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THE ARRIVAL OF REINFORCEMENTS

Part 29 of the Journey Along the Shores series explores the organic expansion of our volunteer efforts, and the community connections that have been created

Building on our successful bank clearing on the 16th, we continued the work of creating vistas into the off-season. Over the winter, we made progress between 14 green and 18 tee, left of 2 green, between 3 green and 11 tee, and left of 4 tee. As always, uncovering specimen trees while revealing the character and scale of the land is tremendously rewarding. Hearty souls like Matt, Dan, Mike, Andy and Jantzen who brave the snow and chilly temps are greatly appreciated.

A confession must be made, however. Most years, come February, a profound level of fatigue sets in and I begin to dread heading out for yet another day of battling overgrowth. This off-season was entirely different, as two new groups—a golf society and a merry band of neighbors—showed up to not only recharge my batteries with their enthusiasm, but to give our players incredible new views of Lake Michigan and the historic El train bridge.

Of course, the progress is fantastic to witness, especially given the speed of transformation when the groups are large and committed. Observing the volunteers, one quickly realizes that the impact of this work goes beyond revitalization of the land. There was a positive and powerful vibe that was palpable, and when I spoke with two of our ring leaders, it came more into focus.

Project Pollinator

The first portion of the path that Matt Considine walked in the game was well-worn. He grew up in a golfing family, playing with his dad, older brother and mom, who was arguably the best of their bunch. The competitive bug bit, and his junior career was strong enough to earn a scholarship to play for the University of Akron. An accomplishment that he thought would bring satisfaction instead felt hollow. Burnt out, he quit the team.

Standing at the crossroads, no longer possessing a clear sense of direction, he decided to take a fork that would lead him far away, and then back again. Considine left for Ireland, without his golf clubs, to travel and study abroad for ten months. He thought connecting with his family’s roots might do him good, but it was a reconnection to the game he loved that had a more profound impact.

Cork Golf Club, designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, is a place that American tourists pass on their way to Old Head. It is also the home of the University golf team, which Considine made while using a set of borrowed clubs. Playing matches against other schools and golf societies at Cork, and other courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland, had two effects on him—match play filled his heart with joy, and links golf stimulated his curiosity about architecture. This game was different from the one he left behind in Akron, but the result was the same as when he first picked up a club with his family years ago. He was hooked.

There was one more discovery to be made in Cork before returning home. Considine noticed that some club members had a special attitude toward the care of their courses. In The States, players play and the maintenance staff maintains, but that line was blurred not just by the culture of Irish golf, but also by artisans societies. These were groups of members who volunteered to fill divots, repair pitch marks and perform other regular maintenance in exchange for perks, but no pay. Watching the artisans happily keep the green resonated with Considine and stood in stark contrast to the dynamics he knew. “We have a crisis in golf in America,” he said, “due to a lack of appreciation for what we have.”

In the Considine family, service was an ever-present value. “My dad ran Akron Children’s Hospital and his motto was ‘service above self’,” Matt recalled. “We heard him say that so often that we got sick of it.” Having graduated and relocated to Chicago, Considine was more interested in self. He was working hard, enjoying recreation and dating—everything a twentysomething in the city is supposed to do. The result, however, was that familiar, empty feeling. “It was a lonely time,” he shared. “I was making money and friends, but something was missing.” A mixture of his newfound Irish spirit and an entrepreneurial impulse would lead to another twist in his winding road.

NewClub Golf Society is Matt Considine’s effort to transplant the ethos of golf in Great Britain and Ireland to America. He and his co-founder Mark Colwell have clearly caught lightning in a bottle by providing kindred spirits in Chicago an opportunity to find a game and create lasting friendships. Ambassadors from around the country have begun organizing their own local NewClub chapters. Not surprisingly, Considine and his compatriots have become artisans in their own right, making Canal Shores a focus of their service efforts. They have maintained bunkers, dug the wee burn, expanded greens and battled buckthorn.

Considine chuckles as he describes the transformation that newbies go through when he encourages them to come out for a work session. “To understand what NewClub is all about, I tell them to go volunteer at Canal Shores and hang with the guys, and then go play after,” he explained. “The looks on their faces as they work are priceless. Playing Shoreacres or Chicago Golf is incredible, but you will never feel as connected as you do to a course where you dug a bunker or mowed a green.”

‘Play and pollinate’ is the motto at NewClub as they spread their vibe from one golfer to another. This offseason, as they worked on their pet project to open up the view to Lake Michigan on the 6th hole at Canal Shores, they made another important connection. Patrick Hughes, a life-long Evanston resident and friends of the course, joined the group to help and was taken by the camaraderie and accomplishment he experienced. He made a video to celebrate the day, and then he made a decision to carry it forward even further.

Community Connector

I’m sitting in a booth at the Shermain Grill with my friend and fellow volunteer Steve Neumann, listening to Patrick Hughes try and express his desire to do something to contribute at Canal Shores. His thoughts were not initially clear that day, but his intention and the intensity of his energy were. Rather than attempting a quantum leap, we left our lunch date with a plan for an initial step forward.

E-Town in is Hughes’s blood. His parents met in 7th grade at the local Catholic school, and they raised a family of eight in town. There is also a Hughes tradition with Canal Shores. Back in the day when it was named for its founder Peter N. Jans, they lived near, worked at and played together on the course. Patrick was on the ETHS team under legendary Coach Dobbie Burton. The course was often in sketchy condition and none of the kids appreciated it, except for the competitive psychological advantage it provided over rival north shore high schools.

It was in college, where Hughes was drifting along somewhat aimlessly, that he discovered an affinity for volunteerism. He started spending time with an autistic man and instead of engaging solely in structured field trips, invited his new friend into his everyday life. Two powerful insights emerged: first, it is inclusion rather than arm’s-length charity that really makes a difference in the lives of those with special needs; and second, helping someone else get connected made him feel a greater connection himself. A local newspaper ran a story about the duo, and before he knew it, Hughes was a volunteer service organizer.

He had been following the buzz about Canal Shores on social media, but hadn’t found his way firmly into the volunteer mix. The work on the 6th hole, and witnessing the ownership the NewClubbers took of their section of the property gave him the idea of neighborhood stewardship. With his Shermain plan in hand, Hughes started doing what he does best—connecting with his neighbors and organizing work sessions on the 12th hole, which is nearest his house. He was surprised by how quickly his group grew, and gratified to see that others were experiencing the same level of connection through their stewardship that he had. 

The COVID crisis forced the crew to change their approach to the work, but did not hamper their progress. They took on the monumental task of cleaning invasive overgrowth away from the few remaining specimen trees and the beautiful, old train bridge. The results are stunning.

The treeline on the 12th before work began
The cleared treeline and bridge reveal

Ask Hughes what excited him most about his neighborhood movement and you best be prepared for a long answer. One story stands out. “My neighbor’s daughter was going through a funk with the stay-at-home situation, and with life,” he recounted. “We wanted to send messages to the El conductors and she got the assignment of updating our big sign. It was so fun to see her own it and fill up with energy.” Connection and inclusion, powerful as always.

The advent of the internet, the knowledge economy, and other aspects of modern life promised us a direct path to a new age of happiness. Instead, we seem to have wandered off course to a place where feelings of loneliness, dissatisfaction and disconnection are too often the norm. Considine, Hughes and the others they have brought into the Canal Shores volunteer fold have had a common awakening. Working with one’s hands to care for a community asset, side-by-side with friends and neighbors, sets us back on track to a priceless connection to the Earth and each other.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LIVES IN BALANCE

Three men’s connection to the Onwentsia Club, and their shared path to excellence in golf and life

Deep in the hearts of many men and women is the desire to do great things, and perhaps even leave a legacy. The obvious path to achievement is characterized by singleness of purpose and the willingness to trudge along until arriving at the destination. Less intuitive is the approach of allowing the well-rounded and enthusiastic life to produce excellence organically. Renaissance men have made their mark on the game of golf in America. Macdonald, Tillinghast, Jones, Hagen, Nelson and others, each in their own way, lived life to the fullest, making room for much more than just golf, or a particular aspect of it. Their varied interests in no way detracted from their performance and accomplishments.

The past two years have seen a healthy discussion arise among golf course superintendents about the interrelation between career success and life balance. The path of singular focus and dedication can lead to greatness, but it can also end in burnout. These professionals, who care deeply about their work, are wrestling with conceiving of a practical answer to a nagging question: How can we deliver results of which we can be proud, and still have healthy and vibrant lives off the course?

Among those involved in rediscovering the path of varied interests is family man, photographer and Superintendent at the Onwentsia Club, Scott Vincent. Serendipitously, he finds himself at the original family club, whose golf course was influenced by two of the game’s early bon vivants, Charles Blair Macdonald and his son-in-law Henry James Whigham.

As we seek to unpack and contextualize this weighty topic, Scott (@srvpix) has graciously shared his story and his gorgeous photography, which is presented here in three sets:

  • SET 1: Onwentsia from the Players’ Perspective
  • SET 2: The Course through Greenkeeper’s Eyes
  • SET 3: Magic Moments Away from the Job

The images are inspiring for golf geeks and lovers of beauty alike (click on any gallery image below to expand).

American Beginnings

New York, with its Apple Tree Gang and Long Island Clubs, is generally considered to be the birthplace of golf in America. However, the game’s roots run equally deep in Chicago. C.B. Macdonald left the Windy City to live with his grandfather and study at the University of St. Andrews in the early 1870s. The magic of the town, The Old Course and the Morris family cast a spell on the young man, who chased his ball around the links during every available moment. Macdonald returned to the States and suffered through a period he referred to as the “dark ages” during which he had difficulty convincing anyone to join him in his newfound pastime.

The run-up to the Columbian Exposition in 1893 created an opportunity for golf to take hold in Chicago. Seeking to create a playing field for visiting Brits, Macdonald found a site on the North Shore. He recounted the story in his book, Scotland’s Gift—Golf: “Then my friend, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, knowing that I was a golf enthusiast, asked me if I wouldn’t lay out a few holes on the estate of his father-in-law, Senator John B. Farwell, at Lake Forest, which I did in May or June, 1892. There were seven holes, not one of which was over 250 yards long and at least four not more than 50 to 75 yards long, running under the trees of the lawn and between flower beds. Of course, this was not real golf, any more than the course of the “Apple Tree Gang” at Yonkers. However, it gave Lake Forest an idea of what golf might be, and this eventually bore fruit in the formation of the Onwentsia Club.”

Macdonald was concurrently laying out his own rudimentary course in Belmont and forming the Chicago Golf Club from among his curious friends and business colleagues. Both clubs continued to evolve in stride. “In 1894 they started the Lake Forest Golf Club with nine holes on the McCormick farm,” he wrote. “There they played until 1896, when they bought the farm of Henry Ives Cobb where they first had nine holes and then eighteen which H.J. Whigham laid out for them in 1898. The club then took its charter, and it was called Onwentsia Club. In July 1899, the United States Golf Association amateur championship was held on this course.”

While Macdonald maintained his connections to his fellow golfers in Lake Forest, his attention shifted to growing the Chicago Golf Club, first in Belmont and ultimately in Wheaton. This new club would also play a prominent role in the formation of the governing body that would come to be known as the USGA. As a contemporary club, Onwentsia could have similarly asserted itself among the game’s early leadership, going all in on the tradition-based growth of golf in America. The club’s members took a different path, choosing to focus inward on developing strong bonds among the members as they indulged their shared passion for sport.

Charlie & Henry

C.B. Macdonald’s influence on golf was as great as any man’s in history. He was a capable competitive amateur on the national stage, a prolific writer and champion of the game’s Sottish heritage, and a course design genius. The fact remains though that had he so chosen, he could have accomplished even more. He began turning down invitations to compete as soon as he felt his skills were slipping. And even more notably, after developing his “ideal concepts” approach to design and creating early masterpieces of golf course architecture in America—National Golf Links of America, Piping Rock, Sleepy Hollow, The Lido Club, St. Louis Country Club and Mid Ocean—he stepped back and handed the practice to his protege Seth Raynor. Macdonald preferred to spend time with family, and on the links playing friendly matches with friends. He just wanted to be Charlie.

When she married H.J. Whigham, C.B.’s daughter Frances could not have made a more suitable addition to clan Macdonald. The Whighams hailed from Tarbolton, Scotland and H.J.’s father David was a classmate and frequent golf partner of C.B. Macdonald at St. Andrews. Henry James learned the game from renowned Scottish professional Willie Campbell and was already an accomplished player when he was invited to travel to the United States to demonstrate his skills at the Columbian Exposition.

This first taste of American life prompted Whigham to relocate in 1895, and he took a job at Lake Forest College, teaching English and Economics, while playing golf at Onwentsia whenever his busy schedule as a writer and lecturer allowed. He won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1896 at Shinnecock Hills and successfully defended his title in 1897 at Chicago Golf Club, establishing himself as the premier amateur player of the day. There was more to life than golf for Whigham though. He was a man of letters and had an intense curiosity about the world.

Whigham would not try for a three-peat, preferring to become a war correspondent covering the Spanish-American War in Cuba, the Boer War in South Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China. Global adventures finally concluded, he found himself on Long Island in 1907, assisting C.B. Macdonald in his quest to create the ideal golf links in Southampton. Unlike Macdonald’s other collaborator Seth Raynor, Whigham would not develop a career as an architect. He continued to write, but high profile pursuits in golf were not for him. Being Henry was apparently good enough.

Twice a Year

Performance in most professions is judged based on victories. In others, like NFL linemen and golf course superintendents, success seems to be linked to the absence of defeats. Players are mostly to blame for this dynamic. As we do with our own games, we tend to focus on what went wrong rather than what went right. The day’s round could have been better, if only…and we turn that critical eye to the course. It’s in good shape, except the speed of the greens, or that dandelion in a bunker face, or that wet spot in the fairway, or the depth of sand in the bunkers…on and on, ad nauseam. Unfortunately, superintendents too often get infected by this obsession with shortcomings. “We have short memories about how far we’ve already come,” Scott Vincent confessed.

Vincent has been in the business of greenkeeping for 25 years, with one side foray during which he scratched an entrepreneurial itch in a technology start-up. Perhaps the look at a different industry gave him the perspective to better stay in touch with the aspects of his job that bring him joy—coaching a team, directing an organization from the office and the field, and as he puts it, “managing a living product under the ever-changing conditions of the seasons, weather, member expectations and my own goals.”

With a resume that includes new course construction and grow-in, as well as time spent at Myopia Hunt Club, New Haven C.C. and Skokie C.C., he is accomplished in his own right. Eleven years into his tenure at Onwentsia, Vincent has found the right fit. “I am challenged every day,” he explained. “If I provide a product that members and guests like, within the budget, they let me do my job.” The membership trusts their man because he consistently strikes an elegant balance—everything is done, and nothing is overdone. He collaborates with architect Bruce Hepner to push the course presentation forward, but they are not trying to transform Onwentsia into something it is not. In that authenticity lies its greatness, and the deep affinity held by the members for their course.

In his work, camaraderie with fellow superintendents helps keep Vincent grounded and inspired. “I love participating in this highly connected subculture of supers, pros and other golf geeks,” he said. Life outside of work is equally energizing, with his beautiful family, his faith and his passion for photography. “My dad was a 35 mm junkie,” he reminisced. “He developed his own film at home and bought me my first camera.” Capturing special moments comes naturally to Vincent, but the quality of his images is equally resultant from effort. The current frontier involves stringing moments together into a cohesive narrative. Like greenkeeping and fatherhood, there is alway something to learn and practice in photography.

“We’re only happy twice a year,” said Vincent, conveying an old superintendents’ witticism, “for the member-guest, and when we shut off the irrigation for the season.” There is truth in that humor, but in his experience, Scott Vincent knows that it doesn’t have to be that way. His professionalism precludes calling anyone out, but any self-aware golfer knows that we can do better at adopting an attitude of gratitude and saying “thank you” more often to the dedicated men and women who tend our playing fields. Among their ranks, supers are being increasingly open about their struggles and supporting each other, especially as it relates to unplugging from the job. An awareness is growing of the diminishing returns gained by effort and resources expended beyond the point of reasonableness.

Could Macdonald have built more great courses? Could Whigham have captured more championships? Could Scott Vincent, with all his talent, get an even bigger Superintendent job? It is entirely reasonable to answer all three of these questions in the affirmative. It does not necessarily follow, however, that any of these men’s lives would have been better, or that their achievements are somehow lessened by their decisions to give time to friends, family or creative hobbies. Onwentsia was born in part from one of American golf’s first families, and a family club uninterested in chasing acclaim it remains. The perfect spot for a family man like Scott Vincent, whose quality of work is attained through life balance, rather than in spite of it.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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CONTINUOUS CHANGE AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL

A Then & Now photo tour of the always exciting and ever-changing Augusta National Golf Club

Bobby Jones set out, with his beloved Old Course as inspiration, to create the ideal golf course at Augusta. His collaborative partnership included Dr. Alister MacKenzie, Clifford Roberts, Marion Hollins and others—a meeting of the minds with a singular focus. In spite of the early challenges associated with stabilizing the club, the group certainly achieved the objective of designing and building a golf course worthy of acclaim. Dr. MacKenzie gave his assessment of their creation in an essay that was included in the program for the First Annual Invitation Tournament held in March of 1934:

“If, as I firmly believe, the Augusta National becomes the World’s Wonder Inland Golf Course, this will be due to the original ideas that were contributed by Bob Jones.

What is the “ideal” course? Bob and I found ourselves in complete accord on these essentials: 

  1. A really great course must be pleasurable to the greatest possible number.
  2. It must require strategy as well as skill, otherwise it cannot be enduringly interesting.
  3. It must give the average player a fair chance and at the same time require the utmost from the expert who tries for sub-par scores. 
  4. All natural beauty should be preserved, natural hazards should be utilized, and a minimum of artificiality introduced.

I want to say quite frankly that if our finished work is favorably received, it will be in part due to the excellent material at our disposal. We had plenty of land, towering pine trees, beautiful shrubbery, streams of water, a mildly rolling terrain of great variety, a rich soil for growing good fairway grass and a naturally beautiful setting from an architectural standpoint.

The property was originally settled by a Belgian Baron by the name of Berckmans. He was an ardent horticulturist and in this property he indulged his hobby to the limit of his resources. I don’t suppose the old Baron suspected that golf would someday become a popular sport in America and his property used by the world’s greatest player for a golf course. But if Bob’s great grandfather had foretold to the Baron what was to occur, the Baron could not possibly, in my opinion, have devised a beautification program that would today better serve our purposes. 

There are azaleas in abundance and a great variety of small plants, shrubbery and hedges, and a real cork tree. There are also scores of camellia bushes, that are now really trees—in size. But the most impressive of all is the ancient double row of Magnolia trees (said to be the finest in the South) that will border the driveway entrance into this ‘Golfer’s Paradise’.

Now to get back to our golf course. Doubt may be expressed as to the possibility of making a course pleasurable to everyone, but it may be pointed out that the “Old Course” at St. Andrews, Scotland, which Bob likes best of all, very nearly approaches this ideal. 

It has been suggested that it was our intention at Augusta to produce copies of the most famous golf holes. Any attempt of this kind could only result in failure. It may be possible to reproduce a famous picture, but the charm of a golf hole may be dependent on a background of sand dunes, trees, or even mountains several miles away. A copy without the surroundings might create an unnatural appearance and cause a feeling of irritation, instead of charm. On the other hand, it is well to have a mental picture of the world’s outstanding holes and to use this knowledge in reproducing their finest golfing features, and perhaps even improving on them. 

At Augusta we tried to produce eighteen ideal holes, not copies of classical holes but embodying their best features, with other features suggested by the nature of the terrain. We hope for accomplishments of such unique character that the holes will be looked upon as classics in themselves.

The acid test of a golf course is its abiding popularity. And here we are up against a real difficulty. Does the average golfer know what he really likes himself? When he plays well, he praises the course, but if his score is a high one the vigor of his language would put to shame a regimental sergeant major. It is usually the best holes that are condemned most vehemently by those who fail to solve their strategy. Bob Jones realizes this so strongly that when his opinion about the design of Augusta National, he said that the course would differ so markedly from others, that many of the members at first would have unpleasant things to say about the architects. A few years ago I would have agreed with Bob, but today, owing to his own teaching, the work and writings of C.B. Macdonald, Max Behr, Robert Hunter, and others, Americans appreciate real strategic golf to a greater extent than even in Scotland, the Home of Golf.

I do not believe the Augusta National will impress anyone as a long course, as although undulating it is not hilly. There are no irritating walks from greens to tees and moreover it will be so interesting and free from annoyance of searching for lost balls, that players will get the impression that it is shorter than it really is.”

The ink was barely dry on MacKenzie’s writing when changes began to be made. The course evolved, as every course does, but very few have undergone the continuous tinkering that Augusta has since that inaugural tournament that would come to be known simply as The Masters. Perry Maxwell, Robert Trent Jones, George Cobb, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio have all left their marks. 

Debate rages among lovers of the course and the tournament about whether the evolutionary arc of Augusta National has moved it closer to or further away from the ideal standard envisioned by its founder. Regardless of where one stands on that question, we can all agree that the roars on the back nine on those magical Sunday afternoons in April are tough to beat.

The Course Then & Now

For the second time in its history, The Masters tournament was not contested during its normal slot on the spring calendar. Thankfully, our fellow geeks took to social media to bring us a spirit-lifting look at Augusta National during these troubled times. The tour that follows is a modern collaborative effort featuring historical photos and commentary from Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) and Brian Schneider (@BSchneider126), as well as the Good Doctor himself. For recent contrast, Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems) has provided his photos and thoughts. The evolution of the course is evident, and we leave it to each geek to decide which era they love most.

In spite of our familiarity with the course from years of watching the tournament on television, those who have had the good fortune to attend as patrons are unanimous in the opinion that no video or photo can convey the feeling of being there. Obviously. Do take note, however, of the scale and movement of the land that is conveyed in Jon’s photos, taken during a recent practice round. Thinner crowds coupled with his interesting vantage points made for compelling images. Enjoy the tour!

Click on any gallery image to enlarge

HOLE #1 “Tea Olive” – 445 yards – par 4

“A drive that is long and straight, skirting a group of trees on the right will be in a favorable position for the second. It is difficult to obtain par figures from any other position.” – Dr. MacKenzie

A wide fairway welcomes the nervy opening tee shot at the Masters, but the dogleg right demands precision, and the green undulates like the ocean in a gale. There isn’t a player in the field who wouldn’t take 4-4-4-4 here.

HOLE #2 “Pink Dogwood” – 575 yards – par 5

“This is an interesting three shot hole down hill. Each shot will have to be placed with great accuracy if par figures are obtained. On the other hand, it is quite possible for a powerful and accurate player to reach the green in two shots.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The green on the par-5 second is perhaps the only one on the course that might be MORE interesting today than it was in 1934. In its early days, there was just one greenside bunker. The left-hand bunker would be added in the 1940s, followed by the back-left expansion of the green a number of years later.

A blind tee shot to a fairway sweeping left and hard downhill leaves an approach from a downhill lie to green sloping hard left-to-right. The first birdie opportunity and generally one of the easiest holes on the course.

HOLE #3 “Flowering Peach” – 350 yards – par 4

“This green is situated on an interesting natural plateau. The left hand side of the green is very narrow; whereas the right side is broad. It is easy for anyone to reach the wide portion of the green with their second shot, but difficult to reach the narrow end where the pine will usually be placed.” – Dr. MacKenzie

No. 3 has seen its share of trainwrecks as players attempt to drive the ball on to this extremely shallow, severely sloped green. Laying up can leave an awkward half-wedge and bring the enormous fairway bunkers into play.

HOLE #4 “Flowering Crabapple” – 240 yards – par 3

“This is a very similar hole to the famous Eleventh (Eden) at St. Andrews. There have been scores of attempted copies of this famous hole but there is none that has the charm and thrills of the original. Most copies are failures because of the absence of the subtle and severe slopes which create the excitement of the original hole, and also because the turf is usually so soft that any kind of a sloppy pitch will stop. Previous failures, followed by, comparatively speaking, increasing successes may have given us sufficient experience to warrant us in hoping that here at last we may have constructed a hole that will compare favorably with the original.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The original 13th and 14th Holes at Augusta National (now the 4th and 5th) were both modeled after great holes from The Old Course, as was the spirit of the course itself. The par-3 13th was a loose replica of the famed Eden 11th and the 14th, a version of the infamous Road Hole 17th.

 

The first par-3 of the round is a monster considered by some to be the toughest par on the course. The guarded green is sloped right-to-left and back-to-front. No problem if you’ve got a 240yd high cut in your bag.

 

HOLE #5 “Magnolia” – 495 yards – par 4

“This will be a similar type of hole to the famous 17th at St Andrews. A group of trees will form the corner of the dogleg instead of the station masters garden and the green itself will be situated on a similar plateau to its prototype.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Lengthened by 40 yards before last year’s tournament, this hole now demands a 300 yard carry to clear the enormous fairway bunkers inside the dogleg. The green is eye-poppingly sloped in front, making three-putts common here.

HOLE #6 “Juniper” – 188 yards – par 3

“This will be similar to the Redan at North Berwick but here owing to its extreme visibility, lie of the land and beauty of the surroundings, we have no doubt that we will be able to construct a much more attractive hole than the original.” – Dr. MacKenzie

A personal favorite and a terrific par-3, Juniper plays downhill over hillside spectators to an incredible green protected by a huge bunker. Seeing the back right pin position in person for the first time is a true revelation.

HOLE #7 “Pampas” – 450 yards – par 4

“This hole is similar in character to the Eighteenth Hole at St. Andrews, Scotland. There is a deep hollow at the front of the green which it is necessary to attack at the correct angle for par figures to be obtained. At this hole it will also be desirable to play a run-up shot as it will be exceedingly difficult to retain a pitch in the usual position of the flag.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Substantial changes have turned one of the easier holes on the course into one of the toughest, as one of the narrowest fairways on the course leads to one of the shallowest greens, which must often approached from a downhill lie.

HOLE #8 “Yellow Jasmine” – 570 yards – par 5

“This is a three shot hole uphill. The green is in a punchbowl surrounded by large hillocks nine to twelve feet high. It is completely visible for the third shot and a player who is sufficiently long to get up in two will be able to define the position of the green owing to the size of the surrounding hillock. It may be compared to the Seventeenth Green at Muirfield (Edinburg, Scotland).” – Dr. MacKenzie

Clifford Roberts was a fan of the 8th green but was bothered by the way the surrounding mounds inhibited spectator viewing. In the late 1950s, he had them removed while retaining the putting surface itself… sort of. Jones hated the change so the green was quickly rebuilt, with flanking bunkers replacing the lost mounds. With the help of Byron Nelson, the mounding would be restored in the late 1970s, giving us the 8th green complex we know today.

The second of four exceptional three-shotters, the 8th plays uphill and blind into an elongated green bowled in by enormous mounds (restored by Byron Nelson in 1979). Any miss left is stone dead. A great risk/reward hole.

HOLE #9 “Carolina Cherry” – 460 yards – par 4

“This is a hole of the Cape type played slightly downhill. A long straight drive to the right will give an easy second to the green.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Players quickly figured out that the best line into the 9th was often from the 1st fairway… reminiscent of various holes at St Andrews. To force players to approach the hole “properly”, Roberts had Perry Maxwell rebuild the green (twice) and add bunkers in the face of the hill.

The tee shot here is to a blind landing area, but Carolina Cherry is all about the approach, which is steeply uphill from a downhill lie, and the green, which slopes sharply from back-to-front. The back-nine awaits.

HOLE #10 “Camelia” – 495 yards – par 4

“This is a comparatively easy down-hill hole. A long drive over hillocks on the right will land on a plateau from which an iron shot can be played to the opening of a large nature-made punch bowl green. The driver that pulls his shot to the left of the fairway is called upon to play a difficult second shot over a large spectacular bunker, with small chance of getting near the pin. This hole embodies the most attractive features of the Thirteenth hole at Cypress Point, California, and the Fourth at Alwoodly, one of the best of the British inland links.” – Dr. MacKenzie

Today’s 10th Hole is obviously VERY different than what’s shown here as the 1st Hole. Jones and Roberts hired Perry Maxwell to relocate the green to its current location in the summer of 1937. Moving the green back 60 yards turned Mackenzie’s sprawling greenside bunker into the beautiful but oddly-situated fairway bunker that we find today.

And so it begins – the most exciting back nine in major championship golf. As a first timer, I was mesmerized at the remarkable length and steepness of the downhill 10th. Historically, this is the toughest hole on the course.

HOLE #11 “White Dogwood” – 5050 yards – par 4

“The green is situated in the bend of a stream. The approach has a marked tilt upwards from left to right, so that the further and more accurately a drive is placed to the left the easier the second shot becomes. This should always be a quite fascinating hole. I don’t know another quite like it.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The fairly sharp dogleg of MacKenzie’s original 11th has been straightened and lengthened considerably over the years. Extensive tree planting has also turned a wonderfully strategic tee shot into one of the tightest and toughest on the course. The 11th green has been rebuilt and raised numerous times, and the current pond was once a little bend in Rae’s creek that guarded the front-left of the green.

White Dogwood begins with one of the day’s toughest tee shots down through a narrow chute of trees and culminates with an approach into a green guarded by a pond left, big mounds front a slope right and Rae’s Creek long. In the April 21, 1958 issue of Sports Illustrated, Herbert Warren Wind coined the phrase “Amen Corner” to describe the 11th green, 12th hole and 13th tee. The evocative name stuck immediately.

HOLE #12 “Golden Bell” – 155 yards – par 3

“This is an interesting pitch shot to a long narrow green immediately over a stream. The bold player will go for the pin on the right, while the less ambitious will steer for the larger landing space on the left side of the green. There is a steep sandy bank covered with beautiful trees beyond the green.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The par-3 12th is a very simple hole (though certainly not easy), which has likely helped it retain its original character as much as any hole at Augusta, but it’s almost hard to imagine that it once played as the 3rd considering the massive role it plays in the event each year.

Perhaps the most famed par-3 in golf, Golden Bell is just 150-some yards through a mysterious and beguiling wind to an angled, kidney-shaped green across Rae’s Creek. Has any hole produced more major championship drama?

HOLE #13 “Azalea” – 510 yards – par 5

“This is played along the course of a brook with the final shot finishing to a green over the stream with a background of a hill slope covered with pine trees. The hole has some of the best golfing features of the Seventeenth hole at Cypress Point, California, and the ideal hole depicted in C.B. Macdonald’s book.” – Alister Mackenzie

Augusta’s great 13th (former 4th) is the second hole for which MacKenzie cited other holes that influenced its creation. This is the “ideal hole” mentioned, a design he himself created for a competition in Country Life magazine related to Macdonald’s Lido project.

Probably the best par-4-and-a-half in the world, and definitely the prettiest. The club’s acquisition of land from neighboring Augusta Country Club could see this hole lengthened by as much as 60 yards. I wouldn’t change a thing.

HOLE #14 “Chinese Fir” – 440 yards – par 4

“This hole embodies some of the features of the Sixth Hole at St. Andrews, Scotland. A long drive skirting or played over a bunker on the right will give a visible shot to the green. From the left the green is semi-blind and moreover a run up approach will be required over a succession of hillocks and hollows.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The 14th green complex is an absolute marvel, surely among the most interesting that we get to see on TV. If only the pros hit longer clubs into this green rather than short irons—here are few shots more satisfying to watch than a running ball that climbs onto the top shelf.

Since 1952, the dogleg-left 14th is the only hole at Augusta National without a single bunker. The defense here is the tricky green, which features a false front, beyond which it runs away to the back and hard left-to-right.

HOLE #15 “Firethorn” – 530 yards – par 5

“This is a three shot hole to most golfers. It is not only an interesting three shot hole, as one will be maneuvering for position from the tee shot onwards, but also a magnificent two shot hole, as a skillful and courageous player will, aided by a large hillock to the right, be able to pull his second around the green. A pond in front of the green provides the penalty for the long player who fails to make a perfect second shot.” – Dr. MacKenzie

The second of two incredible par-4-and-a-half holes on the back side and the site of Gene Sarazen’s Shot Heard Round The World in 1935: a 4-wood for double eagle. A tremendously exciting hole for the patrons and players alike.

HOLE #16 “Redbud” – 170 yards – par 3

“This is a somewhat similar hole over a stream to the best hole (seventh) at Stoke Poges, England. It is probably a better hole than the one at Stoke Poges as the green is more visible and the background more attractive.” – Dr. MacKenzie  

In the late 1940s, Robert Trent Jones dammed up the creek on what’s now the 16th, shifting the tees and flipping the green to the other side of the water. While it would have been fantastic to have played MacKenzie’s original hole, the changes made by Trent Jones in creating the current 16th certainly added variety to the set of one-shotters.

“IN YOUR LIFE have you seen anything like that?” Verne Lundquist’s iconic call of Tiger Woods’ amazing chip-in on Sunday at the 2005 Masters is still the first thing I think of when I see the 16th at ANGC. And it always will be.

HOLE #17 “Nandina” – 440 yards – par 4

“The construction of this green is somewhat similar to the famous Fourteenth at St. Andrews (reversed). It will be necessary to attack the green from the right and it will be essential to play a run-up shot if par figures are desired. We hope to make the turf of such a character that an indifferent pitch will not stop on the green. Until players have learned to play the desired shot this will undoubtedly be one of the most fiercely criticised holes.” – Dr. MacKenzie

This green at Augusta was the opposite of the 14th at St Andrews, with the strong contour on the left rather than the right. Maxwell subsequently added the bunkers to the mound.

The 17th was best known for the Eisenhower Tree, a giant loblolly pine 210yds from the tee that the 34th President wanted cut down. He belatedly got his wish courtesy of Mother Nature when a 2014 ice storm brought it down.

HOLE #18 “Holly” – 465 yards – par 4

“The tee shot is played over a valley and a bank running diagonally from left to right. The longer the drive to the right the easier the second shot, as the approach to the green is bunkered heavily on the left.” – Dr. MacKenzie 

Note the central fairway bunker and how the green extends well down the hill alongside the left greenside bunker. The original green on what’s now the finishing hole was massive compared to today’s version.

The narrow chute demands a straight shot from this pressure-packed tee. The fairway bunkers up the left side are enormous and deep. The green is severe and a short-side is an automatic bogey. Otherwise, an easy finishing hole.

Two things can be counted on with relative certainty: First, the golf course at Augusta National Golf Club will continue to evolve, and second, it will produce exciting championships for golf geeks and casual fans alike every year. 

For even more on Augusta National and The Masters, we highly recommend:

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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NO ONE HIT WONDER – SWEETENS COVE

Revisiting the Sweetens Cove story and a 2016 conversation with architect Rob Collins of King-Collins Golf Course Design

Election Day in 2016 now seems like a lifetime ago. After watching election returns that night from an Atlanta hotel, I hit the road early the next morning to make a much anticipated jaunt to Sweetens Cove. Fellow geeks had been lauding the course—the architecture of Rob Collins and Tad King as well as the unique vibe—and my lucky day had finally arrived. What I found, making loops with Rob and Patrick Boyd, was a confirmation of the special character of Sweetens Cove, and the men who had devoted themselves to its creation and survival. As a follow-up, Rob shared his story and that of the course in the interview and tour below.

Much has changed in the world and in South Pittsburg, TN since that day. Dylan Dethier’s New York Times article in August, 2017, among other media coverage, brought national attention to Sweetens Cove, and with it, an influx of pilgrims seeking their own awakening. The vast majority have enthusiastically reported that the course delivered a fun and creative version of the game that fanned the flames of their passion for golf.

Among those converts were two guys named Peyton and Andy, who have become partners in the venture, setting it on a path to an even more exciting next phase. King-Collins Golf Course Design has also seen a change in its fortunes. After a false start at The Buck Club, the duo have created another 9-holer in NY, and are hard at work making their own modern statement on the Nebraska sandhills. New projects continue to fill their pipeline.

While Sweetens Cove certainly has a cult following, to write off its success as merely a novelty fueled by golf-Twitter hipsters is to breeze over its depth. Those who have followed Rob’s work, or who have been lucky enough to meet him, know that he is not just talented. He is authentically good. Sweetens Cove is an eclectic blend of strategic, heroic and penal design, with a heaping helping of visual flare on top. It is a course that could be played every day without a hint of repetitiveness. What makes it truly great though is not only what it is, but the delta between what it was and what it has become. A flat, lifeless mud-pit of a course has been transformed into a golf geeks’ amusement park. Look beneath the surface, and one finds the powerful parallels between the making of the Sweetens Cove, and the hard-fought birth of its architect’s career.

It is worth revisiting Rob’s story and that of the course at this point. The attendant tour contrasts the before, during and after perspectives on each hole. The designers words are complemented by a mix of photography from Jon Cavalier (@linksgems), Rob (@KingCollinsGolf) and me, illustrating the many moods of Sweetens Cove. The variety of colors and contrasts are among the many ingredients that keep a steady stream of devotees coming back for more.

One of the Good Guys

The interview that follows is presented with minimal modification to Rob’s answers from November, 2016. His answers still demonstrate his thoughtfulness and passion.

How did you get introduced to golf?

I played golf for the first time as an 11 year old with my Dad. At that time in my life, we only played a few times a year. It was nothing more than a minor hobby in my early years.

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

I decided to try out for my high school team my senior year. At the time, I was an absolutely horrible player, but I enjoyed the sport and I thought I might have a shot at making the team. As it turned out, our team was so bad that I was able to squeeze in at the six spot. Playing on a more regular schedule helped build my interest in the game. As I started to see some marginal improvement, I began to like it more and more.

After my freshman year in college, I was invited to go on a trip to St. Andrews.  By that time, I was really enjoying the game, and was primed to fall in love with it.  Our loops on the Old & New Courses, along with watching the first three rounds of the Open Championship at Turnberry, solidified my addiction to the game.

How did you get into the business?

I started in the graduate landscape architecture program at Mississippi State in 2002 with the intention of using that degree to help me get into the field of course architecture.  In 2004, I was hired by Rick Robbins as an intern, an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful. I learned a great deal from Rick and his team, and I was fortunate to transition that into a design coordinator role with Gary Player Design.

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

That is a very difficult question, but I think I would have to go with MacKenzie. His writings have had a huge influence on me. Not only do I love his artistic flair and adherence to strategic principles in the design and construction process, but his willingness to cut against the grain of conventional wisdom appeals strongly to me on a personal level. His twelfth green at Sitwell Park exemplifies his brilliance, self-confidence, and one-of-a-kind flair for the dramatic, and his words in defense of his work amount to my all-time favorite golf architecture quote:

“I have got accustomed to measuring the ultimate popularity of a hole or course by the amount of criticism it gives rise to in the first instance…It is only natural that players who have been spoon fed on insipid, flat uninteresting golf should view with a considerable amount of suspicion anything which is undoubtedly out of the ordinary.”

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

I think I have to start with the people who first believed in me. Rick Robbins gave me my first job in course architecture. Also, Frank Henegan from Gary Player Design brought me into their organization. I learned a tremendous amount about the design and construction process from both him and his colleague, Jeff Lawrence, a Senior Designer with GPD.  Also, I would be remiss not to mention my partner, Tad King. Not only is Tad one of the most talented shaper/finishers anywhere, but he is also a master of managing the construction and grow-in of golf courses. His common sense and streamlined construction methodology has had a massive influence on me, and his approach provides the basis for much of the philosophical component upon which King-Collins was founded.

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

There is another way! You don’t need to hire a contractor to build the course, and for God’s sake, keep the consultants and so-called experts as far away from the project as possible. It is all too common in the golf world for unnecessary expenditures to be passed off to the client by self-interested parties under the guise of obtaining a quality result. Tad and I have both seen it firsthand, and we believe firmly that one of the biggest problems facing the game and golf construction, more specifically, is overinflated construction costs. When courses cost too much to build, people who would otherwise build golf will look in other directions for how to spend their money when developing land. At a certain point, it becomes impossible to recoup the initial investment if the golf course construction budget spirals out of hand. Furthermore, inflated green’s fees result from uncontrolled expenditures, which obviously make the game less accessible to the general public. In sum, less golf gets built AND the game costs more to play when costs aren’t controlled.

We believe, and I think that Sweetens Cove is living proof, that our method not only works, but that it is the best method for designing and building golf courses. Simply put, we are able to maintain quality and artistic control over all aspects of the course while keeping costs to a minimum. Here are a few prime examples:

During the Sweetens Cove construction, Tad and I visited another course that was also undergoing a renovation.  Both Sweetens Cove and this other course were using the same sand to cap the fairways. We were told during one visit by the contractor’s project superintendent that they would no longer be using the sand because it had failed in testing and grass wouldn’t grow on it. 419 Bermuda, which will grow across a cart path, wouldn’t grow in this sand according to that job’s contractor! Think about how idiotic that is and what the consequences were for the client:

  • They had a mountain of sand, which they were told they could no longer use. This amounted to a huge waste of resources, time, and money.
  • They actually paid money to a lab and a consultant to acquire those results.

The end result is that they spent more money to go slower with zero improvement in quality. Those kinds of situations occur all of the time and the cost of decisions like that can be astronomical. As an aside, the fairways at Sweetens Cove, which were planted in the nonconforming sand, are perfect.

The second example that comes to mind is related to a project that we were hired for in the Canadian Rockies.  Unfortunately, the Montane Club was never built, but we put together a $4.9M budget on a piece of land that had previously been budgeted by a former touring pro, signature architect at $1M/hole. With the signature architect’s army of consultants and a golf contractor on site, the project easily would have spiraled upwards of $25M. Had it been built, how would the client have recouped these costs? Unfortunately, stories like these repeat themselves over and over, every day all around the world of golf construction.

So, to answer your question directly, I would encourage all green committee members, owners, clients, etc. to educate themselves about construction costs and work hard to discern what costs are necessary and which ones are not.  After that, they should call us (half kidding, sort of…ok, not really kidding at all).

How has your commitment to creative collaboration in the field impacted your work?

First, the design / build method, which we employ, is the best way to build golf. Golf courses are built in the field, not on a desk 1,000 miles from the site. The best decision I ever made in my career occurred right out of graduate school. I had two opportunities. One was with the Player Group as an on-site design coordinator, which would immerse me in the daily routine of a construction process or as a CAD/office designer for a competing firm. While I was hugely grateful for both offers, I chose to go with the offer from Player, and I am thankful every day that I made that decision. Not only did I fall in love with the construction process, but I learned the fundamentals of how to build a golf course and the degree to which construction and design are intertwined. So, the process of collaboration in the field forms the basis for my work. Every great golf course in recent memory has been built using the design/build method, and Tad and I formed our company on the belief that we could deliver elite quality with a reduced price using that approach.

How did you get involved with the Sweetens Cove project?

I was referred to the project by King Oehmig. I was desperate to remain involved with architecture after the economic collapse in ‘08, and King was spearheading the Gil Hanse project at Sewanee. I approached him to see if I could get involved up there, and he said he would be happy to help. He took it a step further and referred me to my client who was looking to do something with their nine-hole course, Sequatchie Valley G&CC, which would ultimately be rebranded as Sweetens Cove Golf Club after the renovation.

What place do you see courses like Sweetens Cove having in the future of the game?

I think they will be extremely important. The days of spending an entire weekend at the local club only to show up at home on Sunday night are long gone. A lot of people don’t have time for an eighteen hole round, and quality courses of alternative lengths will be increasingly important for the game as it works to stay relevant and expand. Furthermore, Sweetens Cove operates on a budget that is a fraction of your typical maintenance budget, but it delivers high quality conditions thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff and the design of the course. Finally, I think Sweetens Cove is a prime example of how you can have fascinating and engaging playing scenarios on a site that, at first glance, didn’t seem like it could possibly yield good golf. I believe that the notion that great golf cannot be derived from an inferior site is a flawed one. If anything, Sweetens Cove proves that you don’t need eighteen holes or a good site to create a great golf course. On top of that, an outsized maintenance budget isn’t needed either. If there were more courses like Sweetens Cove and fewer courses like (fill in the blank), the world would be a better place.

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

I love bunker construction, but the most fascinating part of construction comes at the greens. Our goal is always to match the green contours to the strategy of the hole. Ideally, I want players to be considering the slope and contour of the green surfaces and their surrounds while they are on the tee. If you can get people to do that, then I think your work has been very effective. Essentially, we want to provide ground for endless shotmaking and strategic scenarios to unfold. Working to create that in the field is a thrill.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love the reward that comes with seeing things unfold. It starts with an idea and then it evolves a little more each day. That evolutionary process is what gets me excited. At Sweetens Cove, we kept turning it up and turning it up. It was so much fun to obsess over and refine the minutest of details on the course. Ultimately, a golf course is a sum of its parts, and it was our goal to pack Sweetens Cove with micro details across the entirety of the property.  We never placed one detail in importance over another. For example, the edgework on the back side of an island in a part of a massive bunker that nobody was ever going to see was equally as important as the edgework on the flashiest, most highly visible bunker.

With that approach, you are guaranteed to have a course full of highly personalized details when it is complete. That is how you get that attitude and character in a course that you can feel but you can’t quite put your finger on. The best courses do that, and I am most proud of that aspect of Sweetens Cove. Nothing was overlooked and nothing was taken for granted. That is why a nine-hole course in a flood plain in rural Tennessee has received massive amounts of publicity and attention. None of that happened by accident. Instead it was a result of untold countless, thankless hours of labor when no one was watching. Looking back on that effort and seeing what we have today fills me with desire to go out and do it again. We love the creative process, and we are ready for #2.

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

There are so many that it is impossible to come up with an adequate list, but here are a few off of the top of my head:

Crystal Downs, Old Town, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Shoreacres, Chicago, Seminole….and, I would like to wave a magic wand and take a three month trip to GBI to travel and explore the endless options there. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but it would be great if it did.

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

I have six and eleven year old daughters so my wife and I spend most of our time outside of work juggling parenting responsibilities.

The Sweetens Cove Story

In the summer of 2010, I was desperately searching for a way back into golf architecture. I had heard that Gil Hanse had been hired to renovate the golf course at Sewanee, which happened to by my alma mater. I asked around and found out that a graduate of the Seminary School at Sewanee and a local golfing legend, King Oehmig, was heading up the project. Via Mark Stovall, the former superintendent of Lookout Mountain, I was placed in touch with King. In May 2010, he wrote me this note as part of an email chain about the Sewanee project:

PS: I do know that Mr. Bob Thomas, the proprietor of Sequatchie Concrete Company, who is a Sewanee Alum, has just bought a little course right outside of Kimball, TN, the Sequatchie Country Club.  Right now, it needs a lot of work; I would suggest that you contact Bob, and you can tell him that I suggested that you call him about possibly helping him with fixing it up.  Thanks. – KO

Reading back through that old email brings back a flood of memories: my internal feeling of desperation about returning to golf architecture, my hope for getting involved with the Sewanee project, the VERY early days of King-Collins, and my gratitude toward King for suggesting me to Mr. Thomas. Reading it now makes it hard to believe that over six years of my life have gone into this project.

Soon after King’s recommendation, we began a discussion with the Thomas family about possibly renovating the Sequatchie Valley G&CC. We were eventually hired in March of 2011 for the job, and Tad and I were extremely excited to have the opportunity to put our ideas into the ground. We brought in Gus Grantham to be lead shaper on the project, construction commenced on June 2, 2011 and the course was grassed out a year later in June of 2012.

The golf course, which only had one foot of fall across the entire property sits in a flood plain near Battle Creek. In addition to having extremely minimal drainage, the site sits on heavy clay soils. We, therefore, had a massive task ahead of us if the resulting work was to have even a modest level of playing interest. First and foremost, we had to devise a way to drain every drop of water off of the property while creating highly interesting golfing features. In the end, we moved about 300,000 cubic yards of dirt & installed fifteen (15) miles of drain pipe. I am very proud of the fact that we did all of this “in house” while building the course for a fraction of the cost of a typical project. In addition to the earthworks, the site was capped with approximately 4” of sand, which has been wonderful for helping us maintain firm and fast conditions across the property.

My overall vision for the project going in was to create an inland links that borrowed lessons from some of my favorite places in golf: Pinehurst #2, TOC, Tobacco Road, North Berwick, the 1932 version of Augusta National, and others. However, I had no interest in playing copycat.  It was very important to me that the course have its own unique flair while still grasping the core lessons at the heart of the aforementioned greats. Essentially, I wanted to take the things that I liked in architecture, put them in a blender and come up with a concoction that would hopefully remind others of places they had seen or been but with a degree of uniqueness that would ideally leave one feeling as though they had found a true original. Those qualities are not something that you can plan for in the office. To the contrary, the highly personalized details only rise out of the ground through intensive site work. The long, thankless hours that we spent fashioning the course are something of which I am very proud. There were countless opportunities to mail it in or walk away from the project entirely, but we never did. I think that our unwavering commitment to it shines through in one’s playing experience, an aspect of Sweetens Cove that elevates it over most.

After grassing was complete, the course remained under the umbrella of our client’s various business interests until August 2013. They made an internal decision to return the focus of their business solely toward concrete manufacturing, and I was approached about the possibility of leasing the property from Sequatchie Concrete. Given the level of commitment that I had exhibited to the course, I was a natural fit, and as a result, I enthusiastically began the search for a like-minded partner. Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2013 when I received a call out of the blue from Mark Stovall that Ari Techner & Patrick Boyd, partners in Scratch Golf, were interested in touring the course. As always, I was pleased to show it to any interested parties, and soon after that visit, Ari & I embarked on a quest to launch Sweetens Cove. We were able to get a signed lease in the spring of 2014, and the course officially opened in October 2014. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be an owner/operator of a golf course, but my intoxicating relationship with Sweetens Cove would not allow me to see it return to nature. It’s an interesting wrinkle in the saga that Mark Stovall was the linchpin for the entire project in that he originally connected me to the project via King Oehmig and also introduced me to my future partner who would help me save it.

Following are some of my thoughts behind the architecture of the course and the backstory of the construction of each hole.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

HOLE #1 – 563 yards – par 5

I think I struggled with the design of this hole more than any other. I had a number of different ideas about the design for the green complex, before settling on the current version, which has a reverse redan tilt set inside a punchbowl. The green itself is protected front and center by a deep and foreboding hazard, which was nicknamed the “Mitre Bunker” by Sweetens Cove GM, Patrick Boyd. Like the rest of the course, the original hole was dead flat with a pond, which we were not allowed to touch, near the landing area on the right side. To complicate matters, water from the mountain on the left side of the hole would pour onto the first fairway during rain events via culverts buried under Sweetens Cove Road. After the left side was cleared of its excessive trees and underbrush, Gus, Tad, and I embarked on a plan to create a thrilling opening hole that would remain dry. Given the existing site conditions, this was an extraordinarily difficult task.

Nowhere was the moniker for the original course “Squishy Valley” more apt than on the first hole. During the original rough shaping of the hole, long buried golf balls were bouncing off of the blade of the dozer. In order to prevent water from draining onto the hole, the entire left side of the hole was built up, and water from the mountain and road are now captured prior to reaching the course. Additional drainage was installed throughout the fairway, and like all of the other holes, the fairway was capped with roughly 4-6” of sand.

Regarding the strategy, and overall look, I think that the first does a good job of introducing players to many of the themes that they will see during the round at Sweetens Cove. The tee and approach shots both allow for multiple routes of play, and the heavily contoured green welcomes well played running and aerial shots. Most importantly, Sweetens Cove never dictates to players exactly how to navigate the terrain. Instead, golfers are left to choose their own path, with each respective route providing its own unique challenge and set of options.

HOLE #2 – 375 yards – par 4

In a pure construction sense, the second at Sweetens Cove is one of the most important holes on the course.  While the second hole at the original Sequatchie Valley was also a drainage nightmare, it offered an opportunity to simultaneously handle the water on a large swath of the property while creating much needed fill material for construction. The original hole was a long, straightaway par four of approximately 440 yards.  When the first green was moved back toward the property line, the second tees shifted forward. Even with this change, we were still left with a massive dead space in front of the tees. In order to handle the drainage on the second hole and the second half of the first hole, we dug a large lake near the tee complex. I was adamant that most players not be forced to carry the water on the tee shot. As a result, I angled the lake away from the line of play from the blue tees forward and into the massive dead area behind the seventh green. Fill from this lake was used for shaping and to gain much needed elevation on the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth holes.

On the tee, the primary goal is to miss the deep, centrally located pot bunker, which has been nicknamed “Tupac” by a Sweetens Cove regular. The ideal line of play on most shots is from the small patch of ground adjacent to his bunker and the right-hand bunker, which is approximately thirty yards closer to the green. From this angle, players will not be forced to deal directly with the very strong contour along the left side of the green. As with all greens at Sweetens, there are many different potential pin locations.  Perhaps the easiest and most fun pin is in the bowl in the front of the green, a lobe of the green which came close to never existing. When the green was originally shaped, it was about 25% smaller. I couldn’t get comfortable with that iteration, and we kept pulling out the front portion of the green until that pin location was created. I think that change took the green from good to great, and is an example of why it is so important to maintain artistic control on a project. Had we settled on the earlier version, it would’ve been fine but nowhere near as good as what is there today. The most difficult pin, by contrast, is the far left location.

As all of the greens at Sweetens are surrounded by tightly mown shortgrass, the bold contours along the front left and left side of the green can repel indifferent efforts on the approach. This green complex is as good an example as any of how short grass can at once open up a Pandora’s Box of terrible outcomes while at the same time provide unlimited shotmaking options. Short grass simply has a way of delivering a level of awe and fear that many ‘typical’ hazards can’t approach. The multifaceted nature of tightly mown turf has always fascinated me, and the second green complex, which is defended only by contour and the speed of the surrounds, fully immerses players in the shotmaking possibilities at Sweetens Cove.

HOLE #3 – 582 yards – par 5

The third hole is the second par five on the layout and the first real taste of how we utilized dead space on the Sequatchie Valley layout by tying the golf holes together. One of my favorite things about Sweetens Cove is how the holes relate to and complement one another. Prior to construction, the majority of the 72 acre site was covered with a monochromatic carpet of bermudagrass. Now, waste areas and large swaths of native plants add texture and complexity to the layout. The waste area which borders the right side of the fairway serves as a way to add strategic and visual interest, and negates the dead space that previously existed between the third and fifth holes.

During construction, the first half of the hole was raised slightly in order to ease drainage. All water from the tee to the central bunker drains to the pond by the fifth and sixth holes, and the second half of the hole drains to the pond behind the green. At the green, I really wanted to do something different with the strategy, and I chose to leave a lone Oak tree in the center of the approach. This tree and the location of the pin on the massive green impact decision making on the tee. If the pin is left, you have to come in from the left side of the fairway, and conversely, if it is on the right, it is wise to favor that side of the fairway on approach. If the pin is behind the tree, it is generally easier to approach from the right side, but the tree and the shaping of the green complex present the golfer with a host of options: intentionally play to the left or right of the tree with the intent of using the contours to funnel the ball toward the hole or play over the tree.

The green itself is divided into sections by large rolls. From the right side, the 10,000 square foot surface of the green has the appearance of a waterfall tumbling down a slope, and all pinnable areas can be reached by playing away from the hole with the intent of laying the ball dead at the hole after it rolls out along the bold contours. The third is the first truly wild green at Sweetens, and it serves in many ways as a primer for what lays ahead during one’s round. Thematically, the third fits with the rest of the golf course in that it is a terrific match play hole where eagle and birdie are achievable, but the short grass, contours, and hazards can conspire to deliver a firm punishment for anyone out of position.

HOLE #4 (King) – 169 yards – par 3

There is only one hole at Sweetens Cove that has a name on the scorecard. The fourth was aptly dubbed “King” after King Oehmig, the man who referred me to the project, in addition to providing the design inspiration for the hole.

When I first toured the site with King in July 2010, he remarked, “Rob, it would be so cool if you could find a place out here to build a Himalayas hole.” As a fellow lover of classic, quirky architecture, I wholeheartedly agreed with his proclamation, and I set out to find the spot to make his vision a reality. During one of my subsequent visits, I came upon the spot where the current fourth resides. The fourth green was tucked into a small corner at the edge of the current fourth hole. Adjacent to the miniature green was a large open area that could easily accommodate a first rate Himalayas hole. During construction, we used dirt from the lake excavation to create the ridge that runs between the tee complex and the massive 20,000 square foot green.

The green itself is 87 yards deep, and the hole can play totally blind, partially blind, or 100% visible depending upon the tee and pin location. It’s not uncommon to play the hole at 110 yards completely blind on one day and visible and 210 the next. I think the unlimited combination of pin and tee locations, along with the heavily contoured, serpentine green, makes the hole a fascinating challenge from day to day. In the sense of pure variety, fun, shotmaking options, and ability to change complexion from one round to the next, the fourth probably embodies the true spirit of Sweetens Cove more than any other on the course. Along with being great fun to detail, the massive waste hazard, which was built into the ridge, provides a sense of visual and strategic continuity with much of the rest of the course.

HOLE #5 – 293 yards – par 4

Drivable par fours are my favorite type of hole, and I knew that we had a great opportunity to do something special when we first laid out the concept for the fifth. There was no interesting terrain to work off of, but we had all the width that we needed to create a highly unique, option-filled short par four. I felt early on that the third, fourth, and fifth holes were the heart of Sweetens Cove. I’ve always liked that they represent three different pars, and the natural ebb and flow of the routing adds emotional depth to the layout. As you come off of the challenging fourth, which can play up to 210 yards, you are greeted with a drivable hole of only 283 yards.  Along with multiple eagles, I have scored everything up to a ten on the hole. At its widest point, the fairway is 100 yards wide, and the boomerang green gives the hole loads of variety in possible pin placements.

On the tee, the key feature to avoid is the ten foot deep greenside bunker that is partially bordered with railway sleepers. I absolutely love what this hazard does to the player psychologically. While not large in physical size, it is guaranteed to weigh heavily on the minds of all players on the tee. The extremely penal nature of the hazard means that multiple shots to clear its depths are not uncommon. Additionally, the bunker plays larger than it looks as some of the greenside and surrounding contours will help funnel balls toward the sand.  Finally, we paid extra attention in the finish to the contours around the bunker, which will allow the clever player who is stymied by the bunker to play away from the flag along the ground in an effort to lay the ball dead at the hole. One of my favorite memories of my time at Sweetens Cove involved this exact scenario. I watched a player that could not have had a handicap lower than 36 approach the green from about fifty yards away toward the pin tucked directly behind the bunker. With his hybrid in hand, he topped a ball that looked as if it would be gobbled up by the bunker. Instead, he caught the perfect contour and his ball rolled around the perimeter of the hazard and rolled to within a foot of the flag. It was an extraordinary thrill to see the contours that we had labored over help produce such a miraculous shot!

One of our members at Sweetens Cove had a similarly heroic shot this summer when he aced the hole with a three wood. Similar to the previous example, the pin was behind the pot bunker, and his shot, which carried long and right of the hazard, ran up on the strong back right ‘catcher’s mitt’ contour, took a hard left turn, and rolled fifty feet into the bottom of the cup. These types of playing scenarios are what make the course so special, and it never ceases to give me great pleasure when I hear a new story about someone’s shotmaking. Ultimately, the fact that success and failure reside in such close quarters is what makes the fifth a timelessly entertaining hole.

HOLE #6 – 456 yards – par 4

The natural ebb and flow of a good routing demands that there be a handful of highly challenging holes, and the sixth at Sweetens Cove fits that mold. A long cape hole, which plays over 450 yards from the tips, this two shotter can wreck a good scorecard with one slight misstep. I also love that the sixth is sandwiched on either side by short par fours. The psychological pull of feeling as though one needs to hang on and get through the hole without falling prone to disaster can weigh on the player. Those who are unsuccessful will find a sliver of hope with the knowledge that the possibility of redemption awaits later in the round.

Overall, the design of the sixth is fairly simple in that it uses the strategy of the cape hole design template.  However, I wanted to do something different at the green. Whereas many cape holes have a kidney shaped green that hugs the water, I wanted to have a large part of the green run away from the water. In order to get the unique angle, shape, and contour right, we ended up wearing the dirt out here a little bit. In the end, though, I am really pleased with the way the hole turned out. The green has the far left, nearly impossible “Sunday” pin along with easier pins on the right and middle of the green.

The transitions and rolls throughout the green can at times complicate matters on the approach or provide the option to play away from certain locations while keeping the ball on the ground with the intent to use contour to get the ball near the hole. This is particularly true on the lower shelf, which is bisected by a strong roll. The clever player can use this feature to aim the ball away from the water while trying to get the ball close to the far left pins. The roll also adds complexity to shots that approach middle pins. Slightly pulled or short shots to the middle pins can be shed away by the same contour that may have helped you on previous rounds. Again, we see an instance of elasticity in the greens, a core component of how a golf course can provide sustained interest round after round. One of the more difficult pins on the green is, ironically, the one furthest from the water. There is a small, upper shelf, which is most easily accessed through the air, one of the few shots at Sweetens that has that characteristic. Overall, the hole requires precision and excellent ball striking to avoid bogey or worse.

HOLE #7 – 328 yards – par 4

Prior to construction, the seventh and eighth holes were by far the worst back to back par fours that I had ever seen. The two holes were bisected by an open concrete ditch, and the playing corridor of the seventh was choked down in size by trees along the right side of the fairway. On a golf course riddled with poor turf quality, the ground on the seventh, especially near the open ditch, was barren. While each hole had its challenges, I am most proud of what our team accomplished on seven and eight.

The two holes combined cover an area approximately 350 yards long by 150 yards wide. Our primary challenge lay in how to drain every square inch of this acreage without importing any fill material. This was accomplished by cutting into the ground and using the generated material for shaping. All low areas were drained to the ditch, which was covered with concrete slabs to support the earth that was pushed over its top. By taking this approach, we were able to rid the holes of the overly penal and immensely unattractive ditch while, at the same time, providing the necessary width to create the ground where endlessly varied playing scenarios could unfold.

While it is certainly not apparent upon first glance, the strategy of the hole is similar to that of the fourth at Pebble Beach, one of my favorite holes at the famous Links. On both holes, wide fairways greet the player, but the ideal angle of attack is from the far right side. At Sweetens Cove, this strategic dilemma is set up by the placement of the bunkers in relation to the angle of the tee shot and the direction of the central axis of the green. At Pebble Beach, players need to challenge the cliff along the right side of the hole to gain the best angle to the tiny green. Frightening bunkers flank both sides of the narrow putting surface, making any approach from the far left side of the fairway extremely difficult. I have been fortunate to play the hole several times, and my only scoring catastrophe there occurred after a tee shot that ended up on the far left side of the fairway, which forced me to approach the green over the left greenside bunker and from an angle that is perpendicular to the central axis of the green. From that position, the margin of error is finite, and absolute precision is required in order to achieve par, a dynamic that I absolutely love on a short par four.

Unlike the fourth at Pebble, the seventh green at Sweetens is bunkerless, and the extremely strong fall-off contours on the right and left side make approach from anywhere but the ideal sliver of fairway extremely difficult.  With the tightly mown shortgrass of the surrounds, it is not uncommon for scores to balloon around this green, which may be the most devilish on the course. In fact, we have an inside joke at Sweetens that the seventh is the hardest 310 yard par five in America. In spite of its difficulty, the shortgrass around the domed green is a far more interesting hazard than bunkering, in my opinion, because it provides the opportunity for a greater number of players to attempt and find success with difficult recovery shots. It is essentially impossible for a 20+ handicap to have a chance to get up and down out of a difficult bunker, whereas even the worst players can keep the ball on the ground leaving open the possibility that their ball will wind up near the hole.

I should also mention that one of my favorite hazards on the course is the large bunker on the seventh, also known as “Dan’s Bunker,” which was named after the Coore & Crenshaw associate, Dan Proctor, who provided early assistance with bunker construction on the seventh, eighth, and ninth holes. The intricately detailed hazard is a terrific example of the bunkers at Sweetens, which were intensely labored over during every stage of construction.

HOLE #8 – 387 yards – par 4

Given that the seventh and eighth are parallel par fours of a similar length which occupy the same fairway, there was a danger that we could get repetitive in this part of the course. This potentially negative outcome was on my mind as I thought through design for the eighth hole. In contrast with the previous hole, the double plateau green at the eighth is massive, coming in at approximately 12,500 square feet. With wildly different outcomes and shotmaking scenarios possible with each hole location, it is imperative that the player identify the proper angle of approach. For nearly all hole locations, the far left or far right side of the fairway is best.

Central bunkering and a few scattered trees add drama on the tee shot. Even though the fairway is 150 yards wide, I find that this tee shot is one of the most unsettling on the course. From the tee, the area to the right of the centerline bunker appears to be much narrower than it is in reality. This visual deception creates indecision in my mind and a sense of unease on the tee. Conversely, the far left side of the fairway can be tricky to reach because of the large oak that we left during construction. Also, any balls that take the left-hand route off the tee risk winding up in one of the central bunkers if the tee shot is pushed.

Prior to construction, the fairway narrowed to approximately twenty yards wide between the ditch on the left and a large grove of pines on the right, a scenario that is hard to picture given the current realities on the ground. Without the tree removal and the ability to cover the ditch, the hole would’ve been unrecoverable. As it is now, it presents a wild variety of shotmaking options on approach and recovery, and the extreme width of the hole allows golfers of all skill levels to choose their own route to the pin.

The green, which is one of the largest on the course, is also one of the most severely contoured. It is often, fairly, called a sideways Biarritz green. While it was not my intention going into construction to design and build a green of this style, the end product is a result of our approach to the process. I explained to Gus, our shaper, that I wanted a double plateau with a large, central roll fronting the green. I trusted Gus’s immense talent and let him take a stab at putting something cool in the ground. Given that it was only our second green to build, we were very early on in the construction process. What Gus shaped blew me away and solidified my belief that we were well on our way to delivering something exceptional at Sweetens Cove. I think the evolution of this green perfectly encapsulates our approach to field work. Had I shackled Gus and not believed in his innate abilities, the green wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is. I think that designers need to grip the job firmly enough to have control but loosely enough to let uniquely artistic features unfold. In the end, if the green hadn’t fit my eye, it would’ve been changed, but the point is that you have to have a certain level of trust to let things unfold naturally. The key is in laying out a vision and trusting the people with whom you are working to help you deliver. At Sweetens Cove, we didn’t have a lot of personnel, but the ones that we did have were immensely talented and capable of creating unique and memorable golf holes.

As a penultimate hole on a course designed for match play, I am very fond of the ability of the eighth to unveil both heroic and disastrous play. With a very wide range of potential scores in play, golfers embroiled in a tight match will feel nervous with the lead and optimistic playing from behind, a psychological dynamic key to all great match play venues.

HOLE #9 – 148 yards – par 3

Like everywhere else on the course, there was nothing remarkable about the ground at the ninth hole prior to construction. In fact, the old ninth green was bizarrely located underneath the tree that borders the left side of the current first. The one natural feature that we did have to work with on the entire course was the hill leading from the clubhouse site to the valley floor. By locating the tee behind the eighth and benching the green into the hillside beneath the clubhouse site, we had the bones of a thrilling finishing hole. All that was left to do was to shape a 10,000 square foot redan / short hybrid green and construct and detail a two acre waste hazard that would provide the necessary angle and visual drama for a highly unique par three finish.

One of my favorite aspects of the course is that it ends on a one-shotter. All of the match play drama that can build over the preceding holes can come down to a 130 yard short iron shot. As I mentioned before, each hole at Sweetens Cove has a wide gap in potential outcomes and scores, and it could be argued that the ninth has the widest gap of all. To date, the hole has seen an extraordinarily disproportionate number of holes in one, and the dreaded “other” is never too far away. Fifteen aces have been registered since we opened two years ago, and none were more exciting than the ones that occurred during the Mack Cunningham Baylor Preview Golf Tournament in August. We hosted thirty of the best female high school players from around the state, and the fireworks at the ninth on the final day of the tournament put the design of the home hole on full display.  Early on the second day of the tournament, two sophomores playing in the same group beat seventeen million to one odds to record back to back aces. Not to be outdone, Ashley Gilliam carded a hole in one on her final swing of the day to give her team a one stroke victory in the tournament – a walk off ace!

During the planning stages and construction, we imagined that it would be possible for that type of drama to occur on our home hole, but what I witnessed that day was beyond my wildest imagination. Unlike many one shot holes, this hole presents a variety of options on the tee shot. You can play away from the far left flags by using the giant redan kick plate to bring the ball around to the hole, or the bold golfer can choose to fly directly at the flag. When the pin is on the middle tier of the green, the hole plays much more like a traditional short. By marrying two of the most iconic par three designs into one on hole, I think we created one of the most unique, entertaining, and vexing one-shotters anywhere.

Another great aspect of the ninth is the elevated nature of the green, which allows golfers to see the entire complex with its highly visual bunkering from every hole on the property. During construction, I realized that this visual reality is similar to the auditory trigger that one has when they are approaching a big rapid on a rafting trip. Analogous to the sound of a roaring river, the dominating visual presence of the ninth is a constant companion for the golfer. You know that drama and exacting shotmaking await you in the future and are fully aware that in order to complete your round successfully, you will eventually have to face that harrowing final shot. The sense of anticipation for that moment adds to the drama of the final shot.

I think the hole is a perfect ending to one’s round at Sweetens. It presents a variety of options, and thematically, the ninth is another unique take on classically inspired golf architecture motifs.

Sweetens Cove has become a hit because it is a wonder. Years ago, it might have been reasonable to doubt that Rob Collins and Tad King would ever have the opportunity to prove that they could do it again. Now, the self-confidence that Collins has always carried inside is manifesting more projects in the ground. The hits just keep on coming.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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ENDURING DESIGN AT PINE VALLEY

A then and now look at Pine Valley and what has made its greatness endure for a century

The early days of golf in America were imbued with enthusiasm. The quirky little stick and ball game that had migrated across the Atlantic from the British Isles captured hearts and minds with its blend of outdoor recreation, a test of physical and mental abilities, competition and camaraderie. It did not take long, however, for a sense of restlessness and discontent, particularly directed at our playing fields, to set in. “Why,” players asked, “are our courses so inferior to the Scottish links?” Nevermind that those courses had evolved and improved over centuries on ground that was ideal for golf. Such is the nature of American culture—we want the best, and we want it now.

It was this impulse that sent Charles Blair Macdonald across the pond on a search for the ideal holes that he would use as inspiration for the National Golf Links of America. He was not the only one pulling on this thread. In Philadelphia, a group of avid amateurs led by George Crump was turning their own dissatisfaction into a plan. It is not clear that these men intended to create a course that would be considered among the world’s best for decades to come, but at Pine Valley that is exactly what they did.

The Dreamer

“The late George Crump must have had more than a touch of prophetic imagination…what was in Crump’s mind when he first thought of Pine Valley was that somewhere there ought to be one course where as far as humanly possible, the best man of the day should win because every bad or indifferent shot should meet with its reward.” – Bernard Darwin

To onlookers, the man who is doggedly pursuing a dream might not appear as a visionary. Instead, he is crazy, or to the more charitable, a poor fool. Perhaps that is why those who could not see the picture in its creator’s mind labelled Pine Valley “Crump’s Folly”. And given the hardship that was endured to bring the course first to life and then to long-term sustainability, their short-sighted judgment was not entirely baseless. In the end, which George Crump would tragically not live to see, his detractors would be proven quite wrong about the course in the New Jersey pine barrens.

George Crump surveys the land that would become Pine Valley

Along with New York, Boston and Chicago, Philadelphia was a hotbed of activity in golf’s formative years. At the center of that scene was George Crump. Hospitality was his business, but the word also applies to the way he lived. By all accounts, he was the kind of genuinely engaging and friendly person to whom others naturally gravitated. It is no surprise then that he was at the center of a group of Philadelphians who shared a love of the game of golf, and each other.

These men, who were referred to as “the fraternity”, were avid sportsmen, successful businessmen and bon vivants. They were members at local clubs including Merion, Philadelphia Cricket Club and Huntingdon Valley. They played matches against one another, traveled to Atlantic City and beyond for winter golf, and supported the growth of the game in the city through the creation of Cobb’s Creek. Their ranks included architects George Thomas and A.W. Tillinghast, and Merion’s Hugh Wilson, as well as George Crump’s close compatriots Howard Perrin and Reverend Simon Carr, who was described as America’s Top Priestly Golfer”. Not only did they play together, but they also collaborated and wrote about the issues of golf administration, architecture, rules and handicapping. They were leaders in this nascent period of the game.

Fraternity members William P. Smith, A.W. Tillinghast and George Crump

How often have men gathered and, fueled by libations, indulged in the making of grand plans that never progress beyond the threshold of the barroom? In order for dreams to become a reality, there must be an individual who acts as a catalyst. For the fraternity, George Crump played that role. The group had been disgruntled both with winter course conditions in Philadelphia, and with their own performance against rivals from Long Island and Boston. A new, better course located off the train line to Atlantic City would kill two birds with one stone—Crump set about making it happen. He took a study trip to the British Isles and Europe, and while there met Harry Colt. Sunningdale and the other courses of the London healthland were particularly inspiring, and so it came as no surprise when Crump sought out the famous architect for assistance with his dream chasing.

Prior to Colt’s arrival, George Crump had exhaustively explored the land, and he held strong inclinations about holes to build. Nonetheless, he let his architect work unencumbered by preconceived notions. After a week spent studying the site, Colt produced a routing, which Crump then married with his own. This marked the beginning of a year’s long process of soliciting ideas and then synthesizing them into the bigger picture. Input was readily accepted, but the final decisions were Crump’s. In his brilliant history of Pine Valley’s creation Crump’s Dream, author Andrew Mutch summed up the collaborative process. “A friend to all, Crump was the colander into which countless experts poured their ideas,” wrote Mutch. “He sifted the collected intellectual property retaining what he intuitively knew would prove useful. Behind the affable sportsman was an uncommonly driven—even stubborn—man who would stop at nothing to attain his dream. The real genius of Crump was in using the gifted minds from the Philadelphia Fraternity to assemble his mosaic upon the beautiful lands of Sumner.”

Harry Colt’s plan for Pine Valley

The hard work of clearing the land of trees and building golf holes got underway. Progress was slow but steady, with Crump unafraid to deviate from the plan when a better option presented itself. For example, William Evans wrote of a change to the 13th in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “Ground for the fairways had been cleared along the ridge…It occurred to Mr. Crump that the panoramic view from this ridge would be very desirable, and consequently he sent a gang of men in there to fell the trees. When the work was done, a magnificent golf hole was in evidence, a far greater hole that the one originally planned.”

In addition to being an architectural savant, George Crump also had a knack for promotion. He pioneered the concept of preview play. As holes were finished, play began as soon as possible for members and guests. A steady stream of high profile visitors stopped by to see the new course including C.B. Macdonald, Donald Ross, Robert Hunter, Walter Travis, Dr. Alister MacKenzie, William Fownes, Ben Sayers, Glenna Collett, Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans, Grantland Rice, Bernard Darwin, Max Behr, Jerry Travers, Alexa Sterling, John G. Anderson, Long Jim Barnes, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. Reviews were almost entirely glowing, but these visits served another purpose. Crump’s intent was for the course to evolve based on observing players and listening to their feedback. He continued to make mental notes and tinker as construction progressed. Over time, he expected the course to make a steady march toward perfection.

Progress was acutely painful at times, however. The field of agronomy was far from the established science that it is today. Growing healthy turf involved trial and error, which in the case of Pine Valley, amounted to a great deal of dead grass on the fairways and putting surfaces. Once again, Crump gathered ideas and anecdotes from all quarters, but the troubles mounted. Coupled with the financial and operational strain of attempting to build a golf course during war time, as well as other health issues, the visionary’s will to proceed finally ran out with fourteen holes completed. Tragically, George Crump took his own life before he was able to see the entirety of his dream course materialized.

Following through on what he started would fall to his friends in the fraternity.

A Cast of Characters

“George A. Crump, who died in 1918, loved golf for its own sake, and he loved the good shots of the game. More than most men, however, he realized that the making of good shots must be encouraged by good courses. Mr. Crump’s ideas led to the building of a course that will always be a monument to him. The Pine Valley course to a greater degree than any course that I have ever seen possesses individuality…Mr. Crump worked constantly on the whole landscape garden as if it were a picture, adding the needed touch here and there with the patience of an artist.” – Chick Evans

In spite of the deep sorrow felt by Crump’s friends at the loss of their ring leader, they resolved to carry on and complete Pine Valley. Hugh Wilson was the first to make a big impact. He built the remaining four holes from the Crump-Colt plan and managed to solve the agronomic issues. The turf would finally be on par with the design.

Next, it was decided that the intended improvements should be carried out to the fullest extent possible. A two day Advisory Committee meeting led by founding members Howard Perrin and Simon Carr was convened in which participants racked their brains for any recollections of Crump’s intended tweaks. C.H. Alison was tapped to provide his thoughts on course upgrades, which neatly dovetailed with the findings of the Committee. That work was carried out faithfully, and it was agreed that it finally met George Crump’s lofty standards.

The course continued to evolve in the years that followed as it matured and was played by more members, guests and competitive golfers. The pimple was removed from the putting surface on the 18th in 1928. William Flynn added a second green on the 9th and softened the bunkering in front of the 18th green. In 1929, Perry Maxwell, who by then was a member, made further modifications. He tuned up several greens and their surrounds, including the 4th, 5th and 9th. Through all these changes, present was the steady hand of greenkeeper Eb Steiniger, who consistently delivered playing surfaces that allowed Pine Valley to shine.

Eb Steiniger studies the bunkering on the 15th in 1954

Today, the course is under the care of Superintendent Richard Christian and consulting architect Tom Fazio, who has been a member since the 1980s and whose Uncle George was the club’s playing pro in the 1940s. Fazio built the companion short course, and has undertaken some tree removal and bunker renovation. George Crump did not intend for Pine Valley to be a static golf course—he desired continuous improvement. Would he want trees cleared and vistas restored? Would he like the new aesthetic of the bunkers and sandy wastes, or would he prefer they be more rugged? What would he make of modern agronomic capabilities? We, like Fazio and the membership, are left to speculate and debate. One thing is certain though, he would have loved to be in on lively discussions with friends, and he would hopefully take some satisfaction in Pine Valley’s position among the greatest golf courses in the world.

The Course Then & Now

“I personally feel that of all the golf courses that exist in golf, Pine Valley may be the only one where by moving a tee, fairway or green, you may not be able to improve it. You may be able to move something for the sake of change, but in terms of actually moving or recreating or adding something relative to the design of the golf course, I personally don’t think you could make it any better.” – Tom Fazio

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

In hindsight, there was an alchemical process that led to the creation of Pine Valley. Inspiration drawn from Scotland and the London heathland, applied to suitable ground that had been meticulously studied, influenced by brilliant design minds like Colt, Tillinghast and Wilson, allowed to freely evolve as opportunities for betterment arose. A formula that seems destined to yield greatness as we look back at it now was far less apparent when the alchemist was working through the steps. George Crump gave himself completely to Pine Valley, and through the course, his dream endures.

A course as timeless as Pine Valley is worthy of a tour delivered through both past and present lenses. Fortunately for the curious, the historical record is filled with the observations and impressions of many of golf’s greatest minds from the last century. To the fullest extent, their words have been employed, with links allowing for further exploration. Simon Haines (@Hainesy76) has generously opened up his treasure trove of historical photos covering almost every hole, which are contrasted with the modern photography of Jon Cavalier (@LinksGems). A fortunate few players are afforded the opportunity to directly experience Pine Valley’s brilliance. For the rest of us, the hope is that the tour that follows allows for vicarious pleasure. Enjoy!

HOLE #1 – 421 yards – par 4

Crump was a match player, and he thought of his opener as both a first and potential 19th hole, drawing inspiration from one of his personal favorites at Hoylake—scorable, yet able to cause acute difficulties. Ran Morrissett of GolfClubAtlas wrote of Pine Valley’s 1st, “The demand for clear thinking is immediate: with the front portion of the green ample in width, is the golfer content to take two putts to get down? Or is he confident enough to chase after back hole locations where the green narrows? A wonderful dilemma posed by a bunkerless green site.”

HOLE #2 – 368 yards – par 4

Players quickly realize that, at Pine Valley, the yardage on the card is meaningless vis a vis a hole’s level of difficulty. “My word, do you play this hole, or just photograph it?” wrote John La Cerda in his profile for The Saturday Evening Post in 1945. Golf Digest’s Jerry Tarde further describes the experience. “The 2nd is the longest, most treacherous 368 yards in golf,” he explained in his flyover video tour. “Church pew bunkers run up both sides of the fairway to a rising hill with a lunarscape of sand pits. You can only see the top of the flagstick.” Tom Fazio referred to the second shot on the 2nd as the impetus for building the short course. He just wanted to hit that shot over and over. “The green is even more perilous,” continued Tarde. “A missed shot is a death sentence. As the members say, Welcome to Pine Valley.’”

HOLE #3 – 198 yards – par 3

The collection of one-shotters at Pine Valley may be the best on the planet. They are varied, and all demanding of well-struck tee balls. “As sightly a hole as the golfing artist could wish to view; and as severe a test of golf skill as the expert iron player could crave,” wrote founding member Simon Carr in a 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated. “The green, a perfectly beautiful natural conformation, lies about fifteen feet below the level of the tee, with every part of its surface fully in view…A weakly hit ball, or a slightly pulled ball, needs no urging to trickle, or to shoot, into the depths of the graceful, serpentine bunker that winds around the whole left side of the green. On the right side, just at the distance the ball should carry, the bunker pushes two hungry mouths partway into the green, ready to gobble a ball the least bit too far to the right…There is no puzzle, no trick, no blind chance of play. It just requires the skill and nerve of a very finely controlled long iron shot.”

HOLE #4 – 499 yards – par 4

Crump was not shy about confronting players with intimidating looks from the tee. The experience elicited colorful reactions from early guests and visiting journalists. “(The course) has sandy wastes so extensive that they should be crossed only by camel,” wrote John Kieran from the New York Times. “From the fourth tee, the indignant visitor looks out over nothing but sand. The caddies point somewhere along the skyline and say, ‘Aim up there.’ There should at least be a pyramid or an obelisk as a roadmark for wayward golf traffic.” There is more to this stout four-par than the tee shot, as explained by Morrissett. “Crump was a master at fitting the green to the hole,” he wrote. “It comes as no surprise to find the green is open in front and is one of the biggest on the course. The green itself follows the general slope of the land, which is from front to back.”

HOLE #5 – 238 yards – par 3

There is a distinct satisfaction in successfully producing a shot at the very limits of one’s ability. The architects of the Golden Age often included a long par-3 to provide the opportunity for this thrill, and at Pine Valley, it comes at the magnificent 5th. Bernard Darwin described the experience well when he wrote, “What a memorable short hole is the fifth—one full spoon shot over a tremendous chasm stretching from tee to green, a wilderness of firs on the right, big bunkers on the left. To land the ball on that green—and there is no reason in the world why you should not do it if you are not frightened—provides a moment worth living for.”

HOLE #6 – 394 yards – par 4

“When the ridge along the 6th is reached, the panorama is so magnificent that it grips and holds hard like a spell,” gushed A.W. Tillinghast in American Cricketer magazine. “I defy any bred-in-the-bone golfer to stand on the ridge, gazing over that marvelous sweep of country, without feeling a glow of great satisfaction stealing over him, and he must say in his heart, ‘It is good to be here.’” Although the maturing of the forest has changed the view from that which Tilly saw in his day, Pine Valley is still spell-binding on every hole, including this dogleg right par-4 that invites players to challenge the corner for an advantageous approach in to the angled green.

HOLE #7 – 636 yards – par 5

In the modern age, where three-shotters often only take two, Pine Valley holds players to a more demanding standard, requiring consecutive shots that are both well conceived and struck. “The 7th is the longest hole on the course, 636 from the back, with Hell’s Half Acre, the hazard at its midpoint,” said Tarde. “You might say there are no bunkers at Pine Valley. It is one big bunker with occasional patches of grass. There also are no rakes at Pine Valley. Golfers are asked to smooth their deepest footprints, but otherwise the sand is left to be tended by the wind and rain.”

HOLE #8 – 328 yards – par 4

The clever architect creates a variety of challenges. As noted by Morrissett, “Since Crump’s death in 1918, Pine Valley has never once fallen prey to the false quest for length that first gripped courses in the 1960s.”  The greatest courses test skill with every club in the bag, including the short clubs. When players are given an opportunity to have wedge in hand, those shots, including the approach to either of the two greens at the 8th, are no gimmes. “Pine Valley is generally considered to be the most terrifying course in the world,” penned Darwin, “and I, for one, have small doubt that the eighth hole is the most terrifying on it. After a good drive, the trembling wretch takes his mashie niblick and pitches for that little triangle of safety. If he fails, well…”

HOLE #9 – 458 yards – par 4

The 9th is the second straight par-4 that had an alternate green added, although it plays quite differently than the 8th. The approach shot to Crump’s original left green is the more demanding of the two. According to course historian James Finegan, “The player’s instinct is to take plenty of club in order to get up. Shallow bunkers in the back may contain the too aggressive shot, but eight or nine feet beyond the green, the earth falls abruptly away down a wooded slope so long and steep that the ball, if it doesn’t fetch up against a tree trunk, may actually edge out into the 18th hole, which, for all practical purposes, might as well be on another planet.”

HOLE #10 – 161 yards – par 3

If there is one hole that has come to embody Pine Valley in our consciousness, it is this short par-3. Simon Carr summed up the experience beautifully. “The tee is built out on the very edge of the ridge, with the valley on the left, 50 feet below,” he wrote. “The green is located on a knoll in the side of a huge sand hill. In the distance, the green looks like an uncut emerald, as it rests amid the yellow and white sands of the surrounding bunkers. It is the jewel of the round…The wind always blows out on the edge of the ridge where the tee is placed; it tests one’s judgment soundly to gauge this important factor accurately in playing the shot. Tee shots at this hole are either good or bad…One must play the shot just right, or fail.”

HOLE #11 – 397 yards – par 4

“Every hole at Pine Valley is dramatic and memorable,” wrote Tom Doak in Golf Magazine, “even the holes that nobody talks about, like the medium-length 11th, with its perfect tee shot into a saddled fairway and perfect pitch back up a narrow valley.” This hole presents subtler challenges, but playing an approach from an uneven lie to a well-defended green is no less demanding than facing a wall of sand, water hazard, or the Devil’s Asshole.

HOLE #12 – 337 yards – par 4

In the modern era of aerial golf, angles still matter at Pine Valley. From the right tee, the fairway is wide and allows for advantageous positioning into the long axis of the green. Finegan explained the versatility of the 12th, “If the hole is played from the oft-neglected left-hand tee, elevated and tucked well back in a glade, the forced carry is more like 170 yards than 150, the landing area is not in view, and the subsequent shot to the narrow green is longer and rather on a sharp angle, with only the top half of the flagstick visible. The left-hand tee was built in 1962 for the express purpose of toughening this hole. It succeeds admirably.”

HOLE #13 – 486 yards – par 4

One of the course’s many strengths is the variety. Lengths, directions, elevation, constantly shifting, keeping players on their toes, epitomized by the stretch from eleven through thirteen. “Pine Valley blends all three schools of design—heroic, penal and strategic—over the whole course, often on a single hole. For rugged grandeur, 13 may be the best of the best,” gushed Tarde. “486 yards, first to a perched landing area on the right, then a long second sweeping left, with death or glory at hand.” Simply put, an all-world four par.

HOLE #14 – 220 yards – par 3

Wiley architects often use beauty to mask peril, a tactic that players must guard against at the par-3 14th. “For the photographer or painter, the hole is enthralling,” wrote Finegan. “For the player, it is unnerving. The ‘island’ green awaits far below in its picturesque setting of water and trees and sand. Because of the falling nature of the shot, the hole plays less than the measured distance. The breeze, generally off the port bow, can be tricky, often hurling a softly flighted ball directly into the water short of the green or into the forest that is everywhere the water is not, yet sometimes failing to influence in any fashion a crisply lined iron that, alas, now splashes in the water beyond the green.”

HOLE #15 – 615 yards – par 5

The second of Pine Valley’s two par-5s is straightforward, and just plain hard. “It might have been 15 that Robert Trent Jones had in mind when he called Pine Valley the most difficult course in the world,” explained Tarde. “For most of us, this par-5 requires four full shots and a putt. Is it unfair at times? Maybe so. But isn’t that the ultimate test? Can a player hit a good shot, only to be crushed by a horrific result, and still find it within him or herself to rise to the occasion on the next one?”

HOLE #16 – 475 yards – par 4

The 16th switches back and runs down to the water, before the course turns and heads for home. Position off the tee is important to approach the green set up against the lake. “Those who can clear the sand from the tee on the optimum line will have the luxury of hitting an iron from the right side of the fairway to the left side of the largest green on the course, which is to say hitting away from the lake,” expanded Finegan. “A grand and wonderful hole it is, and one which, like its predecessor, fully rewards the big basher.”

HOLE #17 – 345 yards – par 4

One can imagine how exciting match play can be coming down the stretch. Opportunities for triumph and disaster abound. Morrissett peeled back a layer when he wrote, “(The 17th) highlights how revolutionary George Crump truly was and how well he understood the psychology of the game. Like Donald Ross, Crump understood that there must be give and take by the course architect and he allows the golfer a chance to birdie the penultimate hole to break 80…or 90…or 100. Of course, rash tactics that place the greedy golfer above the day’s hole location on this sharply pitched green can be the undoing of an otherwise fine round.”

HOLE #18 – 483 yards – par 4

The home hole encapsulates much of the spirit of Pine Valley. There are forced carries on both shots, first over sand and then over water and sand. There are intimidating hazards complemented by subtle contours. There is incomplete visibility—it’s all there on the 18th, but not necessarily all there in front of you. Both the fronting bunkers and green surface have undergone changes, making both less penal than they were in Crump’s day. Newspaperman Ted Hoyt described the infamous feature that was later removed. “The famous pimple on the 18th green at Pine Valley,” he wrote, “has probably been cussed out more by aggravated linksmen than any other single hazard in the country.”

“The world doesn’t need a lot more courses that are just like Pine Valley. Designers have been trying to imitate it, and they will forever fall short. But if more golf courses were developed by guys who cared as much as George Crump did, we’d be on the right road.” – Tom Doak

Is Pine Valley difficult? Of course it is. In fact, although many consider it to be the greatest course in the world, those who prefer a more relaxed feel for their everyday golf would not designate it their favorite, precisely because it is relentlessly demanding. But it is so much more than a hard golf course. From the use of the land in the routing, to strategic placement of hazards, to the contours of the greens, it is evident to all that the course was a labor of love for a group of golf’s best minds during the Golden Age. Its greatness endures because it taps into the satisfaction one feels having overcome a true challenge, even if only for one shot. At Pine Valley, every victory, large or small, is earned.

Beyond the play of the course though, let’s not forget that the founders sought to create a place of natural beauty where enjoyment of time spent on sport with one’s fellows would reign supreme. As was often the case in the early days, Simon Carr put words dripping with a religious fervor to the feelings of visitors then, and now: “It is then a golfing Paradise. It is so peaceful, so secluded, so restful, that you feel as if you were a thousand miles from the rout of the big city…As you wander over the Pine Valley hills and through its dales, your eye is feasted, with nature’s sweet, wild beauty; the odor of the wholesome pine delights your nostrils; you seem to gather health and cheerfulness at every step. There is the peace of seclusion, nature’s godly beauty, the pure joy of most excellent golf. With a sturdy old friend by your side to share it all—what more could an earthly paradise be?”

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LINKSGEMS AUSSIE ADVENTURE

A photo recap of Jon Cavalier’s 2020 trip down under

Jon Cavalier kicked off his 2020 golf adventures in style by taking a trip that will likely remain a dream for even the most ardent American golf traveler—Australia. The word epic is overused, but a quick look at the stats indicates that it applies to this trip: 15 days, 20 courses, 23 rounds, 6 cities/islands, 10 flights, 25,000 air miles, 6 rental cars, 1,500 road miles, dozens of new friends and thousands of great memories.

Jon got a heaping helping of Aussie flavor that he captured with his breathtaking photography. Compiled below, the photos will surely bring back great memories for those fortunate enough to have strolled those fairways, or will serve as fodder for those of us who can only live vicariously. Enjoy!

Click on any gallery image to enlarge

ROUND 1: YARRA YARRA GOLF CLUB

The Australia tour kicked off in Melbourne with a round at Yarra Yarra Golf Club, a beautiful 1929 Alex Russell design with recent upgrades by Renaissance Golf. Great par-3s and unbelievable greens—some of the best I’ve seen anywhere.

ROUND 2: ST. ANDREWS BEACH

A 2004 collaboration between Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, St. Andrews Beach is long on gorgeous scenery and wildly fun greensites. Doak and Clayton largely took what the land gave them here, and Mother Nature was, as usual, quite generous.

ROUND 3: VICTORIA GOLF CLUB

This venerable sandbelt classic, influenced by the great Alister MacKenzie in 1928, recently received a facelift via restored greens newly seeded with Pure Distinction grass and new fairway irrigation. Truly a treat to play.

ROUND 4: WOODLANDS GOLF CLUB

I’d never heard of Woodlands before this trip, but I’m certainly glad we got to see it. Reminiscent of the great members clubs back home, the course features some terrific greens, great par-3s and several world-class short par-4s.

ROUND 5: BARWON HEADS GOLF CLUB

An incredibly pleasant surprise, this historic links dates to 1920 and was designed by Vic East, head professional at Royal Melbourne. It’s the Australian version of England’s Rye and America’s Kittansett, and it is amazing.

ROUND 6: ROYAL MELBOURNE WEST

In a word, amazing. Designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1926 and built over five years by Alex Russell and greenskeeper Mick Morcom using only a horse-drawn plow and scoop, this is golf at its very best. World-class in every respect.

ROUND 7: ROYAL MELBOURNE EAST

Is it possible to have a better day of golf without getting in your car than an afternoon round at Royal Melbourne West followed by an evening round on the East? I don’t think it is. Quite possibly the best “B” course in the world.

ROUND 8: KINGSTON HEATH GOLF CLUB

A true charmer on an intimate parcel, Kingston Heath brings to mind Garden City Men’s or Chicago Golf as a masterpiece of strategic design on flat ground. Cliche, but I could play here every day and be quite happy. Lovely spot.

ROUND 9: ROYAL MELBOURNE WEST

A place so nice we played it twice—I could play it a hundred more times and still never experience every aspect of its brilliance. Rare that a course with such high expectations exceeds every bit of them, but Royal Melbourne does.

ROUND 10: PENINSULA KINGSWOOD NORTH

Of all the places people recommended that we see in Melbourne, none was more popular than this 2019 redesign by Mike Cocking. To all who suggested it, our thanks—this is a remarkable golf club and a brilliant design.

ROUND 11: PENINSULA KINGSWOOD SOUTH

A quick sunset loop around this 2019 Mike Cocking redesign was a real treat. The two courses here are both a lot of fun, but each has its own unique feel. The Peninsula Kingswood members are quite fortunate to have two of the best in town.

ROUNDS 12 & 13: CAPE WICKHAM GOLF LINKS

WOW! This 2015 links byMike DeVries on the northern tip of tiny King Island beneath the Cape Wickham lighthouse is absolutely incredible.Everyone who has previously hyped this course is right: Cape Wickham is off-the-charts dramatic, stunning and fun.

ROUND 14: OCEAN DUNES

A surprise stunner, this 2016 Graeme Grant design hugs the rugged coastline of King Island. Jagged rocks, colorful ice plant and huge breakers highlight the coastal holes beginning each nine, while the inland holes play through giant dunes.

ROUND 15: KING ISLAND GOLF & BOWLING CLUB

King Island’s oldest course, the Golf & Bowling Club has 16 tees and 12 greens, which combine to form an extremely fun 18 holes with ocean views everywhere. Reminiscent of the original Sheep Ranch and the back nine at Pacific Grove.

ROUNDS 16 & 17: BARNBOUGLE DUNES

As authentic a seaside links as there is outside of the UK, this 2004 design by Tom Doak, Mike Clayton and Brian Schneider is draped in and across huge dunes on Tasmania’s north coast. A brilliant design in a beautiful location.

ROUND 18: LOST FARM

This 2010 20-hole Bill Coore design sits northeast of Barnbougle Dunes across the Great Forester River and is a wonderful mix of holes in large seaside dunes and expansive sandy parkland. Put together 38-hole complex at Barnbougle is truly world-class.

ROUND 19: BONDI GOLF & DIGGER CLUB

It was pouring rain during our morning visit to this beautiful little 9-holer, but we came back to the area for dinner at dusk and I nabbed this shot of the course atop the cliffs, Bondi Beach and the lights of Sydney.

ROUND 20: NEWCASTLE GOLF CLUB

A drive two hours north of Sydney brought us to this sandy gem cut through a beautiful forest of eucalyptus. Newcastle Golf Club has fairway contours that rival the very best of the sandbelt, and some fun greens to boot. Great spot.

ROUND 21: NEW SOUTH WALES GOLF CLUB

We wrapped our visit to Sydney with a stop at the incomparable New South Wales. Conditions weren’t great for photography, but were perfect for golf. This place is truly a stunner—great design on an incredible piece of land. Unforgettable.

ROUND 22: KOOYONGA GOLF CLUB

Our penultimate stop, Kooyonga was strongly recommended by many of our friends and followers as a must-see in Adelaide, and as usual, they were right. Five Australian Opens have been contested on this 1923 W.H. Rymill design.

ROUND 23: ROYAL ADELAIDE GOLF CLUB

Our final round, and we saved one of the best for last. What’s not to love? Royal Adelaide features red sand bunkers, a brilliant routing, with a strong MacKenzie influence, and best of all, a train running through the course. Remarkable!

BONUS: KOALAS

Australia is full of amazing animals, none more majestic than the sleepy koala. These little guys have been devastated by deforestation, fire and disease, but Australia’s wildlife sanctuaries are working hard to protect them.

For fans of Australian golf and Jon’s photography, stayed tuned for updates to the galleries on this page. More photos to come over time…

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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BLUE’S GREENS

A look at the heart of Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, the tremendous set of Seth Raynor designed greens

For a golf course to be great, its different components—land, routing, strategy, hazards, greens—should ideally work together, and have independent strength of their own. Ask a large enough group of golf geeks which of these course elements is the most important, and the answers will likely run the gamut. Such is the varied nature of the game, its playing fields and the opinions of its players. A strong case can be made that the greens are the heart and soul of any golf course. Their orientation, magnitude and contours create a game within the game, and when well-conceived, dictate strategy all the way back to the tee. It is nearly impossible to have a truly great course without a set of high quality greens. Pebble Beach is the exception that proves this rule, and only by virtue of its setting in one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places on planet golf.

Seth Raynor, in collaboration with both Charles Blair Macdonald and Charles Banks, belongs on the Mount Rushmore of green builders. The size and boldness of his green complexes is matched with contouring of the putting surfaces that oscillates between wild and sublimely subtle. His greens can take a lifetime to master on the approach and with the flatstick. Among the MacRaynor cognoscenti, the sets at National Golf Links of America, Chicago Golf Club and Camargo often get the nod as the best. Few will put Raynor’s work at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in that rarified company, but perhaps they should. Recent work on expansions, surrounds, bunkering and opening up the property through tree management is placing a spotlight on Raynor’s genius, and placing Blue Mound in the must-see conversation.

Mr. Raynor Goes to Milwaukee

“Very little has actually been written about that course,” said Seth Raynor historian Nigel Islam, “but we do know a few things.” After moving from its original location, the club recruited Raynor, whose reputation as a solo designer had been elevated in the Midwest with the openings at Shoreacres and Camargo, as well as the rework of Chicago Golf Club. Indeed, Macdonald gushed about how his protege had proven himself a prodigy. “He scarcely knew a golf ball from a tennis ball when we first met,” recounted the mentor in Scotland’s Gift – Golf. “…he never became much of an expert in playing golf, yet the facility with which he absorbed the feeling which animates old and enthusiastic golfers to the manor born was truly amazing, eventually qualifying him to discriminate between a really fine hole and an indifferent one.”

On a gentle piece of ground on a plateau above the Menomonee River, Raynor designed the course to be an enjoyable challenge for players of all skill levels. A pamphlet issued by the club in 1924, prior to the opening of the course, described the holes and passed along a message from the architect to the membership. “Mr. Raynor says that any player who can get a carry of about 100 yards will keep out of trouble,” it read. “ It will be an interesting course to the great number of players who score 90 and over, and at the same time, it will tantalize those few golfers who are able to shoot 80 or better.” Raynor intended for players at Blue Mound to have room to chart a suitable route to each green where they would ultimately find abundant interest and challenges on the putting surfaces.

Seth Raynor still greets players with a watchful eye on the 1st tee at Blue Mound

Over the decades, both fairways and greens shrank at Blue Mound. Thankfully, that trend has been reversed. Retrovation work got underway as the highly-regarded Bruce Hepner consulted with former Greenkeeper Steve Houlihan on tree removal, changes to mowing lines and greens expansion. The process has continued, driven by the Greens and Grounds Committee and energetic, new Superintendent Alex Beson-Crone, including reconstruction of the Alps and Short bunkers, and firming up of playing surfaces. The club is eschewing flash, instead honoring the simple elegance of Raynor’s design by focusing on the finer details. “Blue Mound is not trying to be something that it is not,” explained Beson-Crone. “Raynor’s engineered contours produce an effect. Being outdoors on this course is a spiritual experience. It just feels right.” With that level of reverence and enthusiasm, the membership is right to be excited for what lies ahead.

Returning to the greens, Beson-Crone’s appreciation has grown with each passing day. “Sometimes I find myself standing in the middle of a green getting lost marveling at what they built,” he said, with a tone of awe in his voice. A sign of their quality reveals itself in the difficulty of choosing either the strongest or the weakest among the set. “I will probably have a new favorite green this year,” laughed Beson-Crone, “and every year.”

Heat maps illuminate the variety of contours possessed by Blue’s greens – Click on gallery to enlarge

Hepner is equally effusive in his praise. “What makes Raynor’s greens so interesting is that they are huge with all these internal contours,” he shared in a presentation to the club. The architect went on to make his case for following through on the expansion work. “The process is to get them out to the precipice, to the edges of these plateaus. Men and horses and mules built these greens and I guarantee that they wanted putting surface on every inch. Otherwise, they wasted a lot of sweat.” With each passing year, the retrovation progresses, reintroducing the variety of hole locations that Raynor intended to keep the course interesting for everyday play.

The Course

The land on which Blue Mound sits is understated, but far from boring. The outward nine loops around the perimeter, culminating with a four hole stretch that interacts with the ridge and slope above the river valley. The inward half meanders around the center, flirting with a tributary creek.

As we take a tour through the course, our focus will be on the greens, which have been captured beautifully by club member and architecture geek Jerry Rossi (IG: @putt4dough24). Special attention has been paid to the one-shotters, which are stellar. Hepner stated his position clearly to the club, “You have the best set of par-3s of any Raynor course that exists.” For those interested in greater tee-to-green detail, Blue Mound produced a series of flyovers featuring architect commentary that have been compiled into a YouTube playlist.

Click on any gallery image to enlarge with captions

Raynor comes right out of the gate with strong par-4s back-to-back. The two-shot redan 1st plays into an angled and elevated green with a high right side. The 2nd features an enormous double plateau with transition contours as grand as any he ever built. “Macdonald invented the double plateau at National Golf Links,” explained Hepner. “It gives that ‘floating in the air’ feel and forces you to trust your eye. That’s how modern architects get professionals.”

Macdonald’s inspiration for the most polarizing of his ideal three-pars came from Biarritz in France, and its famed Chasm hole.

Although they did not build one of these long par-3s at The National, subsequent designs at Piping Rock, St. Louis Country Club and Lido Club included prominent renditions.

The Biarritz at Piping Rock – Photo credit: Jon Cavalier

Raynor continued to employ the concept at Fisher’s Island, Shoreacres, Camargo, and on the 3rd at Blue Mound. Although the game has become more aerial in nature, creative shotmakers can still enjoy the fun of the low-running approach that the architect intended.

The next stretch of three par-4s works its way over to the river ridge and includes some of the most famous concepts. The Alps 4th recently had a retrovation of the cross bunker by Hepner that fronts a green which he describes as, “…a semi-punchbowl that is subtle, but on which there is a lot of contour.” The 5th is an uphill Road hole with an infinity green angled front-right to back-left. The 6th, named Strategy, presents players with options to position themselves for an optimal approach into the canted and contoured green. “I think this is one of your coolest holes,” Hepner told the members. “It’s patterned after the 1st at National Golf Links.”

The Short hole concept was brought back by Macdonald from the sleeper-fronted original at Brancaster.

Photo Credit: Simon Haines

Golden Age architects such as Ross and MacKenzie, as well as the Dyes in the modern era, shared the belief with Macdonald that at least once in a round, a player should be required to step up and hit a precise shot with a short iron. No bailout. Do or die. National’s version initially donned the Brancaster look, but the wood sleepers were ultimately removed.

Photo Credit: Simon Haines

Raynor had a knack for locating his Shorts in the most scenic spots on the course. With the Mount Mary campus as a backdrop, his setting at Blue Mound was no exception.

An alteration to the front bunkers over the years caused the 7th to lose some of its MacRaynor feel.

Bruce Hepner and the Blue Mound crew excavated the original footprint and returned the moat look, once again providing that all-or-nothing thrill.

Bunker shaping complete, prior to regrassing

Today’s 7th stirs the soul and quickens the pulse, just as Seth Raynor intended.

The front nine turns for home at the Punchbowl 8th, which because of its uphill orientation, has an Alps quality to it. “It is so strong,” mused Hepner. “It’s the coolest green I think I’ve ever expanded.” The par-4 9th plays past a set of string-of-pearls bunkers to a green that falls away hard to the left.

Lest players fret that Raynor peaked too early with the stellar close to the outward half, the 10th quickly signals more greatness to come. “Raynor poached the best ideas from the 2nd and 3rd place winners in the Country Life Magazine design contest that MacKenzie won,” shared Hepner. His “Prize” hole ends with a green that is among the most interesting and unique that he ever built. At the Cape 11th, the architect plays with Macdonald’s concept by angling the elevated green in opposition to the gentle sweep of the fairway. The drive on the Hog’s Back 12th grabs attention, but making a par four requires overcoming the equal challenge of subtle green contours.

“Take a narrow tableland,” wrote Macdonald of the concept he borrowed from North Berwick, “tilt it from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally, and you have the Redan.” The original was inspired by medieval fortifications…

Photo Credit: North Berwick

…which Macdonald and Raynor morphed to create their first at National Golf Links. In every subsequent design, they made this brilliant three-par a hallmark. It is no mistake that architects continue to follow in their footsteps by building Redans today.

The Redan 4th at NGLA – Photo Credit: Simon Haines

The negative impact of over-treeing is no more acutely evident than in a photo of Blue Mound’s 13th prior to Hepner’s retrovation. The aesthetics and strategy of the hole, suffocating under tree branches, cried out for freedom—a call that the membership and Hepner wisely and mercifully answered.

The Redan 13th now plays as intended. Aerial and ground attacks are both options, but deep bunkers lurk beyond, waiting to ensnare the overzealous.

Every great routing has a rhythm, with ebbs and flows. The stretch from the 14th through the 16th provides a quiet complement between the heart of the course and its closing holes. “14 and the Leven 16th have the opposite strategy,” said Hepner. “They work well together.” In the middle is the par-4 15th, with yet another outstanding green.

The final par-3 takes its name from the Eden estuary that runs behind the green at the original on The Old Course at St. Andrews. The three front bunkers have given players fits for more than a century, including Bobby Jones.

Photo Credit: St. Andrews

Macdonald and Raynor often represented the rear hazard with a long bunker, as was the case with their first rendition at The National.

Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Raynor took creative liberties with his design of the front bunkers on Blue Mound’s 17th. They serve the same purpose though—present a strong defense of the canted and contoured green.

With one final nod to The Old Course, Raynor concludes Blue Mound with the Long par-5 18th. The finisher requires three well-struck shots to have a good birdie look to close out a round. The green setting delivers a finishing touch of class, as Hepner explains. “Whoever sited the clubhouse did a great job in relation to the 9th and 18th. It is set at an angle, which enhances the view.” The difference between good and great, details.

Indulge me, for a moment, in the construction of a logical question:

If greens are the most important component of a golf course, and Seth Raynor was among the very best green builders in history, and his finest set of par-3s is at Blue Mound, and the strongest greens at Blue Mound are not on the one-shotters, and it is extremely difficult to identify the weakest green on the course, because they are all strong…Then, does it not stand to reason that Blue Mound is highly underrated among the Golden Age greats?

Perhaps my leaps of logic are too broad to accept, but this much is true—the club membership has a newfound zeal for polishing their hidden gem, and they have charged Hepner and Beson-Crone with recapturing all of its upside potential. Wherever one might have rated the course in the past, a return trip to Seth Raynor’s Blue Mound is sure to be cause for serious reconsideration.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A NEW STANDARD FOR GREATNESS

Musings on the power of kinship, on and off the course

The subject of greatness is one that I have spent years now exploring in my golf travels, conversations, debates and attendant musings. What makes a golf course great? What makes one greater than another? Is it even possible to objectively evaluate a course, or are all such attempts hopelessly entangled with the individual’s experience on any given day?

Previously, I set forth a personal standard for my favorite courses based on their ability to elicit a desire for endless loops, my 108 in 48ers, which has been updated to include new entries from this past season. This angle on the questions above speaks to the enjoyment provided by these courses over multiple plays. It also points to the perspective one gains by playing and studying worthy designs at depth. Certainly, there is great value in expanding the breadth of one’s horizons through seeing new courses of all kinds. Profound gains in perspective are also available to those who explore every strategy, feature, contour and condition of their favorites, giving thought to the most impactful qualities. Equal parts breadth and depth yield the most profound enlightenment.

Subsequent to the creation of the 108 in 48 standard, I also made an exploration of the far ends of the spectrum. At one end are the courses that are universally considered exceptional. At the other end are those that possess qualities—architectural interest, fun, quirkiness, setting, community vibe—that when coupled with a reasonable green fee, place them among my favorites. Aiken GC, Rock Hollow, Pleasant Run and others were all welcome additions to this group for me last season.

Lawsonia Links – The gold standard for value

The bottom line for any golf geek is that, regardless of how many rounds we get to play on various courses, we would all like to play more. There are, sadly, constraints of resources and time. That makes maximizing the value of the time and money I spend on golf a high priority, worthy of attention and effort. Politeness and enthusiasm still go a long way toward gaining access to private clubs. Golfers are a generous lot, and they enjoy sharing their courses with kindred spirits. Lacking such access, resources like the GeekedOnGolf Global Guide and Sugarloaf Social Club’s Hidden Gem Project make finding the value plays easier than ever for the curious and adventurous.

A new criterion has been added to my list that is increasing in weight as the years go on—camaraderie. In any walk of life, if one looks for the goodness in people, it can be found. In my experience,  the game of golf seems to attract people and bring out that goodness in a way that I find particularly enriching. Perhaps it is the choice of a pursuit that can never be exhausted or mastered, one that provides at least as much of the agony of defeat as it does the thrill of victory, which creates the conditions for bonding and kinship.

It has also been my good fortune to find a tribe of geeks for whom the score on the card, while not meaningless, is secondary to a $1 Nassau, and lively discussion of course architecture and history. It was our common interest in the game that connected me to these great people, but our friendships have gone far deeper. I find myself enjoying getting to know them more just as much as the courses we’re playing together, with modern connectivity allowing us to extend our 19th hole conversations indefinitely.

Therefore, where I choose to spend my time and resources playing is now strictly on courses that are likely to meet my standards for greatness—some new, but an increasing percentage tried-and-true. And further, it is a rarity that I find myself legging out a solo round on some new (to me) course just because it’s on a list. There are obvious exceptions. Your number gets called for Cypress, Pine Valley, Augusta, etc., you find a way to go, no matter what. Beyond those “once in a lifetime” experiences though, I will take course+camaraderie over just the course, every day.

Scenes from an emergency nine at Cal Club

Let’s take this year’s CA Swing as an example of these standards in practice. A quick trip to the Bay Area afforded me the privilege of a return visit to one of my favorite courses. A stone’s throw away is another top club, which I have not yet played, but could likely be accessed with enough effort. It would be nice to play that course, and it is possible that I might like it marginally more than the one I was visiting. Some people do. But on a trip like this with limited time, playing there would not only have meant foregoing a round at one of my all-time favorites. It would have meant losing time with my buddies. It might have also cost me the opportunity to make a new friend, who as a long-time sports reporter, regaled us with terrific stories from years on the NFL and PGA Tour beats. For me, the value of that kinship far outweighs another check on my list.

Had it been possible, I most certainly would have made time to see the San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin. Unfortunately, as detailed in my previous article, the battle over the course has left it in an unmaintained state. I did, however, have the honor of attending the Save San Geronimo fundraiser at Terrapin Crossroads in San Raphael. An inspiring spirit was alive and well among this group of warriors who are fighting to bring their community course back to life. As confirmation that I was in the right place, a conversation with the winner of the auction of a trip to Sand Valley revealed that he bought it for his buddies, with whom he has been taking golf trips for 35 years. My hope for every golf geek is the ability to some day claim such a track record.

My exploration of great golf courses started with a focus on the playing fields. After years of adventure, I have finally realized that key ingredient for me is the players. Great courses can be found and accessed by the open-minded and motivated, regardless of means. Upon identifying the venue, sharing the experience with good friends is what makes one’s favorites transcend any rating, ranking or list.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WIN-WIN-WIN SOLUTION AT SAN GERONIMO

This installment of the GeekedOnGolf Community Golf series looks at the fight to save and reinvent San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin County, CA

For centuries, a story has been unfolding in the San Geronimo Valley, highlighting the relationships between people and the land, and each other. Important questions about stewardship, land use, ecology and community have been raised over the years, with complex and ambiguous answers. The fight to save the San Geronimo Golf Course is just the most recent chapter in the history of an area where tensions between competing interests make finding win-win solutions to problems more challenging. The question about the immediate future of this community course will soon be answered, and the next phase of the relationship between the people and this land will begin. What remains to be seen thereafter is what will become of the relationships among the residents of the valley and Marin County at large.

An Evolving Landscape

The San Geronimo Valley is in the heart of Marin County, over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It is home to several small towns surrounded by open space preserves. Creeks meander down from the hillsides and combine to form the ecologically important Lagunitas Creek Watershed that is habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Native American tribal territories – Credit: Drake Navigators Guild

The oldest known stewards of this land were the Coast Miwok people. Evidence suggests that going back more than 4,000 years, these indigenous hunter-gatherers used controlled burns to manage vegetation, promoting the growth of oaks that provided them acorns. They also caught fish in the creeks and hunted deer. Among their first contacts with European explorers was Sir Francis Drake, who reached the coast in 1579. Other settlers and fortune hunters followed, reducing the Miwok population from thousands to the low hundreds when their lifestyle and stewardship gave way to ranchers and farmers in the mid-19th century.

By the 1950s, Valley leadership recognized the need for a plan to better organize resources for the growing community. Recreation was a part of that plan, including a golf course.

The San Geronimo Valley in 1952 – Credit: Josh Pettit

A Scot and an Irishman came to America long after the Englishman Drake, each making their own mark on the West Coast. The one that most golfers have heard of is Dr. Alister MacKenzie, designer of Meadow Club, Cypress Point, Sharp Park and Pasatiempo. The other is Arthur Vernon Macan Jr.—a top amateur golfer who spent his days in the company of luminaries such as Bernard Darwin and Charles Alison, competing on and discussing the storied courses of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1908, he emigrated to British Columbia in Canada and earned his first commission as a course designer at Royal Collwood, which opened for play in 1913.

“Royal Collwood set the standard for West Coast architecture before Pebble Beach or Cypress Point,” said Jeff Mingay, golf course architect and student of Macan. “He was brilliant at routing, was a master green builder, and his courses drained really well—he pioneered golf course architecture in the west.” Macan made his way south to the Bay Area, working at high profile clubs like California Golf Club of San Francisco. His decades-long career would end in the San Geronimo Valley, with the opening of the community course in 1965. It would include his trademark, solid routing and challenging green contours, in a lovely natural setting. “Macan made clay models of his greens,” explained Mingay. “The only surviving model, which is now at the British Columbia Golf Museum, is from San Geronimo.” The course, which would be enjoyed by the community for generations to come, was an important piece of the history of golf architecture in America.

The San Geronimo Golf Course in 2017 – Credit: Josh Pettit

Of course, most of the players and other visitors to San Geronimo Golf Course could have cared less about the design pedigree of their local gem. For adults of all ages and skill levels, it was a place to get outside, connect with friends and nature, and have a go at capturing the magic of a few well-struck shots and holed putts. For boys and girls, it was a welcoming spot to learn the game and perhaps graduate to playing on one of the high school teams that used the course for matches. For non-golfers, it was an open space to walk the dog or take a stroll while good-naturedly pondering why on earth a sane person would ever become obsessed with trying to get a little white ball into a hole in the ground. San Geronimo was ground for recreation, and it was beloved by its community.

The facility had notably overcome two of the major issues plaguing courses across the country—financial and ecological sustainability. The Lee family, which owned and operated San Geronimo from 2009 through 2017, turned solid profits, in spite of the ebbs and flows of golf participation during that period. They emanated an inclusive spirit and embraced a multi-use approach to event hosting, activity offerings and tending of a community garden.

The Lees were also sensitive to the ecological impact of their golf operation. In 2014, the comprehensive Coho-Friendly Habitat and Operations Plan for the San Geronimo Golf Course was created in partnership with the community, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN). It set out to provide analysis and actionable recommendations for enhancement of riparian habitat, stormwater management, water use, integrated pest management and invasive species management (click here to see the Coho-Friendly plan). The document is thorough, holistic, well-conceived and a credit to the collaborative process of those involved.

It is worth highlighting that the Lees voluntarily participated in that process, and followed up by taking action on the recommendations for pest management, water use and invasive species management. Community volunteers also began pilot projects to enhance salmon and trout habitat in the creeks. “The previous owners of the golf course did a good job of not modifying the creek,” said Eric Ettinger, aquatic ecologist with the Marin Municipal Water District, in an interview. “I don’t think the golf course was ever the problem for salmon in the watershed.” The Lees and their partners in the community were taking action not because they had caused the problem, but rather because they saw an opportunity to be a part of the solution.

A Shift in Direction

In the midst of community-driven progress, San Geronimo was sold 2017, setting off a regrettable chain of events that has left the course in limbo. Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni led an effort to entice the Trust for Public Land to purchase the golf course at a premium, presumably to ensure that it would not fall prey to developers. Once the TPL ownership had been secured, Marin County would step in, purchase the land and “rewild” it into parkland. From the perspective of a single-minded champion of conservation, this plan likely seemed like a stroke of genius, justifying the lack of public consultation and transparency. The community had a different reaction.

The residents of Marin lean activist, to say the least, and when they got wind of the Rodoni-TPL deal, they got active. When attempts to get their voices heard by County Supervisors and TPL representatives failed, the San Geronimo Advocates group filed a lawsuit to block the resale of the golf course to Marin County, ironically on environmental protection grounds. The Advocates won, causing the county to walk away from the deal. The Trust for Public Land continued operations at the course for a time, but it now lays fallow. The community did not confine its advocacy to the courts, however. They organized and collected more than 12,000 signatures to qualify a ballot measure for March of 2020 that would protect the existing designation of golf as the primary use of the San Geronimo land, unless a future public vote determines otherwise.

The faces of San Geronimo – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

Reading through the letters-to-the-editor and local news stories regarding the fight to save San Geronimo, two things become abundantly clear. First, the battle is over more than a golf course. It is about the right of the people to participate in the process of determining how land in their community will get used. Second, this fight has become emotionally charged, with trust diminished and nerves raw. In violating its publicly stated principle to “work with communities to ensure that development happens for them, and not to them,” the Trust for Public Land has done damage that will take some time and effort to repair.

The Path Ahead

Why should valuable public land be used for the benefit of a few rich, white guys? This hackneyed question that the game of golf’s detractors love to trot out when debating public resource allocation is particularly misplaced at San Geronimo. The broad spectrum of players at the course, and the thousands of local ballot initiative supporters make this point emphatically. Golf provides recreational benefits to its players, and San Geronimo’s value as an open, green space and managed fire break extend well beyond golfers.

Further, the logic inherent in the question is fundamentally flawed. It implies that one kind of outdoor recreation (e.g. hiking, playing on a playground) is better than another (golf), and therefore more worthy of taxpayer support. The goal of any process of public land use planning should be to maximize recreational value to as many stakeholders as possible, ideally touching on aspects of ecology and community as well. It should not be to impose the values of the few on the many.

Josh Pettit has heard the “Why golf?” question while making the rounds to evangelize and pitch a new vision for the course. He grew up in Fairfax and learned to play the game at San Geronimo. Pettit went on to obtain a degree in Landscape Architecture and start his own business, Pacific Golf Design. He has been involved with the effort to save San Geronimo, offering his design services pro-bono. “San Geronimo always had a great reputation,” he recounted. “People from all over the area would come to play it. Given the overwhelming local support, the residents clearly still see the value in this golf course.” Pettit has sketched out a long-range plan that delivers wins to numerous stakeholder groups, and stands ready to jump in if given the chance by TPL, or a future owner.

Like the residents who wrote letters and collected signatures, Josh Pettit is both frustrated and determined. “The people at TPL initially expressed interest in my ideas, but it became clear that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. The new owners seem not to have learned their lesson regarding connecting with the community as well. They have one website set up to gather public comments, with an air of open-mindedness. Another is dedicated to defeating the Advocates’ ballot measure. Given that the Trust for Public Land already has golf course properties in Colorado and New Jersey in their portfolio, their anti-golf stance at San Geronimo is curious. “One of the project managers who was not a golfer told me that he got emotional watching Tiger Woods win The Masters this year,” shared Pettit. Golf can have that effect. There is still hope.

For those in positions of authority and power who are convinced that their way is the right way, there will always be a temptation to bypass the messy democratic process and impose their will. This is a recipe for suboptimal outcomes and backlash. A vastly superior outcome for San Geronimo can be achieved if the various stakeholders work together, as they have in the past. The risk of refusing to do so is that one group gets their way with the land, but the fabric of the community is torn in the process. What point is there in winning the battle, if both sides ultimately lose the war?

The sun has not yet set – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

It has been thousands of years since the San Geronimo Valley was wilderness. In the eras since, people have called the area home, managed the land, and used it for food, commerce and recreation, including golf. At the very least, for fire safety and ecological responsibility, generations to come will need to carry on that stewardship. In spite of missteps and conflict to this point, the opportunity still exists at San Geronimo to evolve the land once again to create an outstanding community asset that delivers immense recreational and ecological value. Here’s hoping that all parties involved take a step back, take a breath, and find that win-win-win.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf