Geeked on Golf


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MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  

Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  The standard matters because it gives context.  There are several standard that my fellow geeks and I like to use:

  • The Memorability Standard – Can you remember every hole on the course the next day?  
  • The 18th Green to 1st Tee Standard – When you walk off the final green, do you want to go right back out?
  • The One Course for the Rest of Your Life Standard – Could you be happy playing just that one course every day for the rest of your life?
  • The 10 Rounds Standard – When comparing courses, how would you split ten rounds among them?

These are all good standards, and provide interesting perspectives on the greatness of courses.  A new standard materialized for me in 2017, and I am now on the hunt for courses that qualify.  

The inspiration for this standard – which I call 108 in 48 – is Prairie Dunes.  I had the good fortune of spending another weekend in Hutchinson this year (thank you Charlie).  My annual visits to PD have been golf binges.  Around and around we go.  Every time I come off the 18th hole of that course, I want to go right back out.  

My experiences at Prairie Dunes have set the standard in my mind.  The question is, which courses would I want to go around 6 times in 2 days?  What that means to me is, which courses are interesting, challenging and fun enough to stand up to that kind of immersion experience?  Can’t be too hard or I get worn out.  Can’t have weak stretches of holes or I lose attention.  Can’t be too easy or I get bored with the lack of challenge.  And of course, the greens have to be great.  

Prairie Dunes passes the 108 in 48 test with flying colors for me for three reasons:  First, the sequence of holes is packed with variety from a length, straight vs dogleg, and directional perspective.  Second, the greens are, well, you know.  Third, the course is drop dead gorgeous – color contrast, texture, land movement, tree management – it is just the right kind of candy for my eyes.

Two of my other all-time favorites, Essex County Club and Maidstone also pass this test, but for different reasons than PD.  Both Essex and Maidstone play through multiple “zones”.  Essex has its brook/wetland zone and its stone hill zone.  Maidstone with its wetland zone and linksland zone.  This gives them both a meandering adventure feel that I find compelling.  Both are outstanding at the level of fine details.

All three of these courses share a peaceful, refined beauty in common that creates a sense of transcendence during the course of a round.  The passage of time melts away.

There are a handful of other courses that meet this standard for me.  There are also quite a few courses that I love dearly and consider favorites that do not.  My list of current 108 in 48 qualifiers is presented below, in no particular order. Note that I have disqualified courses that I have only played once, as profound as their first impression may have been (e.g. National Golf Links of America, Sleepy Hollow, Ballyneal, Kittansett). Another group of courses that I love dearly have been disqualified because they are too hard or too strenuous for me to pretend that I could actually walk and play them six times in two days (e.g. Boston Golf Club, Desert Forest, Chicago Golf, Sand Hollow).


108 in 48ers

SAND HILLS – Mullen, NE

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If you have been to Sand Hills, you know.  Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece, lovingly cared for by Superintendent Kyle Hegland‘s team, is incredibly strong from start to finish.  It is no surprise that it started the revolution that has grown into a second Golden Age.

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ESSEX COUNTY CLUB – Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA

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This Donald Ross course resonated with me from the first play, and repeat visits deepen my love of it.  It doesn’t hurt that, just when I think that Superintendent Eric Richardson’s team can’t make it any better, they prove me wrong, again.

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PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS

In addition to my thoughts above, I would add that the combination of Perry and Press Maxwell holes adds even more variety to the course, and if there a better set of greens in America, I would love to hear the argument.  Superintendent Jim Campbell’s team presents the course beautifully, and the staff and membership could not be more welcoming.

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created at Kingsley Club has its share of thrills, but is also packed with strategic questions that take repeat plays to answer.  The staff creates the perfect vibe for a golf geek, and our Superintendent Dan Lucas?  Nobody is better.

SHOREACRES – Lake Bluff, IL

Seth Raynor took what might have been a challenging piece of property to some architects and devised one of the most brilliantly routed golf courses I have ever seen.  The central ravine feature is used brilliantly and provides a wonderful contrast to the bold template features greens.  Superintendent Brian Chasenky is following in the footsteps of Brian Palmer by relentlessly refining the course while providing firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.

 

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

I’ve said it before, and I will keep saying it – Lawsonia is the most underrated golf course in America.  Attempt to describe the scale of the features created by William Langford & Theodore Moreau in this bucolic setting is pointless.  It must be experienced to be believed.  The quality of conditions that Superintendent Mike Lyons and his crew deliver with modest green fees makes Lawsonia an unbeatable value.

MAIDSTONE CLUB – East Hampton, NY

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In addition to my comments above, it is important to note the brilliance of Coore & Crenshaw’s restoration work on this Willie Park, Jr. gem.  Having visited pre- and post-renovation, there were moments that I could not believe I was playing the same course.  Superintendent John Genovesi’s team continues to push forward with fine tuning that perfectly walks the line between providing excellent playing conditions and allowing the course to have the natural feel intended by the designers.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

Another homer alert – I grew up going around Old Elm as a caddie and we were allowed to play every day, which I did.  I loved the course as a kid, but with the progressive restoration back to Harry Colt and Donald Ross’s vision that has been undertaken by GM Kevin Marion, Superintendent Curtis James, Drew Rogers and Dave Zinkand, OE has gone next level.  

SWEETENS COVE – South Pittsburg, TN

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The King-Collins creation is everything that golf should be.  Strategically challenging, visually interesting, and holes punctuated by stellar greens.  Combine the design with the ability to play cross-country golf and it is impossible to get bored going around and around Sweetens.  Need a playing partner?  No worries, Rob and his staff are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

CRYSTAL DOWNS – Frankfort, MI

It’s difficult to believe that Crystal Downs was once under the radar, but perhaps that’s how the membership of this Northern Michigan family club likes it. Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell collaborated to create an outward nine that might be the best in America, and an inward that’s no slouch either. Superintendent Michael Morris and his team present the course in the perfect manner for players to enjoy unlocking its secrets over time.

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI

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The Keiser family’s club is the perfect place to loop around endlessly.  A variety of holes, solid greens, and multiple teeing options make these 9 holes play like 36+.  Mr. Keiser has recently embraced tree removal across the property opening up views, and allowing Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha’s team to expand corridors of firm turf.  No need for a scorecard, just go play.

FRIAR’S HEAD – Baiting Hollow, NY

The back nine at what some consider to be Coore & Crenshaw’s best design gets all of the pub, and for good reason. But each time I go back, the front nine gets stronger in my mind. Recent tree clearing and flawless presentation by Superintendent Bill Jones and his team make every loop around this Long Island gem a special experience.

SKOKIE COUNTRY CLUB – Glencoe, IL

Take a little Bendelow, some Langford & Moreau, and a healthy dose of Ross, mix ’em up, and you have one of the mot underrated privates in the land. Ron Prichard’s retrovation unified the feel of Skokie, highlighting the outstanding greens, and hall-of-fame Superintendent Don Cross and his crew continue to fine-tune for a membership with a very high golf IQ. 

AIKEN GOLF CLUB – Aiken, SC

The course that Jim McNair and his family have created represents community golf at its finest. Aiken Golf Club is beautiful, embedded in its neighborhood, and packed with enough challenge and architectural intrigue to keep even good players interested for endless loops. All at a price that make you feel like you’re stealing. 

CALIFORNIA GOLF CLUB OF SAN FRANCISCO – South San Francisco, CA

The experience of Cal Club’s Macan-MacKenzie-Hunter-Phillips course is made all the greater by its sense of place and all-world camaraderie. There are no weak holes, and plenty of highlights from tee-to-green and on the putting surfaces, which are painstakingly presented by Superintendent Javier Campos and his team. I have yet to find a better spot to be for an emergency nine at the golden hour. 

OLD TOWN CLUB – Winston-Salem, NC

One thing is clear, Perry Maxwell was good at his job. At Old Town Club, he routed a wonderfully varied course over rolling terrain. The retrovation, led by Dunlop White and executed by Coore & Crenshaw, puts Old Town back where it belongs – among the nation’s best. If you’re not hooked by the opening stretch of the three holes, the jaw-dropping reveal from the 4th fairway will certainly do the trick.

CEDAR RAPIDS CC – Cedar Rapids, IA

Iowa is flat, right? In the case of the land on which Donald Ross built Cedar Rapids CC, the answer is a resounding WRONG! On this palette, The Donald employed some of his most colorful design. The course, having been retrovated by Ron Prichard, Tyler Rae, Superintendent Tom Feller and a determined core group of members, is now a must-see stop in the Midwest golf rota.

 

 

 

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Community Links Champion – An Interview with Architect Andy Staples

Hobbs, NM is on my bucket list for golf adventure.  I’ll explain.  That is where Andy Staples created a source of inspiration for anyone associated with the Community Golf Revival in America at a course called Rockwind Community Links.  I became aware of Andy’s work while doing research for Canal Shores.  On a brief phone conversation last year, it was clear that we have the same paradigm about the spirit of the game, and I asked Andy to share some of his thoughts here – he graciously agreed.

Then, I dropped the ball.  Life intervened and I did not follow up.   A recent trip to Sand Hollow got me off my butt though.  Seeing Andy’s amazing work at that special course (as evidenced by Jon Cavalier’s photos below) motivated me to circle back and get the interview done.  I wanted to know more about a guy who puts an equally high level of thought and care into his work, whether it is for a championship resort course, or a community links.

As is the case with his courses, Andy did not disappoint.  Hope you enjoy.

Click on any photo to enlarge.


THE INTERVIEW 

How did you get introduced to golf?

I believe I was 7 or 8 years old when my dad brought home a set of clubs for me and my younger brother Tim.  It was your classic 5, 7, 9, driver and putter in a canvas carry bag.  I’m from suburban Milwaukee, and we were members of West Bend Country Club, a mid-tier blue collar club about 45 minutes from my house.  My dad enrolled my brother and me into the 3-holer beginner golf program, and we took lessons from the pro at the time, Don Hill.  Interestingly, the front nine at WBCC was designed by Langford and Moreau, and consisted of some fairly aggressive features, deep bunkers and sharp green fall offs – incredibly difficult for a 7 year old!  I can still remember hitting a tee shot on the 3rd hole into a large grassy bunker about 75-100 yards off the tee on the right every single time I played the hole.  This feature was so deep that all I could do was hit my 9 iron over and over until I finally was able to ricochet the ball out sideways.  I just remember thinking, “Man, I have got to get better at this game! I stink!”  I soon progressed to 5-holers, then 9, and finally 18.  I’m not sure it was the best way to learn the game, but it sure got me hooked.  I’m guessing it was the personal competition and being outdoors.

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The dreaded bunker on West Bend’s 3rd hole

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

I played a lot of baseball as a kid, and my dad always told me that the baseball swing and the golf swing competed against each other (not sure this is true, but I believed it).  So I felt if I gave one up, I would get better at the other just by way of mechanics.  That decision came to a head when I went to high school, because both baseball and golf were played in the same season.  I chose golf.  At that point I went all in trying to be as good as I could be. Skip Kendall and Steve Stricker were playing amateur golf at the time but were older than me, and then my buddy growing up, Mark Wilson, who’s a few years younger than me, came along. I soon realized the bar was pretty high. In any case, I was dead set on practicing every day to hopefully play golf in college. There’s a lot of other stories about how I really wasn’t as good as I thought, and that golf is a really hard game, but I knew I was in for the long haul. Golf was something I really, really enjoyed and found a great deal of passion in.

How did you get into the business?

Well, around the time I was making the decision to play golf or baseball, I can remember getting into practicing my sand shots on a sandy beach lake house in northern Wisconsin (near Rome WI, as a matter of fact) that our family frequented when I was a kid.  These sand shots were aimed at random targets, which turned into playing to a stick in the ground, which turned to me flattening out an area for a green, then finding 9 tees playing to one green, then 18 (very small) holes carved around the sandy hills, pines and lake water.  I even played a hole off the boat pier.  They all could be played with a sand wedge.  I found great passion in making sure my course was as well-kept as possible, watering the green, and tamping it down.  I even transplanted trees and built retaining walls.  Funny thing is, I never named the course.  I can remember playing in the Staples Pro-Am on a fairly regular basis though.  In any event, one day, my dad came to me and asked me if I knew that people design golf courses for a living, and they’re called golf course architects.  I stopped and pondered that for a moment.  I had no idea there could be such a job.  I think I was 11 or 12 years old.  From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do for a living.

It was Bob Lohman who my dad called (as he was consulting at WBCC at the time) to see what his son should study in college if he wanted to be a golf architect.  Bob told him that I should study Landscape Architecture.  Again, I had no idea there was such a thing as a landscape architect – all I knew was from that point forward if I wanted to be a golf architect, I needed to study landscape architecture.  In thinking about it now, I sure did put a lot of trust in my dad, and Bob Lohman!  So, I searched schools across the country that had Landscape Architecture programs, and settled on the University of Arkansas.  It was during this time that I really tried to get into the business in some way, ideally in an office during the summer.  I called as many people as possible – a whole slew of people.  The one piece of feedback I remember getting was that I was crazy for trying to get into the business, and that I would never find a job.  Ha!  The classic story.

One of the people that I was able to get a hold of was Jerry Slack in Tulsa, OK.  He told me to go to work in construction, and to learn how courses were built.  Great advice.  So, I found out about Wadsworth Golf Construction, and applied for a laborer position during my summers.  The job evolved over a couple of summers from being a drainage guy, to pulling wire for irrigation, to programming irrigation controllers to finishing greens with a sand pro.  Once I graduated college, Jerry needed some help as a draftsman and compiling construction documents, and he hired me right away.  There it was- I was in.

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

If I was to narrow it to one, I’d have to say Bill Langford, and Langford & Moreau. If you’ve ever been to Lawsonia Golf Links in Wisconsin, you know that it is such a grand exhibit of natural beauty contrasted against the engineered construction of bunker shapes and green pads.  It’s just awesome.  I’m not sure how much learning the game at an L&M course has anything to do with this decision, probably quite a bit; but of the courses I’ve seen of theirs are definitely a unique representation of the art of golf design.  These courses have had a definite impact on my view of golf architecture.

I also really admire Perry Maxwell for the work he was able to achieve during such meager times.  His nine holes at Prairie Dunes are fantastic, and I love the routing at Southern Hills.  I also appreciate his alliance with Dr. MacKenzie, and really respect that collaboration.  I really, really like MacKenzie’s work in California – Cypress, Pasatiempo, and The Meadow Club. They’re outstanding.

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

First of all, they need to realize that a lot of what is going on today in terms of equipment, agronomic advances, and even competition among architects, is nothing new.  These things have been heavily debated for over 100 years, and that what they’re doing isn’t something unique.

Second, I think, if at all possible, everyone should see links golf in Scotland or the UK, to understand first-hand how the game was originally intended to be played.  Each time I’ve been able to journey over the pond with clients, it’s been amazing how much of a connection happens when they compare their project to real links golf.  There are real benefits to experiencing what “the ground game” really means, and in understanding how the idea of fast and firm impacts so much of great design; it’s really cool to be able to get your team on the same page with what you’re trying to create.  Now, taking it from Scotland, to say, Utah, that’s where the interesting part of the design process lies.  But after an experience like that, there’s no doubt everyone lands on a much better level of understanding of how the end product will play.

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Sand Hollow Links course is inspired by GB&I architecture.

Third, the business is getting more and more complex, and getting educated on the “business” seems to be more difficult than ever.  I always tell my prospective owners they need to dig into the people they are looking to hire and find out how they work, and if their philosophy matches the way they or their club works.  There’s a great TED Talk with Simon Sinek: It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.  It’s a great listen.  I’m a big believer in a client making sure they are 100% convinced they match with their team, so education on the landscape of the business is incredibly important as anyone moves ahead with a project.

Speaking of the current golf business, what’s your take on where the design business is headed?

Overall, I think the largest change coming, and you’re already starting to see it, is the philosophy of collaboration and partnership.  One thing that is dramatically different today compared to when I was getting into the business, is the idea of apprenticeship or working under someone to learn the craft; that is pretty much disappearing.  The focus now seems to be on getting involved somehow with great golf course projects, with a variety of architects, and seeing how these projects are built.  I think this is an interesting evolution, and something I’m encouraged about for the future.  Because of this focus on collaboration, I think we will continue to see better and better golf courses being built, and on sites that won’t require sand dunes or ocean front property.  But I can also see the design business getting even more competitive.

What was the inspiration for your community golf concept?

It all began in Los Alamos county New Mexico when I was hired to develop a Master Plan for their golf course.  The project began innocently enough, addressing needs across the course, looking at ways to make the course better; in other words, the master planning process in the traditional sense.  One of the exciting parts of the design process was to find a way to integrate an underutilized piece of the property that just happened to have these fantastic rock ledges and incredible views of a dramatic river and old growth Ponderosa pines and Douglas fir.  It almost felt like you were in Lake Tahoe, or Aspen.  It was the piece of land a golf architect drools over the minute they find their way to that area of the property.

So, being the golf architect, and always trying to put the golf first, I began to look for ways to integrate this area of the property into my routing plans for an option to present to the county.  Well, this part of the property already hosted a variety of other users such as hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and even equestrian.  And, as you can imagine, since they were already using this area, they were quite interested to find their trails may be relocated due to the new golf course.  Residents described these trails as “commuter” trails as a way to get to work in the morning, and some of them were upset (even furious) with the proposed changes.  A sleepy golf course master plan turned into the classic “them vs. us” shoot out.

I began to hear the arguments against the course, and how only 10% of the community plays golf, where quite possibly well over 50% of the community used the trail system.  The nature conservationists emerged as well.  Soon, it became obvious that the golf course plan was not only going to change, it may indeed be cancelled!  The team and I went back to the drawing board, began discussing the community’s needs, looking for ways to find some middle ground.  It was during a standing room only town-hall meeting that the concept of “community links” was born.  I saw the passion for the outdoor uses, for the trails, and, of course, for the golf course.  It became clear that all the Los Alamos residents were hungry for a way in which everyone was free to use the golf course, since they were all going to pay for it (through their taxes).

It was at this meeting where I expressed the desire to look at their golf course differently and find a way to “link” this course to all the residents of Los Alamos.  From that point forward, the golf course became known as the stimulus to a “north county park plan,” and the golf course would therefore be the central figure in these plans.  The golf course clubhouse would now be called a community building where residents could check in to play golf and rent mountain bikes.  In the winter, they would be able to rent cross-country skis or shoe shoes.  It wasn’t going to be just a golf course – it was now going to be a true “link” to a place that expressed the commitment of showing value to 100% of the community.  Thus, a Community Links – linking their golf course to the community.  What was a very contentious situation turned into a real rally cry for the community and all revolved around the game of golf.

I’ve held onto that experience, and used it as fuel for how I feel many municipalities should approach their golf course.  I look for ways to break the mold of how a golf course and its property can and should be used by their residents. And besides, based on the give and take of the master plan, I was able to hold on to one of the most dramatic par-3s anywhere in New Mexico.  I can’t wait to build it!

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Proposed new par-3 at Los Alamos

Have you encountered challenges in educating players or course managers on the value of your approach?

Most definitely.  I tend to focus my Community Links concept on municipally owned facilities so I work through city administrators and public officials.  There is a challenge in translating the terms we in golf are used to dealing with.  I’ve found many of the solutions I’m presenting come from the perspective of providing a service rather than running a business.  That said, golf is still an incredibly conservative industry, and the fact that so many municipal golf courses are losing money while their infrastructure continues to deteriorate, focuses many of the initial conversations strictly related to money issues and return on investment.

The other discussion revolves around this idea that golf is dying and that nobody is playing golf.  It’s incredible what kind of role the media has played in propagating this story.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about the Bryant Gumbel HBO special about the struggles the game of golf is currently encountering.  So, I spend a lot of effort discussing the values of the game of golf, and how communities have successfully used golf and a golf course as a centerpiece to their city.  There’s a small groundswell happening, and I love seeing the passion for the game grow just by reminding others why we love the game so much, and how impactful the game can be.  It sounds sort of corny, I know, but it’s a small way for me to give back to a game that’s been so good to me.

You successfully demonstrated your concept at Rockwind.  Why did you get involved in that project?

Right, Rockwind Community Links in Hobbs, NM is my first concept to be built and opened, and we are beginning to see some good results.  There are many reasons I got involved with Hobbs.  For starters, the city had a real interest initially in adding a beginner course to their current 18-hole golf course.  I also had previously worked with their current golf course superintendent, Matt Hughes, so there was some familiarity there.  It also didn’t hurt that oil was trading at $110 a barrel around that time.

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As we progressed through the process to assess what kind of changes the city was willing to undertake, it became clear the golf course was in serious need of improvement.  But moving forward with a project of this size, there was significant concern about putting resources towards an asset that, on the surface, showed little signs of being able to provide sufficient payback.  So, when we presented the Community Links philosophy, they immediately became connected.  As it turned out, many of the administrators were golfers, and understood potentially what the game could mean to the community.  They began to promote the project as a community related project, not just a golf course project. And, they all said numerous times that they believed in the game of golf, and wanted to use the sport as a centerpiece in how they promoted their community to others.

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I’m proud that each time we came in front of council, we received a 7-0 vote in favor of the golf course.  We continued to receive feedback that the concepts behind investing into an asset that 100% of their residents could use was the determining factor in why it was so heavily favored.  So now, we just need to keep proving the hypothesis out.  What is it they say?  One project is an interest – two projects become a destination?  I like that analogy.

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

If there is one thing I hope to have a small part in, it’s showing people who aren’t necessarily interested in the game or don’t see the value in golf, that the game has existed for over 500 years for a reason – and that there are really good things that come from golf.  A golf course naturally has many benefits to the environment, but I also feel the benefits one receives from playing the game are even greater.  If the values of the game of golf could be better documented and promoted, I feel society as a whole would then start to see golf differently.  I think that’s pretty cool, and who knows – maybe more people will take up the game because of it.

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

Routing a course is by far my favorite aspect to golf architecture, and the area I feel a course can be made or broken.  The flow and rhythm are hard things to quantify, and it certainly falls into the “you know it when you see it” category.  Also, taking a user through a piece of property and giving them insight into that particular piece of land – the diversity, the views, the highs and lows is, I think, the most important responsibility of the golf architect.

My favorite part of a golf course to build would be the creation of the composition of an individual golf hole, and thinking about the way a player will navigate the challenge.  Finding the line of charm, as Max Behr would say, and then looking for ways to break it up with hazards and landforms that are interesting and fun to play while providing balance and proportion with contrasts in textures.  The artist in me looks through this lens every time, and that is the best example of why field adjustments are so incredibly important to the final product.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

I’m one that sees golf architecture as the world’s largest form of sculpture.  Having a say on how to adjust a piece of property (or sometimes not touching it all) to fit the standards and tendencies of a game, played by all skill levels, is an incredible honor and is what I love doing for a living.  I love the comradery that comes with a construction site, and the sense of accomplishment when a job is completed.  There is no better occupation, and I’m humbled to be a part of it.

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

I need to see Pine Valley.  That’s the Big Miss so far in my career.  I also am looking forward to a trip to the sand belt in Australia.  So much to see, so little time!

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

StaplesFamily.jpgI’m a dad to 3 young boys (ages 8, 6, and 2), and a husband to an amazing wife.  So, first and foremost, when I’m back from a trip, I’m at home, or at a ball game or at some function with them.  I’m a developing home brewer, and if I wasn’t in the golf business, I might try my hand in some part of the beer making business.  I enjoy a good IPA or Saison on any day.  I have a 1976 Ford Bronco, so when I’m not doing either of the above, I’m working to keep the ‘ol girl running.  Living in Arizona, that’s not that hard to do.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I’m working in Utah for the City of South Jordan on perhaps my next Community Links.  I’ve got a number of small jobs designing practice areas or reducing turf, but by far the largest, most visible job of my career is the renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club outside of Detroit.  It’s an original 6 hole Willie Park Jr. course built in 1916.  We’re currently under construction and should be finished by the end of this summer.  It’s an awesome property with some really good golf holes, and I’m working to take it up a few clicks in terms of overall routing and Willie Park Jr. look and feel.  Our design team made a trip to the heathland in South West London, including Park Jr.’s Sunningdale Old and Huntercombe, and I want to bring some of that flavor to southeast Michigan.  It’s an awesome opportunity for me, and one I’m not taking lightly.  Feel free to come by if you’re in the area this summer, as there will be a pretty good chance I’ll be on site!

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See more from Andy Staples on the GeekedOnGolf GCA video archive (in architects section).

Hear from Andy on Dave Wilber’s Turfnet Radio podcast:


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Desert Days – Sand Hollow, Paiute Wolf & Wolf Creek

Las Vegas is a regular destination for me.  My work has taken me there at least fifteen times.  With the exception of one trip that I took to get a lesson from Butch Harmon, golf has not been a part of my Las Vegas experience.  That changed this week when I decided to see what the area had to offer.

After consulting Jon Cavalier and researching Matt Ginella’s recommendations, I settled on Sand Hollow, the Wolf Course at Paiute Resort and Wolf Creek.  What an adventure I had.

A few main thoughts emerged for me as I made my way through the week, with plenty of photo taking and driving time for reflection:

  • All three courses had beautiful and dramatic settings.  When the setting is so stimulating, I question the necessity for an architect to also make the holes and features dramatic.  Doing so strikes me as unnecessary overkill that lacks in a certain amount humility.  Whether it is seaside cliffs, or mountain ridges, it seems better that at certain times the architecture takes a back seat to nature.
  • These courses highlighted the distinction between adventure golf and everyday golf.  Sand Hollow came the closest for me to everyday golf, but all three fall into the adventure golf category.  I enjoy adventure golf, and Sand Hollow, Paiute Wolf and Wolf Creek are all courses that I am grateful to have experienced.  They were visually stunning, fun to play, and full of thrill and challenge.  But they are not the kinds of courses that I could happily play every day for the rest of my life.
  • Before I die, I would love to play a bunkerless course.  This thought came to me as I made my way around Pete Dye’s Paiute Wolf.  As I examined the tee-to-green terrain and green surrounds, the grass bumps, slopes, and hollows that Pete builds are much more interesting to me than his bunkers.  The Wolf Course also had large waste areas that were really cool looking.  Between the ground features and the waste areas I would have been plenty stimulated, and I make the argument that the bunkering was a visual detractor for me.  So, to bring the thought full circle, my dream is for Pete Dye to build a bunkerless course.  His creativity would produce a wild result that would be a blast to play.

On to the photos, and a little course specific commentary…


SAND HOLLOW

SandHollow-SignHaving previously visited Zion National Park with my family, I knew that I was in for a scenic treat as I drove to St. George, UT.  The entire area is magnificent.  Sand Hollow managed to exceed my already high expectations though.  It is a MUST play golf course.

A frost delay was in effect when I arrived, but the starter soon made an exception for me because I was a walking single.  Although the back nine is an elevation changing hike, I highly recommend walking the course if possible.  The amazing terrain is much better experienced on foot.

I was happy to see that Sand Hollow had not been overseeded.  It would have looked goofy.  It was also a unique joy to play the course over semi-frozen ground.  The ball bounced and rolled, and it took all of the creative shot-making in my bag to get the ball on the greens.

The front nine meanders through the valley and eases the player into the round.  Although the holes are understated, the red clay bunkers and rock formations are striking, and they give a hint of what’s to come on the back nine.

(click on images to enlarge) 

Walking to the 10th tee, it becomes clear that the adventure has taken a new and exciting turn.  The par-3 11th, playing as a reverse redan, takes the player to the edge of the dramatic ridge along which the following holes wind.  The views are breathtaking and the golf couldn’t be more thrilling.

I ran into a ranger on the back who lives near the course.  He shared that before the course was built, he used to ride around the site on his ATV.  The ledges on which the 12th – 15th holes are built were existing, allowing the course to be routed beautifully without much earth-moving.

SandHollow12-Above

The pulse quickens on the 12th tee, and doesn’t slow down until heading back toward the clubhouse 4 glorious holes later.

I was content and happy by the time I made it to the final stretch.  As mentioned above, for me Sand Hollow’s brilliance comes from the architecture being an appropriate complement to the land.  At no time did I feel like I was experiencing sensory overload, nor did I feel like the course was in competition for my attention with the setting.  Everything fit together beautifully, and I enjoyed every minute of it.


PAIUTE WOLF

The Wolf Course at Las Vegas Paiute Resort plays entirely in the valley.  Unlike Sand Hollow, which interacted with the mountains and featured significant elevation changes, Paiute Wolf plays over mostly flat ground.  That is not to say that the Wolf is uninteresting though, because Pete Dye added his creative flair to provide plenty of variety, visual intimidation and confusion.

The morning I played was another cold one and the ground remained frozen until well into the back nine.  Paiute Wolf was not quite as fun to play in the extremely firm conditions.  Many of the greens were designed to be approached from the air, and the required shots simply would not hold because of the conditions.  The day I played, the wind was up, but not as much as it normally is in the exposed valley.  I would love to get another crack at the Wolf under normal conditions to get the full experience, wind included.

Paiute Wolf features a wide and wonderful variety of greens – elevations, sizes, shapes, orientations.  They are interesting and cool.  One thing that they are not is severe, either in their internal contouring or canting, and so they are also very puttable.  I can imagine that after a few plays, it would be possible to make a lot of putts.

PaiuteWolf9-ShortRight

#9 – Par 4

I played with an older gentleman who didn’t hit it far, but did hit it consistently straight.  He knew the course and was able to plot his way around effectively.  This speaks to the thoughtfulness that the Dyes infused into the course.  There is strategy in the design, but that strategy is inclusive of all strength levels.  Execution is still required, but if a player can pick a line and hit it on that line, they can navigate the hazards and score.

Paiute Wolf is great fun off the tee, specifically because of the angles created by the size and placement of hazards.  Risk-taking is tempted, and the choice is left in the player’s hands to bite off as much of each hole as they can chew.

PaiuteWolf14-Tee

#14 – Par 4

As was the case at Sand Hollow, I was thoroughly content as I finished up at the Wolf.  The course provided challenge, but only as much as I wanted to take on.  The features were quirky and cool, and the setting was gorgeous.  It wasn’t necessarily about “wow”, but it was a wonderful morning of golf.


WOLF CREEK

Insane.  That is the word that best describes Wolf Creek for me.  It is one of those courses that it is hard to believe someone had the compulsion to build.  For that reason alone – the sheer crazy coolness of it – it is a must play for every golf geek.

I took quite a few photos, and I will let them mostly speak for themselves.  From the first tee, the course is a visual concert of color and texture cranked to 11.  A visit to Wolf Creek is as much about seeing it as playing it.

A few words about the architecture of Wolf Creek though.  It is not strategic.  It is penal.  Hit the shots where you are supposed to, and there are chances to score.  Miss those spots, and you are dead.  There is very little in between.  The conditions were wet and lush the morning I played.  I made good (and a few lucky) choices on line and distance off the tee, executed, and I was rewarded with relatively easy approaches.  Once safely off the tee, the rest of my round was pleasant and not terribly demanding.  It is easy to see though, for those who cannot carry the ball 200+ yards in the air, or who are hitting it crooked, a day at Wolf Creek could be torture.


As I headed home from Las Vegas, I was struck by the variety I encountered on my golf adventure.  I’m not sure that the same variety exists within the city and suburbs.  My willingness to drive a bit was rewarded with an amazing array of color, terrain, architecture and the tired satisfaction of having broadened my golf geek horizons.

What’s my recommendation?  Grab a flight and then hit the road.  There is golf adventure to be had outside of Las Vegas that is well worth the effort, and not to be missed.


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf