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HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT – CROOKED STICK

The fifth edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series asserts that Crooked Stick is among the three most important courses in the history of golf architecture in America

Golf course architecture in America has been marked by several eras, each with a short list of courses that epitomize the craft in their time. Early in the 20th century, Charles Blair Macdonald’s quest to create the ideal golf course, based on principles gathered from in-depth study of the courses of the British Isles, resulted in National Golf Links of America. Macdonald’s method set a new standard for design that would drive the Golden Age up until the Great Depression. In the early 1990s, a beloved professional and a largely unknown architect partnered to build a throwback masterpiece in the middle of Nebraska. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Sand Hills Golf Club would be the spark that ignited the modern renaissance of course design that we are still enjoying today. These two courses, among others from their respective eras, are rightly held in esteem for their merit and importance. But what of the intervening period? Was there no course built between 1945 and 1990 that belongs in the same discussion? Indeed there is, and it is called Crooked Stick.

The period during which the Dyes cemented their legacy has been retrospectively dubbed the “Dark Ages” by some. This blanket condemnation is misplaced and fails to recognize the context in which architecture was practiced. Coming out of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans were feeling heroic and unbeatable. Architects, led by Robert Trent Jones, wielded technological power to create courses where growing numbers of players could demonstrate further heroism. There was an unfortunate sense of “out with the old, in with the new” that was an understandable reaction to emergence from such a dark period in world history. Pete and Alice Dye stood apart during the Heroic Age in their desire to blend the old with the new, and Crooked Stick was where they pounded their historically significant stake into the ground.

The Course (and Careers) that Might Not Have Been

Before diving into the aspects of Crooked Stick’s importance, a little context is appropriate. The success of the Dye’s development project was far from assured during its infancy, much like their budding careers as designers. Pete and Alice were accomplished players and had several courses under their belts, but to call them prominent architects nationally would have been a major overstatement when they set out to build the country’s premier modern golf club in the mid-1960s. They didn’t have the land, the money or the gravitas that would have made realizing the dream a safe bet. They did have support from a few key players in Indianapolis and Alice’s family, but it was not offered without a bit of trepidation. “The O’Neals were likely not entirely enthused about Pete and Alice’s career choice,” confirms club historian Chris Wirthwein, whose book Crooked Stick Golf Club: A Story of the Original Masterpiece from America’s First Couple of Golf chronicles the club’s history. Even Bill Diddell, founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and early mentor to the Dyes, attempted to steer them in a less risky direction.

Pausing to reflect on this moment in time illuminates the first aspect of Crooked Stick’s historical significance. Pete and Alice, standing at a crossroads, could have chosen to abandon their dream, returning to comfortable lives of amateur golf, the insurance business and raising a family. Nobody would have judged them, and Alice’s family might even have celebrated. Instead, they courageously pressed on, and an arduous decade later, their vision and persistence was rewarded.

Had they given up, it is hard to imagine where course architecture would be today. Not only would there have been no counterbalance to the influence of the Jones and Fazio families, but the Dye Family design tree would never have existed. Might we have never heard from some of their progeny?

To name a few…Dave Axland, Chris Cochran, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, Brian Curley, Bob Cupp, Tom Doak, P.B. Dye, Perry Dye, Roy Dye, John Fought, Chris Gray, Gil Hanse, John Harbottle, David Heatwole, Bruce Hepner, Rick Jacobson, Stephen Kay, Tim Liddy, Jim Lipe, Jason McCoy, Tom Meade, Scott Miller, Chris Monti, William Newcomb, Jack Nicklaus, Jack Nicklaus II, Greg Norman, Tom Pearson, David Pfaff, Scott Pool, Dan Proctor, John Robinson, Lee Schmidt, Scot Sherman, Bobby Weed, Rod Whitman…in addition to the next generation of talented designers and shapers now coming into their own.

One thing is certain—the architectural landscape would have been far less interesting had the Dyes chosen a different path.

Where the Old Met the New

Pete and Alice brought to the table a design perspective based on their exposure to great Golden Age courses such as Camargo, Culver Academies, Pinehurst #2, Scioto, Seminole, the University of Michigan Course and many more. In the spirit of C.B. Macdonald’s study trips abroad, the pair made a point of visiting 30+ courses in Scotland while there to compete in the 1963 British Amateur. They took in the links and took photos to create a database of ideas for later use. Like National Golf Links, Crooked Stick was built upon the principles that gave those courses their timelessness, but with a fresh twist. Modern architects like Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Dave Zinkand and others followed Macdonald and the Dyes’ footsteps, honoring the maxim, “To be a great architect, see great courses.”

As a bridge between eras, Crooked Stick now belongs on the priority list for study, which is exactly what Chris Wirthwein has done. His extensive research, which included numerous conversations with the Dyes, provides a deep dive into the design process. Walking the fairways with Wirthwein is like being taken on a tour of a museum with its curator. Sources of Pete and Alice’s inspiration are built into every hole, each with its own evolutionary story. Beginning at the tee, Crooked Stick is a throwback. Dye embraced angles and hidden landing areas to make players uncomfortable on the tee. The holes are decidedly not “right there in front of you.” Some landing areas have speed slots to discover, offset by uphill slopes that kill drives. Dye further channeled the Golden Age by laying out several of his par-4s as switchbacks. If a left-to-right ball flight is optimal from the tee, right-to-left is recommended on approach, and vice versa. The greens and surrounds are an homage to the couple’s favorite courses and architects. Players will find six MacKenzie (3,6,10,13,14,15), four Ross (1,2,8,9), three Raynor (5,7,18), one Dunn (4), and three Dye original (11,16,17) styled greens. From methods to strategies to features, Crooked Stick is a significant link from the past to the present.

Revisionist History

Pete Dye was not afraid to tinker, even if that meant having to revise features and entire holes. Crooked Stick is historically important because it provides a window into the evolving mind of a master. Rare indeed are those courses where the architect had a chance to come back year after year to experiment, test and fine tune their ideas in the ground.

The tinkering began with construction and shaping. During construction, the club was not flush with cash and so the Dyes had to be creative in conjuring a course from the flat farmland they had acquired. Large lakes and “Dye-pressions” were dug to provide fill to build up fairways and green sites in other areas. They used bulldozers, farm equipment and any other available machinery for earth moving. For the finer shaping, Pete invented a method to achieve the look he wanted. “So somehow I figured out to take an old farm disk—and a farm disk is rigid—and crack the frame so that it would float over the ground,” Dye explained to Wirthwein. “Then I’d take the loader, dump some dirt, and get on the tractor and just pray to God when I go over those hills that something good would happen. Well that disk would ride on the surface and you’d end up with all these different undulations you couldn’t get with a bulldozer.” This spirit of invention extended to the detailing, and even the agronomy, giving the course an old-world feel.

Architects will often say that they wish they could go back and make edits after seeing their courses years later. At Crooked Stick, Pete took advantage of the trust bestowed upon him by the membership by acting on that impulse. Driven by a steady stream of high profile championships, large-scale renovations took place in 1978, 1985, 1986, 1989, 2001 and 2009, with plenty of tweaking in between. Each iteration got a bit better than the last while keeping members, guests and competitors on their toes. Has all of this revision resulted in perfection? Surely, Pete and Alice would say no. The result has been to leave a fascinating design record born of the Dyes using the course as a living laboratory.

The Course

Players today find a Crooked Stick that is at once beautiful, vexing and fun. The spirit of the place can perhaps best be summed up by an excerpt from a Board of Directors resolution honoring Pete Dye’s work:

“WHEREAS, there were fields without fairway; there were water holes without land; there were holes with streams so fiendishly criss-crossed that a ball missing the first criss would surely catch the second cross, or (if exceptionally well struck) the third criss; there were some great sand traps like the Gobi Desert and many small ones scattered about like buckshot; there were some greens so large as to require putting with a full backswing; others so small so as to leave no room for the hole; one green requiring a wedge shot over a trap at its mid-point; some greens so contoured as to roll in two directions at once, and still others so buried in the woods as to be invisible from any direction…NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED…that words are inadequate to describe our gratitude to our founder, PETE DYE, who has done so much to so few with so little provocation.”

For lovers of variety and fun challenges, Crooked Stick provides an endless supply. The course winds its way around the created countryside, changing directions regularly and giving a different look on every hole, while maintaining unified themes central to strategic golf. Every hole has an aggressive play and a safer option. The nature of the player’s adventure is theirs for the choosing.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

The front nine begins with a straightforward (by Pete Dye standards) par-4 to a small, tricky green. An initial dose of thrill comes at the 2nd as it turns left around an imposing set of bunkers. The 3rd is a tough three-par that requires a confident tee ball to a canted and contoured putting surface. At the par-4 4th, players are confronted with an unsettling tee shot, followed by an approach to a large green that plays much smaller to certain pin positions. The opening stretch is capped off by the first par-5, punctuated by a bold green that would make Seth Raynor proud.

Water is a theme for the next set of holes, beginning with the often photographed par-3 6th. The large specimen tree back-right is sadly gone, but the hole is no less gorgeous and treacherous. The drive on the par-4 7th is blind, followed by an approach reveal into another Raynor-inspired green complex. The 8th is Dye’s cape hole, wrapping around a lake left to a peninsula putting surface with very little margin for approach error. To complete the outward half, the par-5 9th makes players think position, with a creek cutting across and and the green set back among the trees.

The inward nine starts with a tough three hole stretch. The 10th heads out, the lake running along the right, to a deep, false-fronted green. The par-5 11th plays up over a rise and then down to a fairway that winds left around the Dye’s rendition of the church pews. The two-shot 12th begins with the most disorienting tee shot on the course to a canted fairway with a deep valley right. The green, inspired by the 5th at Maxinkuckee CC, might be the best of the bunch.

The next set of holes begins with a serpentine creek and ends with a boomerang. The par-3 13th is a unique little one-shotter over the water to a green partially obscured by a hillside. The dogleg left 14th asks players to take on the creek again off the tee. The bold are rewarded with a shorter approach into the difficult putting surface. The par-5 15th plays up over a rise and then to a beautifully set green inspired by MacKenzie and Maxwell’s work at UofM and Crystal Downs.

From both everyday and championship perspectives, the closing holes at Crooked Stick are grand. The 16th comes back over the fairway hump and then down into a modified biarritz green with water right. The 17th is a stout three par that demands a well judged and executed tee ball from an elevated box exposed to the wind. Various forms of disaster await misses on either side, or long. The home hole angles right around the lake to a big green with an amphitheater setting in the shadow of the clubhouse. Holing out, it’s not hard to imagine the crowd roar cascading down the hillsides. A special finish to a special course.

Pete and Alice Dye had a vision for a pure golf club, a place where kindred spirits could come together to share in camaraderie and the joy of the game. In turning their dream into a reality at Crooked Stick, they not only achieved their goals for the club, but they created a course that sits among the most historically important to golf architecture in America. As a bridge between eras, a jumping off point for so many careers in design, and a window into a hall of fame designer’s mind, Crooked Stick is worthy of its place among the all-time greats.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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STEAM SHOVEL SCULPTING AT MAXINKUCKEE

The fourth edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q Series speculates on the influence of Langford & Moreau’s work at Maxinkuckee Country Club on the Dyes

In order to truly understand and appreciate the work of an architect, it is necessary to look at their sources of inspiration. After all, there are very few (if any) completely original ideas in art or science. Contemporary practitioners are always building upon or reacting to their forebears, and their work is therefore linked to the past.

Pete Dye brought to his craft several different influences which were touched on in the second edition of this series which looked at French Lick. It is not hard to imagine how The Old Course, Pinehurst #2 or Camargo would make an impact on a budding designer—each course is brilliant in its own way with a story to tell about form and function. But there is a far less likely source of inspiration that Alice O’Neal Dye added into the mix that was just as important in terms of both aesthetics and methods. By bringing Pete to her family’s vacation town of Culver, IN and exposing him to the work of William Langford and Theodore Moreau at the Culver Academies course and Maxinkuckee Country Club, she cemented the bold approach that would epitomize the pair’s courses for years to come.

The Little Club on the Lake

A short drive south from South Bend, IN is a lake named Maxinkuckee and on that lake is a town called Culver. Not exactly remote, but certainly out of the way. Like many towns throughout the Midwest, Culver is known for its natural, bucolic beauty, attracting residents and vacationers to its quiet life of recreation since the mid-19th century. What makes this town quite a bit different than most is that it is also home to Culver Academies, a world-class boarding school, and its associated summer camp.

The Academies had a grand plan to build a resort with 36 holes of golf designed by Chicago architect William Langford and his partner Theodore Moreau. The first nine opened in 1920, showcasing the duo’s magnificent architecture on a piece of land that is half open, half wooded and rolling throughout. Sadly, the additional 27 holes would never be completed.

The home hole at Culver Academies

At the same time, just down the road, the membership at Maxinkuckee Country Club was catching the golf bug. They built a rudimentary little course on a hillside parcel of land with a creek meandering through it and began play in 1921. Culver being a small town, those early golfers were well aware of Langford’s work and when it came time to expand their course, they naturally turned to the Chicagoan. Five holes were added, the others refined, and by 1925 play was in full swing on the course that would remain largely unchanged until decades later when the Dyes enjoyed and were inspired by it.

The Course

The first three holes at Maxinkuckee are not anything special by country golf standards, save a few noticeable flourishes on and around the greens. Upon reaching the tee at the par-3 4th with its contoured green set in a stand of old-growth trees, Langford devotees begin to get a sense that their perseverance will be rewarded. Players walk up to the top of the ridge that separates the two sections of the site, and from the 5th through the 8th, Maxinkuckee delivers a shot of bold features to the vein on par with Harrison Hills, Spring Valley and Kankakee Elks. Any person with even a passing interest in architecture or engineering has to stand and marvel at these creations and wonder, how did they do this? Pete’s Dye’s interest was much greater than passing, and he must have been enthralled.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Sculpting with a Steam Shovel

There is something that just looks right about the forms that William Langford and Theodore Moreau built, epitomized by courses like Lawsonia Links and West Bend. It’s a subtle elegance that complements the bold style, striking a perfect balance on a natural landscape. After my first visit to Maxinkuckee, with the “how” question still burning in my mind, intriguing hints were delivered from two trusted sources.

First, Ian Gilley of Sugarloaf Social Club posted this aerial photo of the outstanding 5th hole with its green seemingly extended out onto a peninsula.

It is as stunning from the ground as it is from the air.

Second, Derek Duncan discussed Langford and Moreau and their approach to steam shovel architecture with Kye Goalby on the Feed the Ball podcast. Goalby is the consulting architect at West Bend Country Club and he said, “The first time I tried to build the Langford bunkers, I failed miserably…I started looking up steam shovels online and you start seeing how a steam shovel works.” He went on to explain in detail the difference between the function of an excavator, with its bucket facing and digging down, and a steam shovel with its upward facing bucket and extending arm.

Returning to Ian’s photo and Google Earth a flash of insight hit illuminating how Langford and Moreau went about their work. Although they had the might of the steam shovel at their disposal, like any skilled builders, they would have sought to conserve effort while producing the best possible holes. Sculptors fundamentally have two distinct methods from which to choose—start with a block and chisel, or build the form up from scratch—and both were brilliantly used to create Maxinkuckee’s 5th and 6th holes.

The 6th tee, the approach and green on the 5th, and a portion of the 7th fairway run diagonally along high ground.

The steam shovel, which rotates in an arc from a stationary base, was positioned at various points to carve away from the higher ground, creating the peninsula on which the 5th green sits. This was equivalent to chiseling a statue out of a block of granite. Some of the shoveled material was likely used to build the green and its surrounds up even higher to increase the scale.

The bulk of the material was moved to build the pad and surrounds for the 6th green, pushing it up significantly from the existing topography, in much the same way that a sculptor would build up a statue using lumps of clay. Once built, refinements were made with hand labor.

The artist’s vision was combined with the engineer’s efficiency to produce two green sites of equal greatness.

Pete Dye did not have YouTube to search for steam shovel videos like Kye Goalby and I did, but he would have noticed the features and landforms, leading a mind like his to ponder the how and why of it. His curiosity and willingness to tinker in the field was critical as he and Alice were often tasked with creating courses on less than ideal sites. It is one thing to be able to envision or sketch a hole. Figuring out how to build that hole is entirely another matter. Over the decades, the Dyes proved their genius in both aspects of the craft. Their tools were the excavator and bulldozer instead of the steam shovel, but their charge was the same as the architects who inspired them at places like Maxinkuckee—sculpt the earth to create compelling golf that stands the test of time.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Architects Week II is in the books. Now for the show…

Once again, the folks at Golf Channel have put together a nice Architects week feature.  Matt Ginella continues to evolve as a voice for the good of the game, giving us a break from Tour & Tip coverage, to help us connect to the soul of the game – golf courses and the people who create them.

A WALK THROUGH THE WEEK

 

“The more I learn about architecture, the more I want to know.” – Matt Ginella

The week kicked off with a preview from Matt, Geoff Shackelford, and a panel.  Bill Coore was originally slated to start off the week, but dropped of the agenda at the last minute.  Such are the lives of successful men, perhaps.

“Think of golf holes as human. You are wrestling with another animate object.” – Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

After a visit with Tom Weiskopf and discussion of his recent updates to TPC Scottsdale, next up was Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  It was an interesting segment with the veteran architect that culminated with discussion of Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open venue which promises to be a strong follow-up to last year’s game-changing event at the renovated Pinehurst #2.  “It is both the aerial game and the ground game,” said Jones of Chambers.  Clearly, he is excited to the see the best golfers in the world take on his course.

“Let the land speak and lay golf holes out that were relatively straightforward.” – David McLay Kidd

The old guard gave way to members of the next generation of great architects – David McLay Kidd, Mike DeVries and Gil Hanse.  This trio has already produced a portfolio of amazing courses, including my home course the Kingsley Club.  They are also working on some of the most exciting projects in golf – Sand Valley #2, Cape Wickham, The Rio Olympic Course, and now Streamsong Black.

“He’s so creative. He’s a real sculptor with the Earth.” – Alice Dye on Pete

A full day was given to Pete & Alice Dye, perhaps the most influential duo in golf course architecture history, not to mention a heart-warming story of love and marriage partnership.  Geoff Shackelford said of Mr. Dye, “He was sort of a change agent; that will ultimately be his legacy.”  Hard to argue with that assessment.

“It’s something I’ve had on the back burner for 20 years.” – Tom Doak

The week wrapped up with Tom Doak sharing what might be the most exciting thing to happen to architecture since C.B. MacDonald realized his “ideal hole” architecture at National Golf Links of America.  The reversible course at Forest Dunes.

The architects segments were great, as was the commentary between Matt and Geoff, and I highly recommend combing through the clips as a means to find leads to take you on further explorations into the field of golf course architecture.

There are really only three things that disappointed me about this second Architects Week:

  1. The lack of new faces, other than Mike DeVries.  I understand the need for the big names to keep the ratings up and the momentum going for GCA coverage.  In spite of that reality, it would have been nice to have more international representation, and a no-less-talented, but lower-profile architect or two.
  2. The lack of “field time”.  The modern minimalists who are at the forefront of architecture today like Tom Doak, Mike DeVries and others consistently point to the field as the place where the rubber hits the road in GCA.  Driving a bulldozer, shaping the sandy earth, doing the finishing hand work – generally playing in the dirt – this is where architectural magic happens.  Although I love the interviews and the routing discussions, it would have been great to see Matt strolling and chatting with at least one architect on-site.
  3. The segments were just too darn short.  There was not a single segment on the show that didn’t leave me wanting more.  Much more.  At a certain level, good entertainment leaves you wanting more.  But golf architecture coverage goes beyond entertainment.  Given the time appropriate for a subject with the depth and breadth of GCA, it could be educational and inspirational.  It could truly expand the horizons of the audience, and connect them more deeply to the soul of the game.

 

I have made my argument for a regular GCA show on Golf Channel in this previous post.  Architects Week just reinforced my commitment to keep agitating until this gets done.

For now though, you can get your GCA fix on GolfClubAtlas.com, and here at the ever-expanding Geeked On Golf GCA Video Archive.