Geeked on Golf

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


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In the Seat – An Interview with Shaper Keith Rhebb

KeithRhebb-InTheSeatCabotAt the drafting table, on a plane, or behind the controls of a bulldozer, Keith Rhebb is always right in the thick of the creative process of golf course design and construction.  As a member of the Coore & Crenshaw team, Keith is working on the highest profile and most highly anticipated projects around the world.  He and his colleagues continue to deliver mind-blowing results that are setting the standards for modern architectural greatness.

I’m not exactly sure when he had the time to do it, but Keith was generous enough to answer my questions and share his insights here.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

I drove the cart for my grandfather when he played golf in Faulkton, South Dakota.  My grandfather was a farmer.  He and the other farmers in the area helped build the course.

When did you know when the game had a hold on you?

I can’t really pinpoint one specific moment.  It was more of a gradual thing for me.  The more time I spent around golf courses, the more I began to love the game.

How did you get into the business?

My first experience in the business was working with Landscapes Unlimited in 2002.  At the time, I wasn’t necessarily thinking it was going to be a long-term career path.  I walked onsite for my first job at Sutton Bay in South Dakota and knew it was something I was going to enjoy.  I started out in more of an entry-level position.  I was raking, shoveling, and operating small equipment.  I worked up to shaping, and eventually began to work for Coore & Crenshaw.  Ironically, when I was waiting to interview for the job with Landscapes Unlimited, I read an article about the Sandhills course designed by Coore & Crenshaw.  Their work interested me.  Somehow, opportunities just continued to open up and led me to where I am today.

My path into the business was a little different, but I think it was a benefit for my learning style.  I believe there is something inherently valuable in starting out doing grunt work in golf course construction.  One of my favorite parts of the job is being able to create stuff out of dirt, whether it’s manually or with heavy equipment.

Who is your favorite Golden Era architect, and why?

Perry Maxwell.  He started out as a banker who, after developing a thirst for the game, began to study golf courses.  With the encouragement of his wife, he eventually turned his interest in golf course design into a career.  From what I’ve read, he used his creative mind and his love/respect for the golf game, nature, and God to influence his creations.

I developed a better understanding of his style while working on a remodel at Old Town Club in Winston-Salem a couple of years ago.  I like his concept of undulating greens and how it affects putting strategy.  Overall I can relate to his unconventional start to the business and his tendency to put a lot of himself/beliefs into studying the land and constructing holes.

Who has had the most influence on you as an architect, both in and outside of golf?

Inside of golf it is Bill and Ben…without question.  As shapers, they give us a tremendous amount of creative freedom on fairways, bunkers, and greens.  They allow us to bring our personal creative vision to the table.  It’s okay if we do something “wrong.”  By that I mean if what we do doesn’t match what they have in mind, they don’t criticize and lose their tempers.  They provide valuable guidance to help us make appropriate changes.  I’ve learned a lot about the different aspects and stages of the design process.

Outside of golf…Hugh Herr.  I haven’t ever met him but I read the book Second Assent when I was a kid.  He lost both of his legs after a climbing incident in which he and a friend got disoriented in brutally cold temps.  He went on to develop prosthetics that work very much like human legs.  He took a horrible experience and used it to develop something that betters the lives of so many people in this world.  I like how he didn’t let challenges define what he did or didn’t do in his life.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw?

Other than what I said above, Bill and Ben provide great examples of integrity and character, both in the golf world and outside of it.  From laborers to owners, they treat everyone with the highest respect.  They strike the right balance between staying true to their core philosophies and principles, yet recognizing and valuing differing opinions.  They know who they are as individuals and as a design team, which probably plays a part as to why they are not attached to their egos.  I have a lot of gratitude for what they’ve taught me in the time I’ve been fortunate enough to work for them.

What should every owner/Green Committee member study/learn before breaking ground on a golf course construction project?

Some courses start out trying to emulate other well-known golf courses (i.e. the next Bandon Dunes, the next Sand Hills, the new Pebble Beach, etc).  But there can only be one of any golf course.  Each one is going to be unique given the land and climate of its location.  I think owners/committees need a true grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of their site, and then start to develop a clear vision for the course.  After they have a better idea of what is possible and what they want, then they should hire the designer(s) who have the most compatible vision.  When ground breaks, I think the owner needs to trust the designer with fulfilling the construction process.  It gets messy when owners try to micromanage the process.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design? To build?

Well, overall I just enjoy being creative.  But I really like the detail involved in finish work.  It’s probably my favorite part of the process.

What was your most memorable experience from the seat of a bulldozer?

KeithRhebb-DogThe most memorable times are when I realize what all is around me after I’ve been over focused on the project.  Cabot Cliffs is a good example.  Sometimes I didn’t even recognize the magnitude of the cliffs, the highlands, and the ocean around me because I was more focused on the construction details.  In Japan, my role is more creative.  I can clearly see Mt. Fuji from my dozer on clear days yet I still forget that it’s there.  It was recently cherry blossom season and the wind blew the petals around my dozer like it was snow.   

Every once in a while I get the chance to have my dog (a Weimaraner) on a project with me.  As is true to the breed, she is extremely energetic.  After I let her run around the course (with a safety vest on because she blends in with the sand and dirt), I put one of her dog beds in the cab and she just sleeps away.  She loves it.

Of all the great holes you have worked on, which are your favorites, and why?

Lost Farm #14 – The rough contours were already within the lay of the land.  We had to tread lightly so we didn’t lose what was there in the construction process.  It turned out nicely.

KeithRhebb-LostFarm14

Streamsong Red #6 – This is a par 3 that doesn’t look like it should be in Florida.  It actually reminded me more of the landscapes that were in Tasmania (Lost Farm).  The ridges from the phosphate mining spoils provided a nice canvas for this one to take shape.

KeithRhebb-StreamsongRed6

Cabot Cliffs #2 – A lot of people think #16 is the best hole on the course.  The view from the green is stunning, but I still like the second hole best.  If you walked on #2 tee today, you probably wouldn’t realize the time and effort that went into the hole.  It was a total team effort to get it into the state that you see it now.  That goes with the project as a whole…the entire team made incredible sacrifices and worked long hours to get it done in such a short amount of time.

KeithRhebb-CabotCliffs2

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I travel and get to do creative work in amazing places.  Aside from that, I like leaving a job knowing that other people will be able to enjoy and benefit from the course…and not just those who play it.  Golf courses create jobs and in some places, a successful course is enough to revitalize the local economy.  But golf courses can also contribute to the environment in positive ways.  For example, I’m working on a remodel in Japan right now.  The course preserves a place for native trees, plants, and animals in an extremely urbanized area.  I guess the best way to sum it up is that I like being able to contribute to something bigger than just my own little world.

What courses are at the top your hit list to play next?

I’d like to go back and play Cabot Cliffs when it opens.  I’d also like to tour some of the classics in Scotland and Ireland.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

I live where ever a project is located, which means I am away from home most of the year.  When I’m not working, I like to relax at home with my wife and my dog.  Kristi and I like to travel and experience different cultures.  Photography is also a big hobby of mine.

BONUS CONTENT FROM KEITH RHEBB

This photo tour of the construction of The Lost Farm at Barnbougle is outstanding.  Set aside a few minutes and prepare to be mesmerized.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 7 (Pilot Projects)

These are exciting times at Canal Shores.  Momentum is building, as talented and committed people continue to lend their support.  The beginnings of a new Master Plan for the facility are taking shape.  It is still too early to share details here, but stay tuned.

In the meantime, we have undertaken pilot projects in Section D on holes currently numbered 3, 11, and 12 (holes 1, 11, and 12 in my proposed Long Course).  These projects are an extension of ideas and principles that were laid out in previous posts.  They are also an opportunity for us to test out those ideas on the ground to gauge player and community reaction.  It is possible that these holes get changed significantly in the final Master Plan, and therefore, any improvements to be made this year will be done at low-to-no cost.

To illustrate the work in progress, I have created the rendering below.  A few notes of explanation:

  • Orange lines represent wood chip walking paths more safely removed from lines of play.
  • Purple areas are designated “native”, containing both savannah and wetland grasses and flowers. These areas are to be created under the supervision of an ecologist / landscape architect.  They are not meant for play.
  • Yellow areas are designated “tallgrass”, containing fescues and other grasses. Some tallgrass will be playable, and some will not.
  • Playable fairway and narrow intermediate cuts are indicated in green.  Playing corridors are being widened, and play is being more safely directed wherever possible.  Additionally, we are tweaking grassing lines to accentuate ground features and give more visual interest to these holes.
  • Two sets of tees (back and forward) are being created on each hole and are indicated with green boxes.  We will also be implementing “Family Tees” in the fairway between 120 and 150 yards to the green.
  • Greens, as indicated in green, are remaining in their current positions.  However, mowing patterns will be changed to gradually reclaim green areas previously lost to shrinkage.
  • Mounding and ground features to be added are indicated in dark green and will serve as our primary means of adding hazard and interest to these holes (rather than bunkers).
  • Several bunkers will be removed.  Remaining / new bunkers are indicated in white.

CSGC-SectionD_Isabella-Central_2015Plan-042615

Further, hole-specific notes:

Current #3 / Proposed Long Course #1

The primary issue that we are addressing on this hole is balls exiting the property right.  Hospital property and staff are consistently in danger.  In our observation of hundreds of players, there are two main reasons that exacerbate this issue:

  1. Players hit the wrong club from the tee.  From the back tee, the farthest that a player can reasonably hit the ball before reaching an area of the hole that is extremely narrow is 220 yards.  I love to hit my driver, and I know that most players feel the same way.  However, for players who hit their drivers more than 220 yards, that is the wrong club to pull on this hole.  When the consequences of the typical right miss are potential property damage or injuries to our neighbors, players need to use better judgment.
  2. Players take the wrong line off the tee.  The right side of the hole appears to run straight, and therefore players tend to aim straight at the green.  This is an optical illusion though, as the right side actually angles in.  Conversely, it appears to the players that there is less room on the left than there actually is, especially given recent efforts to widen the hole left.  The correct target is the bunker left (which will be removed), or even left of that bunker for a player who favors a left-to-right shot shape.

To address this issue, and make the hole more interesting, we are working on the following changes:

  • Building of a new back tee is being considered to guard the right, accentuate the dog-leg, and highlight the carry over the ridge.  A new forward tee opens up the hole and makes it more playable for shorter hitters.
  • The angled ridge is a fantastic ground feature that we are working to highlight.  Addition of a set of small bunkers will increase the thrill of the carry for players from the back tee.
The picture does not do justice to this large ripple that cuts diagonally across the beginning of the fairway.

The picture does not do justice to this large ripple that cuts diagonally across the beginning of the fairway.

  • Through brush and invasive tree clearing, we have reclaimed 5-15 yards of fairway on the left, where new grass is currently being grown.
  • A new bunker down the right that ties into tall grass plots is intended to accentuate the peril of shots that hug the right.
  • Addition of hollows and mounding around the green are being considered to add interest to the green complex.
Existing ground features might be complemented with mounding from right and/or digging of small hollows.

Existing ground features might be complemented with mounding from right and/or digging of small hollows.

Current #11 / Proposed Long Course #11

This mid length par 3 has a green tucked into a triangular sliver of the property, and features a green and green site with some interest (and even more potential).  Players often miss the green on the short side right – the setup of the hole creates a subtly deceptive angle.

The following simple changes are in the works:

  • Expansion of the green short front left adds pin locations, increasing variety for regular players.
  • Creation of a bunker short right, complemented by a fairway cut short and right of the green adds visual interest from the tee, steers players away from the danger of walkers coming out of the tunnel, and provides a bail out for shorter hitters that keeps a possibility of par alive even when the pin is back right.

Current #12 / Proposed Long Course #12

This hole has been problematic because it previously had no real defense against players attempting to cut the corner.  Damage to parked cars and neighboring homes is a source of concern for safety and liability reasons.  Further, the hole lacks interest and beauty.

The beautiful old bridge, which is a signature feature of this hole, is visible in winter but is almost totally obscured when the invasive trees and brush leaf out.

The beautiful old bridge, visible in winter, is almost totally obscured when the invasive trees and brush leaf out.

Beyond the significant clean-up and clearing that needs to take place, specifically to uncover the steel train bridge, changes will include:

  • The back and forward tees will be moved to left inside of the cart and walking paths and angled toward the landing area, rather than the green.
  • All bunkers will be removed from the hole, as they detract from the beauty of the hole and add to maintenance costs.
  • All grass through the green, with the exception of a depression left that has drainage issues, will be mowed to fairway height and kept in “firm and fast” condition to accentuate the natural movement of the land, as well as several old ground features.

Were this hole not situated within its current constraints, perhaps it would be tweaked according to a risk-reward strategy.  Alas, as stewards of the course it is our responsibility to be sensitive to all stakeholders by slightly limiting strategic options in the name of safety.  We do believe that gains in interest, beauty and fun will more than offset the limits we impose.

Work carries on as momentum continues to grow.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the ultimate changes to the course are far more dramatic than those we are testing here.  For the time being though, spurred on by positive feedback from players and neighbors, we we are doing what we can when we can.

Stay tuned for more to come…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Sculpting the Earth – An Interview with Architect Dave Zinkand

“Remote” is a good word to describe the location of Apache Stronghold.  Why did I make the trek through the mountains of the Tonto National Forest, past small mining towns, to an Indian Casino golf course in the middle of nowhere?  As always, I was in search of golf adventure and great architecture.  In this case, I was also lucky enough to have a chance to tee it up with architect Dave Zinkand.

The course was truly special, and Dave was great company – a talented architect, good player, and an even better man.  For me, the evening was what this great game is all about.

As we walked and talked, I was consistently reminded of what differentiates architects from players, even GCA geek players like me.  Architects see the course differently, and it was a blast to hear Dave’s insights about the course and his work.  A few highlights:

  • Apache Stronghold has wonderful contours, washes and gullies that wander through the fairways.  Dave pointed out that by routing the holes such that those features are often at an angle to the tee, Tom Doak has created interest.  The player can decide how much of the carry they want to take on, and they get the thrill of pulling off the carry on their selected line.  An architect does not always need to use bunkers or hazards to create that challenge and fun.  A ripple or ridge in the ground creates the same effect.
  • Dave pointed out the interesting slopes and mounds of the green surrounds.  He was particularly interested in the close proximity to the greens of some of the high-side slopes.  A bold design choice that makes for interesting approach and short-game shots.
  • We also discussed internal green contours at length, and Apache Stronghold has great ones shaped by Kye Goalby and the Renaissance Golf Design team.  Dave noted that a bold contour that might seem over-the-top on first playing, can often provide more options to pull off a brilliant shot once the player learns to use that feature to his advantage.
  • And finally, Dave put into words what I felt makes Apache Stronghold unique.  It is routed in such a way that the holes feel very intimate and engaging.  And yet, every so often, when ascending to a tee or green complex, the course reveals a vista that reminds one of the awe-inspiring expanse of the land on which the course is built.  It is a choreographed walk that creates pure magic.

My luck with Dave didn’t end with our time at Apache Stronghold.  He was gracious enough to share even more in the following interview.  I hope you enjoy his perspective as much as I do.


THE INTERVIEW

How were you first introduced to golf?

My introduction to golf was rather stereotypical.  As a boy, my father would take my sister and I out to Fremont Country Club, our hometown club in Ohio.  When Molly and I were old enough, we began to play from the 150 yard markers.

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

It seems the addiction of trying to improve upon the last shot or round is almost instantaneous.  As for the bigger picture, I now recognize golf for what it is, an adventure.  It blends an outdoor sport on varied playing fields with a great deal of social interaction.  Perhaps I was unaware of how fulfilling it is until high school when I could really begin to appreciate those benefits.  By college, trips with the golf team were a welcome diversion from our studies.  To this day, I still enjoy getting out with Dad.

How did you get into the business?

Every summer in college I gained experience at a new job.  First, I worked maintenance at Heatherdowns CC in Toledo.  The second summer, I was a laborer on a Hurdzan Fry course being constructed in Cleveland.  The third, as an intern with Arthur Hills’ design firm.  After graduating from Cornell with a degree in landscape architecture in 1997, I went over to Britain on the Dreer Award.  When I came back I went to work for Gil Hanse and then spent 14 years as a Design Associate with Coore & Crenshaw.

How did the year you spent in the UK change your perspective?

Fellow Dreer recipient, Chris Monti, referred to his year abroad as “the move”, meaning the career move.  I couldn’t agree more.  It may not have been a highly marketable commodity to most potential employers, but has provided limitless inspiration that still fuels my passion for the hands-on designing and shaping of golf courses.

Who are your favorite Golden Era architects and why?

There are such obvious choices as Alister MacKenzie, who blended great strategies with unparalleled aesthetics.  But considering historic golf architects as a whole, there are folks like Harry Colt whose somewhat reserved style always yielded admirable results.  The eccentric Tom Simpson created provocative strategies with quirky contours and odd features such as flat-top mounds.  There is Tillie and Perry Maxwell… So many designers have contributed to the catalog of great work and ideas.  That is a fantastic attribute of our game, the immense variety!

You have worked extensively with Bill Coore and Gil Hanse.  How have they influenced you?

My work with Gil was relatively brief, four projects in all.  But I have always been impressed with his routings and aesthetics.  In the fourteen years I spent with Bill & Ben, as well as with their long-time Associate, Dave Axland, I really had an opportunity to delve into every aspect of golf design and construction.  I could throw creative ideas out and see what stuck.  I had so many conversations and received so much feedback from Bill, when I run into a question of how to handle a certain issue, by now I have a pretty good idea of how he might attack the problem.  All of that interaction certainly contributes to my perspective on golf design.  Working with Bill and Ben really gave me a solid understanding of how to meld beauty and function into a playable setting.

What is your favorite element of a golf hole to work on?

Greens.  There is a heightened importance in the contours of a green, both in terms of strategy and aesthetics.  That is where I spent much of my time shaping for Coore & Crenshaw.  All of that said, bunkers provide powerful aesthetics.  It is great fun to toy with their endless variety to present such a splash of interest on the landscape.  Bill Coore and I have had a lot of fun heckling Jeff Bradley, the ‘Bunker Guru’, over the stardom he receives for his sandy exploits!

What are some of the challenges associated with renovating a historic course like Old Elm or Desert Forest?

There are so many aspects to this topic.  Change is difficult and any given club has hundreds of members.  This essentially means the designer has hundreds of customers.  As the saying goes, you can’t please everybody all of the time.  That is why it is so important to be reverent to the history and attributes of a course, while pressing forward with the task of fulfilling the client’s current and future needs.  Doing so in step with the leadership and staff is essential.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking a renovation project?

Prior to selecting a designer, they should research each candidate’s participation in the construction process (that was not self-promotion).  Preliminary design is essential for game-planning, but extra time spent on a drafting board or AutoCAD document does not replace on-site participation.  You don’t have to shape your own features as I can (that was self-promotion).  I find an unparalleled depth of interest in the work produced by designers who consciously allow their work to evolve in the field.  Bill Coore is a master at this.  Some of the concepts and details are not immediately evident or may even seem arbitrary, but reveal themselves over time.  This lends greatly to keeping a course fun to play over and again.

Which courses are on the top of your hit list to play next?

Jason, you finally got me out to Apache Stronghold.  I thank you, because that was a real treat.  Cypress Point is at the top of the list of courses I’ve never been to and really need to see.  I’ll bet my wife could have her arm twisted for a trip to Royal Melbourne and the Sandbelt in Australia.  There are also a number of classic courses on the east coast I would still love to see, such as Fishers Island.

Of the holes you have helped to build, which are your favorites?

It was fun to build a classic Cape Hole on the Sixth at Shanqin Bay in Hainan, China.

Shanqin Bay #6 - Photo courtesy of Brian Morgan

Shanqin Bay #6 – Photo courtesy of Brian Morgan

The par five Third Hole at Bandon Trails has a great deal of interest in its green that carries all of the way back up the hole in terms of how to attack.

Bandon Trails #5 - Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

Bandon Trails #3 – Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

The short par four Third at Colorado Golf Club doesn’t overwhelm, despite playing over a natural barranca.

Colorado Golf Club #3 - Photo courtesy of John Klinkerman

Colorado Golf Club #3 – Photo courtesy of John Klinkerman

I really enjoyed the bunkering improvements Jeff Bradley and I made to the Fourth Hole at Weekapaug Golf Club.  An additional bunker down the left keeps big hitters honest and the bunkering front-right of the green provides a much more engaging target.

Weekapaug Golf Club #4 - Photo courtesy of Gary Kellner at Dimpled Rock

Weekapaug Golf Club #4 – Photo courtesy of Gary Kellner at Dimpled Rock

Reinvigorating the island green on the Fourteenth at Old Elm Club with Drew Rogers was an old-fashioned opportunity to introduce Harry Colt’s original intention of torn edges.

Old Elm Club #15 - Photo courtesy of Scott Vincent

Old Elm Club #15 – Photo courtesy of Scott Vincent

My alteration of the Fourteenth at Desert Forest into a short par four was a fun contribution to an already impressive routing.  It also had the benefit of shortening the following green to tee walk.

Desert Forest #14

Desert Forest #14

Freely admitting my bias, I have thirteen favorite holes on Bandon Preserve. I thoroughly enjoyed that project and wonder if I’ll work on such a powerful parcel of ground ever again.

Bandon Preserve - Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

Bandon Preserve – Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

You recently joined the Mickelson design team.  What attracted you to that opportunity?

I really enjoy collaborating and they already had a strong team that shares great insights, with Phil, Mike Angus and Rick Smith.  It should be a lot of fun to introduce not only my own design views, but also contribute my experience and on-site guidance to help advance our design intentions in the field.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

It may sound corny, but I just love sculpting the earth.  I started out in Cornell’s School of Architecture, but quickly realized how important an organic edge was to finding my fulfillment in design.  Having my office outdoors and providing others, who often spend much of their time indoors, with sporty and provocative holes to play is rewarding.  I can’t even count how many times I have been told by people they never had more fun playing golf than on Bandon Preserve.  That is spectacularly gratifying.

Any interesting or challenging projects on the horizon for you?

I will spend the next two summers guiding and shaping Phil’s project in Calgary.  As for potential projects outside of that, I will be happy to give you an update.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

My wife and I just had our first child, a girl.  She is the very definition of adorable.  I am happy to put my other interests, such as redesigning our new yard and brewing some wickedly dry cider, on the back burner so I can concentrate on helping her and Momma!  Perhaps someday, I’ll be busy taking her to play with Grandpa John on the golf course.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf