and then trying to work the holes to and from those locations in order to create the most interesting routing. His architecture was not full of grand flourishes and would be best described as understated. He kept his tee sites simple with many being on native grade. He used his bunkers sparingly, concentrating on key strategic locations on a relatively flat site like Walton Heath. He let the land become the challenge when he had great natural terrain to work with and the rolls and undulations stood out more than the features that he created. His greens were often right on the natural grade and often simply extensions of the fairway. Others were carefully placed on small rises to add some additional difficulty. The one thing he never seemed to do was to add mounding or other backings to add definition, he chose instead to embrace what was always there.

Royal North Devon's 5th (from Golfclubatlas)

The main one is that his work is dull. I think this comes from his choice to often let natural grasses or native plants supply the contrast on a wide open site rather than adding bunkers or features that would supply a little extra definition to a hole.
His work is very plain to some and wonderfully restrained to others.

Great Quotes: “God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned.”

My favourite: Walton Heath was my favourite for how it plays. I enjoyed the opportunity to try and use the ground to gain advantage and also to try recovery shots. I found I had lots of options on how to attack the holes. I was also very interested in how much the playing experience to a front seat over the visuals – very similar to my feelings about St. Andrew’s. The par threes were all particularly compelling and interesting.

Eastward Ho's amazing setting and undulation (from Golfclubatlas)

What I take from him:
Take your time on the routing, and don’t be afraid to walk it through a few times to be sure you haven’t left a better on out on the ground. Restraint – there are times when the architect feels they are too smart and too important and simply get in the way of great natural golf. If the ground is good for golf – find the holes – and get out of the way. The course will bring joy for ever – even if it doesn’t produce postcards.

Next Architect:

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Architect #18 – Walter Travis

Best Course: Hollywood

Other notable work: CC of Scranton, Cape Arundal, Westchester, Yahnundasis, Ekwanok, Lookout Point

Notable Renovations: Garden City (so numerous it’s considered a Travis course)

The incredible 4th at Hollywood, how many architects would have created this?

Overview: Walter Travis is well known for his great playing career winning the US Amateur in 1900, 1901 and 1903 and his stunning win at the 1904 British Amateur. He used his prominent status in the game to influence the direction of golf and course architecture – largely fighting against the penal style of architecture. He founded and edited “American Golfer” and used that position to comment and often criticize the state of golf architecture throughout the United States. This was a common occurrence since it was his comments, suggestions and criticisms of Garden City in a 1906 article that eventually lead to his major renovation of Garden City. The work was so extensive that after a few years many feel that the course was a Travis course. He actually began his career in golf design working with John Duncan Dunn at Ekwonok in 1900, but it was his work at Garden City which brought him to prominence as a golf course architect.

Praise for the work: If you have ever played a Walter Travis course with original greens, you will understand when I say that he probably built the best greens of any architect. His greens varied throughout the course using creases, wild undulations, sharp pitch, bowls, false fronts, and ridgelines. It was the compartmentalization of pin areas that set him completely apart from all others. He accomplished this by combining pockets and rolls primarily, but occasionally would use other features too. He managed regularly to deliver greens where putting from one pin position to another was extremely complicated. Any surprise from the man most considered the greatest putter in history. Every architect should study his use of a ridgeline because no architect ever has done them better.
Cape Arundel, many like Bruce Hepner think this is his best

The downhill hole to a peninsula green is another trademark that is unique to Walter. He would often bench a green part way down a slope so that a bounce in approach would be prudent, but the typically aggressive attempt to fly the ball in would be met with a harsh penalty if the player missed the green. Walter certainly routed some of the more unusual holes like this and created some exciting shots not found on too many other courses.

Criticisms: Walter had no issue with a blind shot, and would often route a tee shot over a hill to set up the next shot into a natural green site. There are great examples at Westchester, site of the Buick Open in June. The criticism that I have is that many other holes seem at odds with the land leaving me wondering if that was the best routing for the property. With small modifications to his routing many of those holes would no longer be blind and the holes around would remain unaffected. While I admire the audacity to break convention and create unusual holes like the 10th at CC of Scranton, there are so many others that seem blind only for the sake of being blind.

While exciting on occasion - the tee shot over the hill is a common trait at many courses

Great Quotes: "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 it's functions."

My favourite: Hollywood: The course is a little different from all the others being a little larger and a little challenging than most of his work. The greens are great examples of his contours, but the bunkers are completely unique for Travis. The use of sand in such a massive scale bring reminds you of Pine Valley – and his use of angles is more pronounced here than at any of his other work. The cheeky creation of the 4th hole is one for the ages. What I really enjoyed the most was there was much less of the blindness that seems to dominate some courses.
The green contours at the CC of Scranton are as good as it gets in golf

What I take from him: I’m certain influenced by the greens and there impact on how a course plays. In fact everything that Walter did that involves a ground game from putting to chipping to the bounce in approach is wonderful. This is the game that I enjoy and the reason why he is held in such high esteem. He certainly understood the spirit of the origins of the game even if he was so critical of British Links golf – but that was likely due to the treatment he unfairly received at the British Amateur – something he could never let go of.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Architect #19 – James Braid

St. Enodoc's famous 6th hole

Best Course: Gleneagles (King’s)

Other notable work: Perranporth, St. Enodoc, Blairgowrie, Boat of Garten, Brora, Royal Musselburgh, East Lothian

Notable Remodel: Carnoustie (Medal), Nairn, Royal Troon, Royal Pothcawl

Overview: James Braid was the original golf professional at Walton Heath a landmark course when built and remained there all his career. He is best known as part of the great triumvirate with JH Taylor and Harry Vardon, winning 5 British Open titles in his career. He began his career as a golf architect after winning the first, but it wasn’t until after his playing days were finished that he dedicated himself full time to golf course design.

Braid’s work was limited by his problems with motion sickness and a deep fear of the sea. He became very reliant upon John Stutt to supervise and build much of his work. To make up for these issues, Braid planned his courses from topographic maps and produced very detailed working drawings to make up for the limited time in the field. Braid was also responsible for starting CK Hutcheson into design with the two collaborating on a few projects. Tom MacWood pointed out that he had in fact done work previous to this.

Praise for the work: He handled severe terrain as well as anyone, often benching green sites in severe land to wonderful effect. He didn’t change the land very much and often allowed the holes to simply fall with the terrain creating the need to hit shots that would hold the slope. He would then either find natural green sites or bench the greens and tees into the slope creating some really unique and quite spectacular green sites. The green sites often featured distinctive sharp fall offs on the low side. Interestingly rather than bunker many of these, he often allowed the sharp fall off to be the hazard to avoid.

I’m particularly fond of the bunkering work he did at Nairn. At the 5th hole in particular he made a fascinating decision. Rather than protect the dangerous but direct line to the green, he bunkered the exact location you would play a safe shot too, which meant you felt compelled to play a riskier line and challenge the hole. At Gleneagles he used quite a lot of traditional placed bunkers but punctuated that at key points like the tee shot on the 13th with a bunker that confronts you and forces you to make a decision. At his most prominent courses he provided an excellent range of hole types and strategies, courses that are fun to play.

Criticisms: In the beginning he did little more than stake out courses but over time became far more actively involved in the construction. The work that stands out is clearly correlated with the amount of time he spent on site, whereas he should be criticized for the number of projects where he provided little direction and the courses often suffered for this practice. His stubborn refusal to make changes after the course was open for play strikes me as a weakness, although it likely could be seen as an asset too. There are many holes designed by Braid where you are left wondering if a different routing or different approach may have been better.

The facinating 5th, Het Girdle at Gleneagles

My favourite: Gleneagles King’s Course: A highly underestimated course largely ignored for not being a seaside links. The course features a wonderful romp up and down sometimes severe terrain with not a weak hole among the group. Short holes like the 14th are underestimated they are often an intentional breather hole. The holes are better appreciated in the context. The 14th for example follows the awesome and difficult 13th (Braid’s best) and precedes the long tough 15th.

What I take from him: There are two things that standout in his work. His benched in greens fascinate me for their simplicity in form yet their inherent difficulty to hit. It’s a great example of something that appears fairly easy to play, but is much tougher than it looks. The other aspect is the use of interior bunkers to confront you. These bunkers draw your immediate attention and force you to make decisions including some you may even not want to. I love the idea of an architectural punctuation mark.