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ROUTING PERFECTION AT SAND HILLS

A look at routing and the creation of Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, Sand Hills Golf Club

Sand Hills Golf Club is generally considered to be a modern masterpiece. Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s design has been credited as the original spark that lit the fire of the minimalist movement in golf course architecture, and the club proved that players will travel to experience great golf in far flung locales. The combination of minimalism and destination golf has been nothing short of revolutionary for the game. There is a case to be made though that Sand Hills is more than just a great course—it is perfect. That perfection has at its core the routing that Coore & Crenshaw discovered through the Nebraska countryside, and the effect that it has on those fortunate enough to play it.

In a discussion with Dunlop White about what gives a golf course character, Bill Coore said, “The routing is how a golf course lays on the land; how it showcases the landscape and brings out interesting golf in terms of the individual holes and how they fit together as an entire course.” That description makes intuitive sense, but just how does one go from a raw piece of land to a brilliant course like Sand Hills? For the average geek, the process seems quite mysterious—equal parts method and magic, akin to alchemy. Although routing is complicated, to grasp what transpires conceptually does not require that one be an architect or an alchemist. Before returning to Mullen, let’s take a quick look.

Assembling the Pieces

The process of routing a golf course can be compared to putting together a puzzle. The first order of business is assembling the edges, which is the equivalent of determining design constraints. Typically, a good puzzle-building strategy is to next look for pieces that comprise standout elements of the picture. Landmarks, if you will. And finally comes the painstaking effort to fill in the remaining pieces around those landmarks to produce a cohesive whole.

The comparison to puzzle building is, of course, a dramatic oversimplification. The end puzzle picture is known at the outset, which is clearly not the case for the golf course architect. The analogy does hold true at a basic level—both activities are difficult, even painful at times, and ultimately reward the patient and persistent practitioner. It also hints at an issue inherent in the approach to routing by some architects, an issue that can be the difference between a good golf course and a great one. While incorporating special features or landmarks into a design is always a worthy aim, fixating on any single element of the site can have a deleterious cascade effect. The course may indeed have a “signature” hole, but incorporating that hole into the routing necessitates including weaker “connector” holes.

In some unfortunate instances, course designs relied so heavily on the signature hole or stretch of holes that the overall quality of the course was diminished. That would be like assembling the feature portions of the puzzle, and then dumping the rest of the pieces inside the border willy nilly and calling it finished. One does not get to a level of quality approaching that of Sand Hills by trading signature hole photo ops for the integrity of the whole. As Bill Coore implied, he is not willing to make that trade, “The routing…brings out interesting golf in terms of the individual holes AND how they fit together as an entire course.”

Tough Decisions

Bill Coore is regularly asked some form of the question, “Was it enjoyable to work with land as great as Dick Youngscap gave you for Sand Hills?” His answer is a consistent and unequivocal “No.” Outside of getting the chance to work on seaside linksland, Coore & Crenshaw could not have dreamt of a better site than the one they got in Mullen. The ideal nature of the ground for golf heaped pressure on the duo to produce a special golf course. They feared that if they did not capitalize on this opportunity, it might be a long time before another came along, if ever.

As illustrated in the example above, a site typically has distinct features off which the architect can play—a ridge, a creek, stands of specimen trees or a dune. Average land yields a finite number of high quality holes which can be incorporated into a cohesive routing. A site like Sand Hills has nearly infinite potential for such holes. What’s a designer to do when everywhere they look, there is another feature, contour, or vista that would make for great golf?

In their customary fashion, Coore & Crenshaw started with knowing the land intimately. While tales of Bill Coore camping out like a frontiersman might be exaggerated, they contain a kernel of truth. Using a helicopter, topo maps and their feet, the team explored the property and made note of more than 100 potential holes that could be incorporated into the design. Those explorations and notations have been memorialized in the constellation map.

The Constellation Map with Sand Hills overlay – Credit: Scott Griffith (@bottomgroove)

Having catalogued the possibilities, the time came for the final, difficult cut down to eighteen. At this point in the process the experience and instincts that Bill & Ben possess combined to yield an alchemical result—the foundation of a course that works perfectly and fits perfectly onto the land it occupies. Looking at the constellation map, is it possible that there exists a single hole that would have been better than any of the eighteen that were eventually incorporated into Sand Hills? It is indeed possible, but the question is moot. After walking off the 18th green, one realizes the wisdom in prioritizing the entirety over any single part. The course is perfectly satisfying, as is.

The Course

It is easy enough to assert that there are no weak holes at Sand Hills. To understand just how strong each and every hole is though, it is fun to play a little game with those who have seen the course. Ask them which hole is their favorite. Within a group, there is likely to be a very wide variety of answers. Poll enough people and every hole will ultimately get a vote. Next, inquire of those same players which hole is their least favorite. After qualifying their answer with a reminder that there are no weak holes, they will sheepishly offer up their pick. Once again, within a large group, answers vary greatly. When no consensus exists about favorites, the course must be exceptional.

We know from Mr. Coore’s routing thoughts above that a golf course is meant to be more than a batch of holes. Sand Hills exemplifies this ethos. The course works in two loops out from and back to Ben’s Porch. Each of those loops has holes that take players up, down and around the dunes, producing all manner of interesting and sometimes terrifying shots. It also touches the property edges at several points—a reminder of the vastness of the setting that produces a keen sense of awe.

The flow of the course is further enhanced for walkers by the proximity of greens to tees, and the paths connecting tees to fairways. The cohesiveness of components creates a connection to the land and nature as one walks along. This is a hike that would be nearly as enjoyable without clubs.

Superintendent Kyle Hegland and his team provide terrific playing conditions and Mother Nature adds the unpredictability. The wind blows, sometimes delivering dramatic squalls that give way to brilliant sunshine. As is the case with world’s great links courses, the elements are always a factor. Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) and I have collaborated to attempt to convey the Sand Hills experience—colors, textures and shapes that stir the soul.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

The opener at Sand Hills is a par-5 that epitomizes strategic golf. A conservative route to a straightforward par is provided. Play away from the fairway bunker left, lay up to the middle short of the base of the hill and approach safely into the middle of the green set up in a dune-top saddle. Easy enough. But for players who desire to get out of the gate with a birdie, risk must be taken on by working angles and challenging the edges, which opens up myriad ways to make a bogey or worse. This conservative vs. aggressive choice is a consistent theme throughout the course that makes it so intriguing to play repeatedly.

The 2nd is a unique par-4 that plays over a gully to a partially blind fairway and then up to an infinity green that features a fantastic ripple contour running diagonally across. Sand Hills’s first one-shotter next plays downhill to a green with a severe slope created by a high left shoulder. Lag putting on the 3rd is a real challenge.

The story goes that the 4th green was a point of contention between Bill Coore and Dick Youngscap. Perhaps inspired by the Maxwells’ work at Prairie Dunes, Coore proposed to bench it into the hillside. Mr. Youngscap preferred to place it down in a bowl. After a lengthy discussion, both men thought they had won the argument and went off to attend to their business. Coming back to find the green where Bill wanted it, Mr. Youngscap was dumbfounded and has remained a bit salty ever since. With all due respect to the owner, we side with Bill Coore on this one—the 4th is a standout par-4, exactly as is.

The 5th turns back and heads slightly uphill past a center-left bunker to a green flanked by more bunkers left and right. The putting surface on this par-4 lays gently on the land with subtle internal contours. The par-3 6th plays slightly downhill over a large forebunker to an angled green that is canted, with pronounced ripples and rolls. Short grass surrounds provide recovery options—the deep bunker right, not so much.

The 7th and 8th are short fours that begin a stretch of six consecutive two-shotters. This anomalous sequence illustrates Coore & Crenshaw’s willingness to take the great golf that the land gives. The devilish 7th is drivable, but failed attempts can leave tough recoveries from the front left bunker or slope right. The 8th plays over rumpled ground to a lion’s mouth green in an amphitheater setting. Both holes burst at the seams with strategic options.

Each of the next three par-4s has a distinct feel. The 9th swings right and heads back up into the shadow of Ben’s Porch. The at-grade green falls subtly away on three sides and is one of the trickiest to putt on the course. The 10th runs downhill, snaking between bunkers to a putting surface that flows off a high left slope. The tee shot on the 11th must take on a massive blowout bunker left to get into position to approach the elevated green. All three holes require thoughtful positioning and creative shotmaking.

The final two-shotter of this stretch plays to a wide fairway with a single blowout marking the ideal line for approach into the green which is guarded front and right by one large bunker. The 13th is a stout par-3 that sits at an angle to the tee, causing alignment challenges when attacking the well-defended putting surface. The wind plays a significant role on both of the inward half’s three pars.

The 14th is one of Coore & Crenshaw’s all-time greatest par-5s. The key for success is to get left, as the tiny, severely sloped green is nearly impossible to hold from the right. Not surprisingly, a deathly blowout sits in the perfect spot for a layup. Players stand in the fairway and must decide if their drive was good enough to get beyond that hazard, or if they need to lay back of it. Seems simple enough, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way over the shot.

The par-4 15th plays straight along a high ridge. Cheating to the right from the tee opens up the angle into a green fronted left by an imposing bunker. The final three-shotter is a roller coaster ride downhill through sandy blowouts of all sizes. The day’s pin position relative to a fronting mound dictates positioning of a player’s approach on the 16th.

In his essay for Geoff Shackelford’s Masters of the Links, Ben Crenshaw wrote of the short par-3, “In this era of obscene power…why not strive to induce a little fun into the mix and at the same time present a true test of delicacy and accuracy?” In the spirit of the shorties built by the Golden Age greats, the 17th is the answer to Ben’s question. A hole this short presents a birdie opportunity, but only for tee shots struck perfectly after accounting for the wind. Bunkers and slopes that make for difficult recoveries await the indelicate or inaccurate.

The home hole at Sand Hills plays long uphill with huge blowouts running along the entire left. The large green sits in a bowl atop a dune, making it difficult to get the line and distance just right for a good birdie look. Players need to focus long enough for one last lag putt on the final C&C putting surface.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw routed a course through the hills that takes players on an adventure with moments both thrilling and sublime. Combined with their minimalist approach to construction, the collection of holes is intellectually and emotionally evocative. At the end of a Sand Hills journey, visitors are left with lasting memories of their exposure to perfection.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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EVENT-FULL SEASONS AT CANAL SHORES

Part 24 of the Journey Along the Shores series dives into our growing volume of activity and events

With each passing year, Canal Shores gets busier. The course is seeing more play and it would seem that the Evanston-Wilmette community has gotten markedly golfier. That is terrific progress from my geeky perspective. However, the activity at Canal Shores does not begin and end with golf, which is one of the many ways that our community course delivers value. The more people attending our growing roster of events or simply getting outdoors and using the space, the better.

Of course, the multi-use nature of the facility necessitates that different user groups have to figure out how to coexist. This process is not without moments of discord. Dog walkers, runners, picnickers and golfers use Canal Shores in different ways and have to learn how to respect the course, and each other. Casual golfers, players from the junior programs and the high school teams that call the course home sometimes step on each other’s toes. And we all have to make way for the steady stream of golf and non-golf events that are filling up the calendar. As an individual, it is easy to get caught up in the painful part of these growing pains. I choose to try and stay flexible so that I can enjoy the growth of the Canal Shores community.

In addition to our thriving junior camps and ladies league, 2018 saw many of our customary events return, which were also joined by newcomers. The year kicked off with the annual Garage Party fundraiser and was followed in the summer with the Murray Brothers Invitational benefiting first-responders. Fall brought Northwestern football tailgating and ETHS golf matches. Once again, we concluded the season with yet another rousing gathering of the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers. The chilly temps were happily faced and members of the company generously donated enough to fund a significant portion of the lease for our Superintendent Tony’s new utility vehicle. Many thanks to Seamus Golf, Imperial Headwear and Ballpark Blueprints for their support.

Other gatherings and meet-ups kept the season interesting, with the highlight being a visit from The Fried Egg’s Andy Johnson and Erik Anders Lang for a recording of his Random Golf Club series. The outdoor music scene at Canal Shores also went next level when the 1st and 2nd holes served as the venue for Out of Space, a festival headlined by Mavis Staples and The Indigo Girls. Last but not least and just under the weather wire, the Evanston Running Club held their Cross-Country Invitational. The diversity of these events is a testament to the movement within the community to take a fresh and open-minded look at this public asset we own and find new ways to make use of it—club in hand, or not.

On the heels of a successful 2018, this season is already off to a strong start (in spite of the Chicago weather) in this, our 100th anniversary year. The New Club golf society held their first spring tune-up and the Garage Party was once again a mob scene. The calendar is filling up quickly with events and outings, big and small. On June 4th, the ladies come out for Women’s Golf Day quickly followed on the 7th by the first annual Canal Shores Open, in which teams will battle for the inaugural title. On June 14th, we’re taking a page out of the Winter Park 9 playbook by starting up a weekly Friday Skins Game. Out of Space is coming back with four nights of shows featuring Cake, Mandolin Orange, I’m With Her, Jeff Tweedy and Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers. All exciting events that are sure to be good fun for all.

As we continue onward, it is my hope that more folks look at Canal Shores for what it is—a fun golf course in a beautiful green space that is welcoming and infinitely flexible for events and activities of all kinds. 18 hole golf outings are dandy, but they are just one of the many ways to enjoy Canal Shores. Our staff, including fabulous new Events Coordinator Melissa (melissa@canalshores.org) is willing to help with conceiving or executing any manner of gathering under the sun. Want to have a 5-hole one club tournament and then drink beer and eat pizza by the fire pit? No problem. Want to start a weekly disc golf league? She’s got you. Want to host a business networking meeting with cocktails and casual putting contests? Melissa and Tony will figure it out. Want to have a bring-your-dog-to-golf gathering? How has that not already happened? You get my point here.

The bottom line at Canal Shores is that it is our space. The more we use it and contribute to it, the more it will thrive. We certainly love seeing more people playing golf—it is the greatest game, after all—but there has always been more to Canal Shores than golf, and there always will be.

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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WHERE ENTHUSIASM LIVES – CAL CLUB

An in-depth look at the course and culture at California Golf Club of San Francisco

En·thu·si·asm – /in-TH(y)oozē-azəm/ – definition: intense and eager enjoyment – root: Greek en theos, roughly translated as possessed by spirit, or inspired. Lofty language, but fitting to describe the membership at California Golf Club of San Francisco, as well as the effect of spending time with them on their outstanding golf course. Cal Club is a place where enthusiasm for the game of golf, and for life itself, is alive and well.

To be clear, Cal is a golf club. The golf course is the focal point, and walking golf is the only activity of interest, at least during daylight. The beautiful land on which the course sits, and its eclectic architectural history, combine to produce an intensely enjoyable playing experience.

Architectural (r)Evolution

Many noteworthy hands have touched the course at Cal Club over the years and the it has evolved considerably. The changes serve as a reminder that no golf course ever remains static—ebbs and flows occur along the way.

In 1924, the club acquired the land in South San Francisco that would become its permanent home. Willie Locke was initially retained by CGCSF to design their new course. Locke came to America with many other turn-of-the-century immigrant professionals who were busily trying to keep up with the burgeoning demand for the game in the post-Ouimet U.S. Open era. He played a part in the development of several Bay Area courses, including nearby Lake Merced. Unfortunately for Locke, his tenure at Cal Club was short. He completed a routing, but was replaced after only two days by A.V. Macan. Macan was an Irishman who made a name for himself designing courses in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Although most of Locke’s routing was incorporated into the final design of the course that ultimately opened in 1926, changes were material enough that Macan was given sole credit. Not long thereafter, the club turned to the duo of Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Robert Hunter for an aesthetic upgrade. The pair was turning heads with their work from Meadow Club in Marin, down to the Monterey Peninsula. Bunkers were completely redesigned and rebuilt, as were the 10th and 18th greens.

The course remained largely unchanged until the 1960s, when the city claimed the northern portion of the club’s property to build a road. Robert Trent Jones was brought in to do a reconfiguration. Although CGCSF was still considered a fine test of golf, an ominous trend was set in motion that continued through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The golfing culture of the club was weakened and its golf IQ diminished. In these conditions, well-meaning members tinkered in a similar fashion to that which befell many classic courses in America. The character of the Locke-Macan-MacKenzie-Hunter creation was nearly lost in the clutter of additions and alterations.

Enter a group of passionate and committed members led by past-Director Al Jamieson who decided the time had come to take Cal Club back to its roots. They were aided in the endeavor by accomplished historian David Normoyle. In his terrific interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg podcast, Jamieson detailed the trials and tribulations of getting the project underway, as well as the results. Cal’s leadership settled on architect Kyle Phillips, a veteran with acclaimed original and renovation work around the world. According to club lore, he earned the job with his idea to utilize a dramatic ridge for a new 7th hole, but Jamieson explained that it was Phillips’s presence that convinced the committee. “In 2005, we interviewed ten architects…Kyle Phillips clearly won the day with his presentation, his demeanor, his maturity and his background. He made us think outside the box.”

What was originally conceived as a necessary replacement of the course’s greens morphed into a full scale “retrovation”, as Normoyle labels it. “Cal Club is absolutely one of the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to not accepting what you were, and not accepting what you are, but trying to imagine the best you can possibly be, and having the willingness to take the risk to find out what that is,” he said. Upon reopening in 2008, and every day since, players have been nearly unanimous in their assessment that that risk paid off, huge.

Cal Club Today

With names on the lockers like Eddie Lowery, Ken Venturi and Arron Oberholser, and a robust local and national membership that is very well-traveled, it is an understatement to say that this group is woke. Their collective finger is directly on the pulse of what makes the game great at this level. A frequent refrain from the initiated is that the bar at Cal Club is the best hang in golf as well. It is a place where you can find yourself in a discussion about the nuances of golf course architecture, or just as easily witness a debate about which Dead show had the best rendition of Morning Dew. Fitting for the Bay Area, birthplace of the counter-culture movement as well as the home of a collection of golf courses that are among the finest on the planet.

The debate about Dead shows and songs will remain unsettled for now as we are seeking further insight into just what makes the culture at Cal Club so special. Certainly, the place is jammed with golf-crazed bon vivants, but there is more to it than this surface impression. The membership supports youth and competitive golf. It is not uncommon to see kids with their parents, high school golfers and players from Cal or Stanford walking the fairways. And if that accommodating attitude weren’t enough, the club has a special membership designation for the highest caliber aspiring players. Named after the Bay Area’s native son, the Venturi membership gives access to the facilities to top players who need a home base. Playing skills are not enough to become a Venturi though. Candidates undergo a rigorous interview process to ascertain the quality of their character. 2019 has been a particularly good year for alumni of the program with Martin Trainer earning his first PGA Tour win and Isaiah Salinda among the nation’s top collegiate players. Cal Club members don’t just talk the “grow the game” talk, they walk the walk.

Speaking of walking, the club has a strong walking culture. Players are welcome to tote their own sticks, use a trolley, or take one of the great caddies. The point is to experience the course on foot while enjoying the interaction among players that is lost when zooming around a course in carts. The strong culture was built one step at a time, and those steps continue today.

The Course

The primary ridge on the Cal Club property stretches across the south end, with the land gently cascading downward into a valley and then back up to the clubhouse. It is splendid topography for golf – varied but never severe. The contrast between the two nines adds yet another dimension to Cal’s variety. The outward half plays as a loop around the western side, and the inward half to the east has more of a back-and-forth feel. That description might lead one to believe that the front is more interesting, but the back has just as many advocates in the lively “which is better” debate. Strategic placement of hazards coupled with elevation changes tee to fairway to green gives the holes on the back nine an interesting character all their own. In the case of Cal Club’s routing, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

The course always had splendid greens, which Kyle Phillips complemented beautifully with well-positioned bunkering unified in the MacKenzie-Hunter style. Conditions are kept fast and firm by Superintendent Javier Campos and his crew. They go to great lengths to provide the turf that delights players, including hand picking invasive poa from the bentgrass putting surfaces.

There are no weak holes at Cal, and no repetition within the sets of one, two and three-shotters. The changing wind and microclimates are factors that the savvy observe with keen senses to make adjustments. Smart aggressiveness is rewarded with birdie looks. The unconfident or foolhardy are afforded eighteen chances to wreck their card or blow a match.

Phillips and Campos give players a steady diet of picturesque shots on the ground, enhanced above by nature with the towering cypress trees and views of the surrounding San Bruno Mountains, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais. Few inland courses offer more of a visual feast.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Cal’s opener is a gentle handshake par-5 playing up over a rise and then down to a green set at the north end of the property. The 1st is no pushover though, with hints of what’s to come—a deep bunker fronts the putting surface, which has ample slope. The par-4 2nd turns back and heads uphill to a fantastic green with bunkers right and a short grass run-off left. Coming through these two holes at level par is a solid start.

The third tee is the first real glimpse for players of the greatness of the land. This par-4 gently bends downhill and to the right around a set of difficult bunkers. The green backs up to the 8th, with a snaking bunker separating the two. The par-5 4th is understated from tee to green, but does demand consecutive solid shots to get in scoring position. Whatever thrills are lacking in the fairway are made up on the 4th green, featuring raised sides and a depproach into the next tee. The 5th is an outstanding strategic short four that plays uphill with staggered bunkers on both sides of the fairway. Pin position and comfortable approach distance are factors to be considered on the tee. This stretch of holes is getable, but it can just as easily get you.

Cal gets dramatic working across the ridge on the 6th and 7th. The green on the course’s first one-shotter is heavily pitched and elevated, with trouble on all sides and gorgeous Bay Area suburb views beyond. Deep bunkers guard the left, the property line and a fronting bunker are tight on the right, and long is a steep, tightly-mown runoff that is a potential funhouse of horrors. Players need to step up and hit a solid tee ball, or else. Phillips’s short par-4 7th is a fantastic hole that sweeps down and to the right in what some would consider a Cape style. After making a risk-reward decision off the tee, players can approach the receptive green through the air or on the ground.

The long par-3 8th plays downhill from the ridge to a green ringed by bunkers on three sides. Lower approaches have to contend with a fronting mound positioned in the spirit of rub-of-the-green to produce random bounces. The drive on the par-4 9th is blind back up the hill to a fairway that dances along a plateau around bunkers and a steep fall-off left. Players who miss the green can find all manner of challenge from sand to rough to contoured short grass.

The back nine begins with a stout two-shotter. The tee ball plays down into a valley and must be well struck to have a reasonable length approach into the well-protected green. The 11th turns back, plunging down and around a hillside left to a green set beautifully at the base of the hill on which the clubhouse sits. Shortgrass surrounds allow lovers of the ground game a chance to conjure a little magic. Players climb partway up the hill to cross the valley on the par-3 12th. The large green is fraught with peril, on and around the putting surface.

The next three holes play back and forth, but because of brilliant placement of hazards relative to tees and movement of the land, never feel monotonous. The interconnected fairways add a further touch of class. The par-4 13th is straightaway with bunkers flanking the landing zone. Approaches must be confident enough to crest the wicked false front. The par-4 14th snakes downhill to an angled green with bunkers cut into the hill below right. It is the tee shot on the three-shot 15th that plays with an angle to a fairway trudging uphill past a Principal’s Nose bunker. The partial amphitheater setting for the large, contoured green is breathtaking.

The closing stretch is ideal for match play, with each hole presenting the opportunity to make birdie while also holding open the real possibility of a double bogey. Cal’s final one-shotter is benched into a hillside in a manner reminiscent of the 12th at Augusta. The neighborhood beyond is visible—a reminder of the urban setting. The par-5 17th plays over a rise and then runs downhill to a reachable green. The home hole demands one more solid drive to an obscured landing area. The approach plays into a terrific tiered green with the clubhouse as a backdrop.

Over the years, many hands have touched the Cal Club. There is no doubt that today, both the club’s course and culture are in the very capable hands of people who get it, and who are willing to allow visitors to partake of the magic. Jamieson summed it up, “It is a place that people can come and have a great deal of fun and camaraderie…We try to treat a guest like a member.”

In the immediacy of the Cal Club experience, a feeling arises that was hinted at by Bob, Jerry, Phil and company:

California, preaching on the burning shore

California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door

Like and angel, standing in a shaft of light

Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine

And so too, that feeling of patiently waiting for one’s next taste:

My time coming, any day, don’t worry about me, no

It’s gonna be just like they say, them voices tell me so

Seems so long I’ve felt this way and time sure passin’ slow

My time coming, any day, don’t worry about me, no…

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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IN PRAISE OF RESTRAINT AT ROCK HOLLOW G.C.

The first edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look at the Tim Liddy designed Rock Hollow Golf Club

“Who are you, and what do you do?” The direct inquiry by the local I encountered in the pro shop after completing an early-spring loop around the Tim Liddy designed Rock Hollow Golf Club caught me off guard. He must have noticed the befuddled look on my face, so he elaborated. “We saw you playing fast and carrying your bag. We know everyone who plays out here. What’s your story?” Gathering myself, I explained that I was on my way to French Lick and was taking the opportunity to see Rock Hollow, which had been on my hit list for years. After commiserating over our mutual affection for their home course, we settled in for the kind of enjoyable conversation that naturally flows among fellow geeks. Topics ranged from Chicago Golf Club to Langford & Moreau to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick, along with their beloved Rock Hollow. It was exactly the kind of community golf vibe that makes me feel right at home.

Pete’s Protege

Tim Liddy got his start at an engineering firm where he was working as a landscape architect and self-described “front end guy”. The engineers often assigned him to be the client liaison because of his skills with people and drawing. This dynamic led to an introduction to Pete Dye in 1990, resulting in his assignment to the Ocean Course project on Kiawah Island. “Pete didn’t draw plans. At that time, the permitting process required more detailed drawings,” Liddy shared. “Pete loved me because I had studied the world’s great golf holes and understood what he was talking about. It also helped that I drew well and quickly, and I didn’t mind that most of my drawings would end up in the garbage when he changed his mind. Pete started as my idol, served as my mentor, and ultimately became a father figure.” The pair’s collaboration carried on for 25 years with Pete concocting and Tim drawing.


Tim Liddy’s artistic talents on display in his digital watercolor of Rock Hollow’s 1st

Serendipity would continue to tap Tim Liddy in the early ‘90s. The Smith family, stalwarts of the game in Indiana, were looking to build a golf course and they approached Pete Dye through a mutual friend. While reviewing plans for another project at the dining room table in the Dye home, Pete made the simple suggestion, “Tim will do it.” The gears were set in motion for Liddy’s first solo design.

The Golfing Smiths

Why did the Smiths decide to build a golf course? “It’s 25 years later, and I am asking myself that same question,” joked Terry Smith, the patriarch of this golfing clan. Terry learned the game from his father, and passed it on to his three sons, Terry, Todd and Chris. All played high level competitive golf, with Chris ultimately becoming a PGA Tour winner.

The family owned a gravel and stone business that operated out of a 350+ acre quarry in Peru, IN. By 1972, the site had been mined out and sat fallow. “We left it alone to become wildlife habitat, but I felt that there could be a better use for the land,” Smith said. “Golf was such a big part of our lives, it made sense to transform the quarry into a golf course.” Clearing began in 1992, and based on Pete Dye’s recommendation, the Smith’s crew went to work under the direction of Liddy. “We had the equipment and people to handle the clearing and earthmoving, and Pete lent us a shaper to bring the finer details of Tim’s design to life.”

Creation stories tend to be romanticized, glossing over the gory details. Many golf geeks dream of building and owning their own course, and most have no comprehension of the blood, sweat and tears necessary to make that dream a reality. The story of Rock Hollow’s creation includes hints of just how tough it can be. “After unexpectedly having to top dress the entire course with soil from our farm, we found that the 7th hole was still too rocky to grow healthy turf,” recounted Smith. “Members of our family, staff and the community came out and crawled the entire length of the fairway on hands and knees picking out rocks prior to seeding.” With that level of commitment and engagement, it is no wonder that the Smiths and their neighbors remain attached to the course.

The Course

The site that would become Rock Hollow had two special characteristics on which Liddy capitalized. The mining operation created more than 50 feet of elevation change from the outer edges to the central lake—uncommon for this part of Indiana. Additionally, the site was much bigger than the golf course, allowing for the retention of that “nature preserve” feel. As Liddy described it, “Everything leads you into the natural landscape. It is like a watercolor with detail in the middle of the painting while the edges blur to support the whole.” Areas of wetland and woodland are interspersed, with the golf holes taking the player on an exploration of the land.

Rock Hollow’s nines are routed in two loops. Each begins by working around the property edge and then turning back inward to interact with the lake. The perimeter topography holds more interest, and Liddy took advantage of that variety to create a collection of holes packed with character. “One of the best things about Tim’s design is that there are no weak holes,” gushed Smith. Even after discounting his owner’s bias, I tend to agree that Rock Hollow is solid from start to finish. A unique and creative hole like the short par-4 16th, with its semi-blind approach to a green that seemingly floats on the horizon, stands out from the rest as a favorite.

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In typical Dye fashion, Liddy employed angles, elevation changes and landforms to make the player feel uncomfortable on the tee. Confident drives are rewarded, but the best line to take is frequently not evident to the newbie visitor. Unlike some of Pete Dye’s courses, Rock Hollow has a much more understated aesthetic to accompany the strategy. “The design was a reaction to Pete’s strong personality,” Liddy explained. “The feature shapes are simple and the edges are blurry on purpose, allowing the landscape to be the focus.” This conscious restraint does not result in a bland golf course, however. To complement the natural beauty of the setting, Liddy took a hands-on approach that is evident in varied green surrounds and large, contoured putting surfaces. Rock Hollow is a course that would remain interesting, challenging and fun even after numerous plays.

Returning to the locals in the pro shop, their pride in Rock Hollow is palpable and well founded. After a period during which the conditions deteriorated, new Superintendent Larry Wilk and his team have the course looking and playing great. The design might be restrained, but the hard work and love that have gone into making Rock Hollow a terrific community golf course have been anything but. “I love golf, and it feels good to have created a place for our family to work and play the game,” Smith mused. “We took an unproductive piece of land and gave it a new use that makes people happy.” Terry Smith doesn’t say so explicitly, but I get the sense that reflecting on the joy that his course has brought to players makes the investment of blood, sweat and tears worth it.

For those in search of fun, affordable and architecturally interesting golf, Rock Hollow should be on your list. The Smith family is ready to welcome you in Peru.