Geeked on Golf

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


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Jon Cavalier’s Top 10 New Courses in 2015

The end of the year is a time for reflection on days past, anticipation of days to come, and most of all, a time for … LISTS!  Top 10 lists seem to be everywhere this week, and far be it for me to resist this trend. So, in that vein, here are the Top 10 Courses that I played for the first time in 2015 (along with some honorable mentions).

2015 was a great year for me in golf.  I was most fortunate in that I was able to play a lot of rounds in quite a few different areas of the U.S.  I was able to play and photograph several courses that I had been eager to visit for quite some time.  I started Twitter (@linksgems) and Instagram (@linksgems) accounts as a means of sharing some of these photos, and the response has been wonderful.  Best of all, I was able to play golf or talk golf with many different people over this past year, who I know I will call dear friends for years to come (including the creator of this very blog – thanks Jason).

But since this is a golf architecture blog, and you’re undoubtedly here for some golfporn, without further ado I present the Top 10 courses I played for the first time in 2015.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS

These are courses that deserve special mention, as they are all fantastic places to enjoy a round of golf, and in any normal year, would certainly have made my Top 10.  In no particular order:

Hollywood Golf Club (Deal, NJ)

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This Walter Travis-designed, Tom Doak-restored gem has a brilliant routing, gorgeous bunkering, wildly rolling greens and a top-notch staff that keeps the course in perfect condition.  What more can you ask for?

Ekwanok Country Club (Manchester, VT)

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Another Walter Travis masterpiece, Ekwanok is nestled in the Green Mountains and is one of the most scenic courses in New England, particularly in fall.  The par-5 7th hole is one of the best in the US.  Francis Ouimet won the US Amateur here in 1914.

Old Elm Club (Highland Park, IL)

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The under-the-radar, men only club (one of four in the Chicago area) is golf at its purest – having recently undergone a comprehensive restoration led by Drew Rogers, David Zinkand and Superintendent Curtis James, Old Elm is one of Chicago’s best.

Chambers Bay (University Place, WA)

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Embattled host of the 2015 U.S. Open, Chambers Bay was lambasted for its seemingly bumpy greens and other issues.  But for normal, everyday play, Chambers Bay provides a fabulous experience, including firm, links-like conditions and incredible views that go forever.

Newport Country Club (Newport, RI)

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One of the very few remaining true links experiences available in the U.S., the journey at Newport begins and ends with its magnificent clubhouse. The 18 holes one traverses in between aren’t too shabby either.

Old Sandwich Golf Club (Plymouth, MA)

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One of several things I share in common with Jason – I have never played a course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that I didn’t love.  Old Sandwich is no exception, and is one of Boston’s best offerings.

Old Macdonald (Bandon, OR)

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At most resorts, Old Mac would be the flagship course.  At Bandon, it’s one of four outstanding courses.  Ask 10 people to list their order of preference for the Bandon courses, and you’ll get 10 different lists.  You’ll also get 10 people who love Bandon Dunes.

Kingsley Club (Kingsley, MI)

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Kingsley Club, designed by Mike DeVries, gives life to its motto, “In the spirit of the game…”, by providing golfers with firm and fast playing conditions on true fescue fairways, greens that will boggle the mind of the best lag putter, and a gorgeous, secluded setting.


TOP 10 for 2015

Number 10 – Boston Golf Club (Hingham, MA)

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No course I played in 2015 exceeded my expectations by as much as Boston Golf Club did.  Going in, I expected to see a very good Gil Hanse-designed golf course.  What I found was an absolute masterpiece of modern golf design.

Playing through wooded terrain and rolling, often dramatic elevation changes, the course presents 18 different strategically challenging golf holes that present the golfer with options to be weighed and obstacles to be overcome or avoided.  Seemingly every shot requires the player to choose between a risky, high-reward play and a safer route that might take par out of play.  The par-4 5th hole is a clinic in how to build a challenging and fun short two-shot hole, and the par-3s are universally excellent.  A wonderful course.

Number 9 – Yeamans Hall Club (Hanahan, SC)

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Everything I love about golf, Yeamans Hall has in abundance. This Seth Raynor design is another extremely successful restoration projects by the Renaissance Golf team, and the care and talent that were brought to bear on Yeamans’s greens and bunkering is evident throughout the course.

Set on nearly a thousand acres of gorgeous lowcountry, the course has ample room to meander through hills and forests, down to the water’s edge and back.  Each hole culminates at a massive green complex, most of which contain deep bunkering and substantial undulations within the putting surface.  But best of all, the course is a true throwback, and all the cliches about “stepping back in time” upon passing through the magnificent gates are entirely true.

Number 8 – Shoreacres (Lake Bluff, IL)

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Another brilliant Raynor design, another excellent restoration led by Superintendent Brian Palmer with Tom Doak consulting, Shoreacres is arguably the best course in the Chicago area, and certainly one of Raynor’s finest.

One of Raynor’s earliest solo designs, Shoreacres contains some of his best MacRaynor templates, including the Road Hole 10th, which is one of the most difficult pars in the Midwest.  But the Raynor originals, like the 11th, which requires a carry over a deep ravine from the tee and another into the green, and the par-5 15th, which plays over some of the most interesting and unique terrain on the property.  Lovely in all respects.

Number 7 – Friars Head (Riverhead, NY)

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One of the best modern golf courses that I’ve ever played, Friar’s Head is unique in that the course begins in massive sand dunes (Hole 1), proceeds immediately to open farmland (Holes 2-8), returns to the dunes at the turn (Holes 9-10), takes one last turn through open terrain (Holes 11-14) and finishes with a dramatic run back through the dunes (Holes 15-18).

The ability of Coore & Crenshaw to route a golf course hasn’t been in doubt since they built Sand Hills, but Friar’s Head is perhaps the prototypical example of how to route a course over two starkly different kinds of ground. The transition holes (2, 8, 11 and 14) are some of the best on the course, and the finishing stretch from 14-18 is as good as any in the U.S.

Number 6 – Pacific Dunes (Bandon, OR)

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Tom Doak’s American masterpiece, Pacific Dunes is an incredible experience from start to finish. From the very first hole, with its large sand blowout to the left of the fairway and the hint of an ocean in the background, the golfer knows something special awaits. Fortunately, the wait is not long, as the course gallops straight for the ocean cliffs, which come into view on the otherworldly par-5 3rd hole and become part of the course on the signature-worthy par-4 4th hole.

The number of top notch holes at Pacific Dunes is too great to recount them all here, but the back-to-back par-3s at 10 and 11 and the par-4 13th are truly spectacular.

Number 5 – The Country Club at Brookline (Brookline, MA)

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That The Country Club is the third course from the Boston area to appear on this list speaks to the quality of golf in Beantown.  Admittedly, I am a sucker for the Francis Ouimet story, and the experience of playing the course on which he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the 1913 U.S. Open was enthralling. The par-4 3rd hole, a stiff two-shot hole playing down, around and between rocky outcroppings, and the par-5 11th hole (pictured), are among the best in the US.

Number 4 – Crystal Downs Country Club (Frankfort, MI)

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Somehow, I had never played a course designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie before playing Crystal Downs.  Quite the introduction!  The course begins from an elevated tee overlooking most of the open front nine, before proceeding to the more isolated out-and-back routing of the final nine.

Crystal Downs might have the most treacherous greens in the country, and “degreening” after one’s first putt is quite common.  In fact, the par-3 11th green is so steeply sloped from back to front that hitting an approach past the pin is essentially dead. On the 17th hole, it is possible to hit a reasonably good putt from the back of the green to a front pin and end up 50 yards or more back down the fairway.

While the greens are the focus at Crystal Downs, every hole on the golf course has considerable merit.  On the front nine, the three par-4s at the 5th (with landforms that must be seen to be believed), 6th (with “scabs” bunkering guarding the inside of the fairway) and 7th (with an amazing “boomerang” shaped green) are each world class.  Not to be outdone the par-5 8th hole, with a fairway like an angry sea, is easily one of the best in the US.

Number 3 – Chicago Golf Club (Wheaton, IL)

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Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1894 and redesigned by Seth Raynor in 1923, Chicago Golf Club is one of the oldest and most historic courses in the US.  Raynor was unrestrained in his implementation of the Macdonald templates, and as a result, Chicago has some of the biggest, baddest and boldest templates that either man ever built.

Combined with the extraordinarily firm and fast conditions, the difficult greens and the deep and ubiquitous bunkering (including at the rear of most greens), Chicago provides a serious test, but the lack of water hazards, deep rough and dense trees makes the course reasonably playable for all golfers.  Chicago is truly a course that harkens back to the golden era of golf course design, and golf is richer for its existence and preservation.

Number 2 – Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (Southampton, NY)

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There’s not much I can say about Shinnecock that hasn’t already been said by those who can say it far better than I can.  Suffice it to say that it’s a near perfect, breathtakingly beautiful “championship” golf course that is kept in such immaculate condition by Jon Jennings and his staff allowing that it could host the U.S. Open for 200 days a year.

It’s among the best handful of golf courses in the world, and one I would happily play every day for the rest of my life.  In every other year, it would be number one on this list.  But not this year.

Number 1 – National Golf Links of America (Southampton, NY)

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Those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter/Instagram know that I am an avid fan and ardent disciple of the work of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.  The pair have long been my favorite of the golden age designers, and I never pass up a chance to play a Macdonald or a Raynor course.  As a result, National Golf Links sat at the top of my wish list for some time.  When I finally got to play it this year, I went in with such anticipation that I was worried that the course would fail to live up to my impossibly high expectations.  It didn’t – it exceeded them, by a wide margin.

National Golf Links is everything I love about the game of golf and golf course architecture.  It’s an impeccably well-preserved example of one of the crowning achievements in golf course design and a virtually unaltered example of the principles and beliefs of one of the game’s most important historical figures.  It’s a course with ample fairways, almost no overly penal hazards and tame rough, allowing for a full panoply of shots that are rewarded when successful and which allow an opportunity for recovery when not.

The course has 18 holes that vary in quality between excellent and best-in-the-world, the latter category including what is perhaps the finest opening hole in golf, a short par-4 “Sahara,” a long par-4 “Alps” (my favorite par-4 in golf) and the finest Redan par-3 in the game.  And that’s just the first four holes.  Somehow, the remaining 14 holes manage to sustain this level of quality, which culminates with the uphill par-4 16th, its punchbowl green resting in the shadow of the Club’s iconic windmill, the downhill par-4 17th, dubbed Peconic for its picturesque views of Peconic Bay, and the par-5 18th, a roller coaster of a three-shot hole playing hard against bluffs bordering the bay and which some consider the best closing hole in the world.

From the moment one passes through the Macdonald gates, a day at National Golf Links is an experience any golfer would cherish for a lifetime.


And there you have it – the 10 best courses I played for the first time in 2015 (plus honorable mentions).  Note that if you disagree with anything above or think I’m nuts (National over Shinnecock?), let me know in the comments and we’ll have a discussion.  After all, what’s the point of these lists if not to stir debate.

Lastly, to those of you I had the great fortune of meeting or playing with over the past year, you have my deepest appreciation for sharing your time with me, and I am honored to count you among my friends (you know who you are).  Sincere thanks to Jason Way, not only for hosting this list on his blog, but for being so generous with his knowledge and for introducing me to some great golf courses in his neck of the woods.  Thanks to all of you for reading, and here’s to a 2016 filled with good golf on great courses with the best of friends, old and new.

Jon Cavalier
Philadelphia, PA

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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2015 Geeked on Golf Tour

What a year.

I took the madness to another level this year, playing 49 different golf courses in 11 different states.  34 of those golf courses were first time plays.  As an indication of the quality of the 2015 golf adventure, I would make a point and an effort to go back to 33 of the courses.

Effort was a key word in this year’s golf tour, and by the end of the season, I was feeling the effect of the miles, the hours, and the lost sleep.  Reflecting on the experience prompted starting a thread on GolfClubAtlas.com re: running around vs. staying home.  I must admit, with a little more time off the road, I can feel the itch already.  Dreams and plans are percolating for 2016, but first a few highlights from this season.


Four courses entered my list of Top 10 favorites, which is getting increasingly tough to crack.

Essex County Club

Courses that meet the “one course for the rest of my life” criteria are always my favorites, and Essex now leads that pack for me.  The property on which the course sits is singular, and Donald Ross’s routing around it is magnificent.  Ross lived on the course for years, and it clearly received his loving attention.  Cool features and details abound – it is brilliant in its subtlety.  Consulting work by Tom Doak and the care of Superintendent Eric Richardson have uncovered the beauty and challenge of Essex County.  It is as close to perfect as any course I have ever played.

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The Links at Lawsonia

The drive on the first hole at Lawsonia is blind.  As I crested the first hill to see the massive fairway bunkers, and even bigger green built into the hillside, my mind exploded.  That explosion continued hole after hole all morning.  The boldness and scale of the architecture that Langford & Moreau achieved in central Wisconsin is like nothing I have ever seen.  They just don’t build ’em like that anymore.

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Photo by Dan Moore (DanMooreGolf.com)

Boston Golf Club

On a buddies trip that included The Country Club, Essex County, and Old Sandwich, my expectations for Boston Golf Club were not that high – relatively speaking.  BGC simply blew me away.  It was like a work of art that Gil Hanse painted onto the rolling terrain with one stunning view after another.  The course was also packed full with variety and shots that were alternately fun and tough to play.

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Photo by Jon Cavalier (on Instagram at @linksgems)

Shoreacres

Toward the end of the season, I knocked out quite a few rounds in Chicagoland on our wonderful courses.  The season culminated with a post-renovation return trip to Shoreacres.  Seth Raynor’s special golf course has been upgraded to world-class status through the efforts of Superintendent Brian Palmer, with consultation by Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf.  For me now, there is a three-horse race for best course in Chicago among Old Elm, Chicago GC, and Shoreacres.  They are all that good.

 

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Photo by Jon Cavalier (on Twitter @linksgems)


In addition to these new Faves, I also knocked 3 more U.S. Open venues off of my bucket list – The Country Club at Brookline, Chicago Golf Club and North Shore Country Club.


For the first time in my life, I played dirt golf on an unfinished golf course.  Not only did I get to play dirt golf, but I did it twice under special circumstances on courses that are sure to be beyond special.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to have a tour of The Loop at Forest Dunes with Tom Doak, during which we played several holes in both directions.  I thought that the reversible course was a cool concept, but until I saw it and heard Tom’s commentary, I didn’t understand just how amazing it is going to be.  Cannot wait for the opening.

In the fall, my buddy Chuck let me tag along on his visit to Sand Valley where we spent the day touring the course with Michael and Chris Keiser, and playing some of the holes that were in the grow-in stage.  This was the first Coore & Crenshaw course which I thought might challenge Friar’s Head for top Fave spot for me.  Here is a link to my recap of the visit with photos of the course.


Through all of these amazing experiences on fantastic courses, this year I got a much deeper understanding of what makes this game so great.  Time spent with good people, outside, taking on the challenge of a collaboration between an architect and Mother Nature.

I made new friends at my club, in my community, and across the country.  In my experience, golf geekery brings together the best people, and brings out the best in them.

Without further ado, the rest of the 2015 tour.  Here’s to a great 2016!

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Home Course Hero – An Interview with Architect Mike DeVries

Anyone who has played golf in Northern Michigan knows how truly special it is.  Not only is it home to one of the greatest golf courses in the world – Crystal Downs – it is also home to some of the best golf course architects working today.  Mike DeVries is one of those GCAs.

As evidenced by my previous post on the Kingsley Club, my love of Mike’s work is no secret.  After playing the first hole at Kingsley the first time, I knew I wanted to play the course over and over again.  My desire is just as great to play the rest of Mike’s courses, in Michigan and beyond.

That bucket list golf will remain on the list for now.  In the meantime though, enjoy the following interview with Mike, with gorgeous accompanying photos by Larry Lambrecht (note: click any photo to open slide show).


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

I grew up learning the game from my grandfather and then working in the pro shop at Crystal Downs when I was 14.  At 16, I worked in the pro shop on weekends and on the grounds crew during the week.  Tom Mead became the Superintendent when I was 17 and wanted me full time on the grounds crew, so I did that through college.  After my undergrad, I worked for Herman’s Sporting Goods and figured out their mission and mine were not the same.  I was getting married in Frankfort and went back to the grounds crew at the Downs prior to the wedding, and in that time figured out I always came back to golf.  Tom Doak was finishing up High Pointe (sorry to see that wonderful course gone) and I met him and talked about my goals and desire to work in golf design and construction.  After helping them to finish High Pointe, I worked with Tom for 2.5-3 years on the Legends – Heathland GC in Myrtle Beach and then the Black Forest in Gaylord, MI.

What do you admire the most about Crystal Downs?

Of course, the Downs is very personal for me, but the whole place is magical and has so many wonderful attributes about it.  The rhythm and flow of the routing across the landscape, melding all these different, yet similar, landforms and vistas into one cohesive masterpiece is probably what I reflect on the most after thousands of days on the property.

CRYSTAL DOWNS 

 

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

Family, parents and grandparents, instilled in me a strong work ethic and desire to always do the best I can.  Certainly, my maternal grandfather taught me about golf and the respect for the game and the land.  In the business, Fred Muller taught me about the game and playing (still does) and Tom Mead was the first big influence on understanding agronomy and the care of a golf course – the two, combined with the Downs as a canvas, gave me a great understanding of what GREAT golf is about.  Tom Doak gave me the opportunity to learn in the dirt with him and we constantly talked about what this change or that change would do to the feature and golf course as a whole every day – that working style still impacts my methods today.  Tom Fazio and his associates gave me a thorough education in the design and construction of high end projects and showed me their desire to always give their clients the best of everything.  I have been fortunate to have had numerous, wonderful owners that have allowed me to try new things and push the envelope on projects.  Dan Lucas and Joe Hancock continue to teach me about agronomy.  Of the great architects, MacKenzie stands above all others due to my lifelong study of the Downs but Ross, Tillie, MacDonald, Raynor, Colt, Flynn, etc. all influence me to look at the ground we are working on.  I like to see all kinds of different golf courses by different designers.  Of the modern designers, I most like to see the works of Pete Dye, Doak, Coore & Crenshaw, and Gil Hanse, as they are always trying something and it is fun to try to figure out what they were trying to do here and there.

Describe your process for a design project.

First of all, you have to consider what the client is really asking you to do and make sure that is taken care of.  But, if you are talking about an open-ended look at the design process, then figuring out the routing of the course is the most critical and important aspect to me.  Without a good routing, even excellent holes and features can get lost in the process and then the course loses focus.  With a great routing, the course has a chance to be something really special every time you play it (assuming you get the details of the greens, bunkers, etc. correct!).

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

Each and every element of a course is inter-related to the other features of the course, and especially those that are adjacent to them.  I really like building the green complex, not just the putting surface, because it is the focus and culmination of a hole and what dictates the strategy a golfer takes as he stands on the tee.  With a great green complex, the hole has a chance to be something really intriguing every time a golfer steps on the tee.  But, importantly, the golf hole must be considered in relation to the other holes and features on the course and how this hole connects with the previous and following holes to create a flow that is invigorating and fun to play every day.

GREYWALLS (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

There are certainly some good books on the subject [MacKenzie’s Golf Architecture, Thomas’ Golf Architecture in America, Macdonald’s Scotland’s Gift – Golf, and numerous modern texts that summarize the classics listed (Geoff Shackelford has done this many times)].  But, they must listen to their design consultant and Superintendent, understanding that they, as lay people, do not have the training or experience to really make decisions on golf design elements and features.  They need to listen, ask questions, and provide input to the process but not direct it.

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

You often have decision-makers who cannot look beyond their own game with regard to features and playability.  Everyone has biases and prejudices, even designers, myself included, but those have to be put aside to make the best decision for the most players on an everyday basis.  I have not had the opportunity to design a course primarily for a championship venue, and those are rare indeed, so course design must be much more inclusive in its strategy and execution, not just for the low-handicap golfer.

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

When people tell me they keep seeing new things on the course every time they play it.  Personally, it is often something you feel creep into the finished product, not something that is always there at the beginning or planned.

THE MINES (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

When you finish a big project like Cape Wickham, do you need a little down time, or do you like to jump right in to the next project?

A very hard part of the job is trying to line up projects with a nice, even spacing.  It just doesn’t usually work out that way.  So, as much as you try to have one follow directly behind the current one, you work at new projects in pieces while completing one but often, there is time necessary to line up parts of the next project.  Busy is a good problem to have, so if we are ready to go, then we get right to it – definitely better than the alternative!

What are some of your takeaways from your time in Tasmania?

First of all, it was an incredible experience for my entire family, since they were there with me for 6 months (well, only 2 for my daughter, as she had to go back to college).  The chance to go to another part of the world for an extended period of time is really an amazing and wonderful chance that few get to do in their lifetime and that is something that we frequently talk about as a family.  We made lots of friends and really loved our time there.

From a work standpoint, Cape Wickham is the most incredible site I have ever seen for a golf course and it is an honor to have been given the opportunity to work on it.  It was also very challenging working on an island, where supplies and equipment are not easy to acquire or fix, so you have to be very creative in how you approach things and use all the good ideas of locals who know the conditions.  It is a very resourceful place and the conditions were very challenging at times, so perseverance and a dedication by all those involved in the project was really what made it successful.

CAPE WICKHAM (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Being in the dirt and shaping features, feeling the ground beneath you, and then sitting back at the end of a long day looking at what everyone accomplished (hopefully with a cold beer in hand!).

How did you land the job designing the Kingsley Club?

Fred Muller introduced me to Ed Walker, a Traverse City businessman and the managing partner of the project.  Ed had found the property where the club is and he and Art Preston, his partner in the club, wanted to build a great course that could compare with the great courses in the country.  They had this land but weren’t sure if it would be good enough to satisfy their desire for a great course and that’s when they hired me.  I worked on the routing for several months and we discussed the merits of the project to make sure they were comfortable with the potential result – if it wasn’t going to meet their expectations, then we wouldn’t do it.  Ultimately, everyone was on board with the course, club concept, and we got started.

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

Reactionary.  They are the result of my reacting to what is in the land and creating a unique and fun golf course out of that ground.

KINGSLEY CLUB (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

Crystal Downs is home and so personal to me, so that is the easy answer.  Picking one of my own designs is like picking your favorite child and not really fair, but I might have to go with Cape Wickham, since it is so far away and I haven’t had enough plays on it yet, plus it is such an amazingly beautiful location, with such diverse climatic variances, that it is endlessly exciting and would be a candidate.

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

Royal County Down – it is disgraceful that I haven’t made it there yet . . . gotta find the time to do so, as I am certain this is one place that will not disappoint.

Cape Breton Highlands – I have been wanting to get there for some time. So, since I am in that vicinity, I will have to check out Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, too!

Jasper and Banff – like Cape Breton, these are hard to get to, but they are excellent courses from all I have heard and prime examples of Stanley Thompson’s work, of which I am a big fan.

Why do you like to play with hickories?

Each club has a personality of its own and therefore you develop relationships with each club that highlights its strengths and weaknesses, forcing the golfer to find a way to make his shot.  When you execute what you are trying to do, with something not nearly as adequate as modern clubs, it is a great feeling of accomplishment.  You can play very good golf with them but it is like when you were learning the game as a kid and couldn’t count on every shot being well struck.  Also, hickory players have an appreciation for the history of the sport and its implements (they are gorgeous pieces of art to look at as well as play with) and show that enthusiasm through their spirit for the game.

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

Spending time with family and friends doing all the usual things, like card games, going to school functions, odd jobs around the house, skiing or sledding in the winter, etc.

What reaction have you experienced from your appearance on Architects Week?

All very positive about my comments and nice to see me on the show. Of course, the architecture fans want more time from the networks on golf architecture and I agree with them!

MikeDeVries-ArchitectsWeek

Click here to see Mike’s Architects Week segment in February, 2015

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

Lots of consulting work with older clubs in the States, particularly in the NY Met area at this time – Siwanoy CC is complete and Sunningdale CC has one more big phase in the fall or 2016.  Some other things are in the works but not confirmed for construction just yet, so you will have to wait on those.

Thanks for having me on Geeked on Golf!


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

 


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 12 (Good Geeky Fun)

Yesterday was one of the best golf days I have ever had.  With a little nudge from some of the members of GolfClubAtlas, Pat Goss and I put together a day for good, geeky golf fun.  It began with an outing for the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers, and ended with a Gathering of golf enthusiasts to share food, drinks, and the spirit of this great game.

The day epitomized the role that Canal Shores can play in the community and the game itself – it is a place where we can connect with each other and with our childlike joy.


THE OUTING

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The Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers is one of golf’s most prestigious societies.  We aren’t ancient, and we’re definitely not royal, but we are dedicated – dedicated to the spirit of fun and camaraderie in the game.

The Company held its annual outing, at which we played a the course backwards – the Reverse Jans.

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A great time was had by all, and Team Zinkand took home the prizes for our team competition.  Thanks to the generosity of RJGers, Canal Shores received a nice donation to its Canal Shores 100 Master Planning Fund.

Many thanks to Seamus Golf, Imperial Hats, and Bluestone restaurant for their support of the event.


THE GATHERING

After the Outing, we were joined in the American Legion Hall upstairs at the Canal Shores clubhouse by other golf enthusiasts from the community and GolfClubAtlas.  We were treated to presentations by our architects David Zinkand and Drew Rogers, and golf historian Dan Moore.

Drew started off by sharing his perspective on why he got involved with the Canal Shores renovation project.  Our thanks to Drew, not only for his support and guidance, but also for his assistance in helping us to win the USGA/ASGCA Site Evaluation planning grant.

Dan Moore followed by sharing his findings from research into the origins of Canal Shores (formerly Peter Jans GC and originally Evanston Community GC).  Dan confirmed that the course was originally opened as a 9-holer in 1919, and later expanded.  He also revealed that the course was laid out by Tom Bendelow, who is credited along with Donald Ross, CB Macdonald, and other pioneers, with the spread of the game in America in the early 1900s.

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And finally, Dave Zinkand made a neat presentation taking us through his background, his travels to Britain and back, and how he is drawing on inspirations to create the Jans Course at the new Canal Shores.

To view his presentation slides, click here.

The group at the Gathering made additional donations to the Master Planning Fund, for which we are also very grateful.


ONWARD

We have more news to share, but I will save that for upcoming posts.  Suffice it to say, yesterday was a special day, and it is tremendously inspiring to be a part of this group chasing down the dream to reinvent Canal Shores, and the game of golf in our community.

If you would like to contribute to our Canal Shores 100 Master Planning Fund, you can do so by clicking the button below.  Every dollar helps, and keeps us moving forward.

Onward we go…

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Canal Shores is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit and all donations are tax deductible.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Multimedia, Multitalented – An Interview with Architect Brett Hochstein

Pasatiempo.  It doesn’t get much better than a trip around Dr. Mac’s home course.   That is, unless you receive an invite to visit another course later that same day where talented architects, shapers and supers are working their magic.  A golf geek’s dream day come true.

I was fortunate enough to have just such a day earlier this year, and the invite came from Brett Hochstein.  He and George Waters were working with Architect Todd Eckenrode and Superintendent Josh Smith at Orinda Country Club.  Given that I had been following Brett on Twitter (@HochsteinDesign) and Instagram (@hochsteindesign), and truly enjoying the glimpses into the creative process that he shares, I was thrilled for the opportunity.

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After playing Pasatiempo, I made my way up through the East Bay traffic to Orinda.  Brett and George were wrapping up their work day, but they were kind enough to share their perspectives on the project, and give me a tour.  Brett also agreed to do an interview.  We decided that it would be best to wait until he could compile the full range of photos from his work at Orinda.

The interview and photos follow, as well as a special bonus from Brett.

ORINDA COUNTRY CLUB

Brett collaborated on this renovation with Todd Eckenrode, George Waters, and Josh Smith.  Below is a sampling of images from Brett’s work.

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Orinda CC #4 – Before and after featuring new, more interesting and natural looking bunkers.

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Orinda CC #8 – Evolution through time, restoring green complex to original look and feel.

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Orinda CC #13 – Before and after of opened teeing area and modified bunkering that creates additional shot options off the tee.

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Orinda CC #18 – Approach and green back views of the finisher, now with far more character and interest from 100 yards in.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

My parents bought me a set of toy clubs at a very young age—perhaps 2 or 3.  At age 4, I was given a more complete set of plastic clubs (and a plastic golf bag!), and my dad snuck me out on a local public course, Harley’s, which is now the Union Lake Golf Course.  This is where I finally got to hit some real shots and experience the real thing, minus the real clubs of course.

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

Right away that day.  The architecture and the land were by no means inspirational, but the concept of playing a game through different features—greens, bunkers, water, trees, and the hole in the ground itself—had an immediate grasp on me.  I even threw/hit my ball directly into the sand because I thought it was so cool.

I kept the scorecard from that round, which started a habit of collecting scorecards, especially ones with routings printed on them.  I would take those to study and then come up with routings and holes of my own, something I continued throughout my entire childhood.  My parents might have thought it strange that their 5 year old spent most of his free time drawing golf courses, but it was all normal to me.  I knew at that young age I wanted to design golf courses when I grew up.

How did you get into the business?

This is going to be hard to keep short…

As mentioned above, I knew I wanted to be in this business right away.  I prepped myself through drawing, playing, and watching on tv, but a book loan of Tom Doak’s The Anatomy of a Golf Course from my high school senior English teacher really was a reawakening of sorts.  It was the antithesis of the sterile brand of public golf development all over Michigan at the time, and it brought me back to that spirit and energy I had when first discovering the game and playing it over burned out hard-pan on modest courses sitting on former farm fields.  Four main things were gathered right away from reading: knowing about and being involved in course construction is vital, spending time in the British Isles would open the palette to what is possible in golf, Cornell would be a very good place to attend college for its history of flexible study and development of golf architects, and reading more about these “Golden Age” guys would be a pretty good idea too.  I immediately began to focus on all four.

Getting into Cornell and gathering books by Ross, MacKenzie, and Thomas turned out to be the easy part.  After missing out on the Dreer grant that Doak and others used to travel the British Isles and graduating in 2008 with all financial fallout that occurred, getting to Scotland and getting construction experience turned out to be the hard parts.  I eventually got to Scotland late in 2009 through a year of turfgrass study at Elmwood College near St Andrews, but work continued to be all but impossible to find.

After my time there ran out, I ended up moving out to the San Francisco Bay Area where my girlfriend (now wife) resided and briefly took a job installing artificial putting greens.  That didn’t fully satisfy the palate, and after another round of reaching out to architects, Forrest Richardson mentioned he had a project upcoming at Mira Vista, the old Berkeley CC designed by Robert Hunter.  He let me tag along with him on some planning visits and eventually helped me get a job as a laborer on the construction crew, which featured Kye Goalby doing the shaping for the first part of the project.  Speaking with Kye and his different experiences, it revitalized my interest in working with the Doaks of the world.

When Tom D sent out an email titled “Opportunity Knocks” that summer to a bunch of people asking their interest in shaping on a new project in China, I jumped all over it.  A few weeks later, I got the great news that they wanted me to be the first guy they sent over and that I could help them out at Streamsong or Dismal River in the meantime.  This was the big break that I had been looking for since finishing school.

I worked with Renaissance for two and a half awesome years, becoming fully fluent with the bulldozer and excavator before going independent in 2014, which is where I am at today with Hochstein Design.

Who is your favorite Golden Era architect, and why?

Anyone who has seen my work would probably guess Alister MacKenzie, and they may very well be right.  I love undulating greens, artistic bunkering, and making the course blend as seamlessly as possible with the surrounds through form and texture.  Those are the surface-level hallmarks of his best designs, but he also knew a thing or two about routing and strategy, which are the necessary bones of any great course.

I am very fascinated with Colt, Simpson, Tillinghast, and Thomas as well and am most keen to see more of their works as I haven’t seen enough, in my opinion.  I did happen to walk Riviera last week though, and wow what an excellent piece of architecture it is.  This is why I always say flatness is no obstacle to great design. A few simple, well-executed design moves can make for highly compelling and enjoyable golf.

Who has had the most influence on you, both inside and outside of golf?

Tom Doak is an obvious one for his writing, his employing of me, and his work in general.  On a more day-to-day level though, I have to say Eric Iverson, who was the lead Renaissance associate on our two-year off-and-on project in China.  Beyond being a wise and capable designer himself, he is incredible on a machine.  His work always looks good, it is clean and easy to finish, and it is done twice as fast as the next guy.  That is the kind of shaper you want to learn from, and I owe whatever speed and efficiency I have to working/trying to keep up alongside him.  Eric is also a great manager and communicator, which, as a more quiet and reserved personality myself, was very helpful for me to observe and try to emulate.

I would also give an Honorable Mention to Mike DeVries for having a hands-on business and design model that serves as the inspiration for how I would like to operate.  He also taught me a few valuable techniques about old-school plan drawing when I worked with him in the office in summer 2008.

Outside of golf would probably be my dad.  As a small business owner himself, he taught me through example about hard work, taking ownership of any task big or small, and never complaining.  He’s also the one who introduced the game to me, and while he supported me and encouraged my involvement in tournaments and high school golf, it was always about the game and having fun.  You see too many dads and their juniors both now and then getting too into the competitive side of it.  I feel pretty lucky it was never that way.

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

They should understand who their potential designers are and what exactly they would get from them.

These projects involve a lot of money and should thus involve some careful thinking on whom they select.  That is not to say people take on a project without any thought; the reality is very far from that.  The reality is also that there are a lot of missed opportunities out there, unfortunately, both in new designs and renovations/restorations.  This is especially frustrating when you factor in how limited these opportunities are in this day and age.

A very big (too big in my opinion) part of this business is sales and the ability to engage a client with a story about what their course can be.  That ability to sell, though, does not necessarily correlate with the ability to deliver a great golf course.  The intentions of most sales pitches are honest, but it takes full commitment and passion to execute it.  If you don’t do the work yourself or have the proper talent in place, the work is doomed to fail or disappoint.  Success is as much in the details as in the big picture, and it is easy to see that if you just do some research on previous projects.

True quality work is not hard to come by and doesn’t necessarily cost more, just as I’ve seen firsthand at places like The Schoolhouse Nine, Dismal River, or a number of projects that have succeeded by making sound design moves sympathetic to the surrounds as opposed to engineering a grand lush landscape set amongst cart paths.  It’s a funny paradox these days where it seems the best work is done the most cheaply, and in a lot of cases it isn’t just the quality of land.

You are a shaper and photographer, in addition to being a designer.  How does your experience in those disciplines influence your design work?

To me shaping and designing are nearly one and the same.  As previously mentioned, my ultimate model is to operate much like the Gil Hanses, Jeff Mingays, Mike DeVrieses, etc. where you do as much of the shaping as you can yourself.

An essential ingredient for any great feature or design is spending time thinking about it, and the best way to spend time thinking about it is to actually work on it and gain a true feel for the space.  This is where ideas are either enhanced or generated.  As you interact with the ground, you notice things that you may not have at first, and you can apply that new information to make a more interesting design.

Occasionally, there are instances where I don’t completely know what I am going to do or how something will turn out, and I just figure it out as I go, most of the time with great success and always with satisfaction.  That may sound scary to a client, but the latter part of the statement is the important part—it gets figured out, and it does so with much better results than it would have gotten from an office desk.

Shaping yourself also cuts costs and saves time.  You know what is possible with a machine, and you know what sorts of marginal-upside design moves will take forever to do and thus be not worth the time and money of an equal alternative.  Machine and shaper time is costly, and I try to keep it as efficient as possible without compromising the quality of the work.

Photography is a hobby that’s evolved for me (and probably everyone).  I spend less time doing it, but I ultimately take more photos.  This is purely a product of the iPhone.  I just sorted my photos from the recent Orinda project, and it tallied over 2000 images, all of them quick snaps from my phone.  I do plan to go back out with a DSLR and polarizing filter to get some higher quality finished product images, but during the build it is just too easy to use that small all-in-one tool in your pocket, especially with improved HDR settings.  Also, Instagram is pretty fun.

That being said, the idea and spirit are just the same.  I love photography because it is a true medium to express how I see golf courses and the world itself.  As far as the connection to golf design goes, it’s all about composition.  By placing yourself in the correct spot and using calculated cropping, a nice balance can be achieved in composing your image.  In golf design, especially new builds, there is even more freedom to achieve that sort of “balance” and ideal composition.  Bunkers, greens, trees, landforms, and roughs are all place-able within a space, and having photographic experience or interest only helps develop your “eye” to get it right.

You collaborated with Mike McCartin on the Schoolhouse Nine. Why did you get involved in that project?

Mike asked me on short notice if I was interested, and I jumped all over it.  The main reason is that I believed in what he was doing and what the Schoolhouse Nine could be.  Golf should be affordable, accessible, fun, environmentally sympathetic, and not overly time consuming.  These basic tenets were all reachable goals at the Schoolhouse Nine, and from everything I have heard about this first season, those goals have indeed been reached.

The opportunity to work on a new-build and shape greens with another former Renaissance guy was also something I just knew would be very fun and creatively satisfying as well, and it was.  I had a blast living and working there, and it shows in the great variety of green complexes that we came up with.

What place do you see courses like the Schoolhouse Nine having in the future of the game?

I see them being pretty important.  With urbanization growing and available land shrinking, golf needs to think outside of the 18 hole “championship course” box if it’s going to retain players or gain new ones.

The core enjoyment found in golf is in attacking the hole—the thinking and execution that comes inside 200 yards—and you don’t need as much land for that.  6 hole executive courses, 9 hole par-3 courses, and pitch-and-putts are some examples of alternative courses that have the ability to offer fun, challenging, and compelling golf in more densely populated areas.  They would also take less time away from everyone’s increasingly busy schedules.

Should this be the top priority or first choice in golf development?  Not necessarily.  But it definitely should be embraced and considered as a viable alternative.  Shorter courses can still be proper golf; making the hole bigger, to cite one popular doomsday alternative, is not.

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

To both those questions -green complexes and surrounds.  Greens are the “face of the portrait [golf hole],” and the strategy unfolds outward from there.  Coming up with that strategy while trying to make something look like it has always been there is a challenge that is both fun and fulfilling.

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What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love putting on the headphones and diving into anything creative, whether it be roughing in a green on a dozer, sketching out a hole concept at my desk, finalizing a bunker edge with a shovel, or zipping around in a sandpro to add a bunch of microcontouring to a fairway.  I am really big into music, and beyond the inspiration it can provide, it also serves as a memory placeholder for what I did and when, which is big for a nostalgic person such as myself.

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

My free time is pretty limited, so I tend to take a pragmatic approach to my “next-see” list and see what I can wherever I might happen to be.  For example, I was working at Sallandsche in the Netherlands last fall and a short stint in the spring.  This was a great chance to see De Pan, Royal Hague, Kennemer, Eindhoven, and Frank Pont’s Swinkelsche.

This winter, I will be in Northern France at Hardelot, so the “next-see” wish list contains Morfontaine, Chantilly, Le Touquet, and a whole boatload of stuff on the other side of the English Channel if I can make it over there.

For a destination “next-see,” I would have to say The Loop at Forest Dunes.  The concept is something I have always found fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how Doak and Brian Slawnik executed it.  I’m sure there’s a level of complexity to it that I haven’t even thought of yet, and I’ve thought about it a lot.  As a proud native Michigander, I can’t wait to see this great new addition to the “Up North” golfing scene, which even with the likes of Crystal Downs and the Kingsley Club, is underachieving in my opinion given the beautiful and sandy nature of the region.

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

I’m most likely with my wife hanging out, traveling, or relaxing.  Even though she has mostly worked remotely and tagged along with me on projects the past two years, I’m still out on site for 10-12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, which is a good amount of time.  With that and the realization that time away will always be a part of this job, I like to spend as much time with her as I can.

Beyond that, I’m an ardent supporter of University of Michigan Athletics, specifically football, and the Detroit Red Wings.  I’m also hoping on my next winter lull that I can find time to get back into playing drop-in hockey and going up to the mountains to snowboard.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I’ve just started at Hardelot in France to do some work on Les Pins course with Patrice Boissonnas and Frank Pont, the men responsible for the recent restoration of the Tom Simpson course that just broke a record for biggest jump in the Continental Europe rankings.  They think they can get a few more details even better though, and they have brought me on to help execute that.  It is really exciting working at a special place, in sand, and with people who are passionate and easy to work with.

Beyond that, nothing is certain yet.  There are a few more shaping opportunities, but the truth is I cannot wait to get the opportunity to design, renovate, or restore something on my own.  That final jump may ultimately prove the hardest to make.  I am ready for the opportunity though.


BONUS PROJECT – SALLANDSCHE

Brett worked with architect Frank Pont on breathing new life into this gem in the Netherlands.

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Sallandsche course map, illustrated by Brett.

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Sallandsche #2 – Bunker build through the process.

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Sallandsche #14 and #16 – Green complexes with new bunkers and improved views.

 

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Sallandsche #17 – Before

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Sallandsche #17 – Brett’s design sketch

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Sallandsche #17 – After Brett’s work, in sepia

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Sallandsche #17 – After, in glorious color


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf