Geeked on Golf

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Pacific Dunes Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

PACIFIC DUNES – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR – Tom Doak

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Pacific Dunes opened in 2001 and immediately skyrocketed up the rankings lists.  It currently holds the title of best overall public course per Golf Magazine, second only to Pebble Beach per Golf Digest, and is considered by Golfweek Magazine to be the best public course built since 1960 (trailing only Sand Hills overall).

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Pacific Dunes occupies the northernmost section of the coastal property at Bandon.  Several of its holes sit hard against the cliffs overlooking the beach.  Most of the holes that sit further inland still provide ocean views.  And as with all the courses at Bandon, the isolation of the property is striking – there are no houses in view, no roads to be seen, and other than the clubhouse and the course itself, not an inkling of anything man-made to distract from the golf.

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In short, Pacific Dunes is simply stunning – it is one of the most beautiful places to play golf that I have ever seen.  But beyond its sheer beauty, it is also an extremely well designed and very enjoyable golf course.  As with most Doak courses, Pacific Dunes feels very natural – the course meanders its way through dunes and gorse, making its way out to the ocean and the bluffs and back inland.  The course looks and feels like it was simply laid down over the wonderful existing terrain.

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Hole 1 – 304 yards (all yardages taken from the green tees) – Par 4

Pacific Dunes opens with a short two-shotter to an inviting cupped fairway.  A large sandy mound sits waiting to the right to intimidate slicers of the golf ball, but any reasonably struck tee shot should leave only a wedge into the first green.

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The first green sits slightly below grade and is protected by mounds in front and sandy areas and bunkering to the sides and rear.  While most players will have a short shot into this green, the putting surface is small and significantly sloped, and approaches will often be played from an unlevel lie.

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As is frequently the case at Bandon, approach shots can be played via the ground — here at the first, the fairway slopes down and bleeds seamlessly into the green.

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Hole 2 – 335 yards – Par 4

The ocean first comes into view on the par-4 second at Pacific Dunes.  This is a great strategic driving hole – the wider, safer tee shot is up the right side, but this leaves a more difficult angle into the green over a dune and some bunkering.  Tee shots that successfully take on the left and middle bunkers will have an open approach to the green.

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This view from the right of the fairway shows the dune and bunker that must be carried on an approach from this side.

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The second green, with the elevated 6th green behind.

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This reverse view shows the undulation of the second, as well as the expansive apron surrounding the green.  As with many Doak courses, interesting pin positions are prevalent.

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Hole 3 – 476 yards – Par 5

Standing on the third tee at Pacific Dunes is where the beauty of the course really starts to hit the player, and threatens to overwhelm.  The ocean comes into full view to the player’s left, with the dunescape ahead and parts of Old Macdonald to the right.  A spectacular hole, made more so by the flowering gorse.

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A wide par-5 with many possible routes off the tee, the third is pocked with pot bunkers throughout its length.  As this is not a par 5 of extreme length, the smart play is to focus on missing the bunkers off the tee and, if laying up, on the second.

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This view from a centerline bunker shows the elevated green, perched perfectly between two large dunes.

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The approach is open to the left of the green, but very closed from the right.

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Anything long of this green is in trouble, as it will end up deep in a back bunker, buried in long rough on a mound or, if unlucky, rolling a dozen yards or so down the slope behind the green.  A rather intimidating hole for a short par-5 . . .

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. . . and yet, so pretty.  What a green site!

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Hole 4 – 449 yards – Par 4

A long par-4 which often plays downwind, the fourth is one of several holes which could vie for the title of “signature” at Pacific Dunes.  The safe play is up the left, but the fairway bunkering must be avoided.  The cliffs eat into the fairway not once . . .

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. . . but twice on this gorgeous par-4.  The closer one plays to the cliffs, the better the angle into the green.

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The cant of the green from left to right allows for approaches to use the terrain, but balls moving left to right and riding the prevailing wind carry a real risk of running through the green and into oblivion.

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The internal contours within the fourth green make two putting after an indifferent approach quite challenging.

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A gorgeous hole.

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Hole 5 – 181 yards – Par 3

The first of five one-shotter holes at Pacific Dunes, but the only par-3 on the front nine, the fifth hole has elements of a reverse redan, as shots up the left side will kick onto the putting surface.  But the green is multi-tiered and only front pins can be accessed in that manner.

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Though the fifth is the second longest par-3 on the course, the prevailing wind is generally helping on this hole, which shortens it considerably.

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The green is deep but relatively narrow.  Again, a beautiful site for a green complex.  The sixth hole at Bandon Dunes is in the background.

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Hole 6 – 288 yards – Par 4

A brilliant short par-4, this sub-300 yarder has teeth for the unthinking golfer.  The fairway is massive – nearly 90 yards wide at its maximum.  Anything from 40 yards left of the pin to 20 yards right and long of the right fairway bunker is in play.

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Anything left will have a blind shot over the massive front left bunker to the shallowest part of the green.

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The best play off the tee is to challenge the right side bunker and leave an approach from as far to the right as reasonably possible.  From this angle, the player’s approach is down the heart of the shallow green.

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Any approach shot or chip that reaches the darker grass at the bottom of this photo will continue to roll some 20 yards down and away from the green, leaving an extremely difficult chip back up the hill to the narrow green.

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Anything from a birdie to a triple bogey is reasonably in play.

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Hole 7 – 436 yards – Par 4

A long but typically downwind par-4, the seventh hole plays to a generous fairway.

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The challenge at 7 comes from the long shot into the green.  Ringed by areas of rough, natural grass, mounds and bunkers, this approach demands precision.

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Playing down the left side into the green shortens the carry over the natural areas and bunkering, but the mounding can send even well aimed approaches offline.

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The seventh is the opposite of the sixth in many ways, including the green, which is one of the largest and most contoured on the course.

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Hole 8 – 369 yards – Par 4

The eighth runs in the opposite direction of the seventh and is typically upwind.  Once again, the golfer has the luxury of hitting to a wide fairway, but once again, finding the proper angle of approach is critical to scoring well on this hole.

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A small, deep bunker guards the front of this green, and depending on the day’s pin, the approach may be more favorable from the left or the right.  Today’s pin is virtually impossible to attack from the right side of the fairway.

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The shallow green slopes significantly from high right to low left.

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One of the more difficult greens at Pacific Dunes to chip to or putt from distance on.

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Hole 9 – 379 yards – Par 4

The ninth plays to one of two different greens – the upper (right) or lower (left).  Though the fairway is extremely wide, the player’s aim might differ by as much as 50 yards depending on the green to which he is playing.  Longer hitters playing to the lower left green can challenge the bunkering.

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Though the ninth plays to identical yardages regardless of which green is in play, the lower left green plays much shorter.

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The approach to the beautiful lower green, with Bandon Dunes in the background.

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The undulating ninth fairway bleeds directly into the contoured lower ninth green, allowing for low, running shots to be played.

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The approach to the skylined upper green.

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Interestingly, the green to which the golfer plays on the ninth also dictates the tee from which the golfer plays the tenth.  Golfers will likely debate which is the “better” of the two greens and corresponding tees (I preferred the lower ninth green / upper tenth tee), but each route is exceptionally fun.

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Hole 10 – 163 yards – Par 3

Spectacular.  As this view from the upper tee illustrates, the tenth at Pacific Dunes is unquestionably one of the most beautiful one shot holes in the country . . .

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. . though the view from the lower tee is none too shabby.

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In addition to the setting and the large dune to the right of the green, two standout unique features at the tenth green bear mentioning.  The first is the large internal knob in the front left quadrant of the green, which provides for several outstanding pin positions and adds a required degree of precision to the approach.  The second is the beautiful left side bunker – part of which is an “inverted” mound of sand — which resembles a crashing wave.

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This view from behind the tenth green shows the placement of the prominent knob within the green.

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Hole 11 – 131 yards – Par 3

The second of two consecutive par three holes to open the back nine, the short eleventh plays hard up against the cliffs to a small, well-bunkered green.

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A large mound in the right rear of the green provides a backstop that will return balls to the middle of the green.

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Beautiful.

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Hole 12 – 507 yards – Par 5

The twelfth plays northward between the third and fourth holes, and back toward the large dunes that housed the third green.  Like the third hole, this three shotter places a premium on the angle of approach – right is favored.

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The wide fairway rolls beautifully into the twelfth green, which sits flush against a large dune.

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Any approach coming in from the left side of the fairway must deal with the large slope fronting the left side of the green, which can easily kick balls to the back of and through the green.

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The view back up the twelfth hole.

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Hole 13 – 390 yards – Par 4

One of the most beautiful holes on the property, and one of the best, the thirteenth hole plays northward along the cliffs to a slightly elevated green set at the base of a massive dune.

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As seen here, the closer the player’s tee shot hugs the cliffs, the better the angle of approach to the elevated green.  Note that shots falling short will roll back down the false front some 20-30 feet.

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This view up the right shows the more difficult angle of approach.

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The green itself, while large, provides little respite, as its internal contours make two putting a challenge.

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An incomparable setting for golf.

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Hole 14 – 128 yards – Par 3

The shortest hole on the course, the fourteenth is entirely exposed to the full brunt of the wind.

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Sitting on top of the dunes, the fourteenth green falls away on all sides, making a small green play even smaller and requiring a difficult chip shot after an errant approach.

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The reverse view of the fourteenth, with the tee and the thirteenth green behind.

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Hole 15 – 504 yards – Par 5

With the prevailing wind behind, this green can be reached in two with two solid shots by most golfers.

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Care should be taken to avoid the fairway bunkers, which are penal.

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As does the tenth hole, the fifteenth incorporates a large knob into the green, this time front right.  A unique and fun feature found twice at Pacific Dunes.

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Hole 16 – 338 yards – Par 4

One of your author’s favorite inland holes at Bandon Dunes Resort, the sixteenth is a short two-shot hole which doglegs gently right.

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An overly aggressive tee shot that attempts to challenge too much of the dogleg will find itself far below the green to the right.  Likewise, any shot missing the green short or right will run down to the bottom of the steep greenside slope.

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The one-of-a-kind sixteenth fairway.  Incredible.  Good luck finding a level lie in there.

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A beautiful short par 4 by the modern master.

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Hole 17 – 189 yards – Par 3

The longest one-shot hole at Pacific Dunes, the seventeenth has many elements of a traditional redan (though it lacks the rear bunkering).  The hole plays out over a large chasm and to a green benched into a gorse-covered hill.  With the gorse in full bloom, the beauty of the seventeenth rivals even the seaside par-3s at Pacific Dunes.

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The proper play is to aim short right of the green and use the kick slope to bounce the ball on to the large putting surface.  Note that shots taking the direct line at the pin must contend not only with the extremely deep front bunkering, but also risk rolling through the green and into the gorse.

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Hole 18 – 575 yards – Par 5

Following the longest par 3 on the course comes the longest hole on the course.  The tee shot plays through a valley up to a rise next to a deep left fairway bunker.

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The long final hole provides plenty of opportunity to get into trouble, but also ample room to maneuver the ball with well-struck shots.  The fairway is wide, but the bunkers are brutal if found.

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The beautiful and challenging final green at Pacific Dunes.

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A look back at the player’s final triumph.

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Pacific Dunes is a striking example of what modern golf can be.  Granted, it has its advantages, which include an incomparable setting and a top-shelf architect.  But the principles to be gleaned from Pacific Dunes can be used at other courses.  Wide fairways.  No trees.  No internal water hazards.  Short rough.  An emphasis on angles of play.  Fun greens running at reasonable speed.  Firm and fast conditions.  Together, these things make a round of golf fun.

The Patio at Pacific Dunes, overlooking the Punchbowl – a perfect place to reflect on a round.

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Transforming the Derrick – Jeff Mingay & George Waters

If you read my previous interview with Jeff Mingay, you know that he is a student of the game and its playing fields, and you also know that he is actively putting lessons learned to work in the field.  I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Jeff, and I continue to learn from him as he shares on Twitter.  Therefore, I made a point of following up with Jeff regarding his renovation of the Derrick Club.  He graciously agreed to give me even more time to discuss the project.

If that weren’t enough, we also managed to wrangle George Waters to participate in the discussion.  George pitched in on the shaping of the Derrick Club, and by all accounts, their collaboration was a smash hit with the membership.  Quick side note, if you do not own George’s book Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes the Game, I cannot recommend it enough.  George knows his stuff, and he is one of the genuine good guys in the game.

And now, on to the transformation of the Derrick Club…

The first hole, under construction.

The first hole, under construction.


PROJECT DISCUSSION

Have you worked on projects together before?

Jeff Mingay:  Yes, George has worked with me on restoration and renovation projects at the Victoria Golf Club, in British Columbia, and at Seattle’s Overlake Golf and Country Club in recent years. As well as the Derrick Club redo.

What do you respect about each other?

George Waters:  I respect a lot about Jeff and have learned a great deal working with him over the years.  I think his commitment to designing and building quality golf courses is second to none.  He puts a tremendous amount of his personal time and effort into a project and is heavily involved from the big picture planning to the very small details.  In addition to being an excellent architect he is also a very accomplished shaper and he crafted the majority of the green complexes at the Derrick Club himself.  There aren’t too many architects these days that are prepared to put that kind of personal effort into a project.  Jeff is also his own toughest critic, a quality I really admire.  In fact, I think one of my best contributions to the Derrick project was helping Jeff know when he had gotten the most out of a hole or feature.

JM:  George is very knowledgeable about golf and course architecture.  He traveled the world to see and play the best courses, and has worked with many of the most accomplished living architects on some very well-received projects.  He knows history and design theory, but most importantly the practical aspects of implementing design ideas on the ground successfully.  He’s very creative too, and meticulous in all aspects of his work.  I also respect and appreciate that George is not afraid to speak up when he thinks an idea I have could be better or he doesn’t completely agree with what I’m planning to do.  I know that candid input made my work at the Derrick much better.  In many cases, the best architecture is done collaboratively, especially when people are like-minded.  George and I are like-minded.

What got you excited about the project at The Derrick Club?

JM:  Immediately, it was obvious that a lot of work was required to fix the Derrick.  The old course had a lot of fundamental problems that needed correcting.  It didn’t function very well at all in terms of drainage and properly catering to the enjoyment of golfers of all abilities.  If the club desired to have the best course possible on that property, they needed a comprehensive rebuild of the course.  At the end of the day, that’s what happened.  And, in an era when not many new courses are being built, that opportunity to essentially build a brand new course at the Derrick was very exciting.

GW:  I loved the idea of doing a golf course in a very traditional style on a relatively flat piece of ground.  People often see flat ground as boring when it comes to golf, but many of my favorite courses overseas and in North America occupy very gentle terrain.  I was excited to demonstrate how interesting golf course design on gentle terrain could be.

In a project like this, how much weight do playability and functionality considerations carry respectively?

GW:  Before we started, the Derrick Club had serious playability issues – the course felt cramped and awkward.  It was difficult, but in many of the wrong ways.  By opening the course up and striving to make it interesting as well as challenging, we really broadened the course’s appeal.  Now players are challenged by angles and placement, rather than trees, ponds, and rough.

JM:  Those are the two factors that drove the entire project at the Derrick, and sold the idea of building a new course to a large majority of club members.  Again, the property needed to be comprehensively drained to improve its function, and many architectural improvements relative to making the course more enjoyable for golfers of all abilities was essential.  Without these two necessities pushing our ideas for the place, this project would not have happened.

Was enhancing the sustainability of the facility a goal of the project, and if so, was that goal met?

JM:  Relative to drainage, yes.  The old course was becoming unsustainable because it drained so poorly.  The grass on the greens was a problem as well.  Bent grass greens are essential in Edmonton’s climate.  Poa annua just doesn’t handle cold, snow and ice well at all.  In fact, before the new course was built, Darryl Maxwell, the Derrick’s golf course superintendent, had the largest bent grass nurseries I’ve seen anywhere in my travels.  He had to be prepared for each spring.  There were always large swaths of the old Poa annua greens that suffered winter kill and needed replacing.  The new bent grass greens have eliminated this annual rite of spring!  Darryl and I are also in the process of determining where we can eliminate some currently maintained turf areas throughout the course without negatively affecting play.  Replacing some of that maintained grass with fescue and native grass would not only enhance the look of the course in a natural fashion but hopefully cut down on maintenance requirements, too.

What changes did you make to the routing of the course?  Why were those changes necessary?

JM:  The routing of the course and sequence of play was changed dramatically.  I used 12 of the existing corridors of play in the new routing.  The other six corridors are new – they didn’t exist before – which was necessary.  One problem with the old course was that all of the par-4s measured 380 yards.  All four par-3s played 210 yards from the back markers.  There wasn’t enough variety in the length and directions the holes played.  On the new course, the short holes run the gamut, measuring 140 yards to 220 yards.  The fourth is a 300-yard par-4.  The 12th, 14th and 15th can play longer than 450 yards as par-4s.  There are only two par-5s.  The new routing created a lot more variety.  The new sequence of play makes more sense as well. Many of the transitions between holes on the old course were awkward. With only two exceptions, tees are right next to the greens on the new course.  In fact, George and I laughed when the new course was criticized by a few Derrick members who thought some of our tees were too close to the previous greens…we took that as a compliment!

GW:  As we started finishing areas it was very hard to imagine that the course had been routed the way it was.  The existing course felt tight and awkward from both a play and experiential standpoint.  The new course very quickly started to feel wide and comfortable.  People kept commenting on how big the property now seemed and they were right, there was a lot of wasted space prior to the renovation and Jeff did a great job taking full advantage of the site.

What was your approach to the bunkering? Were there specific sources of inspiration upon which you drew?

GW:  The first couple of bunkers I shaped were a little overdone – I was trying too hard.  The next pair I did were bold but very simple in their shapes, you saw a bit of sand but most of the visual appeal was in the grassed down face.  Jeff and I both liked the simpler shapes better, we went back and edited the first ones and then carried on with a more traditional style.  We wanted to focus on creating interesting and different bunker arrangements because we knew that was our best chance of making the holes memorable on flattish ground.  We also both believe very strongly in placing bunkers in a wide variety of locations, even if on paper a bunker seemed “out of play”.  Jeff and I have both spent a lot of time on classic courses and for the most part you find bunkers all over the place because traditional architects understood that golfers hit the ball everywhere and weather conditions change.  Placing bunkers in a wide range of locations makes the course interesting for golfers of all abilities in all conditions, and helps make the holes different and memorable.

JM:  In the planning stages, I knew I wanted to give the course a look that was distinctive to the Edmonton area, and the province of Alberta.  I also had some pretty good ideas about where I thought the bunkers should be located for strategic and aesthetic purposes, among others.  George and I were on-site a lot throughout the entire project, both shaping.  We lived together in Edmonton, too.  This gave us plenty of time for discussion that resulted in quite a bit of alteration to my original plans as the course developed.  There are only a couple classic courses from the pre-World War II era in western Canada.  George and I both grew up in the east, on classic courses, and felt that the best way to give the Derrick Club a distinctive course was to draw inspiration from what we know back home.  We talked about the bunkers at classic New York area courses by Donald Ross, Devereux Emmet, A.W. Tillinghast – places like Garden City and St. George’s on Long Island, near where George grew up.  George shaped all of the bunkers and did a great job giving them simple shapes for the most part, but bold character at the same time.  The bold grass down, flat bottom look nicely reflects some of Ross’s, Emmet’s and Tillinghast’s stuff nicely.

What was your approach to tree management?

JM:  In order to work a new and improved routing onto the property, and truly enhance the enjoyment of the course for all golfers, nearly 2,000 trees were removed during the project.  One of the best compliments I’ve received above the new course from a number of long-time members is that they never realized the property was so expansive and that the opportunities we took advantage of in routing the new course existed.  The old course was very cluttered and constricted.  Many of the trees that were removed were in poor health or were less desirable specimens that cluttered the property and hid the nicest trees out there.  The result of 2,000 trees going is that the property is much more attractive now.  The most impressive and healthiest trees shine, there are a bunch of beautiful long views across the course, and there’s adequate room to enjoy golf and keep healthy turf.  I’m in the process of creating a long-range tree management plan for the club now.  This will include some new plantings, and spell out how the course should look and feel relative to trees and other vegetation into the future.

How would you describe the new greens at The Derrick?

JM:  I’ve also been complimented by quite a few members of the Derrick for “not doing anything crazy with the greens”.  It’s a relatively subtle property, so I didn’t want the greens and the contouring of the putting surfaces to stand out in contrast to the native character of the ground.  At the beginning of the project, George and I talked a lot about greens.  He rightfully reminded me on several occasions that a lot of the classic courses we admired feature seemingly subtle greens with small intricacies that create interesting and adequately challenging putting and recovery play from around the greens.  This is the theme I kept in mind while shaping the greens.  The word around the club is that the new greens are quite challenging to putt mainly because the subtleties are difficult to read.  And I think they fit the terrain very nicely, aesthetically.  The variety of sizes and shapes and angles enhances the variety of the holes, too.  At the par-5 eleventh, for example, the green is only about 3,500 square feet.  The long par-4 15th hole has a green that’s about 10,000 square feet in size.  So, there’s quite a bit of variety.

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The approach to the 4th, featuring the beautiful new bunkering.

Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

JM:  Selling the project was challenging.  The best superintendents are often their own worst enemies.  This is a compliment, because they’re so good at masking all of the deficiencies of a course that need to be fixed functionally.  By the time members tee off, there’s no sign of any deficiencies!  Darryl Maxwell did a great job of creating a list of deficiencies that the old course had, hole by hole.  This info was shared with the membership as part of the Master Plan, and through a series of Town Hall meetings, and presentations over a period of months.  Essentially, all of the architectural ideas in my plan were sold as directly related to eliminating and correcting deficiencies of the course.  This was the truth, and a great strategy that eventually sold the project to a large majority of the membership.  Again, it was the necessity of fixing functional and playability issues throughout the property that drove the project, and allowed us to also get creative with the design of a new course.  Once the project started, the club smartly limited member involvement.  They stuck to the belief that the membership voted “yes” on the plan that was presented, and that we should be able to implement our design without interference.  Darryl Maxwell was the project supervisor and we dealt with a construction committee made up of two Board members.  It was really well done on the club’s part.

GW:  The Derrick Club project might have been one of the easiest I’ve ever worked on from a membership relations standpoint.  On most projects I’ll get at least a few members who come out to let me know that we’re ruining the golf course and the whole thing will be a complete disaster.  That never happened once at the Derrick Club.  I think Jeff and the club did a great job of communicating the goals and the reasons for the project and I also think that even casual observers could see that we were making very real improvements to the course.  I think the sudden expansiveness of the property really resonated with people in a positive way.  Even if they weren’t always sure about what they saw architecturally, I think people could feel that the course was getting better.

How did the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

JM:  I think it will probably be a wash.  In other words, I don’t think the new course will be any more expensive to maintain than the old one.  But the focuses have changed.  For example, the necessities of pumping water from low areas and bunkers following heavy rains, and re-turfing Poa greens after a harsh winter, are gone.  The new grass faced bunkers proved to be a challenge during a hot, dry summer this year though.  They’re already looking at installing mist heads on some of the most troublesome bunkers, with southern exposure, to keep the turf on those bold grass faces healthy.  There’s more fairway area to mow, water, and treat on the new course, too; but with fewer trees, there are also fewer maintenance challenges relative to shade, roots, leaf pick up, etc.

What makes you proudest about the new Derrick?

GW:  I’m proud that we were able to very successfully apply the principles of classic architecture and really got the most out of the property.  I think we also did a great job of demonstrating restraint throughout the process.  We didn’t go overboard anywhere even though we certainly utilized some unusual design features.  The best examples of golf course architecture on gentle terrain typically work with the subtlety of the ground rather than fight against it.  We put a lot of effort into following that example and the result is a course that looks, feels, and plays like a classic course even though it is brand new.  I’m very proud of that.

JM:  The fact that we genuinely improved the function of the course, particularly relative to drainage.  During the planning stages, I would show up at the Derrick in the spring time and there would be pumps running every day, trying desperately to get water off the property following the snow melt.  This spring, the entire property, without an exception, was bone dry.  It’s effectively drained.  I’ve also received many compliments about how “fun” the new course is to play, from golfers of all abilities.  There are very few opportunities to lose a ball at the new Derrick, but no one’s complaining that it’s “too easy” either.  The course seems to be adequately challenging better golfers and at the same time it’s allowing everyone else to have fun too. And, with the new routing and sequence of play, members are getting around comfortably in three hours and 45 minutes, regularly.  These are all positives that we sold to the membership and delivered on.  I’m proud of that.


THE TRANSFORMATION IN PICTURES

As Jeff mentioned above, the routing and order of the holes changed significantly in the renovation.  A bold move that clearly paid off.  (click on any image to enlarge)

DERRICK MASTER PLAN_Artistic Plan copy

The par-3 2nd was previously the 3rd hole on the old course.

The par-4 12th was previously the short par-5 1st on the old course.

The par-4 13th was previously the 6th hole on the old course.

The par-3 16th did not exist before the renovation.

The finisher was previously the 9th on the old course.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 11 (Blue Sky Findings)

Over the summer, the initiative to transform Canal Shores along the lines I outlined in my previous posts (4 Course Concept & Inspiration for the New Canal Shores) gained significant momentum.  That gain is primarily attributable to my good fortune in connecting with Pat Goss.  Pat is the Director of Golf for Northwestern University and Luke Donald’s coach (follow Pat on Twitter at @patgossnugolf).  He is also highly committed to youth golf and teaching the game.  And perhaps best of all, when it comes to golf geekery, Pat is a soul brother.

Several months ago, the Canal Shores Board formed a “Blue Sky” Committee to explore options for the future of the facility.  Pat and I have a similar vision, and so we volunteered to explore how we might go about turning that vision into a reality.  In early September, I presented our findings to the Canal Shores Grounds Committee and members of the Board, with architect Drew Rogers in attendance.  The response was enthusiastic, and we continue to walk down the road toward the New Canal Shores.

I share a recap of the presentation here for two reasons: First, I want to publicly thank Pat, Dave Zinkand, Drew Rogers, and everyone else from The Game of Golf who lent their expertise and support to getting us to this point. Second, I wanted anyone who was not able to attend the meeting to have the opportunity to stay up to date on how this project is developing.


MEETINGS & CONVERSATIONS

Over the past several months, Pat and I have been talking to various parties within The Game of Golf.  We were sharing ideas for the New Canal Shores, and seeking answers to two questions:

  1. Are we crazy for trying to do this?
  2. If we go forward, can we expect support from The Game to get the renovation done and pay for it?

Among those who talked to us were:

  • National and Regional Organizations – United States Golf Association, Chicago District Golf Association, American Society of Golf Course Architects
  • Youth Golf Organizations – First Tee of Greater Chicago, First Tee of Metropolitan New York, The Golf Practice
  • Golf Course Architects – Drew Rogers, David Zinkand, Tim Liddy, Dave Axland, Andy Staples, Mike Benkusky, Todd Quitno
  • Golf Course Builders and Managers – Wadsworth, Lohman, KemperSports
  • Superintendents of Local Clubs – Bryn Mawr, Conway Farms, Old Elm, Onwentsia Club
  • Professionals – Luke Donald, area teaching pros
  • Coaches – David Inglis & Emily Fletcher (NU), Jed Curtis (ETHS)

Their answers to our questions have been:

  1. Yes, you are crazy, in exactly the right kind of way.
  2. ABSOLUTELY!

The response was overwhelmingly positive and offers of support have already started to roll in – expertise, discounted materials and services, funding, etc.  It has been humbling to interact with these good people who love the game of golf so much, and want to see more kids playing it.


GUIDING PRINCIPLES EXPANDED

The Canal Shores Board previously adopted the following Guiding Principles to govern decisions about the direction of the facility.  We are committed to:

  • Providing an outstanding golf facility that focuses on youth and family golf.  To thrive, the golf facility should deliver an experience that is fast, flexible, and fun for all levels of player.
  • Maximizing value to the community by creating a multi-use green space that is designed for effective mixed use, with golf at its core.  Further, all stakeholders enjoy and benefit from exposure to natural beauty, which Canal Shores will embody.
  • Preparing for the long-term by committing to sustainability.  From a land-stewardship perspective, that means restoration of habitat, proactive tree management, and responsible maintenance practices.  From a business perspective, that means designing the golf component in such a way that the fine line between great design that generates revenue and maintenance cost minimization is effectively walked.

I chose to expand on the above principles to specifically address the renovation and its intent.  The intention is for the facility to be significantly more successful, especially with families and kids.  With the right execution, more players should be able to play without diminishing the value of the facility to non-players and neighbors.

The golf component of the facility will be designed, built, and maintained in a such a manner that:

  • Neighbors may adopt and beautify areas along the the property border without major concern of negative impacts from play.
  • There is harmony with the multi-use paths and wildlife habitat enhancement areas.
  • The beauty of the property is drastically enhanced for players, walkers, and neighbors.
  • The increased volume of players will not have a material negative impact to neighbors.
  • Negative impacts to personal safety and neighboring property damage will be minimized.

Do these high standards create a real design and execution challenge?  Absolutely.  But to me, there is no reason to settle for “less than” in the New Canal Shores.


CANAL SHORES IS DIFFERENT

There are those who believe that the best path forward is for Canal Shores to try and be more like other standard 18 hole courses in the area – more like Chick Evans, or Wilmette GC, or Westmoreland CC.  Pat and I obviously do not share this view.

To us, Canal Shores is unlike any other golf course we have ever played, specifically because of the land on which it sits.  It is woven like a thread into the fabric of the community.  It blends natural beauty with man-made architecture and the infrastructure of the community.  It is also segmented by the streets in a way that has created a culture of free-form use by players.  Its openness welcomes mixed-use in a way we don’t often see in golf facilities in America.

These aspects of the character of Canal Shores are what makes it compelling.  It does not need to be more like other courses or clubs.  To truly thrive, we advocate embracing and building upon what makes Canal Shores unique.  It is this uniqueness that has so many people from The Game of Golf lining up to help us.  In this case, they see that different is better.

What does this mean in practice?  It means two things:

  1. We would be upgrading from a single 18-hole golf course, to 4 courses totaling ~40 holes.
  2. We would be adopting a “ski area” approach to the structure of the facility.  Different areas, experiences, and demands for different skill levels.

In this manner, we can be of maximum value to the greatest number of players.


PART OF A MOVEMENT

Although the multi-course concept being considered is unique in Chicagoland, we are certainly not alone in our efforts to reconnect the game of golf to its original spirit.  Around the country, alternative golf projects like those at Sweetens Cove, the Schoolhouse Nine, and others are gaining notoriety. (Click here for a map of Shorties & Alternative courses around the country – each pin includes links to more information.)

Two of my favorite projects are the Andy Staples designed Rockwind Community Links and John Ashworth’s campaign to renovate Goat Hill Park.  These projects serve as examples and inspiration for Canal Shores.

Learn more about Rockwind in this short video (video may take several moments to load):

Learn more about Goat Hill in this short video (video may take several moments to load):


REFINING THE MULTI-COURSE CONCEPT

Architect David Zinkand was kind enough to spend two days visiting Canal Shores and learning about our desires for the facility (click here to learn more about Dave).  He then created for us a Preliminary Rendering of the New Canal Shores free of charge.  This rendering is not meant to represent the final plan in every detail, but it does give a compelling glimpse into the future.
CanalShores-ZinkandRendering_091015

Attendees at the meeting were also sent an Executive Summary of the proposed project that included a statement of our intention to apply for a planning grant from the ASGCA/USGA First Links program.  That application has been submitted, and initial response from the directors of the program has been enthusiastic.  (Click here to view the Executive Summary)


WHY GO IN THIS DIRECTION?

This is a personal question that each person who might be involved in the project must answer for themselves.  People from the Game of Golf have answered that they believe that it can be done, that it will work, and that it is exactly what the game needs.

For me, there are several reasons why I am willing to put my time, energy, and money into transforming Canal Shores:

  • As a dad, I want my boys to have a chance to fall in love with the game the way that I did.
  • As a member of the community, I would love to be a part of leaving a legacy of a special place for golf, outdoor recreation, and natural beauty.
  • As a player, Canal Shores can be a set of 4 world-class golf courses, and I want to play them for years to come.

More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 10 (Off-season Projects)

The season is slowly drawing to a close, and the Canal Shores Grounds Committee has made a decision to tackle several projects between now and May 1, 2016.

We have scheduled the first batch of volunteer days (sessions are 9am-noon):

  • Sat 10/31
  • Sun 11/15
  • Sat 11/28

All are welcome, and it takes no particular skill to pitch in.  If you are willing, email me at jwizay1493@hotmail.com, or just show up.

Following is a brief run-down of our projects.  As they progress, I will periodically be updating this page with time-lapse photos.  For more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter (@JasonWay1493) or Instagram (@jwizay1493).


CLEAN-UP AND CLEARING

We will be continuing the process of “reclaiming the ridge” that we started on hole #3 earlier this year.  In that pilot project, we learned several lessons about how best to fight invasive tree species like buckthorn, while improving playability for golfers.

The steps of the process are:

  1. Clear away the understory, including cutting down brush and small trees, and picking up trash.  Stack the brush neatly.
  2. Treat the stumps immediately.
  3. Determine which larger trees are “specimens” (ideally with the assistance of an arborist).
  4. Cut down larger unhealthy, dead, or undesirable trees.
  5. Treat the stumps immediately.
  6. Chip all small-to-medium material and spread mulch in the treeline to suppress re-growth.
  7. Haul away larger material.
  8. Seed into the mulchline.
  9. Mow the new grass areas, including the new tree growth.

Out of concern for erosion, we will not be doing any cleanup or clearing down the canal bank until we can afford to have those portions professionally done as part of a broader plan to enhance wildlife habitat and water filtration.

This next phase has already begun on hole #2, and will continue depending on weather.  We are also limited from a financial perspective in that chipping and hauling away material can be quite expensive, and we do not take money for these projects out of the operating budget of the course.  Therefore, our progress is partially dictated by donations.  If you would like to donate, contact me at jwizay1493@hotmail.com or Tom Tully at ttully@canalshores.org.

Overgrown treeline on hole #2, prior to the clean-up and clearing process.

Overgrown treeline on hole #2, prior to the clean-up and clearing process.


 GREENS EXPANSION

Tom has already started the process of reclaiming lost green space by mowing some collars out the edge of the green pads.  This will happen throughout the course this fall.

Although the newly mown collars are puttable, the ultimate goal is to have consistent green-height grass running out to the edge of the green pad.  This will require re-seeding, and in some instances replacement of grass sections that we hope to have available from a newly established turf nursery.

New mowing pattern on hole #17. The lighter grass illustrates the additional green area to be reclaimed.

New mowing pattern on hole #17. The lighter grass illustrates the additional green area to be reclaimed.


BUNKER REMOVAL/REWORK ON #12

The fairway bunker has already been removed on hole #12, with new grass growing in nicely.  This completes for now our project to expand the width of the hole significantly to the left.  In conjunction with the establishment of tall grass down the right side, the hole now plays as a true dogleg.

This fall, we will be removing three of the four bunkers around #12 green, and reworking the front left bunker to give it more character.  The aesthetically awful catch bunkers behind the green will be transformed into a containment mound planted with more pleasing tall grass.  The area left of and behind the green will be mown to fairway height to provide players with more interest and options in their short game shots.

CanalShores12-BunkersLeft_100915


BUNKER BUILD ON #11

Inspection of the ground short-right of the green on #11 reveals that there was previously a bunker there.  We intend to restore that bunker while at the same time giving it significantly more character.  I have been feeling inspired by CB MacDonald/Seth Raynor bunkering that I have seen lately, so this one might get a little creative.

The mounding that leads into the EL underpass tunnel will also be reworked and enhanced to tie into the new look that we are working to establish throughout the course.


GREEN SURROUNDS ENHANCEMENT ON #2

The green on hole #2 is actually quite neat.  It is a small push-up green with one small bunker front-left.  We have already begun the process of expanding the puttable area on the green pad and mowing down the surrounds to fairway height to expose little ripples in the ground and give more short-game variety.

Additional grass will be planted to create a run-off in the area left and behind the green that has already been cleared of brush and dead trees. We will also be reworking the small bunker in front of the green to make it a little more interesting.


The Grounds Committee and staff are looking forward to continuing to make progress on our special little course.  Positive feedback from players on work to date has been greatly appreciated and is motivational.  As always, we are happy to accept any assistance offered.  Bring your loppers, your chainsaw, or your checkbook – we’ll take all the help we can get.

Stay tuned for updates throughout the fall and spring…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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To Heath & Links with Drew Rogers

Drew Rogers is a generous man.  I have learned this first hand in my work on GeekedOnGolf and Canal Shores.  He shares his experience and expertise freely.  So it is no surprise that he was kind enough to bring us along on his recent trip to England by sharing his experiences in daily journal posts online.

Drew and I talked upon his return and he agreed to provide a recap of the tour with us here.  In case you missed his daily journal, links are provided at the bottom of this post.  You can also read more from Drew in his previous GeekedOnGolf interview.


I’m fresh off one of the greatest golf tours in my life – the To Heath & Links Tour of England.  For those who want to gain a general perspective of the experience, this recap will hopefully inspire.

THE TOUR

It’s not Scotland and it’s not Ireland, but there are some pieces of each with England’s own unique touches as well.  The golf experience was certainly diverse: two heathland courses (Sunningdale and Berkshire); followed by two links courses (Royal St. George’s and Royal Cinque Ports); then back to the heathlands (Walton Heath); on to links again (St. Enodoc, Royal North Devon, and Burnham & Berrow); and a strong heathlands finish (Swinley Forest, Woking, and St. George’s Hill).  That’s 185 golf holes in ten days.

HEATH OR LINKS?

Both are so uniquely good and yet so different.  England is blessed to feature the best of both.  My impression of the heathland courses begins with great beauty.  A contrast of maintained turf against the backdrop of pines, heather, and rhododendrons.  Colors and textures – a wonderful palate for an architect to work with to define strategies and demark margins of play.  The terrain is ideal.  Rolling contours (sometimes dramatic) and generally sandy, loamy soils that are ideal for golf.  Heather is rough stuff.  One can only hope to wedge out and move along.  Some courses have allowed the heather to encroach too far, in my opinion, negating the architect’s original design intentions, options, and strategies.  Golfers there seem way more tolerant of the impacts of heather than I would have imagined.  It wouldn’t go over well here, I can promise you!  Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler and Willie Park, Jr. dominated the heathland scene.

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

Links golf is a brand that I was certainly more familiar with, having traveled a number of times to Scotland and Ireland.  Links golf is the purest form of golf there is.  There is a storied history to its derivation. Without the linksland, we wouldn’t have golf at all, and I suppose that’s why it’s my favorite brand of golf to play.  I enjoy the firm, running surfaces, the odd contours and randomness.  Links golf invites quirkiness and deviation from norm, like the creativity that children employ in the games they make up.  There’s nothing quite like it – and if you don’t appreciate links golf, then you probably don’t quite understand what the game is all about.  To my surprise, I found that England (like Scotland and Irleand) is home to some of the finest links courses in the world.  Names like Colt and Fowler resurfaced on the links, along with Old Tom Morris and James Braid.

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

COLT & FOWLER

I won’t beat around the bush regarding Harry Colt – I think he may be the best there ever was, period.  He takes you on a journey, exposes you to so much variety, but all within the context of the varied terrain and setting.  His use of angles on a landscape is masterful, as is his understanding of depth, deception, scale and proportion with bunkering, hummocks, positioning of fairways and contouring complementary greens.  Maybe he picked up a few things from MacKenzie?  Certainly these qualities are more artistic classifications, but they are vitally important for an architect to possess, such as an ability to very simplistically employ them as the test of golf is created.  When it’s all done right, you know it – Harry Colt got it.

Harry Colt's Swinley Forest

Harry Colt’s Swinley Forest

And what of Herbert Fowler?  Maybe he wasn’t quite the artist that Colt was, but he was darned skilled at creating a proper test of golf.  His eccentric efforts at The Berkshire were exhilarating to see with such playful greens and an arrangement of holes unlike any other I’ve seen (six 3s, six 4s and six 5s).  Then at Royal North Devon he tweaked Old Tom Morris’ work employing a ‘less is more’ approach – solid, but also very simple.  Maybe his finest work, Walton Heath, is a testament to his artistic flare and ability to balance strategic features on an otherwise subtle landscape.

Herbert Fowler's Walton Heath

Herbert Fowler’s Walton Heath

GOLF IN ENGLAND

I hope I don’t go too far here, but I was really refreshed by what I saw on the courses during this trip (not that it was a great surprise, given all my other trips to the British Isles).  Golf is social.  Golf is NOT exclusive.  Golf is exercise.  And golf can be shared with one’s dog!  Dogs are everywhere and welcomed. The game is played differently in England than in the U.S.  They play quickly, and they play matches.  Four-balls are rarely allowed.  Two-balls and three-balls are normal and preferred.  Golfers don’t play for scores, and they don’t obsess about handicaps. They play for the brisk walk, the companionship, and for the gamesmanship of a friendly match.  If takes more than three hours, it’s probably not worth doing.  They also appreciate good architecture.  They realize that the game is a test of humility.  The English don’t have an air of golf entitlement – they just play.  Pinch me, England, I’m in love!

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

PAR IS PAR

If you think that an arrangement of 36-36-72 is the rule of thumb, then plan to be disappointed in England.  Par is whatever the architects happened to feel fit the ground the best.  In ten days, I played courses with pars of 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.  One of the 72s had six each of 3s, 4s, and 5s.  The par 68 was Swinley Forest at just over 6200 yards, which included 8 par fours over 400 yards!  And Swinley may be one of the best I’ve ever seen.  My conclusion (and advice) is, don’t get tied up in knots over what you think par should be or that a course isn’t worthy because of a break from the norm.  I enjoyed each of the courses just the same – par was irrelevant.  Most of the time, I didn’t even realize the overall par until the round was nearing completion.  I suppose I was just having too much fun!

SHORT HOLES

Par-3s, and maybe a few par-4s, are the absolute soul of the game that I enjoyed for ten days.  As was the case with the matter of par itself, let’s again push through some preconceived notions about par-3s.  On one course, I played six of them.  On another course, the round started with one.  On another, the round ended with one.  A par-3 can be the second hole and on several courses, a par-3 was the tenth hole.  Much to my surprise, we never played consecutive 3s, but we already know that can work as well (Cypress Point, Oitavos Dunes, Newport National, etc.).

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

The short holes provide more than just links between longer holes.  They’re strategically “fitted” into the sequence where they can be inspirational to the experience and provide great variety to one’s round.  I saw some damn good one’s too – the 10th at The Berkshire, the 8th at St. George’s Hill, the 4th at Swinley Forest, the 6th and 16th at Royal St. George’s, the 17th at St. Enodoc – they’re all real beauties.

The short Par-4 4th at St. George's Hll

The short Par-4 4th at St. George’s Hll

From an architect’s perspective, I feel strongly about having at least one, dynamic, strategic and potentially reachable 4-par in a round.  I think that helps make the golf course and experience complete…and fun!  Such a hole should entice bold play and reward the best shots handsomely, but always with the chance of peril.  Maybe the best I saw was the 4th at St. George’s Hill – as enticing as I’ve seen.  Others include the 6th at Royal Cinque Ports, the 3rd at Walton Heath, the 11th at Swinley Forest, the 12th at Berkshire Red, and the 4th at St. Enodoc.

MISC. DESIGN ATTRIBUTES

We saw amazing green contours, especially at Royal Cinque Ports and Royal St. George’s, varied with boldness to repel or collect, dramatic segmentation and pocketing followed by subtle rippling.  With some, the credit perhaps goes to Nature.  While others were obviously touched by the masterful hand of man.

The beautiful 4th green at Royal St. George's

The beautiful 4th green at Royal St. George’s

Hazards on these courses are less inviting than what we were accustomed to.  Deep sod-walled pits, heather laced embankments, and even a few fortified ramparts.  The one thing about hazards – mainly bunkers – is that when they’re properly placed, they can make a standard hole into one of the most memorable, and devious, that you’ll ever play.  Take the 6th “Himalayas” at St. Enodoc, the 4th at Royal St. George’s (some refer to it too as “Himalayas’), and the 4th “Cape Bunker” at Royal North Devon.  And what about the sloped bank on the 10th at the Berkshire and the steep, shaved slope fronting the green on the 6th at Royal Cinque Ports?  The strategic placement of bunkers and features was also prevalent, like the 4th hole at Woking.  Colt’s subtle placements of hazards at Swinley Forest and Sunningdale as well as Fowler’s randomness at Walton Heath were also brilliant.

The 6th

The 6th “Himalayas at St. Enodoc

One thing that really pleased me and captured me at the same time was the use of angled fairways.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  It really is, but it is rarely done well.  All of the courses I saw in England had more than a few holes where the tee placement worked with an angled fairway to tempt a player.  What looks to be an enormously wide target, in fact, requires commitment and execution of a very precise tee shot.  All the architect requires is width – the space to use the terrain as he wishes.  But the result is a shot with options, and options lead to a more enjoyable golf experience.  Three cheers for angled fairways!

Angled fairway at Woking

Angled fairway at Woking

FINAL THOUGHTS

Of all the architecture I witnessed in England, what struck me most about the holes was the simplicity in which they were devised – simple positioning, simple development of greens, simple alignment of fairways and simple use/placement of innate features.  The courses were not complicated in their design.  In fact, they were far from complex.  They were very simply fitted on a proper landscape for the intended use and very strategically developed to provide the best golf experience.  That’s great architecture, and that’s why I had longed to make this trip.

I’m really blessed to have now witnessed some of the best architecture England has to offer, from the hands of Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr., James Braid, Tom Dunn, and Laidlaw Purves, among others – really great stuff!  I’m not going to rank the courses I saw, and I don’t have a scale bearing my name to push on anyone to help them assess their experiences – see them for yourself and make your own assessments.  If nothing else, I hope my journal inspires others to get out and see these great courses to appreciate what they’re all about.  We all have a commonality in that we love golf and we owe it to ourselves to examine how the game originated and how it has evolved.

My time in England was epic.  The brand of golf was refreshing and pure, the courses were raw and playful, beautiful and engaging.  Today, I’m home, inspired as ever to create even more enjoyable golf encounters with my clients.  Amazing trips like this one pave the way for even more creativity and a fresh outlook on the game.


To Heath & Links Tour Daily Journal:

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf