Friday, December 07, 2007

The Year in Review – Part 5 - My Business

No New Course

Wednesday night I learned that the new course I had been pursuing had been awarded to a golf contractor as a design/build contract.

I had been in talks with a development group about a new course to be built next spring near Grand Bend, Ontario, as part of a housing development. Most of the site was as flat and wide open and this would have taken some effort to make interesting. I had decided to use an approach based around Mike Strantz’s Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, California. The idea was to use expansive bunkers and large lateral movement to fill the wide open space. I was going to lift the fairways, tees and greens to make them standout and avoid the use of containment mounds.

The developers had approached me for a proposal on the project, in spite of the fact that they had acquired a design from a golf contractor they had been working with. The contractor has surprisingly suggested that my involvement was unethical since he had used a golf designer to do the routing. I find this a curious allegation, since nothing on the plans shows his name. If they did - I would not have agreed to become involved.

The Renovation Business

The strength of my business will always be with my renovation and restoration work. This year was a banner year from the start through to the finish. It began with five new Master Plans, moved onto working drawings in the summer and final three major renovations in the fall. August brought the start of a Stanley Thompson renovation to the Cutten Club using the old aerial as a guide – it was fun to work with the flashes and high faces. September brought a restorative-based project of re-establishing the grass face bunkers that A.W. Tillinghast had created at Scarboro. It was fun to work with Gil Hanse on this project and interesting to work with full grass faces. October brought the start of a Walter Travis renovation where once again I was building grass faced bunkers but this time with really small shape mounding complexes around the fairway bunkering. Having to continuously change between styles proved to be exhilarating.

This spring will see me a quick finish to Scarboro’s bunkers. The Travis work will continue through the spring and re-start with some greens this fall. The fall will bring at least one Thompson renovation with the possibilities of a second Thompson course or a new Travis bunker renovation. I’m not too worried about next year – I’m quite certain that I will have enough to do – if not I will enjoy some golf.

Nine New Holes at Saskatoon

The coming year will be an important year for me and Saskatoon Golf & Country Club. I am quite certain that this project will be the key to showing people that I am more than capable on my own – and will eventually lead to that new 18 holes.

The work has quietly started this fall with some clearing and drainage being done while the weather co-operates. I’m certain about the plan and the design for the holes and now its time to build them. While the work will be done in the style of Bill Kinnear (at Saskatoon) I will still be building holes that fit comfortably within my own preferences in design. I have managed to avoid almost everything on my expanded list of 20 things that I don’t like and there is not a single containment mound or target bunker to be found!

In The Works

This fall featured three of the most interesting calls that I have received so far. I will say that a significant Thompson course has approached me about a major restoration in a few years time. I’ve also talked to clubs about courses ranging from Ross to Alison to Travis. I was even recommended for a Raynor project by a peer that I admire.
It was a fascinating year for sure.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Year in Review – Part Four – The Blog

The Highlights

In January I also posted the culmination of 10 people’s research and produced an accurate list of Stanley Thompson designed courses. I had been frustrated by the lack of commitment from the Stanley Thompson Society to research and produce a definitive list. I always felt that this should be their primary role as a society. While I don’t think the list is “the definitive” list – it was produced with as a massive research file full of notations – and I hope others will pick up from here and help make the list more accurate.

The next highlight wasn’t about architecture. I had been to the RCGA’s conference on Player Development and managed to mistakenly end up at a meeting concerning the Future Links Program (my real interest any way). From some frustrations on listening to how things were being handled I decided that I needed to write about “Growing the Game” – particularly since nobody else seemed to want to. I touched on every program that I could find and then provided commentary on them – being the parent of a junior who was new to the game – I knew the frustrations in getting him involved and engaged in the sport. While some individual programs are great – I think unless the groups can come together – none of this will make much difference.

The First Low Point

In the spring I began to get increasingly busy and went through a period where the writing my writing became very erratic. This was the first time I thought about packing it in. There are a couple of gems that represent everything that I’m about. The first is a piece called “Spirit of Freedom” that describes the birth of my philosophy on how courses should play – based upon the writings of Max Behr. The other is the article called “Should bunkers be inside the fairway lines” which gives a great indication on where I’m heading with my own designs – particularly if they are public facilities.

The Best Series of All

I produced a lot of marginal articles for a while trying to write without a theme till finally I settled on an idea that really put me back on track – I decided to tackle the history of golf course architecture. I decided that if someone was going to follow all these ideas about architecture – they really needed to know how all the ideas came about, who were the key architects along the way and how did we get to where we are now.
It became the perfect set up for something that I wanted to do before – but was afraid to do – the top 25 architects of history. I thought I would be roundly chastised on sites like GolfClubAtlas for having the gall to do this. I thought people would question my qualifications and choices to the point that I would be roundly criticized and regret taking it on. The series was exceptionally well received and I think people took it in the spirit of exploring all the different architects rather than quibbling over who’s where on the list. It represents the best work done on the blog to date.

Stuck in a Rut

After that the blog went into the toilet. I was tired from traveling, working long hours and worse I had nothing that I wanted to write about. Since I lacked spare time almost every blog was written too quickly to have any lasting value. In hindsight, I should have stopped writing after the Top 25. The only highlight in the middle of this was the short lived experiments with video. I presented the holes of Saskatoon where I explained what I was trying to do through hand-drawn plans and an off camera description.

Trying to Get Back on Track

The most recent series was a logical one for me – I had spent most of the time explaining what I like and what influenced these ideas – so why not explain what I don’t like. When I go see courses – including my own work – I review what I like and why and what I don’t think works and why. I keep all these ideas stored and try to use both sides to help me make the best choices in my own work. So I presented the ideas that I don’t care for as a series to change things up. I’ve never had more comments than I did from that series – I think it’s easier for people to understand what they don’t like about a hole or a course than it is to understand why something works – so it’s easier to relate. I was tickled that I had a number of architects agree or point out how many of my list they had on the last project – all for fun. As I said at the onset – this is what “I” don’t like – which has nothing to do with whether an idea is good or bad.

The Future

The next series will represent what I want to build – I have often referred to it as my design book - using sketches, water colours (if I can find the guts to paint again after 20 years), computer illustrations, real examples and a clear written intent. I plan to take my writings – combine them with the images – so that what I want to do is not only concise but clearly illustrated too.

I’m also considering following in the footsteps of other architects and look at my own 10 laws or another similar intellectual exercise to define what I think and feel about architecture. I want to take the last two years of writings and take everything up a notch this winter.

The Final Series

I still – for now - intend to stick with this blog until I finally build my first “solo” course. The idea is to walk you through from getting the project, to design concepts, working drawings, construction in the field through to opening day. You’ll get an initial taste of that this summer with Saskatoon where I will walk you through the holes as they develop.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Year in Review – Part Three - Architecture

Are We Going to End up with a Minimalist Overload ???

Yesterday we found out Sebonack was named the Best New Private course in America. The course was a collaboration between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak – whose styles couldn’t have been farther apart. The work is excellent – even if the working conditions were strained – and the award was well deserved. The strain has continued beyond the project with Jack making inflammatory statements where he suggests he supplied the strategy and Tom supplied the look (a funny comment since Tom routed the course). If you were to actually believe Jack – then he just built his first course in the so-called Minimalist style.

When you continue down the same list you come to another Minimalist looking layout called Pronghorn. This time the architect is Tom Fazio – or at least one of his lead associates – and the work is quite striking and beautiful. It certainly was well chosen for the site except for the creeks that seem painfully out of place. It represents a clear attempt by a big named architect to work in the style popularized by Doak, and Coore - to show they he too can work in the same style.

A more obvious example was Erin Hills where Hurdzan Fry brought along Ron Whitten as a co-designer and set out to build their own Minimalist Masterpiece. Hurdzan Fry has always been a company that follows the trends of architecture and this time they even used one of Coore’s key shapers - Rod Whitman (who shaped at Friars Head) – and set out to create a course in the same style.

The latest one is Chambers Bay by Robert Trent Jones Jr. They may have broken the Minimalist mold by having to move large amounts of dirt – but there is no question that the details oand the look of the architecture is based squarely on the work by Coore and Doak

It used to be every architects web site claimesd they work with the land - now they claim they can work in that style. Everyone has been swept up by this trend – which is good for golf – but tough on the people who really are Minimalists. Once a style becomes this popular – the smaller architects (like me) are almost forced to find a different look in order to set themselves apart from the bigger more marketable names. It doesn't mean abondoning your principles - just creating architecture that looks different from the rest.

Ones to Watch for Next Year


Designed by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner have crafted with some of the more creative and innovative bunkering I have seen borrowing from the old Hutchison book to create bunkers that are literally sod walls with sections caving in. The views are also out of this world.

Old MacDonald

Tom Doak and Jim Urbina are in the middle of creating a new course at Bandon Dunes built using the MacDonald template holes. I could not think of a better exercise for these brilliant designers to really show their creativity. Throw in George Bahto and Brad Klien and you have a course with high expectations.
Funny enough two courses that will not look like the ones I've mentioned above.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Muskoka Bay is Best New Canadian Course

The 3rd from the air (courtesy of Golf Digest)

Golf Digest just released their annual awards and Muskoka Bay was named the Best New Course in Canada. It was much appreciated to get a mention in the article - since I was very involved in the project. That project was the reason that I stayed two more years than I had planned.

You can find the article here:

The Year in Review – Part Two – The Newsmakers in Canada

Executive Director Stephen Ross is Out

“The decision was made following a recent meeting with members of the RCGA’s Executive Committee, after which it was recommended by the Committee and mutually agreed upon by Ross that he steps down as Executive Director.”

Stephen Ross didn’t agree to go – in reality – he was told to resign. The RCGA was under pressure from recent scrutiny from the golf media – probably brought on by Robert Thompson’s expose in Score. The National Golf Course Owners couldn’t work with him and other organizations expressed difficulties in dealing with the RCGA under his watch. Stephen was also struggling to find a replacement for Bell and the financial pressure was probably the straw that broke the camels back. The RCGA had to make a change – even if Stephen wasn’t totally at blame – that perception would always be that he was.

The New Executive Director - Scott Simmons

Some thought his appointment was a disappointment since the association was hiring an insider with clear links to the previous administration of Stephen Ross. They point to the fact that Scott still has not cleaned house and things still run as they always have – despite the lack of a sponsor. Others counter that his inside knowledge of the RCGA is an asset and we must give him time to make change after he fully reviews the organization. Bob Weeks went so far as to mention that Scott was not happy with the way things were and will make change.

Found a Sponsor

“Oakville, Ont. (RCGA) – The Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) announced on November 1st, 2007 that RBC has agreed to a sponsorship agreement to become title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open through 2012. Financial details and terms of the partnership were not disclosed.”

They finally found the sponsor – so now will the organization change? The biggest question I would like to ask them is why they are in the business of elite level player development and barely involved with grass root development – which in my opinion has a far greater value for the future of the game.

Mike Weir Moves into Architecture

The biggest architectural news this year was Mike Weir’s decision to finally get into designing golf courses. You must admire Mike’s choice to not rush to cash in on his fame and take money while other architect are doing all the work behind the scenes. Mike has clearly articulated a different vision based upon Coore and Crenshaw. He plans to only build one or two project to ensure quality and build a team around himself in the same manner. The question now is who will play Coore to his Crenshaw.

Lorne Rubenstein enters the Hall of Fame

On Wednesday June 22nd Lorne Rubenstein went into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. It was a great day for anyone who loves the game. The Hall of Fame has lots of great players but too few people that have “only” developed the game. Lorne is someone who has spent a lifetime educating us about the subtle nuances of golf. He’s inspired us to love the game through his writings on the spiritual parts of golf. He reminds us that the game is as much about bonds of friendship and small moments as it is about a key putt in a tournament. It was good day for golf – full of friends and family - just like the game.

Best Article – A Matter of Race

I live it here because Canada’s generally liberal views – I’m originally English if you didn’t know - but open racism is still not that long gone in Canada. Just ask any older member of a Jewish Club when they finally felt they were no longer excluded from the mainstream of golf and you will be shocked. Bill McWilliam talks about all the black musicians that loved to come to Toronto because of the more liberal views on race – yet racism still practiced at most private clubs. Golf is still elitist even today – whether financial, by gender inequality, by religious values, colour of your skin. Golf still is not a fully accessible sport – even though many like me would like to think it is.

Curtis Gillespie – in May’s Score magazine – took a very direct look at the racial issues in golf. It pointed out the lack of inclusion still prominent in the game. Look at the key positions at most clubs – from golf pros, to architects, to golf superintendents, to clubhouse managers - they are generally all white and male. This game has a long way to go – and if we truly want to grow the game – since minorities are key to the future of golf.

The Geoff Award – Going for the Green

You may not like him - you may disagree with his opinions – but Robert Thompson’s Going for the Green has emerged as one of the best places to find out what is going on in Canadian golf. He is very strongly opinionated, insightful, well connected and very well read – and he makes for an entertaining read on most days. He has become a lightening rod for controvesy - since he often refuses to pull his punches. He reminds me of Howard Stern – where those who like him read him when they can – and those who dislike him read him every day to find out what he said next.

Best Architectural Quote I read all year – Robert Thompson

“I called it “inoffensive architecture,” a term aimed at describing a course where the architect has taken so few risks that really there’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s also not a single factor that distinguishes it.”

and one from the home of golf...

“But Councillor Alastair Ross said the council must play “hardball” with the Trump Organisation and refuse the application.“It is an economic investment – it is property speculation,” he said.“We are open for business but we have to do business that is good for Aberdeenshire – not at any price.”

The Donald was pushing hard to build a massive housing development – oh and a links course with waterfalls. He even went as far as to drop Tommy Fazio II and reduce the waterfall quotient to bring in Martin Hawtree to save the day - but he could never hide the fact that this was an aggressive land development project. So the canny Scot’s told him to go get stuffed.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Year in Review – Part One - Professional Golf

I’ve decide to do my Year in Review now – I'm looking at 6" of snow followed by this morning's freezing rain – my year is over. It seems like a great day to look back at what happened this year. I’m going to follow last year’s format and write on the same five areas – professional golf, the newsmakers, architecture, my blog and my business. I will post all week - I hope you enjoy my review.

2007 in Professional Golf

Player of the Year - Tiger Woods
Only won major – but seven wins was very impressive all the same. Throw in the Fedex Cup his refusal to play all four Fedex events before winning it anyway and you have another dominate year – including over the commissioner.

To the commissioner in China: “Could I ask a quick follow-up; could you ever envision today where because of this Tiger Woods would be a member of The European Tour and would you welcome that?”
Tim Finchem: “I've learned after 11 years to let Tiger speak for himself.”

....and to let him do whatever he wants to do.

You'd Think they'd Learn
Rory Sabbatini couldn’t learn from Steven Ames could he? He had to go and call Tiger out saying "He struggled out there. He had to battle for that win. And I think that made me realize, you know, he is, I'd say, as beatable as ever." – the newly focused Tiger went out and dominated finishing the year with five straight wins.

Fed Ex Cup
Everyone who got the scoring put your hands up – anyone, anyone – and therein lies the problem. They promoted the series so much and yet created a scoring system that nobody was able to follow without TV’s help. It was all done to get the players to play more fall events – yet the players still won’t play all the events. Lucky for Finchem that Woods won and that he and Lefty ended up head to head – imagine if they were out of it by the last event – who would watch? They’ll try again next year – but look out if Woods and Michealson both don’t contend!

Highlight of the Year
Mike Weir beating Tiger at The President’s Cup was the biggest event of the year. Not only because Mike beat him head to head, but it was the way he came back down the stretch. Canada celebrated the only thing that actually mattered to us at the President’s Cup. I think American won – but to be honest I’m not sure. If only the winner of this event qualified for the Ryder Cup – then it would mean something!

Highlight by a Non-Canadian in Supporting Role - Woody Austin
When Woody Austin donned the snorkel on the 14th at the Presidents Cup – we all admired a man for having a sense of humour in the middle of intense pressure. Not only was he not taking himself too seriously but he also showed the American’s the way they need to be in order to finally win the Ryder Cup.

First Runner-up - Woody Austin
Austins suprising fall into the lake at The President's Cup was followed by a stunning run of three birdies after. The fall into the lake was funny and he handled it well - if you weren’t a fan of this guy before – it was real easy to be after that.

Looking at the greens at East Lake GC – a course not meant to played at tournament condition in the September heat – but they tried. They had to because of the change in dates done to suit Finchem’s Fedex Cup (the worst idea of the year).

Tournament of the Year – The Open
The British Open was by far the highlight of the year. I’ll never forget the made for television moment when Padraig and Sergio crossed the same bridge on #17 in different directions. That was epic – too bad Sergio would not make eye contact – but that really didn’t matter. While the golf was far from perfect – I can’t remember a more compelling finish to a major. The rollercoaster of emotion from Padraig’s double bogey through to Sergio lost opportunity when he missed such a make able putt.

Hole of the Year – 18th at Carnoustie
How could it not go to the 18th at Carnoustie with the entire calamity of both players – and the history Jean Van De Velde. There is not a tougher finishing hole in all of tournament golf – and what an impact it had on the outcome!

Tournament Course of the Year– Southern Hills
I loved the way Kieth Foster handled the changes to the course. The 9th and 18th greens were moved but you could not tell. All the chipping areas meant avoiding a major renovation while toughening up the place - other should take note on how it's done.

Quote of the Year from a PGA Player– Boo Weekly

"I don't know nothing about the FedEx Cup, I never was good at math."

I think Boo should also have the last word on the year too....

"It's been a windwhirl."