Geeked on Golf



An in-depth look at Macdonald’s Leven template with Brett Hochstein and Jon Cavalier

When it comes to golf course architecture, it doesn’t get much geekier than MacRaynor templates.  It should come s no surprise that I love the templates, and the one I love most of all is the Leven.  In an age when length is dominating the consciousness of the game, the Leven stands as a testament to strategic principles.  I have not yet met one that isn’t one of my favorite holes, and I wanted to learn more.

A good place to start is with George Bahto’s wonderful book about the life and work of C.B. Macdonald, The Evangelist of Golf.  In it, the Leven is described as follows:

“Leven is a short par 4, usually 330 to 360 yards.  Fairway bunker or waste area challenges golfer to make a heroic carry for an open approach to the green.  Less courageous line from the tee leaves golfer with a semi-blind approach over a high bunker or sand hill to the short side of the green.  Usually a moderately undulating surface with least accessible cup placement behind sand hill.”

An opportunity to dive even deeper arose when Architect Brett Hochstein (@hochsteindesign) recently visited Lundin Links, where Macdonald found his inspiration for the template.  Brett graciously contributed a terrific field report.  There is no bigger MacRaynor fan who I know than Jon Cavalier, and so of course, I hit him up to do a tour of Levens from his travels.  Many thanks to them both for helping expand our knowledge, and for indulging my geeky impulse.

Enjoy the Leven!


The Original ‘Leven’ by Brett Hochstein, Hochstein Design

Charles Blair MacDonald’s inspiration for his “Leven” template can be traced back to Scotland’s southern Fife coast, where a long stretch of linksland joins the two towns of Leven and Lundin Links.  Until 1909, the two towns and respective clubs shared 18 holes over the narrow strip of land known as the Innerleven Links.  It was at that point that increased play and congestion led to the decision to add holes inland and create two separate 18 hole courses, one for each of the towns.  What would later become known as the Leven template was actually on the Lundin Links side of the split and would permanently become the 16th hole (it was the 7th when starting from the Leven side of the links).


The original Leven, known to the Lundin Golf Club as “Trows,” is somewhat hard to figure out upon first sight.  For one, the green is barely visible behind a hill offset to the left, and only just the top of the flag can be seen from the elevated medal (back) tees.  From the left forward tees, it would not be out of question to think upon first glance that the hole plays to the nearby 2nd green on the right.  It is this blindness though, along with a burn (stream) running diagonally across the landing area, that give the hole its unique strategy that would be replicated numerous times by Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and others.


From the back tee

The hole is not very long, especially by today’s standards, but it is all about placement of the tee shot.  The hill that fronts the green causes two problems: discomfort with the lack of sight and a downslope covered in rough that will either snag short shots or kick them forward and through the green.  The hill is slightly offset from the fairway though, which leaves a little opening from the right side where a ball could either bounce on or settle safely short.  Generally, the further right and further down the hole you are, the more the green opens up and comes into sight, making the shot both easier and more comfortable.  So, play it long and down the right side.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Of course, it wouldn’t be quite as interesting of a hole if just for that.


Photo from Lundin Golf Club website

The aforementioned burn runs across the hole on a diagonal going from closer left to further right before curling up the right side the rest of the way.  This puts it much more in play around the ideal landing area, either punishing or rewarding the more aggressive play further down the right.  A more conservative play short and left will result in a blind, often downwind shot over more of the grassy hill with no room to land the ball short.


Short of the burn

For the shorter players laying up short of the burn, the approach or layup is a difficult one, as the fairway beyond the burn slopes left to right with the green sitting high and left.  A well-played shot drawing into the slope though will find a narrow upper plateau, and if long enough and properly shaped, may even find the green itself.

This narrow plateau is also the ideal landing area for the long hitter (excepting those 300 yard drivers who can just go after the green, which would be very tough to pull off but certainly fun to try).  Getting to this plateau needs either a laser straight carry of about 220 yards or a helping draw played into the slope.  Draw it too much though, and the left rough and hill is jail.  Drift a little too far right and catch the slope, and the ball will kick down into the right rough while also bringing the right greenside bunker more into play.


From the lower fairway right


Short of the green on the plateau left-center

The green isn’t overly large and is defended by four bunkers that are almost evenly spaced around the perimeter.  The right greenside bunker is the most important as it guards the right side entry and punishes players who go too long down the right side of the hole. The back and left bunkers prevent players from playing too safely over the hill.  They actually sit a little bit above the green, which makes for an awkward and difficult to control recovery shot.  The putting surface itself is not overly wild with contouring but has some nice internal variation to keep things interesting.  It has a slight overall right to left slope as well, which gives a little help for those trying to navigate around the front hill to find a left hole location.


Behind the green looking back

I found the 16th at Lundin to be a very clever and simple hole utilizing two natural features to perfect harmony.  It is no wonder MacDonald used this hole to inspire one of the more strategically interesting holes at the highly strategic National Golf Links, the short 17th named “Peconic.”  If I had a criticism of this original “Leven,” though, it would be to open up more of the right side beyond the burn crossing.  The reward is greater the further right one hugs the creek, which is a good risk/reward dynamic.  

Making the hole too easy would not be much of an issue either as someone who carelessly bombs it too far down the right would be punished by having to negotiate the front right green side bunker and a green that falls away from that angle.  The problem with this is most likely safety related, as the 2nd green sits just across the burn and in the danger zone of long wayward tee shots.  The 17th tee, which is located to the right of the 16th green, also complicates issues by coming more into play the further right and down the hole you are.  Thus, you have the rough and a bunker that has been added sometime after the 2006 aerial that Google Earth provides.  In that aerial, it also looks possible that the rough was mowed down in that area and was possibly even fairway.  Even considering the issues, I would still love to see the extra width.  

As it is though, this is a great hole and one that would be fun to play on a daily basis, especially during a dry summer with a trailing wind, both of which would make the hill fronting the green exponentially more difficult to navigate.  Even when calm though, the hole’s short length is negated by the burn, sloping fairway, and bunkers, which all make the ideal second shot landing areas effectively small and difficult to find.  Play aggressively, and a punishment is likely.  It is vexing on its own, but coupling that with the variable and often strong Scottish wind leaves you with a hole where you are very happy to run away with a 4.  


Restraint and thought are two skills not often tested enough in golf, especially in modern design.  The 16th at Lundin Links tests both, and that is its greatest quality.  


These photos and descriptions originally appeared on Jon’s wonderful Twitter series #TemplateTuesday.  Follow Jon at @LinksGems.

(click on photo collages to enlarge)

The 5th at Chicago Golf Club


The superb 5th at Chicago Golf, which proves that a great hole does not require unique, or even interesting, terrain – only the imagination of a great architect.

The 6th at The Course at Yale


The 6th at Yale, a dogleg left, has been blunted somewhat over time – a restoration would do wonders for this hole.‬

The 11th at St. Louis Country Club


St. Louis CC’s 11th plays from an elevated tee to an uphill fairway, illustrating the adaptability of this template.‬

The 16th at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club


Blue Mound has several excellent templates, and its 16th, guarded by a large mound and bunker, is no exception.‬

The 13th at Old Macdonald


The template remains relevant today, as seen in modern renditions of this like Old Mac’s 13th.‬

The 14th at Mid Ocean Club


Mid Ocean’s 14th drifts right, forcing the player left toward fairway bunkers for an optimum angle of approach.‬

The 12th at Fox Chapel Golf Club


Fox Chapel’s 12th is one of the most dramatic versions of this template, built across heaving land with a severe falloff right.‬

The 2nd at Yeamans Hall Club


The 2nd at Yeamans Hall is a more subtle rendition of the template, reflecting its bucolic, lowcountry setting.‬

The 14th at Camargo Club


The uphill 14th at Camargo lacks the typical fairway bunkering but maintains the same strategic principles.‬

The 3rd at Shoreacres


Shoreacres’s 3rd is a terrific example of a Leven hole built across flat ground; this green is also exceptional.‬

The 5th at Boston Golf Club


The best iteration of a modern Leven style hole is the 5th at Boston GC – strategic considerations abound on this par-4.‬

The 17th at National Golf Links of America


Saving the best for last, the 17th at NGLA is the paradigmatic Leven, and one of the greatest hols in the world.




Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Multimedia, Multitalented – An Interview with Architect Brett Hochstein

Pasatiempo.  It doesn’t get much better than a trip around Dr. Mac’s home course.   That is, unless you receive an invite to visit another course later that same day where talented architects, shapers and supers are working their magic.  A golf geek’s dream day come true.

I was fortunate enough to have just such a day earlier this year, and the invite came from Brett Hochstein.  He and George Waters were working with Architect Todd Eckenrode and Superintendent Josh Smith at Orinda Country Club.  Given that I had been following Brett on Twitter (@HochsteinDesign) and Instagram (@hochsteindesign), and truly enjoying the glimpses into the creative process that he shares, I was thrilled for the opportunity.


After playing Pasatiempo, I made my way up through the East Bay traffic to Orinda.  Brett and George were wrapping up their work day, but they were kind enough to share their perspectives on the project, and give me a tour.  Brett also agreed to do an interview.  We decided that it would be best to wait until he could compile the full range of photos from his work at Orinda.

The interview and photos follow, as well as a special bonus from Brett.


Brett collaborated on this renovation with Todd Eckenrode, George Waters, and Josh Smith.  Below is a sampling of images from Brett’s work.


Orinda CC #4 – Before and after featuring new, more interesting and natural looking bunkers.


Orinda CC #8 – Evolution through time, restoring green complex to original look and feel.


Orinda CC #13 – Before and after of opened teeing area and modified bunkering that creates additional shot options off the tee.


Orinda CC #18 – Approach and green back views of the finisher, now with far more character and interest from 100 yards in.


How did you get introduced to golf?

My parents bought me a set of toy clubs at a very young age—perhaps 2 or 3.  At age 4, I was given a more complete set of plastic clubs (and a plastic golf bag!), and my dad snuck me out on a local public course, Harley’s, which is now the Union Lake Golf Course.  This is where I finally got to hit some real shots and experience the real thing, minus the real clubs of course.

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

Right away that day.  The architecture and the land were by no means inspirational, but the concept of playing a game through different features—greens, bunkers, water, trees, and the hole in the ground itself—had an immediate grasp on me.  I even threw/hit my ball directly into the sand because I thought it was so cool.

I kept the scorecard from that round, which started a habit of collecting scorecards, especially ones with routings printed on them.  I would take those to study and then come up with routings and holes of my own, something I continued throughout my entire childhood.  My parents might have thought it strange that their 5 year old spent most of his free time drawing golf courses, but it was all normal to me.  I knew at that young age I wanted to design golf courses when I grew up.

How did you get into the business?

This is going to be hard to keep short…

As mentioned above, I knew I wanted to be in this business right away.  I prepped myself through drawing, playing, and watching on tv, but a book loan of Tom Doak’s The Anatomy of a Golf Course from my high school senior English teacher really was a reawakening of sorts.  It was the antithesis of the sterile brand of public golf development all over Michigan at the time, and it brought me back to that spirit and energy I had when first discovering the game and playing it over burned out hard-pan on modest courses sitting on former farm fields.  Four main things were gathered right away from reading: knowing about and being involved in course construction is vital, spending time in the British Isles would open the palette to what is possible in golf, Cornell would be a very good place to attend college for its history of flexible study and development of golf architects, and reading more about these “Golden Age” guys would be a pretty good idea too.  I immediately began to focus on all four.

Getting into Cornell and gathering books by Ross, MacKenzie, and Thomas turned out to be the easy part.  After missing out on the Dreer grant that Doak and others used to travel the British Isles and graduating in 2008 with all financial fallout that occurred, getting to Scotland and getting construction experience turned out to be the hard parts.  I eventually got to Scotland late in 2009 through a year of turfgrass study at Elmwood College near St Andrews, but work continued to be all but impossible to find.

After my time there ran out, I ended up moving out to the San Francisco Bay Area where my girlfriend (now wife) resided and briefly took a job installing artificial putting greens.  That didn’t fully satisfy the palate, and after another round of reaching out to architects, Forrest Richardson mentioned he had a project upcoming at Mira Vista, the old Berkeley CC designed by Robert Hunter.  He let me tag along with him on some planning visits and eventually helped me get a job as a laborer on the construction crew, which featured Kye Goalby doing the shaping for the first part of the project.  Speaking with Kye and his different experiences, it revitalized my interest in working with the Doaks of the world.

When Tom D sent out an email titled “Opportunity Knocks” that summer to a bunch of people asking their interest in shaping on a new project in China, I jumped all over it.  A few weeks later, I got the great news that they wanted me to be the first guy they sent over and that I could help them out at Streamsong or Dismal River in the meantime.  This was the big break that I had been looking for since finishing school.

I worked with Renaissance for two and a half awesome years, becoming fully fluent with the bulldozer and excavator before going independent in 2014, which is where I am at today with Hochstein Design.

Who is your favorite Golden Era architect, and why?

Anyone who has seen my work would probably guess Alister MacKenzie, and they may very well be right.  I love undulating greens, artistic bunkering, and making the course blend as seamlessly as possible with the surrounds through form and texture.  Those are the surface-level hallmarks of his best designs, but he also knew a thing or two about routing and strategy, which are the necessary bones of any great course.

I am very fascinated with Colt, Simpson, Tillinghast, and Thomas as well and am most keen to see more of their works as I haven’t seen enough, in my opinion.  I did happen to walk Riviera last week though, and wow what an excellent piece of architecture it is.  This is why I always say flatness is no obstacle to great design. A few simple, well-executed design moves can make for highly compelling and enjoyable golf.

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

Tom Doak is an obvious one for his writing, his employing of me, and his work in general.  On a more day-to-day level though, I have to say Eric Iverson, who was the lead Renaissance associate on our two-year off-and-on project in China.  Beyond being a wise and capable designer himself, he is incredible on a machine.  His work always looks good, it is clean and easy to finish, and it is done twice as fast as the next guy.  That is the kind of shaper you want to learn from, and I owe whatever speed and efficiency I have to working/trying to keep up alongside him.  Eric is also a great manager and communicator, which, as a more quiet and reserved personality myself, was very helpful for me to observe and try to emulate.

I would also give an Honorable Mention to Mike DeVries for having a hands-on business and design model that serves as the inspiration for how I would like to operate.  He also taught me a few valuable techniques about old-school plan drawing when I worked with him in the office in summer 2008.

Outside of golf would probably be my dad.  As a small business owner himself, he taught me through example about hard work, taking ownership of any task big or small, and never complaining.  He’s also the one who introduced the game to me, and while he supported me and encouraged my involvement in tournaments and high school golf, it was always about the game and having fun.  You see too many dads and their juniors both now and then getting too into the competitive side of it.  I feel pretty lucky it was never that way.

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

They should understand who their potential designers are and what exactly they would get from them.

These projects involve a lot of money and should thus involve some careful thinking on whom they select.  That is not to say people take on a project without any thought; the reality is very far from that.  The reality is also that there are a lot of missed opportunities out there, unfortunately, both in new designs and renovations/restorations.  This is especially frustrating when you factor in how limited these opportunities are in this day and age.

A very big (too big in my opinion) part of this business is sales and the ability to engage a client with a story about what their course can be.  That ability to sell, though, does not necessarily correlate with the ability to deliver a great golf course.  The intentions of most sales pitches are honest, but it takes full commitment and passion to execute it.  If you don’t do the work yourself or have the proper talent in place, the work is doomed to fail or disappoint.  Success is as much in the details as in the big picture, and it is easy to see that if you just do some research on previous projects.

True quality work is not hard to come by and doesn’t necessarily cost more, just as I’ve seen firsthand at places like The Schoolhouse Nine, Dismal River, or a number of projects that have succeeded by making sound design moves sympathetic to the surrounds as opposed to engineering a grand lush landscape set amongst cart paths.  It’s a funny paradox these days where it seems the best work is done the most cheaply, and in a lot of cases it isn’t just the quality of land.

You are a shaper and photographer, in addition to being a designer.  How does your experience in those disciplines influence your design work?

To me shaping and designing are nearly one and the same.  As previously mentioned, my ultimate model is to operate much like the Gil Hanses, Jeff Mingays, Mike DeVrieses, etc. where you do as much of the shaping as you can yourself.

An essential ingredient for any great feature or design is spending time thinking about it, and the best way to spend time thinking about it is to actually work on it and gain a true feel for the space.  This is where ideas are either enhanced or generated.  As you interact with the ground, you notice things that you may not have at first, and you can apply that new information to make a more interesting design.

Occasionally, there are instances where I don’t completely know what I am going to do or how something will turn out, and I just figure it out as I go, most of the time with great success and always with satisfaction.  That may sound scary to a client, but the latter part of the statement is the important part—it gets figured out, and it does so with much better results than it would have gotten from an office desk.

Shaping yourself also cuts costs and saves time.  You know what is possible with a machine, and you know what sorts of marginal-upside design moves will take forever to do and thus be not worth the time and money of an equal alternative.  Machine and shaper time is costly, and I try to keep it as efficient as possible without compromising the quality of the work.

Photography is a hobby that’s evolved for me (and probably everyone).  I spend less time doing it, but I ultimately take more photos.  This is purely a product of the iPhone.  I just sorted my photos from the recent Orinda project, and it tallied over 2000 images, all of them quick snaps from my phone.  I do plan to go back out with a DSLR and polarizing filter to get some higher quality finished product images, but during the build it is just too easy to use that small all-in-one tool in your pocket, especially with improved HDR settings.  Also, Instagram is pretty fun.

That being said, the idea and spirit are just the same.  I love photography because it is a true medium to express how I see golf courses and the world itself.  As far as the connection to golf design goes, it’s all about composition.  By placing yourself in the correct spot and using calculated cropping, a nice balance can be achieved in composing your image.  In golf design, especially new builds, there is even more freedom to achieve that sort of “balance” and ideal composition.  Bunkers, greens, trees, landforms, and roughs are all place-able within a space, and having photographic experience or interest only helps develop your “eye” to get it right.

You collaborated with Mike McCartin on the Schoolhouse Nine. Why did you get involved in that project?

Mike asked me on short notice if I was interested, and I jumped all over it.  The main reason is that I believed in what he was doing and what the Schoolhouse Nine could be.  Golf should be affordable, accessible, fun, environmentally sympathetic, and not overly time consuming.  These basic tenets were all reachable goals at the Schoolhouse Nine, and from everything I have heard about this first season, those goals have indeed been reached.

The opportunity to work on a new-build and shape greens with another former Renaissance guy was also something I just knew would be very fun and creatively satisfying as well, and it was.  I had a blast living and working there, and it shows in the great variety of green complexes that we came up with.

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

I see them being pretty important.  With urbanization growing and available land shrinking, golf needs to think outside of the 18 hole “championship course” box if it’s going to retain players or gain new ones.

The core enjoyment found in golf is in attacking the hole—the thinking and execution that comes inside 200 yards—and you don’t need as much land for that.  6 hole executive courses, 9 hole par-3 courses, and pitch-and-putts are some examples of alternative courses that have the ability to offer fun, challenging, and compelling golf in more densely populated areas.  They would also take less time away from everyone’s increasingly busy schedules.

Should this be the top priority or first choice in golf development?  Not necessarily.  But it definitely should be embraced and considered as a viable alternative.  Shorter courses can still be proper golf; making the hole bigger, to cite one popular doomsday alternative, is not.

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

To both those questions -green complexes and surrounds.  Greens are the “face of the portrait [golf hole],” and the strategy unfolds outward from there.  Coming up with that strategy while trying to make something look like it has always been there is a challenge that is both fun and fulfilling.


What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love putting on the headphones and diving into anything creative, whether it be roughing in a green on a dozer, sketching out a hole concept at my desk, finalizing a bunker edge with a shovel, or zipping around in a sandpro to add a bunch of microcontouring to a fairway.  I am really big into music, and beyond the inspiration it can provide, it also serves as a memory placeholder for what I did and when, which is big for a nostalgic person such as myself.

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

My free time is pretty limited, so I tend to take a pragmatic approach to my “next-see” list and see what I can wherever I might happen to be.  For example, I was working at Sallandsche in the Netherlands last fall and a short stint in the spring.  This was a great chance to see De Pan, Royal Hague, Kennemer, Eindhoven, and Frank Pont’s Swinkelsche.

This winter, I will be in Northern France at Hardelot, so the “next-see” wish list contains Morfontaine, Chantilly, Le Touquet, and a whole boatload of stuff on the other side of the English Channel if I can make it over there.

For a destination “next-see,” I would have to say The Loop at Forest Dunes.  The concept is something I have always found fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how Doak and Brian Slawnik executed it.  I’m sure there’s a level of complexity to it that I haven’t even thought of yet, and I’ve thought about it a lot.  As a proud native Michigander, I can’t wait to see this great new addition to the “Up North” golfing scene, which even with the likes of Crystal Downs and the Kingsley Club, is underachieving in my opinion given the beautiful and sandy nature of the region.

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

I’m most likely with my wife hanging out, traveling, or relaxing.  Even though she has mostly worked remotely and tagged along with me on projects the past two years, I’m still out on site for 10-12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, which is a good amount of time.  With that and the realization that time away will always be a part of this job, I like to spend as much time with her as I can.

Beyond that, I’m an ardent supporter of University of Michigan Athletics, specifically football, and the Detroit Red Wings.  I’m also hoping on my next winter lull that I can find time to get back into playing drop-in hockey and going up to the mountains to snowboard.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I’ve just started at Hardelot in France to do some work on Les Pins course with Patrice Boissonnas and Frank Pont, the men responsible for the recent restoration of the Tom Simpson course that just broke a record for biggest jump in the Continental Europe rankings.  They think they can get a few more details even better though, and they have brought me on to help execute that.  It is really exciting working at a special place, in sand, and with people who are passionate and easy to work with.

Beyond that, nothing is certain yet.  There are a few more shaping opportunities, but the truth is I cannot wait to get the opportunity to design, renovate, or restore something on my own.  That final jump may ultimately prove the hardest to make.  I am ready for the opportunity though.


Brett worked with architect Frank Pont on breathing new life into this gem in the Netherlands.


Sallandsche course map, illustrated by Brett.


Sallandsche #2 – Bunker build through the process.


Sallandsche #14 and #16 – Green complexes with new bunkers and improved views.



Sallandsche #17 – Before


Sallandsche #17 – Brett’s design sketch


Sallandsche #17 – After Brett’s work, in sepia


Sallandsche #17 – After, in glorious color

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf