Geeked on Golf

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

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Journey Along the Shores – Part 19 (All About the Trees)

Over the past several years, countless hours have been spent in the field and in meetings to assess the state of our tree population, and to chart a course forward toward making that population larger and significantly healthier.

Our findings will not be a surprise to anyone who has taken the time to look closely at the ecological picture at Canal Shores.  In many places, the property is a disaster area, and it has been for many years.  I am grateful to the members of the community who decided that the “gem in their backyards” was in distress and stepped in to save it.  For those who have not yet done so, now would be a good time.  We have a plan, and there are opportunities to target contributions of volunteer time and money to revitalize Canal Shores, including its trees.


We are not short of trees at Canal Shores, but as it turns out, we are short on good ones.  Planning Resources Inc. sent their Arborist out to do a tree survey.  They were looking for valuable trees to keep and incorporate into the ecological master plan for the property (full Plan coming soon…).  “Valuable” is defined as important native species, or large, healthy trees that are not invasive species.  The survey found that Canal Shores has 904 trees on our 82 acres.

At first glance, that number might seem big, but it really isn’t.  Given that the golf course occupies less than half that total acreage, a healthy tree population would number in the thousands.

PRI tagged every valuable tree they could find.  I encourage anyone walking or playing the course to look for tags to better understand which trees are desirable, and sadly how few of them we have.


Tagged trees are numbered and catalogued for reference, and have been geo-located onto the map that follows.  The map, along with the associated illustrations, is a great reference for learning more about where our desirable trees are, and what they are.  I have learned a great deal about trees from PRI’s work, and I have started to share that knowledge with my boys.

Valuable trees are circled, and “key” trees (meaning high value species and of size) are in orange.

















Invasive species are making Canal Shores unhealthy.  I am far from being an expert, but what I have learned is that a healthy ecosystem has layers, each layer ideally containing a variety of species:

  • An herbaceous (ground) layer of grasses, flowers and groundcover that are the home to pollinators and other important insects and animals.
  • An understory (shrub) layer of small trees and shrubs that provide food and habitat for birds.
  • A canopy of trees, of varying species and age.

The primary problem that Canal Shores has with its invasives is in the understory, specifically with buckthorn and honeysuckle.  That problem has manifested in three ways:

  • First, within the understory, buckhthorn and honeysuckle are extremely aggressive competitors and they have left us with almost no other shrubs, greatly decreasing biodiversity.
  • Second, they form dense thickets, starving the herbaceous layer of sunlight.  Where buckthorn grows densely, there is bare ground underneath which also creates erosion problems on the canal banks.
  • Finally, the buckthorn and honeysuckle leave no space for desirable trees to regenerate.

There are good reasons why it is illegal to sell or plant buckthorn or honeysuckle in the state of Illinois.  They are parasitic plants that take over and leave the areas they populate in much worse health.  To say that one likes buckthorn is the equivalent of liking a tapeworm.

IL Exotic Weed Act.png

In fighting buckthorn at Canal Shores, I have learned first hand the many ways that it fights back.  It has whacked me in the face, hit me in the head, poked me in the eye, cut up my arms and legs, and more.  Suffice it to say, I have never been a fan.  However, when I watched the video below, I was tipped over the edge.

Not only is buckthorn bad for the other plants around it, but the berries produced by the females have a laxative effect on birds, while providing no nutritional content.  Are you kidding me?  This demon weed must go.

Many thanks to Brandon from Ringers Landscaping for allowing us to share his webinar.  I highly recommend watching at least the first 18 minutes.


During the course of this lengthy process of assessment and learning through pilot projects, I have heard and read statements like “Save the buckthorn!” and “Can’t we just let nature take care of itself?”.  These statements are born of ignorance and are in direct conflict with the principle of land stewardship for which our community is responsible at Canal Shores.

Abdication of our stewardship responsibility has directly resulted in ecological degradation.  In the hundreds of hours that I have spent on the ground with fellow Buckthorn Warriors, I have seen what this degradation looks like.  We have saved desirable trees that were literally being choked to death by invasive vines.  We have watched in disappointment as a large, unhealthy tree falls over in a storm, taking with it several desirable trees that we hoped to save.  We have seen the bare ground under buckthorn thickets suffering from stormwater erosion.  And we have seen newly cleared areas spring back to life with grasses and flowers when sunlight is allowed to reach the ground.

The results of doing nothing are obvious and incontrovertible.  It doesn’t work.  Based on our learnings and the counsel of experts, we are now moving forward.  Special thanks to Grounds Committee member Matt Rooney who drafted our Tree Policy, and then painstakingly revised it to incorporate feedback from numerous parties.  Click here to read the Canal Shores Tree Policy, which has been approved by our Board of Directors.

What does this look like on the ground?  Before areas can be revitalized, clearing has to take place.  We are prioritizing spots that directly impact the golf course – tees, greens, fairway landing areas are all of highest priority as we want to enhance the turf quality, playability and visual beauty for our paying customers.  We have selected specific trees (e.g. black cherries) to add to the tagged group for preservation, and buckthorn has been painted for removal.


The work is well underway on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12-18.  We have applied for a burn permit from the EPA to deal with the cut brush.  We are also recruiting a Landscape Architecture / Ecology intern whose focus will be on maintenance of cleared areas as well as site-specific habitat design and implementation.


Decades of neglect and mismanagement are not going to be undone overnight.  However, we have made a beginning and we will continue working toward our goal of making Canal Shores a healthy ecosystem that includes a variety of native and other desirable trees.

We hope that all members of the Evanston-Wilmette community join us.  Check the Greens & Grounds blog for dates of upcoming volunteer work sessions, or email me at to be added to the Buckthorn Warriors mailing list.  Inquiries about tree donations can be made with Dan Bulf (  This is a big job, but together, we can do it.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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Musings on Greatness

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  

Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  The standard matters because it gives context.  There are several standard that my fellow geeks and I like to use:

  • The Memorability Standard – Can you remember every hole on the course the next day?  
  • The 18th Green to 1st Tee Standard – When you walk off the final green, do you want to go right back out?
  • The One Course for the Rest of Your Life Standard – Could you be happy playing just that one course every day for the rest of your life?
  • The 10 Rounds Standard – When comparing courses, how would you split ten rounds among them?

These are all good standards, and provide interesting perspectives on the greatness of courses.  A new standard materialized for me in 2017, and I am now on the hunt for courses that qualify.  

The inspiration for this standard – which I call 108 in 48 – is Prairie Dunes.  I had the good fortune of spending another weekend in Hutchinson this year (thank you Charlie).  Both of my visits to PD have been golf binges.  Around and around we go.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  

My experiences at Prairie Dunes have set the standard in my mind.  The question is, which courses would I want to go around 6 times in 2 days?  What that means to me is, which courses are interesting, challenging and fun enough to stand up to that kind of immersion experience?  Can’t be too hard or I get worn out.  Can’t have weak stretches of holes or I lose attention.  Can’t be too easy or I get bored with the lack of challenge.  And of course, the greens have to be great.  

Prairie Dunes passes the 108 in 48 test with flying colors for me for three reasons:  First, the sequence of holes is packed with variety from a length, straight vs dogleg, and directional perspective.  Second, the greens are, well, you know.  Third, the course is drop dead gorgeous – color contrast, texture, land movement, tree management – it is just the right kind of candy for my eyes.

Of the courses I re-played in 2017, Essex County Club and Maidstone also pass this test, but for different reasons than PD.  Both Essex and Maidstone play through multiple “zones”.  Essex has its brook/wetland zone and its stone hill zone.  Maidstone with its wetland zone and linksland zone.  This gives them both a meandering adventure feel that I find compelling.  Both are outstanding at the level of fine details.

All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.

There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.  My list of current 108 in 48 qualifiers is below.

I ask you, which are your 108 in 48ers, and why?

108 in 48ers



If you have been to Sand Hills, you know.  Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, lovingly cared for by Superintendent Kyle Hegland’s team, is incredibly strong from start to finish.  It is no surprise that it started the revolution that has grown into a second Golden Age.


ESSEX COUNTY CLUB – Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA


This Donald Ross course resonated with me from the first play, and repeat visits deepen my love of it.  It doesn’t hurt that, just when I think that Superintendent Eric Richardson’s team can’t make it any better, they prove me wrong, again.


PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS


In addition to my thoughts above, I would add that the combination of Perry and Press Maxwell holes adds even more variety to the course, and if there a better set of greens in America, I would love to hear the argument.  Superintendent Jim Campbell’s team presents the course beautifully, and the staff and membership could not be more welcoming.



Photo by Jon Cavalier

If C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s attempt to create the ideal golf course falls short of the standard for perfection, it’s not by much.  The routing and strategic design, the variety of hazards, the greens, and the numerous iconic views conspire to create magic.  Caring for such an intricately conceived course is no small feat, and Superintendent William Salinetti’s team does a masterful job.



Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created has its share of thrills, but is also packed with strategic questions that take repeat plays to answer.  The staff creates the perfect vibe for a golf geek, and our Superintendent Dan Lucas?  Nobody is better.



Seth Raynor took what might have been a challenging piece of property to some architects and devised one of the most brilliantly routed golf courses I have ever seen.  The central ravine feature is used brilliantly and provides a wonderful contrast to the bold template features greens.  Superintendent Brian Palmer’s team relentless refines the course and revels in creating firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.



I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it – Lawsonia is the most underrated golf course in America.  Attempt to describe the scale of the features created by William Langford & Theodore Moreau in this bucolic setting is pointless.  It must be experienced to be believed.  The quality of conditions that Superintendent Mike Lyons and his crew deliver with modest green fees makes Lawsonia an unbeatable value.



In addition to my comments above, it is important to note the brilliance of Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work on this Willie Park, Jr. gem.  Having visited pre- and post-renovation, there were moments that I could not believe I was playing the same course.  Superintendent John Genovesi’s team continues to push forward with fine tuning that perfectly walks the line between providing excellent playing conditions and allowing the course to have the natural feel intended by the designers.



An argument could be made that this Frederic Hood and William Flynn design is the best flat site course in America, especially after a Gil Hanse restoration.  Strategic challenges abound, and the set of one-shotters are second to none.  Superintendent John Kelly’s team continues to bring out every bit of Kittansett’s unique character.



Ballyneal is far and away my favorite Tom Doak design.  It is a glorious collection of holes that meander through the Chop Hills.  Birdies do not come easy, but the course doesn’t beat you up either – it strikes the perfect balance.  Jared Kalina’s team knows quite well how to provide fast and firm conditions, and the staff and membership conspire to make it the golfiest club I’ve ever visited.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL


Another homer alert – I grew up going around Old Elm as a caddie and we were allowed to play every day, which I did.  I loved the course as a kid, but with the progressive restoration back to Harry Colt and Donald Ross’s vision that has been undertaken by GM Kevin Marion, Superintendent Curtis James, Drew Rogers and Dave Zinkand, OE has gone next level.  

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN


The King-Collins creation is everything that golf should be.  Strategically challenging, visually interesting, and holes punctuated by stellar greens.  Combine the design with the ability to play cross-country golf and it is impossible to get bored going around and around Sweetens.  Need a playing partner?  No worries, Rob and Patrick are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT


Subtle and strategic on the front nine, and breathtakingly bold and beautiful on the back, Sand Hollow has it all.  This is a bit of a cheat as the back nine would require a cart to get around multiple times in one day, but I am making an exception.  It’s that good, especially with the fast and firm conditions presented by Superintendent Wade Field’s team.

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI


The Keiser family’s club is the perfect place to loop around endlessly.  A variety of holes, solid greens, and multiple teeing options make these 9 holes play like 36+.  Mr. Keiser has recently embraced tree removal across the property opening up views, and allowing Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha’s team to expand corridors of firm turf.  No need for a scorecard, just go play.



Photo by Jon Cavalier

Old Mac is not my favorite course at Bandon Dunes, but it is the only one that makes the 108 in 48 cut for me.  The width and scale create the possibility of holes playing dramatically differently from one round to the next.  The execution of the homage to CBM by Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, et al is spot on and glorious to explore for golf geeks.  Superintendent Fred Yates’s team provides ideal conditions for lovers of bounce and roll.




Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Pitching In – An Interview with Shaper Justin Carlton

ArcadiaBluffsSouthIt wasn’t the most pleasant evening I have ever experienced in Northern Michigan, but I didn’t care.  After months of Facebook messaging, I was finally getting a walking tour of the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs with Justin Carlton.  Justin is an experienced Shaper, having worked on courses from Michigan to Bock Cay, and beyond.  He had been brought on by Dana Fry to pitch in on the South Course – one of the most intriguing course construction projects in years.

We walked and talked and geeked out hard on golf and architecture.  Justin’s interests range from building traditional golf courses all the way to applying proven design principles to disc golf courses.  Our conversation eventually turned to pitch & putts, and it was evident that we had touched on something near and dear to Justin’s heart.  His enthusiasm was palpable, and I wanted to know more.  

Justin graciously agreed to do an interview so that we could learn more about him, and what he considers to be a missing piece in the game for championship golf obsessed Americans.  Enjoy!



(click on images to enlarge)

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

Jason, first thanks for all you do for the game of golf and allowing me to be a part of it!  I was introduced to the game by my Grandfather, Ralph Carlton.  He was a great guy, but also a Marine Corps lifer so he could be a little stern at times.  I played with him and my Aunt, Kathy Carpenter the most growing up.  We always played our local courses, Arcadia Country Club and Sunnybreeze, both of which are located in my hometown (I would love to get my hands on them to fix them up).  It was a real treat to play with them and we had a lot of fun – memories I will never forget.  My Grandfather had this signature move, the Carlton shuffle.  It never failed, at some point when the game had him beat and frustrated he would hit a horrible shot and proceed to stomp the ball repeatedly into the ground to where you couldn’t even see it.  I’d give anything to witness that one more time!

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

I started to take lessons, began to understand the game better and had developed a nice swing.  My grandfather invited me on a trip.  It was mostly to visit some areas where he was stationed while in the Marine Corps and included a visit to Sea Palms on St. Simons Island to play golf.  Up to this point I had only seen good courses on TV and walked away from this experience in awe, realizing there was a lot more to the game than what I had experienced so far.

How did you get into the business?

I had some interesting things happen growing up and felt I had to find work a little early to help the family.  My first job was actually working the drive thru window at McDonalds.  My uncle was into excavation work and he gave me a shot, running a shovel cleaning up curbing on a road for a grader operator that I learned to despise.  Every day I said, if I am ever the boss, I will not give this much trouble to the laborers.  I recently bought a home off that road that I learned to hate and visit those memories frequently when driving on it.  I moved on from working for my Uncle and took a job down in the Naples area that led to moving dirt around golf courses.

Art grabbed my attention at a young age, Salvador Dali was and still is the man in my opinion.  I had gotten very good on a dozer and realized the shapers were making a lot more money than myself and figured that my love of art, dirt and golf would be a great combination.  My brother Jody actually moved into shaping before me while we were moving dirt on Tiburon in Naples, and he led me to make the jump.  Tom Fazio was starting a new project, Corral Creek Club in the Gasparilla area near my home.  At that point I honestly had no clue who Tom Fazio was, didn’t really know there was a role called “golf architect” – I only knew this was my shot.  Quality Grassing was the construction company and I found myself begging the hardnose Larry Woody for a job.  Somehow it worked out and here I am today.

Who have been your biggest influences, in and out of golf?

As far as golf shaping goes, Mark White took me under his wing and taught me the ropes and I am forever thankful for everything he taught me.  He really influenced me to become the “free spirit” shaper I am today for many reasons.  Mark was a Mike Strantz boy and had performed several jobs for the legend.  I would eat up his stories and then go home to do further research to catch up.  I’ll never forget working at Corral Creek.  Mark had ripped all the stakes out of the fairway and told me I had to learn to “feel it”. My mind was spinning when Tom Fazio’s site rep showed up and said, “Somebody sure has taken some liberty with this one.”  But he liked it, and so I thought to myself, game on!

Maurice Campbell played a critical role in developing me as a shaper.  We battled each other daily in friendly competition in who could shape best.  I never thought I would get close to him but loved every second when we would walk holes early in the morning before anyone else showed up to talk and challenge each other to do something better.  I’ll never forget the day Maurice asked, “What do you think about me doing this?”  I knew I was getting closer at that point.  Maurice also was a Strantz boy and eventually led me down a deeper rabbit hole into golf architecture.  Mike Strantz and Dana Fry who were both Fazio guys that came from the same dozer seat and helped me realize I could dream bigger.

My Parents and grandparents have played a massive role in who I am as an individual.  They taught me to be humble.  Work hard and success will follow somewhere and someday.  Although it doesn’t show up as much as it should in my daily life, I have a deep personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Without that, I’d be a complete wreck.  I owe all my talents to Him!

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

I am not sure it was intentional but Tom Marzolf from Fazio design referenced Tillie the Terror a few times while I was working with him on projects, and it was my first introduction to the Golden Age guys.  Although Tillinghast was my first real introduction to the Golden Age I would have to say it is a three way tie between Tillinghast, Mackenzie and Colt.  Sorry I can’t nail this question, and it is the toughest question you could ask me.  Although Mackenzie has the name, I think Tillinghast has had the biggest contribution to today’s game.  The guy was a genius in what he designed.  I find myself a little different than some of the guys I have shaped with in that I love studying golf architecture deep into the night every night.

Which part of a course do you like working on the most?

I think each individual aspect can be just as important as the other.  Originally I loved the finish work and still do.  I love the grand scale of creativity allowed in rough shaping.  I think the initial clearing or set up can really lead to a great start and create a great impression to work from.  I haven’t been responsible for the initial routing of a course yet, but have been given a lot of freedom on my current job to change the routing.  There is a real art to reading the land and I have learned to love the routing process.  I love bunkering – you can flip any course on it’s head with bunkering.  I feel that courses struggling in today’s atmosphere could bring back much interest to themselves by starting with a good bunker renovation.  If done right, it can be accomplished relatively inexpensively compared to the other components of course design.

How did you first become interested in pitch & putts?

I was not even aware of pitch & putts until a few years ago when I was hired to shape Adare Manor in Ireland for Tom Fazio.  Until going to Ireland I was fixed on short courses, par three courses or executive courses being the way forward.  Thankfully, when I got to Ireland my housing was just outside of the small town of Adare.  Instead of driving to work I would walk to The Manor each morning and would pass an old yellow and black sign that read Adare pitch and putt.  The next weekend, I walked to the pitch and putt and thought, what in the world is this?  It looked a little silly but, I found myself playing it every weekend.  It didn’t take long to realize that it addressed every issue we seem to be facing at home: time of play, land for development, and cost.  It seemed to have a great following amongst all age groups.  Eventually, I mapped out all the pitch and putt courses near me and started to journey out to other areas to see various designs.  I developed some favorites and Sandfield House next to Lahinch became my inspiration.  No disrespect to the other courses I played, but whoever designed this one really tried to take a step in the right direction.  I would love the chance to raise the bar higher by designing and building a pitch and putt here.

What are the elements of greatness for a pitch & putt?

I think the greatness comes from it’s ability to just get people interested in golf.  It isn’t golf as we know it, but a good pitch and putt can really spark an interest, and that is what we need here at home. It is a challenge with the short distances you are dealing with, but I think a great pitch and put needs to incorporate every shot conceivable in an approach by air or ground, including multiple angles to get to the green depending on pin location.  Most courses I have played have only one teeing ground and just including some different angles and length would greatly contribute to many facilities.

Why don’t we have more pitch & putts in the U.S.?

First off, I don’t think we have ever really been introduced to Pitch and Putt, and that has left the game relatively unknown in the States.  I am not sure if it is glamorous enough or revenue friendly for modern architects to pursue pure pitch and putt locations but I am ready to give it a spin, and am looking for the shot to put my vision on the ground and see it come to life.  If I ever get the chance to build the images in my mind I see no way a Pitch and Putt could fail.

Which course(s) do you most want to see next?

I really want to get up to Sand Valley.  I am really digging the look of Mammoth Dunes. The other course hot in my head is The Black Course at Streamsong.  Being based out of Florida I intend to set out to play all the courses listed on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.  One of the biggest reasons for trying out the Trail is that in Florida, most courses today are being built on flat pieces of land with no character.  The old guys had to be more strategic with bunker placement and I feel there are some great opportunities to learn from yesterday.  Let me add one more – whatever Mike DeVries does next I really enjoy his designs.

Any exciting projects in the works, beyond pitch & putts?

Recently finished helping out on The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs.  It was a lot of fun to contribute to that project, and I think it will be a great addition to the already fabulous Michigan golf scene.  I have been bouncing back and forth working on a private 365 acre island in the Exuma Cays for around two years.  It is one of the best sites I have ever seen.  I’m not sure when it will ever be finished, but it has tremendous potential.  There have been several interesting calls, one of which I am really excited about.  Hoping I may be heading back up North again soon – I will keep you updated!!


Ripping rock on Bock Cay


4th fairway cleared


9th and 18th green sites


10th green site


13th hole clearing


Hole corridors cleared


Disc golf on Bock Cay

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Freedom.  I am about as free spirit as it comes, and shaping is the ultimate outlet for a guy like myself.  I love pushing boundaries and getting out of the box.  We could be in the next great era of golf design and to think you have been a small part of that is really interesting and keeps the drive going.

When you aren’t working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

As great as the shaping job is, it has its negatives and the biggest downside for me is family time.  When I am home I try to spend as much time as I can with my amazing family that supports me.  I enjoy fishing more than anything and could get lost on the water, catch no fish, and be very happy.  I’m constantly reading golf design related material, researching design and golf architecture, because the job never really leaves my mind.  I could discuss it all day and could not imagine doing anything else in life!


The Carlton Pitch & Putt – Coming soon to a town near you…

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf