Geeked on Golf


Polishing Hidden Gems – Jim Nagle, Brian Bossert and Bryn Mawr Country Club

Conversation about Chicago golf often focuses on the big names – Chicago Golf Club, Olympia Fields, Medinah – and fairly so.  But Chicago is also home to quite a few classic courses that qualify as hidden gems.  I am fortunate to have access to regularly play one of those gems, the Langford & Moreau designed Bryn Mawr Country Club.

(Photos courtesy of Dan Moore Golf)

Bryn Mawr is a beautiful course and has always been tremendous fun to play.  To quote my friend and BMCC member Peter, “I travel all over the country and play all of these great courses, and when I come home, I realize that my favorite course in the world is Bryn Mawr.”  In 2013, the club undertook a renovation project led by a collaboration of Golf Course Architect Jim Nagle of Forse Design and Superintendent Brian Bossert.

From my player’s perspective, Jim and Brian’s work had several positive outcomes:

  • Tree removal added scenic beauty and new strategic decisions.
  • Bunker repositioning and updates added interest and challenge.
  • Reshaping of green complex run-offs and chipping areas added variety and fun to the short game.

Having had the pleasure of experiencing the final product, I was curious to learn more about the process.  Jim and Brian were kind enough to agree to share about the practice of their craft, and their work together.  Also included are photos from Jim of the par 3 6th and 16th, the par 4 3rd and 11th, and the par 5 18th.


How did you get into the business?

BB: I grew up a couple hours south of Chicago; in Dwight, Illinois. The local golf course provided a very encouraging environment for a young boy to experience the game.  Golf is hard to learn, but my best friend was from an enthusiastic golfing family and was already very proficient when I got started playing in grade school.  Additionally, even the best adult players at our club willingly spent time teaching us to play.  We took lessons, played all the time and long story short; I fell in love with golf as a player.

There were numerous work opportunities at the local course; cleaning up after dinner parties, retrieving lost balls in the water hazards and then working in the pro shop and eventually on the course.  I enjoyed seeing how just a few hours of hard work could result in a better looking golf course.  We had fun on the job too; decided to pursue it as a career path.  It’s amazing how many folks from the little town of Dwight ended up in the business; all a credit to the encouraging community and supportive parents.  Golf was very accessible for me; also reasonably priced and it was fun.  The opposite seems to be some of what is keeping youngsters from experiencing the great game today.

JN: This question could be answered in so many ways.  Looking back on it now, there is no doubt the desire was there as a kid to do something in design.  It wasn’t until July 1986 that I discovered that golf course architecture was an actual profession.  At that time, I was headed to either Brandeis University to study architecture or Roger Williams (outside Newport, RI) to study construction sciences with a desire to restore/rebuild old homes – kind of a This Old House vision.  Once I discovered golf course architecture and how it combined so many things I was interested in – golf, designing, drawing and construction – I decided to pursue a degree in Landscape Architecture.  There are so many moments from that July epiphany to when I actually ended up working full-time – chance meeting with Pete Dye, a classmates father building the Pete Dye Golf Club (WV), a Landscape Architecture firm hiring a kid out of college to get them into golf design, working my summers for Dye Design, meeting Ron Forse are just a few – that I have come to truly see that I am where I am today through Providence, and not luck or coincidence.  It makes me thankful every day when I really think about what I am doing.

As for meeting up with Ron Forse, we met while I was a student at West Virginia University when we had Ron come down and speak with then associate, Bruce Hepner.  He and Bruce talked about their various projects wherein there was an emphasis on the growing work in classic restoration.  I was fascinated by their presentation.  With restoration you add history, archeology, the roots of the game as it came to America, various designers and their tendencies on top of the other aspects of golf design.  It was very intriguing.  Ron asked me to join him in early 1998 and I left the firm I was working with and have been a part of Forse Design since then.

How did the two of you connect?

JN: Both Brian and I were attending a Men’s Prayer Breakfast at the Golf Course Superintendents Annual Conference and happened to be sitting beside one another.  Brian’s name tag indicated he was from Illinois.  I was born in Illinois but moved away to PA at a very young age, but all of my relatives still live in IL and we return as often as possible.  Anyway, I asked him where he was from and he indicated North of Chicago.  Told him I was born in the Central part of the state and still had family there.  Now my hometown is a town of 450 people.  Not many people know a town in Central Illinois with a population on 450.  Brian did!  He was born in a town just 15 miles away.  Turns out he also played competitive golf against the family which my Aunt married into who owned a course outside of Streator, IL.  The coincidences kept piling up.  It was a great introduction and a “foot in the door” opportunity to talk about working with each other.  Thankfully, we have developed a great working relationship and friendship, even after discovering we root for baseball teams on the opposite sides of Chicago.

BB: Small world one would say.  I tend to think it was meant to be.

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

BB: From our end, it started with need.  Players are generally more in tune to conditioning needs vs. architectural enhancements and we had some playability/conditioning issues.  Bunker conditions were inconsistent and in some cases poor, an excessive number of trees were compromising turf quality and site lines, and drainage issues existed on the flat property.  There was also a desire for a more interesting course with additional variety; the playing experience needed to be more memorable.  I would say that we weren’t long on “wow factor”.

JN: Forse Design looks at every project in the same manner.  Be it new, restoring a classic course, a retro-rebuild (start over from tee to green) or a renovation project, we always begin with reviewing the course and looking at three elements: Strategy, Naturalness and Variety.  We also look at the foundation of the course, its routing and green complexes.  In many cases these two items are not going to change, but it provides insight into how good the course is and what we can do with it.  We have to also look at the “genius of the place”.  What about the overall appearance, playability, memorability and enjoyment of the course do the members discuss the most or what we see as being worthy of recognition and to build upon or enhance.  As one can see the process is approached from many different angles.

With Bryn Mawr in particular we saw a great opportunity to enhance a course that lost its luster over the years with excessive tree planting, bunkers that did not fit the landscape, greens that had shrunken and a course that was difficult to recall because of the trees, parallel holes and par groups that were similar in length.  As previously mentioned strategy, naturalness and variety are key elements we consider when looking at a course and what we strive for when the project is done.  They each can be explained as follows:

  • Strategy.  A good golf course is one that tests the golfer’s wit as well as his ball-striking ability.  Strategy requires a golfer to apply varying values to his successive shots on a golf hole.  If a golfer risks a hazard on the tee shot he should be rewarded with an easier approach shot to the green.  Strategy implies alternate routes from the tee to the green.  This means that the golf hole should be sufficiently wide to give players choices of direction. The golfer may choose to hit around trouble but has a proportionately lesser chance at par if he does so. The bunkering and other hazards thus come into play for the bogey golfer as well as the scratch golfer.  The beauty of the strategic design is that the bogey golfer can enjoy his round as much as the scratch golfer.  Also, these strategic courses are forever enjoyable for every golfer’s ability.
  • Variety. Monotony is the enemy of a well designed golf course.  A good course has as much variety as possible in the look of the holes, the types of shots required, the holes’ direction, and the lie of the ball on the terrain.  God-created ground is infinitely more interesting than most of what man can make.  Ideally, the sequence of par is broken up and each hole has its own distinct character.  Furthermore, each green is unique and all the bunkers are distinct.
  • Naturalness. Nothing on a good course is done in a contrived or unnatural way.  It should always look as though nature had the part in the creation of the features.

When dealing with a restoration the architect must be able to understand the original designer’s traits, his style of green contours, bunker placement, scale, size and configurations. Forse Design is known for being able to discern these principles and apply them appropriately to the topographic opportunities and character of a course.

Bryn Mawr has a challenging collection of par 3s, including the side-by-side 6th (long) and 16th (short).  This area was the subject of significant tree removal which opened up outstanding views.

What were your goals going into the project?

BB: There were several; a partial list would include more teeing options, a more challenging finishing hole, opening up the corridors of play and addressing the bunkers.  With Jim’s guidance, we were able to do this and recapture some of the original architectural intent and genius of Langford and Moreau.

JN: Like any project our goal list can often exceed 15 overall goals, all of which are prioritized based upon member feedback and input from the Superintendent.  Those goals vary from project to project in terms of their priorities but often the items are the same.  Here are a sampling of goals that were important to Bryn Mawr:

  • Eliminate drainage problems.
  • Recapture original green edges and thus the available (increased) cupping areas.
  • Provide agronomically sound and level tees.
  • Provide a more challenging 18th hole.
  • Provide adequate tee space.
  • Provide playable golf holes for ladies and seniors.
  • Restore strategy and shot-value to the golf course.
  • Retain and/or relocate hazards consistent with restoration of shot values, modern playing equipment and turf grooming practices.
  • Restore original green designs and edges, thus increasing the available cup locations.
  • Restore collection areas.
  • Restore/create bunkering scheme that infuses a variety of character, distances, locations, severity/ease and recovery techniques, especially for fairway bunkers.
  • Provide continuity in the appearance and playability of all course bunkers.
  • Provide bunker faces/edges that reduce the need for edging or turf replacement.
  • Emphasize ground and other terrain features.
  • Accentuate specimen trees and eliminate vegetation that is not compatible with healthy turf.
  • Reopen closed lines-of-play.  Reestablish multi-angled shot options.
  • Make the golf course as safe as possible.
  • Reduce maintenance problems and associated costs.

One item that was very important to us was correcting (expanding) the scale of the bunkers.  Langford did a masterful job creating undulations on what was an otherwise flat property.  His earliest plans and early photos of the course show large bunkers of irregular shapes and sizes.  When we came to the course we found large bunkers but many of the sand lines were hidden by mounds of earth or capes sweeping into the bunkers. We felt strongly that the size of the bunkers as seen in the earliest photos needed to be larger and more visible.  Scale was the one word we kept repeating through the entire process.  We have come to the conclusion that larger bunkers are necessary on flat courses.

The course also has three short par 4’s (#’s 3, 7 & 11) which were similar because of the tree-lined fairways, bunker schemes and limited visibility of the sand, and as with most of the course the greens were fronted both left and right with sand.  When a course has 18 holes of greens fronted both left and right with bunkers there is a need to create more variety by modifying their locations around the greens or by eliminating one or both of the bunkers.  We wanted to make three distinct short par 4’s, each of which would become memorable and unique.  Additionally, the par 5 5th and 15th holes are parallel and had similar issues as the short 4’s.  We had to make each stand out.

Bryn Mawr’s par 4s can make you hit every club in the bag.  Particularly fun are the short 4s – risk/reward at its finest.

What were your biggest concerns going into the project?

JN: Trees, trees and trees.  Trees and forward tees can be the most controversial issues for any master plan.  People love trees and hate to see them cut down and it seems women do not want to play a shorter course (perceived as easier or their handicaps do not travel well).  The latter is often proven to be untrue once the ladies have an opportunity to play from shorter more equitable tees.  Not necessarily easier tees, more equitable.

At the time of our initial visit Bryn Mawr was one of the more overly populated courses when it came to trees.  We see it a lot, no one person is to blame.  We just wanted to take a sensible approach to tree management.  Luckily the club had already initiated a tree management program prior to our arrival.  We knew things were going to work out in the long run after they took our advice prior to hiring us and uncovered one of the most beautiful and graceful Elms I have ever witnessed.  Based on our recommendation they cut down any surrounding inferior tree that was impacting the Elm or a view of it.  It’s what we call accentuating a specimen.  Another concern of the committee was to give them a finishing hole that they could be proud of and create greater tension for its members.  We felt confident we could meet those desires.

BB: I was very concerned about our timeline.  We didn’t get started until the middle of September; we knew going in that a percentage of the work was going to spill into the following spring.  I never like counting on spring weather for construction.  Of course I was also concerned about how well received the work would be by our membership.  More than a few of our members loved the course as it was; simply didn’t see the need for the improvements.

Did you have any design or construction documentation from Langford and Moreau?  If so, to what degree did it influence the work?

JN: The information available to us was a drawing from L&M which was completed in 1921.  The routing shown on the plan is exactly as the course existed, with the exception of the 11th now being a short 4 and not a par 3 as shown on the plan.  The plan was helpful, however, we also had an aerial photo from the 30’s which proved to be most helpful.  In our minds, aerial photos often trump plans in terms of influencing the finished product.  A plan does not always represent what was actually built.

We had to be careful how we approached the project when discussing “restoration”.  A true restoration was not at the forefront of the membership as the project progressed.  What was evident to us was that to try and create something totally new was not going to be possible when one considered the earthworks created by L&M.  We always look for natural land forms to place hazards so long as they work with the desired shot values and strategies. The features we look for were created and therefore we looked back to move forward.  Restoration was not discussed often, but it was always on our minds because of the earthworks created by L&M.  We did not put everything back exactly as it was, but we did try to where possible and where practical.  In some instances there were features that no longer existed and would not be restored on a particular hole but were well suited elsewhere.  These features provided inspiration for improving other holes.

Beyond achieving aesthetic and playability improvements, were there maintenance upgrade and/or sustainability aspects to the project?

JN: There are with every project.  Drainage was a major component of the project and we needed to create bunkers that drained well and at the same time were not going to require a budget increase to maintain them.  It appears to date that has been successful.  With the desire to improve the scale of the bunkers, we knew sand would be flashed higher up on the bunker faces.  This can create wash-out problems if not constructed properly.  We prefer a flat-bottomed bunker that saucers at the face and sweeps up to meet the grass above. Coupled with a synthetic liner and a proven construction method, we have been told the bunkers are holding up well, draining and experiencing very little to no washouts.

BB: Prior to the project; the bunker washouts were a huge issue.  Depending on severity; as many as 160 man-hours were required to restore the bunkers to a playable state.  Playing conditions are greatly compromised for a day or more when that happens.  That’s also very hard work and tough on employee morale when it takes place twice in the same week.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project?

BB: Let’s be fair; the scope of this project was originally greater.  However, it was voted down by our membership in 2010.  Patience was required before going back to the drawing board with a more appropriately sized plan.  For me, revising the scope was a very difficult process; tough to match up the budget and scope of work.  Additionally, the timeline for completing the work was very tight.

JN: Looking back on it, there really were not many challenges that ultimately became unmanageable.  Honing in on the scope-of-work was a challenge for the team until we got some numbers back from the contractors.  Once we had an idea of solid bid numbers, our marching orders were more definite.  Budget did resurface just before construction started.  As mentioned earlier, we continued to stress the importance of scale throughout the process.  There is a lot of sand surface area at Bryn Mawr.  Before we started the project, we were asked to reduce the size of many of the bunkers and even eliminate a few.  We were worried that this might impact the overall vision of the finished product. We were able to work within the parameters by reducing bunker square footages here and there, lower a few sand lines and still provide a product we were very happy with.

The work at Bryn Mawr has been generally applauded as a huge success. When did you first realize that you had pulled off a victory?

JN: Two times – Ron Forse and I truly work as a team.  We try to collaborate as much as possible either in the office working on the designs or in the field challenging one another and providing input to help improve a project.  Bryn Mawr ultimately became a project which I took the lead on.  Ron visited the course just after we completed the project and was very complimentary of the work.  Secondly, as I was flying out of Chicago on my last visit, the skies had opened up and dumped a significant amount of rain on the region.  It will be the storm and flood Windy City residents will talk about for decades to come.  I called Brian expecting to hear the worst about wash-outs, flooded bunkers…His comment was “no damage”.  The bunkers held up to a devastating storm.

BB: Member feedback was and continues to be very positive; that is the ultimate measuring stick.  Despite no real topography; the look of the course has improved immensely.  Additional teeing options have given every caliber of player an appropriate distance to play from.  There is a lot that I like about the results!

Bryn Mawr’s par 5 closing hole now has back tees added to increase challenge and flexibility of setup.  Bunker repositioning adds to the interest and makes this hole an exclamation point on a classic golf experience.

What is the thing you respect most about your collaborator (i.e. the other guy)?

JN: Integrity and graciousness.  Brian trusted us with a course that he has managed for quite some time.  He always put his membership at the forefront as we discussed design ideas and solutions.  He challenged us when we needed it and always listened to the ideas and concepts we were putting forth whether he agreed with them or not.  In the end working with Brian improved my abilities as a designer and me as a person.

BB: I’ve come to know Jim pretty well personally; he’s a man of character.  This kind of work can be a political hot potato at times; he showed incredible patience throughout the process.  As I stated, just getting to the starting line was challenging.  Jim is also very humble; was trying to bring out the best of Langford’s work without being concerned with putting his own stamp on our course.  When you trust the guy you’re working with, you can keep busy on the task at hand; I was never worried about any personal agendas.  Forse Design has a very solid reputation and it’s well deserved.

What do you love most about your work?

BB: I grew up to love the game of golf as a player, so I simply like being around the game.  I also take pride in the course our staff prepares for play.  If the membership enjoys their time here; that’s a benchmark of our success.  Personally, I get most amped up for the member-guest days and our competitive events; really enjoy the challenge of seeing the heightened effort come together for a couple days of something closer to perfect.

JN: This might sound cliché, but all of it.  When it really boils down to it, I would say it’s being in the field seeing a design come to fruition.  Whether it’s seeing the strategies played out; vistas being opened and the natural ground revealed through past masses of trees; or greens being expanded and the reinstatement of lost hole locations, all of it is very exciting.  When restoring a course looking back upon the history of a facility is never dull.  The architects of the “Golden Age” were geniuses.  The game was much different then and courses were built primarily around risk and reward.  Studying their tendencies and original creations is never boring.  There is always something to learn.

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

BB: I’m guessing this one was for Jim.  For me; yes, trying to find a healthy work/life balance is a challenge.

JN: 2014 was a banner year for Forse Design.  We had a number of projects that have yet to be opened for play.  To us, they are all interesting.  So many of our projects are “hidden gems”.  Lesser known courses designed by a variety of architects that are fun to play day in and day out.  We can’t wait to hear how what the members think of the work.  Places like Pine Hills C.C. (WI), Lebanon C.C. (PA), Northampton C.C. (PA), Manufacturer’s G & CC (PA), Pine Brook C.C. (MA) and The Haven (MA) all performed significant work in 2014.  The project that consumed most of our time in 2014 was the complete renovation of Charles Alison’s Davenport Country Club.  We built seven new greens, expanded and sand capped the remaining eleven, regrassed the entire course, rebuilt every bunker and tee, expanded fairways, removed hundreds of trees and built new practice areas in about six weeks.  It was a great collaboration and one we cannot wait to see reopen.

As for 2015 and beyond, we are excited that Lancaster Country Club (PA) will be hosting the US Women’s Open this year.  We just completed work at Rolling Green Golf Club (PA) which will be hosting the 2016 USGA Women’s Amateur and we are currently preparing to do some work at Salem Country Club, host of the 2017 US Sr. Open.  We also have another Langford and Moreau course, Minnehaha C.C. (SD) on the boards with thoughts of rebuilding in the next couple of years.

One last project we look forward to seeing through to completion is Green Valley C.C. outside of Philadelphia.  Green Valley was originally owned and designed by William Flynn.  The course is now private but was designed as a public facility and its original layout did not rival Flynn’s many cherished Philly area courses.  We have an opportunity to infuse great interest, variety and strategy into the course bringing it in-line with his other masterpieces.  Yet, with all the work we have, there is one project looming that we have yet to secure – a new 18 hole modern classic that harkens back to the strategies and character of the Golden Age but can stand up to today’s playing equipment and golfers.

For even more from Jim Nagle, watch his recent presentation to the Philadelphia GolfClubAtlas gathering courtesy of Matt Frey (on Twitter at @MFreyPGA).

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Journey Along the Shores – Part 6 (4 Course Concept)

Cutting down trees, hacking out brush, and hauling debris for hours on end gives a man plenty of time to think.  During one of these cleanup sessions recently, many of the thoughts that had been swirling around in my head crystalized into a new vision for what might be done with the golf portion of the Canal Shores property.

To be clear, my Grounds Committee mates and I are still in the early stages of planning what Canal Shores might ultimately become.  That in mind, this concept is not put forth as a plan, but rather as an answer to a question that has been hanging over the game for some time:

How can the game of golf be more flexible, family friendly and fun?

My answer is called the 4 Course Concept, and I share it here as an invitation for feedback.  Looking forward to hearing from you – leave your comments here, hit me up on Twitter @JasonWay1493 or email me at

Canal Shores – 4 Courses in 1 Special Place

After walking the property, exploring features and pacing off potential holes, it is feasible for the Canal Shores property to contain 4 distinct “courses” providing different, fun golf experiences for multiple generations of golfers.

Breaking the property down into multiple courses would allow golfers with busy schedules (which is most of us) the flexibility to enjoy the game without necessarily being on the hook for 4-5 hours.

The 4 Courses (as illustrated in the aerials that follow) would be:

  • Long Course – North of Central (Sections A-D), 12 holes, par 3s and 4s.
  • Putting Course – North end of the area adjacent to the clubhouse (Section E).
  • Chipping Course – South end of the area adjacent to the clubhouse (Section E).
  • Short Course – South of Central (Sections E&F), 6 holes, par 3s.

Please note that the routing only indicates the rough locations of back tees and greens.  Each hole would have multiple tees to maximize interest and enjoyment for all skill levels, including “Play It Forward” tees ~100 yards from each green.

This routing fits in line with our macro vision of a mixed use green space serving all of our stakeholders.

The Long Course

As the routing aerials below illustrate there is ample room to hold 12 holes – 4 par 4s ranging from 250-330 yards, and 8 par 3s with a variety of distances from 80-200 yards.  Only minor changes would need to be made to the holes in Sections B and D.

Real opportunity exists to create new and exciting holes in Sections A and C.  Section A could hold 3 fantastic par 3s in the shadow of the Baha’i Temple, including a blind Short and a Redan. The topography of Section C is currently drastically underutilized with hidden sites for new tees and greens that could provide truly thrilling shots if uncovered.

The Long Course is not likely to ever be considered “hard”, but we’re not concerned with difficulty.  We’re concerned with interest, beauty, variety and above all fun.  The Long Course could be all of those things, and more – it could be truly unique.
The Putting & Chipping Courses

Inspired by my visit to Bandon Dunes Resort’s Punchbowl, and similar courses in Scotland, these two courses would be in the section of the property that is “in the back yard” of the club house.  This section is between two busy streets in our community, and is adjacent to a Community Center.

Whether it’s businesspeople grabbing a sunny lunch break, families on the weekends, Northwestern University students decompressing, or gangs of joyful kids, these courses would be intended as a place of gathering for maximum fun as well as an introduction to the game.
The Short Course
This area of the course is relatively nondescript in terms of features, but with the exception of the location of #1, there is quite a bit of space.  The Short Course could contain 6 par 3s with low-moderate difficulty from the tee, but big, fun greens that would allow players of lower skill levels to be challenged without sacrificing fun.
Large greens could contain oversized “kids cups” as well as regulation cups to increase family playability.  The extra space could be used for Foot Golf or Frisbee Golf courses, thus expanding the multiple use options for the community, and revenue streams for Canal Shores.
Whereas Canal Shores currently contains 18 holes that are laid out in a standard, rigid fashion, the 4 Course Concept would allow the player to choose the length of their round, the level of challenge, and the variety.  The golf would play in “loops”, with the player being the master of their time and experience.  Finish one loop of one course, feel free to try a different course.  Want another crack at the one you just finished?  No problem.  Hop back over to the first tee and have another loop.

As I write this post, I find myself excited about the possibility of spending my days looping around the courses at Canal Shores.  Am I the only one who feels that way?  I guess we’ll see…

More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Journey Along the Shores – Part 5 (Tree Management)

CanalShores3-ReclaimedRidgelineOur tree management program has begun in earnest at Canal Shores.  Our strategy, which is built up on the Wide Open Spaces principle, is two-phased:

1.  Remove overgrowth and invasive species.

2.  Highlight remaining specimen trees while supplementing them modestly with conifer and deciduous species that we have selected for their beauty and native restoration qualities.

The list of selected tree species will be covered in detail in upcoming posts.  For now, focus is on phase 1.  Before sharing about our progress and findings thus far, let’s ask and answer a legitimate question:

Why go to all this trouble?  Why not just leave tree management to Mother Nature?

The members of the Board and Grounds Committee are inherently proactive and not keen on passively letting opportunities to improve Canal Shores slip by.  Beyond that quality of the people, there are several reasons why we have implemented a tree management program.

1.  Turf Health – Our Superintendent Tom Tully’s primary job is to grow and maintain turf on which it is enjoyable to play golf.  An overabundance of trees growing in the wrong places make that job more difficult and expensive.  Trees compete with turf for water and sunlight, and they usually win.  We do not have the funds to water more than the minimum, nor to continuously replace struggling turf areas.  Further, every golf course must be looking for ways to cut water usage in today’s culture of sensitivity to sustainability issues.  Simply put, we are tipping the scales in favor of our turf.

2.  Maintenance Costs – It might seem that doing nothing until one absolutely has to is the cheapest route to take.  In addition to the increased costs of maintaining healthy turf, improperly managed trees can cause costly course damage, property damage, and injury.  Any competent manager knows that proactive management of an asset is always cheaper in the long run than an approach of neglect that leads to the need for periodic crisis management.

3.  Maximizing Pleasure – There is an overwhelming consensus among Canal Shore’s stakeholders that the overgrown state of the property is much less beautiful than it could be.  Unique features are obscured and vistas are limited.  Tree management is a key factor in increasing beauty, which in turn increases pleasure.  For Canal Shores’s golfers, excessive and misplaced trees reduce the playability of the course.  While successfully navigating a strategically placed tree can be very pleasurable, constantly threading the needles of playing corridors choked by trees…not so much.  Enhancing the beauty, interest and playability of Canal Shores through tree management maximizes pleasure.

The case for tree removal and management from a golf perspective are covered further in my previous post The Sweet Sounds of Chainsaws.

The bottom line is this:  There are important reasons to take affirmative action with regard to tree management.  As stewards of this special place, it is our responsibility to actively manage the land that has been entrusted to us.

The slide show below shares our initial efforts on the Jans Holes (#3).  We have already created more width for golfers, as well as discovered specimen trees, and gorgeous curves and contours along the ridge line.

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More updates on our progress to come…

More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


An Evening with Jim Urbina

JimandMeAs a member of, I was fortunate to be able to attend a dinner with my fellow GCA geeks this week at which Jim Urbina gave an insightful talk that he themed, The Evolution of a Golf Course.  From his original collaborations with Tom Doak on courses such as Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald and Sebonack, to his restorations of classics such as Pasatiempo and Valley Club of Montecito, Jim continues to make his mark and connect us to the soul of the game.

There were a few nuggets that Jim shared that I found particularly interesting – I happily pass them along to you.

“Pete Dye never looked at plans.”

Jim’s first job in the business was working for Pete Dye.  His first day was spent digging a drainage ditch.  He quit after that first day.  An offer from Mr. Dye to operate a bulldozer if he came back for a second day worked, and the rest is history.  Jim was brought up in the school of GCA that considers designing a course and building it to be inseparable aspects of one, unified job.  He learned his craft by studying great courses, and then coming back to his projects to apply those learnings while walking the land and digging in the dirt.  The pride and joy of creation is evident in the way that Jim talks about projects like Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald.


“Evolution of the course starts from the day you plant the seed.”

Having worked on many restorations of Golden Age golf courses, Jim has seen how far some of those courses have strayed from the original designers’ intent.  Beyond the painstaking work of returning these courses to their original greatness, Jim shared an interesting insight about how courses evolve over time.  That evolution doesn’t happen only because of misguided redesigns or decisions by Greens Committees.  Evolution is happening every day on a golf course because it is a living, breathing thing.  He reminded us, “You become a part of the golf course.”  Blast sand out of a bunker, you are subtly changing the contours of the green.  Take a divot and repair it in the fairway, you are changing that fairway forever.  Walk a well worn path, from a green to the next tee, you are participating in the evolution of the course.

Even with a restoration, the course will never be quite the same as it was on the first day it opened.  Our job as stewards of our courses is to guard the spirit of the design while allowing the evolution to happen as it will.  Courses evolve, whether we like it or not.


“There are seasons of golf. You shouldn’t try and make every season the same season.”

Jim fielded a question about expectations for course conditioning, specifically in the spring.  His answer went in a different direction than the questioner had anticipated.  He pointed out that the turf, soil, and sand of a golf course go naturally through the changes of the seasons.  The course looks different, and it plays differently during those seasons if we leave it alone.  We as golfers often ask our Superintendents to make the golf course look and play the same throughout the year, and this is something that Jim has never understood.  From his perspective, why not enjoy the changing of the seasons and the variety that those seasons add to your golf course, especially in temperate climates?  Well, when you put it that way…

His answer to this question got to the larger issue of player expectations, and how many of those expectations are out of whack.  Firmess, green speeds, rough height…these are debates that are ongoing and are worthy of their own pages.  I believe Jim would say, as a rule, the more natural a course can be maintained, the better.  When in doubt, go with what Nature would do.


Beyond being incredibly gracious, Jim’s experience around the globe and over the decades has clearly resulted in wisdom about this game we love.  The years and the miles have not dampened his enthusiasm, however.  As he told us, “Everything I do is about passion.”  Passion for the work of creation, passion to learn, and passion to continue spreading his gospel of what the game is all about.  This quote from his website sums it up: “Golf is supposed to be fun, spread the word.”

For more from Jim Urbina:


Journey Along the Shores – Part 4 (First Steps)

The Canal Shores Grounds Committee spent the winter sharing ideas, from the blue sky big picture all the way down to the nitty gritty details.  Spring has sprung, and it is time to get into action.

While our long-term Master Plan is in the skunkworks stage, we decided that we still want to move forward with making the cost-effective improvements that we can.  We will, however, be making those improvements with the Principles for Greatness and ultimate vision in mind, so as not to waste scarce resources.

Section D (Isabella to Central) which contains holes 3, 11 and 12.

Section D (Isabella to Central) which contains holes 3, 11 and 12.

Our immediate priorities fall into 3 categories:

1.  Tees and Greens – Our Superintendent Tom Tully and his team have made great strides in the quality of the two most important elements of any golf course for playability.

  • Players can expect conditioning to continue to improve.
  • We will likely be moving some tees and possibly adding Tee It Forward markers for kids and people who would rather play the course as a pitch-and-putt.
  • Greens complexes will evolve to include puttable chipping areas, with the intention of increasing interest and fun.

2.  Clean-Up – Due to years of neglect, the property has turned into a dumping ground for trash and debris.  We will continue clean-up efforts, including beginning to progressively eradicate invasive tree species such as buckthorn and mulberry.  Our “broken windows theory” is that the more we demonstrate care for the property, the less likely people will be to disrespect it by littering.

3.  Outside-In Buffering – In Part 3, I shared our Principle of Mixed Use (vs. shared use).  We will begin to segregate the property by establishing walking paths on the perimeter and buffer zones of long grass.  We will also introduce the first test plots of native grasses and flowers.  This initial step will introduce the intended look of the property, while improving enjoyment for golfers and safety for non-golfers.

While work will be ongoing throughout the property, our efforts will be most heavily concentrated on Section D (Isabella to Central).  This section includes holes 3 (par 4), 11 (par 3) and 12 (par 4).  There is a sense of urgency around addressing this section in part because it contains some of the most interesting features of the property, and in part because it is the source of the greatest number of neighbor complaints.

With our list of priorities in hand, we spring into action.  Stay tuned for further updates, and if you see us out on The Shores, feel free to come lend a hand.  We’ll take all the help we can get.

More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


The Past Brought Forward – An Interview with Architect Ian Andrew

From his design blog, to his articles on, to his Twitter posts, it is easy for a golf geek to lose oneself in the writings of Ian Andrew.  With his depth of knowledge, respect for tradition and pure love of the game of golf, wandering through Ian’s thoughts is like a trip around the greatest golf course you can imagine – interesting, challenging and fun.

As much as he writes, Ian has his boots on the ground and his hands in the dirt even more.  His original and restoration work can be found throughout North America, and represents the classic spirit of the game.  I was lucky enough to catch Ian while the winter snow has him on a momentary pause, and he kindly took the time to share his thoughts with us.



How did you get introduced to the game of golf?  

I used to watch tournament golf with my father.  It was while watching the Pebble Beach Pro Am that I fell in love with the golf courses.  The event and celebrities were not near as interesting as seeing these epic holes along the ocean.  I began to draw detailed plans of the course while watching TV.  By the end of the event I asked my father if you can actually work as a course designer.  Once he said yes, I set my sights and he responded by buying me books about golf architecture.  I was 13 at the time.

When did you know that game had a hold on you?

Ian teeing off at Highlands Links in 1981.

Ian teeing off at Highland Links in 1981.

My father signed me up at the local municipal course that same summer. He gave me the proper grip, some swing instruction and made me pass an etiquette test before I could play on my own. It only took a couple of games for me to become obsessed with the game.

What was the first great course you played?

My father took me to play Highlands Links when I was 16.  I was awestruck by this oceans and mountains golf course.  It was far better than anything else I had ever seen or played.  It began our habit of making yearly golf trips that frustrated my mother to no end.  We ended up playing at Pinehurst, New York, Monterrey and Scotland over the next six years.  I later took him to Ireland to say thank you.

How did you get into the business?

I actually did my first Master Plan and built my first green as a teenager, but I don’t consider that as “in the business”.  I contacted all the top Canadian architects and arranged to meet or interview with them whether they had a position available or not.  I had an offer and worked part time for Doug Carrick, but stayed to finish school.  I ended up waiting a few years, but he called once he had an opening and I started with him.  That put me in the business.

Ian with his father at Royal County Down.

Ian with his father at Royal County Down.

Who has influenced you the most?

My father, he was an excellent businessman whose specialty was turning around failing companies.  His approach was to understand the entire operation before making any decisions.  He believed success in business was simple: great service, an excellent product sold at a fair price.  That brought you loyalty from your customers when you needed them.  I believe the same today and I think that is why things have worked out fine for me.

What about someone in golf?

Within golf, there is no single person. I began to learn about architecture from the books written during the Golden Age and I have sought out the work of just about every significant designer.  My key influence has shifted multiple times as I’ve become exposed to more architects work and different thoughts of my own on design.

I have also spent time with all the top architects in this current era, looking at their key projects, and even working with some.  I’m a sponge, so will ask and learn from anyone I meet.  I consider everything I read or hear and then decide on what fits with my own personal philosophy of golf architecture.

I do have a couple of golf course architects with whom I talk regularly.  We have learned from each other, discussed and debated the more complex issues we face in our work and even tackled deeper philosophical questions about architecture.  They are an excellent resource.

You take the time to share photos and histories of classic courses with your audience. Why do you think that is important?

I want people to be aware of what is still out there and to become very protective over what is architecturally important.  I think too much of the great Golden Age architecture is being altered now and too much is at risk.  I am the culmination of all the great work that I have gone to see and study.  If we lose the great work of important architects, then we lose their lessons and contributions.

Pick an iconic golf hole and tell us about the features that make that hole great that we might not have noticed.

The 6th hole at The Creek Club

The set-up is important.  Raynor takes you across the flattest section of the property and through the trees for the opening five holes.  When you come out of the trees and onto the 6th tee a spectacular panorama is opened for you down over to the holes below and out to the ocean beyond.  This technique is called compression and release, and it increases your reaction through spatial change.

The tee shot appears fairly simple because there is plenty of room out on the right and the bunker barely comes into play.  The problem with playing to the right is from that angle you’re pretty much dead.  The forest along the left defends the ideal line off the tee.  Therefore you must hit a light draw around that tree line to gain the ideal position and find a small plateau ideal for playing your approach.

It’s on the approach where the architecture begins to take center stage.  The green is a reverse redan (falling hard from front left to back right) and Raynor has incredulously raised the surroundings in front to create a punchbowl setting for the green.  The audaciousness to add that front ridge to a very natural reverse redan setting is mind-boggling.  The shot is a delicately placed fade into the throat to access the front pins or a play to the front left to access the back pin positions.  A ball hit at any pin is a fool’s play.

It is my favourite hole in golf.

Describe your process for a design project.

I begin with a philosophical question: What experience do I want them to have?  There are so many options on style, set-up, approach, etc.  You also have to address what everyone’s expectations are and how you can reconcile their needs with your own philosophy in a way that works for both of you.  For example, when we built Laval, we had to plan for a Canadian Open and membership play.  We solved that riddle with our design approach, based very much on the Sandbelt Courses of Melbourne and how fun they were for day-to-day play, and how tough they could be made with a firm, tight turf and edge pin locations.

When it comes to routing, my personal methodology is to walk the property looking for vistas to borrow (or avoid), features that will make great ground for golf and natural places to end a hole.  I collect as many as I can without worrying about the routing.  I also like to accumulate options to naturally move uphill, since these are often the keys to an imaginative and walkable routing where no transitional holes are required.  Finally, I believe a great set of threes is a paramount, so I identify the most dramatic locations possible and try to incorporate them into the eventual routing.

The next step requires persistence and patience.  You find a few alternatives to walk through and you go test each one.  You’re looking for a continuous journey through the landscape without interruptions.  It should be a terrific walk long before it becomes holes.  So you discard sections that lack, add other locations that peak your interest and walk and walk.  You go through this process until you finally can walk eighteen holes and have it unfold like a story.

One of the great secrets to a routing and developing rhythm is the understanding that a break between dramatic locations will make the setting that follows far more impressive by comparison.  It’s like a rollercoaster where you don’t want a continuous run of thrills.  You need the spaces in between to lower the heart rate and let you prepare for the next thrill.  It’s not just about finding and designing holes, it’s all about how you want them to feel and part of that is how you develop the rhythm of the course.

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

IanAndrew-GilHanseThe grassing lines, they are the most underrated and important element on a course.

In the simplest terms, short grass emphasizes the importance of the undulations on the ground and long grass eliminates them.  The more the ball has the opportunity to react and move on the ground, the more interesting the architecture is.  The more short grass in play, the more options the player has to try a myriad of shots.  Where you place your grassing lines will either identify all the available architecture or mask it.

Greatness in architecture is most often found when the distance between success and failure is razor thin.  This is why Raynor’s work resonates so much.  Many people get stuck on the engineered nature of shapes, when the beauty is how it plays.  By having the green and collars come right out to the very edge of his plateaus, there is nothing to save a ball once it reaches an edge.  You’re either on or looking at a recovery shot, unless you have used a feeder slope and come up short.  One of the keys to this approach is having all the transition points slightly over the bank to make sure nothing is able to stop at the edge, and the fact that the greens and their contours are emphasized more through the infinity backdrop this creates.

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

I’m from the Northeast where Parkland courses rule the landscape, so my comment is based around those who I happen to serve.  So my advice would be to “truly understand photosynthesis”.  Greens need five hours of morning sun and nine hours of daily sun at a minimum to produce healthy, sustainable turfgrass.  Everything else is a long drawn out death spiral held off by science, money and extensive turf experience…but the end is always the same eventually.

If you could do a project with one Golden Era architect, who would it be and why?

Many of the greats would not be that much fun to work with.  And with a few I would never get paid.  So the easy answer is Harry Colt.  He is the foundation of golf course architecture as we know it today.  He played a critical role in the development of two of the greatest architects in history.  He corresponded and met with many others, influencing their careers.  He shared his thoughts willingly for others to learn, had great projects and remained a gentleman throughout.

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

As strange as it sounds, it’s when you leave your comfort zone and build something that tests the boundaries of what’s acceptable to the average player.  You immediately find yourself questioning whether people will accept that feature or that concept.  And you know there’s no guarantee that everything done in that context will work, but greatness lies in that uncomfortable place.  Playing it safe has never furthered any art form.

In Laval we built five greens that fell away from the line of play.  For many designers this is considered an antiquated idea or even unfair, and that should be avoided at all costs.  But it’s also a common feature found on almost every course that has influenced my design philosophy.  Admittedly, it was the idea that I worried the most about when we set out to build Laval, but it’s never been mentioned once by those who play the course because they all think the holes follow the natural flow of the land and there are alternative ways to approach those holes.  I guess the sweet spot is when you trust the knowledge that you have accumulated and build what you believe in.

What course would you love to restore?


I don’t think this is too complicated.  There are enough images, aerials and written information available to restore the course.  In the process I would properly detail the bunker work to deal with the serious playability issues, restore a few altered bunkers, fix some of the tie-ins from when they rebuilt the greens (by adding mix on top of the original greens).  I would also rebuild the Robinson green (current 18th) and restore it back to the original surface.

Let’s call it a labour of love.

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

There was a recent proposal put forward to the PEI government to buy and re-develop Crowbush Cove.  It involved not only a redesign, but the addition of more dunes land to replace some of the interior holes.  That’s a site and project that would be very high on my list.  There are not very many sand and dunes land opportunities in Canada.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Considering all the potential options, it’s the time when you are an artist.  It’s that feeling of self-expression that more than makes up for the more challenging, time consuming, process orientated aspects of this business.

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


I believe a player should have the opportunity to set their own adventure.  They should be given plenty of space and opportunity to remove the hazards that they fear the most, but with this bargain they understand it will be difficult to shoot a low score.  As they improve, or as they want to score, I want them to understand that they will need to take on more risk.

I think the best players should find themselves facing multiple hazards that complicate their ideal line of play.  Those hazards must be severe enough to make them take pause and worry about finding their ball in one.  But they must have the clear knowledge that a risk successfully taken is a clear advantage gained.  Therefore each shot becomes about choice, or how much risk am I willing to take.

I want them to be able to play safe or aggressive anytime they want with the clear understanding that each shot will have implications on position or score.  It’s all up to them and that is what I want anyone playing my work to feel.

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

The National Golf Links of America.

I’m quite convinced that it would take at least a decade to see every pin location played in every wind.  The course has the right combination of quality architecture, playability and flexibility in set-up to make every day an exciting one.

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

I’m off to play Burnham and Barrow, Royal North Devon and St Enodoc this spring…but if you mean what is the next three on my “Drop Everything List”…it’s Myopia Hunt, Golf de Morfontaine and Hirono.

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

I have approximately three to four months off every year because of winter.  I play hockey three times a week and ski about eight times a year.  I use the winter to research and write.  I’ve yet to find the right mindset to write an entire book, but that will come.

I don’t play much during the golf season, outside of traveling to play something special for a week in early spring and then a second week in late fall.  My shortened year is often excessively busy with lots of work to do, so time off is always “family time”.  If there’s a gap, we will go up north and relax by the lake when the time allows.  If there’s none, they go up without me.

What’s on the horizon for you?

More of the same I expect.  I work with fifty courses in Canada and the US now.  The largest part of my work is historical restoration and I don’t expect that to change.  It seems almost all my new clients are American.  Never set out to work in the States, but that’s how it worked out.  Every once in a while I end up with a Laval or Maple Downs looking to make a larger fundamental change, and that’s pretty exciting, but mostly it’s a continuous flow of smaller projects working slowly towards a long term plan.

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf