Geeked on Golf

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


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Creative Range – An Interview with Architect Mike Benkusky

MikeBenkusky-ALPlansIn 2015, when I heard about the innovative planned changes to the Arlington Lakes community golf course, my interest was piqued.  When I found out that the architect responsible was also involved in the creation of one of the highest end private courses in the midwest, I was downright intrigued.

In June 2015, Mike Benkusky was kind enough to take me on a walk around Arlington Lakes to discuss his philosophy and vision.  He hit all of the high notes for me as he shared his plans for this cool, little course which is deeply embedded in its community.  I realized that Mike isn’t just another talking head giving interviews about the troubled state of the game.  He is on the front lines of restoring golf to its roots of interest, fun, and natural beauty.

We agreed to circle back when Arlington Lakes reopened to talk more, in light of player reaction to experiencing his ideas on the ground.  Mike graciously answered my questions, but first, a bit more about the renovation.

(Special thanks to Joann Dost for use of her beautiful Canyata photos.)


ARLINGTON LAKES

Arlington Lakes is on a unique piece of property, located in Chicago’s north suburbs.  Like many older courses, the Lakes was tired and suffering from tree, turf, and drainage issues.  In renovating the course, the community could have simply addresses these problems and called it a day, but they chose a more innovative path when they bought into Mike’s plan for fast, fun, and flexible golf.

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The keys to Mike’s proposal were:

  • Making the green complexes interesting and fun.  They are the focal point of the design.
  • Removing “junk” trees and replacing them with oaks and other natives.
  • Removing 68 bunkers, and renovating the remaining bunkers to reduce maintenance and improve playability.
  • Downplaying distance, and playing up interest and fun for golfers of all ages and skill levels.
  • Adding actual forward tee boxes for juniors to give them a sense of ownership of the course.
  • Resigning from the “cult of par”.  It is just a number and breaking free of it unleashes creativity in design.

Central to Mike’s plan was a rerouting of the holes to allow golfers the option to play 3, 6, 9, or 18 holes loops.  The work has been a hit with players, and is now serving as a model for other course operators looking to breathe new life into tired, old facilities.  For even more on the renovation, read the USGA’s article – Loop of Faith.

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The par-3 11th

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The par-3 14th

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The par-4 15th

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The par-3 17th


THE INTERVIEW

How were you first introduced to golf?

My parents both played golf and got me started when I was five.  I have an older brother and both of us played.  We lived within walking distance of a nine hole course in Marion, IA, next to Cedar Rapids, where we were members.  It was a great way for our family to spend time together.

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

We spent our summers at this club.  They had certain hours where kids could play and we planned our day around those times.  Friday mornings were always kids day and they had events.  You started out in a five hole league and moved up to 9 and 18 as you got older.  I started winning the events and then entered local tournaments, doing well in them as well. I enjoyed the competition and playing against the course.

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Canyata Golf Club #2

How did you get into the business?

In 1975, when I was 10, my parents went to the US Open at Medinah. They brought back the program that included a layout of the golf course.  I began to redraw the golf holes and later would begin to draw my own golf holes.  I had teachers remark that I was the only kid who doodled golf holes.

After some research I knew I wanted to go into Landscape Architecture and Iowa State has a great program.  I played on the golf team my first year and also got a job on the grounds crew at Cedar Rapids Country Club.

CRCC was THE club in town and is a Donald Ross design.  It’s unknown if he spent much time on the course, but he provided the layout on one of his trips around the country.  I enjoyed working there and got to play the course often.  It is here where I met Bob Lohmann, who was doing a Master Plan for the club.  I mentioned I wanted to get into golf design and he had just started his firm.  The next summer I went to work for him as an intern.  After graduation I worked there for 17 years before starting my own firm in 2005.

Who are your favorite Golden Age architects and why? 

It’s always easy to say the best known ones, Ross or Mackenzie and for me those still are two of my favorites.  Ross is easy since I knew Cedar Rapids was a Ross design.  But I really didn’t get exposed to his courses until I moved to Chicago.

Bendelow was another one I got to know early on as he designed Medinah and I read about that in the US Open program.  I think he may have completed more courses than Ross but doesn’t get as much credit since Ross and others remodeled much of his work.  I work on a couple of his courses now and they contain a lot of interest.

I got to know about Mackenzie through Perry Maxwell’s work.  Maxwell designed the University course at Iowa State, Veenker Memorial Golf Course.  Arnold Palmer won the NCAA Title at Veenker in 1949.  When you think of Maxwell’s rolls, Veenker has them.  Some of the greens are still intact and I still get out to see them if I get back to Ames.  When I studied more about Maxwell it lead me to Mackenzie.  I’ve read a lot more about Mackenzie throughout the years.

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Canyata Golf Club #4

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking a golf course project? 

One of the first things they should realize is that we do this work for a living.  Golf design is not just placing bunkers or greens, but involves a long, thoughtful process.  Just because I know math doesn’t mean that I can do finance, and just because you play golf doesn’t mean you can design a golf course.

If I was going to tell them one thing, it is that everything relates together on the golf course, especially the land.  Many times someone will say a bunker would look good in a certain spot.  Then you explain to them that the land doesn’t work due to drainage or other issues.  One thing they never think about is drainage, which is probably the most important thing to consider.

It is fun to go through months of planning for a Master Plan and educating the members.  They begin to gain an appreciation for what we do and realize that is why they brought in a professional.  Once you have their trust the project and final result is very rewarding.

Who has influenced you the most, in your work and your life?

My father was easily my biggest influence and still is.  He worked hard in life and played hard as well.  He knew how to balance his time between work and family life.  He was also smart when it came to competition.  He taught us how to handle pressure during a round of golf and to realize everyone feels it.  Those who handled it the best are the ones who succeeded.  You carry that with you the rest of your life.

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Canyata Golf Club #8

What is your favorite element of a golf hole to work on?

Too many to list.  Every element of a golf hole is important.  A proper teeing ground sets up the golf hole.  When you look at fairways you look at how it follows the land.  Bunkers set up the strategy and give the golf hole, and course, its identity.  I could go on about bunkers but I’m beginning to feel they are starting to lose their appeal as a hazard to the better golfer.  We could talk about that for hours.

We always say that greens are the face of the golf course and designing a good green may be the most rewarding.  A good green design can impact the approach shot in many ways.  From bunker placement, runoffs and chipping areas, to green contours dictating where you need to place your shot.  That is what makes Augusta National so great.

Finally, tree management is something that we are constantly working on.  Golfers are becoming more aware that trees and turf don’t always mix.  Educating them that the loss of a tree will make the turf better, (i.e. better, thicker rough), and will even make the golf hole more difficult takes years of work.  Once you get there you don’t hear many complaints about necessary tree removal.

What were some of the highlights of working on Canyata?

I worked for Bob Lohman when we designed Canyata.  It was one of those dream-come-true designs.  First off, you had an owner who wanted the best and would spend the money to get the best.  Second, he had a piece of property that had many desirable traits.  Deep ravines with large Oak trees were great to work around.  The most difficult part was that, except for the ravines, the rest of the site was very flat.  When you talk about drainage, we needed to build that in.  Therefore, we needed to create many ponds throughout the course and create elevation change on the golf holes. I get a kick out of showing guests the non-golf course land and explain that the rest of the site was this flat before construction.  The par 3 12th is a great example.  The site was flat except a ravine that cut in front of the proposed green site.  We lowered the green site 20 feet and elevated the tees 20 feet to create the 40 foot change.  We also extended the ravine up to the tees to make it appear that the hole was placed along the ravine, when in fact it was all built together.  The same thing was done on the par 5 15th.

Lastly, the owner trusted us to do what we do best, design golf courses.  He never questioned anything and I took it upon myself to look at the project as if it was my own golf course.  It gave me a great sense of pride.  When we started the back nine I told him it would be better than the front, which he found hard to believe.  When we finished he said I was right.  It’s fun working for people like that.

Ever since 2005 the owner has continued to have me make visits to the golf course.  He wants to make sure it keeps current with today’s golf market.  We’ve added some tees and bunkers to improve playability and strategy.  As with all golf courses it continues to evolve.

Canyata Golf Club - Hole #12

Canyata Golf Club #12

Did the remoteness or uniqueness of that site present particular challenges?

There were a few challenges but the remoteness was also a blessing.  The owner knew a lot of people in the area and when we needed something he knew who to call.  We had a local earthmover move the dirt which was a great help.  It made it easy because the owner paid them direct and we never had to worry about change orders or anything else.  If we wanted to move something or make changes we just did it.  It’s a fun way to build a course.

Since we had nothing around we didn’t have to worry about neighbors or any complaints about what was being completed.  We ended up moving enough dirt to line the property with mounds.  Nobody can really see into the golf course and when you are playing you never see out.  It creates a surreal feeling when you are out there.

Courses like Canyata are quite the contrast to a project such as your renovation of Arlington Lakes.  Is your approach different?

Really your approach is different on every project.  You take certain design concepts and mold them into each golf course.  At Canyata the goal was to create a top 100 golf course.  The owner did want a certain length and we achieved that.  The site also had a large scale so we needed everything to balance.  Wide fairways, big bunkers, and large greens were needed to tie it all together.  Canyata is destination golf and if it takes 5 hours to play you don’t mind.  It is similar to what golfers say about Augusta National.  You can’t wait to get to Amen Corner.  But once you are there you realize the round is almost over.

Arlington Lakes is community golf.  In this case you design for the broadest range of golfers possible.  We placed minimal sand bunkers to add interest.  We eliminated carry hazards to speed play and increase enjoyment.  Each of these projects are important and provide a role in the golf market.  Understanding each role and designing towards those strengths helps to make the project successful.

Canyata Golf Club - Hole #15

Canyata Golf Club #15

Why do you believe that community golf is important?

Because that is where the masses of golfers play.  We have far more public golf courses than private courses.  This is where most learn the game and is an added amenity to any community.  The first goal of a community golf course is to make it fun.  If someone doesn’t enjoy a course, they won’t return to play it again.  A strong golf market will include a variety of golf courses.  In Chicago, we have many golf courses that will challenge every part of your game.  These courses are too difficult for many and that is where we need courses such as Arlington Lakes and your Canal Shores project.  Every golf course has a niche and when you realize that, and make changes to embrace that niche you continue to prosper.

What role does sustainability play in your plan for Arlington Lakes?

As a Park District golf course it needs to be sustainable.  To do that we first needed to start with the operations of the course.  When you start with that aspect the rest will start to fall in place.  Arlington Lakes has its niche as a short, fun golf course.  The changes we made enhanced those aspects.  Even though it is short, we added more tees to make it even shorter.  We knew that this would help attract more beginning golfers, junior golfers, and appeal to families.  As I said, there are many golf courses that will beat you up – Arlington Lakes is for pure enjoyment.

The other thing that attracts golfers to Arlington Lakes is the time it takes to play.  In today’s time strapped world, golfers don’t want to spend 5 hours on the golf course.  Golfers come to play Arlington Lakes because they can play in 31/2 hours.  Our design changes highlighted that by removing unnecessary bunkers, going from 106 bunkers down to 38.  This still kept strategy in play and aided in enjoyment.

To further help with time constraints we reworked the golf course to have the 3rd, 6th, and 9th holes return to the clubhouse.  This helps with the junior program, as you can get young golfers on and off the course before they become bored or frustrated.  Accepting their short attention spans is important in growing the game.  We can also use this layout for families that want to golf together in the evening.  You can get home from work, have dinner, and then get 3 holes of golf in before dark.  That is a large draw for a community golf course.

The renovation of Arlington Lakes has been very well received. What were the keys to success?

Understanding where they stood in the golf market and not looking to reinvent that.  The worst thing you can do as a designer is take a golf course that meets a need and try to change it into something it is not.  Sometimes as architects we let our ego get in the way and try to force a design concept on a course where it doesn’t fit.  At Arlington Lakes we wanted to keep things playable and maintainable.  If I had built greens with big slopes and bunkers ten feet deep that course would now struggle.  It is not what the golfers wanted and that is not something the Park District could maintain.  When you talk about sustainable golf that is what it is all about.  Golf courses and golfers are similar to cars.  Some people want to drive a Chevy and some want to drive a Cadillac.

Which courses are on the top of your hit list to play or see next?

Through the ASGCA I’ve been fortunate to play many top 100 courses.  In the US I’ve played Pebble Beach and Cypress Point.  I’ve been to Augusta National three times, though I would love to play it.  I have not seen Pine Valley so that would be on the list. And a buddy’s trip to Bandon Dunes is in the works.

Outside the US I’ve played in Australia, England, and Ireland.  It may sound sacrilegious as an architect, but I have not been to Scotland.  I’ve had the chance but at the time it conflicted with too many other things, and home life always comes first.  It is still on the radar and I will get there sometime.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

Every course and every day is different.  They say if you do what you love to will never spend a day working.  That is how I feel.  When you tell people you design golf courses they have two comments.  First is that they didn’t know people did that.  The second is that they can’t believe you get spend a day on the golf course and call that your job.  I’ve been very blessed with being in this industry.  You get to meet so many great people and some of my fellow architects are my best friends.  Our ASGCA family is just that.  A family of brothers and sisters that help each other whenever we can.  My best week every year is the week we spend together during our annual meeting.

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

Most of it involves spending time with my wife and dog.  We don’t have children so we cherish our time together hiking and biking.  We love to travel and always look to go to a new place each year.  Our goal is to visit every continent and gives us something to work towards.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Community Links Champion – An Interview with Architect Andy Staples

Hobbs, NM is on my bucket list for golf adventure.  I’ll explain.  That is where Andy Staples created a source of inspiration for anyone associated with the Community Golf Revival in America at a course called Rockwind Community Links.  I became aware of Andy’s work while doing research for Canal Shores.  On a brief phone conversation last year, it was clear that we have the same paradigm about the spirit of the game, and I asked Andy to share some of his thoughts here – he graciously agreed.

Then, I dropped the ball.  Life intervened and I did not follow up.   A recent trip to Sand Hollow got me off my butt though.  Seeing Andy’s amazing work at that special course (as evidenced by Jon Cavalier’s photos below) motivated me to circle back and get the interview done.  I wanted to know more about a guy who puts an equally high level of thought and care into his work, whether it is for a championship resort course, or a community links.

As is the case with his courses, Andy did not disappoint.  Hope you enjoy.

Click on any photo to enlarge.


THE INTERVIEW 

How did you get introduced to golf?

I believe I was 7 or 8 years old when my dad brought home a set of clubs for me and my younger brother Tim.  It was your classic 5, 7, 9, driver and putter in a canvas carry bag.  I’m from suburban Milwaukee, and we were members of West Bend Country Club, a mid-tier blue collar club about 45 minutes from my house.  My dad enrolled my brother and me into the 3-holer beginner golf program, and we took lessons from the pro at the time, Don Hill.  Interestingly, the front nine at WBCC was designed by Langford and Moreau, and consisted of some fairly aggressive features, deep bunkers and sharp green fall offs – incredibly difficult for a 7 year old!  I can still remember hitting a tee shot on the 3rd hole into a large grassy bunker about 75-100 yards off the tee on the right every single time I played the hole.  This feature was so deep that all I could do was hit my 9 iron over and over until I finally was able to ricochet the ball out sideways.  I just remember thinking, “Man, I have got to get better at this game! I stink!”  I soon progressed to 5-holers, then 9, and finally 18.  I’m not sure it was the best way to learn the game, but it sure got me hooked.  I’m guessing it was the personal competition and being outdoors.

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The dreaded bunker on West Bend’s 3rd hole

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

I played a lot of baseball as a kid, and my dad always told me that the baseball swing and the golf swing competed against each other (not sure this is true, but I believed it).  So I felt if I gave one up, I would get better at the other just by way of mechanics.  That decision came to a head when I went to high school, because both baseball and golf were played in the same season.  I chose golf.  At that point I went all in trying to be as good as I could be. Skip Kendall and Steve Stricker were playing amateur golf at the time but were older than me, and then my buddy growing up, Mark Wilson, who’s a few years younger than me, came along. I soon realized the bar was pretty high. In any case, I was dead set on practicing every day to hopefully play golf in college. There’s a lot of other stories about how I really wasn’t as good as I thought, and that golf is a really hard game, but I knew I was in for the long haul. Golf was something I really, really enjoyed and found a great deal of passion in.

How did you get into the business?

Well, around the time I was making the decision to play golf or baseball, I can remember getting into practicing my sand shots on a sandy beach lake house in northern Wisconsin (near Rome WI, as a matter of fact) that our family frequented when I was a kid.  These sand shots were aimed at random targets, which turned into playing to a stick in the ground, which turned to me flattening out an area for a green, then finding 9 tees playing to one green, then 18 (very small) holes carved around the sandy hills, pines and lake water.  I even played a hole off the boat pier.  They all could be played with a sand wedge.  I found great passion in making sure my course was as well-kept as possible, watering the green, and tamping it down.  I even transplanted trees and built retaining walls.  Funny thing is, I never named the course.  I can remember playing in the Staples Pro-Am on a fairly regular basis though.  In any event, one day, my dad came to me and asked me if I knew that people design golf courses for a living, and they’re called golf course architects.  I stopped and pondered that for a moment.  I had no idea there could be such a job.  I think I was 11 or 12 years old.  From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do for a living.

It was Bob Lohman who my dad called (as he was consulting at WBCC at the time) to see what his son should study in college if he wanted to be a golf architect.  Bob told him that I should study Landscape Architecture.  Again, I had no idea there was such a thing as a landscape architect – all I knew was from that point forward if I wanted to be a golf architect, I needed to study landscape architecture.  In thinking about it now, I sure did put a lot of trust in my dad, and Bob Lohman!  So, I searched schools across the country that had Landscape Architecture programs, and settled on the University of Arkansas.  It was during this time that I really tried to get into the business in some way, ideally in an office during the summer.  I called as many people as possible – a whole slew of people.  The one piece of feedback I remember getting was that I was crazy for trying to get into the business, and that I would never find a job.  Ha!  The classic story.

One of the people that I was able to get a hold of was Jerry Slack in Tulsa, OK.  He told me to go to work in construction, and to learn how courses were built.  Great advice.  So, I found out about Wadsworth Golf Construction, and applied for a laborer position during my summers.  The job evolved over a couple of summers from being a drainage guy, to pulling wire for irrigation, to programming irrigation controllers to finishing greens with a sand pro.  Once I graduated college, Jerry needed some help as a draftsman and compiling construction documents, and he hired me right away.  There it was- I was in.

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

If I was to narrow it to one, I’d have to say Bill Langford, and Langford & Moreau. If you’ve ever been to Lawsonia Golf Links in Wisconsin, you know that it is such a grand exhibit of natural beauty contrasted against the engineered construction of bunker shapes and green pads.  It’s just awesome.  I’m not sure how much learning the game at an L&M course has anything to do with this decision, probably quite a bit; but of the courses I’ve seen of theirs are definitely a unique representation of the art of golf design.  These courses have had a definite impact on my view of golf architecture.

I also really admire Perry Maxwell for the work he was able to achieve during such meager times.  His nine holes at Prairie Dunes are fantastic, and I love the routing at Southern Hills.  I also appreciate his alliance with Dr. MacKenzie, and really respect that collaboration.  I really, really like MacKenzie’s work in California – Cypress, Pasatiempo, and The Meadow Club. They’re outstanding.

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

First of all, they need to realize that a lot of what is going on today in terms of equipment, agronomic advances, and even competition among architects, is nothing new.  These things have been heavily debated for over 100 years, and that what they’re doing isn’t something unique.

Second, I think, if at all possible, everyone should see links golf in Scotland or the UK, to understand first-hand how the game was originally intended to be played.  Each time I’ve been able to journey over the pond with clients, it’s been amazing how much of a connection happens when they compare their project to real links golf.  There are real benefits to experiencing what “the ground game” really means, and in understanding how the idea of fast and firm impacts so much of great design; it’s really cool to be able to get your team on the same page with what you’re trying to create.  Now, taking it from Scotland, to say, Utah, that’s where the interesting part of the design process lies.  But after an experience like that, there’s no doubt everyone lands on a much better level of understanding of how the end product will play.

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Sand Hollow Links course is inspired by GB&I architecture.

Third, the business is getting more and more complex, and getting educated on the “business” seems to be more difficult than ever.  I always tell my prospective owners they need to dig into the people they are looking to hire and find out how they work, and if their philosophy matches the way they or their club works.  There’s a great TED Talk with Simon Sinek: It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.  It’s a great listen.  I’m a big believer in a client making sure they are 100% convinced they match with their team, so education on the landscape of the business is incredibly important as anyone moves ahead with a project.

Speaking of the current golf business, what’s your take on where the design business is headed?

Overall, I think the largest change coming, and you’re already starting to see it, is the philosophy of collaboration and partnership.  One thing that is dramatically different today compared to when I was getting into the business, is the idea of apprenticeship or working under someone to learn the craft; that is pretty much disappearing.  The focus now seems to be on getting involved somehow with great golf course projects, with a variety of architects, and seeing how these projects are built.  I think this is an interesting evolution, and something I’m encouraged about for the future.  Because of this focus on collaboration, I think we will continue to see better and better golf courses being built, and on sites that won’t require sand dunes or ocean front property.  But I can also see the design business getting even more competitive.

What was the inspiration for your community golf concept?

It all began in Los Alamos county New Mexico when I was hired to develop a Master Plan for their golf course.  The project began innocently enough, addressing needs across the course, looking at ways to make the course better; in other words, the master planning process in the traditional sense.  One of the exciting parts of the design process was to find a way to integrate an underutilized piece of the property that just happened to have these fantastic rock ledges and incredible views of a dramatic river and old growth Ponderosa pines and Douglas fir.  It almost felt like you were in Lake Tahoe, or Aspen.  It was the piece of land a golf architect drools over the minute they find their way to that area of the property.

So, being the golf architect, and always trying to put the golf first, I began to look for ways to integrate this area of the property into my routing plans for an option to present to the county.  Well, this part of the property already hosted a variety of other users such as hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and even equestrian.  And, as you can imagine, since they were already using this area, they were quite interested to find their trails may be relocated due to the new golf course.  Residents described these trails as “commuter” trails as a way to get to work in the morning, and some of them were upset (even furious) with the proposed changes.  A sleepy golf course master plan turned into the classic “them vs. us” shoot out.

I began to hear the arguments against the course, and how only 10% of the community plays golf, where quite possibly well over 50% of the community used the trail system.  The nature conservationists emerged as well.  Soon, it became obvious that the golf course plan was not only going to change, it may indeed be cancelled!  The team and I went back to the drawing board, began discussing the community’s needs, looking for ways to find some middle ground.  It was during a standing room only town-hall meeting that the concept of “community links” was born.  I saw the passion for the outdoor uses, for the trails, and, of course, for the golf course.  It became clear that all the Los Alamos residents were hungry for a way in which everyone was free to use the golf course, since they were all going to pay for it (through their taxes).

It was at this meeting where I expressed the desire to look at their golf course differently and find a way to “link” this course to all the residents of Los Alamos.  From that point forward, the golf course became known as the stimulus to a “north county park plan,” and the golf course would therefore be the central figure in these plans.  The golf course clubhouse would now be called a community building where residents could check in to play golf and rent mountain bikes.  In the winter, they would be able to rent cross-country skis or shoe shoes.  It wasn’t going to be just a golf course – it was now going to be a true “link” to a place that expressed the commitment of showing value to 100% of the community.  Thus, a Community Links – linking their golf course to the community.  What was a very contentious situation turned into a real rally cry for the community and all revolved around the game of golf.

I’ve held onto that experience, and used it as fuel for how I feel many municipalities should approach their golf course.  I look for ways to break the mold of how a golf course and its property can and should be used by their residents. And besides, based on the give and take of the master plan, I was able to hold on to one of the most dramatic par-3s anywhere in New Mexico.  I can’t wait to build it!

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Proposed new par-3 at Los Alamos

Have you encountered challenges in educating players or course managers on the value of your approach?

Most definitely.  I tend to focus my Community Links concept on municipally owned facilities so I work through city administrators and public officials.  There is a challenge in translating the terms we in golf are used to dealing with.  I’ve found many of the solutions I’m presenting come from the perspective of providing a service rather than running a business.  That said, golf is still an incredibly conservative industry, and the fact that so many municipal golf courses are losing money while their infrastructure continues to deteriorate, focuses many of the initial conversations strictly related to money issues and return on investment.

The other discussion revolves around this idea that golf is dying and that nobody is playing golf.  It’s incredible what kind of role the media has played in propagating this story.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about the Bryant Gumbel HBO special about the struggles the game of golf is currently encountering.  So, I spend a lot of effort discussing the values of the game of golf, and how communities have successfully used golf and a golf course as a centerpiece to their city.  There’s a small groundswell happening, and I love seeing the passion for the game grow just by reminding others why we love the game so much, and how impactful the game can be.  It sounds sort of corny, I know, but it’s a small way for me to give back to a game that’s been so good to me.

You successfully demonstrated your concept at Rockwind.  Why did you get involved in that project?

Right, Rockwind Community Links in Hobbs, NM is my first concept to be built and opened, and we are beginning to see some good results.  There are many reasons I got involved with Hobbs.  For starters, the city had a real interest initially in adding a beginner course to their current 18-hole golf course.  I also had previously worked with their current golf course superintendent, Matt Hughes, so there was some familiarity there.  It also didn’t hurt that oil was trading at $110 a barrel around that time.

Rockwind-RenderingFINAL.jpg

As we progressed through the process to assess what kind of changes the city was willing to undertake, it became clear the golf course was in serious need of improvement.  But moving forward with a project of this size, there was significant concern about putting resources towards an asset that, on the surface, showed little signs of being able to provide sufficient payback.  So, when we presented the Community Links philosophy, they immediately became connected.  As it turned out, many of the administrators were golfers, and understood potentially what the game could mean to the community.  They began to promote the project as a community related project, not just a golf course project. And, they all said numerous times that they believed in the game of golf, and wanted to use the sport as a centerpiece in how they promoted their community to others.

Rockwind-AerialSept2015.jpg

I’m proud that each time we came in front of council, we received a 7-0 vote in favor of the golf course.  We continued to receive feedback that the concepts behind investing into an asset that 100% of their residents could use was the determining factor in why it was so heavily favored.  So now, we just need to keep proving the hypothesis out.  What is it they say?  One project is an interest – two projects become a destination?  I like that analogy.

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

If there is one thing I hope to have a small part in, it’s showing people who aren’t necessarily interested in the game or don’t see the value in golf, that the game has existed for over 500 years for a reason – and that there are really good things that come from golf.  A golf course naturally has many benefits to the environment, but I also feel the benefits one receives from playing the game are even greater.  If the values of the game of golf could be better documented and promoted, I feel society as a whole would then start to see golf differently.  I think that’s pretty cool, and who knows – maybe more people will take up the game because of it.

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

Routing a course is by far my favorite aspect to golf architecture, and the area I feel a course can be made or broken.  The flow and rhythm are hard things to quantify, and it certainly falls into the “you know it when you see it” category.  Also, taking a user through a piece of property and giving them insight into that particular piece of land – the diversity, the views, the highs and lows is, I think, the most important responsibility of the golf architect.

My favorite part of a golf course to build would be the creation of the composition of an individual golf hole, and thinking about the way a player will navigate the challenge.  Finding the line of charm, as Max Behr would say, and then looking for ways to break it up with hazards and landforms that are interesting and fun to play while providing balance and proportion with contrasts in textures.  The artist in me looks through this lens every time, and that is the best example of why field adjustments are so incredibly important to the final product.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I’m one that sees golf architecture as the world’s largest form of sculpture.  Having a say on how to adjust a piece of property (or sometimes not touching it all) to fit the standards and tendencies of a game, played by all skill levels, is an incredible honor and is what I love doing for a living.  I love the comradery that comes with a construction site, and the sense of accomplishment when a job is completed.  There is no better occupation, and I’m humbled to be a part of it.

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

I need to see Pine Valley.  That’s the Big Miss so far in my career.  I also am looking forward to a trip to the sand belt in Australia.  So much to see, so little time!

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

StaplesFamily.jpgI’m a dad to 3 young boys (ages 8, 6, and 2), and a husband to an amazing wife.  So, first and foremost, when I’m back from a trip, I’m at home, or at a ball game or at some function with them.  I’m a developing home brewer, and if I wasn’t in the golf business, I might try my hand in some part of the beer making business.  I enjoy a good IPA or Saison on any day.  I have a 1976 Ford Bronco, so when I’m not doing either of the above, I’m working to keep the ‘ol girl running.  Living in Arizona, that’s not that hard to do.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I’m working in Utah for the City of South Jordan on perhaps my next Community Links.  I’ve got a number of small jobs designing practice areas or reducing turf, but by far the largest, most visible job of my career is the renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club outside of Detroit.  It’s an original 6 hole Willie Park Jr. course built in 1916.  We’re currently under construction and should be finished by the end of this summer.  It’s an awesome property with some really good golf holes, and I’m working to take it up a few clicks in terms of overall routing and Willie Park Jr. look and feel.  Our design team made a trip to the heathland in South West London, including Park Jr.’s Sunningdale Old and Huntercombe, and I want to bring some of that flavor to southeast Michigan.  It’s an awesome opportunity for me, and one I’m not taking lightly.  Feel free to come by if you’re in the area this summer, as there will be a pretty good chance I’ll be on site!

MeadowbrookCC-RenderingFINAL.jpg

See more from Andy Staples on the GeekedOnGolf GCA video archive (in architects section).

Hear from Andy on Dave Wilber’s Turfnet Radio podcast:


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Revival – Community Golf in America

There is a movement afoot.  Across the country, from Goat Hill to the Schoolhouse Nine, from Sharp Park to Winter Park, there are a growing number of community golf projects getting attention and serious support.

I have experienced the vibe of this movement first-hand as I work with folks from the game and my fellow volunteers to transform Canal Shores.  The enthusiastic response to our efforts has been humbling and inspiring.  This energy took on a new dimension recently as media coverage of our project has increased, particularly from the Global Golf Post article by Jim Nugent.

Admittedly, I was a bit surprised at the magnitude of feedback, and it got me to thinking – what is happening here and why is it so impactful for so many people?

The first place I went looking for answers was within the projects themselves.  There are similarities among them, but there are also significant differences.  Are there common threads that are universally resonant?  Mike McCartin, architect of the Schoolhouse Nine defined several principles for his facility: inclusiveness, architectural interest and fun.  A solid list to be sure, to which I would add sustainability.

These are just words though.  What do they mean on the ground?  From my own experience and from what I have observed, I would translate the principles as follows:

Inclusiveness – People are communal by nature, but we also need our personal space.  Where boundaries provide us comfort,  barriers produce a sense of confinement and isolation.  At its inception, golf was not a game played behind walls.  It was a game that was played at the community center, respectfully intermingled with other community activities.  The new wave of community golf projects revive the spirit of inclusiveness by integrating with their surroundings and embracing a multi-use approach to recreation.  From a golf perspective, they also foster inclusiveness by promoting play of all ages and skill levels.

Architectural Interest – In creative endeavors, the difference between good and great is often attention to detail and a refusal to settle.  Golf architecture and maintenance are no different than any other creative endeavor.  Players may not know much about GCA, but they know great when they see it.  It is evident to all when someone cares about their work.  The architects, superintendents and operators within this movement are clearly unwilling to settle for less than the best that their budgets will allow.

Fun – The game of golf is the greatest form of recreation ever invented.  If the experience of golf relentlessly beats players down though, it can hardly be considered recreation.  Plain and simple, to recreate, players need fun.  Challenge and exercise are wonderful, but without fun, what is the point?  These community golf courses are bringing back the fun of the game, much of which has been lost in the chase after “championship” golf.

Sustainability – This word has been used so widely as to be nearly meaningless.  For community golf, a more narrow definition is appropriate.  In order to be embraced by its community, a golf course must be in harmony with its surroundings and ecologically responsible.  It must also be operated and maintained in such a manner as to be economically viable.  There is a fine line between a valuable community resource, and an unsustainable burden.  The courses in this new movement are working mindfully and diligently to make sustainability more than an empty platitude.

These principles are powerful, but they do not fill in all of the blanks.  I went looking for answers next in my own experience.  Although golf took hold for me during my caddie days at Old Elm Club, that is not where I originally learned to play.

My first exposure to golf was playing with my dad and grandpa on the Fort Sheridan Army Base course near my home.  The base and course no longer exist, but my memories remain.  The Fort Sheridan course wound through the base among the barracks and military hardware.  My dad would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker, and I would play in with a sawed-off 9 iron and putter.  On those afternoons, experiencing “guys time” and the thrill of the ball disappearing into the hole, I fell in love with the game.

Old Elm was the place where my mind was opened to just how special golf can be when played over a course created by men like Colt and Ross, but it was on the scruffy links of Fort Sheridan that the game captured my heart.

Perhaps that is why it strikes me that this community golf movement is a revival.  It is a revival of the Scottish spirit of the game, embodying the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun, and sustainability.  More powerfully though, it is a revival of the love in each of our hearts.  The first love that was born the day that we initially experienced the feeling of a well-struck shot and a ball falling into the cup.

What’s your take?  As I explore The Revival further, I’d love to hear from you.  Share your thoughts, feelings, and observations in the comments below.


Going forward, much of my focus here will be on following The Revival as it takes shape.  I will profile the courses, and interview the revivalists who are breathing new life into community golf in America – the champions, the architects, the players.  Stay tuned for much more to come.

THE COURSES

Community golf is getting more airtime thanks to Matt Ginella and others.  Golf Channel video links are available on my GCA video page.

This is the YouTube channel that I have created to track these course and the various revival projects taking place around the country:

 

I have also started to compile a map of community golf courses that are attempting to uphold the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun and sustainability.  Is your favorite community course helping to revive the spirit of the game?  Let me know about it so that I can add it to the map (and the hit list to visit).

THE REVIVALISTS

There are some truly talented folks giving their time, energy and expertise to these community golf courses.  Their passion for reviving the spirit of the game is inspiring.


This is an exciting time for the game of golf.  Please join me in supporting the Revival by spreading the word about these courses, and the people who are working hard to make them thrive.


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Home Course Hero – An Interview with Architect Mike DeVries

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

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

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


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

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

What do you admire the most about Crystal Downs?

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

CRYSTAL DOWNS 

 

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

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

Describe your process for a design project.

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

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

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

GREYWALLS (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MINES (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

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

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

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

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

CAPE WICKHAM (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

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

How did you land the job designing the Kingsley Club?

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

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

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

KINGSLEY CLUB (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you like to play with hickories?

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

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

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

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

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

MikeDeVries-ArchitectsWeek

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

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

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

Thanks for having me on Geeked on Golf!


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

 


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 7 (Pilot Projects)

These are exciting times at Canal Shores.  Momentum is building, as talented and committed people continue to lend their support.  The beginnings of a new Master Plan for the facility are taking shape.  It is still too early to share details here, but stay tuned.

In the meantime, we have undertaken pilot projects in Section D on holes currently numbered 3, 11, and 12 (holes 1, 11, and 12 in my proposed Long Course).  These projects are an extension of ideas and principles that were laid out in previous posts.  They are also an opportunity for us to test out those ideas on the ground to gauge player and community reaction.  It is possible that these holes get changed significantly in the final Master Plan, and therefore, any improvements to be made this year will be done at low-to-no cost.

To illustrate the work in progress, I have created the rendering below.  A few notes of explanation:

  • Orange lines represent wood chip walking paths more safely removed from lines of play.
  • Purple areas are designated “native”, containing both savannah and wetland grasses and flowers. These areas are to be created under the supervision of an ecologist / landscape architect.  They are not meant for play.
  • Yellow areas are designated “tallgrass”, containing fescues and other grasses. Some tallgrass will be playable, and some will not.
  • Playable fairway and narrow intermediate cuts are indicated in green.  Playing corridors are being widened, and play is being more safely directed wherever possible.  Additionally, we are tweaking grassing lines to accentuate ground features and give more visual interest to these holes.
  • Two sets of tees (back and forward) are being created on each hole and are indicated with green boxes.  We will also be implementing “Family Tees” in the fairway between 120 and 150 yards to the green.
  • Greens, as indicated in green, are remaining in their current positions.  However, mowing patterns will be changed to gradually reclaim green areas previously lost to shrinkage.
  • Mounding and ground features to be added are indicated in dark green and will serve as our primary means of adding hazard and interest to these holes (rather than bunkers).
  • Several bunkers will be removed.  Remaining / new bunkers are indicated in white.

CSGC-SectionD_Isabella-Central_2015Plan-042615

Further, hole-specific notes:

Current #3 / Proposed Long Course #1

The primary issue that we are addressing on this hole is balls exiting the property right.  Hospital property and staff are consistently in danger.  In our observation of hundreds of players, there are two main reasons that exacerbate this issue:

  1. Players hit the wrong club from the tee.  From the back tee, the farthest that a player can reasonably hit the ball before reaching an area of the hole that is extremely narrow is 220 yards.  I love to hit my driver, and I know that most players feel the same way.  However, for players who hit their drivers more than 220 yards, that is the wrong club to pull on this hole.  When the consequences of the typical right miss are potential property damage or injuries to our neighbors, players need to use better judgment.
  2. Players take the wrong line off the tee.  The right side of the hole appears to run straight, and therefore players tend to aim straight at the green.  This is an optical illusion though, as the right side actually angles in.  Conversely, it appears to the players that there is less room on the left than there actually is, especially given recent efforts to widen the hole left.  The correct target is the bunker left (which will be removed), or even left of that bunker for a player who favors a left-to-right shot shape.

To address this issue, and make the hole more interesting, we are working on the following changes:

  • Building of a new back tee is being considered to guard the right, accentuate the dog-leg, and highlight the carry over the ridge.  A new forward tee opens up the hole and makes it more playable for shorter hitters.
  • The angled ridge is a fantastic ground feature that we are working to highlight.  Addition of a set of small bunkers will increase the thrill of the carry for players from the back tee.
The picture does not do justice to this large ripple that cuts diagonally across the beginning of the fairway.

The picture does not do justice to this large ripple that cuts diagonally across the beginning of the fairway.

  • Through brush and invasive tree clearing, we have reclaimed 5-15 yards of fairway on the left, where new grass is currently being grown.
  • A new bunker down the right that ties into tall grass plots is intended to accentuate the peril of shots that hug the right.
  • Addition of hollows and mounding around the green are being considered to add interest to the green complex.
Existing ground features might be complemented with mounding from right and/or digging of small hollows.

Existing ground features might be complemented with mounding from right and/or digging of small hollows.

Current #11 / Proposed Long Course #11

This mid length par 3 has a green tucked into a triangular sliver of the property, and features a green and green site with some interest (and even more potential).  Players often miss the green on the short side right – the setup of the hole creates a subtly deceptive angle.

The following simple changes are in the works:

  • Expansion of the green short front left adds pin locations, increasing variety for regular players.
  • Creation of a bunker short right, complemented by a fairway cut short and right of the green adds visual interest from the tee, steers players away from the danger of walkers coming out of the tunnel, and provides a bail out for shorter hitters that keeps a possibility of par alive even when the pin is back right.

Current #12 / Proposed Long Course #12

This hole has been problematic because it previously had no real defense against players attempting to cut the corner.  Damage to parked cars and neighboring homes is a source of concern for safety and liability reasons.  Further, the hole lacks interest and beauty.

The beautiful old bridge, which is a signature feature of this hole, is visible in winter but is almost totally obscured when the invasive trees and brush leaf out.

The beautiful old bridge, visible in winter, is almost totally obscured when the invasive trees and brush leaf out.

Beyond the significant clean-up and clearing that needs to take place, specifically to uncover the steel train bridge, changes will include:

  • The back and forward tees will be moved to left inside of the cart and walking paths and angled toward the landing area, rather than the green.
  • All bunkers will be removed from the hole, as they detract from the beauty of the hole and add to maintenance costs.
  • All grass through the green, with the exception of a depression left that has drainage issues, will be mowed to fairway height and kept in “firm and fast” condition to accentuate the natural movement of the land, as well as several old ground features.

Were this hole not situated within its current constraints, perhaps it would be tweaked according to a risk-reward strategy.  Alas, as stewards of the course it is our responsibility to be sensitive to all stakeholders by slightly limiting strategic options in the name of safety.  We do believe that gains in interest, beauty and fun will more than offset the limits we impose.

Work carries on as momentum continues to grow.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the ultimate changes to the course are far more dramatic than those we are testing here.  For the time being though, spurred on by positive feedback from players and neighbors, we we are doing what we can when we can.

Stay tuned for more to come…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Polishing Hidden Gems – Jim Nagle, Brian Bossert and Bryn Mawr Country Club

Conversation about Chicago golf often focuses on the big names – Chicago Golf Club, Olympia Fields, Medinah – and fairly so.  But Chicago is also home to quite a few classic courses that qualify as hidden gems.  I am fortunate to have access to regularly play one of those gems, the Langford & Moreau designed Bryn Mawr Country Club.

(Photos courtesy of Dan Moore Golf)

Bryn Mawr is a beautiful course and has always been tremendous fun to play.  To quote my friend and BMCC member Peter, “I travel all over the country and play all of these great courses, and when I come home, I realize that my favorite course in the world is Bryn Mawr.”  In 2013, the club undertook a renovation project led by a collaboration of Golf Course Architect Jim Nagle of Forse Design and Superintendent Brian Bossert.

From my player’s perspective, Jim and Brian’s work had several positive outcomes:

  • Tree removal added scenic beauty and new strategic decisions.
  • Bunker repositioning and updates added interest and challenge.
  • Reshaping of green complex run-offs and chipping areas added variety and fun to the short game.

Having had the pleasure of experiencing the final product, I was curious to learn more about the process.  Jim and Brian were kind enough to agree to share about the practice of their craft, and their work together.  Also included are photos from Jim of the par 3 6th and 16th, the par 4 3rd and 11th, and the par 5 18th.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

BB: I grew up a couple hours south of Chicago; in Dwight, Illinois. The local golf course provided a very encouraging environment for a young boy to experience the game.  Golf is hard to learn, but my best friend was from an enthusiastic golfing family and was already very proficient when I got started playing in grade school.  Additionally, even the best adult players at our club willingly spent time teaching us to play.  We took lessons, played all the time and long story short; I fell in love with golf as a player.

There were numerous work opportunities at the local course; cleaning up after dinner parties, retrieving lost balls in the water hazards and then working in the pro shop and eventually on the course.  I enjoyed seeing how just a few hours of hard work could result in a better looking golf course.  We had fun on the job too; decided to pursue it as a career path.  It’s amazing how many folks from the little town of Dwight ended up in the business; all a credit to the encouraging community and supportive parents.  Golf was very accessible for me; also reasonably priced and it was fun.  The opposite seems to be some of what is keeping youngsters from experiencing the great game today.

JN: This question could be answered in so many ways.  Looking back on it now, there is no doubt the desire was there as a kid to do something in design.  It wasn’t until July 1986 that I discovered that golf course architecture was an actual profession.  At that time, I was headed to either Brandeis University to study architecture or Roger Williams (outside Newport, RI) to study construction sciences with a desire to restore/rebuild old homes – kind of a This Old House vision.  Once I discovered golf course architecture and how it combined so many things I was interested in – golf, designing, drawing and construction – I decided to pursue a degree in Landscape Architecture.  There are so many moments from that July epiphany to when I actually ended up working full-time – chance meeting with Pete Dye, a classmates father building the Pete Dye Golf Club (WV), a Landscape Architecture firm hiring a kid out of college to get them into golf design, working my summers for Dye Design, meeting Ron Forse are just a few – that I have come to truly see that I am where I am today through Providence, and not luck or coincidence.  It makes me thankful every day when I really think about what I am doing.

As for meeting up with Ron Forse, we met while I was a student at West Virginia University when we had Ron come down and speak with then associate, Bruce Hepner.  He and Bruce talked about their various projects wherein there was an emphasis on the growing work in classic restoration.  I was fascinated by their presentation.  With restoration you add history, archeology, the roots of the game as it came to America, various designers and their tendencies on top of the other aspects of golf design.  It was very intriguing.  Ron asked me to join him in early 1998 and I left the firm I was working with and have been a part of Forse Design since then.

How did the two of you connect?

JN: Both Brian and I were attending a Men’s Prayer Breakfast at the Golf Course Superintendents Annual Conference and happened to be sitting beside one another.  Brian’s name tag indicated he was from Illinois.  I was born in Illinois but moved away to PA at a very young age, but all of my relatives still live in IL and we return as often as possible.  Anyway, I asked him where he was from and he indicated North of Chicago.  Told him I was born in the Central part of the state and still had family there.  Now my hometown is a town of 450 people.  Not many people know a town in Central Illinois with a population on 450.  Brian did!  He was born in a town just 15 miles away.  Turns out he also played competitive golf against the family which my Aunt married into who owned a course outside of Streator, IL.  The coincidences kept piling up.  It was a great introduction and a “foot in the door” opportunity to talk about working with each other.  Thankfully, we have developed a great working relationship and friendship, even after discovering we root for baseball teams on the opposite sides of Chicago.

BB: Small world one would say.  I tend to think it was meant to be.

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

BB: From our end, it started with need.  Players are generally more in tune to conditioning needs vs. architectural enhancements and we had some playability/conditioning issues.  Bunker conditions were inconsistent and in some cases poor, an excessive number of trees were compromising turf quality and site lines, and drainage issues existed on the flat property.  There was also a desire for a more interesting course with additional variety; the playing experience needed to be more memorable.  I would say that we weren’t long on “wow factor”.

JN: Forse Design looks at every project in the same manner.  Be it new, restoring a classic course, a retro-rebuild (start over from tee to green) or a renovation project, we always begin with reviewing the course and looking at three elements: Strategy, Naturalness and Variety.  We also look at the foundation of the course, its routing and green complexes.  In many cases these two items are not going to change, but it provides insight into how good the course is and what we can do with it.  We have to also look at the “genius of the place”.  What about the overall appearance, playability, memorability and enjoyment of the course do the members discuss the most or what we see as being worthy of recognition and to build upon or enhance.  As one can see the process is approached from many different angles.

With Bryn Mawr in particular we saw a great opportunity to enhance a course that lost its luster over the years with excessive tree planting, bunkers that did not fit the landscape, greens that had shrunken and a course that was difficult to recall because of the trees, parallel holes and par groups that were similar in length.  As previously mentioned strategy, naturalness and variety are key elements we consider when looking at a course and what we strive for when the project is done.  They each can be explained as follows:

  • Strategy.  A good golf course is one that tests the golfer’s wit as well as his ball-striking ability.  Strategy requires a golfer to apply varying values to his successive shots on a golf hole.  If a golfer risks a hazard on the tee shot he should be rewarded with an easier approach shot to the green.  Strategy implies alternate routes from the tee to the green.  This means that the golf hole should be sufficiently wide to give players choices of direction. The golfer may choose to hit around trouble but has a proportionately lesser chance at par if he does so. The bunkering and other hazards thus come into play for the bogey golfer as well as the scratch golfer.  The beauty of the strategic design is that the bogey golfer can enjoy his round as much as the scratch golfer.  Also, these strategic courses are forever enjoyable for every golfer’s ability.
  • Variety. Monotony is the enemy of a well designed golf course.  A good course has as much variety as possible in the look of the holes, the types of shots required, the holes’ direction, and the lie of the ball on the terrain.  God-created ground is infinitely more interesting than most of what man can make.  Ideally, the sequence of par is broken up and each hole has its own distinct character.  Furthermore, each green is unique and all the bunkers are distinct.
  • Naturalness. Nothing on a good course is done in a contrived or unnatural way.  It should always look as though nature had the part in the creation of the features.

When dealing with a restoration the architect must be able to understand the original designer’s traits, his style of green contours, bunker placement, scale, size and configurations. Forse Design is known for being able to discern these principles and apply them appropriately to the topographic opportunities and character of a course.

Bryn Mawr has a challenging collection of par 3s, including the side-by-side 6th (long) and 16th (short).  This area was the subject of significant tree removal which opened up outstanding views.

What were your goals going into the project?

BB: There were several; a partial list would include more teeing options, a more challenging finishing hole, opening up the corridors of play and addressing the bunkers.  With Jim’s guidance, we were able to do this and recapture some of the original architectural intent and genius of Langford and Moreau.

JN: Like any project our goal list can often exceed 15 overall goals, all of which are prioritized based upon member feedback and input from the Superintendent.  Those goals vary from project to project in terms of their priorities but often the items are the same.  Here are a sampling of goals that were important to Bryn Mawr:

  • Eliminate drainage problems.
  • Recapture original green edges and thus the available (increased) cupping areas.
  • Provide agronomically sound and level tees.
  • Provide a more challenging 18th hole.
  • Provide adequate tee space.
  • Provide playable golf holes for ladies and seniors.
  • Restore strategy and shot-value to the golf course.
  • Retain and/or relocate hazards consistent with restoration of shot values, modern playing equipment and turf grooming practices.
  • Restore original green designs and edges, thus increasing the available cup locations.
  • Restore collection areas.
  • Restore/create bunkering scheme that infuses a variety of character, distances, locations, severity/ease and recovery techniques, especially for fairway bunkers.
  • Provide continuity in the appearance and playability of all course bunkers.
  • Provide bunker faces/edges that reduce the need for edging or turf replacement.
  • Emphasize ground and other terrain features.
  • Accentuate specimen trees and eliminate vegetation that is not compatible with healthy turf.
  • Reopen closed lines-of-play.  Reestablish multi-angled shot options.
  • Make the golf course as safe as possible.
  • Reduce maintenance problems and associated costs.

One item that was very important to us was correcting (expanding) the scale of the bunkers.  Langford did a masterful job creating undulations on what was an otherwise flat property.  His earliest plans and early photos of the course show large bunkers of irregular shapes and sizes.  When we came to the course we found large bunkers but many of the sand lines were hidden by mounds of earth or capes sweeping into the bunkers. We felt strongly that the size of the bunkers as seen in the earliest photos needed to be larger and more visible.  Scale was the one word we kept repeating through the entire process.  We have come to the conclusion that larger bunkers are necessary on flat courses.

The course also has three short par 4’s (#’s 3, 7 & 11) which were similar because of the tree-lined fairways, bunker schemes and limited visibility of the sand, and as with most of the course the greens were fronted both left and right with sand.  When a course has 18 holes of greens fronted both left and right with bunkers there is a need to create more variety by modifying their locations around the greens or by eliminating one or both of the bunkers.  We wanted to make three distinct short par 4’s, each of which would become memorable and unique.  Additionally, the par 5 5th and 15th holes are parallel and had similar issues as the short 4’s.  We had to make each stand out.

Bryn Mawr’s par 4s can make you hit every club in the bag.  Particularly fun are the short 4s – risk/reward at its finest.

What were your biggest concerns going into the project?

JN: Trees, trees and trees.  Trees and forward tees can be the most controversial issues for any master plan.  People love trees and hate to see them cut down and it seems women do not want to play a shorter course (perceived as easier or their handicaps do not travel well).  The latter is often proven to be untrue once the ladies have an opportunity to play from shorter more equitable tees.  Not necessarily easier tees, more equitable.

At the time of our initial visit Bryn Mawr was one of the more overly populated courses when it came to trees.  We see it a lot, no one person is to blame.  We just wanted to take a sensible approach to tree management.  Luckily the club had already initiated a tree management program prior to our arrival.  We knew things were going to work out in the long run after they took our advice prior to hiring us and uncovered one of the most beautiful and graceful Elms I have ever witnessed.  Based on our recommendation they cut down any surrounding inferior tree that was impacting the Elm or a view of it.  It’s what we call accentuating a specimen.  Another concern of the committee was to give them a finishing hole that they could be proud of and create greater tension for its members.  We felt confident we could meet those desires.

BB: I was very concerned about our timeline.  We didn’t get started until the middle of September; we knew going in that a percentage of the work was going to spill into the following spring.  I never like counting on spring weather for construction.  Of course I was also concerned about how well received the work would be by our membership.  More than a few of our members loved the course as it was; simply didn’t see the need for the improvements.

Did you have any design or construction documentation from Langford and Moreau?  If so, to what degree did it influence the work?

JN: The information available to us was a drawing from L&M which was completed in 1921.  The routing shown on the plan is exactly as the course existed, with the exception of the 11th now being a short 4 and not a par 3 as shown on the plan.  The plan was helpful, however, we also had an aerial photo from the 30’s which proved to be most helpful.  In our minds, aerial photos often trump plans in terms of influencing the finished product.  A plan does not always represent what was actually built.

We had to be careful how we approached the project when discussing “restoration”.  A true restoration was not at the forefront of the membership as the project progressed.  What was evident to us was that to try and create something totally new was not going to be possible when one considered the earthworks created by L&M.  We always look for natural land forms to place hazards so long as they work with the desired shot values and strategies. The features we look for were created and therefore we looked back to move forward.  Restoration was not discussed often, but it was always on our minds because of the earthworks created by L&M.  We did not put everything back exactly as it was, but we did try to where possible and where practical.  In some instances there were features that no longer existed and would not be restored on a particular hole but were well suited elsewhere.  These features provided inspiration for improving other holes.

Beyond achieving aesthetic and playability improvements, were there maintenance upgrade and/or sustainability aspects to the project?

JN: There are with every project.  Drainage was a major component of the project and we needed to create bunkers that drained well and at the same time were not going to require a budget increase to maintain them.  It appears to date that has been successful.  With the desire to improve the scale of the bunkers, we knew sand would be flashed higher up on the bunker faces.  This can create wash-out problems if not constructed properly.  We prefer a flat-bottomed bunker that saucers at the face and sweeps up to meet the grass above. Coupled with a synthetic liner and a proven construction method, we have been told the bunkers are holding up well, draining and experiencing very little to no washouts.

BB: Prior to the project; the bunker washouts were a huge issue.  Depending on severity; as many as 160 man-hours were required to restore the bunkers to a playable state.  Playing conditions are greatly compromised for a day or more when that happens.  That’s also very hard work and tough on employee morale when it takes place twice in the same week.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project?

BB: Let’s be fair; the scope of this project was originally greater.  However, it was voted down by our membership in 2010.  Patience was required before going back to the drawing board with a more appropriately sized plan.  For me, revising the scope was a very difficult process; tough to match up the budget and scope of work.  Additionally, the timeline for completing the work was very tight.

JN: Looking back on it, there really were not many challenges that ultimately became unmanageable.  Honing in on the scope-of-work was a challenge for the team until we got some numbers back from the contractors.  Once we had an idea of solid bid numbers, our marching orders were more definite.  Budget did resurface just before construction started.  As mentioned earlier, we continued to stress the importance of scale throughout the process.  There is a lot of sand surface area at Bryn Mawr.  Before we started the project, we were asked to reduce the size of many of the bunkers and even eliminate a few.  We were worried that this might impact the overall vision of the finished product. We were able to work within the parameters by reducing bunker square footages here and there, lower a few sand lines and still provide a product we were very happy with.

The work at Bryn Mawr has been generally applauded as a huge success. When did you first realize that you had pulled off a victory?

JN: Two times – Ron Forse and I truly work as a team.  We try to collaborate as much as possible either in the office working on the designs or in the field challenging one another and providing input to help improve a project.  Bryn Mawr ultimately became a project which I took the lead on.  Ron visited the course just after we completed the project and was very complimentary of the work.  Secondly, as I was flying out of Chicago on my last visit, the skies had opened up and dumped a significant amount of rain on the region.  It will be the storm and flood Windy City residents will talk about for decades to come.  I called Brian expecting to hear the worst about wash-outs, flooded bunkers…His comment was “no damage”.  The bunkers held up to a devastating storm.

BB: Member feedback was and continues to be very positive; that is the ultimate measuring stick.  Despite no real topography; the look of the course has improved immensely.  Additional teeing options have given every caliber of player an appropriate distance to play from.  There is a lot that I like about the results!

Bryn Mawr’s par 5 closing hole now has back tees added to increase challenge and flexibility of setup.  Bunker repositioning adds to the interest and makes this hole an exclamation point on a classic golf experience.

What is the thing you respect most about your collaborator (i.e. the other guy)?

JN: Integrity and graciousness.  Brian trusted us with a course that he has managed for quite some time.  He always put his membership at the forefront as we discussed design ideas and solutions.  He challenged us when we needed it and always listened to the ideas and concepts we were putting forth whether he agreed with them or not.  In the end working with Brian improved my abilities as a designer and me as a person.

BB: I’ve come to know Jim pretty well personally; he’s a man of character.  This kind of work can be a political hot potato at times; he showed incredible patience throughout the process.  As I stated, just getting to the starting line was challenging.  Jim is also very humble; was trying to bring out the best of Langford’s work without being concerned with putting his own stamp on our course.  When you trust the guy you’re working with, you can keep busy on the task at hand; I was never worried about any personal agendas.  Forse Design has a very solid reputation and it’s well deserved.

What do you love most about your work?

BB: I grew up to love the game of golf as a player, so I simply like being around the game.  I also take pride in the course our staff prepares for play.  If the membership enjoys their time here; that’s a benchmark of our success.  Personally, I get most amped up for the member-guest days and our competitive events; really enjoy the challenge of seeing the heightened effort come together for a couple days of something closer to perfect.

JN: This might sound cliché, but all of it.  When it really boils down to it, I would say it’s being in the field seeing a design come to fruition.  Whether it’s seeing the strategies played out; vistas being opened and the natural ground revealed through past masses of trees; or greens being expanded and the reinstatement of lost hole locations, all of it is very exciting.  When restoring a course looking back upon the history of a facility is never dull.  The architects of the “Golden Age” were geniuses.  The game was much different then and courses were built primarily around risk and reward.  Studying their tendencies and original creations is never boring.  There is always something to learn.

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

BB: I’m guessing this one was for Jim.  For me; yes, trying to find a healthy work/life balance is a challenge.

JN: 2014 was a banner year for Forse Design.  We had a number of projects that have yet to be opened for play.  To us, they are all interesting.  So many of our projects are “hidden gems”.  Lesser known courses designed by a variety of architects that are fun to play day in and day out.  We can’t wait to hear how what the members think of the work.  Places like Pine Hills C.C. (WI), Lebanon C.C. (PA), Northampton C.C. (PA), Manufacturer’s G & CC (PA), Pine Brook C.C. (MA) and The Haven (MA) all performed significant work in 2014.  The project that consumed most of our time in 2014 was the complete renovation of Charles Alison’s Davenport Country Club.  We built seven new greens, expanded and sand capped the remaining eleven, regrassed the entire course, rebuilt every bunker and tee, expanded fairways, removed hundreds of trees and built new practice areas in about six weeks.  It was a great collaboration and one we cannot wait to see reopen.

As for 2015 and beyond, we are excited that Lancaster Country Club (PA) will be hosting the US Women’s Open this year.  We just completed work at Rolling Green Golf Club (PA) which will be hosting the 2016 USGA Women’s Amateur and we are currently preparing to do some work at Salem Country Club, host of the 2017 US Sr. Open.  We also have another Langford and Moreau course, Minnehaha C.C. (SD) on the boards with thoughts of rebuilding in the next couple of years.

One last project we look forward to seeing through to completion is Green Valley C.C. outside of Philadelphia.  Green Valley was originally owned and designed by William Flynn.  The course is now private but was designed as a public facility and its original layout did not rival Flynn’s many cherished Philly area courses.  We have an opportunity to infuse great interest, variety and strategy into the course bringing it in-line with his other masterpieces.  Yet, with all the work we have, there is one project looming that we have yet to secure – a new 18 hole modern classic that harkens back to the strategies and character of the Golden Age but can stand up to today’s playing equipment and golfers.

For even more from Jim Nagle, watch his recent presentation to the Philadelphia GolfClubAtlas gathering courtesy of Matt Frey (on Twitter at @MFreyPGA).


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 4 (First Steps)

The Canal Shores Grounds Committee spent the winter sharing ideas, from the blue sky big picture all the way down to the nitty gritty details.  Spring has sprung, and it is time to get into action.

While our long-term Master Plan is in the skunkworks stage, we decided that we still want to move forward with making the cost-effective improvements that we can.  We will, however, be making those improvements with the Principles for Greatness and ultimate vision in mind, so as not to waste scarce resources.

Section D (Isabella to Central) which contains holes 3, 11 and 12.

Section D (Isabella to Central) which contains holes 3, 11 and 12.

Our immediate priorities fall into 3 categories:

1.  Tees and Greens – Our Superintendent Tom Tully and his team have made great strides in the quality of the two most important elements of any golf course for playability.

  • Players can expect conditioning to continue to improve.
  • We will likely be moving some tees and possibly adding Tee It Forward markers for kids and people who would rather play the course as a pitch-and-putt.
  • Greens complexes will evolve to include puttable chipping areas, with the intention of increasing interest and fun.

2.  Clean-Up – Due to years of neglect, the property has turned into a dumping ground for trash and debris.  We will continue clean-up efforts, including beginning to progressively eradicate invasive tree species such as buckthorn and mulberry.  Our “broken windows theory” is that the more we demonstrate care for the property, the less likely people will be to disrespect it by littering.

3.  Outside-In Buffering – In Part 3, I shared our Principle of Mixed Use (vs. shared use).  We will begin to segregate the property by establishing walking paths on the perimeter and buffer zones of long grass.  We will also introduce the first test plots of native grasses and flowers.  This initial step will introduce the intended look of the property, while improving enjoyment for golfers and safety for non-golfers.

While work will be ongoing throughout the property, our efforts will be most heavily concentrated on Section D (Isabella to Central).  This section includes holes 3 (par 4), 11 (par 3) and 12 (par 4).  There is a sense of urgency around addressing this section in part because it contains some of the most interesting features of the property, and in part because it is the source of the greatest number of neighbor complaints.

With our list of priorities in hand, we spring into action.  Stay tuned for further updates, and if you see us out on The Shores, feel free to come lend a hand.  We’ll take all the help we can get.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf