Geeked on Golf

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


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Transforming the Derrick – Jeff Mingay & George Waters

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

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

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

The first hole, under construction.

The first hole, under construction.


PROJECT DISCUSSION

Have you worked on projects together before?

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

What do you respect about each other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was your approach to tree management?

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

How would you describe the new greens at The Derrick?

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

DerrickClub4-FairwayAfter

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

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

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

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

How did the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

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

What makes you proudest about the new Derrick?

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

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


THE TRANSFORMATION IN PICTURES

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

DERRICK MASTER PLAN_Artistic Plan copy

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

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

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

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

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


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 11 (Blue Sky Findings)

Over the summer, the initiative to transform Canal Shores along the lines I outlined in my previous posts (4 Course Concept & Inspiration for the New Canal Shores) gained significant momentum.  That gain is primarily attributable to my good fortune in connecting with Pat Goss.  Pat is the Director of Golf for Northwestern University and Luke Donald’s coach (follow Pat on Twitter at @patgossnugolf).  He is also highly committed to youth golf and teaching the game.  And perhaps best of all, when it comes to golf geekery, Pat is a soul brother.

Several months ago, the Canal Shores Board formed a “Blue Sky” Committee to explore options for the future of the facility.  Pat and I have a similar vision, and so we volunteered to explore how we might go about turning that vision into a reality.  In early September, I presented our findings to the Canal Shores Grounds Committee and members of the Board, with architect Drew Rogers in attendance.  The response was enthusiastic, and we continue to walk down the road toward the New Canal Shores.

I share a recap of the presentation here for two reasons: First, I want to publicly thank Pat, Dave Zinkand, Drew Rogers, and everyone else from The Game of Golf who lent their expertise and support to getting us to this point. Second, I wanted anyone who was not able to attend the meeting to have the opportunity to stay up to date on how this project is developing.


MEETINGS & CONVERSATIONS

Over the past several months, Pat and I have been talking to various parties within The Game of Golf.  We were sharing ideas for the New Canal Shores, and seeking answers to two questions:

  1. Are we crazy for trying to do this?
  2. If we go forward, can we expect support from The Game to get the renovation done and pay for it?

Among those who talked to us were:

  • National and Regional Organizations – United States Golf Association, Chicago District Golf Association, American Society of Golf Course Architects
  • Youth Golf Organizations – First Tee of Greater Chicago, First Tee of Metropolitan New York, The Golf Practice
  • Golf Course Architects – Drew Rogers, David Zinkand, Tim Liddy, Dave Axland, Andy Staples, Mike Benkusky, Todd Quitno
  • Golf Course Builders and Managers – Wadsworth, Lohman, KemperSports
  • Superintendents of Local Clubs – Bryn Mawr, Conway Farms, Old Elm, Onwentsia Club
  • Professionals – Luke Donald, area teaching pros
  • Coaches – David Inglis & Emily Fletcher (NU), Jed Curtis (ETHS)

Their answers to our questions have been:

  1. Yes, you are crazy, in exactly the right kind of way.
  2. ABSOLUTELY!

The response was overwhelmingly positive and offers of support have already started to roll in – expertise, discounted materials and services, funding, etc.  It has been humbling to interact with these good people who love the game of golf so much, and want to see more kids playing it.


GUIDING PRINCIPLES EXPANDED

The Canal Shores Board previously adopted the following Guiding Principles to govern decisions about the direction of the facility.  We are committed to:

  • Providing an outstanding golf facility that focuses on youth and family golf.  To thrive, the golf facility should deliver an experience that is fast, flexible, and fun for all levels of player.
  • Maximizing value to the community by creating a multi-use green space that is designed for effective mixed use, with golf at its core.  Further, all stakeholders enjoy and benefit from exposure to natural beauty, which Canal Shores will embody.
  • Preparing for the long-term by committing to sustainability.  From a land-stewardship perspective, that means restoration of habitat, proactive tree management, and responsible maintenance practices.  From a business perspective, that means designing the golf component in such a way that the fine line between great design that generates revenue and maintenance cost minimization is effectively walked.

I chose to expand on the above principles to specifically address the renovation and its intent.  The intention is for the facility to be significantly more successful, especially with families and kids.  With the right execution, more players should be able to play without diminishing the value of the facility to non-players and neighbors.

The golf component of the facility will be designed, built, and maintained in a such a manner that:

  • Neighbors may adopt and beautify areas along the the property border without major concern of negative impacts from play.
  • There is harmony with the multi-use paths and wildlife habitat enhancement areas.
  • The beauty of the property is drastically enhanced for players, walkers, and neighbors.
  • The increased volume of players will not have a material negative impact to neighbors.
  • Negative impacts to personal safety and neighboring property damage will be minimized.

Do these high standards create a real design and execution challenge?  Absolutely.  But to me, there is no reason to settle for “less than” in the New Canal Shores.


CANAL SHORES IS DIFFERENT

There are those who believe that the best path forward is for Canal Shores to try and be more like other standard 18 hole courses in the area – more like Chick Evans, or Wilmette GC, or Westmoreland CC.  Pat and I obviously do not share this view.

To us, Canal Shores is unlike any other golf course we have ever played, specifically because of the land on which it sits.  It is woven like a thread into the fabric of the community.  It blends natural beauty with man-made architecture and the infrastructure of the community.  It is also segmented by the streets in a way that has created a culture of free-form use by players.  Its openness welcomes mixed-use in a way we don’t often see in golf facilities in America.

These aspects of the character of Canal Shores are what makes it compelling.  It does not need to be more like other courses or clubs.  To truly thrive, we advocate embracing and building upon what makes Canal Shores unique.  It is this uniqueness that has so many people from The Game of Golf lining up to help us.  In this case, they see that different is better.

What does this mean in practice?  It means two things:

  1. We would be upgrading from a single 18-hole golf course, to 4 courses totaling ~40 holes.
  2. We would be adopting a “ski area” approach to the structure of the facility.  Different areas, experiences, and demands for different skill levels.

In this manner, we can be of maximum value to the greatest number of players.


PART OF A MOVEMENT

Although the multi-course concept being considered is unique in Chicagoland, we are certainly not alone in our efforts to reconnect the game of golf to its original spirit.  Around the country, alternative golf projects like those at Sweetens Cove, the Schoolhouse Nine, and others are gaining notoriety. (Click here for a map of Shorties & Alternative courses around the country – each pin includes links to more information.)

Two of my favorite projects are the Andy Staples designed Rockwind Community Links and John Ashworth’s campaign to renovate Goat Hill Park.  These projects serve as examples and inspiration for Canal Shores.

Learn more about Rockwind in this short video (video may take several moments to load):

Learn more about Goat Hill in this short video (video may take several moments to load):


REFINING THE MULTI-COURSE CONCEPT

Architect David Zinkand was kind enough to spend two days visiting Canal Shores and learning about our desires for the facility (click here to learn more about Dave).  He then created for us a Preliminary Rendering of the New Canal Shores free of charge.  This rendering is not meant to represent the final plan in every detail, but it does give a compelling glimpse into the future.
CanalShores-ZinkandRendering_091015

Attendees at the meeting were also sent an Executive Summary of the proposed project that included a statement of our intention to apply for a planning grant from the ASGCA/USGA First Links program.  That application has been submitted, and initial response from the directors of the program has been enthusiastic.  (Click here to view the Executive Summary)


WHY GO IN THIS DIRECTION?

This is a personal question that each person who might be involved in the project must answer for themselves.  People from the Game of Golf have answered that they believe that it can be done, that it will work, and that it is exactly what the game needs.

For me, there are several reasons why I am willing to put my time, energy, and money into transforming Canal Shores:

  • As a dad, I want my boys to have a chance to fall in love with the game the way that I did.
  • As a member of the community, I would love to be a part of leaving a legacy of a special place for golf, outdoor recreation, and natural beauty.
  • As a player, Canal Shores can be a set of 4 world-class golf courses, and I want to play them for years to come.

More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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

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

(Photos courtesy of Dan Moore Golf)

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

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

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

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


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

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

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

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

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

How did the two of you connect?

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

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

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were your goals going into the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were your biggest concerns going into the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you love most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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