Geeked on Golf

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


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 12 (Good Geeky Fun)

Yesterday was one of the best golf days I have ever had.  With a little nudge from some of the members of GolfClubAtlas, Pat Goss and I put together a day for good, geeky golf fun.  It began with an outing for the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers, and ended with a Gathering of golf enthusiasts to share food, drinks, and the spirit of this great game.

The day epitomized the role that Canal Shores can play in the community and the game itself – it is a place where we can connect with each other and with our childlike joy.


THE OUTING

HCRJGLogo

The Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers is one of golf’s most prestigious societies.  We aren’t ancient, and we’re definitely not royal, but we are dedicated – dedicated to the spirit of fun and camaraderie in the game.

The Company held its annual outing, at which we played a the course backwards – the Reverse Jans.

CanalShores-ReverseJansRouting

A great time was had by all, and Team Zinkand took home the prizes for our team competition.  Thanks to the generosity of RJGers, Canal Shores received a nice donation to its Canal Shores 100 Master Planning Fund.

Many thanks to Seamus Golf, Imperial Hats, and Bluestone restaurant for their support of the event.


THE GATHERING

After the Outing, we were joined in the American Legion Hall upstairs at the Canal Shores clubhouse by other golf enthusiasts from the community and GolfClubAtlas.  We were treated to presentations by our architects David Zinkand and Drew Rogers, and golf historian Dan Moore.

Drew started off by sharing his perspective on why he got involved with the Canal Shores renovation project.  Our thanks to Drew, not only for his support and guidance, but also for his assistance in helping us to win the USGA/ASGCA Site Evaluation planning grant.

Dan Moore followed by sharing his findings from research into the origins of Canal Shores (formerly Peter Jans GC and originally Evanston Community GC).  Dan confirmed that the course was originally opened as a 9-holer in 1919, and later expanded.  He also revealed that the course was laid out by Tom Bendelow, who is credited along with Donald Ross, CB Macdonald, and other pioneers, with the spread of the game in America in the early 1900s.

GGG-DaveZinkandLeft

And finally, Dave Zinkand made a neat presentation taking us through his background, his travels to Britain and back, and how he is drawing on inspirations to create the Jans Course at the new Canal Shores.

To view his presentation slides, click here.

The group at the Gathering made additional donations to the Master Planning Fund, for which we are also very grateful.


ONWARD

We have more news to share, but I will save that for upcoming posts.  Suffice it to say, yesterday was a special day, and it is tremendously inspiring to be a part of this group chasing down the dream to reinvent Canal Shores, and the game of golf in our community.

If you would like to contribute to our Canal Shores 100 Master Planning Fund, you can do so by clicking the button below.  Every dollar helps, and keeps us moving forward.

Onward we go…

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Canal Shores is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit and all donations are tax deductible.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

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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To Heath & Links with Drew Rogers

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

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


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

THE TOUR

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

HEATH OR LINKS?

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

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

The heathland setting of Sunningdale

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

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

The linksland of Royal Cinque Ports

COLT & FOWLER

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

Harry Colt's Swinley Forest

Harry Colt’s Swinley Forest

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

Herbert Fowler's Walton Heath

Herbert Fowler’s Walton Heath

GOLF IN ENGLAND

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

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

Players enjoying a round with their dogs at The Berkshire

PAR IS PAR

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

SHORT HOLES

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

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

Par-3 10th at The Berkshire Red

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

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

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

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

MISC. DESIGN ATTRIBUTES

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

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

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

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

The 6th

The 6th “Himalayas at St. Enodoc

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

Angled fairway at Woking

Angled fairway at Woking

FINAL THOUGHTS

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

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

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


To Heath & Links Tour Daily Journal:


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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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Take the Risk, Get the Reward

Whenever I can, I sneak away on my frequent business trips to Arizona to play one of my favorites – the Coore & Crenshaw gem, Talking Stick.  On my most recent outing to Talking Stick, one of my all-time favorite holes, the short par-4 12th (more on that hole later), got me to thinking about risk-reward holes par 4s, and why they are so great.

Golf is a game that makes many demands of the player.  Mental demands to process information and use it in decision making. Physical demands to execute against the decision made.  And the best holes, especially risk-reward par 4s, make strategic demands.  On these holes, the player must weigh 2 options:

  • The first option typically involves a safe tee shot that leads to a tougher approach, and the therefore a lower probability of being rewarded with a birdie, but also a lower probability of a bogey.
  • The second option involves a riskier drive, where failure to execute could result in bogey or worse, but where success means a much easier approach to claim the birdie reward.

A risk-reward par 4 does not need to be drivable to maximize challenge and enjoyment, although many are.  The beauty of these holes, and what makes them so demanding, is that there is no “right” choice.  The safe and risky strategies both work, and both have their challenges.  There is no easy way out, and so the player must make a decision, commit fully, and execute to make a birdie.

I fell in love with risk-reward holes as a caddie at Old Elm Club, which has recently undergone a restoration by J Drew Rogers.  The 9th hole is a short dog-leg left par 4.  The green complex is drivable, especially with a well-shaped draw, but errant tee shots are gobbled up by stands of large old trees.  Drives that find the trees rarely result in a green in regulation.  The player can choose to lay up short of the green in an area between 2 sets of bunkers, yielding an 80-100 yard pitch to a tiered green guarded by bunkers.  Birdie is still quite possible with the safe play off the tee, but not nearly as probable as if the player can drive up near the green for an easy up-and-down.

Taking into account wind and weather conditions, I played the hole both conservatively and aggressively over the years.  I made numerous birdies on the 9th, and had a few looks at eagle, but I also made my fair share of bogeys and others.  The 9th at Old Elm never got boring, which is the mark of a great hole. (Thanks to Dimpled Rock Photography for the beautiful Old Elm photos)

My home course, the Kingsley Club, which was designed by Mike DeVries, also has a risk-reward par 4 that is great fun.  The 13th at Kingsley is short enough to be drivable under almost all conditions.  It also has an ample landing area for lay-ups.  An undulating green, surrounded in front and right by bunkers, makes all approaches challenging and exciting.

Having played this hole both ways, I have concluded that the risky play at the green with a bail-out long left is the optimal choice.  Ideally the player can hit a fade that runs up on to the green left of the front bunker.  Neither the safe nor the risky play from the tee leaves an easy second shot though.  There is still work to be done, even from greenside, to collect that birdie reward.

Returning to Talking Stick’s 12th – this hole has an abundance of visual and strategic interest, in addition to making wonderful use of the natural features of the land.  Specifically, the natural wash/dry creek bed has been creatively incorporated to demarcate the safe and risky options.

Having played this hole more almost ten times, I have still not committed completely to one of the two options.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I have made more bogeys than birdies .  That is the mark of a great risk-reward hole.  It introduces options, which can confound the player and produce doubt.  Very few good shots are born of a doubtful mind.

The 9th at Old Elm, The 13th at Kingsley, the 12th at Talking Stick North, and every other great risk-reward par 4 – they tease and torment, and every so often, they pay off with a birdie.  From my perspective, they embody all that is best about golf – challenge, interest and enjoyment – and that is why they keep us coming back for more.