Thursday, February 28, 2008

More Jericho!

Courtesy of Robert Thompson - From Backspin, a history of BC golf:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Article on Lost Courses - June 2005 - Golf Canada

This article was written in 2005 with Robert Thompson. It was inspired by Daniel Wexler's awesome book Missing Links and chronicles a few significant losses from across Canada. I hope you enjoy the read:

click on each picture to enlarge and read

Computer Aided Design

“The design process remains unchanged by technology. It is the rest of the process that has gained speed and efficiency through the use of computers.”

That was my quote used in an article by fellow golf architect Mike Nuzzo about using technology in Golf Course Design. It came from a discussion about Autocadd and technology in the golf profession.

Not every firm uses Autocadd, in fact a few still hand draw plans, but they should be. Working on Microstation or Autocadd offers no aid to the design of holes, but the side benefits easily make the conversion worth the while. When I was working for the former employer we changed from hand drawn plans to Computer Aided Design. The choice was Microstation since the platform was clearly in front of Autocadd at that time - but Autocadd would likely be the choice now. I spent a difficult 6 months putting together two sets of working drawings -which forced me to be proficient using the software. I spent the next five years exploring the limits of the software and benefiting from the faster and faster production of working drawings. The process of getting grading from trace to grading plans was originally about the same as drawing by hand, but it was 10 times faster making changes, creating the secondary working drawings and adding outside information since it was drawn on the same file.

It would be fair to say within a year I was 50% more productive and we avoided hiring another employer for a few three years just through this new efficiency. The big gain was the ability to share information with other consultants – and once we did the first golf course community we knew that it was making co-ordination far easier. There are those who say all design should be done in the field – that’s fine until you have sanitary and storm water pipes running through golf holes - that’s something you can’t do on the fly.

Once you become comfortable with CAD you begin to find the secondary benefits from software including quick and easy cut and fills, the ability to generate earthmoving profiles, the use of models to explain ideas, the ability to section out information so that nothing is drawn twice, the ability to make changes to every drawing simultaneously through reference files, etc etc.

I have so much time with computers that I can route a course and design holes right on the computer because I don’t find the medium restrictive. I prefer to route and design on sketch because there is something far more pleasing about doing this by hand.

The more you have time to explore the possibilities in technology – the more you see the possibilities for efficiency. For example I used to hand draw before and after images often taking a week to produce a full set – then I was introduced to Corel Photoshop and in one day I knew I would not draw by hand again. I can do better images in far less time by altering photos. But not every experiment works out – I bought a digital voice data recorder with the idea of recording my thoughts instead of writing them as I go. The software I bought was supposed to convert this into text, but the number of mistakes made it too time consuming to fix and instead I listen to the recording and type out the report – although that still saves me time.

What has not changed in the past decade or two is designers make lousy computer operators and computer operators make lousy designers” Mike Hurdzan – from his book Golf Course Architecture



I’ll never understand people’s need to criticize the use of technology, when in the end the quality of the golf course is what matters and has nothing to do with the tools you use. If technology can bring more efficiency and leave you more time for design and site supervision – why wouldn’t this be a huge benefit to an architect. But the technophobes will always disagree and say that any use of technology in design is wrong. I wonder if they also are against the use of a laser level on tees and greens too.

For a second article to read on this subject try Mike Nuzzo’s Golf Design Tools essay:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Please Play the Shorter Tees

One of the best memories I have playing golf was at Royal Portrush. We caught a three to four club wind (even the pro thought it was rough day!) making for a very complicated day to play. Robert and Steve opted for the men’s tees (about 6,600 yards and change). I opted to play the member’s up at around 6,400 yards because the wind was blowing and I wanted to have some fun – and some flexibility in club selection due to the wind. The starter said your handicap allows you to play back – and I said we’re all better off if I play up today.

My father headed forward to the farthest tees up (around 5400 yards). The starter called out to my father and said, "excuse me sir but you’re heading for the ladies tee – you’re not supposed to play from there." My father said, "I’m 75, I have two artificial hips and two pins in my shoulders, I can not carry the ball more than 180 yards anymore on the best shot. I have found that I need to play those tees to make the carries into the wind possible – besides this way you’ll see me in under 3 ½ hours – and isn’t that more important."

He laughed and said “My apologies sir - your quite right to play up – I wish other visitors thought like you do.”

People need to play the appropriate tees for their ability
. Too often I’m faced with people wanting alteration to their golf course to deal with the fact that their game is eroding and certain holes are becoming too challenging. I remember at Oshawa the 15th involves a long carry from a raised tee over a sizable depression. One of the committee was adamant about grading out that fantastic depression and adding fairway. It wasn’t for the benefit of the course – it was because he could no longer make the carry and now felt the course was unfair. He refused to play the whites. I’m stunned at how many times the phrase unfair is uttered from a player who refuses to move up.

This article from the Wall Street Journal is all about playing the proper tees:

I love the suggestion from the article. “A couple of readers said courses should charge extra for playing from the back tees. Frank Thomas, the former U.S. Golf Association technical director, says -- in all seriousness -- that courses should give free post round beer to foursomes willing to play from up front. "They might end up selling more beer in the end, and probably [would] be able to squeeze in a few more foursomes per day, because of faster play," he said.

I’m sick of watching six handicaps who couldn’t beat me straight up (I’m a 14) playing from 7,200 -7,400 yards in order to “play the whole course.” Not only are they completely out of their element but they are going to become a certain source of slow play as they take lots of extra shots and look for golf balls throughout their round. I’m still not sure how they get enjoyment from having their hat handed to them every time they play.

I played up at Royal Portrush because it was a tough day and my skill set is limited not by length but by consistency. I needed some opportunity to get the driver out of my hands to help me manage the day. My father played up because he is limited not by his skill, but by the fact he can no longer generate any distance on his shots. I wish others saw the merits of playing at the correct distance for the day. If you get on a role and begin to score – then move back and see if you can continue. That was how I was taught to play as a junior – I earned each tee till I played well from the back – unfortunately I’ve regressed through negligence and I’ve moved my way forward till I score consistently – now if I could get some the seniors to do the same.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Golf Healthy in Canada?

I started to think about this subject after reading and article called More Americans are Giving Up Golf written by Paul Vitello. The link is here:
The article contains the usually gloomy statistics that make you sit up and take notice of it: “The industry now counts its core players as those who golf eight or more times a year. That number, too, has fallen, but more slowly: to 15 million in 2006 from 17.7 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation. “

The article sites goes on to sight the typical factors that are hurting the participation levels:
1. The game taking too much time.
2. Roles in society have adjusted and men are expected to have the week-ends with the family
3. The costs of the game have risen to a point that golf is too expensive for many.

There was also a study from IPSOS Ried a few years back that indicated that unlike American Golf, the Canadian game was just fine – and I openly questioned the results and the polling methods – particularly since the RCGA paid for the study. The link to that article is here for your perspective:

So is it healthy?
– well yes and no.

I started to think about private first. They are full of older members who were brought up with the golf memberships and country club social circles, but the new players are much harder to come by. The majority of new members seem to be corporate in nature where the game of golf is still important to conducting business. What they have trouble finding is the younger social player who is simply there to play golf. They have too many options and also there has been a massive change in society where the family comes first. After all most families now need two jobs just to afford a house! The successful private clubs, like an Oakdale in Toronto, are built around the entire family. I’m most curious to see how Coppinwood and Goodwood do in Toronto with their incredibly high initiation fees.

The High end Public market is largely saturated in most areas since too many projects were begun to be larger and flashier than the last but requiring a much more difficult business model to support them. Once there became too many of these courses to fill the niche, or the price point was cut by competition in the market place, an some of these clubs are incapable of operating under this financial structure – there was too much financed to work. Now the countdown begins on how long the person with deep pockets is going to underwrite the operation.

The destination course or resort is the next one having a tough go right now – think about the effect of a 25% change in the dollar had one them. They desperately need the dollar to change and yet the same source of the currencies’ strength is the Oil Boom out west which has fueled the massive build out of real estate golf in British Columbia. I think these two saw off overall but certain regions like Niagara are getting killed in the economic environment. The other concern is the level of over-supply in certain areas out west as this boom takes place – it reminds me of both Ontario booms that ended up in the same place.

The public courses where the green fee is manageable and is in decent condition is great demand – in fact this will always be strong since this business model is fine from boom to recession.

The reality is “golf” is fine – the problem stems from too many bad business models built in the last 20 years and the market will have to shake this out before it can move forward again. Once the price for a round is reasonable the players will come – the only problem is someone will have to foot the bill until the model works or we will need a bankruptcy to bring in a new owner who borrowed less and is able to change a lower rate to make the business model feasible. That’s the real problem in golf – it seems everyone forgets that it’s a business too.

Here is Robert Thompson's take (which comments on the same article I do and then on another article about it by Garth Woolsey):

Here is Garth Woolsey's from the Tronto Star: