Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game


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Upholding Golf’s Ideals – An Interview with Architect Jeff Mingay

“Difficult golf courses are simple to make. Narrow fairways bordered by rough, and corridors of play constricted by trees is all it takes. The problem is such courses inevitably become a chore to play. Sheer difficulty is not the measure of quality golf course design. In fact, as golf course architects, we’re not trying to design difficult courses at all. We’re trying to build interesting ones, which golfers want to return to, time and time again.”

JeffMingay-RodWhitmanOne could easily imagine the above quote coming from a Golden Era architect – MacKenzie, Macdonald or Ross.  Instead, it is Canadian golf course architect Jeff Mingay who not only used those words, but is applying them in the field day after day.

Thinker, traveler, student, writer, historian, enthusiast, commentator, and most of all builder – each of these descriptors apply to Jeff, which is why he is so interesting.  He is a must follow on Twitter (@jeff_mingay) for golf geeks, especially those who want to better understand the game’s fields of play.  Jeff was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule of work and travel to share his thoughts – many thanks to him.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

Rod Whitman.  After I pestered him for a bit, it was Rod who let me come to work for him, with very little experience, back in about 2000.  He was starting construction of Blackhawk Golf Club at the time.  Over a couple summers there, in Edmonton, I learned how to operate bulldozers, excavators and other equipment, thanks to the opportunity Rod gave me.  But, most important, I started to learn how to effectively implement design ideas, on the ground, at Blackhawk.  That’s where it all started for me.  I helped Rod finish that job then moved on to supervise the construction of Sagebrush, in British Columbia, for him.  From there it was on to Cabot Links, in Nova Scotia, with a few other smaller jobs mixed in over about a decade hanging around with Rod, and guys like Dave Axland, before I started moving on to my own projects, beginning in 2009 and ’10.

Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?

Well, Rod’s definitely been a big influence in many ways.  I have great respect for his understanding of golf, his creativity and abilities to put his ideas on the ground very effectively.  To this day, I’ll often think about what Rod’s opinion of what I’m designing or building might be … which I think is good thing.  It keeps me on my toes!  I’d have to say Donald Ross, too.  I was fortunate to grow-up playing and learning the game at Essex Golf and Country Club, in Windsor, Ontario.  Essex was designed by Mr. Ross during the late 1920s.  Just hanging around that great old course as much as I have over the years definitely shaped my views on what a golf course should be.  I’m really interested in building architecture, too.  Some of the thoughts, philosophies, and experiences of my favorite building architects are very applicable to golf architecture.  In certain ways, Frank Lloyd Wright’s been an influence.

Why is it important to study the history of golf and golf courses?

I think golf architects today are more fortunate than our predecessors because we have so much to look back on and learn from … a century of what’s already been done, what’s worked well and what hasn’t.  If you don’t understand this history, you’re not going to have a chance to be the best.  It’s really as simple as that in my mind.

Describe your process for a design project.

I prefer designing on-site rather than working from maps, and making a lot of drawings.  I find I’m more creative when I’m walking a property to figure out initial concepts, and when I’m shaping golf course features myself … the way I learned from Rod.  Obviously I’ll have the basic concepts set in mind when we start building, but most of the details are worked out during the shaping and construction process as things evolve in the field and new opportunities present themselves.  It’s inevitable that certain ideas I’ve thought about in Toronto aren’t going to translate exactly right onto a site in Edmonton or Victoria or Seattle, which is why I insist on being on-site a lot during all of my projects.  The day I’m not shaping anymore, I’ll need to re-question my ambitions.

Is there a particular element of a golf hole that you like working on the most?

The green.  After the routing, the design of the putting surface and its surrounds is the most important element in golf architecture.  The green means most to the playing interest of any hole.  When designed properly, the green dictates everything, including the strategy of a hole.  Really great greens make a course interesting and adequately challenging for better golfers, and at the same time allow for width, which is essential to the enjoyment of everyone else.  The Old Course, and the original designs of Augusta National and Pinehurst are great examples.  On those great courses, it’s really important to drive the ball into the correct spots relative to the day’s pin position, otherwise getting close to the hole becomes very difficult.  While it’s tough to get close to the hole, it’s not difficult to get on the green.  This is that ideal balance between presenting interest and an adequate challenge to better golfers and enjoyment for everyone else, simultaneously.  It’s got everything to do with the green.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking course improvement initiatives?

That they’re going to be in the way of progress unless they come into the process of developing an improvement plan with an open-mind!  Really, the committee needs to decide on a golf architect with consensus and then let him do his work without interference.  This might sound biased to some, but there really are too many poor examples of golf courses designed by committee to suggest otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, I want and appreciate input from committee members, they know the course.  But, if you don’t let the architect make the final call, things don’t end up being cohesive and the course in question has no chance to truly reach its full potential.

What are the primary challenges you consistently face in trying to deliver results that are up to your standards?

See above!  I’d have to say interference from committees and Boards.  Budget constraints, too.  I mean, economy in golf architecture is very important but it’s frustrating when important elements of an improvement plan are pulled just to keep a project under a specific number.  It’s a reality that presents challenges relative to delivering the highest standard.

JeffMingay-YorkDowns

Jeff at York Downs – Photo courtesy of Frank Mastroianni, Canadian Golf Magazine

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot in your work?

I recently re-read parts of John Low’s 1903 book, Concerning Golf.  He was first guy to codify a set of architectural principles in that book.  One of his principles talks about how the great holes teeter on the Heretical Precipice.  I love that term.  Heresy is an opinion that’s profoundly at odds with what’s generally accepted.  So, in other words, Mr. Low’s saying that the best holes are those that are just about unacceptable, polarizing.  Polarizing holes and polarizing golf courses are usually the most interesting, so I feel that sweet spot when holes I’ve designed or restored create a love/hate thing from golfers.

You travel extensively to see and play courses – why is that important to you?

Studying design theory in the old architecture books is one thing.  It’s as important … well, more important, to visit the great courses of the world to get a sense of scale, locations, relationships between holes, relationships between the golf course and the clubhouse, etc.  Having a real sense of the look and feel of the best courses, and understanding how everything involved fits together in the best fashion, is very important.  You can’t get that sense from a book or photos.  I also enjoy talking with the golf course superintendents who take care of those places, to learn more about what they do, what challenges they may face with certain features or situations, etc.  At the end of the day, it’s the superintendent who makes the architect look good, without exception.

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

A few years ago, I would have said A.V. Macan’s Fircrest in Tacoma, Washington.  But I’m fortunate to be working on a restorative-based plan there, now.  Another Macan design at Shaughnessy, in Vancouver, would be fun to restore, too.  It was one of Mr. Macan’s last courses, and biggest projects, over a career spanning six decades. He did his first course at Royal Colwood, in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1913.  Remarkably, Shaughnessy was finished about 1960, four years before he died.  Mr. Macan was a very interesting, very thoughtful guy who put a wealth of knowledge into what he called “the course I want to be remembered by”, at Shaughnessy.  His notes on Shaughnessy are fascinating, and the thought he put into some of the micro elements of that design is very admirable.  Sadly, not much of his work is left there, today.  And, it’s unlikely the course will ever be restored.  Shaughnessy’s on leased land, and the story is that lease will not be renewed in the near future.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Definitely being involved with the shaping and construction work.  Staying on the equipment keeps me fresh, alert, and more creative I think.  I love being involved with the guys who are most important to the realization of my ideas.   It’s extremely satisfying to have a long day on-site, with all of the guys, then have few beers afterward, talking about what we’re trying to do, and what happened that day.  This type of comradery is very important to a successful result.  I never want to be, and never will be, the guy who flies in for a few hours in a nice golf shirt, tells everyone what to do then leaves for a few weeks.  That’s not why I came to do what I’m fortunate to do.  Again, the day I’m not intimately involved with the construction process is the day I’ll need to re-question my ambitions.

What one word would you use to describe the courses you design, and why?

I’d like to use the word distinctive.  The only common characteristic shared by the world’s best courses is distinctiveness.  The uniqueness of the best courses is one of golf’s great attractions.  So, I try to do something genuinely different on every project that’s either inspired by inherent site characteristics, the design pedigree of an existing course, or a clients’ needs and desires … or a combination of these types of factors.

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

It sounds cliche, but probably the Old Course at St. Andrews.  The Old Course is wide enough, the greens there are big enough, the ground is usually firm enough, and there’s enough interesting contour and variance of wind on that site that the Old Course really plays like a different course, day to day, more often than any other in the world that I’m aware of.  This type of variety is ideal.  Too many other courses are relatively tight and have comparatively small greens, and are located in areas where there’s not much wind, so they more often play the same, rather than different, every day.  A course that’s many courses in one depending where the pins are located on any given day, and which direction and how fast the wind’s blowing is the ideal.

What are the top 3 courses next on your list to play for the first time?

I can’t believe I haven’t played Oakmont yet.  I’ve admired that great old course from afar, forever.  I also need to get to Royal Melbourne.  That’s a huge missing link in my architectural education.  And, having been involved with Cabot Links, I’m really looking forward to getting back to Cape Breton some time this year to see and play Cabot Cliffs.  I’m a bit familiar with that site, and the course looks stunning in photos.  What else would you expect from Coore and Crenshaw and company though, right?

When you are not playing golf or building golf courses, what are you doing?

Hmmm … admittedly, I do need a few more hobbies!  I’m a big music fan.  I’m always listening to music, trying to find new music, and going to see shows when I’m at home, or when I run into the right bands during my travels.  Baseball, too.  In the summer, I love going to baseball games, especially at ballparks I haven’t seen.

Any interesting or challenging projects in process or on the horizon for you?

We’ve just started restorative-based projects at two classic A.V. Macan designs in the Seattle area that I’ve been thinking about, and dreaming about putting back together for a long time.  I’m pretty excited about these projects, at Fircrest and Inglewood Golf Clubs.  We completed five holes at Fircrest back in November last year and will be starting at Inglewood in a few weeks.  These are really interesting, unique and trailblazing designs by Mr. Macan, dating back to the early 1920s, that not only set a standard for golf architecture in the Pacific Northwest but are still relevant today.  It’s humbling to have these opportunities to showcase what Mr. Macan did for golf and course architecture, particularly in the Northwest.  This type of work also helps with my continuing education in golf architecture, which is an added benefit.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Golf Heaven on Earth – The Kingsley Club

KingsleyLogoMy discovery of the Kingsley Club was just dumb luck.  On a buddies trip to Arcadia Bluffs and Crystal Downs, we needed a third course to play.  I stumbled across the Kingsley Club review on GolfClubAtlas.com – it looked interesting, so it was added to our itinerary.

Turning into the property off a dirt road, it was apparent that we had found a hidden gem.  Beyond the modest clubhouse lay rolling hills covered in wild flowers and fescue grass, with beautiful undulating fairways cutting through them.  For me, it was love at first sight – a feeling of exhilaration that I find anew every time I pull into the parking lot, and every time I step onto the first tee.

The original intent of this post was to give a course tour.  Among the GolfClubAtlas.com review, the Club’s website, and KingsleyGolfer.com, that tour is thoroughly covered.  No need to redo what has already been well done.

Instead, this post is about why Kingsley has touched me so deeply.  Why I believe that it embodies everything that is great about golf.  (Thanks to fellow Kingsley member Tim B. for use of his photos)

Kingsley is certainly challenging and fun to play, and the laid-back culture of the club enhances the experience for me.  But the profound sense of joy it evokes in me goes beyond fun.  What makes Kingsley so special?  Three words hint at the answer: Interest, Variety, and Beauty.


KINGSLEY IS INTERESTING

A good golf course catches the player’s interest on the first hole and keeps it throughout the round.  A truly great golf course like Kingsley keeps the player’s interest round after round, ad infinitum.  Kingsley displays its greatness to me in how it keeps my interest.  It is like a puzzle to attempt to solve.  It provides challenges of strategy and execution, along with a mixed bag of good and bad luck.

After I have played a really good round at a course, I often lose interest.  My experience at Kingsley has been just the opposite.  I have played some of my best golf there, and yet I still want more.  It is simply impossible to imagine getting bored walking those fairways.

These specifics top the list of what makes Kingsley interesting:

  • Blind shots – The property is hilly and Mike DeVries’s routing takes advantage of the elevation changes to create numerous blind shots.  Blind shots quicken the pulse and provide interest.  There are few things quite as exciting in golf as hitting one’s shot, watching it disappear, and then taking the anticipatory walk to find out how it ended up.
  • Bouncing balls – The fairways and green complexes are gloriously undulating.  Coupled with fescue fairways and bent grass greens that drain well, the undulations provide bounces from tee to green that make the course unpredictable.  Superintendent Dan Lucas keeps the course in immaculate firm-and-fast condition, but it is not “manicured”.  Kingsley will hand players good and bad breaks according to its whim.  In golf, “fair” is another word for “predictable”.  Predictable gets boring quickly, and does not hold a player’s interest.  Kingsley is anything but predictable.
  • Distance and depth-perception – Elements of the course, in concert with the often windy Northern Michigan weather, make judging true distance and selecting clubs very challenging.  Even when playing repeatedly from the same spot, the shots are not the same.  One is never quite sure if the club is right.  Executing a confident shot in the face of that fundamental ambiguity is an interesting mental challenge indeed!

INTEREST IN IMAGES – Holes 1 and 2


KINGSLEY OFFERS VARIETY

Variety is the spice of life.  It is also the hallmark of a great golf course.  From tee to green, from front nine to back, Kingsley has tremendous variety.

The course has a wide variety of hole lengths and is routed to maximize directional changes.  Factor in time of day and weather conditions, and Kingsley can play like an entirely different course from round to round.

Kingsley puts its variety on display:

  • On the tees – Each hole offers several teeing grounds that often differ not just in length, but in direction.  The player can choose to play each hole from wherever they wish.  The best example of tee variety is on the par 3 9th, which can play from 106 to 240+ yards from two groups of tee boxes that are set at 90 degree angles to one another.
  • On the greens – Kingsley has incredible variety in its green complexes.  Some are heavily bunkered, some have few or no bunkers.  Some greens accept ground approaches and recoveries, others are elevated to encourage aerial shots.  There is a wide range of green sizes and shapes, some with subtle interior contours, and others more dramatic.  The course has punchbowls, table-tops, crowns, horseshoes, double plateaus, and multi-tiers.
  • In the feel of the nines – The outward nine is routed through sand hills.  It is open and largely treeless.  The inward nine has a much different feel, wandering through trees.  Both nines feel expansive, but each has a distinct feel.  Playing at Kingsley is like playing at Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails in the same round.

VARIETY IN IMAGES – Holes 12 and 13


KINGSLEY IS BEAUTIFUL

Kingsley possesses a rugged, natural beauty that might not be appreciated by those accustomed only to manicured, parkland golf.  The minimalist first impression gives way as the course reveals contrasts of greens and browns, painted onto beautiful contours.

The grounds crew has painstakingly tended the native areas, planting fescue and wildflowers.  Players who visit frequently are treated throughout the year to an ever-changing show of colors that is at once visually arresting and appropriate to the overall look of the course.

From the minor details to the grand scheme, Kingsley’s wide open spaces further contrast sky and earth into one breathtaking view after another.  It is the perfect marriage of outstanding design, construction, and maintenance, with the natural beauty that makes people fall in love with Northern Michigan.

BEAUTY IN IMAGES – Holes 14, 15 and 16


Interest, variety, beauty, and much more – the founders, Mike DeVries and Dan Lucas have put together the total package in a way that resonates deep down in my soul.  It is my golf heaven on earth, and I look forward to walking those fairways hundreds of times, for the rest of my life.

It is my sincere hope that many others get to experience Kingsley’s greatness too.  In the meantime, enjoy this photo tour compiled from my Twitter (@jasonway1493) series 18 Days of @KingsleyClub.

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Soul Man – An Interview with Architect Drew Rogers

The call was supposed to just be a quick “hello” and “thank you” for some photos.  An hour later, I realized that I had found a kindred spirit in realm of golf geekdom.

Beyond sharing similar perspectives on the game, Drew and I are also fortunate to have spent significant time at the Old Elm Club – me as a caddie, and Drew as the architect who has recently worked to restore the course to the original design intent of Harry Colt.  In doing that restoration, along with David Zinkand and their crew, Drew has followed in the footsteps of Donald Ross, who built Old Elm.  The course was ideal to me as a kid, but somehow Drew has made it even better.

Whether it is his work on new courses like Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, or his loving restorations of the work of Colt, Ross, or Willie Park, Jr., Drew Rogers is a talented architect and a steward of the history and soul of the game.  Many thanks to him for taking the time to share his perspectives in this interview.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

Perseverance…. and a little luck!  As careers go, there was never any doubt in my mind, EVER, what I wanted to do.  So my path was pretty deliberate beginning as a teenager.  I’m from a small town in Southern Illinois, where we are fortunate to have a true country club and a damn good little golf course.  I worked there in many roles while growing up and played tons of competitive golf as well.  I studied Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky to build upon my appreciation of the natural beauty of a landscape and then combined that with my passion for the game.  Then I got a huge break through a friend and fellow UK grad to work with Arthur Hills.  The rest is history.

Who is your favorite Golden Age Era architect, and why?DrewRogers

Tough call there.  I have really enjoyed and been inspired by so much work from that era… to single out one seems impossible.  I’m a big fan of Harry Colt and am studying more of his work this year in England.  I have long appreciated work by Donald Ross and consulted on a fair number of his designs, but I also love the works of MacDonald and Raynor, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr.…. even Old Tom Morris and others.

Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?

I’ve always been one to seek out information, visit courses and meet people.  As a result I think I’m influenced by all of what I see and experience and also by the many fine folks I’ve encountered.  Not one, but many… colleagues, superintendents, clients and golfers and friends.  I guess I tend to have an “eyes wide open” approach to my work, with every project being definitively unique and with its own set of opportunities and goals.  My philosophies are founded on what I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had and continue to have.

Describe your process for a design project.

Since most of the work these days is with existing facilities, my first move is to learn as much about that property as I can… its history and evolution, how it works, its deficiencies, along with where things are at present and where they plan to go in the future.  Many of my clients already have some level of vintage architecture that seems worthy to retain or build from… but I also focus on how the course has evolved over time and what accommodations must be made moving forward for it to survive another 50 years. Today, we have golfers of all skills playing… on courses that were originally designed for a relative few – only the most avid players of the age.  Therefore, I work very closely with my clients; we make decisions together, assemble a team and then I’m very hands-on once the work is underway.

What is it like to renovate courses by Golden Age architects?

First of all, to work on these courses is a privilege, and it comes with great responsibility.  The responsibility is not just to honor the original architectural intent, but also to acknowledge 100 years or so of influence and evolution.  Golf courses must evolve and those Golden Age architects were all well aware that their courses would require some adaptation over time… what with the impacts of technology, irrigation, golf carts, turfgrasses, Mother Nature, golfers and certainly ever-changing player expectations.  Architecture from that era involves a lot more use of subtlety and was at the same time quite strategic – so being keenly aware of how and why they built what they did is very important.  My aim is to reinstate a course that will honor its past while also moving it into the future in a very practical sense.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking course improvement initiatives?

Learn to trust the assembled expertise… whether it be the superintendent, the architect, irrigation consultant, agronomist, etc. – these people are the most knowledgeable about golf courses; it is their craft.  So trust them, learn from them and allow them to lead you.  Also learn and accept that you cannot satisfy or placate all of your fellow members.  You need tough skin to deal with member politics.  Just try to focus on the greater good and the continued health of the facility.

As for gaining some basic knowledge, one can attain the necessary elementary understanding of golf course essentials from classic books such as The Links by Robert Hunter, Golf Greens and Greenkeeping by Horace Hutchinson or Golf Architecture by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie, among a few others.  The roots of good design and greenkeeping, in a most basic format, can be found in these and other historical volumes.

What are the primary challenges you consistently face in trying to deliver results that are up to your standards?

The first thing you learn in working with existing private clubs is that you’re working for 300 self-proclaimed experts on everything!  The names change from project to project, but the personalities are always there and those egos and personal agendas can be challenging.  I don’t expect to win every battle – there must be some compromise, but I’m always trying to keep them on point with respect to their original goals and keep them from cutting corners.  As long as we agree on “what it should be” we’ll tend to find solutions that accomplish our objectives.

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot in your work?

A lot of that has to do with client satisfaction.  I could be selfish and say I wanted this or that… but at the end of the day, the course is not mine, it’s theirs.  I want members to be proud of their course and understand the value of what we did.  You can’t make everyone completely happy – that is nearly impossible. But when the project is complete and you hear players debating over which hole is their favorite, the most improved, or that they were pleasantly surprised at what they see now versus what was there before… that is a pretty good indicator that we were successful.  Some measure success through ratings and rankings – or even tournaments… Over time, this all seems increasingly less relevant to me and with those whom I work. 

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

Surprisingly, I would most like to go back to some of my earlier efforts and make some adjustments.  When you build a new course, you don’t get EVERYTHING right the first time and there are a number of courses where I would really like to make some refinements, adjust some green surfaces, some bunkering, etc.…. Newport National in Rhode Island is one… another is Olde Stone in Kentucky.  The one I most wish I could retouch is Oitavos Dunes in Portugal.  It’s somehow ranked #68 in the world by Golf Magazine, but I think its potential is much greater (given it’s seaside, links-like characteristics) – or at least requires more work to be so deserving.  Donald Ross had the opportunity to tinker with Pinehurst #2 in this manner… and I just think it would be great to go back and build on something that is already really good and make it even better.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Certainly, I have been fortunate to travel the world, visit amazing places and meet so many dynamic people.  But more than anything, I gain the greatest satisfaction from the enjoyment of those who see and play my work.  I like to see them have fun and be challenged and I want them to appreciate beauty and subtlety.  And… it is always satisfying to truly improve something that was struggling or was in need of attention – then make it into something very special.  I guess, ultimately, it’s about people and their enjoyment of this fine game.  If I can have a hand in that, what could be better?OldElm9

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

Just one?!!  You know, this might be surprising to some… but I could play Bandon Preserve every day for the rest or my life and be totally contented.  It’s a 13-hole par-three course at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon… and probably the most beautiful and dynamic group of short holes I’ve ever seen (built by one of my good friends, Dave Zinkand).  Pure fun… maybe the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.

If it has to be an 18-hole course… I guess I could narrow it to two: National Golf Links of America on Long Island and North Berwick in Scotland.  I love fast and firm links conditions, great natural beauty, tradition and… and the quirky design elements.  Those are two of the best I’ve seen and richly enjoyed playing.  The Old Course at St. Andrews lurks closely to those, as does Old Elm and Shoreacres in Chicago.  Then again, I wouldn’t be too disappointed to play every day again at my home course in Robinson, Illinois… Quail Creek. 

What are the top 3 new courses on your list to play next?

As far as NEW courses, I really want to get down to see the two courses at Streamsong in Florida.  While not really a new course anymore, I still need to go and see Sandhills in Nebraska.  I’m heading to England later this year and am looking forward to Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and a few others around Surrey and the southern coast.  Mountain Lake, Raynor’s course in Florida, and Sleepy Hollow are also among those I yearn to see.  My bucket list is pretty deep, frankly!

What is your take on the pro game, and what impact is it having on golf architecture?

I’m completely bored with professional golf.  I honestly don’t enjoy watching it.  I’m rarely impressed by the personalities and all the hoopla that surrounds them.  And really, it’s frustrating to see them play most of the golf courses they’re set up to play – they seem quite sterile.  The courses don’t tend to require much shot making – and they don’t challenge a player’s intellect as well as they should.  The PGA and USGA control much of that.  There are occasional exceptions, but tournaments these days are more like four-day putting contests.  I’ve often wondered what would be the result if they didn’t play so many long, narrow layouts and instead played much shorter, risk-reward courses where, through design, power is actually less of an advantage… instead, lots of options to consider.  Just look at the effect the 10th hole at Riviera has on those guys!

I’m also frustrated with the influence that the pro game (and television/commentary) has on the weekend or member player. I’m talking about course conditions, speed of play issues, green speeds and perfect lies in bunkers.  There is a perception perhaps exhibited by the pro golfer first (whether true or not), that everything in golf must be fair and perfect.  That makes for rather dull golf, in my opinion.  We experience the effects when those “viewers” come to the golf course.  It’s pretty eye opening to witness.

When you are not playing golf or building golf courses, what are you doing?

Actually doing or would like to be doing?!!  It seems I play less and less golf these days… and there’s less time for hobbies as well – I love to fish, but rare is that occasion too.  I guess that’s just where I am in life… my age, responsibilities, etc.  However, I am blessed with an incredibly supportive wife and three wonderful children.  So when I’m not on the road or working, I’m with them.  My son is into playing hockey and golf and is an active Boy Scout.  My girls love ice-skating and baton twirling.  The youngest might be getting an itch to play golf…we’ll see.  I’m trying not to push too hard!

Any interesting or challenging projects in process or on the horizon for you?

I’m really very fortunate to be busy these days and am involved with a number of really great projects.  Just a few of them: now finishing a major restoration of Old Elm Club in Chicago… just an amazing place – designed by Harry Colt and built by Donald Ross – one of a kind.  Also working on some Golden Age Era renovations, including A Donald Ross design in Kenosha, WI, two Willie Park, Jr. courses, in Sylvania, OH and West Bloomfield, MI.  Also busy in Florida, working at Royal Poinciana Golf Club and Quail West in Naples, among others.

I’m also ever hopeful to do more 18-hole new courses.  The climate of golf development has changed so much over the last ten years and opportunities are really scarce – not what they used to be.  I just hope to keep doing good work and will earn the chance to partner with someone who appreciates my talents enough to bring me into a new-build situation.  I would really enjoy employing that level of creativity on a project again.  The way I figure, they can’t keep giving those jobs to the same group of architects forever!

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Architects Week II is in the books. Now for the show…

Once again, the folks at Golf Channel have put together a nice Architects week feature.  Matt Ginella continues to evolve as a voice for the good of the game, giving us a break from Tour & Tip coverage, to help us connect to the soul of the game – golf courses and the people who create them.

A WALK THROUGH THE WEEK

 

“The more I learn about architecture, the more I want to know.” – Matt Ginella

The week kicked off with a preview from Matt, Geoff Shackelford, and a panel.  Bill Coore was originally slated to start off the week, but dropped of the agenda at the last minute.  Such are the lives of successful men, perhaps.

“Think of golf holes as human. You are wrestling with another animate object.” – Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

After a visit with Tom Weiskopf and discussion of his recent updates to TPC Scottsdale, next up was Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  It was an interesting segment with the veteran architect that culminated with discussion of Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open venue which promises to be a strong follow-up to last year’s game-changing event at the renovated Pinehurst #2.  “It is both the aerial game and the ground game,” said Jones of Chambers.  Clearly, he is excited to the see the best golfers in the world take on his course.

“Let the land speak and lay golf holes out that were relatively straightforward.” – David McLay Kidd

The old guard gave way to members of the next generation of great architects – David McLay Kidd, Mike DeVries and Gil Hanse.  This trio has already produced a portfolio of amazing courses, including my home course the Kingsley Club.  They are also working on some of the most exciting projects in golf – Sand Valley #2, Cape Wickham, The Rio Olympic Course, and now Streamsong Black.

“He’s so creative. He’s a real sculptor with the Earth.” – Alice Dye on Pete

A full day was given to Pete & Alice Dye, perhaps the most influential duo in golf course architecture history, not to mention a heart-warming story of love and marriage partnership.  Geoff Shackelford said of Mr. Dye, “He was sort of a change agent; that will ultimately be his legacy.”  Hard to argue with that assessment.

“It’s something I’ve had on the back burner for 20 years.” – Tom Doak

The week wrapped up with Tom Doak sharing what might be the most exciting thing to happen to architecture since C.B. MacDonald realized his “ideal hole” architecture at National Golf Links of America.  The reversible course at Forest Dunes.

The architects segments were great, as was the commentary between Matt and Geoff, and I highly recommend combing through the clips as a means to find leads to take you on further explorations into the field of golf course architecture.

There are really only three things that disappointed me about this second Architects Week:

  1. The lack of new faces, other than Mike DeVries.  I understand the need for the big names to keep the ratings up and the momentum going for GCA coverage.  In spite of that reality, it would have been nice to have more international representation, and a no-less-talented, but lower-profile architect or two.
  2. The lack of “field time”.  The modern minimalists who are at the forefront of architecture today like Tom Doak, Mike DeVries and others consistently point to the field as the place where the rubber hits the road in GCA.  Driving a bulldozer, shaping the sandy earth, doing the finishing hand work – generally playing in the dirt – this is where architectural magic happens.  Although I love the interviews and the routing discussions, it would have been great to see Matt strolling and chatting with at least one architect on-site.
  3. The segments were just too darn short.  There was not a single segment on the show that didn’t leave me wanting more.  Much more.  At a certain level, good entertainment leaves you wanting more.  But golf architecture coverage goes beyond entertainment.  Given the time appropriate for a subject with the depth and breadth of GCA, it could be educational and inspirational.  It could truly expand the horizons of the audience, and connect them more deeply to the soul of the game.

 

I have made my argument for a regular GCA show on Golf Channel in this previous post.  Architects Week just reinforced my commitment to keep agitating until this gets done.

For now though, you can get your GCA fix on GolfClubAtlas.com, and here at the ever-expanding Geeked On Golf GCA Video Archive.


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 3 (Principles for Greatness)

The Community that surrounds and utilizes Canal Shores wants the property to remain multi-use.  It would be unacceptable to the stakeholders if the Canal Shores property was used solely for golf.  Even for a golf nut like me, reverting the property to a single-use golf facility would make it much less interesting and valuable than it is, or can be.

The question to answer in considering the future of Canal Shores is:

How can Canal Shores be evolved to provide the maximum enjoyment to the maximum number of stakeholders?

Given that that evolution is likely to take place slowly over time, it would be best to put in place a short list of guiding principles to act as “guard rails” moving forward.  Those principles help to ensure effectiveness in moving toward whatever vision for the property emerges from the community and the Board.

Mixed Use Principle

Currently, the value that Canal Shores provides is diminished because it is configured for “shared” use.  Golf and non-golf activities are done on the same ground, often at the same time.  This leads to conflicts of interest, and for the golf staff, course maintenance challenges.  To be truly great, Canal Shores will need to be reconfigured, planned and designed according to the mixed use principle.  This means that the land needs to be segregated with specific areas designated for specific activities.

Those activities break down into the following categories:

  1. Golf (highlighting youth and family golf)
  2. Trails (running, biking, hiking, cross-country skiing)
  3. Open fields (informal sports, picnicking)
  4. Conservation (restoration of native trees and plants, and wildlife habitat)

To designate areas for each of the activity categories means that the golf course would likely occupy a smaller portion of the land.  By applying the mixed-use principle, each category of stakeholder experiences increased enjoyment, as they each have their own space.  Additionally, the golf course superintendent has less of a repair and maintenance burden due to the use of the course for non-golf activities.

On a recent fall day, I headed out to the area of Canal Shores that contains the 15th green, 16th hole, and 17th tee.  This is also an area that is frequently used by dog walkers, and as a cut-through by train commuters and school kids.  The photos below illustrate the issues associated with shared use.

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Open Space PrincipleWideOpenFairways

In his book Wide Open Fairways: A Journey Across the Landscapes of Modern Golf, Bradley Klein lays out a case for the power that a golf course can have to positively impact a community.  It is a place for connection to our fellows and to nature.  It is a place for recreation and re-creation.  Under the stewardship of its new Board, Canal Shores is increasingly having that kind of impact.

Klein’s book title reveals both a commentary on golf course architecture and land use.  Too often, our general love of trees gets expressed in a way that diminishes the utility, and the beauty of an open space.  For more on that subject from a golf course architecture and maintenance perspective, read my previous post The Sweet Sound of Chainsaws.

Referring to the activity category list above, none of those activities is best experienced on land choked by brush and invasive species of trees.  Rather, application of the Open Space principle through a thoughtful program of tree management would provide several benefits:

  • Increased air flow and exposure to sun promotes healthier turf on the golf course, grass in the in areas designated for open field activities, and native prairie grass and flower species in areas designated for conservation.
  • Focus on cultivating native “specimen” trees enhances the beauty of the property and allows for educational opportunities within the community.
  • Opening up of views across the property provides an opportunity to highlight unique features of the property, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Creating more open space expands the potential for activities by the community.
  • Perhaps most obviously, in Chicagoland, we need all of the sun we can get.  We get plenty of shade from clouds.  We don’t need to artificially create more by allowing the Canal Shores property to turn into a forest.

Some people understandably have an adverse reaction when they see trees and vegetation being cut down.  From my experience though, when that removal is the first step in a broader plan of beautification and sustainability, they very rarely want it put back when they see the final product.

Sustainability Principle

This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.  It is not possible to consider oneself a responsible steward of the land, regardless of the use of that land, without having a commitment to environmental sustainability.

In the case of Canal Shores, greatness goes hand-in-hand with several sustainability objectives:

  • Creation and management of areas specifically designated for native tree, flower, and grass species that also serve as animal and bird habitat.
  • Minimizing water use, including on the golf course.
  • Minimizing or eliminating the use of hazardous fertilizers and pesticides and replacing them with organic equivalents.

Examples abound within the golf industry of sustainable course and land management practices on which Canal Shores can draw.  The recent renovation of Pinehurst #2 is one such example.

It is unlikely that Canal Shores will ever have a large enough budget to allow for expensive maintenance practices anyway, so transforming the land such that it is self-sustaining is more viable, both environmentally and fiscally.

Expertise Principle

There are some things in life that are appropriate for a do-it-yourself approach.  For now, the Canal Shores Board and supporting community are boot-strapping changes to the land.  There have been great strides made already to the condition of the course, and the property in general.

At some point though, in order to become a truly great facility, Canal Shores will have to bring in experts and let those experts do what they do best.  After all, I can treat my own cold, but I probably shouldn’t perform surgery on myself to remove my appendix.  Some things are better left to the experts.

Given the potential scope of an initiative to transform Canal Shores into a sustainable, multi-use, open space that is world-class, the Board and community could greatly benefit from the involvement of several experts:

  • Golf Course Architect
  • Landscape Architect
  • Arborist
  • Native plant experts (i.e. from the Chicago Botanic Garden)
  • Civil Engineer
  • Environmental Sustainability consultant
  • Golf / Multi-use facility developer (e.g. Mike Keiser)

If and when the time comes to create a Master Plan for the property, the input of experts such as these is critical to achieving greatness.  Further, adherence to agreed-upon principles such as those above, serves as insurance that a great outcome is achieved in the most effective and efficient manner possible.


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Clayts Speaks – An Interview with Architect Michael Clayton

If you are a golf nut, and you are not following Michael Clayton on Twitter (@MichaelClayto15) and/or listening to the State of the Game podcast, you really should be.  His perspectives are always informative and entertaining, and sometimes a little surly.  Best of all, he is an unapologetic defender of the spirit of this game we love, and he is working hard to channel that spirit into the golf course architecture work that he and his partners at OCCM Golf are doing.

Mike was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, which I share with you here, along with a photo tour of his firm’s work, which is fantastic.


Mike and his partners at OCCM have been involved in several high-profile projects in Australia and Tasmania, including Barnbougle Dunes, The Lakes, Bonnie Doon, and Victoria GC.  Strategic options off the tee afforded by wide fairways, varied and interesting green complexes, and attention to natural beauty are the design principles that they uphold.

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Photos by OCCM and Gary Lisbon Golf Photography

Check out the Australia & Tasmania section of the Geeked On Golf GCA Video archive for even more on OCCM’s work.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?OCCM-SevenMileBeach

I was playing in Europe and Australia and hadn’t ever thought of doing it – but two supers/consultants – John Sloan and Bruce Grant – asked me in 1995 if I was interested in starting a company together. They thought there was room for and a need for an alternative design company in Australia.

Who is your favorite Golden Era architect, and why?

Every Australian – except Peter Thomson who would pick Harry Colt – would pick MacKenzie because he had such an influence on golf in Australia.  He came here in 1926 and transformed the game by example and education of others who would advance the game after he left.

Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?

The biggest influence on my work is the combination of the best courses and the great books written on the subject – MacKenzie, Hunter, Thomas, Simpson and Wethered, Doak, Shackelford, Klein and others who have written so eloquently and sensibly on the game.  Growing up in the city of Royal Melbourne it is hard for anyone with any power of observation not to learn from the place.  Sadly many don’t.  Outside of golf?  Good question.  I need to think on that one a bit!

Describe your process for a new design.

Find the best routing.  Work out how to best get the course built and who we are going to use to help us get it done.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking course improvement initiatives?

They should learn the basics of good design and what makes a good hole – and what contributes to a hole not reaching its potential.  They should all read at the very minimum The Spirit of St Andrews and The Anatomy of a Golf Course.

What are the primary challenges you consistently face in trying to deliver results that are up to your standards?

Those who are looking after the work after we are gone doing that job well.  It varies.  Anthony Mills has done an incredible job at The Lakes looking after our work there.  Ian Todd too at Victoria.  They get the small detail stuff all the time.

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot in your work?

Perhaps when a hole polarizes people – you know it then has an element making it more interesting than some of the other holes.  Sometimes it’s hard to predict player reaction.  So many have such a distorted view of the role of ‘consistency’ and how ‘fair’ should be interpreted.  Fair is another word for dull.  The primary challenge of golf is dealing with its inherent unfairness and how can you make such a fickle game played over a wild 150 acre landscape ‘fair’?  The Old Course isn’t fair and that is at the heart of its greatness.

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

RoyalCanbera-AFunny you should ask. My answer to that question in Australia has always been Royal Canberra and we are half way through the front nine now – with the back nine and the 9 hole course to finish. It’s a beautiful site and a course far from its potential.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Building good holes and good courses.  Making something better of an existing course – but it’s not easy dealing with the politics.  It gets tiring dealing with people who have very little idea of what constitutes good golf.  We are not perfect and don’t always get it right but I think we have a good understanding of the principles of good design.  But the average member has never read, or even thought, about the subject, but that doesn’t stop them having an opinion.

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

In Australia – Royal Melbourne.  In Continental Europe – Morfontaine.  Britain – Woking.  USA – NGLA.

What are the top 3 new courses on your list to play next?

Seminole, Oakmont, Ballyneal.

What do you like about playing with “throwback” equipment?

Each wooden club has its own unique feel and look.  The fun of this part of the game was the continual search for a better driver or 3 wood – and the love you had for the clubs which served you well.  Now they are more effective but they have zero character and they are disposable as soon as something ‘better’ comes along.  ‘Better’ is the latest concept of the marketing department.

When you are not playing golf or building golf courses, what are you doing?

Making sure we don’t lose contact with our friends – it’s too easy to do and a full time job in itself.  We are lucky enough to have them all over the world.

Any interesting or challenging projects in process or on the horizon for you?

Mat Goggin has an incredible piece of land just out of Hobart in Tasmania. It’s the best site I have ever seen.  Sand dunes in the pine trees on the coast.

For even more from Mike, check out this older interview on GolfClubAtlas.com.


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Copyright 2015 – GeekedOnGolf, Jason Way