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A Modern Throwback – Andy Staples at Meadowbrook

The past decade has seen a number of wonderful renovations of classic golf courses – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Moraine CC, Cal Club, Orchard Lake CC and others are exciting for golf geeks at several levels.  One in particular has risen to the top of my radar as I have watched it unfold from a distance.

While doing a previous interview with Andy Staples, I learned that he would be renovating Meadowbrook County Club.  It was founded in 1916 and received attention from Willie Park Jr and Donald Ross.  Over the years, much of that Golden Age character had been lost, and Andy was charged with bringing back that spirit in a modern form.  The possibilities had me intrigued.

Andy Staples and Assistant Superintendent Andy O’Haver did a great job of sharing updates as the renovation unfolded, and with every photo and video, my excitement grew (I highly recommend following them both Andy Staples @buildsmartrgolf and Andy O’Haver @andyohaver).

Give his role as a project lead, I’m hoping to be able to add some of Andy O’Haver’s thoughts here at some point.  In the meantime, Andy did an interesting interview with Dave Wilber from TurfNet.

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Many thanks to the Andys for sharing their outstanding work with us.  Thanks to Brian Walters for permitting the use of his beautiful photos of Meadowbrook.  Enjoy!


ANDY STAPLES ON THE MEADOWBROOK RENOVATION

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

To be able to get back to the Midwest and work with such great people probably tops the list.  Working in the Metro area where there is such a strong portfolio of historic courses is a big one.  And no doubt, getting the chance to help direct a 100-year old club with such a cool design lineage in addition to its fabulous tournament history.  Ben Hogan holed out for 2 on #18 on back to back days during the ’58 Motor City Open for crying out loud!  This place is really cool, and I’m honored to have had the chance to work here.

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

I guess I would narrow my process down to two words: communication and trust.  Much of what we did at Meadowbrook came down to giving the membership the feeling of being a part of the process and that they could trust me to guide them through the entire renovation.  All clients want to know that you’ve been here before and that the project is going to turn out great.  Earning everyone’s trust is a very concerted effort over the life of the project, and it’s my job to give them the confidence that we’ll give them something to be proud of.  I think this connection with the general membership and the staff is the reason we were able to achieve 74% approval to close their golf course in the first place.  This is huge for a club in Detroit.  Many people said we couldn’t do it, but in the end, we did; and we did it on time and under budget.

Did you have any design or construction documentation from Willie Park Jr.?  If so, to what degree did it influence the work?

Unfortunately no; the club did not have any documentation.  They did have very detailed notes in their Club minutes dating back to when the club hired Park, and they have a number of newspaper articles stating when they commissioned Park to design their course.  But no, they didn’t have any of Park’s original plans or notes.  They began construction in 1916, but for financial reasons, the Club was only able to complete the first 6 holes of Park’s 18 hole routing.  So really, MCC is only a 6 hole Park course.  Collis & Daray assisted the Club in 1921 and expanded it to 18 holes.  I can only imagine this connection happened in some way through Chicago and by way of Park’s eventual work at Olympia Fields.  Then in the 30’s Ross came through, and changed the 18th green (which we think was an original Park green), so we started with only had 5 original Park greens.  Ross also renovated the 12th green.  Interestingly, Tillinghast made a visit on behalf of the PGA in 1936, of which only minor modifications, if any, were made.  The rest of the course was a mix of Collis & Daray, Art Hills, and Jerry Mathews.

The Club felt that maintaining a connection to Park’s original design was important.  So, we visited and studied as many of his other courses as possible to get a sense of what Park was creating when he came back to America in 1916, and we attempted to integrate his known built work into our plan.  This was an interesting process.  Many of us on the design team made these visits, and we collectively shared each other’s thoughts on how Park’s design philosophy related to Meadowbrook.  We visited Battle Creek, perhaps the best reflection of Park’s work in the area.  We visited a handful of others in the area as well as on the east coast.  But the really exciting part of our research was seeing Park’s work at Sunningdale and Huntercombe in England.

When we arrived at Huntercombe, we knew this was a place that needed to be a major aspect of our work at Meadowbrook.  Since Park personally owned Huntercombe (which, in fact, played an interesting role in Park deciding to come to America and practice golf architecture full time), we felt it reflected much of what Park liked in golf architecture, or at least what we think he liked.  We understood that it was a bit of his proving grounds, but there was just too much good stuff to not bring back to our work in the States.  Drainage ditches, grass bunkers (“willie park pots” as they call them at Huntercombe), varied putting green design, etc., seemed to reflect exactly what we were looking to do.  And, it was a bit different than the courses we were seeing in the US.  One of the things I’ve noticed about Park, is that his courses revolve around his green design and dictate his routings, even if it means there is a bit of awkwardness in the flow.  And this seemed to be evident in Meadowbrook.

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Photo by Brian Walters

What were your goals going into the project?

The entire discussion of master planning and renovation began when the Club was affected by the DuPont situation that killed many of their trees.  At this point, the Club realized they needed some outside help.  Then, the winter of 2014 happened, and most every poa green in the Metro area was affected in some way by severe ice damage.  This then began an entirely new discussion of putting green construction, bentgrass versus poa annua turf and overall site drainage.  So, when it came time to come to the membership with a plan, we identified these three goals:

  1. Sustainability in turf types and maintenance
  2. Improve drainage and playability
  3. Maximize the overall property

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

I’d say both are imperative.  Playability is what everyone sees or experiences, and much of functionality is invisible, or underground.  The longevity of a course lies in making sure each are equally attributed.  It really is a balance since most of how golf architecture is perceived, comes from what one sees and experiences.  Players assume the functionality is there, but rarely do they understand what that means.

What were the biggest changes you made?

The largest change I would say is the maximization of the property.  A slight rerouting of holes 5, 6, and 7 and a slight adjustment to hole 11 and 12 tees really improved the flow of the course, as well as allowing a player to experience the course differently than if they were to just simply walk the property.  The look and feel of the course is very different in that most of the greens are square-ish in nature, and all the bunkers were rebuilt to more of a grass faced, flat sand bottom style. And, with the introduction of more short grass, there are many more ways to play each hole, with a great variety of short game alternatives and recovery shots.  The rest of the holes utilized the existing corridors, with minor modifications in the teeing grounds or green locations.

Another significant addition to the course is an increase in the fairway width, and the introduction of short grass chipping swales on nearly every green.  We tried to balance the ability to challenge different angles of approach to the greens by giving the players more chances to find the fairway, albeit, not always from the best angle of play.  We also balanced the short grass areas with traditional rough, not only around the greens but in strategic areas in the fairways. I think the increase in variety of shots is a major improvement from how the course played prior to the renovation.

The final change came in the form of different teeing lengths based on actual swing speeds; you’ll see yardages as low as 4,000 yards.  We also have sets of tees at 4,800 and 5,100 yards.  I think this positions the club well as it continues to market to families and beginners into the future.

Did you take any creative risks along the way?

I hope so.  Bringing the “Huntercombe” style to Detroit was a fairly sizable leap of faith by the Club and its committee.  There are a few greens now that really challenge a player’s thought process of not only how to play a particular shot, but also through visually giving them something they may not have seen before.  My hope is the course will continue to reveal itself over multiple rounds, and if my experience proves out, some of the greens will catch people by surprise.  The 3rd green will be one that most people will notice (inspired by the 4th green at Huntercombe).  The internal green contours are also something that we feel we pushed the limits on.

I have to give much credit to Scott Clem, our design shaper, in this area.  He really helped push the creative envelope on how these greens were going to play, and receive shots.  We also spent a lot of time walking around the edges to think about a player’s recovery if the green is missed.  To me, this is the area that really separates the best courses – how a player feels as they manage their way around the course, and how interesting the set of greens are.

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Photo by Brian Walters

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

Actually, the biggest challenge with the membership was to keep them off the course when they started to see green grass again!  This membership absolutely LOVES their golf, but gave me no challenges once we began construction.  If there was any “challenge” regarding the membership, it would be to get them to agree that it was best to close the course for a year to get the project done at once.  But this isn’t unique to Meadowbrook.  I feel the way we overcame this was by clearly communicating our vision of what this place would be.  And, by having a solid committee, a great General Manager in Joe Marini, and a great greens staff like Mike Edgerton and Brian Hilfinger, it made it all the more manageable.  It was a great team.

Logistically, a challenge during construction was to keep the contours of the Park and Ross greens intact, even though we were converting them to a USGA green section.  This was a cool process, and was handled very well by TDI, Inc., the golf course contractor.  First, we surveyed all the greens prior to construction.  As we progressed through the installation, we didn’t touch any of the greens surfaces we were trying to preserve, and surveyed them again by a ‘total station’ greens scan which produced millions of data points and a 1-inch contour map.  Then, once the top grade was established, the entire excavation was surveyed, measuring each elevation down to the subgrade, then up to the drainage, gravel, and greens mix.  Each green was quality checked to an 1/8-inch tolerance, and each was finished by hand with a rake and shovel.  Very little equipment was used in the final floating of the surfaces. This process started slow, but picked up speed to the point we feel was a fast as possible without adding any time to the schedule.

Another logistical challenge happened around the design of the tees.  It’s easy to say we want a variety of lengths for different types of golfers, but it’s really hard not to have 6, 8 or even 10 individual tees on every hole!  Having this many tees on each hole can have a serious negative affect on how the hole looks from the back sets of tees.  So, we looked for ways to integrate combo sets, and even make the teeing ground a little smaller in some places, knowing we were trying to spread out the play across multiple sets of tees.

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

You had to ask this question, didn’t you!  Maintenance costs are going to be in line with the other clubs in the area, which is slightly more than where they were when we began the project.  The main reason for this is the increase of bentgrass areas by around 10 acres.  Actual putting green area stayed the same size, but were converted to the bentgrass Pure Distinction.  The bunkers are likely to be a bit of a learning exercise, not only in terms of the maintenance practices, but also the expectations of the membership.  I’m planning to push the Club to keep them a little rough around the edges, which should, in theory, offset the increase of handwork.  We’ve also converted 25 acres of maintained turf to natural fescue area.

Overall, the Club was committed to taking the course to a new level in terms of look and playability, and have committed to do whatever was necessary to get the course in the shape we all envisioned from the beginning.  Oh, and did I mention their membership is full?  This is a great place for Meadowbrook to be at this point in time in the golf market.

What makes you the proudest about the new Meadowbrook?

I’m proudest of the fact that this membership entrusted me with directing their long range Master Plan, and that they voted overwhelmingly in support of closing the course for an entire year.  This is really cool, given that these types of projects don’t come around very often (anymore!).  I’m also proud to see how stoked the membership is toward the new course.  These guys are just chomping at the bit to play the place!  We’ve given tours all summer and into the fall, and everyone has been so complimentary.  This reaction is incredible by all accounts.

What do you respect about Andy O’Haver?

I love O’Haver’s appreciation for the architecture.  Not just the actual design features, but his appreciation for the way the architecture is supposed to play.  He likes to say: “It’s just grass, buuu-ddy (in his best Pauli Shore voice)!”  I think many more clubs would be better off if it was acceptable to lose a little grass now and then in an effort to make the course play right, and he gets this.  The idea of a superintendent being able to provide perfect conditions, with very little room for error, or god forbid with any experimentation, is just unbelievable; unfathomable, really.  Add to this a new course, with new turf, in a new environment, and it’s really unbelievable these guys can provide the conditions they do, day in and day out.  From my perspective, he has 2-3 seasons to get it where we want it.  I just hope the membership agrees with that!


MEADOWBROOK COUNTRY CLUB

Andy Staples provided me with some photos from throughout the renovation process, which are soul stirring.  For a much more in-depth hole-by-hole analysis of the project, follow Ben Cowan’s terrific thread on GolfClubAtlas.

(click on images below to enlarge)

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HOLE #1 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The opener is a par-4 with a slightly angled tee shot that plays uphill to its new green fronted by bunkers.

HOLE #2 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

The second is a three-shotter that plays over rolling land up to an elevated green with a classic false front.

HOLE #3 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The third is inspired by a Willie Park Jr. template, doglegging right into one of the coolest greens you’ll ever see.

HOLE #4 – Par 5

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Photo by Brian Walters

The fourth is a three-shotter that gently turns left, finishing with a cape-style approach.

HOLE #5 – Par 4

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The fifth plays up over a hill and back down into an artful punchbowl green.

HOLE #6 – Par 3

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The sixth is a new one-shotter with a green set against the side of a hill.

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HOLE #7 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The seventh plays over a pond and hill and then turns right to head down into a green that allows approach from the air or along the ground.

HOLE #8 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

The eighth plays over water to a classic green surrounded by bunkers.

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HOLE #9 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The ninth is a par-4 that plays over a ditch, doglegs right, and then heads back to the clubhouse.

HOLE #10 – Par 4

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The tenth plays out past Ross-style mounds and then down to a deep green guarded by a tree left and bunker right.

HOLE #11 – Par 3

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Photo by Brian Walters

The eleventh plays downhill to a green set amidst a minefield of chocolate drops and surrounded by glorious contours.

HOLE #12 – Par 4

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Photo by Brian Walters

The twelfth is as a stout dogleg left that plays to an angled green that flows out the back to a rumpled chipping area.

HOLE #13 – Par 3

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The thirteenth is a one-shotter that plays down to a green fronted by imposing grass-faced bunkers.

HOLE #14 – Par 4

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The fourteenth is a short par-4 that asks the player to navigate centerline hazards.

HOLE #15 – Par 4

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The fifteenth play side by side with the 16th over gently undulating terrain, to a green set down in a hollow.

HOLE #16 – Par 4

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This sixteenth is a understated, straightaway par-4 that turns back and heads away from the clubhouse toward the 14th.

HOLE #17 – Par 5 

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Photo by Brian Walters

The penultimate hole is a three-shotter that plays to yet another wonderful squarish green surrounded by bunkers.

HOLE #18 – Par 4

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The closer is a par-4 that makes one final demand of the player to navigate bunkers on the way to a green set in the shadow of the clubhouse.

Congratulations to Andy Staples, Shaper Scott Clem, Superintendent Jared Milner, Assistants Andy O’Haver and Brian Hilfinger, and the rest of the crew that made this outstanding transformation happen.  And further, congratulations to the membership at Meadowbrook whose boldness and trust will be rewarded with a truly special golf course on which they can enjoy the spirit of the game for years to come.


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Right on the Sweet Spot – Architecture Week III

This time around it was different.  They changed the name, and they changed their game.  The third installment of Architecture Week on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive took a different approach, and for me, it hit the sweet spot.

This time around was different for me as well.  For the previous two AWs, I was able to watch each day.  This year, with action-packed holidays, work, and developments at Canal Shores, I missed the live broadcast.  It wasn’t until mid-January that I was finally able to sit down and binge watch all of the segments (thanks Howard Riefs for the links – on Twitter @hriefs).  As it turns out, watching Architecture Week in this manner gave me a perspective that might have been missed by my fellow GCA geeks.

Simply put, Architecture Week III was by far the best yet.  Its greatness was the result of the same basic ingredients that make for great golf architecture – variety, challenge, and fun.  From beginning to end, it was designed to be interesting and accessible for all viewers, in the same way that a great golf course is interesting and accessible to all players.

Golf Channel increased the variety in several ways:

  • Complementing Matt Ginella with Geoff Shackelford throughout the week was a stroke of genius.  They seem to have good chemistry born of a shared spirit for the game, but they clearly do not agree on everything.  That makes for good conversation and provides the viewer with a richer perspective on the subject.  It was also nice to see additional members of the Morning Drive cast participate.
  • There was greater variety in the segments.  Some pre-produced, some live.  Some in-studio, some on-location.  Some focused on courses, some focused on the architects, and still others focused on the player experience.  A multi-media smorgasbord of discussion, video, pictures.  This gear-shifting throughout the week delivered visual and intellectual stimulation, and made for a much higher level of interest.
  • The week also had depth.  From Architecture 101 educational segments to deeper looks at the lives of Tillinghast and Ross, AWIII was substantive enough to satisfy my geekiest interests.  It did not include these elements at the expense of including the GCA novice though.  To steal the essence of Matt’s “thoughtful architecture” concept, Morning Drive knows its audience, and it designed a week with enough breadth and depth to provide interesting content for all.

I would still like to see an increase in breadth of coverage.  More history and more education on the principles of great architecture.  A wider range of featured projects, especially those focused on community golf like the Schoolhouse 9 and Sharp Park.  And of course, new and different faces including industry vets like Ian Andrew and Drew Rogers, as well as up-and-comers like Dave Zinkand, Andy Staples, Keith Rhebb and others.

Hitting the sweet spot with this installment of Architecture Week proves that a GCA show can be viable.  The remaining breadth of compelling GCA subject matter to left to cover reminds us that a GCA show is necessary.

And now, for the recap…


ARCHITECTURE WEEK III RECAP

“The chief object of every golf architect worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself.” – Dr. Alister MacKenzie

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“Strategic design is at the core of the great holes and great courses of the world.” – Geoff Shackelford

“Could you play a course every day and not get tired of it?” – Geoff Shackelford

Spot on.  This is my top criteria for my favorite golf courses.  If I wouldn’t want to play it every day for the rest of my life, it isn’t going to crack my Top 10.  I agree too with the point about the misplaced importance of prestige in American golf.  This is at the core of what has taken golf in this country off the rails, because it is about ego.  Where there is ego in golf, accessibility and fun tend to get crowded out.

“The merit of a golf hole is not its length.  It’s the variety and interest therein that golf hole.”  – A.W. Tillinghast

“A.W. Tillinghast was not only the greatest character the American game ever knew, he was quite possibly the most imaginative designer this country has ever produced.” – Geoff Shackelford

Nobody does this historical content better than Geoff, and I love it.  Especially at this point in architecture, being called by some the new Golden Age, it is helpful to look back to the lives and work of the men who practiced their craft in The Golden Age.  They are endless sources of inspiration.

Side note about the Mike Keiser story:  Although the elements of this story are not new to Golf Channel, it is nice to see Matt continue to follow up and share updates over time.  The building of a golf course and the revitalization of a community do not happen overnight.  I appreciate Matt and the Golf Channel taking the longer view so that we can witness the unfolding.

“The first thing is, everybody just has to get over scoring.” – Geoff Shackelford

“As a player of the game for 25 years, I never really thought about why I liked a golf course or didn’t like a golf course.” – Paige Mackenzie

This was a wonderful discussion punctuated by Paige describing the evolution of her perspective, and the deepening of her understanding of architectural intent.

Side note about Streamsong Black:  The description of Royal Melbourne style bunkering, while building off the big site shaping of the Olympic Course in Rio, has me salivating.  I will be at Streamsong in 2 weeks and I hope to sneak a peak at the Black course.

“(The Keisers) only touch pieces of land that have the potential to be something unbelievably unique and special.  Mike has an ability to draw out of people much more than they thought they were capable of, or maybe more than they were capable of, and that is part of his genius.” – David McLay Kidd

“The vision is to bring heathland golf to the U.S.” – Michael Keiser

As I previously posted, I had the privilege of visiting Sand Valley for a tour (read my recap with photos here).  The Coore & Crenshaw course will be an instant classic, and from the look of it, the Kidd course promises to be equally mind-blowing.  It is a great time to be a golfer in the Midwest.

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“If you play the great variety of courses that are out there…you can’t help but realize that golf is way more fun when there is strategic interest…” – Geoff Ogilvy

I could not have been happier to see the OCCM team featured on Architecture Week.  Even better, they are bringing their Sandbelt sensibility and classic spirit of the game to the U.S.  Could there be a course in Wisconsin in their future?  We can hope…

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If you are a student of the game and GCA, you must own Cob Carlson’s Donald Ross documentary.  You can purchase it at DonaldRossFilm.com.  As is the case with many architects’ work, Cob’s wonderful film is a labor of love that deserves our support.

“This is thoughtful.  We’re identifying architects who are doing good work.  The good work they’re doing is because they put thought into the mission they’re trying to execute.” – Matt Ginella

Matt made this statement in reference to Pete & Alice Dye’s approach to designing for their players.  Their players are resort golfers, and everyday golfers.  Low handicappers, and high handicappers.  Professionals and amateurs.  The Dyes don’t use a one size-fits-all approach.  They think about their players, and design for those players.  That thoughtfulness obviously does not limit their creativity.  Rather, it makes it possible for their creativity to be accessible and enjoyable, and it is a key ingredient in GCA that stands the test of time.

Exciting times ahead in the world of golf course architecture.  Thanks to Matt, Geoff, and the Morning Drive crew for continuing to cover it for us.

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 9 (Inspiration for the New Canal Shores)

In recent Journey Along the Shores posts, I have been focused on what we are doing to improve the course now.  With Autumn quickly approaching, stay tuned for news on the next batch of improvement projects.

Let’s take a break from the present, and revisit the subject of the future of Canal Shores.  There are exciting discussions taking place on how to increase the beauty of the property, the playability of the course, and the sustainability of the facility.  The Board and community have yet to make concrete decisions about a Master Plan.  However, since I posted about a 4 Course Concept, there has been quite a bit of enthusiastic feedback, including from people who know much more about golf than I do.  To the best of my ability, I have integrated the ideas that these experts have generously shared.

I have also repeatedly been asked a question – What will this look like and how will it work?

Before answering, first, a disclosure.  There are no original ideas in my Concept.  Rather, what I have tried to do is envision a new Canal Shores that leverages best practices from the past and present to provide a golf experience that is more flexible and fun for all of our players, especially kids.

THE ROLLING GREEN

There is one aspect of golf that every man, woman, and child can enjoy, regardless of skill level – putting.  Who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a ball tumbling into the hole?  That is why I have proposed the creation of a putting course for Canal Shores.  It is a place that can be enjoyed by all, and where kids can begin to learn the game properly – from the hole outward.

Inspiration for The Rolling Green comes from the world’s most famous putting course – The Himalayas at St. Andrews.  Pictured below, it is the home to the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club, and is also open to the public for a very modest fee.

Closer to home, course developers and operators have started adding putting and short courses to their offerings.  Mike Keiser has proven to be a visionary with the opening of the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes Resort putting course, designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina on 100,000 square feet of wildly contoured duneland.  The course is no charge for resort guests and area residents.  Having played it myself, I can attest to how incredibly fun (and addicting) it is.

Even the USGA has gotten into the act.  On a visit to Canal Shores, USGA senior executive Rand Jerris shared that Gil Hanse designed a putting course at the USGA headquarters.  “Everyone used to eat lunch at their desks, but not anymore,” Rand explained.  “It has fostered a sense of community among our staff.”

THE KIDS LINKS

In Scotland, where the game was born, access to the links was not a right.  It was a privilege that young players had to earn through developing skills and etiquette.  Where were kids to learn the game?  Often, they had their own “courses” set aside – open spaces with greens, minimal hazards, and undulating ground.

Inspiration for our Kids Links was provided to me by Northwestern Coach Pat Goss on a recent trip to Scotland with Luke Donald.  Pat played North Berwick, and saw the Children’s Course, one of the oldest in existence.  This is a space for kids only.  No adults allowed unless accompanied by a child.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing a short course designed to engage kids and beginners, at CommonGround outside of Denver.  Designed by Tom Doak, the course is packed with interesting ground features and cool greens.  The evening I was there, it was also packed with parents and children.

And a final piece of inspiration was provided to us by Lisa Quinn, Executive Director of the The First Tee of Chicago, when she stopped by Canal Shores.  She tipped us off to the Youth Links at Cantigny in Wheaton.  I plan to load my boys up to go play this gem – they play, I caddie.

THE BACK LOT

Watching players progress in the game to the highest level of competitive performance is very rewarding.  Who doesn’t like seeing an advanced player produce mind-blowing shots?

Giving the area’s competitive players – Northwestern’s men’s and women’s golf teams, ETHS’s teams, AJGA amateurs – a world class practice course on which to develop their games exposes the community to part of what makes golf great.  It can never be mastered, and so the reward is in the progress.  Watching better players has always inspired me to keep developing my game, and I subsequently get to experience the joy of hitting shots that seemingly transcend my ability.

And to up the ante, what if the Back Lot was open to parents and kids as a “family course” so that we could walk and play in the footsteps of more advanced players?  I know my boys would love that experience.

Inspiration for the Back Lot comes from existing practice facilities, and short courses.  I am particularly intrigued by the outstanding work done by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw at Bandon Preserve.  Although a par 3 course, it has the fundamentals of a great practice course – variety of approach shot distances and angles, challenging hazards, and big, interesting greens.

Ask any visitor to Bandon, and they will tell you that the Preserve provided challenge, and maximum fun.  Architect Dave Zinkand includes his work on that project at the top of his list of favorites.  (Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Dave here)

Other college golf programs have provided their players with first-rate, imaginative facilities on which to practice their craft.  University of Illinois’s Lautritzen/Wohlers Outdoor Golf Practice Facility, The Playground at University of Washington, and Stanford’s Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex are all examples of how a practice area can be both beautiful and beneficial to players.

As a resident, it would be very exciting to me to have top players out showcasing their skills for me and my kids to see.  And you never know – with a space like this, we might even be able to convince former Northwestern players such as Luke Donald and Matt Fitzpatrick to stop by and visit when they are in town…

THE JANS COURSE

What about players who have the skills, and want to play golf on a “standard” course?  Canal Shores does not have the space that allows for a typical 18 hole golf course.  However, that does not mean that players have to settle for “less than”.  Rather, what can be offered in a renovated short course – The Jans Course – is the kind of fast, fun and flexible golf that fits with today’s busy lifestyles.

Facilities around the country, including nearby Arlington Lakes GC (stay tuned for the GeekedOnGolf interview with architect Mike Benkusky on this project) are reimagining what a “round” of golf could mean.  The creativity of these initiatives is inspiring to me.    

The Jans Course could be routed in numerous combinations of par 3s and 4s into 9 to 14 holes.  If/when the time comes, we’ll leave that to the GCA professionals.  Regardless of the routing, we can draw on the rich history of early-20th century architecture for style inspiration.  Donald Ross, William Langford, Seth Raynor and others have left us with numerous examples of how to create interest with bold features that also fit the natural surroundings.  We need only look around in our Chicagoland “backyard” to courses like Old Elm, Shoreacres, and Skokie CC to see how beautiful and fun these golf holes can be.

Tee-to Green Hazards would likely include minimal bunkers to keep maintenance costs down, but those we have could have the classic look of Golden Era courses.

Without bunkering, The Jans Course could rely on Ground Features – humps, bumps, hollows, and hummocks – to challenge players in a creative and beautiful manner.  In a visit to Canal Shores, architect Drew Rogers stressed the value of these features in giving players variety without sacrificing playability (read the GeekedOnGolf with Drew here)

Our Greens will likely need to be on the smaller end of the scale, but that does not mean that they won’t be interesting.  We are not looking for severity, but rather the subtle contouring that confounds players and makes them want to come back for more.  On his tour of Canal Shores, Rand Jerris encouraged us to preserve and/or recreate some of the neater greens on the course, thereby maintaining a link to the origins of the course.

Is all this possible at little ol’ Canal Shores?  Not without commitment, resources and significant effort.  But otherwise, why not?  We do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Rather, we need only look around for sources of inspiration that abound when the spirit of the game is upheld.  With that spirit, we can transform a unique space into one of the truly great golf facilities on the planet.

Are you inspired?  Stay tuned for news to come…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A 1,537 Mile Drive – The Fort, Hyde Park, Camargo, French Lick, Harrison Hills

My schedule worked out such that I had a few days to hit the open road for golf adventure.  With much appreciated help from Tim Liddy and Jason Thurman, a tour through Indiana and Ohio came together which allowed me to add to my experience of Ross, Raynor, Dye, and Langford (with a healthy dose of Liddy).

Each of these architects practiced the craft of design and construction differently to my eye.  Raynor and Langford, through the lens of the engineer, produced features that are elegant in their simultaneous simplicity and boldness.  Ross and Dye, with the flourish of the artist, blended their creative vision with the landscape.  All used masterful routings across the rolling land to deliver beauty, interest, challenge and a sense of profound joy for me as a I walked the fairways.

Before diving into the photos and commentary, it is worth mentioning that the trip was bookended with golf at my dad’s community golf course in Galesburg, IL where I had the pleasure of whacking it around with Pops and my little guys.  I would trade any of these top-tier golf experiences for a chance to walk with my dad and watch my boys discover the joy of this great game.  For me, that golf is in a class high above the Top 100.

Tim has graciously offered to add his commentary.  I will post it shortly.


THE FORT

Round 1 was supposed to be at Harrison Hills, but they had storm damage, so I hit The Fort instead.  I found out after the round that Tim Liddy worked extensively with Pete Dye on the course.

Having only played the ASU course prior to this, I am inexperienced with Pete Dye’s work (other than what I see in pictures and on TV).  I was surprised to find a course that had plenty of interest as it moved over the rolling terrain without feeling overly manufactured.  The bunkering, greens, and green surrounds had splashes of creativity, but that creativity fit into the landscape nicely.

The course is in a State Park that was previously the Army’s Fort Benjamin Harrison.  It feels remote (a la Bethpage), which I always enjoy, even though it is in the suburbs of Indianapolis.  There was plenty of space to make big holes, and the course has a set of four par 5s that I absolutely loved, including back-to-back 5s on the front nine.  Those holes were gettable, but not without solid strategy and execution.

Sadly, I don’t feel like I got to experience all of the fun of bounces and rolls that were possible because the course was so water-logged.  I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that The Fort was designed with fast-and-firm foremost in mind, but I would say that it would be a blast to play on a drier day.


HYDE PARK GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

HydePark-Clubhouse

Hyde Park’s Clubhouse as seen beyond the ravine that dissects the 12th hole.

Prior to the trip, I had heard from several people that Hyde Park was underrated.  I expected to like it because I am a Ross guy, but what I found was that underrated is an understatement.  The work that Tim Liddy, Eric O’Bryan, and Pat O’Brien have done to restore the course is as good as any that I have seen.

The first hole is relatively straightforward and is a gentle setup for what is about to come.  Heading to the 2nd tee, one gets a first glimpse of how the routing will use the hills and ravines and it is simply breathtaking.  Hyde Park’s #2-7 is an all-world stretch of holes (and #10-15 is no slouch either).  The course is routed using the hills to provide elevation changes and quite a few high-to-high shots, which I find thrilling.

The big picture is outstanding, but the course might be even better in the details.  For example:

  • Use of straight lines on tee boxes, fairway grass lines, and green fronts is a really cool contrast to the natural roll of the land.
  • The variety of Ross bunkers are beautifully placed and shaped, with some dug down to create scale, and others built up.
  • Greens are extended out the edges of the green pads, which I find to be a really neat, classic look.
  • The green contours are mostly subtle, but tricky and fun nonetheless.  I suspect that it takes a long time to really learn those greens.
  • Tree management at the course is terrific.  The course has beautiful, old specimen trees galore, but it does not feel over-treed.
  • The fairways are Zoysia, which was so pleasant to play.  Dear Lord, please let me play on fairways like that when I am an old man.

Even without the strongest finishers on each nine, I was still blown away.  As an every day course, it doesn’t get much better than Hyde Park.


THE DONALD ROSS COURSE AT FRENCH LICK

RossCourse-OpeningView

A first glimpse of the golf to come literally takes the breath away.

I read reviews and looked at numerous photos of the Ross Course.  I expected it to be gorgeous because every photo I have seen of the place is beautiful.  Walking out to the first tee, and seeing the course laid out across the land, I realized that the pictures don’t do it justice.

Most of the greens are on high points on the property, which achieves two objectives: 1) the course plays mostly uphill, adding to its challenge, and 2) each hole culminates with another beautiful vista.  It’s like getting a little reward for surviving the climb.

The challenge of the Ross Course just begins upon reaching the greens.  The contours were the wildest I have ever seen on a Ross design, and they were a blast to putt.  On quite a few holes, my playing partner and I lingered to try some of the putts that would result from approaches hit to the wrong section of the green.  I could have spent hours…

The bunker variety and placement is just right, and the color-contrasts of fairways, bunkers, and tall grass are simply sublime.  It is no wonder that a course that looks like a work of fine art in color and composition is so photogenic.

It’s a general theme here that I would like another chance to play these courses in drier conditions.  There is little doubt in my mind that the weather had taken some of the teeth out of the Ross Course the day I played it.  Playing dry and firm, look out.


HARRISON HILLS GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

After playing two stellar Rosses and a legendary Raynor earlier in the week, I thought that I might be out of WOWs by the time I reached Harrison Hills early on my final day.  William Langford and Tim Liddy proved me wrong with their 71-years-apart collaboration.

I had heard about the course from Dan Moore and others, and after playing Lawsonia Links in the Spring, I was excited for the round.  Tim challenged me to determine which holes he did in his expansion of the course.  I got 17.5 right….  I won’t share the answers here – go play the course and see for yourself.

The distinction between the Langford and Liddy holes is not so much one of design as it is a feel of age.  Tim’s holes just feel newer.  With proper tree and turf management over the next 20-30 years though, I suspect that it will be nearly impossible to distinguish who did what.

 

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.


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

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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Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Sweet Sound of Chainsaws

“As beautiful as trees are, and as fond as you and I are of them, we still must not lose sight of the fact that there is a limited place for them in golf. We must not allow our sentiments to crowd out the real intent of a golf course, that of providing fair playing conditions. If it in any way interferes with a properly played stroke, I think the tree is an unfair hazard and should not be allowed to stand.”
– Donald Ross, from Golf Has Never Failed Me

First things first – I love trees.  They are magical to me.  Growing up on Chicago’s North Shore and finally settling in Evanston, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by big, old trees all my life.  Time spent hiking in the woods of northern Michigan is second in enjoyment for me only to golf.

What a shame it would be if  the beauty of these specimens at Crystal Downs was lost in an overgrown tree line.

What a shame it would be if the beauty of these specimens at Crystal Downs was lost in an overgrown tree line.

My tree-hugging tendencies having been disclosed, I have to agree with Mr. Ross 100%.  On many golf courses, over-planting and invasiveness of trees are a detractor – they create turf health issues, add to maintenance costs, hinder playability, and block sight-lines.  Further, when trees are overgrown, true specimens are not allowed to stand out, reducing aesthetic pleasure.

In spite of high-profile tree removal victories such as at Oakmont, architects and superintendents are often saddled in their work by club memberships that apparently don’t know the difference in function and intent between a golf course and an arboretum.  To illustrate what they deal with, a superintendent friend of mine was confronted by a club member while overseeing tree removal and accused of “raping the golf course”.  The restoration of that same course, which included substantial tree removal, has subsequently been lauded by the members as an unequivocal success.

As the sunlight can better reach the turf once the trees are thinned, so is this page intended as an attempt to shine a light that gets through to tree-ignorant golfers.  Architects andTrees-v-NoTrees superintendents are invited to share their tree removal before-and-after photos and I will keep them organized.  Hopefully, by creating such a resource with visual proof of the improvements, we can raise awareness and make the lives of GCAs and Supers a bit easier.

Photos and commentary can be submitted to me at jwizay1493@hotmail.com or via Twitter @jasonway1493.

TREE REMOVAL BEFORE-AND-AFTER PHOTO ARCHIVE


Oakmont Country Club

1993-1995 Removal led by former Superintendent Mark Kuhns (read the story on Links Magazine)

Oakmont-BeforeAfter


The California Golf Club of San Francisco

2008 Restoration by Kyle Phillips Golf Course Design

CalClub-Trees


Country Club of Peoria

2007-2008 Restoration by Michael J. Benkusky, Inc.  – According to Mike, more than 500 more trees have been removed since the renovation was completed, and the membership continues to love the new look and playability of the course.

PeoriaCC-BeforeAfter


Golf Club de Hardelot

2014 Restoration by Infinite Variety Golf Design and Patrice Boissonnas (more pics and information at GolfClubAtlas.com)

Hardelot-BeforeAfter


Old Elm Club

2010-2014 Restoration by J. Drew Rogers – This being my original home course, it has been quite incredible to see its transformation over the past several years.  It was a special place before, and now that over 1000 trees have been removed (leaving only specimen oaks, elms and hickories), it is simply off-the-charts beautiful.

OldElm-BeforeAfter


Los Angeles Country Club (North)

2009-2010 Restoration by Hanse Golf Course Design with Geoff Shackelford (Full course review available at GolfClubAtlas.com)

LACC-BeforeAfter


Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon)

2007 – 2014 Restoration by Keith Foster (before photo from Gib Carpenter’s wonderful article on GolfClubAtlas.com, after photo by Evan Schiller from course renovation timeline on GolfClubAtlas.com)

PhillyCricket-BeforeAfter


The Lakes

2007 Renovation by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Meade.

TheLakes2-BeforeAfter


Sun City Country Club

Renovation by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Meade.  The opening up of the property that resulted from the tree removal allowed for the combination and creation of new holes (click images for slideshow).


Linlithgow Golf Club

2015 off-season tree removal performed by Course Manager Grant Peters

Linlithgow


Country Club of Fairfield

1999-2000 Restoration by Bruce Hepner and Renaissance Golf Design (full course review on GolfClubAtlas.com).


Commonwealth Golf Club

Renovation work by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Meade.

Victoria-BeforeAfter


Camberly Heath Golf Club

Tree removal performed by grounds staff, video courtesy of Deputy Course Manager Graeme Roberts.

CamberlyHeath


Sleepy Hollow Country Club

2006-2007 Restoration by Gil Hanse and George Bahto, with subsequent additional tree removal. (pre- and post-restoration photos from course review on GolfClubAtlas.com; post-tree removal photo from recent course tour from GCA member Jon C.)

Side note: Highly recommend George Bahto’s book The Evangelist of Golf for anyone interested in golf course architecture, and certainly for any fans of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor.

SleepyHollow16


Broadstone Golf Club

2013-2014 Restoration by Frank Pont of Infinite Variety Golf Design.

Broadstone2 Broadstone1


Plum Hollow Country Club

Tree removal directed by Superintendent Adam Garr.  This video illustrates perfectly the necessity for proactive tree management to ensure turf health (for more information, check out Adam’s PHCC Greens blog).


Rideau View Golf Club

2014 tree removal pics courtesy of RV member Steve Demers (on Twitter @LuckyDemers).


Bryn Mawr CC

2015 tree removal performed by Superintendent Brian Bossert as a continuation of a 2013 renovation by Jim Nagle of Forse Design. (Learn more about the project here)


 

The Links at Lawsonia

2013 – 2014 restoration of this Langford & Moreau gem by Jim Nagle of Forse Design. Before pic courtesy of Scott LaPlant.


Additional Tree Removal Resources:

Recent Tree Removal Update by Chris Tritabaugh, Superintendent at Hazeltine National – This post from the club’s blog details reasoning and strategy behind selective off-season tree removal in preparation for the 2015 season, and 2016 Ryder Cup matches.

Timber! by Golf Course Architect Jeff Brauer – This column from Golf Course Industry Magazine makes a case for the benefits of thoughtful tree removal.


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Happy Birthday Donald Ross – Tribute to a Life Fully Lived

Today is the birthday of my favorite golf course architect – Donald Ross.  Having grown up caddying and playing on a Ross course, I admit to my bias.  Ross was a creative genius, and is arguably the most prolific architect in history with involvement in 400+ courses across the U.S. (not to mention that he was also a fine player and pro).

This post is not so much about the events of Ross’s life.  Books like Discovering Donald Ross and Golf Has Never Failed Me, as well as the new Ross documentary Donald Ross: Discovering the Legend do a better job of that than I ever could.   This post is more a recognition of what can be accomplished with a life fully lived.  (side note: If you think that that a GCA show would be great on Golf Channel, click here to join me in lobbying for it.)

Ross was what we now call a workaholic.  But from all accounts, he was also a devoted father who dealt with the tragic loss of both a wife and a fiancee with measured grace.  He was an adventurer, an artist, a businessman, and a grinder.  He had the loftiest of creative vision, and always kept his feet on and hands in the earth.  He seemed to start life with his pedal to the floor, and he kept it that way until the end.

So although I love the legacy of the great courses he left behind (a sampling of which is shared below), perhaps even better is the inspiration of his example of living life to the fullest.