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A WIN-WIN-WIN SOLUTION AT SAN GERONIMO

This installment of the GeekedOnGolf Community Golf series looks at the fight to save and reinvent San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin County, CA

For centuries, a story has been unfolding in the San Geronimo Valley, highlighting the relationships between people and the land, and each other. Important questions about stewardship, land use, ecology and community have been raised over the years, with complex and ambiguous answers. The fight to save the San Geronimo Golf Course is just the most recent chapter in the history of an area where tensions between competing interests make finding win-win solutions to problems more challenging. The question about the immediate future of this community course will soon be answered, and the next phase of the relationship between the people and this land will begin. What remains to be seen thereafter is what will become of the relationships among the residents of the valley and Marin County at large.

An Evolving Landscape

The San Geronimo Valley is in the heart of Marin County, over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It is home to several small towns surrounded by open space preserves. Creeks meander down from the hillsides and combine to form the ecologically important Lagunitas Creek Watershed that is habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Native American tribal territories – Credit: Drake Navigators Guild

The oldest known stewards of this land were the Coast Miwok people. Evidence suggests that going back more than 4,000 years, these indigenous hunter-gatherers used controlled burns to manage vegetation, promoting the growth of oaks that provided them acorns. They also caught fish in the creeks and hunted deer. Among their first contacts with European explorers was Sir Francis Drake, who reached the coast in 1579. Other settlers and fortune hunters followed, reducing the Miwok population from thousands to the low hundreds when their lifestyle and stewardship gave way to ranchers and farmers in the mid-19th century.

By the 1950s, Valley leadership recognized the need for a plan to better organize resources for the growing community. Recreation was a part of that plan, including a golf course.

The San Geronimo Valley in 1952 – Credit: Josh Pettit

A Scot and an Irishman came to America long after the Englishman Drake, each making their own mark on the West Coast. The one that most golfers have heard of is Dr. Alister MacKenzie, designer of Meadow Club, Cypress Point, Sharp Park and Pasatiempo. The other is Arthur Vernon Macan Jr.—a top amateur golfer who spent his days in the company of luminaries such as Bernard Darwin and Charles Alison, competing on and discussing the storied courses of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1908, he emigrated to British Columbia in Canada and earned his first commission as a course designer at Royal Collwood, which opened for play in 1913.

“Royal Collwood set the standard for West Coast architecture before Pebble Beach or Cypress Point,” said Jeff Mingay, golf course architect and student of Macan. “He was brilliant at routing, was a master green builder, and his courses drained really well—he pioneered golf course architecture in the west.” Macan made his way south to the Bay Area, working at high profile clubs like California Golf Club of San Francisco. His decades-long career would end in the San Geronimo Valley, with the opening of the community course in 1965. It would include his trademark, solid routing and challenging green contours, in a lovely natural setting. “Macan made clay models of his greens,” explained Mingay. “The only surviving model, which is now at the British Columbia Golf Museum, is from San Geronimo.” The course, which would be enjoyed by the community for generations to come, was an important piece of the history of golf architecture in America.

The San Geronimo Golf Course in 2017 – Credit: Josh Pettit

Of course, most of the players and other visitors to San Geronimo Golf Course could have cared less about the design pedigree of their local gem. For adults of all ages and skill levels, it was a place to get outside, connect with friends and nature, and have a go at capturing the magic of a few well-struck shots and holed putts. For boys and girls, it was a welcoming spot to learn the game and perhaps graduate to playing on one of the high school teams that used the course for matches. For non-golfers, it was an open space to walk the dog or take a stroll while good-naturedly pondering why on earth a sane person would ever become obsessed with trying to get a little white ball into a hole in the ground. San Geronimo was ground for recreation, and it was beloved by its community.

The facility had notably overcome two of the major issues plaguing courses across the country—financial and ecological sustainability. The Lee family, which owned and operated San Geronimo from 2009 through 2017, turned solid profits, in spite of the ebbs and flows of golf participation during that period. They emanated an inclusive spirit and embraced a multi-use approach to event hosting, activity offerings and tending of a community garden.

The Lees were also sensitive to the ecological impact of their golf operation. In 2014, the comprehensive Coho-Friendly Habitat and Operations Plan for the San Geronimo Golf Course was created in partnership with the community, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN). It set out to provide analysis and actionable recommendations for enhancement of riparian habitat, stormwater management, water use, integrated pest management and invasive species management (click here to see the Coho-Friendly plan). The document is thorough, holistic, well-conceived and a credit to the collaborative process of those involved.

It is worth highlighting that the Lees voluntarily participated in that process, and followed up by taking action on the recommendations for pest management, water use and invasive species management. Community volunteers also began pilot projects to enhance salmon and trout habitat in the creeks. “The previous owners of the golf course did a good job of not modifying the creek,” said Eric Ettinger, aquatic ecologist with the Marin Municipal Water District, in an interview. “I don’t think the golf course was ever the problem for salmon in the watershed.” The Lees and their partners in the community were taking action not because they had caused the problem, but rather because they saw an opportunity to be a part of the solution.

A Shift in Direction

In the midst of community-driven progress, San Geronimo was sold 2017, setting off a regrettable chain of events that has left the course in limbo. Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni led an effort to entice the Trust for Public Land to purchase the golf course at a premium, presumably to ensure that it would not fall prey to developers. Once the TPL ownership had been secured, Marin County would step in, purchase the land and “rewild” it into parkland. From the perspective of a single-minded champion of conservation, this plan likely seemed like a stroke of genius, justifying the lack of public consultation and transparency. The community had a different reaction.

The residents of Marin lean activist, to say the least, and when they got wind of the Rodoni-TPL deal, they got active. When attempts to get their voices heard by County Supervisors and TPL representatives failed, the San Geronimo Advocates group filed a lawsuit to block the resale of the golf course to Marin County, ironically on environmental protection grounds. The Advocates won, causing the county to walk away from the deal. The Trust for Public Land continued operations at the course for a time, but it now lays fallow. The community did not confine its advocacy to the courts, however. They organized and collected more than 12,000 signatures to qualify a ballot measure for March of 2020 that would protect the existing designation of golf as the primary use of the San Geronimo land, unless a future public vote determines otherwise.

The faces of San Geronimo – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

Reading through the letters-to-the-editor and local news stories regarding the fight to save San Geronimo, two things become abundantly clear. First, the battle is over more than a golf course. It is about the right of the people to participate in the process of determining how land in their community will get used. Second, this fight has become emotionally charged, with trust diminished and nerves raw. In violating its publicly stated principle to “work with communities to ensure that development happens for them, and not to them,” the Trust for Public Land has done damage that will take some time and effort to repair.

The Path Ahead

Why should valuable public land be used for the benefit of a few rich, white guys? This hackneyed question that the game of golf’s detractors love to trot out when debating public resource allocation is particularly misplaced at San Geronimo. The broad spectrum of players at the course, and the thousands of local ballot initiative supporters make this point emphatically. Golf provides recreational benefits to its players, and San Geronimo’s value as an open, green space and managed fire break extend well beyond golfers.

Further, the logic inherent in the question is fundamentally flawed. It implies that one kind of outdoor recreation (e.g. hiking, playing on a playground) is better than another (golf), and therefore more worthy of taxpayer support. The goal of any process of public land use planning should be to maximize recreational value to as many stakeholders as possible, ideally touching on aspects of ecology and community as well. It should not be to impose the values of the few on the many.

Josh Pettit has heard the “Why golf?” question while making the rounds to evangelize and pitch a new vision for the course. He grew up in Fairfax and learned to play the game at San Geronimo. Pettit went on to obtain a degree in Landscape Architecture and start his own business, Pacific Golf Design. He has been involved with the effort to save San Geronimo, offering his design services pro-bono. “San Geronimo always had a great reputation,” he recounted. “People from all over the area would come to play it. Given the overwhelming local support, the residents clearly still see the value in this golf course.” Pettit has sketched out a long-range plan that delivers wins to numerous stakeholder groups, and stands ready to jump in if given the chance by TPL, or a future owner.

Like the residents who wrote letters and collected signatures, Josh Pettit is both frustrated and determined. “The people at TPL initially expressed interest in my ideas, but it became clear that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. The new owners seem not to have learned their lesson regarding connecting with the community as well. They have one website set up to gather public comments, with an air of open-mindedness. Another is dedicated to defeating the Advocates’ ballot measure. Given that the Trust for Public Land already has golf course properties in Colorado and New Jersey in their portfolio, their anti-golf stance at San Geronimo is curious. “One of the project managers who was not a golfer told me that he got emotional watching Tiger Woods win The Masters this year,” shared Pettit. Golf can have that effect. There is still hope.

For those in positions of authority and power who are convinced that their way is the right way, there will always be a temptation to bypass the messy democratic process and impose their will. This is a recipe for suboptimal outcomes and backlash. A vastly superior outcome for San Geronimo can be achieved if the various stakeholders work together, as they have in the past. The risk of refusing to do so is that one group gets their way with the land, but the fabric of the community is torn in the process. What point is there in winning the battle, if both sides ultimately lose the war?

The sun has not yet set – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

It has been thousands of years since the San Geronimo Valley was wilderness. In the eras since, people have called the area home, managed the land, and used it for food, commerce and recreation, including golf. At the very least, for fire safety and ecological responsibility, generations to come will need to carry on that stewardship. In spite of missteps and conflict to this point, the opportunity still exists at San Geronimo to evolve the land once again to create an outstanding community asset that delivers immense recreational and ecological value. Here’s hoping that all parties involved take a step back, take a breath, and find that win-win-win.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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OPENING BANKS

Part 28 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at our work to stabilize the canal banks and create vistas throughout the course

“What are you doing down there?” That is a frequently asked question that floats down from the ridges and bridges as we undertake work on the canal banks. The short and pithy answer is “weeding”. As is the case with many aspects of the journey along the shores, the full answer is a bit more involved, touching on golf, ecology, community and aesthetics. Retrovation work on the banks provides and instructive example of the broader effort to maximize the potential of our community golf course.

What is Retrovation?

Land is constantly evolving, subject to the forces of nature and the hand of man. During the process of creating the Ecological Component of the Canal Shores Master Plan, we were informed by the experts of the simple fact that a true restoration of our site was not possible because the canal is man-made. Restoring our property to its natural state would require filling in the canal. This is the same problem faced by many golf club green committees. It is often impossible to go back to square one, leaving it up to the leaders of a renovation project to decide how to proceed. Similar to many golf courses and clubs, we decided to move steadily forward with renovating Canal Shores while honoring its roots. We’re undertaking a “retrovation”.

What that means is that we have studied the ecological history of the area, and the design history of the course. Insofar as we can given contemporary constraints, we are basing enhancement projects on that historical perspective. For example, the photo above shows an early view of the canal, with the El bridge between the 12th and 3rd holes. The slopes are grassy, with dotted shrubs and trees. This hardwood savanna habitat is one of several native options recommended to us by the ecologists, with prairie and wet meadow being the others. This original intent for the land has been lost under invasive overgrowth, but we can retrovate it over time.

Restoring Scale

A priority for our clearing efforts has been in areas where issues of playability and safety exist on the golf holes. As the recap video below indicates, improving scale and visibility were the goals of the work performed on the 16th hole this fall.

The thrill of taking on the challenge of clearing the canal on this par-3 can only be fully experienced if players are able to see both the water and the land on the far side. Knowing the punishment for a poorly struck tee shot heightens the excitement and quickens the pulse. Pulling off the carry and seeing the ball land safely on the other side is the satisfying payoff that keeps players coming back. An added benefit of our work is that visibility improves safety in this section of the course that is highly trafficked by walkers.

Beyond the 16th, our ridge and bank clearing has focused on areas adjacent to tees and greens. The more buckthorn and invasive vines we cut back, the more sunlight gets to the ground and air flows over it. Those are the conditions necessary to keep our turf healthy and happy.

Bank Stabilization

One of the many problems created by the invasive species that have overrun Canal Shores is erosion. This seems counterintuitive for those who are used to looking at the course from eye level. They see green and assume that all is well. Taking a closer look beneath those green leaves reveals bare ground caused by the thick canopy of buckthorn and vines. That exposed dirt slowly washes off, destabilizing the roots of the trees. The trees begin to lean and ultimately fall, ripping up the bank as they go. The cycle of erosion continues. In some places on the property, the issue is quite evident and will need to be addressed with machinery in a larger renovation. For now though, we can help to stabilize the banks through clearing.

Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

A seed bank of grasses, flowers and other forms of ground cover exists throughout the course. When we clear brush, vines and dead trees, the sun hits the ground allowing the seeds to grow. Plant coverage is what holds the banks together best, and although some of the plants that grow are undesirable, we are also seeing stands of goldenrod, phlox, milkweed and other pollinator-friendly natives. After clearing, we can enhance the areas over time according to the guidelines of the Master Plan.

Compression & Release

In addition to being a fun and playable golf course, we also want Canal Shores to be visually interesting and beautiful for the broader community. Diverse, healthy habitat is one factor in achieving that goal. Employing the design principle of compression and release is another. This concept was advocated by Frank Lloyd Wright and his landscape architecture contemporaries, and basically refers to complementing confined spaces with more expansive ones.

As players and walkers make their way around Canal Shores, they will find alternating sections—some with dense vegetation and trees, and others with open vistas containing specimen trees or small copses that have been tagged by the ecologists for preservation. These complementary spaces create a rhythm to the journey of compression and release. The map below indicates (in purple) where we have begun to create the vistas.

At the north end of the property an opening is planned right of the 6th green, allowing players to see Wilmette Harbor and Lake Michigan from the upper tee on the 7th.

Restoring playability and visibility to the 9th is well underway. A vista between the 3rd and 11th greens has also been started.

Clearing to increase light and air for the 13th green and 2nd has begun to improve turf health, while also creating a vista. The areas between 14 green / 15 tee and 17 green / 18 tee are also being opened up.

In keeping with our theme of community, these vistas also allow visitors to catch glimpses of other people enjoying outdoor recreation. There is a pleasurable camaraderie that is fostered by seeing our friends and neighbors at play that extends beyond the course out into the community.

At present, these clearing and enhancement efforts carry on in “pilot project” mode, but with an eye to bigger retrovation steps in the future. We welcome volunteers willing to come pitch in labor, as well as donors who would like to sponsor improvements. As we make progress, we hope that you come out to visit and enjoy our open banks.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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TIPPING THE SCALES

A Geek Dad’s Diary entry reflecting on the complexity of golf culture and how we welcome beginners

Golf is a game of invitation and camaraderie. Very few are those players who come to it without being brought by friends, family, colleagues or a mentor. Fewer still are those who stick around long enough for the love of the game to take hold without patient and persistent support from their fellow players. Getting the ball in the hole is difficult. Navigating the rules and norms of etiquette, perhaps even more so. Without the welcoming invitation followed by the supportive camaraderie that are at the heart of what’s best in golf, these challenges prove too daunting for most.

This past week’s golf adventures, which included my son Henry, illuminated a balancing act that is deeply ingrained in the game. On the one hand, there are many aspects of golf—traditions, exclusivity, cost, difficulty—that are unwelcoming. On the other, most golfers are enthusiastic, courteous and generous, especially to those who exhibit a genuine interest in meeting people, having new experiences and enjoying the game. At the end of the day, it’s the players who tip the scales. Will they help beginners along, or will they intolerantly turn them away, like a teacher who kicks a child out of kindergarten for not knowing how to do long division?

Back to My Beginning

Earlier in the week, I had occasion to be up near my home town. Time allowed for me to stop in Fort Sheridan to take a walk. When it was an operational Army base, the Fort had a golf course that was open to active and retired servicemen and women, and their families. That is where I learned to play the game. My dad and grandfather, who both served, started taking me out when I was six with sawed off clubs. They would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker and let me play in. Fun was the priority, but I was not allowed to run wild. They patiently taught me when it was my turn, to be quiet when someone else was playing, to replace divots and rake bunkers, and the other standards of etiquette. I had to earn my way backward to play from the tee. The course at Fort Sheridan is no longer there, along with many other community golf courses in America, but the memories and foundation I gained while walking its fairways are ever present.

My week also included the privilege of getting out for an afternoon loop with buddies at the Old Elm Club, where I caddied from intermediate school through college. Old Elm is a small men’s club that’s as exclusive as they come. It always surprises my friends now to learn that back in my day, the caddies were almost all teenagers who were allowed to play after work at 5:30pm Tuesday – Sunday, and after noon on Mondays. Suffice it to say, my fellow golf bums and I took advantage of the perk. Our days were spent learning all manner of lessons from adults on the course, and fellow caddies in the yard. Evenings were for chasing the sun, where one rule reigned supreme—play fast. We didn’t care if you were a novice or an expert, a hack or a stick. Just get on with it. As I look back now, I can see the scales balanced, with exclusivity on one side, and the generosity of the members on the other. It’s complicated, but one thing is simple. My days as an Old Elm caddie were highly beneficial in my life, and I wish that youth caddie programs were thriving rather than dying.

On the Road

The memories and musings of the week were packed up and we headed to Indianapolis for the weekend. On Friday, Henry and I met my buddy Jamison at his favorite local track, Pleasant Run. The course was laid out on rolling land with a creek running through it and plenty of quirk baked in. It’s not easy to play or walk, but Henry made it and we had a blast. Pleasant Run is community golf at its best—fun, affordable, interesting—and the combination of friendly staff and a terrific host made us feel right at home.

Contrast that pleasantness with our experience at The Fort. After receiving a less than warm welcome in the pro shop and being reminded that Henry wasn’t permitted to drive the cart with his grandmother, it came to our attention that someone on the staff made a stink about a 9-year old being allowed out to play. Henry plays well, fast and with solid etiquette. He has played Olympia Fields, Lawsonia, Kingsley, and Arcadia Bluffs, and has done just fine. Of course, this person at The Fort didn’t know about Henry or his game, but they didn’t bother to ask me either. They made a snap judgment based on his age and in the process made him feel unwelcome. Ironically, we were greeted on the 3rd tee by a nice lady selling raffle tickets to raise money for youth golf in Indianapolis. Apparently the message is that The Fort supports youth golf as long as it doesn’t happen there. The encounter clearly bummed Henry out, and after 2.5 hours of watching adults make a mess of the front nine at an excruciatingly slow pace, he asked to quit.

This could have just been a bad moment for a few people at The Fort, or it could have been a symptom of a wrong-headed, unwelcoming culture. I don’t know, and frankly, because my child was involved, I don’t care. I took to Twitter and blew off some steam with a rant. What happened next is one of many reasons why I love golfers. Not only did Henry receive messages of support and encouragement, but he also got invites to play in Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Lexington. I have passed the messages along to him as they come in, and he is thrilled. His love of the game goes on while golf culture puts on its balancing act. Fortunately, the good folks consistently show up to tip the scales.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that private clubs swing their doors wide open, or that we replace the game’s rules and standards with a behavioral free-for-all. There is room on the golf landscape for all manner of courses and clubs—one size does not need to fit all. And the fact that we voluntarily adhere to rules for competitive play and etiquette at all times is part of what makes the game special. This diary entry is not meant to come to sweeping conclusions, but rather to be a reminder that, to one degree or another, we were all brought into golf. In turn, we each have an obligation to pay that kindness forward by welcoming others and helping them find their way so that they too have the chance to fall in love. The experiences of the week, linking my younger self to my son, reminded me that in the complicated culture of the game, I need to put forth the effort to tip the scales.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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COMPLICATED, BUT PERFECT

Part 27 of the Journey Along the Shores series tells the story of the launch of a new youth golf program at Canal Shores

An idea about inclusiveness and enjoyment of the game of golf was born in our community this summer. That idea was transformed into a reality at Canal Shores by an unlikely team of high school students, a former social worker, a blogger, a community leader, golf instructors, parents and 18 brave kids who had never set foot on a golf course before. Their story embodies elements—inspiration, serendipity, perseverance, caring, courage—that when mixed together among people pursuing a common cause, tends to produce meaningful success. This story is about the inaugural Evanston Cradle to Career golf program at Canal Shores and the kids who went through it, but it begins in the mind of one kid.

It’s fitting that I would catch Thomas Haller for a conversation about his experience while he was driving with a buddy up to Sand Valley. He is my kind of geek—a teammate of my son Jack on the ETHS golf team, a member of YouthOnCourse and the NewClub golf society, a caddie, and a budding architecture connoisseur. Even better than all that, he believes that the game should be readily accessible to all. Coincidentally, his idea for a youth golf program came from another car ride. The Hallers were discussing diversity (or lack thereof) in the game while on the way home from the course one day. It was an issue that had been on Thomas’s mind. “Evanston is a diverse community, and all the sports teams at our school reflect that diversity, except golf,” he said. “So my friends on the team and I were aware of it, but the question is, what are you going to do about it?”

Thomas’s mom is a HeadStart teacher in Evanston and she originally suggested that he take her students out to play golf. That suggestion morphed into his idea for a youth program. He had seen how popular the kids camps and clinics at Canal Shores were and thought that he might be able to piggyback on those. “We are so fortunate to have a perfect place like Canal Shores in our town where kids can get introduced to the game,” he pointed out. “I probably couldn’t have done this in many communities in the area.”

Through a series of connections, Thomas found himself applying for a community building grant through Evanston Cradle to Career’s Advocates for Action council, an organization that advocates for systemic equity while pursuing life-enhancing opportunities for Evanston families. As he made his grant presentation with robust support from his parents, the Canal Shores Association Board and other members of the community, he realized that he was onto something big. “It was certainly overwhelming at first,” he recounted, “but I had lots of people helping me. When I saw how excited the parents and kids were for the opportunity to try golf, I didn’t want to let them down.”

The Buddy System

The kitchen table of Kelly Marcele’s home is a wedge away from the 15th green at Canal Shores, and yet she has never played the game. There was something about Thomas Haller’s idea that struck a chord with her though, and so the former social worker turned Advocates for Action volunteer stepped up to be his “grant buddy”. She recalled the lively internal conversation about race, recreation, outreach and inclusiveness prompted by Thomas’s application. The fact is that most people in Evanston’s African-American community have never been to Canal Shores, or any other golf course, and many have no familiarity with the game. Was a white teenager’s youth golf program really the best use of their resources? A fair question, but in the end, the answer came back affirmative. Thomas had his money, and the support of Kelly and others within Advocates for Action.

That support would prove to be crucial in bringing the idea to life. The first problem that needed solving was finding interested kids. After an initial outreach attempt failed, Kelly contacted blogger and community activist Nina Kavin who runs DearEvanston.org for help. With less than a week to go before the start of the program, Thomas had no kids signed up. Nina generously posted the opportunity on her Facebook page, and twenty-four hours later, the team had more inquiries than available spots. “My biggest takeaway was that minority kids weren’t playing not because they were disinterested,” shared Thomas. “They just didn’t have exposure and opportunity.”

The next challenge was one of logistics. The kids were signed up, but would they show up? Any parent of teenagers knows that little things like transportation and snacks aren’t top of mind. Once again, the community stepped up, led by Kimberly Holmes-Ross, Engagement Coordinator for Advocates for Action. Like Kelly, Kimberly was a believer in Thomas’s idea. The two ladies also shared a determination to do whatever it took to help see the program through, whether it was giving rides, gathering forms or welcoming parents and kids. Their efforts paid off as the group of participant families came together, and the players took to the game.

Producing Golfers

Peter Donahue is a beloved figure at Canal Shores. As head of The Golf Practice, his camps and clinics have been growing steadily since 2013, with this year’s class totaling 450 youth golfers. He is calm, caring, indefatigable and in charge—exactly the way he needs to be to marshal such a horde. A community golf course in Evanston is not where he planned to end up when his PGA Professional career began in the early ‘80s. “I thought I would be the next Hubby Habjan at a club like Onwentsia,” he reminisced. “As I went through my apprenticeship, I was encouraged to explore opportunities in the public space as well.” Peter found himself in Winnetka where he tapped into his love of instruction. “People who are enthusiastic students are a pleasure to be around, especially kids,” he said with enthusiasm of his own. Years later, that calling to teach would give rise to a robust program now known as The Golf Practice.

Peter had taken in disadvantaged students through the Canal Shores Association Board’s scholarship program before, with some successes. He saw in “the Haller project” (as he calls it) a different opportunity that got him excited. “What would it be like to take a kid with no exposure to the game, but who was interested in it, and see if we could produce a golfer?”, he wondered. Answering that question motivated Peter to sign on as a partner, helping Thomas to develop an introductory program that both welcomed players and taught them the basics.

“It was a revelation,” concluded Peter. He had always believed in the potential of a community course like Canal Shores to play an important and powerful role in the game, and during the weeks teaching Thomas’s recruits, he witnessed that potential being fulfilled. He wasn’t the only one making note of the profoundly positive vibe. “I’ve always been around kids who grew up with golf,” explained Thomas. “It’s a given in our lives, and we tend to get caught up in scoring and competition. These kids are in it for the love of the game, which puts it into perspective for me.”

More Than a Game

Golf’s just a game. What difference could it possibly make? I’m seeking answers to that question as I sit in the office of Canal Shores’ General Manager Tony Frandria. We’re discussing his impressions of the program, while the chaos of preparation for the first Northwestern University football home game swirls around us. The EC2C camp has ended, but Tony is clearly still affected by what he witnessed. “I don’t know what you were doing when you were in high school, but I sure wasn’t putting together youth golf programs,” he said with a laugh. “Thomas is a great kid with a great idea, and the result was all these other kids having a chance to learn the game. It was so cool to see the diversity of this place continue to grow.”

Amidst tight budgets, logistics of football parking, neighbor relations, course maintenance and challenging weather, the energy of the youth programs recharges Tony’s batteries, helping him continue to fight to make Canal Shores thrive. He noted the impact on families as well. “I heard through the grapevine that one father and son are ditching video games and buying clubs,” he gushed. “I have seen a mom and her son who was in the program continuing to come over on Fridays to hit balls in the nets together. Hearing stories like that and seeing the connections for myself…it’s just awesome.”

One particularly profound success is that of a camper named Judah. He went from never having played golf to making the boys team at Niles West High School in one summer. Clearly he was a natural, waiting to be found. But Judah’s experience is deeper and more important than what happened on the course, as his mother Abigail shared in a note to Kelly. “An African Proverb says ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ My son and I went through some really tough times since (his father) died, and I felt so alone and overwhelmed” she wrote. “Judah was making me exasperated by hanging around with some bad influences…I remember crying myself to sleep one night and saying, ‘My God, I don’t have anybody!’…I had no idea that golf would bring brighter days and friendships and a village that would help take my son to the next level. He has connected with some really great young men and adults…I feel truly blessed by this experience with each and every one of you.” Thomas, Kelly, Peter and Tony all spoke of Judah, and as they did, their emotions were palpable. Can a game make a difference? Community golf can.

Reflecting back on this pilot program, all parties have ideas for how it can be improved going forward, and they are unanimous in their desire to see it do so in 2020 and beyond. “This was a good beginning,” said Peter. “Now we see what’s needed to keep it going, to make access happen.” Given that almost half of the first class of kids intend to stick with the game, there is good reason to press on. “We want to expand and include girls next time, and I will be recruiting my friends and teammates to pitch in,” Thomas strategized. “Perhaps we can turn it into something that gets passed down.”

Like many forms of sport or recreation, golf has the inherent ability to bring people together who wouldn’t normally mix. The club, ball and hole ahead don’t care if you are young or old, male or female, black or white. The challenge is the same for all. Get that little ball in that little hole and you are automatically bound to all the other players who have experienced the same joy of accomplishment. Unfortunately, barriers to entry to the game do exist, and that is what makes this story so impactful. Ultimately, it is about more than the game. It is about what it really takes to break down barriers. It is true that without Thomas Haller, this camp wouldn’t have happened. It is also true that with only Thomas Haller, this camp, and the greater good it produced, wouldn’t have happened. To create change and make a positive impact, the community must come together and act, as they did with Thomas’s idea. Not easy, but possible. Kelly summed it up best, “It’s way more complicated than people think, but it ended up perfect.”

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE WELCOME MAT IS OUT AT AIKEN

A look at what makes the McNair family’s Aiken Golf Club a place that any geek would love to call home

A knock against golf in America is that it is unwelcoming. The game itself is intimidating for beginners. Just getting the ball airborne and ultimately into the hole is hard enough, but there are also a gaggle of rules and customs which must be learned to fit in among those who are in the know. Add to those dynamics the socio-economic and gender exclusivity of certain clubs, and the game does not exude a vibe of open arms for the newcomer. Initiatives have popped up with the intent of changing perceptions and bringing more people in, and some are as effective as their flashy marketing would lead you to believe. There are certain clubs and courses, however, where a welcoming spirit comes naturally. Making players of all ages, genders and skill levels feel at home so that they can enjoy the game is their purpose. Aiken Golf Club is one of those places.

Adapt or Die

Use the term “sandhills” and the minds of most golf geeks will likely go to Nebraska. The O.G. of sandhills golf is in the Carolinas though. To be more specific for the cartographically inclined, drop a pin on Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia and then draw an arc northeast up through Augusta (GA), Aiken (SC), Pinehurst (NC), into southern Virginia and you have charted a path through an entire region ideal for building golf courses. Along the edge of a vast coastal plain, gently rolling hills of sand, clay and minerals were built up through thousands of years of rising and falling seas, as the geological processes of erosion and deposition played out.

Zooming in on the Augusta/Aiken area, it turns out that Bobby Jones and Dr. Alister MacKenzie weren’t the only designers to recognize the potential and plant their stakes in the ground. Donald Ross was also active in those parts and in 1912, he and his associate J.R. Ingles routed and built the course that would ultimately become Aiken Golf Club. A long and winding road began there and then, with ups and downs and necessary adaptations along the way.

The course was originally a companion to a popular hotel-resort, until the Depression hit. It then became a muni owned by the city of Aiken. In 1959, long-time golf professional James McNair fulfilled a dream by purchasing the course, changing it yet again to a private club. It thrived through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but by 1995 Aiken Golf Club had again fallen on hard times. James’s son Jim was running the club and in an interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg podcast, shared the story of reaching his breaking point. “Our course started to really show its age,” he recounted. “We had to do something drastic. I’ll never forget that day…I was exhausted. I worked 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. I walked in and I cried…(My father) said, ‘Son, What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘We have two options. We can either sell it and walk away, or we have to completely redo the golf course.’”

Thankfully, the family opted to go the renovation route. Over the next four years, Jim McNair and three members of his grounds staff would rework every element of the course except the routing, using the guiding principle “What would J.R. Ingles do?” as they went along. The course reopened in 2000 in the form that players find today, although some tinkering continues. The club has changed to a semi-private model, welcoming guest play. “We want to be accessible,” explained McNair. “We want people to come and enjoy the golf course…We want to be inclusive, not exclusive.”

There is a clear tone of gratitude in Jim McNair’s voice as he talks about his family’s course. It’s the depth of earnestness shared by those who have been through a near-death experience, but now live on. “Why the Aiken Golf Club is still here after 106 years is the fact that we have been able to adapt, and we have our own niche,” he reflected. “It may be a small niche, but it’s the history, the routing, it’s walkable…It’s just a charming, quaint golf course with a lot of character.” As the family enters its seventh decade of ownership, the club and course are as healthy as they’ve been since Ross and Ingles walked the grounds.

The Course

A professor from the University of Georgia at Athens, an architect from Charlotte, a high school golfer from Evanston and his geek dad convened at Aiken for a memorable winter day. The first loop around was characterized by joyful surprise that this course—with its gorgeous topography, varied hazards and playful greens—even exists. The second loop was spent hitting fun shots while wondering how much better the game would be if every community had a course this good. In between the two rounds was an attempt to pay for the replay at which point we were informed that the $25 walking rate was good for the whole day.

Jim McNair summed our feelings perfectly. “I have a love affair with every hole, because of what went in to each hole,” he mused. “Each hole is so different, yet they all blend together, and they roll you through this crazy ride.” Indeed. Let’s take a quick look at that crazy ride.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

Aiken opens with a short par-4 over undulating ground that culminates with an elevated green which is connected to the 17th. If ever there was a tone-setter, this is it. The 2nd then plays gently downhill and to the right to a large green set in a hollow.

The next stretch of holes amps up the creativity of hazards and greens and embodies the integration of the course with its surroundings. Train tracks next to the 3rd green, a street crossing after the 5th, and the homes near the 6th and 7th are all facets of the unique Aiken experience.

After another road crossing and a quick stop for homemade bread at the snack shack, players then enter a more spacious section of the property to take on the 8th through the 14th. The course’s two par-5s work over these hills in dramatic fashion, and two tough Ross par-3s also lie in wait.

The closing stretch is no letdown. The green at the short par-4 15th is all-world. The par-3 16th is a downhill stunner. The par-4 17th plays back up to that wild double green, which makes just as big of an impression upon the second visit. And finally, the round is topped off with a one-shot home hole with the clubhouse as a backdrop. It is sublime.

No Tricks, Just Great Golf

As my son Jack and I wrapped up our inaugural visit to Aiken, we noticed a young guy practicing on the club’s putting course. This was no casual putt-putt session—he was clearly serious, and good. We were caught a bit off guard as that same guy walked up to us in the parking lot, hand extended. “I’m George. Heard you were coming and just wanted to say hello and thanks.” It took a moment to register with me that he was George Bryan of Bryan Brothers Golf fame. As we chatted, it became apparent that he shared our love of the course and he delivered us a final helping of Aiken hospitality. Jack and I headed off to the airport in Atlanta, and I couldn’t wait to tell my nine year old Henry that I had met one of the Bryan Bros. The more I thought about the encounter though, the more it made me wonder what he was doing there. A follow-up was in order.

The Bryans hail from Columbia and both played golf for the University of South Carolina. They caught lightning in a bottle with their trick shot videos, but their shared dream was always to make the PGA Tour. Wesley has fulfilled that dream, notching his first victory. George is still working his way up through the ranks of the feeder tours and currently calls Aiken home. “I was looking for a place to play and work on my game during the peak of the Bryan Brothers,” he shared. “Jim let me use his facilities when other clubs turned me away.”

George was grateful for the McNair welcome, and ecstatic about the quality of the course. “It helps you get good at approaches, short game, scoring and going low,” he gushed. “Aiken is refreshingly different than the courses we normally play on tour.” He is now an honorary member at neighboring Palmetto Golf Club, but still spends most of his time at Aiken. In an attempt to repay Jim McNair’s kindness, he has deputized himself to be the club’s ambassador, including telling the story on social media. A vibe this special needs to be shared.

There are those who lament the effect that modern media is having on the golf landscape. “Tis the death of the hidden gem!,” they cry. They go on to wring their hands about groupthink abstractions, and the impact it’s having on design. To the owner-operators of publicly accessible golf courses in America and beyond, this coffee house debate misses the point of what they work so hard every day to accomplish. Their blood, sweat and tears go into providing interesting and fun places for us the play the game we all love, while hopefully remaining a viable business for their families and communities. To find some nebulous overexposure downside in a visit from Matt Ginella or Erik Anders Lang would be an overthought distraction from their purpose of welcoming golfers and reconnecting them to the joy of the game.

For this geek, the media serves no greater purpose than to point people in the direction of good folks like the McNairs, who have great courses like Aiken Golf Club. Put simply by Jim McNair, “We feel fortunate to be able to offer this to golfers…We welcome you. We’d love to have you here.”

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WEE CHANGE AT CANAL SHORES

Part 26 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at the creation of the Wee Burn

When Cypress Point opened, it received universal praise. One would assume that a categorically positive reaction would please the architect. Instead, Dr. Alister MacKenzie famously expressed concern—in his experience, any golf course that didn’t turn off at least a few players wasn’t well designed. As we continue to tinker with Canal Shores, we understand the Good Doctor’s conditioned expectations. Each change we make to improve the course yields mostly praise, but also the predictable batch of complaints. The creation of the Wee Burn short of the 17th green is no exception, providing an interesting look into player perceptions and reactions to change.

The Problem

We are often asked why we don’t address issues of standing water by installing drainage that flows into the canal. The short answer is that we are not permitted to do so by our landlord. That prohibition makes sense in the context of the purpose of the land. Canal Shores exists fundamentally to provide a green space buffer for stormwater management from the surrounding neighborhoods. The course is there to hold water, not pour it into the canal. Unfortunately, that function is not well balanced with playability for golfers, and it will take a well-conceived renovation to reconfigure the course to achieve both objectives. Until that time, we are forced to do triage.

Standing water across the front of the 17th green

The 17th hole is one of many problematic spots on the course with regard to water retention, particularly across the front of the green. Spring rains caused the entire approach to flood. It would stay wet and muddy long after the rest of the course had dried out, and any subsequent rainfall would put us right back to square one. Plugged or disappeared balls were common, and growing healthy turf was impossible. The area was essentially unplayable for most of the season.

The Wee Burn

After lengthy consideration, we decided to stop trying to fight Mother Nature, and instead provide a better place to store this water. A wee burn wanted to exist, if we would do the digging. The idea was to dig down front-right of the green where the water was collecting so that a greater volume could be held in a smaller footprint. The removed soil was used to raise and slope the front left to help it remain dry by surface draining into the burn.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Our friends Matt, Mark and Matt from NewClub put on their artisans hats and came out to do the digging and shaping. We didn’t want the feature to look like a boring ditch, but rather a burn that might be found on a course in the British Isles. Aesthetics were enhanced with wetland plants and stone chunks donated by a neighbor. We were excited about how the burn looked upon completion, but the real test would have to wait for the next rain. Sure enough, the rains came and the burn worked as intended, holding water while allowing the front-left approach to the green to dry out quickly. Players’ balls will no longer plug and their shoes will remain mud-free.

Player Perceptions

Although we were happy with how the burn looked and functioned, some players were not enthused. Change creates complaints, presumably because it makes us uncomfortable. Those complaints open a window into the quirky manner in which our minds work. When asked why a player doesn’t like a feature, they will produce an answer even if it is poorly founded. For example, in the case of the burn, we heard that it makes the hole harder. The burn is not marked as a hazard—it is essentially a depression in the fairway where casual water collects. If there is water in it, players are entitled to a free drop. Looking at the before and after photos above, it is readily apparent that we took a large problem and made it smaller, thereby rendering the hole more playable. That’s not harder, it’s easier (and more interesting).

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit to having reactionary moments like this when faced with change, which is why we don’t sweat the feedback. Dr. MacKenzie accepted that it was part of the deal, and he knew much more about golf architecture than we ever will. When the complaints come, we comfort ourselves by imagining that he would have approved of our Wee Burn, as well as our ongoing efforts to push Canal Shores forward.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE PAST MEETS THE FUTURE AT MOSHOLU

How a new generation is contributing to the revival of public golf in its American birthplace

If Ed Brockner had been alive in 1888, he would have been in the Apple Tree Gang. In the spring of that year, Scotsman John Reid and two of his friends played the first recorded round of golf in a pasture near Reid’s house in Yonkers, NY. The group would take on the ATG moniker when they relocated to a larger playing field that included a tree where they hung their coats. Spend any time with Brockner, and you will feel the depth of his passion for the game and its original pure form. It is not hard to imagine him hanging his coat to complete Reid’s foursome.

Early golfers at play in Yonkers

Brockner attended Yale University where he played on the golf team and then served as a volunteer assistant after graduation. He knew that he wanted to work in the golf business but didn’t yet have a clear path to take. The Golf Course at Yale is a Seth Raynor design that is of historic and architectural significance, attracting a steady stream of designers and aficionados to play and study it. One of those visitors was Gil Hanse, who gave a talk attended by Brockner. Intrigued by architecture and construction, he landed a spot on Hanse’s crew working on projects including the creation of Boston Golf Club. Through that work, he would find his way to a site not far from where the Apple Tree Gang roamed the fields, and an opportunity to help reinvigorate public golf in the place where it was born.

A Game for the Masses

By 1892, John Reid and his pals had moved on from pasture golf to form the private Saint Andrew’s Golf Club, which would become one of the five founding members of the USGA. In Yonkers and the Bronx, they left behind a rapidly growing contingent of players who were organizing into their own groups and jockeying for the scarce open green space to play their infectious new sport. One such lot was the Mosholu Golf Club (aka the Riverdale Group) led by T. McClure Peters, who lobbied the NYC Parks Commission to use part of Van Cortlandt Park to lay out their own course. The Commission agreed that the land could be used for golf, but mandated that it be open to all, resulting in the creation of the first public golf course in America.

Clearing stones to create the golf course at Van Cortlandt Park

Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course began as a nine-holer and was originally laid out by the players. The first eight holes were each under 200 yards—the ninth measured 700+ yards. Van Cortlandt’s routing epitomized golf before enculturated standards. The popularity of the game and lack of structure at the course produced growing pains that the city turned to Tom Bendelow to solve. Known as the “Johnny Appleseed of American Golf” for his cross-country tour to lay out courses sponsored by the Spalding Sporting Goods Company, Bendelow also managed Van Cortlandt and oversaw its expansion to eighteen holes. The volume of public play continued to increase, ultimately necessitating the building of a second course on adjacent land, aptly named Mosholu Golf Course.

Mosholu Reborn

Over the ensuing decades, the city’s Bronx courses had their ups and downs, to say the least. The decision to renovate Mosholu in 2004 was a solid step toward building a brighter future for the game in New York. It seems fitting that a golf renaissance man like Ed Brockner would arrive at that moment in the birthplace of public golf to assist with its rebirth, both reimagining Mosholu and fostering the area’s nascent First Tee chapter.

During his time and travels at Yale and then with Hanse Design, Brockner had seen much of the greatest golf architecture in the country. He had also become convinced of two simple principles that he would apply to Mosholu’s renovation. First, high-quality, interesting design does not have to cost more than the bland, boring alternative. Second, the best way to get beginners excited about the game is to expose them to it on a playing field that is filled with a wide variety of great features and challenges to navigate. Players might not care about the origins or design intent of a redan or biarritz, but they appreciate cool and fun when they see it—especially kids.

Mosholu’s nine holes deliver, at an affordable price, on both of Brockner’s principles. The course is practical to maintain, but packed with interest on rolling land in the midst of a bustling urban setting. A full tee sheet and smiles on players’ faces are proof that refusing to settle for the mundane pays off. Municipalities around the country, take note.

The Bronx biarritz at Mosholu

Building More Than Courses

Since those early days, the First Tee of Metropolitan New York has expanded to five facilities, including the successfully renovated Weequahic in New Jersey. As the organization’s Executive Director, Brockner continues to search the metro area for more opportunities to expand the organization’s reach. “I am a builder,” he said, “and I love the development part of the job.” When it comes to golf courses and architecture, he can geek out with the best of them. It is quite evident, however, that involvement with the First Tee kids touches his heart as powerfully as design stimulates his mind.

For fifteen years, the program has been producing success stories. One of those stories belongs to Olivia Sexton, a bright young student who described her experience in a speech she delivered eloquently at an organization event:

“Whenever I tell anyone that I play golf, I get raised eyebrows. I don’t look like the typical golfer – I am from the Bronx, I’m a girl and I’m black. If it weren’t for the First Tee, I would have never discovered my love for a game that is elusive to people of my socio-economic background…The First Tee has also taught me life skills that will stick with me forever. The program has nine core values that are taught to us and I use these in every aspect of my life. They include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and confidence which help me as I grow, handle relationships, problem-solving and whatever else comes my way…More recently, the First Tee has been able to help me prepare for the future. As I am entering my junior year of high school, I have to start preparing for college, and they have been able to help a tremendous amount. Through both donations and offers, we have been able to visit some of the Ivy League Schools including Yale and Princeton…Because of the First Tee, I have a very planned out future. After high school, I plan on going to college (maybe play golf), majoring in Biology or Chemistry, then going to medical school, and eventually becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Once I have my career intact, I also plan on giving back to the First Tee by donating to help with more outreach opportunities, so kids with my socio-economic background can be exposed to such a wonderful sport.”

At his office at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx, Ed Brockner may be a world away from New Haven or the exclusive fairways of places like Boston Golf Club, but he has clearly found his place. He is building facilities that play an inspirational role in the current community golf revival that is unfolding across this country. But more importantly, he is using the game of golf as a foundation on which to build the lives of young people like Olivia Sexton. Growing the game is great. Changing lives through it—it doesn’t get any better.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE WRAP-AROUND AT CANAL SHORES

Part 25 of the Journey Along the Shores series recaps our off-season projects

Much like the modern PGA Tour, the work season at Canal Shores never ends. Long after players have hung up their clubs in Chicagoland, our staff and volunteers keep plugging away on course improvements, deterred only by blizzards, bitter cold or torrential rains. Progress continues all the way through to spring cleanup. Over the past six months, much was accomplished and more projects were added to the never-ending list. Let’s take a spin around the course to see what the crew has been up to.

The theme of recent work has been eradicating neglect. What that means is we are finding places on the course—exposed mud, standing water, overgrowth, fallen trees—and doing whatever it takes to tune them up such that the course is more enjoyable for visitors and so that it visually reflects the level of care that we feel.

Brush Clearing

Clearing of invasives on the greenside bank of the 9th was a major focus. Overgrowth of buckthorn and honey locusts resulted in both playability and safety issues. Another large section of the bank was cleared so that the green and fairway are now visible from the tee. On the 8th, several dead ash trees that were overgrown with invasive vines fell, creating a terrible tangle. The right side was cleared of that mess and buckthorn, opening up a wider and more appealing corridor for play. Buckthorn had also heavily encroached along the left side of the 11th. It was peeled back to make the par-3 more forgiving, as well as to reveal views of the canal. The bank left of the 13th green was cleared, exposing its rugged shape, along with a backdrop view of the Lincoln Street bridge. And finally, two large dead ash trees fell in a heap short of the horseshoe bunker on the 17th. That area was cleared up to the back of the 18th tee and new rough grown in from seed.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Improvement Projects

Volunteer groups including the Northwestern Men’s Golf Team, the Northwestern Athletic Department, Friends of the Chicago River and Clean-up Evanston came out again this spring to tackle a series of projects. We built a mulch bridge between the 9th and 10th holes to help walkers and carts get through the wet area between wetlands. Fences were cleaned of debris on the 1st, 7th, 13th and 18th holes. Invasives were cleaned out of the tall grass area in front of the 3rd tee.

For the fourth straight year, students from North Shore Country Day School came out to do their senior service project. We shifted gears from golf this year and our volunteers Andrew and Will created a nature loop behind the 11th green. The long-term vision is to build an elevated platform at the far point of their path for bird watching over the canal.

Spring Tune-up

Beyond the clearing and project work, we have gotten into an annual routine to prep the course for peak season play. Paths are freshly mulched. Bunker edges on all eighteen of our bunkers are restored and new sand added. Rough grass on mounds and bunker faces is chopped and thinned, a task which can be a real challenge in wet springs when the grass gets lush. Fairway and puttable area lines on the greens are slowly but surely reestablished and repairs to putting surfaces addressed. The weather hasn’t been remotely cooperative this year, but the course will be in prime shape by the beginning of July thanks to the hustle of Tony and Matt’s team.

Takeaways from the Wrap-Around

Every year, as we progress through the wrap-around season in our efforts to revitalize Canal Shores, I learn lessons and appreciate the opportunity to be involved more. Layers of neglect that are stripped away continue to reveal interesting features and beautiful views. The property is teeming with wildlife that keep me company during moments of solitude. I am struck by how big a difference a group of workers of any size can make. It is nice to have an army of volunteers, but a small, motivated squad is equally impactful. Levels of support and appreciation for our work continue to increase, and every person who stops to say hello or thanks makes a difference—it’s humbling and motivating to be a part of this community.

We aren’t finished yet. Plenty more clearing to do, and projects have been added to the list. Stay tuned for updates on summer and fall improvements, and we hope to see you out along the shores real soon.

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

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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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.