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Golden Age Redux – Shawn Smith & Todd Fyffe at Westmoreland CC

WESTMORELAND COUNTRY CLUB

An Interview & Course Tour

On the way from my house to the highway sits Westmoreland Country Club.  For years, I drove by and peeked through the fence at the course, with its gorgeous clubhouse overlooking the perfect green fairways.  When I finally had the good fortune to play Westmoreland, it was a treat to spend an afternoon experiencing first-hand what I had so long seen only from the road.  The course was nice, with a few neat holes and greens, and the conditioning produced by Superintendent Todd Fyffe and his team was second to none.  Was there anything that set it apart from the numerous other terrific country clubs around Chicago?  Truth be told, not really.

This is the challenge for clubs in a town so deep in good golf courses.  How to be truly great, while continuing to serve the needs of the existing membership.  The leadership of Westmoreland must have been wrestling with that same question, because last year a renovation of the course began under the direction of golf course architect Shawn Smith.  The bunkering was being completely overhauled, and the pictures that began to pop up on Twitter were attention grabbing to say the least.

Shawn and Todd were kind enough to invite me out for a walk around the course this spring as construction was nearing completion.  Shawn shared his thoughts on the bunker style change – bold and strategic, but with a classic vibe.  He also shared about the architectural history of the course, which is somewhat murky, but includes work by A.W. Tillinghast.  Shawn, Todd and the club’s leadership are clearly intent on recapturing that Golden Age feel, and thus far they are succeeding.

The bunker work has been complemented with fairway expansion and the tweaking of grass lines.  Trees are slowly coming down, opening up vistas and improving turf health, and new fescue areas are being established that will create a beautiful color contrast.

 

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How can a club set its course apart in a crowded field of solid quality courses?  A return visit to play Westmoreland a few weeks back would suggest that they have found their answer.  As the refinement continues and the new work matures, it will only get better.  And who knows, Shawn might just have a trick or two left in his Golden Age bag.

I am very much looking forward to repeat plays in the coming years.  In the meantime, Shawn and Todd have been gracious enough to share more of their perspective (Todd’s answers are coming soon), and I created a hole-by-hole tour for those who have not yet seen the new Westmoreland.  Enjoy!


INTERVIEW WITH ARCHITECT SHAWN SMITH & SUPERINTENDENT TODD FYFFE

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

SHAWN SMITH: I grew up in Laurel, Montana, a small town of about 7,000 people and we lived a couple farm fields away from the golf course.  My parents first introduced me to the game when I was six but it was pretty casual, consisting of me banging a 7-iron down the fairway 90 yards at a time.  I started to take it more seriously when I turned eleven and began playing in local junior golf tournaments.    

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

SS: The summer that I turned eleven, my dad signed me up for my first junior golf tournament and I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed the game.  From that point forward, most of my free time was spent on the golf course.  During the summer, I would spend most days from sun up to sun on the golf course.  

How did you get into the business?  

SS: Growing up, I always enjoyed drawing and being creative.  In the mid-1980s when I was in my early teens, I became aware of the profession of golf course architecture and it seemed like the perfect blend of my creative side with my love of the game.  From that point on I began chasing the dream – I read everything I could get my hands on about golf course architecture, worked in the pro shop and on the grounds crew of my local course to better understand that side of the business, interned for a local landscape architect who also dabbled in golf course design, attended Washington State University where I received a degree in Landscape Architecture and spent a year working golf course construction in Mississippi and Louisiana.  In 1998, I was brought on as a design associate for Arthur Hills and Associates (currently Hills & Forrest) and became a principal in 2010.

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What got you excited about the opportunity to take on this renovation?

SS: Westmoreland Country Club has a rich history that dates back to 1911 and includes architectural contributions by Willie Watson, William Langford and A.W. Tillinghast.  When you visit the Club, it has a vibe that is consistent with many of the great old golf courses built during that era.  From the iconic Colonial Williamsburg clubhouse to the beautifully contoured greens, it just looks and feels like a course that has been around for over a century.  The exception to this was the bunkering which, prior to the most recent work, had been rebuilt a number of times over the years and had taken on a character that wasn’t consistent with the rest of the golf course.  What I was most excited about with this renovation was the opportunity to recapture a bunker character with straighter, simpler lines that was more consistent with the other classic architectural features that already existed.      

Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

SS: The first thing we do with any renovation is to meet with the Club to determine their goals and objectives.  From there, we go to work studying the golf course.  We spend a couple days walking the course, establishing an inventory that identifies its strengths and weaknesses.  We meet with the superintendent and other key individuals at the club to get there perspective.  If its an older course, like Westmoreland, we spend time researching the history of the course to better understand the original architecture and how it may have evolved over the years.  From there, we take all the compiled information and develop a plan for improvements which we present to the green committee.  Based on their feedback, we make any necessary revisions to the plan so that we have a consensus going forward.  When the Club chooses to implement the plan, we prepare construction drawings, facilitate the bid process and help the Club select a contractor to complete the work.  In the case of Westmoreland, they have worked with Leibold on most of their projects over the years so there really wasn’t a formal bid process.  Once construction begins, we make site visits to review the construction and recommend any field modifications to ensure that the design intent is met.  The frequency of the visits varies depending on the stage of construction and how quickly it is progressing.  At Westmoreland, I was making 1-2 day site visits weekly for the better part of four months (Oct., Nov., April & May).      

Did historical documentation play any role in your approach to the renovation?  

SS: We had an aerial photograph from 1938 along with a handful of other ground and oblique photos from that timeframe.  The original bunkering in the 1938 aerial consisted of massive bunkers that were mostly out-of-play.  It simply wasn’t practical to restore the bunkers to their original design.  We did however use the photographs to educate the membership about how many trees had been planted over the years.  The old photos, which showed far fewer trees, supported our recommendation to implement a tree management plan.  The plan focuses on returning to a native plant palette of deciduous hardwoods and creating more of an open character which highlights specimen trees and accentuates shared views and vistas across the golf course.

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What were your goals going into the project?  

SS: The project originally just began as a bunker renovation and evolved into rebuilding, squaring up tees, widening/straightening fairways and a tree management plan.  These were the original goals of the bunker project:

  1. Improve the aesthetics of the bunkers by creating a style and character that is consistent with early 20th century architecture and the other classic features found on the course.  
  2. Improve the strategy of the bunkers by creating risk/reward relationships that encourage thoughtful play and make the holes more interesting.
  3. Improve the playability of the course by positioning bunkers where they challenge better players without undulling penalizing the weaker players.
  4. Improve the infrastructure of the bunkers so that they drain properly, are easier to maintain and provide consistent playing conditions for the membership.   

How did you decide on the bold bunker style?

SS: We knew early on that restoring the original bunkering wasn’t practical so we chose to create a bunker style that was consistent with the era Westmoreland was originally built.  Ultimately, we decided to draw inspiration from the trench-style bunkering of C.B. McDonald and Seth Raynor which has strong roots in the Chicago area.

In a renovation like this, how much weight do playability and functionality carry respectively?

SS: A large part of our effort in rebuilding the bunkers was to reposition them (especially the fairway bunkering) so that they challenged the better players without unnecessarily penalizing the weaker players. In many instances, we shifted existing fairway bunkers farther down the hole or added bunkers at the far end of the landing area that could only be reached by the better players.  We widened most of the fairways to 40 yards+/-, especially in the areas leading up to the fairway bunkers where shorter hitters would tend to hit their tee shots.  At the greens, we reposition a number of bunkers and realigned fairways to create wider approaches that would allow for a shot to be run onto the green.  By repositioning the bunkers and widening the fairways and approaches, we were able to make the holes more strategic and thought provoking for the better players and at the same time more playable for the lesser skilled golfer.  

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Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

SS: A year prior to the project, the Club rebuilt two of the bunkers on the short game area to help educate the membership on what the new bunkers would look like and how they would play.  This turned out to a great decision as it was instrumental in helping to gain the membership’s support for the project.  

For the most part, I dealt directly with Todd and the Long Range Planning Committee.  Throughout the project, they were great to work with and were very enthusiastic about the initial plan we presented.  There were a couple holes were we were asked to adjust the bunker placement but they were minor.  As with any project, once we got into construction, there were some minor tweaks that needed to be made and we worked closely with Todd and the committee’s leadership to make those changes.  

Perhaps the biggest hurdle we had during the project came toward the end when we recommended removing a few trees as part of an overall tree management plan.  Through a series of presentations to the Long Range Committee, the Board and then finally the membership, we carefully explained the rationale for our recommendation.  It began with a detailed analysis of the early photographs of the golf course showing the numerous trees that had been planted over the years.  We explained the challenges that trees create from an agronomic, aesthetic and playability standpoint.  And, we included a comprehensive look at the trend in the industry, especially with classic golf courses built during the early 20th century, to remove trees and restore more of an open character with only a few specimen trees.  

Describe your approach to tree management going forward.  

SS: The long term objective of the tree management plan is to eliminate non-native and ornamental trees so that we can highlight specimen hardwood deciduous trees and return the golf course to more of an open feel.  At the same time, we plan to create a dense plant buffer on the perimeter so that we can screen unwanted offsite views.  

In addition to the tree management plan, we have identified 15 acres that we plan to convert to native fescue areas.  We believe the combination of the bunker improvements along with the approach proposed for the trees and native areas will provide a look and feel that is very much consistent with a golf course that was built during the golden age of design.  

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?  

SS: Todd may be the better person to ask this question but one of the neat byproducts of the trench bunker style was the fact that we were able to significantly decrease the total bunker square footage on the golf course which should reduce the time spent maintaining the bunkers.  Prior to the renovation, the course had 57 bunkers totaling 83,275 square feet.  With the new bunkers, we increased the number to 66 but the total square footage was cut by a 1/3 to 56,620 square feet.  Additionally, the flat floors and the Better Billy Bunker construction method should all but eliminate washouts following a rain event.

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What makes you the proudest about the new Westmoreland?

SS: I am most proud of the transformation we were able to make to the character of the golf course.  We took bunkering and fairway lines that were out of place on a golf course of this age and made them match the other classic elements of the golf course.  It instantly made the golf course look and feel 100 years older!

What do you respect most about your collaborator?

SS: This project afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on site and see firsthand all the hard work that Todd and his staff put into providing impeccable conditions for the membership.  At the same time, they were also instrumental during the renovation, taking on significant portions of the work in-house. Todd is extremely knowledgeable when it comes getting the most out of the golf course but what I respect the most about him is his drive to improve.  He is continually talking to his peers, trying to learn and get better at his craft and is not afraid to try new things or implement new ideas in the quest to get better.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the improvements we made mature under his stewardship.   

What do you love about practicing your craft?

SS: The aspect about design that I love the most is the creative process; taking an idea, refining it, building it and ultimately seeing people enjoy it.

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WESTMORELAND CC COURSE TOUR

The classic experience begins at Westmoreland at the clubhouse, which might be the most underrated in Chicagoland.  The opening holes on both nines play down away from the clubhouse, and their tees are tied beautifully together by the putting green and closely mown bentgrass surrounds.

Hole #1 – Par 4 – 331 yards

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The opener is a short, slight dogleg right that plays downhill.  The player is confronted with the first of many strategic decisions as the bunkers on the left are reachable.  Positioning is the key to scoring on the 1st, and throughout WCC.

Hole #2 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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The 2nd is a straight par-4 with a long trench bunker guarding the left side of the fairway, and a nasty pot bunker guarding the green front left.  It hits home at this point that most of these bunkers are in fact hazards.

Hole #3 – Par 4 – 439 yards

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The 3rd is a brute of a par-4 playing uphill off the tee to a wide, often windswept fairway.  The approach is blind down to an angled green that will accept running and aerial shots.

Hole #4 – Par 4 – 351 yards

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Options abound off the tee on the short 4th.  Smart players sneak a peek at the pin position coming up the third, as the green runs away from front to back and the approach must be made from the proper angle.

Hole #5 – Par 3 – 170 yards

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The elevated green at the 5th is one of those “must hits”.  A deep bunker guards the front left and steep, closely mown runoffs surround the rest of the green.  A short game fiasco is a really possibility when tee shots are errant.

Hole #6 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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The 6th green is reachable for bombers, but the green surrounds are no bargain if the heroic attempts fail.  The small green is sloped and contoured and players who leave themselves short-sided are unlikely to get up and down.

Hole #7 – Par 4 – 340 yards

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The 7th begins with a blind drive over a hill that runs down to a tiered green.  It is reachable, but the punishment for being on the wrong tier is a near certain three putt.

Hole #8 – Par 5 – 469 yards

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The lone five par on the front is a terrific risk-reward proposition.  Challenge the right bunkers off the tee and the distance is shortened enough to make carrying the fronting lake doable.  The heavily sloped green is unforgiving of imprecise approaches though.

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 391 yards

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The view from the 9th tee is one of the best in town.  Staggered bunkers cutting into the fairway on both sides disorient and confuse, making the hole look narrower than it actually is.  The uphill approach to an elevated green demands a confidently struck shot.

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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Like the first, the 10th plays downhill and doglegs right.  However, it is both narrower and longer and the green has distinct sections with testy pin positions.  This is no gentle handshake.

Hole #11 – Par 5 – 505 yards

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A deep bunker right and two simple bunkers left flank the landing zone on the 11th.  A glorious old tree must be navigated with the lay-up and approach to this contoured green that sits beautifully on the land.

Hole #12 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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The 12th is a two-shotter that plays much longer than its yardage straightaway uphill.  Deep bunkers left and right of the green lie in wait to dish out punishment.

Hole #13 – Par 3 – 193 yards

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The par-3 13th plays over water downhill to a green in an idyllic setting.  Rough-covered mounding surrounds the green creating tricky lies and stances.

Hole #14 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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The 14th plays over a hill and left to blind landing area.  Well struck tee shots with a draw can feed all the way down near the green which sits in a natural amphitheater.  The “dreaded straight ball” however, if overzealously played runs the risk of going through the fairway into a pond right that is hidden from view on the tee.

Hole #15 – Par 5 – 530 yards

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Westmoreland’s third and final par-5 15th might be the most improved hole on the course.  Tree removal on the inside of this dogleg left has opened views and lines, and fairway expansion has created room to play.  That room is critical because the approach to the green is now littered with bunkers that must be avoided to give the player a legitimate chance at birdie.

Hole #16 – Par 4 – 397 yards

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The par-4 16th is a straight par-4 that plays much more narrow than it is.  The left side of the green is well defended by bunkers into which the fairway feeds.

Hole #17 – Par 3 – 141 yards

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The par-3 17th plays over water to an elevated green fronted on the the right by bunkers.  With the wind whipping across the pond, judging line and distance can be a real challenge.

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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One final gorgeous view awaits the player upon reaching the home home, a par-4 which plays back up the hill to the clubhouse.  The heavily sloped green has a mammoth bunker left demanding one last accurate approach.

On the day of my round at Westmoreland, the weather soured as we played the finishing stretch, but it did nothing to dampen my spirits.  Spending time on this now special golf course, discussing the game, architecture and history with Shawn and Todd is as good as it gets for this geek.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Evolving Artist – An Interview with David McLay Kidd

Several years ago, I played Bandon Dunes and enjoyed it greatly.  Unfortunately, I have not made the trek back to the Oregon Coast, nor have I had the chance to play any of David McLay Kidd’s other courses (although I would very much like to).

Like many GCA geeks, I have followed the stories about the evolution of David’s career with interest, particularly those that have been written since the opening of Gamble Sands and his triumph in the Sand Valley bake-off.  Word out of Nekoosa, WI is that the DMK crew is creating something truly special and my recent visit to Sand Valley provided confirmation.

Wanting to learn more about the man and his work, I reached out to David when I returned from Sand Valley and he was gracious enough to make time in his busy schedule for an interview.

Preview play on DMK Design’s SVII begins next summer.  Until then, enjoy the interview.

 

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THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

Son of a Scottish Greenkeeper, raised almost literally on a golf course.  My father was in charge at Gleneagles for over 25 years and was instrumental in securing the Ryder Cup for Scotland in 2014 (the last time we won).

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

When I would look forward to going out in the wet and cold to work on the courses my father was in charge of.  I got and still do get such a kick out of the visual appeal of a golf course – playing is pretty cool too.

How did you get into the business?

Son of a Greenkeeper, it’s in the DNA!

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

What’s this Golden Age you speak of?  As a Brit our Golden Age was a little different.  It was the time of the Great Triumvirate following on from Old Tom.  If that’s the question then I will say Harry Shapland Colt.  He introduced strategy to golf design, he liked quirky.

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

My father.  He has lived and breathed golf his entire life.  He loves the game and the courses we play it on.  He has done a lot for his profession, mostly unheralded.  He promoted sustainability and organics when it was laughed at.  He promoted further education when many in the UK at least saw his profession as semi-skilled at best.

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

The question that is rarely asked is “what will these design ideas cost to maintain?”  That’s a question a club needs to understand before they build a course with 100 manicured edged bunkers and bent grass wall to wall.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design?DavidMcLayKidd-MapWalk.png

In the dirt waving my arms dreaming up an idea and developing that idea in the field step by step, developing each detail as you go.  I have more fun doing that than any golf shot I have ever hit.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I still giggle on the inside that I get paid to do something I would do for free.

How has your design philosophy changed over time?

I started out knowing that golf in the UK is played for fun, as a past-time by most.  Few play competitive golf and keep stroke play score, most don’t.  When I created Bandon Dunes I knew that, but as my career developed I was convinced that golf courses needed to be tough challenges and my job was to defend the honor of the course.  Golfers would have to show respect, or else be punished.

I have returned to what I know golf needs to be – fun, playable, entertaining, engaging, relaxing, enduring.  It should not be punishing.  Who wants to decide to do something that’s punishing?  I can make a course that’s challenging and alluring, while simultaneously making it playable.  It’s all down to width and making sure the rough offers the ability to find a ball.

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What do you want to accomplish in this next phase of your career?

I want to take the principles I have returned to and build the most celebrated and fun courses that have ever existed.  Gamble Sands and Sand Valley II will be my role models going forward.

Why are you excited to be involved in the Sand Valley project?

It allows me a grand stage to show how challenge and playability can co-exist.  We can create a visually stunning course that the most occasional of golfers can enjoy just like I did with Bandon Dunes the better part of 20 years ago.

What is it like to be designed a course alongside accomplished architects like Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw?

I am hoping that after 25 years of effort I might be able to suggest that I am ‘accomplished’ even if not so well known?  My profession is living through exciting times.  There are a number of very talented golf designers out there doing incredible work.  I would love history to include me in that group of relevant architects in the early part of this century.

What legacy do you hope to leave for the game, and golf course architecture?DavidMcLayKidd-WalkingGolf.png

The game needs to be fun.  I had my time on the dark side and I see the error of my ways.  I have spent many years considering how to make courses playable, challenging and fun as well as natural and sustainable.  These are all words I hear from my peers, but often do not see them played out in reality on the ground.

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

There are so many places I have yet to play.  There are a number of East Coast gems I haven’t played yet (many I have).  I still haven’t played Augusta – it’s on my bucket list.

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

I am an avid pilot. I fly my own Cirrus Sr22T all over the US.  Last year I did 80,000 miles in my own plane.  I coach soccer and have coached my daughter from Kindergarten to Middle School.  I live in Bend, Oregon – the outdoors capital of the world, or at least Oregon – so we do everything from rafting to skiing to hiking to boating to fishing.  We are never short of something to do.


GAMBLE SANDS

Gamble Sands opened to rave reviews and continues to get glowing praise from all who have been fortunate enough to make the pilgrimmage to northern Washington.  The course was also of particular selfish interest to me as it was the cause of David’s inclusion in the Sand Valley bake-off, which he won.  I might never make it to Gamble Sands, but soon I will be able to go around and around on a DMK design closer to home.

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To get a glimpse of the style of design – challenging, fun, and beautiful – that we will likely see in Wisconsin, we need look no further than Gamble Sands.

#1 – Par 4 – 392 yards

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#2 – Par 4 – 262 yards

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#4 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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#5 – Par 5 – 497 yards

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#6 – Par 3 – 231 yards

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#7 – Par 5 – 473 yards

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#9 – Par 4 – 382 yards

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#10 – Par 3 – 140 yards

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#11 – Par 4 – 412 yards

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#12 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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#14 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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#16 – Par 3 – 195 yards

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#17 – Par 4 – 418 yards

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MORE DMK COURSES

David was kind enough to compile quite a few photos from the courses that he has designed around the world.  I was taken by how far flung his work has been, and also by how varied the look and feel of his courses are.  A player could be more than satisfied jetting around the world playing David’s courses for the rest of their golfing life (especially since his work is far from finished…).

(click on images to enlarge)

BANDON DUNES

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Bandon Dunes Resort – Bandon, Oregon

 

THE CASTLE COURSE

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St. Andrews Links – St. Andrews, Scotland

 

MONTAGU COURSE AT FANCOURT

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Fancourt Resort – Blanco George, South Africa

 

HUNTSMAN SPRINGS

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Driggs, Idaho

 

LUACALA ISLAND GOLF COURSE

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Luacala Island Resort – Fiji

 

MACHRIHANISH DUNES

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Kintyre, Scotland

 

NANEA GOLF CLUB

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Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

 

QUEENWOOD GOLF CLUB

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Ottershaw, United Kingdom

 

TETHEROW GOLF CLUB

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Bend, Oregon

 

TPC STONEBRAE

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Hayward, California

 


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2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Rob Collins & The Sweetens Cove Story

Sweetens Cove – the course and the story behind its creation – has fascinated me for some time.  Golf geeks who make the trip to play this modern 9-holer return with the same two points of feedback.  That course bold, beautiful, and great fun.  And its creator and owner, Rob Collins, is a good dude.

My travel stars finally aligned to allow me to make the trip to Sweetens Cove.  Coincidentally, my plans for a visit fell into place at the same time that Rob was finishing up an interview and course history that he agreed to do before we met.  Neither the course nor Rob disappointed – they are both wonderful.  My recommendation:  Enjoy Rob’s thoughts and photos below, and then go see for yourself just how special his creation is.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

I played golf for the first time as an 11 year old with my Dad.  At that time in my life, we only played a few times a year. It was nothing more than a minor hobby in my early years.

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

I decided to try out for my high school team my senior year.  At the time, I was an absolutely horrible player, but I enjoyed the sport and I thought I might have a shot at making the team.  As it turned out, our team was so bad that I was able to squeeze in at the six spot.  Playing on a more regular schedule helped build my interest in the game.  As I started to see some marginal improvement, I began to like it more and more.

After my freshman year in college, I was invited to go on a trip to St. Andrews.  By that time, I was really enjoying the game, and was primed to fall in love with it.  Our loops on the Old & New Courses, along with watching the first three rounds of the Open Championship at Turnberry, solidified my addiction to the game.

How did you get into the business?

I started in the graduate landscape architecture program at Mississippi State in 2002 with the intention of using that degree to help me get into the field of course architecture.  In 2004, I was hired by Rick Robbins as an intern, an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.  I learned a great deal from Rick and his team, and I was fortunate to transition that into a design coordinator role with Gary Player Design.

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Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

That is a very difficult question, but I think I would have to go with MacKenzie.  His writings have had a huge influence on me.  Not only do I love his artistic flair and adherence to strategic principles in the design and construction process, but his willingness to cut against the grain of conventional wisdom appeals strongly to me on a personal level.  His twelfth green at Sitwell Park exemplifies his brilliance, self-confidence, and one-of-a-kind flair for the dramatic, and his words in defense of his work amount to my all-time favorite golf architecture quote:

“I have got accustomed to measuring the ultimate popularity of a hole or course by the amount of criticism it gives rise to in the first instance…It is only natural that players who have been spoon fed on insipid, flat uninteresting golf should view with a considerable amount of suspicion anything which is undoubtedly out of the ordinary”

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

I think I have to start with the people who first believed in me.  Rick Robbins gave me my first job in course architecture.  Also, Frank Henegan from Gary Player Design brought me into their organization.  I learned a tremendous amount about the design and construction process from both him and his colleague, Jeff Lawrence, a Senior Designer with GPD.  Also, I would be remiss not to mention my partner, Tad King.  Not only is Tad one of the most talented shaper/finishers anywhere, but he is also a master of managing the construction and grow in of golf courses.  His common sense and streamlined construction methodology has had a massive influence on me, and his approach provides the basis for much of the philosophical component upon which King-Collins was founded.

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

There is another way!  You don’t need to hire a contractor to build the course, and for God’s sake, keep the consultants and so-called experts as far away from the project as possible.  It is all too common in the golf world for unnecessary expenditures to be passed off to the client by self-interested parties under the guise of obtaining a quality result.  Tad and I have both seen it firsthand, and we believe firmly that one of the biggest problems facing the game and golf construction, more specifically, is overinflated construction costs.  When courses cost too much to build, people who would otherwise build golf will look in other directions for how to spend their money when developing land.  At a certain point, it becomes impossible to recoup the initial investment if the golf course construction budget spirals out of hand.  Furthermore, inflated green’s fees result from uncontrolled expenditures, which obviously make the game less accessible to the general public.  In sum, less golf gets built AND the game costs more to play when costs aren’t controlled.

We believe, and I think that Sweetens Cove is living proof, that our method not only works, but that it is the best method for designing and building golf courses.  Simply put, we are able to maintain quality and artistic control over all aspects of the course while keeping costs to a minimum.  Here are a few prime examples:

During the Sweetens Cove construction, Tad and I visited another course that was also undergoing a renovation.  Both Sweetens Cove and this other course were using the same sand to cap the fairways.  We were told during one visit by the contractor’s project superintendent that they would no longer be using the sand because it had failed in testing and grass wouldn’t grow on it.  419 Bermuda, which will grow across a cart path, wouldn’t grow in this sand according that job’s contractor!  Think about how idiotic that is and what the consequences were for the client:

  1. They had a mountain of sand, which they were told they could no longer use. This amounted to a huge waste of resources, time, and money.
  2. They actually paid money to a lab and a consultant to acquire those results.

The end result is that they spent more money to go slower with zero improvement in quality.  Those kinds of situations occur all of the time and the cost of decisions like that can be astronomical.  As an aside, the fairways at Sweetens Cove, which were planted in the nonconforming sand, are perfect.

The second example that comes to mind is related to a project that we were hired for in the Canadian Rockies.  Unfortunately, the Montane Club was never built, but we put together a $4.9M budget on a piece of land that had previously been budgeted by a former touring pro, signature architect at $1M/hole.  With the signature architect’s army of consultants and a golf contractor on site, the project easily would have spiraled upwards of $25M.  Had it been built, how would the client have recouped these costs?  Unfortunately, stories like these repeat themselves over and over, every day all around the world of golf construction.

So, to answer your question directly, I would encourage all green committee members, owners, clients, etc. to educate themselves about construction costs and work hard to discern what costs are necessary and which ones are not.  After that, they should call us (half kidding, sort of…ok, not really kidding at all).

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How has your commitment to creative collaboration in the field impacted your work?

First, the design / build method, which we employ, is the best way to build golf.  Golf courses are built in the field, not on a desk 1,000 miles from the site.  The best decision I ever made in my career occurred right out of graduate school.  I had two opportunities.  One was with the Player Group as an on-site design coordinator, which would immerse me in the daily routine of a construction process or as a CAD/office designer for a competing firm.  While I was hugely grateful for both offers, I chose to go with the offer from Player, and I am thankful every day that I made that decision.  Not only did I fall in love with the construction process, but I learned the fundamentals of how to build a golf course and the degree to which construction and design are intertwined.  So, the process of collaboration in the field forms the basis for my work.  Every great golf course in recent memory has been built using the design/build method, and Tad and I formed our company on the belief that we could deliver elite quality with a reduced price using that approach.

How did you get involved with the Sweetens Cove project?

I was referred to the project by King Oehmig.  I was desperate to remain involved with architecture after the economic collapse in ‘08, and King was spearheading the Gil Hanse project at Sewanee.  I approached him to see if I could get involved up there, and he said he would be happy to help. He took it a step further and referred me to my client who was looking to do something with their nine-hole course, Sequatchie Valley G&CC, which would ultimately be rebranded as Sweetens Cove Golf Club after the renovation.

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

I think they will be extremely important.  The days of spending an entire weekend at the local club only to show up at home on Sunday night are long gone.  A lot of people don’t have time for an eighteen hole round, and quality courses of alternative lengths will be increasingly important for the game as it works to stay relevant and expand.  Furthermore, Sweetens Cove operates on a budget that is a fraction of your typical maintenance budget, but it delivers high quality conditions thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff and the design of the course.  Finally, I think Sweetens Cove is a prime example of how you can have fascinating and engaging playing scenarios on a site that, at first glance, didn’t seem like it could possibly yield good golf.  I believe that the notion that great golf cannot be derived from an inferior site is a flawed one.  If anything, Sweetens Cove proves that you don’t need eighteen holes or a good site to create a great golf course.  On top of that, an outsized maintenance budget isn’t needed either.  If there were more courses like Sweetens Cove and fewer courses like (fill in the blank), the world would be a better place.

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

I love bunker construction, but the most fascinating part of construction comes at the greens.  Our goal is always to match the green contours to the strategy of the hole.  Ideally, I want players to be considering the slope and contour of the green surfaces and their surrounds while they are on the tee.  If you can get people to do that, then I think your work has been very effective.  Essentially, we want to provide ground for endless shotmaking and strategic scenarios to unfold.  Working to create that in the field is a thrill.

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What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love the reward that comes with seeing things unfold.  It starts with an idea and then it evolves a little more each day.  That evolutionary process is what gets me excited.  At Sweetens Cove, we kept turning it up and turning it up.  It was so much fun to obsess over and refine the minutest of details on the course.  Ultimately, a golf course is a sum of its parts, and it was our goal to pack Sweetens Cove with micro details across the entirety of the property.  We never placed one detail in importance over another.  For example, the edgework on the back side of an island in a part of a massive bunker that nobody was ever going to see was equally as important as the edgework on the flashiest, most highly visible bunker.

With that approach, you are guaranteed to have a course full of highly personalized details when it is complete.  That is how you get that attitude and character in a course that you can feel but you can’t quite put your finger on.  The best courses do that, and I am most proud of that aspect of Sweetens Cove.  Nothing was overlooked and nothing was taken for granted.  That is why a nine-hole course in a flood plain in rural Tennessee has received massive amounts of publicity and attention.  None of that happened by accident.  Instead it was a result of untold countless, thankless hours of labor when no one was watching.  Looking back on that effort and seeing what we have today fills me with desire to go out and do it again.  We love the creative process, and we are ready for #2.

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

There are so many that it is impossible to come up with an adequate list, but here are a few off of the top of my head:

Crystal Downs, Old Town, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Shoreacres, Chicago, Seminole….and, I would like to wave a magic wand and take a three month trip to GBI to travel and explore the endless options there.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but it would be great if it did.

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

I have six and eleven year old daughters so my wife and I spend most of our time outside of work juggling parenting responsibilities.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I am excited to say that the phone is ringing.  We have ten solid leads at the moment.  Some are renovation / restorations, but six are new construction in both domestic and international markets.  Four of the projects are what I would consider “the big one” where we could really prove exactly what we are capable of on a great site.  We are ready for that opportunity, and can’t wait to get started on a new project, hopefully sooner than later!


THE SWEETENS COVE STORY

In the summer of 2010, I was desperately searching for a way back into golf architecture.  I had heard that Gil Hanse had been hired to renovate the golf course at Sewanee, which happened to by my alma mater.  I asked around and found out that a graduate of the Seminary School at Sewanee and a local golfing legend, King Oehmig, was heading up the project.  Via Mark Stovall, the former superintendent of Lookout Mountain, I was placed in touch with King.  In May 2010, he wrote me this note as part of an email chain about the Sewanee project:

PS: I do know that Mr. Bob Thomas, the proprietor of Sequatchie Concrete Company, who is a Sewanee Alum, has just bought a little course right outside of Kimball, TN, the Sequatchie Country Club.  Right now, it needs a lot of work; I would suggest that you contact Bob, and you can tell him that I suggested that you call him about possibly helping him with fixing it up.  Thanks. – KO

Reading back through that old email brings back a flood of memories: my internal feeling of desperation about returning to golf architecture, my hope for getting involved with the Sewanee project, the VERY early days of King-Collins, and my gratitude toward King for suggesting me to Mr. Thomas.  Reading it now makes it hard to believe that over six years of my life have gone into this project.

Soon after King’s recommendation, we began a discussion with the Thomas family about possibly renovating the Sequatchie Valley G&CC. We were eventually hired in March of 2011 for the job, and Tad and I were extremely excited to have the opportunity to put our ideas into the ground.  We brought in Gus Grantham to be lead shaper on the project, construction commenced on June 2, 2011 and the course was grassed out a year later in June of 2012.

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The golf course, which only had one foot of fall across the entire property sits in a flood plain near Battle Creek.  In addition to having extremely minimal drainage, the site sits on heavy clay soils.  We, therefore, had a massive task ahead of us if the resulting work was to have even a modest level of playing interest.  First and foremost, we had to devise a way to drain every drop of water off of the property while creating highly interesting golfing features.  In the end, we moved about 300,000 cubic yards of dirt & installed fifteen (15) miles of drain pipe. I am very proud of the fact that we did all of this “in house” while building the course for a fraction of the cost of a typical project.  In addition to the earthworks, the site was capped with approximately 4” of sand, which has been wonderful for helping us maintain firm and fast conditions across the property.

My overall vision for the project going in was to create an inland links that borrowed lessons from some of my favorite places in golf: Pinehurst #2, TOC, Tobacco Road, North Berwick, the 1932 version of Augusta National, and others.  However, I had no interest in playing copycat.  It was very important to me that the course have its own unique flair while still grasping the core lessons at the heart of the aforementioned greats.  Essentially, I wanted to take the things that I liked in architecture, put them in a blender and come up with a concoction that would hopefully remind others of places they had seen or been but with a degree of uniqueness that would ideally leave one feeling as though they had found a true original.  Those qualities are not something that you can plan for in the office.  To the contrary, the highly personalized details only rise out of the ground through intensive site work.  The long, thankless hours that we spent fashioning the course are something of which I am very proud.  There were countless opportunities to mail it in or walk away from the project entirely, but we never did.  I think that our unwavering commitment to it shines through in one’s playing experience, an aspect of Sweetens Cove that elevates it over most.

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After grassing was complete, the course remained under the umbrella of our client’s various business interests until August 2013.  They made an internal decision to return the focus of their business solely toward concrete manufacturing, and I was approached about the possibility of leasing the property from Sequatchie Concrete.  Given the level of commitment that I had exhibited to the course, I was a natural fit, and as a result, I enthusiastically began the search for a like-minded partner.  Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2013 when I received a call out of the blue from Mark Stovall that Ari Techner & Patrick Boyd, partners in Scratch Golf, were interested in touring the course.  As always, I was pleased to show it to any interested parties, and soon after that visit, Ari & I embarked on a quest to launch Sweetens Cove.  We were able to get a signed lease in the spring of 2014, and the course officially opened in October 2014.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be an owner/operator of a golf course, but my intoxicating relationship with Sweetens Cove would not allow me to see it return to nature.  It’s an interesting wrinkle in the saga that Mark Stovall was the linchpin for the entire project in that he originally connected me to the project via King Oehmig and also introduced me to my future partner who would help me save it.

As of this writing, we have nearly two (2) years of operations under our belt, and the course continues to get better.  I feel like the conditions that our excellent superintendent, Brent Roberson, has been able to deliver have the architecture more on display than at any other point in the history of the course.  There are simply more options and more shots at the player’s disposal than ever, and it is a thrill to watch people enjoy and soak in the highly unique qualities that make the course so special.

Following are some of my thoughts behind the architecture of the course and the backstory of the construction of each hole (click on images to enlarge):

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 563 yards

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I think I struggled with the design of this hole more than any other.  I had a number of different ideas about the design for the green complex, before settling on the current version, which has a reverse redan tilt set inside a punchbowl.  The green itself is protected front and center by a deep and foreboding hazard, which was nicknamed the “Mitre Bunker” by Sweetens Cove GM, Patrick Boyd.  Like the rest of the course, the original hole was dead flat with a pond, which we were not allowed to touch, near the landing area on the right side.  To complicate matters, water from the mountain on the left side of the hole would pour onto the first fairway during rain events via culverts buried under Sweetens Cove Road.  After the left side was cleared of its excessive trees and underbrush, Gus, Tad, and I embarked on a plan to create a thrilling opening hole that would remain dry.  Given the existing site conditions, this was an extraordinarily difficult task.

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The 1st pre-construction

Nowhere was the moniker for the original course “Squishy Valley” more apt than on the first hole.  During the original rough shaping of the hole, long buried golf balls were bouncing off of the blade of the dozer.  In order to prevent water from draining onto the hole, the entire left side of the hole was built up, and water from the mountain and road are now captured prior to reaching the course. Additional drainage was installed throughout the fairway, and like all of the other holes, the fairway was capped with roughly 4-6” of sand.

Regarding the strategy, and overall look, I think that the first does a good job of introducing players to many of the themes that they will see during the round at Sweetens Cove.  The tee and approach shots both allow for multiple routes of play, and the heavily contoured green welcomes well played running and aerial shots.  Most importantly, Sweetens Cove never dictates to players exactly how to navigate the terrain.  Instead, golfers are left to choose their own path, with each respective route providing its own unique challenge and set of options.

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From the right fairway bunker

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Approaching the green from the left

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Short left of the green

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The mitre bunker with the green behind

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Left of the green

HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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In a pure construction sense, the second at Sweetens Cove is one of the most important holes on the course.  While the second hole at the original Sequatchie Valley was also a drainage nightmare, it offered an opportunity to simultaneously handle the water on a large swath of the property while creating much needed fill material for construction.  The original hole was a long, straightaway par four of approximately 440 yards.  When the first green was moved back toward the property line, the second tees shifted forward.  Even with this change, we were still left with a massive dead space in front of the tees.  In order to handle the drainage on the second hole and the second half of the first hole, we dug a large lake near the tee complex.  I was adamant that most players not be forced to carry the water on the tee shot.  As a result, I angled the lake away from the line of play from the blue tees forward and into the massive dead area behind the seventh green.  Fill from this lake was used for shaping and to gain much needed elevation on the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth holes.

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The 2nd pre-construction

On the tee, the primary goal is to miss the deep, centrally located pot bunker, which has been nicknamed “Tupac” by a Sweetens Cove regular.  If you’re in it, you’re dead.  The ideal line of play on most shots is from the small patch of ground adjacent to his bunker and the right-hand bunker, which is approximately thirty yards closer to the green.  From this angle, players will not be forced to deal directly with the very strong contour along the left side of the green.  As with all greens at Sweetens, there are many different potential pin locations.  Perhaps the easiest and most fun pin is in the bowl in the front of the green, a lobe of the green which came close to never existing.  When the green was originally shaped, it was about 25% smaller.  I couldn’t get comfortable with that iteration, and we kept pulling out the front portion of the green until that pin location was created.  I think that change took the green from good to great, and is an example of why it is so important to maintain artistic control on a project.  Had we settled on the earlier version, it would’ve been fine but nowhere near as good as what is there today.  The most difficult pin, by contrast, is the far left location.

As all of the greens at Sweetens are surrounded by tightly mown shortgrass, the bold contours along the front left and left side of the green can repel indifferent efforts on the approach.  This green complex is as good an example as any of how short grass can at once open up a Pandora’s Box of terrible outcomes while at the same time provide unlimited shotmaking options.  Short grass simply has a way of delivering a level of awe and fear that many ‘typical’ hazards can’t approach.  The multifaceted nature of tightly mown turf has always fascinated me, and the second green complex, which is defended only by contour and the speed of the surrounds, fully immerses players in the shotmaking possibilities at Sweetens Cove.

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From the regular tee

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Approach from the center of the fairway

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Short right of the green

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The view back from behind the green

HOLE #3 – Par 5 – 582 yards

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The third hole is the second par five on the layout and the first real taste of how we utilized dead space on the Sequatchie Valley layout by tying the golf holes together.  One of my favorite things about Sweetens Cove is how the holes relate to and complement one another.  Prior to construction, the majority of the 72 acre site was covered with a monochromatic carpet of bermudagrass.  Now, waste areas and large swaths of native plants add texture and complexity to the layout.  The waste area which borders the right side of the fairway serves as way to add strategic and visual interest, and negates the dead space that previously existed between the third and fifth holes.

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The 3rd pre-construction

During construction, the first half of the hole was raised slightly in order to ease drainage.  All water from the tee to the central bunker drains to the pond by the fifth and sixth holes, and the second half of the hole drains to the pond behind the green.  At the green, I really wanted to do something different with the strategy, and I chose to leave a lone Oak tree in the center of the approach.  This tree and the location of the pin on the massive green impact decision making on the tee.  If the pin is left, you have to come in from the left side of the fairway, and conversely, if it is on the right, it is wise to favor that side of the fairway on approach.  If the pin is behind the tree, it is generally easier to approach from the right side, but the tree and the shaping of the green complex present the golfer with a host of options: intentionally play to the left or right of the tree with the intent of using the contours to funnel the ball toward the hole or play over the tree.

The green itself is divided into sections by large rolls.  From the right side, the 10,000 square foot surface of the green has the appearance of a waterfall tumbling down a slope, and all pinable areas can be reached by playing away from the hole with the intent of laying the ball dead at the hole after it rolls out along the bold contours.  The third is the first truly wild green at Sweetens, and it serves in many ways as a primer for what lays ahead during one’s round.  Thematically, the third fits with the rest of the golf course in that it is a terrific match play hole where eagle and birdie are achievable, but the short grass, contours, and hazards can conspire to deliver a firm punishment for anyone out of position.

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From the tee

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The waste bunker that runs the length of the right side

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The greenside bunker left

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Short left of the green with the center tree

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The view back from the green

HOLE #4 (King) – Par 3 – 169 yards

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There is only one hole at Sweetens Cove that has a name on the scorecard.  The fourth was aptly dubbed “King” after King Oehmig, the man who referred me to the project, in addition to providing the design inspiration for the hole.

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The 4th pre-construction

When I first toured the site with King in July 2010, he remarked, “Rob, it would be so cool if you could find a place out here to build a Himalayas hole.”  As a fellow lover of classic, quirky architecture, I wholeheartedly agreed with his proclamation, and I set out to find the spot to make his vision a reality.  During one of my subsequent visits, I came upon the spot where the current fourth resides.  The fourth green was tucked into a small corner at the edge of the current fourth hole.  Adjacent to the miniature green was a large open area that could easily accommodate a first rate Himalayas hole.  During construction, we used dirt from the lake excavation to create the ridge that runs between the tee complex and the massive 20,000 square foot green.

The green itself is 87 yards deep, and the hole can play totally blind, partially blind, or 100% visible depending upon the tee and pin location.  It’s not uncommon to play the hole at 110 yards completely blind on one day and visible and 210 the next.  I think the unlimited combination of pin and tee locations, along with the heavily contoured, serpentine green, makes the hole a fascinating challenge from day to day.  In the sense of pure variety, fun, shotmaking options, and ability to change complexion from one round to the next, the fourth probably embodies the true spirit of Sweetens Cove more than any other on the course.  Along with being great fun to detail, the massive waste hazard, which was built into the ridge, provides a sense of visual and strategic continuity with much of the rest of the course.

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From the tee

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Short left of the green

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Off the right side of the green

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Left section of the massive green

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Back left of the green

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The view back to the green from 5 tee

HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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Drivable par fours are my favorite type of hole, and I knew that we had a great opportunity to do something special when we first laid out the concept for the fifth.  There was no interesting terrain to work off of, but we had all the width that we needed to create a highly unique, option-filled short par four.  I felt early on that the third, fourth, and fifth holes were the heart of Sweetens Cove.  I’ve always liked that they represent three different pars, and the natural ebb and flow of the routing adds emotional depth to the layout.  As you come off of the challenging fourth, which can play up to 210 yards, you are greeted with a drivable hole of only 283 yards.  Along with multiple eagles, I have scored everything up to a ten on the hole.  At its widest point, the fairway is 100 yards wide, and the boomerang green gives the hole loads of variety in possible pin placements.

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The 5th pre-construction

On the tee, the key feature to avoid is the ten foot deep greenside bunker that is partially bordered with railway sleepers.  I absolutely love what this hazard does to the player psychologically.  While not large in physical size, it is guaranteed to weigh heavily on the minds of all players on the tee.  The extremely penal nature of the hazard means that multiple shots to clear its depths are not uncommon.  Additionally, the bunker plays larger than it looks as some of the greenside and surrounding contours will help funnel balls toward the sand.  Finally, we paid extra attention in the finish to the contours around the bunker, which will allow the clever player who is stymied by the bunker to play away from the flag along the ground in an effort to lay the ball dead at the hole.  One of my favorite memories of my time at Sweetens Cove involved this exact scenario.  I watched a player that could not have had a handicap lower than 36 approach the green from about fifty yards away toward the pin tucked directly behind the bunker.  With his hybrid in hand, he topped a ball that looked as if it would be gobbled up by the bunker.  Instead, he caught the perfect contour and his ball rolled around the perimeter of the hazard and rolled to within a foot of the flag.  It was an extraordinary thrill to see the contours that we had labored over help produce such a miraculous shot!

One of our members at Sweetens Cove had a similarly heroic shot this summer when he aced the hole with a three wood.  Similar to the previous example, the pin was behind the pot bunker, and his shot, which carried long and right of the hazard, ran up on the strong back right ‘catcher’s mitt’ contour, took a hard left turn, and rolled fifty feet into the bottom of the cup.  These types of playing scenarios are what make the course so special, and it never ceases to give me great pleasure when I hear a new story about someone’s shotmaking.  Ultimately, the fact that success and failure reside in such close quarters is what makes the fifth a timelessly entertaining hole.

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From the tee over the waste area

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The waste area that separates #3 from #5

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The approach from the center of the fairway

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The Devil’s Asshole bunker

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Front left of the green

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The view back down the hole from the back of the green

HOLE #6 – Par 4 – 456 yards

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The natural ebb and flow of a good routing demands that there be a handful of highly challenging holes, and the sixth at Sweetens Cove fits that mold.  A long cape hole, which plays over 450 yards from the tips, this two shotter can wreck a good scorecard with one slight misstep.  I also love that the sixth is sandwiched on either side by short par fours.  The psychological pull of feeling as though one needs to hang on and get through the hole without falling prone to disaster can weigh on the player.  Those who are unsuccessful will find a sliver of hope with the knowledge that the possibility of redemption awaits later in the round.

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The 6th pre-construction

Overall, the design of the sixth is fairly simple in that it uses the strategy of the cape hole design template.  However, I wanted to do something different at the green.  Whereas many cape holes have a kidney shaped green that hugs the water, I wanted to have a large part of the green run away from the water.  In order to get the unique angle, shape, and contour right, we ended up wearing the dirt out here a little bit.  In the end, though, I am really pleased with the way the hole turned out.  The green has the far left, nearly impossible “Sunday” pin along with easier pins on the right and middle of the green.

The transitions and rolls throughout the green can at times complicate matters on the approach or provide the option to play away from certain locations while keeping the ball on the ground with the intent to use contour to get the ball near the hole.  This is particularly true on the lower shelf, which is bisected by a strong roll.  The clever player can use this feature to aim the ball away from the water while trying to get the ball close to the far left pins.  The roll also adds complexity to shots that approach middle pins.  Slightly pulled or short shots to the middle pins can be shed away by the same contour that may have helped you on previous rounds.  Again, we see an instance of elasticity in the greens, a core component of how a golf course can provide sustained interest round after round.  One of the more difficult pins on the green is, ironically, the one furthest from the water.  There is a small, upper shelf, which is most easily accessed through the air, one of the few shots at Sweetens that has that characteristic.  Overall, the hole requires precision and excellent ball striking to avoid bogey or worse.

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The intimidating tee shot

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The green contours as seen from the left side

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The rugged bunker behind the green

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The view back down the cape style fairway from behind the green

HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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Prior to construction, the seventh and eighth holes were by far the worst back to back par fours that I had ever seen.  The two holes were bisected by an open concrete ditch, and the playing corridor of the seventh was choked down in size by trees along the right side of the fairway.  On a golf course riddled with poor turf quality, the ground on the seventh, especially near the open ditch, was barren.  While each hole had its challenges, I am most proud of what our team accomplished on seven and eight.

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The 7th pre-construction

The two holes combined cover an area approximately 350 yards long by 150 yards wide.  Our primary challenge lay in how to drain every square inch of this acreage without importing any fill material.  This was accomplished by cutting into the ground and using the generated material for shaping.  All low areas were drained to the ditch, which was covered with concrete slabs to support the earth that was pushed over its top.  By taking this approach, we were able to rid the holes of the overly penal and immensely unattractive ditch while, at the same time, providing the necessary width to create the ground where endlessly varied playing scenarios could unfold.

While it is certainly not apparent upon first glance, the strategy of the hole is similar to that of the fourth at Pebble Beach, one of my favorite holes at the famous Links.  On both holes, wide fairways greet the player, but the ideal angle of attack is from the far right side.  At Sweetens Cove, this strategic dilemma is set up by the placement of the bunkers in relation to the angle of the tee shot and the direction of the central axis of the green.  At Pebble Beach, players need to challenge the cliff along the right side of the hole to gain the best angle to the tiny green.  Frightening bunkers flank both sides of the narrow putting surface, making any approach from the far left side of the fairway extremely difficult.  I have been fortunate to play the hole several times, and my only scoring catastrophe there occurred after a tee shot that ended up on the far left side of the fairway, which forced me to approach the green over the left greenside bunker and from an angle that is perpendicular to the central axis of the green.  From that position, the margin of error is finite, and absolute precision is required in order to achieve par, a dynamic that I absolutely love on a short par four.

Unlike the fourth at Pebble, the seventh green at Sweetens is bunkerless, and the extremely strong fall-off contours on the right and left side make approach from anywhere but the ideal sliver of fairway extremely difficult.  With the tightly mown shortgrass of the surrounds, it is not uncommon for scores to balloon around this green, which may be the most devilish on the course.  In fact, we have an inside joke at Sweetens that the seventh is the hardest 310 yard par five in America.  In spite of its difficulty, the shortgrass around the domed green is a far more interesting hazard than bunkering, in my opinion, because it provides the opportunity for a greater number of players to attempt and find success with difficult recovery shots.  It is essentially impossible for a 20+ handicap to have a chance to get up and down out of a difficult bunker, whereas even the worst players can keep the ball on the ground leaving open the possibility that their ball will wind up near the hole.

I should also mention that one of my favorite hazards on the course is the large bunker on the seventh, also known as “Dan’s Bunker,” which was named after the Coore & Crenshaw associate, Dan Proctor, who provided early assistance with bunker construction on the seventh, eighth, and ninth holes.  The intricately detailed hazard is a terrific example of the bunkers at Sweetens, which were intensely labored over during every stage of construction.

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View from the tee

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Short of the right fairway bunker

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Dan’s Bunker

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The approach from the left

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Left of the green

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The view back across the property from back left of the green

HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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Given that the seventh and eighth are parallel par fours of a similar length which occupy the same fairway, there was a danger that we could get repetitive in this part of the course.  This potentially negative outcome was on my mind as I thought through design for the eighth hole.  In contrast with the previous hole, the double plateau green at the eighth is massive, coming in at approximately 12,500 square feet.  With wildly different outcomes and shotmaking scenarios possible with each hole location, it is imperative that the player identify the proper angle of approach.  For nearly all hole locations, the far left or far right side of the fairway is best.

Central bunkering and a few scattered trees add drama on the tee shot. Even though the fairway is 150 yards wide, I find that this tee shot is one of the most unsettling on the course.  From the tee, the area to the right of the centerline bunker appears to be much narrower than it is in reality.  This visual deception creates indecision in my mind and a sense of unease on the tee.  Conversely, the far left side of the fairway can be tricky to reach because of the large oak that we left during construction.  Also, any balls that take the left-hand route off the tee risk winding up in one of the central bunkers if the tee shot is pushed.

Prior to construction, the fairway narrowed to approximately twenty yards wide between the ditch on the left and a large grove of pines on the right, a scenario that is hard to picture given the current realities on the ground.  Without the tree removal and the ability to cover the ditch, the hole would’ve been unrecoverable.  As it is now, it presents a wild variety of shotmaking options on approach and recovery, and the extreme width of the hole allows golfers of all skill levels to choose their own route to the pin.

The green, which is one of the largest on the course, is also one of the most severely contoured.  It is often, fairly, called a sideways Biarritz green.  While it was not my intention going into construction to design and build a green of this style, the end product is a result of our approach to the process.  I explained to Gus, our shaper, that I wanted a double plateau with a large, central roll fronting the green.  I trusted Gus’s immense talent and let him take a stab at putting something cool in the ground.  Given that it was only our second green to build, we were very early on in construction process.  What Gus shaped blew me away and solidified my belief that we were well on our way to delivering something exceptional at Sweetens Cove.  I think the evolution of this green perfectly encapsulates our approach to field work.  Had I shackled Gus and not believed in his innate abilities, the green wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is.  I think that designers need to grip the job firmly enough to have control but loosely enough to let uniquely artistic features unfold.  In the end, if the green hadn’t fit my eye, it would’ve been changed, but the point is that you have to have a certain level of trust to let things unfold naturally.  The key is in laying out a vision and trusting the people with whom you are working to help you deliver.  At Sweetens Cove, we didn’t have a lot of personnel, but the ones that we did have were immensely talented and capable of creating unique and memorable golf holes.

As a penultimate hole on a course designed for match play, I am very fond of the ability of the eighth to unveil both heroic and disastrous play.  With a very wide range of potential scores in play, golfers embroiled in a tight match will feel nervous with the lead and optimistic playing from behind, a psychological dynamic key to all great match play venues.

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The center approach to the wild double plateau green

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The approach from the right side

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The green as seen from the left plateau

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The view back from behind and above the green

HOLE #9 – Par 3 – 148 yards

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Like everywhere else on the course, there was nothing remarkable about the ground at the ninth hole prior to construction.  In fact, the old ninth green was bizarrely located underneath the tree that borders the left side of the current first.  The one natural feature that we did have to work with on the entire course was the hill leading from the clubhouse site to the valley floor.  By locating the tee behind the eighth and benching the green into the hillside beneath the clubhouse site, we had the bones of a thrilling finishing hole. All that was left to do was to shape a 10,000 square foot redan / short hybrid green and construct and detail a two acre waste hazard that would provide the necessary angle and visual drama for a highly unique par three finish.

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The 9th pre-construction

One of my favorite aspects of the course is that it ends on a one-shotter.  All of the match play drama that can build over the preceding holes can come down to a 130 yard short iron shot.  As I mentioned before, each hole at Sweetens Cove has a wide gap in potential outcomes and scores, and it could be argued that the ninth has the widest gap of all.  To date, the hole has seen an extraordinarily disproportionate number of holes in one, and the dreaded “other” is never too far away.  Fifteen aces have been registered since we opened two years ago, and none were more exciting than the ones that occurred during the Mack Cunningham Baylor Preview Golf Tournament in August.  We hosted thirty of the best female high school players from around the state, and the fireworks at the ninth on the final day of the tournament put the design of the home hole on full display.  Early on the second day of the tournament, two sophomores playing in the same group beat seventeen million to one odds to record back to back aces.  Not to be outdone, Ashley Gilliam carded a hole in one on her final swing of the day to give her team a one stroke victory in the tournament – a walk off ace!

During the planning stages and construction, we imagined that it would be possible for that type of drama to occur on our home hole, but what I witnessed that day was beyond my wildest imagination.  Unlike many one shot holes, this hole presents a variety of options on the tee shot.  You can play away from the far left flags by using the giant redan kick plate to bring the ball around to the hole, or the bold golfer can choose to fly directly at the flag.  When the pin is on the middle tier of the green, the hole plays much more like a traditional short. By marrying two of the most iconic par three designs into one on hole, I think we created one of the most unique, entertaining, and vexing one-shotters anywhere.

Another great aspect of the ninth is the elevated nature of the green, which allows golfers to see the entire complex with its highly visual bunkering from every hole on the property.  During construction, I realized that this visual reality is similar to the auditory trigger that one has when they are approaching a big rapid on a rafting trip.  Analogous to the sound of a roaring river, the dominating visual presence of the ninth is a constant companion for the golfer.  You know that drama and exacting shotmaking await you in the future and are fully aware that in order to complete your round successfully, you will eventually have to face that harrowing final shot.  The sense of anticipation for that moment adds to the drama of the final shot.

I think the hole is a perfect ending to one’s round at Sweetens. It presents a variety of options, and thematically, the ninth is another unique take on classically inspired golf architecture motifs.

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The view over the waste bunker from the tee

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From the runoff left of the green

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From behind and above the green back to the tee


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2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Home Course Hero – An Interview with Architect Mike DeVries

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

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

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


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

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

What do you admire the most about Crystal Downs?

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

CRYSTAL DOWNS 

 

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

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

Describe your process for a design project.

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

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

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

GREYWALLS (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MINES (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

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

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

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

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

CAPE WICKHAM (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

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

How did you land the job designing the Kingsley Club?

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

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

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

KINGSLEY CLUB (photos by Larry Lambrecht)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you like to play with hickories?

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

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

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

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

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

MikeDeVries-ArchitectsWeek

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

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

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

Thanks for having me on Geeked on Golf!


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

 


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Growing Grass – An Interview with Superintendent Brian Palmer

“I’ve had enough of winter already. Looking forward to growing grass again.”

This text message, sent to me by Shoreacres Superintendent Brian Palmer, sums up what I love and respect about Supers.  It is rare indeed to find a profession that consistently produces such passionate and dedicated individuals.  Brian epitomizes that professional commitment.

The season just ended, and Brian is already itching to get back to it, because he thinks his golf course can get better.  After recently having the privilege of playing Shoreacres, I find it hard to imagine what is left to improve.  The transformation during Brian’s tenure of Seth Raynor’s gem on the North Shore is astounding.  He has taken a charming old course and put it into the conversation for the best in Chicago, and the country.

I have been the beneficiary of Brian’s generosity in two ways:  First, he has been helping me with fall projects at Canal Shores.  And second, he agreed to let me pick his brain in an interview.  Enjoy the following insights into the man and his work, as well as a few photos of the beautiful green that he keeps.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

I was introduced to the game at a very young age, but didn’t start playing until I was 10 or 11.  My dad was a Superintendent and I used to love going to work with him.  The course always seems so big when you are 6 or 7.  My Grandfather shot his age until he was in early 80’s and he taught me how to play.

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

I’m not quite sure when, maybe towards the end of high school?  I do remember drawing more golf holes than note taking in my notebooks in high school.  Around that time I think I started asking my father about doing this for a career and what might be the necessary steps to start a successful career.

How did you get into the business?

Working for my father, then he sent me to work for a younger Superintendent in Central New York, where I’m from.

Where were you before Shoreacres, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I bounced around New York and Connecticut for internships and my first job out of college.  Then I went to work at Merion and was there for about seven years.

It’s a difficult business.  A golf course has many working parts and most of them are out of our control.  Over time I learned to: be a problem solver, do a lot with nothing, do whatever is necessary to get it done, to be able to go with the flow and be flexible, accept the fact that the course is rarely “perfect” in your eyes, and the importance of teamwork.  It’s also important to remember that it’s not your course.  You might spend the majority of your time looking after the course and treat it like it’s yours; but it’s the members’ course and not yours.

I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some of the best Superintendents from around the world, and when I was younger I thought that these guys must know everything.  Was I wrong.  It blew me away that they are constantly seeking new advice and input from everyone around them.  It’s important to continue your education day in and day out.

What are the keys to managing change for a Superintendent during a big project?

Managing large projects is fun – it’s important to be out there as much as possible and keep your head on a swivel.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

That every day is totally different.  It’s everything that you encounter that day; the sunrise, the sunset, the camaraderie with the staff, the quirks and intricacies of the property, the weather, the adversity and the beauty.

What are the top courses on your list to play next?

That’s a tough one.  I like heathland courses: Morfontaine, Walton Heath, Swinley Forest, and I need to play National.  I would like to see more Raynors too.

When you are not working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

My fiancé and I like to travel both domestically and internationally, find a good hike, a good beer and a good meal.  I spend a lot of time at the course and my world revolves around the course and the game.  So when I am not at the course I try to separate myself from it all.


MORE ON SHOREACRES

What do you know about the architectural history of Shoreacres?

The very beginning of the club’s history is a little blurry because the original clubhouse burned down in 1982 and we lost some of the historical documentation.  At some point Seth Raynor was commissioned to design and build the course.  The club was founded in 1916, construction started in ’18 or ’19, the course opened in ’21 and all 18 holes opened in ’22.  Very little was done to the course over time, meaning there was no rerouting or any drastic changes.

On most Golden Age courses surfaces shrink, trees grow, shots are lost, vistas are lost and aesthetics diminish.  At a certain point, it becomes necessary to bring it back to the way it used to be or go in a different direction.  It all depends on what the club is seeking.

(click on images to enlarge)

 

What were the key objectives of the project?

To restore the putting surfaces to their original sizes and restore the “infinity” edge that many Raynor and Macdonald greens possess.  We also wanted to get balls running into bunkers both off of the fairway and green.

Were there any surprises along the way?

No, not really.  Like most courses of this age, there was usually a lot of sand in the bunkers.  So we had to tweak the bottoms of the bunkers a little to get the water to drain because we have about 4-5 inches of sand in the bottom of the bunkers now.  My predecessor did a good job maintaining the integrity of the courses design.

How has the response been to the work thus far?

Everyone seems to be very pleased with the results, and there is definitely a significant increase in bunker shots per round.

 

What comes next?

There is always tweaking and we have a little tee work to be done.  There is never a shortage of work on a golf course.  There is a bunch of work to do in and around our ravines as we continue to introduce native plants, eradicate invasives and attempt to stabilize ravine areas.


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Transforming the Derrick – Jeff Mingay & George Waters

If you read my previous interview with Jeff Mingay, you know that he is a student of the game and its playing fields, and you also know that he is actively putting lessons learned to work in the field.  I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Jeff, and I continue to learn from him as he shares on Twitter.  Therefore, I made a point of following up with Jeff regarding his renovation of the Derrick Club.  He graciously agreed to give me even more time to discuss the project.

If that weren’t enough, we also managed to wrangle George Waters to participate in the discussion.  George pitched in on the shaping of the Derrick Club, and by all accounts, their collaboration was a smash hit with the membership.  Quick side note, if you do not own George’s book Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes the Game, I cannot recommend it enough.  George knows his stuff, and he is one of the genuine good guys in the game.

And now, on to the transformation of the Derrick Club…

The first hole, under construction.

The first hole, under construction.


PROJECT DISCUSSION

Have you worked on projects together before?

Jeff Mingay:  Yes, George has worked with me on restoration and renovation projects at the Victoria Golf Club, in British Columbia, and at Seattle’s Overlake Golf and Country Club in recent years. As well as the Derrick Club redo.

What do you respect about each other?

George Waters:  I respect a lot about Jeff and have learned a great deal working with him over the years.  I think his commitment to designing and building quality golf courses is second to none.  He puts a tremendous amount of his personal time and effort into a project and is heavily involved from the big picture planning to the very small details.  In addition to being an excellent architect he is also a very accomplished shaper and he crafted the majority of the green complexes at the Derrick Club himself.  There aren’t too many architects these days that are prepared to put that kind of personal effort into a project.  Jeff is also his own toughest critic, a quality I really admire.  In fact, I think one of my best contributions to the Derrick project was helping Jeff know when he had gotten the most out of a hole or feature.

JM:  George is very knowledgeable about golf and course architecture.  He traveled the world to see and play the best courses, and has worked with many of the most accomplished living architects on some very well-received projects.  He knows history and design theory, but most importantly the practical aspects of implementing design ideas on the ground successfully.  He’s very creative too, and meticulous in all aspects of his work.  I also respect and appreciate that George is not afraid to speak up when he thinks an idea I have could be better or he doesn’t completely agree with what I’m planning to do.  I know that candid input made my work at the Derrick much better.  In many cases, the best architecture is done collaboratively, especially when people are like-minded.  George and I are like-minded.

What got you excited about the project at The Derrick Club?

JM:  Immediately, it was obvious that a lot of work was required to fix the Derrick.  The old course had a lot of fundamental problems that needed correcting.  It didn’t function very well at all in terms of drainage and properly catering to the enjoyment of golfers of all abilities.  If the club desired to have the best course possible on that property, they needed a comprehensive rebuild of the course.  At the end of the day, that’s what happened.  And, in an era when not many new courses are being built, that opportunity to essentially build a brand new course at the Derrick was very exciting.

GW:  I loved the idea of doing a golf course in a very traditional style on a relatively flat piece of ground.  People often see flat ground as boring when it comes to golf, but many of my favorite courses overseas and in North America occupy very gentle terrain.  I was excited to demonstrate how interesting golf course design on gentle terrain could be.

In a project like this, how much weight do playability and functionality considerations carry respectively?

GW:  Before we started, the Derrick Club had serious playability issues – the course felt cramped and awkward.  It was difficult, but in many of the wrong ways.  By opening the course up and striving to make it interesting as well as challenging, we really broadened the course’s appeal.  Now players are challenged by angles and placement, rather than trees, ponds, and rough.

JM:  Those are the two factors that drove the entire project at the Derrick, and sold the idea of building a new course to a large majority of club members.  Again, the property needed to be comprehensively drained to improve its function, and many architectural improvements relative to making the course more enjoyable for golfers of all abilities was essential.  Without these two necessities pushing our ideas for the place, this project would not have happened.

Was enhancing the sustainability of the facility a goal of the project, and if so, was that goal met?

JM:  Relative to drainage, yes.  The old course was becoming unsustainable because it drained so poorly.  The grass on the greens was a problem as well.  Bent grass greens are essential in Edmonton’s climate.  Poa annua just doesn’t handle cold, snow and ice well at all.  In fact, before the new course was built, Darryl Maxwell, the Derrick’s golf course superintendent, had the largest bent grass nurseries I’ve seen anywhere in my travels.  He had to be prepared for each spring.  There were always large swaths of the old Poa annua greens that suffered winter kill and needed replacing.  The new bent grass greens have eliminated this annual rite of spring!  Darryl and I are also in the process of determining where we can eliminate some currently maintained turf areas throughout the course without negatively affecting play.  Replacing some of that maintained grass with fescue and native grass would not only enhance the look of the course in a natural fashion but hopefully cut down on maintenance requirements, too.

What changes did you make to the routing of the course?  Why were those changes necessary?

JM:  The routing of the course and sequence of play was changed dramatically.  I used 12 of the existing corridors of play in the new routing.  The other six corridors are new – they didn’t exist before – which was necessary.  One problem with the old course was that all of the par-4s measured 380 yards.  All four par-3s played 210 yards from the back markers.  There wasn’t enough variety in the length and directions the holes played.  On the new course, the short holes run the gamut, measuring 140 yards to 220 yards.  The fourth is a 300-yard par-4.  The 12th, 14th and 15th can play longer than 450 yards as par-4s.  There are only two par-5s.  The new routing created a lot more variety.  The new sequence of play makes more sense as well. Many of the transitions between holes on the old course were awkward. With only two exceptions, tees are right next to the greens on the new course.  In fact, George and I laughed when the new course was criticized by a few Derrick members who thought some of our tees were too close to the previous greens…we took that as a compliment!

GW:  As we started finishing areas it was very hard to imagine that the course had been routed the way it was.  The existing course felt tight and awkward from both a play and experiential standpoint.  The new course very quickly started to feel wide and comfortable.  People kept commenting on how big the property now seemed and they were right, there was a lot of wasted space prior to the renovation and Jeff did a great job taking full advantage of the site.

What was your approach to the bunkering? Were there specific sources of inspiration upon which you drew?

GW:  The first couple of bunkers I shaped were a little overdone – I was trying too hard.  The next pair I did were bold but very simple in their shapes, you saw a bit of sand but most of the visual appeal was in the grassed down face.  Jeff and I both liked the simpler shapes better, we went back and edited the first ones and then carried on with a more traditional style.  We wanted to focus on creating interesting and different bunker arrangements because we knew that was our best chance of making the holes memorable on flattish ground.  We also both believe very strongly in placing bunkers in a wide variety of locations, even if on paper a bunker seemed “out of play”.  Jeff and I have both spent a lot of time on classic courses and for the most part you find bunkers all over the place because traditional architects understood that golfers hit the ball everywhere and weather conditions change.  Placing bunkers in a wide range of locations makes the course interesting for golfers of all abilities in all conditions, and helps make the holes different and memorable.

JM:  In the planning stages, I knew I wanted to give the course a look that was distinctive to the Edmonton area, and the province of Alberta.  I also had some pretty good ideas about where I thought the bunkers should be located for strategic and aesthetic purposes, among others.  George and I were on-site a lot throughout the entire project, both shaping.  We lived together in Edmonton, too.  This gave us plenty of time for discussion that resulted in quite a bit of alteration to my original plans as the course developed.  There are only a couple classic courses from the pre-World War II era in western Canada.  George and I both grew up in the east, on classic courses, and felt that the best way to give the Derrick Club a distinctive course was to draw inspiration from what we know back home.  We talked about the bunkers at classic New York area courses by Donald Ross, Devereux Emmet, A.W. Tillinghast – places like Garden City and St. George’s on Long Island, near where George grew up.  George shaped all of the bunkers and did a great job giving them simple shapes for the most part, but bold character at the same time.  The bold grass down, flat bottom look nicely reflects some of Ross’s, Emmet’s and Tillinghast’s stuff nicely.

What was your approach to tree management?

JM:  In order to work a new and improved routing onto the property, and truly enhance the enjoyment of the course for all golfers, nearly 2,000 trees were removed during the project.  One of the best compliments I’ve received above the new course from a number of long-time members is that they never realized the property was so expansive and that the opportunities we took advantage of in routing the new course existed.  The old course was very cluttered and constricted.  Many of the trees that were removed were in poor health or were less desirable specimens that cluttered the property and hid the nicest trees out there.  The result of 2,000 trees going is that the property is much more attractive now.  The most impressive and healthiest trees shine, there are a bunch of beautiful long views across the course, and there’s adequate room to enjoy golf and keep healthy turf.  I’m in the process of creating a long-range tree management plan for the club now.  This will include some new plantings, and spell out how the course should look and feel relative to trees and other vegetation into the future.

How would you describe the new greens at The Derrick?

JM:  I’ve also been complimented by quite a few members of the Derrick for “not doing anything crazy with the greens”.  It’s a relatively subtle property, so I didn’t want the greens and the contouring of the putting surfaces to stand out in contrast to the native character of the ground.  At the beginning of the project, George and I talked a lot about greens.  He rightfully reminded me on several occasions that a lot of the classic courses we admired feature seemingly subtle greens with small intricacies that create interesting and adequately challenging putting and recovery play from around the greens.  This is the theme I kept in mind while shaping the greens.  The word around the club is that the new greens are quite challenging to putt mainly because the subtleties are difficult to read.  And I think they fit the terrain very nicely, aesthetically.  The variety of sizes and shapes and angles enhances the variety of the holes, too.  At the par-5 eleventh, for example, the green is only about 3,500 square feet.  The long par-4 15th hole has a green that’s about 10,000 square feet in size.  So, there’s quite a bit of variety.

DerrickClub4-FairwayAfter

The approach to the 4th, featuring the beautiful new bunkering.

Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

JM:  Selling the project was challenging.  The best superintendents are often their own worst enemies.  This is a compliment, because they’re so good at masking all of the deficiencies of a course that need to be fixed functionally.  By the time members tee off, there’s no sign of any deficiencies!  Darryl Maxwell did a great job of creating a list of deficiencies that the old course had, hole by hole.  This info was shared with the membership as part of the Master Plan, and through a series of Town Hall meetings, and presentations over a period of months.  Essentially, all of the architectural ideas in my plan were sold as directly related to eliminating and correcting deficiencies of the course.  This was the truth, and a great strategy that eventually sold the project to a large majority of the membership.  Again, it was the necessity of fixing functional and playability issues throughout the property that drove the project, and allowed us to also get creative with the design of a new course.  Once the project started, the club smartly limited member involvement.  They stuck to the belief that the membership voted “yes” on the plan that was presented, and that we should be able to implement our design without interference.  Darryl Maxwell was the project supervisor and we dealt with a construction committee made up of two Board members.  It was really well done on the club’s part.

GW:  The Derrick Club project might have been one of the easiest I’ve ever worked on from a membership relations standpoint.  On most projects I’ll get at least a few members who come out to let me know that we’re ruining the golf course and the whole thing will be a complete disaster.  That never happened once at the Derrick Club.  I think Jeff and the club did a great job of communicating the goals and the reasons for the project and I also think that even casual observers could see that we were making very real improvements to the course.  I think the sudden expansiveness of the property really resonated with people in a positive way.  Even if they weren’t always sure about what they saw architecturally, I think people could feel that the course was getting better.

How did the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

JM:  I think it will probably be a wash.  In other words, I don’t think the new course will be any more expensive to maintain than the old one.  But the focuses have changed.  For example, the necessities of pumping water from low areas and bunkers following heavy rains, and re-turfing Poa greens after a harsh winter, are gone.  The new grass faced bunkers proved to be a challenge during a hot, dry summer this year though.  They’re already looking at installing mist heads on some of the most troublesome bunkers, with southern exposure, to keep the turf on those bold grass faces healthy.  There’s more fairway area to mow, water, and treat on the new course, too; but with fewer trees, there are also fewer maintenance challenges relative to shade, roots, leaf pick up, etc.

What makes you proudest about the new Derrick?

GW:  I’m proud that we were able to very successfully apply the principles of classic architecture and really got the most out of the property.  I think we also did a great job of demonstrating restraint throughout the process.  We didn’t go overboard anywhere even though we certainly utilized some unusual design features.  The best examples of golf course architecture on gentle terrain typically work with the subtlety of the ground rather than fight against it.  We put a lot of effort into following that example and the result is a course that looks, feels, and plays like a classic course even though it is brand new.  I’m very proud of that.

JM:  The fact that we genuinely improved the function of the course, particularly relative to drainage.  During the planning stages, I would show up at the Derrick in the spring time and there would be pumps running every day, trying desperately to get water off the property following the snow melt.  This spring, the entire property, without an exception, was bone dry.  It’s effectively drained.  I’ve also received many compliments about how “fun” the new course is to play, from golfers of all abilities.  There are very few opportunities to lose a ball at the new Derrick, but no one’s complaining that it’s “too easy” either.  The course seems to be adequately challenging better golfers and at the same time it’s allowing everyone else to have fun too. And, with the new routing and sequence of play, members are getting around comfortably in three hours and 45 minutes, regularly.  These are all positives that we sold to the membership and delivered on.  I’m proud of that.


THE TRANSFORMATION IN PICTURES

As Jeff mentioned above, the routing and order of the holes changed significantly in the renovation.  A bold move that clearly paid off.  (click on any image to enlarge)

DERRICK MASTER PLAN_Artistic Plan copy

The par-3 2nd was previously the 3rd hole on the old course.

The par-4 12th was previously the short par-5 1st on the old course.

The par-4 13th was previously the 6th hole on the old course.

The par-3 16th did not exist before the renovation.

The finisher was previously the 9th on the old course.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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To Heath & Links with Drew Rogers

Drew Rogers is a generous man.  I have learned this first hand in my work on GeekedOnGolf and Canal Shores.  He shares his experience and expertise freely.  So it is no surprise that he was kind enough to bring us along on his recent trip to England by sharing his experiences in daily journal posts online.

Drew and I talked upon his return and he agreed to provide a recap of the tour with us here.  In case you missed his daily journal, links are provided at the bottom of this post.  You can also read more from Drew in his previous GeekedOnGolf interview.


I’m fresh off one of the greatest golf tours in my life – the To Heath & Links Tour of England.  For those who want to gain a general perspective of the experience, this recap will hopefully inspire.

THE TOUR

It’s not Scotland and it’s not Ireland, but there are some pieces of each with England’s own unique touches as well.  The golf experience was certainly diverse: two heathland courses (Sunningdale and Berkshire); followed by two links courses (Royal St. George’s and Royal Cinque Ports); then back to the heathlands (Walton Heath); on to links again (St. Enodoc, Royal North Devon, and Burnham & Berrow); and a strong heathlands finish (Swinley Forest, Woking, and St. George’s Hill).  That’s 185 golf holes in ten days.

HEATH OR LINKS?

Both are so uniquely good and yet so different.  England is blessed to feature the best of both.  My impression of the heathland courses begins with great beauty.  A contrast of maintained turf against the backdrop of pines, heather, and rhododendrons.  Colors and textures – a wonderful palate for an architect to work with to define strategies and demark margins of play.  The terrain is ideal.  Rolling contours (sometimes dramatic) and generally sandy, loamy soils that are ideal for golf.  Heather is rough stuff.  One can only hope to wedge out and move along.  Some courses have allowed the heather to encroach too far, in my opinion, negating the architect’s original design intentions, options, and strategies.  Golfers there seem way more tolerant of the impacts of heather than I would have imagined.  It wouldn’t go over well here, I can promise you!  Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler and Willie Park, Jr. dominated the heathland scene.

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

Links golf is a brand that I was certainly more familiar with, having traveled a number of times to Scotland and Ireland.  Links golf is the purest form of golf there is.  There is a storied history to its derivation. Without the linksland, we wouldn’t have golf at all, and I suppose that’s why it’s my favorite brand of golf to play.  I enjoy the firm, running surfaces, the odd contours and randomness.  Links golf invites quirkiness and deviation from norm, like the creativity that children employ in the games they make up.  There’s nothing quite like it – and if you don’t appreciate links golf, then you probably don’t quite understand what the game is all about.  To my surprise, I found that England (like Scotland and Irleand) is home to some of the finest links courses in the world.  Names like Colt and Fowler resurfaced on the links, along with Old Tom Morris and James Braid.

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

COLT & FOWLER

I won’t beat around the bush regarding Harry Colt – I think he may be the best there ever was, period.  He takes you on a journey, exposes you to so much variety, but all within the context of the varied terrain and setting.  His use of angles on a landscape is masterful, as is his understanding of depth, deception, scale and proportion with bunkering, hummocks, positioning of fairways and contouring complementary greens.  Maybe he picked up a few things from MacKenzie?  Certainly these qualities are more artistic classifications, but they are vitally important for an architect to possess, such as an ability to very simplistically employ them as the test of golf is created.  When it’s all done right, you know it – Harry Colt got it.

Harry Colt's Swinley Forest

Harry Colt’s Swinley Forest

And what of Herbert Fowler?  Maybe he wasn’t quite the artist that Colt was, but he was darned skilled at creating a proper test of golf.  His eccentric efforts at The Berkshire were exhilarating to see with such playful greens and an arrangement of holes unlike any other I’ve seen (six 3s, six 4s and six 5s).  Then at Royal North Devon he tweaked Old Tom Morris’ work employing a ‘less is more’ approach – solid, but also very simple.  Maybe his finest work, Walton Heath, is a testament to his artistic flare and ability to balance strategic features on an otherwise subtle landscape.

Herbert Fowler's Walton Heath

Herbert Fowler’s Walton Heath

GOLF IN ENGLAND

I hope I don’t go too far here, but I was really refreshed by what I saw on the courses during this trip (not that it was a great surprise, given all my other trips to the British Isles).  Golf is social.  Golf is NOT exclusive.  Golf is exercise.  And golf can be shared with one’s dog!  Dogs are everywhere and welcomed. The game is played differently in England than in the U.S.  They play quickly, and they play matches.  Four-balls are rarely allowed.  Two-balls and three-balls are normal and preferred.  Golfers don’t play for scores, and they don’t obsess about handicaps. They play for the brisk walk, the companionship, and for the gamesmanship of a friendly match.  If takes more than three hours, it’s probably not worth doing.  They also appreciate good architecture.  They realize that the game is a test of humility.  The English don’t have an air of golf entitlement – they just play.  Pinch me, England, I’m in love!

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

PAR IS PAR

If you think that an arrangement of 36-36-72 is the rule of thumb, then plan to be disappointed in England.  Par is whatever the architects happened to feel fit the ground the best.  In ten days, I played courses with pars of 68, 69, 70, 71 and 72.  One of the 72s had six each of 3s, 4s, and 5s.  The par 68 was Swinley Forest at just over 6200 yards, which included 8 par fours over 400 yards!  And Swinley may be one of the best I’ve ever seen.  My conclusion (and advice) is, don’t get tied up in knots over what you think par should be or that a course isn’t worthy because of a break from the norm.  I enjoyed each of the courses just the same – par was irrelevant.  Most of the time, I didn’t even realize the overall par until the round was nearing completion.  I suppose I was just having too much fun!

SHORT HOLES

Par-3s, and maybe a few par-4s, are the absolute soul of the game that I enjoyed for ten days.  As was the case with the matter of par itself, let’s again push through some preconceived notions about par-3s.  On one course, I played six of them.  On another course, the round started with one.  On another, the round ended with one.  A par-3 can be the second hole and on several courses, a par-3 was the tenth hole.  Much to my surprise, we never played consecutive 3s, but we already know that can work as well (Cypress Point, Oitavos Dunes, Newport National, etc.).

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

The short holes provide more than just links between longer holes.  They’re strategically “fitted” into the sequence where they can be inspirational to the experience and provide great variety to one’s round.  I saw some damn good one’s too – the 10th at The Berkshire, the 8th at St. George’s Hill, the 4th at Swinley Forest, the 6th and 16th at Royal St. George’s, the 17th at St. Enodoc – they’re all real beauties.

The short Par-4 4th at St. George's Hll

The short Par-4 4th at St. George’s Hll

From an architect’s perspective, I feel strongly about having at least one, dynamic, strategic and potentially reachable 4-par in a round.  I think that helps make the golf course and experience complete…and fun!  Such a hole should entice bold play and reward the best shots handsomely, but always with the chance of peril.  Maybe the best I saw was the 4th at St. George’s Hill – as enticing as I’ve seen.  Others include the 6th at Royal Cinque Ports, the 3rd at Walton Heath, the 11th at Swinley Forest, the 12th at Berkshire Red, and the 4th at St. Enodoc.

MISC. DESIGN ATTRIBUTES

We saw amazing green contours, especially at Royal Cinque Ports and Royal St. George’s, varied with boldness to repel or collect, dramatic segmentation and pocketing followed by subtle rippling.  With some, the credit perhaps goes to Nature.  While others were obviously touched by the masterful hand of man.

The beautiful 4th green at Royal St. George's

The beautiful 4th green at Royal St. George’s

Hazards on these courses are less inviting than what we were accustomed to.  Deep sod-walled pits, heather laced embankments, and even a few fortified ramparts.  The one thing about hazards – mainly bunkers – is that when they’re properly placed, they can make a standard hole into one of the most memorable, and devious, that you’ll ever play.  Take the 6th “Himalayas” at St. Enodoc, the 4th at Royal St. George’s (some refer to it too as “Himalayas’), and the 4th “Cape Bunker” at Royal North Devon.  And what about the sloped bank on the 10th at the Berkshire and the steep, shaved slope fronting the green on the 6th at Royal Cinque Ports?  The strategic placement of bunkers and features was also prevalent, like the 4th hole at Woking.  Colt’s subtle placements of hazards at Swinley Forest and Sunningdale as well as Fowler’s randomness at Walton Heath were also brilliant.

The 6th

The 6th “Himalayas at St. Enodoc

One thing that really pleased me and captured me at the same time was the use of angled fairways.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  It really is, but it is rarely done well.  All of the courses I saw in England had more than a few holes where the tee placement worked with an angled fairway to tempt a player.  What looks to be an enormously wide target, in fact, requires commitment and execution of a very precise tee shot.  All the architect requires is width – the space to use the terrain as he wishes.  But the result is a shot with options, and options lead to a more enjoyable golf experience.  Three cheers for angled fairways!

Angled fairway at Woking

Angled fairway at Woking

FINAL THOUGHTS

Of all the architecture I witnessed in England, what struck me most about the holes was the simplicity in which they were devised – simple positioning, simple development of greens, simple alignment of fairways and simple use/placement of innate features.  The courses were not complicated in their design.  In fact, they were far from complex.  They were very simply fitted on a proper landscape for the intended use and very strategically developed to provide the best golf experience.  That’s great architecture, and that’s why I had longed to make this trip.

I’m really blessed to have now witnessed some of the best architecture England has to offer, from the hands of Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr., James Braid, Tom Dunn, and Laidlaw Purves, among others – really great stuff!  I’m not going to rank the courses I saw, and I don’t have a scale bearing my name to push on anyone to help them assess their experiences – see them for yourself and make your own assessments.  If nothing else, I hope my journal inspires others to get out and see these great courses to appreciate what they’re all about.  We all have a commonality in that we love golf and we owe it to ourselves to examine how the game originated and how it has evolved.

My time in England was epic.  The brand of golf was refreshing and pure, the courses were raw and playful, beautiful and engaging.  Today, I’m home, inspired as ever to create even more enjoyable golf encounters with my clients.  Amazing trips like this one pave the way for even more creativity and a fresh outlook on the game.


To Heath & Links Tour Daily Journal:

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Upholding Golf’s Ideals – An Interview with Architect Jeff Mingay

“Difficult golf courses are simple to make. Narrow fairways bordered by rough, and corridors of play constricted by trees is all it takes. The problem is such courses inevitably become a chore to play. Sheer difficulty is not the measure of quality golf course design. In fact, as golf course architects, we’re not trying to design difficult courses at all. We’re trying to build interesting ones, which golfers want to return to, time and time again.”

JeffMingay-RodWhitmanOne could easily imagine the above quote coming from a Golden Era architect – MacKenzie, Macdonald or Ross.  Instead, it is Canadian golf course architect Jeff Mingay who not only used those words, but is applying them in the field day after day.

Thinker, traveler, student, writer, historian, enthusiast, commentator, and most of all builder – each of these descriptors apply to Jeff, which is why he is so interesting.  He is a must follow on Twitter (@jeff_mingay) for golf geeks, especially those who want to better understand the game’s fields of play.  Jeff was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule of work and travel to share his thoughts – many thanks to him.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

Rod Whitman.  After I pestered him for a bit, it was Rod who let me come to work for him, with very little experience, back in about 2000.  He was starting construction of Blackhawk Golf Club at the time.  Over a couple summers there, in Edmonton, I learned how to operate bulldozers, excavators and other equipment, thanks to the opportunity Rod gave me.  But, most important, I started to learn how to effectively implement design ideas, on the ground, at Blackhawk.  That’s where it all started for me.  I helped Rod finish that job then moved on to supervise the construction of Sagebrush, in British Columbia, for him.  From there it was on to Cabot Links, in Nova Scotia, with a few other smaller jobs mixed in over about a decade hanging around with Rod, and guys like Dave Axland, before I started moving on to my own projects, beginning in 2009 and ’10.

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

Well, Rod’s definitely been a big influence in many ways.  I have great respect for his understanding of golf, his creativity and abilities to put his ideas on the ground very effectively.  To this day, I’ll often think about what Rod’s opinion of what I’m designing or building might be … which I think is good thing.  It keeps me on my toes!  I’d have to say Donald Ross, too.  I was fortunate to grow-up playing and learning the game at Essex Golf and Country Club, in Windsor, Ontario.  Essex was designed by Mr. Ross during the late 1920s.  Just hanging around that great old course as much as I have over the years definitely shaped my views on what a golf course should be.  I’m really interested in building architecture, too.  Some of the thoughts, philosophies, and experiences of my favorite building architects are very applicable to golf architecture.  In certain ways, Frank Lloyd Wright’s been an influence.

Why is it important to study the history of golf and golf courses?

I think golf architects today are more fortunate than our predecessors because we have so much to look back on and learn from … a century of what’s already been done, what’s worked well and what hasn’t.  If you don’t understand this history, you’re not going to have a chance to be the best.  It’s really as simple as that in my mind.

Describe your process for a design project.

I prefer designing on-site rather than working from maps, and making a lot of drawings.  I find I’m more creative when I’m walking a property to figure out initial concepts, and when I’m shaping golf course features myself … the way I learned from Rod.  Obviously I’ll have the basic concepts set in mind when we start building, but most of the details are worked out during the shaping and construction process as things evolve in the field and new opportunities present themselves.  It’s inevitable that certain ideas I’ve thought about in Toronto aren’t going to translate exactly right onto a site in Edmonton or Victoria or Seattle, which is why I insist on being on-site a lot during all of my projects.  The day I’m not shaping anymore, I’ll need to re-question my ambitions.

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

The green.  After the routing, the design of the putting surface and its surrounds is the most important element in golf architecture.  The green means most to the playing interest of any hole.  When designed properly, the green dictates everything, including the strategy of a hole.  Really great greens make a course interesting and adequately challenging for better golfers, and at the same time allow for width, which is essential to the enjoyment of everyone else.  The Old Course, and the original designs of Augusta National and Pinehurst are great examples.  On those great courses, it’s really important to drive the ball into the correct spots relative to the day’s pin position, otherwise getting close to the hole becomes very difficult.  While it’s tough to get close to the hole, it’s not difficult to get on the green.  This is that ideal balance between presenting interest and an adequate challenge to better golfers and enjoyment for everyone else, simultaneously.  It’s got everything to do with the green.

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

That they’re going to be in the way of progress unless they come into the process of developing an improvement plan with an open-mind!  Really, the committee needs to decide on a golf architect with consensus and then let him do his work without interference.  This might sound biased to some, but there really are too many poor examples of golf courses designed by committee to suggest otherwise.  Don’t get me wrong, I want and appreciate input from committee members, they know the course.  But, if you don’t let the architect make the final call, things don’t end up being cohesive and the course in question has no chance to truly reach its full potential.

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

See above!  I’d have to say interference from committees and Boards.  Budget constraints, too.  I mean, economy in golf architecture is very important but it’s frustrating when important elements of an improvement plan are pulled just to keep a project under a specific number.  It’s a reality that presents challenges relative to delivering the highest standard.

JeffMingay-YorkDowns

Jeff at York Downs – Photo courtesy of Frank Mastroianni, Canadian Golf Magazine

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

I recently re-read parts of John Low’s 1903 book, Concerning Golf.  He was first guy to codify a set of architectural principles in that book.  One of his principles talks about how the great holes teeter on the Heretical Precipice.  I love that term.  Heresy is an opinion that’s profoundly at odds with what’s generally accepted.  So, in other words, Mr. Low’s saying that the best holes are those that are just about unacceptable, polarizing.  Polarizing holes and polarizing golf courses are usually the most interesting, so I feel that sweet spot when holes I’ve designed or restored create a love/hate thing from golfers.

You travel extensively to see and play courses – why is that important to you?

Studying design theory in the old architecture books is one thing.  It’s as important … well, more important, to visit the great courses of the world to get a sense of scale, locations, relationships between holes, relationships between the golf course and the clubhouse, etc.  Having a real sense of the look and feel of the best courses, and understanding how everything involved fits together in the best fashion, is very important.  You can’t get that sense from a book or photos.  I also enjoy talking with the golf course superintendents who take care of those places, to learn more about what they do, what challenges they may face with certain features or situations, etc.  At the end of the day, it’s the superintendent who makes the architect look good, without exception.

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

A few years ago, I would have said A.V. Macan’s Fircrest in Tacoma, Washington.  But I’m fortunate to be working on a restorative-based plan there, now.  Another Macan design at Shaughnessy, in Vancouver, would be fun to restore, too.  It was one of Mr. Macan’s last courses, and biggest projects, over a career spanning six decades. He did his first course at Royal Colwood, in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1913.  Remarkably, Shaughnessy was finished about 1960, four years before he died.  Mr. Macan was a very interesting, very thoughtful guy who put a wealth of knowledge into what he called “the course I want to be remembered by”, at Shaughnessy.  His notes on Shaughnessy are fascinating, and the thought he put into some of the micro elements of that design is very admirable.  Sadly, not much of his work is left there, today.  And, it’s unlikely the course will ever be restored.  Shaughnessy’s on leased land, and the story is that lease will not be renewed in the near future.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Definitely being involved with the shaping and construction work.  Staying on the equipment keeps me fresh, alert, and more creative I think.  I love being involved with the guys who are most important to the realization of my ideas.   It’s extremely satisfying to have a long day on-site, with all of the guys, then have few beers afterward, talking about what we’re trying to do, and what happened that day.  This type of comradery is very important to a successful result.  I never want to be, and never will be, the guy who flies in for a few hours in a nice golf shirt, tells everyone what to do then leaves for a few weeks.  That’s not why I came to do what I’m fortunate to do.  Again, the day I’m not intimately involved with the construction process is the day I’ll need to re-question my ambitions.

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

I’d like to use the word distinctive.  The only common characteristic shared by the world’s best courses is distinctiveness.  The uniqueness of the best courses is one of golf’s great attractions.  So, I try to do something genuinely different on every project that’s either inspired by inherent site characteristics, the design pedigree of an existing course, or a clients’ needs and desires … or a combination of these types of factors.

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

It sounds cliche, but probably the Old Course at St. Andrews.  The Old Course is wide enough, the greens there are big enough, the ground is usually firm enough, and there’s enough interesting contour and variance of wind on that site that the Old Course really plays like a different course, day to day, more often than any other in the world that I’m aware of.  This type of variety is ideal.  Too many other courses are relatively tight and have comparatively small greens, and are located in areas where there’s not much wind, so they more often play the same, rather than different, every day.  A course that’s many courses in one depending where the pins are located on any given day, and which direction and how fast the wind’s blowing is the ideal.

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

I can’t believe I haven’t played Oakmont yet.  I’ve admired that great old course from afar, forever.  I also need to get to Royal Melbourne.  That’s a huge missing link in my architectural education.  And, having been involved with Cabot Links, I’m really looking forward to getting back to Cape Breton some time this year to see and play Cabot Cliffs.  I’m a bit familiar with that site, and the course looks stunning in photos.  What else would you expect from Coore and Crenshaw and company though, right?

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

Hmmm … admittedly, I do need a few more hobbies!  I’m a big music fan.  I’m always listening to music, trying to find new music, and going to see shows when I’m at home, or when I run into the right bands during my travels.  Baseball, too.  In the summer, I love going to baseball games, especially at ballparks I haven’t seen.

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

We’ve just started restorative-based projects at two classic A.V. Macan designs in the Seattle area that I’ve been thinking about, and dreaming about putting back together for a long time.  I’m pretty excited about these projects, at Fircrest and Inglewood Golf Clubs.  We completed five holes at Fircrest back in November last year and will be starting at Inglewood in a few weeks.  These are really interesting, unique and trailblazing designs by Mr. Macan, dating back to the early 1920s, that not only set a standard for golf architecture in the Pacific Northwest but are still relevant today.  It’s humbling to have these opportunities to showcase what Mr. Macan did for golf and course architecture, particularly in the Northwest.  This type of work also helps with my continuing education in golf architecture, which is an added benefit.


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Soul Man – An Interview with Architect Drew Rogers

The call was supposed to just be a quick “hello” and “thank you” for some photos.  An hour later, I realized that I had found a kindred spirit in realm of golf geekdom.

Beyond sharing similar perspectives on the game, Drew and I are also fortunate to have spent significant time at the Old Elm Club – me as a caddie, and Drew as the architect who has recently worked to restore the course to the original design intent of Harry Colt.  In doing that restoration, along with David Zinkand and their crew, Drew has followed in the footsteps of Donald Ross, who built Old Elm.  The course was ideal to me as a kid, but somehow Drew has made it even better.

Whether it is his work on new courses like Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, or his loving restorations of the work of Colt, Ross, or Willie Park, Jr., Drew Rogers is a talented architect and a steward of the history and soul of the game.  Many thanks to him for taking the time to share his perspectives in this interview.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

Perseverance…. and a little luck!  As careers go, there was never any doubt in my mind, EVER, what I wanted to do.  So my path was pretty deliberate beginning as a teenager.  I’m from a small town in Southern Illinois, where we are fortunate to have a true country club and a damn good little golf course.  I worked there in many roles while growing up and played tons of competitive golf as well.  I studied Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky to build upon my appreciation of the natural beauty of a landscape and then combined that with my passion for the game.  Then I got a huge break through a friend and fellow UK grad to work with Arthur Hills.  The rest is history.

Who is your favorite Golden Age Era architect, and why?DrewRogers

Tough call there.  I have really enjoyed and been inspired by so much work from that era… to single out one seems impossible.  I’m a big fan of Harry Colt and am studying more of his work this year in England.  I have long appreciated work by Donald Ross and consulted on a fair number of his designs, but I also love the works of MacDonald and Raynor, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Jr.…. even Old Tom Morris and others.

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

I’ve always been one to seek out information, visit courses and meet people.  As a result I think I’m influenced by all of what I see and experience and also by the many fine folks I’ve encountered.  Not one, but many… colleagues, superintendents, clients and golfers and friends.  I guess I tend to have an “eyes wide open” approach to my work, with every project being definitively unique and with its own set of opportunities and goals.  My philosophies are founded on what I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had and continue to have.

Describe your process for a design project.

Since most of the work these days is with existing facilities, my first move is to learn as much about that property as I can… its history and evolution, how it works, its deficiencies, along with where things are at present and where they plan to go in the future.  Many of my clients already have some level of vintage architecture that seems worthy to retain or build from… but I also focus on how the course has evolved over time and what accommodations must be made moving forward for it to survive another 50 years. Today, we have golfers of all skills playing… on courses that were originally designed for a relative few – only the most avid players of the age.  Therefore, I work very closely with my clients; we make decisions together, assemble a team and then I’m very hands-on once the work is underway.

What is it like to renovate courses by Golden Age architects?

First of all, to work on these courses is a privilege, and it comes with great responsibility.  The responsibility is not just to honor the original architectural intent, but also to acknowledge 100 years or so of influence and evolution.  Golf courses must evolve and those Golden Age architects were all well aware that their courses would require some adaptation over time… what with the impacts of technology, irrigation, golf carts, turfgrasses, Mother Nature, golfers and certainly ever-changing player expectations.  Architecture from that era involves a lot more use of subtlety and was at the same time quite strategic – so being keenly aware of how and why they built what they did is very important.  My aim is to reinstate a course that will honor its past while also moving it into the future in a very practical sense.

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

Learn to trust the assembled expertise… whether it be the superintendent, the architect, irrigation consultant, agronomist, etc. – these people are the most knowledgeable about golf courses; it is their craft.  So trust them, learn from them and allow them to lead you.  Also learn and accept that you cannot satisfy or placate all of your fellow members.  You need tough skin to deal with member politics.  Just try to focus on the greater good and the continued health of the facility.

As for gaining some basic knowledge, one can attain the necessary elementary understanding of golf course essentials from classic books such as The Links by Robert Hunter, Golf Greens and Greenkeeping by Horace Hutchinson or Golf Architecture by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie, among a few others.  The roots of good design and greenkeeping, in a most basic format, can be found in these and other historical volumes.

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

The first thing you learn in working with existing private clubs is that you’re working for 300 self-proclaimed experts on everything!  The names change from project to project, but the personalities are always there and those egos and personal agendas can be challenging.  I don’t expect to win every battle – there must be some compromise, but I’m always trying to keep them on point with respect to their original goals and keep them from cutting corners.  As long as we agree on “what it should be” we’ll tend to find solutions that accomplish our objectives.

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

A lot of that has to do with client satisfaction.  I could be selfish and say I wanted this or that… but at the end of the day, the course is not mine, it’s theirs.  I want members to be proud of their course and understand the value of what we did.  You can’t make everyone completely happy – that is nearly impossible. But when the project is complete and you hear players debating over which hole is their favorite, the most improved, or that they were pleasantly surprised at what they see now versus what was there before… that is a pretty good indicator that we were successful.  Some measure success through ratings and rankings – or even tournaments… Over time, this all seems increasingly less relevant to me and with those whom I work. 

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

Surprisingly, I would most like to go back to some of my earlier efforts and make some adjustments.  When you build a new course, you don’t get EVERYTHING right the first time and there are a number of courses where I would really like to make some refinements, adjust some green surfaces, some bunkering, etc.…. Newport National in Rhode Island is one… another is Olde Stone in Kentucky.  The one I most wish I could retouch is Oitavos Dunes in Portugal.  It’s somehow ranked #68 in the world by Golf Magazine, but I think its potential is much greater (given it’s seaside, links-like characteristics) – or at least requires more work to be so deserving.  Donald Ross had the opportunity to tinker with Pinehurst #2 in this manner… and I just think it would be great to go back and build on something that is already really good and make it even better.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Certainly, I have been fortunate to travel the world, visit amazing places and meet so many dynamic people.  But more than anything, I gain the greatest satisfaction from the enjoyment of those who see and play my work.  I like to see them have fun and be challenged and I want them to appreciate beauty and subtlety.  And… it is always satisfying to truly improve something that was struggling or was in need of attention – then make it into something very special.  I guess, ultimately, it’s about people and their enjoyment of this fine game.  If I can have a hand in that, what could be better?OldElm9

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

Just one?!!  You know, this might be surprising to some… but I could play Bandon Preserve every day for the rest or my life and be totally contented.  It’s a 13-hole par-three course at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon… and probably the most beautiful and dynamic group of short holes I’ve ever seen (built by one of my good friends, Dave Zinkand).  Pure fun… maybe the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf.

If it has to be an 18-hole course… I guess I could narrow it to two: National Golf Links of America on Long Island and North Berwick in Scotland.  I love fast and firm links conditions, great natural beauty, tradition and… and the quirky design elements.  Those are two of the best I’ve seen and richly enjoyed playing.  The Old Course at St. Andrews lurks closely to those, as does Old Elm and Shoreacres in Chicago.  Then again, I wouldn’t be too disappointed to play every day again at my home course in Robinson, Illinois… Quail Creek. 

What are the top 3 new courses on your list to play next?

As far as NEW courses, I really want to get down to see the two courses at Streamsong in Florida.  While not really a new course anymore, I still need to go and see Sandhills in Nebraska.  I’m heading to England later this year and am looking forward to Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and a few others around Surrey and the southern coast.  Mountain Lake, Raynor’s course in Florida, and Sleepy Hollow are also among those I yearn to see.  My bucket list is pretty deep, frankly!

What is your take on the pro game, and what impact is it having on golf architecture?

I’m completely bored with professional golf.  I honestly don’t enjoy watching it.  I’m rarely impressed by the personalities and all the hoopla that surrounds them.  And really, it’s frustrating to see them play most of the golf courses they’re set up to play – they seem quite sterile.  The courses don’t tend to require much shot making – and they don’t challenge a player’s intellect as well as they should.  The PGA and USGA control much of that.  There are occasional exceptions, but tournaments these days are more like four-day putting contests.  I’ve often wondered what would be the result if they didn’t play so many long, narrow layouts and instead played much shorter, risk-reward courses where, through design, power is actually less of an advantage… instead, lots of options to consider.  Just look at the effect the 10th hole at Riviera has on those guys!

I’m also frustrated with the influence that the pro game (and television/commentary) has on the weekend or member player. I’m talking about course conditions, speed of play issues, green speeds and perfect lies in bunkers.  There is a perception perhaps exhibited by the pro golfer first (whether true or not), that everything in golf must be fair and perfect.  That makes for rather dull golf, in my opinion.  We experience the effects when those “viewers” come to the golf course.  It’s pretty eye opening to witness.

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

Actually doing or would like to be doing?!!  It seems I play less and less golf these days… and there’s less time for hobbies as well – I love to fish, but rare is that occasion too.  I guess that’s just where I am in life… my age, responsibilities, etc.  However, I am blessed with an incredibly supportive wife and three wonderful children.  So when I’m not on the road or working, I’m with them.  My son is into playing hockey and golf and is an active Boy Scout.  My girls love ice-skating and baton twirling.  The youngest might be getting an itch to play golf…we’ll see.  I’m trying not to push too hard!

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

I’m really very fortunate to be busy these days and am involved with a number of really great projects.  Just a few of them: now finishing a major restoration of Old Elm Club in Chicago… just an amazing place – designed by Harry Colt and built by Donald Ross – one of a kind.  Also working on some Golden Age Era renovations, including A Donald Ross design in Kenosha, WI, two Willie Park, Jr. courses, in Sylvania, OH and West Bloomfield, MI.  Also busy in Florida, working at Royal Poinciana Golf Club and Quail West in Naples, among others.

I’m also ever hopeful to do more 18-hole new courses.  The climate of golf development has changed so much over the last ten years and opportunities are really scarce – not what they used to be.  I just hope to keep doing good work and will earn the chance to partner with someone who appreciates my talents enough to bring me into a new-build situation.  I would really enjoy employing that level of creativity on a project again.  The way I figure, they can’t keep giving those jobs to the same group of architects forever!

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Golf Shots – An Interview with Photographer Evan Schiller

PebbleBeach18P26A quick look at my Twitter or Instagram feeds reveals that I love looking at pictures of golf courses.  Sadly, I am quite terrible at taking good pictures of the beautiful courses I get to play.  That is why I am so grateful for talented people like Evan Schiller.

In addition to being one of my favorite photographers, Evan is also a gracious and generous man.  After patiently responding to my ongoing inquiries about his work, he wisely suggested that we conduct a virtual interview.  Shared here with some of his photos are insights about the practice of his craft.  Hope you enjoy.

(Although it is selling quickly, there are a few copies of Evan’s 2015 Golf Shots Calendar available here, along with his other work.)

CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO OPEN THE GALLERY

How did you get into the profession?

To make a somewhat long story short…my parents gave me what is an equivalent these days to a point and shoot when I was about 8…I just started taking photos of everything, especially on our vacations…..about 17 years laters, I was playing the 9th hole of The Stadium Course at PGA WEST in 1986 and as we walked down the fairway in the early morning the scene was breathtaking.  My friend and I had just played in the California Open in August in the Palm Spring area..yes, a bit hot.  I wished I had a camera with me to capture it.  No cell phones in those days.  Upon returning home I purchased a camera and started taking it with me on trips.  I would give the photos to friends and hang them on my wall.  Several years later while working as an assistant professional at Westchester Country Club a friend of mine said I should put some of the photos in the pro shop and sell them.  Well,…..I did and here we are.  One thing lead to another and I was off and running.

Describe your process for capturing the perfect shot.

This is a bit long, but I think it speaks to what you are asking. Where I shoot depends on which holes are most photogenic, of course.  However, I usually try to scout the course beforehand to look beyond that.  I want to see nuances and anticipate light patterns on specific holes so that I know where to stand for the critical moment when the sun rises and sets. I’ve captured beautiful shots without scouting the course, but it’s not ideal.  Why?  Because of the light.  It takes some time to understand the timing and angle of the sun’s rays on each fairway and green.  Taking the time to consider this can make the difference between capturing a good shot and a great one.

Let’s take Pebble Beach for instance. I know from experience that I must capture #8 and #18 as soon as the sun comes over the mountains or the sun will be too high and the light less than optimal.  I might position myself behind the 8th green in a cherry picker well before sunrise so I’m ready for the opportunity at first light. Not to say I won’t get a good shot after sunrise, but the hole won’t show me its best.

From my scouting preparation, I know that from the 8th hole I can head to the 6th and 7th because it takes longer for the sun to appropriately light those holes.  If I’ve done my prep well, I’ll have noticed that the light on #9 and #10 is likely better in the late afternoon and that the 7th hole faces almost due south so it photographs well in morning and afternoon light, although I prefer the evening!

Once I’ve identified the holes and times I want to shoot, I turn my attention to composing the shot, keeping in mind that it might be viewed on a computer screen, in a magazine, a book or as a framed print.  I always intend to create a shot where everything flows and is of interest, while keeping in mind balance and eye appeal.  So while it’s not a rule, I generally don’t photograph from the middle of a fairway. Unless there’s something interesting at play like a fairway bunker or shadow, it’s not the most intriguing shot.

So preparing to photograph a course is more than a logistical run-through.  It’s an opportunity to see beyond just looking.  It’s seeing with my imagination to anticipate the flow of light and capture its shimmer within finite time frames.

This may be where the art of photography lies.

What is your most memorable moment while working on a shoot?  

Wow, that’s a tough one!!  See below when I write about shooting the 7th at Pebble Beach.  A couple other times were when I was first asked to go photograph The Masters for Golf Digest and The Masters Journal and, the week before asked to shoot the course for Golf Magazine.  Now that I think of it, in 2001 I was asked by a notable publisher if I wanted to be the photographer of a book entitled “Golf Courses of Hawaii”.  Not knowing at the moment what was required of course I said yes.  Well, I soon found out that it would require me to go to Hawaii for about 8 – 10 weeks to photograph 40 golf courses….At the time I thought I was in heaven but still alive!!  I ended up making two trips to Hawaii and spending a total of about 9 weeks there shooting….tough duty.

What are the Top 3 courses you want to shoot?

Another good one. I’m assuming this means courses I have not photographed before?  Off the top of my head Cabot Links, Barndougle Dunes in Tasmania looks amazing, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand and if I could add one more it would be Sand Hills in Nebraska.

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot and captured a special picture?  

It’s usually the convergence of a series of events.  A great hole / shot / beauty….great light and cloud formations.  And, I just know it.  Things are different now with digital cameras and backs.  Ten years ago when I was shooting film you didn’t know what you had until you got the film back.  Now you know instantaneously when you look at the image in the back of the camera.  For instance, the attached, which by the way was shot with film.  It’s a photo of the 7th at Pebble Beach.  I had arrived about two hours before sunset and sat around waiting on an overcast day….hoping for the marine layer to break.  I never know when that special moment will occur, I can try and anticipate it based on past experiences and be ready if and when it does.  So, I waited almost two hours for this shot and just before the sunset there was a break in the clouds by the horizon and the sun came out for less than two minutes and I was able to capture a few shots.  I could even say this was one of the more memorable shots because of the place and the fact this has been one of my most popular images ever.  It also appeared on the cover of the 2010 US Open Magazine which was play at Pebble Beach.

Pebble-Beach-Golf-Links_7th-Hole---

What do you love about practicing your craft?  

Many things…first of all, I have the opportunity to travel to some amazing places and courses and not only photograph them, but sometimes play them.  I meet so many wonderful people along the way as well.  I love to share my images and experiences of shooting because often times I am out on a golf course when other people are not.  Usually very early or late.  I also love the adventure (scouting courses, shooting from lifts and helicopters and recently with drones and being out early in the morning when the sunrises…. and the creativity of it all, looking and seeing what’s the best angle for shooting the hole…I never know what’s going to happen or what I’ll find along the way and I like that…I like being surprised.

Who is your favorite golf course architect, and why?  

Tough to choose one there, so many architects are doing such great work, many of whom we are only now getting to know.

What are your favorite courses to play?

This is probably the easiest question.  Royal County Down, Fishers Island, Punta Espada and Pacific Dunes.

When you’re not taking pictures, what are you doing? 

My wife and I have also made numerous trips to Africa and have become fundraisers for the conservation of Big Cats.  We’ve done several fundraisers over the past few years for Panthera (http://www.panthera.org/) and The Big Cats Initiative. (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats-initiative/)  We love Africa and I’ve taken thousands of photos during our trips.

I’m also a golf professional and coach with Extraordinary Golf. (http://www.extraordinarygolf.com/) and, love to hang out and photograph our three cats.

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf