Geeked on Golf


6 Comments

LANGUAGE MATTERS

Getting back on track with use of the term ‘minimalism’, among others in golf course architecture

It is a common tendency to label and categorize the things and experiences in our lives. That is part of the way that we understand and make sense of the world around us, and it is useful to a point. When applied to works of art, an argument can be made that our impulse to categorize can be a hindering distraction. If a song kicks ass, does it matter if it is labeled hard rock or heavy metal? Of course not. Art is one of those realms in which we are best served by turning off the labeling function so that we can fully experience the work, giving it every opportunity to move us deeply. In reality, that’s easier said than done.

The negative impact of our internal machination is exacerbated when the labels are ill-defined or misunderstood. That is the point at which we currently find ourselves with the label “minimalist” in golf course architecture. The term has been overused and misused to such a great degree that it has lost meaning. If the only value that labeling has is to aid our understanding, then a meaningless label is worse than no label at all.

Perhaps you say, “Lighten up geek, it’s just golf.” Fair point, but I also believe that the parsing of language as it relates to architecture is a worthwhile pursuit. Words are the basis of understanding, which leads to appreciation, and ultimately more enjoyment on the course.

The 11th at Shinnecock Hills – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Before returning to the language, allow me to give you two good reasons to dig deeply into golf architecture: First, studying the craft of talented artists is inherently interesting. I recognize that some golfers might not find architecture resonant at that level. They just want to play. Increasingly though, I hear from players who, after an initial exposure to GCA, find themselves happily headed down the rabbit hole. The second reason that I choose to study the subject is that it’s my mission to spend my scarce play time on courses that are interesting and fun. Knowing a little bit about how architects approach creating the playing fields helps me be more discerning in the courses I choose to play, as well as adding value to my experience of each course.

In that spirit, I propose a repurposing of the minimalist label into a framework that will hopefully foster understanding, appreciation, and joy. Minimal is one end of the spectrum of intervention, with maximal at the opposite end. Intervention refers to the degree to which the architect alters the land to create the course. To some extent, the land dictates how much intervention is required to make a great course. That is why labelling an architect “minimalist” is off base, especially where the best architects are concerned. Those designers are dynamic, responding to the land. Their courses may be minimalist or maximalist, or somewhere in between. It all depends on the site.

This dynamism is the essence of the current era of design that has been mislabelled the “minimalist movement”. Leading architects have certainly shifted away from defaulting to ego-driven maximal intervention to a more thoughtful, response relationship with the land. That shift does not mean, however, that they do not do what is necessary to ensure that their courses function and play properly.

The 9th at Sweetens Cove

Another helpful spectrum to understand is that of style. It has natural at one end and artificial at the other. Again, there are degrees on this spectrum, but a guiding principle is contained in the question, “How does a course fit into its surrounding environment?” The more the architect takes cues from the local landscape, the more natural the course. To add a layer of depth and detail to the style consideration, one can observe both the overall look of a course, as well as its features. Bunkers and green complexes are of particular importance in determining style. Does the architect seek to integrate features into the landscape, or purposely design and build them to stand out through contrast?

Using the intervention and style spectra, we can begin to compare and contrast courses in a manner that increases understanding. Two examples:

Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America are neighbors on Long Island, and although they are both packed with strategic brilliance, that is where the similarities end. In building Shinnecock, William Flynn laid the course on the land, which stands in contrast to the work of Macdonald and Raynor who were known for their willingness to move earth. From tee to green, the building of NGLA’s holes and features involved a much higher degree of intervention than the course next door. It should also come as no surprise that an architect known as “the nature faker” built features that are much more reflective of the natural landscape than the artistically bold, artificial greens and hazards of The National.

The 6th at National Golf Links – Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier

Minimalist references are often made to Sweetens Cove, which has always been a head-scratcher to me. The design team of Rob Collins and Tad King took a poor draining course, blew it up and fixed the drainage issue by reshaping every inch of it to drain to a central lake, which they created. The course was sand-capped and shaped into a wondrous variety of wild contours and features that captivate players. That process of intervention is the definition of maximal. As a comparison, the work of Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns at Winter Park 9 had a much lighter touch. They did not have the major infrastructural issues to fix and instead focused on rebuilding and gently infusing interest into the new course. Both transformations were profound, but one was maximal and the other was minimal. On the style front, these nine holers are also divergent. WP9 takes understated cues from its surroundings while Sweetens Cove is packed with artistic flourishes that give it a unique visual identity. Creative bunkering with wood sleepers, expansive sandy wastes, large stones and the outstanding greens are all fantastic, but they are also artificial.

The 5th at Winter Park – Photo Credit: Keith Rhebb

It is a good fodder for geeky discussion to compare other pairs like Sand Hills and Ballyneal, or Lawsonia and Whistling Straits. How was each course made? How does each course look? Taking into consideration these comparisons of intervention and style together, it’s possible to dive even deeper. I rated the course pairs above on a 1-10 scale for both intervention (0 = absolute minimal, 10 = absolute maximal) and style (0 = completely natural, 10 = entirely artificial) to create a scatterplot. As a visually oriented person, it is interesting to me to see how the courses compare and group into “categories” when I force myself to rate them.

Two important notes about this categorization. First, it has nothing to do with identifying what’s best or “right”. Golf course architecture is art, and therefore deeply intertwined with personal preference. It is pointless to tell anyone what they should love. Second, these categories have nothing to do with the quality. Across all golf courses, wherever they may land on the chart, there exists a wide range of quality. The quality of engineering and construction can be objectively judged by how well the course functions over time. Does it drain? Does it stand up to traffic? The quality of the design becomes a bit more subjective, but one simple criteria is inclusiveness. Can players of different skill levels play and enjoy the course? Beyond that, the water gets much murkier with regard to design quality.

Circling back to the purpose of this exercise, the aim of studying any artform is to deepen understanding, building a foundation for appreciation. Golfers are afforded a unique opportunity to directly experience the art of golf course architecture. By taking a deeper understanding onto the course, players are assured of greater enjoyment. Further, refined personal preferences allow us to more effectively pick courses we will love. That is why it’s worthwhile to explore and share our findings. At the end of the day, more people having more fun playing the game is the goal.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


5 Comments

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).  Both of my 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.

Of the courses I re-played in 2017, 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 below.

I ask you, which are your 108 in 48ers, and why?


108 in 48ers

SAND HILLS – Mullen, NE

SandHills18-BunkerWindmill

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.

SandHillsAerial-JWSketch.jpg

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

EssexCounty14-GreenAbove

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.

EssexCountyClubAerial-JWCourseMap.jpeg

PRAIRIE DUNES – Hutchinson, KS

PrairieDunes12-GreenBack

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.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA – Southampton, NY

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0255.JPG

Photo by Jon Cavalier

If C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s attempt to create the ideal golf course falls short of the standard for perfection, it’s not by much.  The routing and strategic design, the variety of hazards, the greens, and the numerous iconic views conspire to create magic.  Caring for such an intricately conceived course is no small feat, and Superintendent William Salinetti’s team does a masterful job.

KINGSLEY CLUB – Kingsley, MI

KingsleyClub18-GreenFlowers_081217

Go ahead, call me a homer.  The rollicking ride that Mike DeVries has created 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

Shoreacres12-Greenback

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 Palmer’s team relentless refines the course and revels in creating firm and fast conditions that accentuate every nuance of Raynor’s creation.

LAWSONIA LINKS – Green Lake, WI

LawsoniaLinks6-Greenright

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

Maidstone18-ShortLeft

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.

KITTANSETT CLUB –  Marion, MA

Kittansett3-Backleft

An argument could be made that this Frederic Hood and William Flynn design is the best flat site course in America, especially after a Gil Hanse restoration.  Strategic challenges abound, and the set of one-shotters are second to none.  Superintendent John Kelly’s team continues to bring out every bit of Kittansett’s unique character.

BALLYNEAL – Holyoke, CO

Ballyneal8-GreenBack

Ballyneal is far and away my favorite Tom Doak design.  It is a glorious collection of holes that meander through the Chop Hills.  Birdies do not come easy, but the course doesn’t beat you up either – it strikes the perfect balance.  Jared Kalina’s team knows quite well how to provide fast and firm conditions, and the staff and membership conspire to make it the golfiest club I’ve ever visited.

OLD ELM CLUB – Highland Park, IL

OldElm9-GreenBehind

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

SweetensCove9-GreenAbove

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 Patrick are always willing to grab their sticks and geeks won’t find better company anywhere.

SAND HOLLOW – Hurricane, UT

SandHollow13-Tee

Subtle and strategic on the front nine, and breathtakingly bold and beautiful on the back, Sand Hollow has it all.  This is a bit of a cheat as the back nine would require a cart to get around multiple times in one day, but I am making an exception.  It’s that good, especially with the fast and firm conditions presented by Superintendent Wade Field’s team.

DUNES CLUB – New Buffalo, MI

DunesClub6-LeftTee

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.

OLD MACDONALD – Bandon, OR

OldMac11-GreenLeft

Photo by Jon Cavalier

Old Mac is not my favorite course at Bandon Dunes, but it is the only one that makes the 108 in 48 cut for me.  The width and scale create the possibility of holes playing dramatically differently from one round to the next.  The execution of the homage to CBM by Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, et al is spot on and glorious to explore for golf geeks.  Superintendent Fred Yates’s team provides ideal conditions for lovers of bounce and roll.


MORE GEEKED ON GOLF MUSINGS:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


19 Comments

Rob Collins & The Sweetens Cove Story

Sweetens Cove – the course and the story behind its creation – has fascinated me for some time.  Golf geeks who make the trip to play this modern 9-holer return with the same two points of feedback.  That course bold, beautiful, and great fun.  And its creator and owner, Rob Collins, is a good dude.

My travel stars finally aligned to allow me to make the trip to Sweetens Cove.  Coincidentally, my plans for a visit fell into place at the same time that Rob was finishing up an interview and course history that he agreed to do before we met.  Neither the course nor Rob disappointed – they are both wonderful.  My recommendation:  Enjoy Rob’s thoughts and photos below, and then go see for yourself just how special his creation is.


THE INTERVIEW

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.

Sweetens3-Green-BW-x.jpg

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.

Sweetens7-DansBunker3-BW-x.jpg

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 that job’s contractor!  Think about how idiotic that is and what the consequences were for the client:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

Sweetens8-Short-BW-x.jpg

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.

Sweetens9-GreenLeft-BW-x.jpg

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.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I am excited to say that the phone is ringing.  We have ten solid leads at the moment.  Some are renovation / restorations, but six are new construction in both domestic and international markets.  Four of the projects are what I would consider “the big one” where we could really prove exactly what we are capable of on a great site.  We are ready for that opportunity, and can’t wait to get started on a new project, hopefully sooner than later!


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.

Sweetens-MoseDunwoodyView1-x.jpg

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.

Sweetens-6-Aerial-x.jpg

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.

As of this writing, we have nearly two (2) years of operations under our belt, and the course continues to get better.  I feel like the conditions that our excellent superintendent, Brent Roberson, has been able to deliver have the architecture more on display than at any other point in the history of the course.  There are simply more options and more shots at the player’s disposal than ever, and it is a thrill to watch people enjoy and soak in the highly unique qualities that make the course so special.

Following are some of my thoughts behind the architecture of the course and the backstory of the construction of each hole (click on images to enlarge):

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 563 yards

Sweetens1-Approach-H.jpg

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.

Hole1-Preconstrunction-x.JPG

The 1st pre-construction

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.

Sweetens1-FairwayRight-x.jpg

From the right fairway bunker

Sweetens1-ApproachLeft-x.jpg

Approaching the green from the left

Sweetens1-ShortLeft-x.jpg

Short left of the green

Sweetens1-MitreBunker1-x.jpg

The mitre bunker with the green behind

Sweetens1-GreenLeft-x.jpg

Left of the green

HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 375 yards

Sweetens2-Tee-H.jpg

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.

Hole2-Preconstruction-x.JPG

The 2nd pre-construction

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.  If you’re in it, you’re dead.  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.

Sweetens2-Tee2-x.jpg

From the regular tee

Sweetens2-FairwayBunker-x.jpg

Approach from the center of the fairway

Sweetens2-ShortRight-x.jpg

Short right of the green

Sweetens2-GreenBack2-x.jpg

The view back from behind the green

HOLE #3 – Par 5 – 582 yards

Sweetens3-TeeZoom-H.jpg

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 way to add strategic and visual interest, and negates the dead space that previously existed between the third and fifth holes.

Hole3-Preconstruction-x.jpg

The 3rd pre-construction

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 pinable 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.

Sweetens3-Tee-x.jpg

From the tee

Sweetens3-WasteBunker1-x.jpg

The waste bunker that runs the length of the right side

Sweetens3-GreensideBunker-x.jpg

The greenside bunker left

Sweetens3-GreenLeftTree-x.jpg

Short left of the green with the center tree

Sweetens3-GreenBack-x.jpg

The view back from the green

HOLE #4 (King) – Par 3 – 169 yards

Sweetens4-Pano2-H.jpg

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.

Hole4-Preconstruction-x.JPG

The 4th pre-construction

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.

Sweetens4-Tee-x.jpg

From the tee

Sweetens4-GreenShortLeft-x.jpg

Short left of the green

Sweetens4-ShortRight-x.jpg

Off the right side of the green

Sweetens4-GreenLeft-x.jpg

Left section of the massive green

Sweetens4-Green-x.jpg

Back left of the green

Sweetens4-GreenFrom5-x.jpg

The view back to the green from 5 tee

HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 293 yards

Sweetens5-DevilsAsshole3-H.jpg

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.

Hole5-Preconstruction-x.jpg

The 5th pre-construction

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.

Sweetens5-TeeZoom1-x.jpg

From the tee over the waste area

Sweetens5-WasteBunkerPano-x.jpg

The waste area that separates #3 from #5

Sweetens5-Approach1-x.jpg

The approach from the center of the fairway

Sweetens5-DevilsAsshole-x.jpg

The Devil’s Asshole bunker

Sweetens5-GreenLeft-x.jpg

Front left of the green

Sweetens5-GreenBack-x.jpg

The view back down the hole from the back of the green

HOLE #6 – Par 4 – 456 yards

Sweetens6-GreenAcrossWater-H.jpg

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.

Hole6-Preconstruction.JPG

The 6th pre-construction

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.

Sweetens6-Tee-x.jpg

The intimidating tee shot

Sweetens6-Green-x.jpg

The green contours as seen from the left side

Sweetens6-BunkerBehind-x.jpg

The rugged bunker behind the green

Sweetens6-GreenBack-x.jpg

The view back down the cape style fairway from behind the green

HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 328 yards

Sweetens7-ApproachPano-H.jpg

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.

Hole7-Preconstruction.JPG

The 7th pre-construction

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.

Sweetens7-Tee-x.jpg

View from the tee

Sweetens7-FairwayBunker-x.jpg

Short of the right fairway bunker

Sweetens7-DansBunker2-x.jpg

Dan’s Bunker

Sweetens7-ApproachLeft1-x.jpg

The approach from the left

Sweetens7-GreenLeft-x.jpg

Left of the green

Sweetens7-GreenBackLeft2-x.jpg

The view back across the property from back left of the green

HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 387 yards

Sweetens8-GreenPano1-H.jpg

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 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.

Sweetens8-ApproachPano-x.jpg

The center approach to the wild double plateau green

Sweetens8-ShortRight-x.jpg

The approach from the right side

Sweetens8-GreenLeft-x.jpg

The green as seen from the left plateau

Sweetens8-GreenAbove-x.jpg

The view back from behind and above the green

HOLE #9 – Par 3 – 148 yards

Sweetens9-GreenFlagWasteBunker-H.jpg

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.

Hole9-Preconstruction.JPG

The 9th pre-construction

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.

Sweetens9-WasteBunker-x.jpg

The view over the waste bunker from the tee

Sweetens9-BackLeftPano-x.jpg

From the runoff left of the green

Sweetens9-GreenBehindPano-x.jpg

From behind and above the green back to the tee


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf