Geeked on Golf

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


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Growing Grass – An Interview with Superintendent Brian Palmer

“I’ve had enough of winter already. Looking forward to growing grass again.”

This text message, sent to me by Shoreacres Superintendent Brian Palmer, sums up what I love and respect about Supers.  It is rare indeed to find a profession that consistently produces such passionate and dedicated individuals.  Brian epitomizes that professional commitment.

The season just ended, and Brian is already itching to get back to it, because he thinks his golf course can get better.  After recently having the privilege of playing Shoreacres, I find it hard to imagine what is left to improve.  The transformation during Brian’s tenure of Seth Raynor’s gem on the North Shore is astounding.  He has taken a charming old course and put it into the conversation for the best in Chicago, and the country.

I have been the beneficiary of Brian’s generosity in two ways:  First, he has been helping me with fall projects at Canal Shores.  And second, he agreed to let me pick his brain in an interview.  Enjoy the following insights into the man and his work, as well as a few photos of the beautiful green that he keeps.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

I was introduced to the game at a very young age, but didn’t start playing until I was 10 or 11.  My dad was a Superintendent and I used to love going to work with him.  The course always seems so big when you are 6 or 7.  My Grandfather shot his age until he was in early 80’s and he taught me how to play.

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

I’m not quite sure when, maybe towards the end of high school?  I do remember drawing more golf holes than note taking in my notebooks in high school.  Around that time I think I started asking my father about doing this for a career and what might be the necessary steps to start a successful career.

How did you get into the business?

Working for my father, then he sent me to work for a younger Superintendent in Central New York, where I’m from.

Where were you before Shoreacres, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I bounced around New York and Connecticut for internships and my first job out of college.  Then I went to work at Merion and was there for about seven years.

It’s a difficult business.  A golf course has many working parts and most of them are out of our control.  Over time I learned to: be a problem solver, do a lot with nothing, do whatever is necessary to get it done, to be able to go with the flow and be flexible, accept the fact that the course is rarely “perfect” in your eyes, and the importance of teamwork.  It’s also important to remember that it’s not your course.  You might spend the majority of your time looking after the course and treat it like it’s yours; but it’s the members’ course and not yours.

I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some of the best Superintendents from around the world, and when I was younger I thought that these guys must know everything.  Was I wrong.  It blew me away that they are constantly seeking new advice and input from everyone around them.  It’s important to continue your education day in and day out.

What are the keys to managing change for a Superintendent during a big project?

Managing large projects is fun – it’s important to be out there as much as possible and keep your head on a swivel.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

That every day is totally different.  It’s everything that you encounter that day; the sunrise, the sunset, the camaraderie with the staff, the quirks and intricacies of the property, the weather, the adversity and the beauty.

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

That’s a tough one.  I like heathland courses: Morfontaine, Walton Heath, Swinley Forest, and I need to play National.  I would like to see more Raynors too.

When you are not working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

My fiancé and I like to travel both domestically and internationally, find a good hike, a good beer and a good meal.  I spend a lot of time at the course and my world revolves around the course and the game.  So when I am not at the course I try to separate myself from it all.


MORE ON SHOREACRES

What do you know about the architectural history of Shoreacres?

The very beginning of the club’s history is a little blurry because the original clubhouse burned down in 1982 and we lost some of the historical documentation.  At some point Seth Raynor was commissioned to design and build the course.  The club was founded in 1916, construction started in ’18 or ’19, the course opened in ’21 and all 18 holes opened in ’22.  Very little was done to the course over time, meaning there was no rerouting or any drastic changes.

On most Golden Age courses surfaces shrink, trees grow, shots are lost, vistas are lost and aesthetics diminish.  At a certain point, it becomes necessary to bring it back to the way it used to be or go in a different direction.  It all depends on what the club is seeking.

(click on images to enlarge)

 

What were the key objectives of the project?

To restore the putting surfaces to their original sizes and restore the “infinity” edge that many Raynor and Macdonald greens possess.  We also wanted to get balls running into bunkers both off of the fairway and green.

Were there any surprises along the way?

No, not really.  Like most courses of this age, there was usually a lot of sand in the bunkers.  So we had to tweak the bottoms of the bunkers a little to get the water to drain because we have about 4-5 inches of sand in the bottom of the bunkers now.  My predecessor did a good job maintaining the integrity of the courses design.

How has the response been to the work thus far?

Everyone seems to be very pleased with the results, and there is definitely a significant increase in bunker shots per round.

 

What comes next?

There is always tweaking and we have a little tee work to be done.  There is never a shortage of work on a golf course.  There is a bunch of work to do in and around our ravines as we continue to introduce native plants, eradicate invasives and attempt to stabilize ravine areas.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Bandon Trails Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

BANDON TRAILS – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR – Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

Among the four full courses at Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon Trails stands out as the most different from the group.  Though the course starts just south of the Bandon Dunes course and plays through dunes for its first two holes, the course quickly leaves the shoreline dunes for the wooded areas inland.

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The uniqueness of Bandon Trails among the courses at Bandon Dunes, coupled with the beautiful terrain and the outstanding Coore/Crenshaw design, make this golf course a favorite among many Bandon visitors.  Within our group of 8 players, fully half listed Bandon Trails as their favorite of the Bandon courses.

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One notable difference to consider is that Bandon Trails has more elevation change than the other courses at the resort.  It is not a brutal walk by any stretch, but since many players are cramming in 36 or more holes, it bears mentioning that Bandon Trails can make for a more difficult walk at the end of a long day.  The back nine climbs to the fourteenth tee, plunges back into the valley, and then climbs again to the sixteenth green.

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Variety is one of the attributes that makes Bandon Dunes so special, and Bandon Trails provides more variety than any other course at the resort.

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Hole 1 – 356 yards – Par 4

Playing southward through dunes, the first hole plays as a slight dogleg right to an elevated green.

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The fairway is wide, but level lies are rare.

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The view to the west after ascending the first green is one of the best on the property.

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The writhing first fairway, as seen from behind the green.

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Hole 2- 166 yards – Par 3

The massive landing area short of this green is largely obscured by the large surrounding dunes.

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More room than appears from the tee . . .

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…though missing left presents difficulties.

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The first of a fantastic set of one shot holes at Trails.

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Hole 3 – 532 yards – Par 5

This gorgeous par-5 begins the course’s transition from dunes to hilly woodlands.

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The centerline bunkers provide additional challenge and interest for the second shot.

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Interestingly, none of the bunkers at the third actually touch the green.

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A beautiful setting.

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Hole 4 – 363 yards – Par 4

A lovely hole, the fourth plays out to a diagonal ridge bisecting the fairway.

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Drives that carry this ridge or play to the left will have a view of the green.  Drives that miss right will leave a blind approach.

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Three bunkers wait long right to gobble overly aggressive approaches.

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This view from behind the green reveals the scale of the fairway ridgeline.

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Hole 5 – 124 yards – Par 3

A beautiful short par-3.  Trees have been removed over the years to open up gorgeous views in this area of the course.

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Incorporation of the surrounding features into the greens adds great interest to Bandon Trails. On a different day, this ball may have ended up as a tap-in.

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The wonderfully contoured fifth green.

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Hole 6 – 359 yards – Par 4

Amazing what a small, well placed bunker can do to an otherwise simple drive.

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Playing to the high right of that bunker provides a view of the green but a crooked lie.

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Note the seamless transition from wide fairway to green.

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Hole 7 – 406 yards – Par 4

A terrific and difficult par-4, the seventh plays up a long and well bunkered fairway to an elevated and sloped green.

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The green is open in front, allowing players to work long approaches in along the ground while using the green’s contours to get close to the pin.

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The huge seventh green slopes significantly from back to front.  Putting back to a pin from the rear of the green is slippery.

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Hole 8 – 299 yards – Par 4

After the long par 4 seventh awaits the short par-4 eighth. A fantastic risk/reward hole.

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Though this green is reachable for many players, missing comes with a high cost.  Anything left is likely lost.

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The entire hole is designed to encourage players to take on the green, perhaps foolishly.

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Hole 9 – 522 yards – Par 5

The ninth is a classic par five which provides a bit of a breather for the golfer.

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The wide fairway is bunkered, but not oppressively so, and the hole continues to provide width through the green.

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Even the green complex is wide, with fairway ringing the putting surface for yards in all directions.

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The serene ninth hole.

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Hole 10 – 393 yards – Par 4

The tenth presents a very wide fairway, but the closer the player hugs the left, the better the angle and the shorter the approach.

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The large tenth green may lull players into a false sense of security on the approach.

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Hole 11 – 429 yards – Par 4

This lengthy par four presents the only internal water hazard at Bandon Dunes.  A rolling dogleg right around a waste area and a greenside pond.

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Having played several rounds without so much as thinking about a pond, the impact of the water hazard hugging the right of the green is large . . .

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. . . though it is quite pretty.

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While the eleventh is one of the longest two shot holes at Trails, the terrain and the open front of the green allows most players to hit the green in regulation.

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One of the longest par-3s on the property, the twelfth gives the player a massive amount of room to miss with the tee shot, particularly to the right . . .

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. . . but this large greenside knob makes recovery from misses right very difficult.

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From the rear, the player sees that short is the best place to miss this large green.

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Hole 13 – 374 yards – Par 4

Accuracy is critical for both shots on this rumpled two shot hole.

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Left is better off the tee, as it allows the approach to be played up the center of this narrow green, which falls off substantially on both sides.

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Approaches missed left will run up to twenty yards down this steep sideslope.

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And chipping from the sides of this green is no easy task.

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Hole 14 – 306 yards – Par 4

The first thing the player notices on this controversial short par four is the sheer beauty of the view.  The ocean and dunes to the right and rear, mountains in the distance straight ahead, the fourteenth tee is one of the prettiest spots at Bandon Dunes Resort.

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Tee shots short right will leave a steeply uphill, blind approach.  The left leaves a better angle.

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The green is small and treacherous.  Anything missing right or long will roll forever, and anything left leaves a delicate chip from a small depression to the narrowest part of this green.  2 or 20 – both are in play here.

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Hole 15 – 367 yards – Par 4

The ideal line off this tee is at or right of the cross bunker . . .

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. . . which will allow an approach up the mouth of the green.

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This beautifully bunkered green is one of the prettiest on the course.

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In fact, the stretch of holes from 14 to 17 is uniformly gorgeous.

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Hole 16 – 494 yards – Par 5

A short par-5 on the card, the sixteenth plays like it’s 100 yards longer.  It’s into the summer wind, and it’s drastically uphill.

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The slope in this wild fairway is STEEP and can add distance to a tee shot up the right.

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The green is well bunkered and contoured, as this view from the left side shows.

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The toughest walk at Bandon, but undeniably a standout par-5.

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Hole 17 – 159 yards – Par 3

The last of the one shot holes, the seventeenth presents a narrow green with a false front that must be carried.

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Distance control is at a premium.

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There is not much room to miss here, and no great spot to do so.

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Spectators add to the pressure.

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Hole 18 – 363 yards – Par 4

The final hole at Trails plays back through the dunes and up to the clubhouse.

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The fairway is riddled with mounds and lumps, making level lies rare.

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The large final green provides one last challenge.

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As noted above, Trails is different from the other three courses at Bandon. As a result, opinions on Trails vary more widely than those of the other courses. Some consider it the best course at Bandon. Others consider it their least favorite among the four.  But there can be little reasonable debate that Bandon Trails is an exceptional golf course in its own right, and that few who play it will place it anywhere but at or near the very top of the resort courses they have played.