Geeked on Golf


Leave a comment

STEAM SHOVEL SCULPTING AT MAXINKUCKEE

The fourth edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q Series speculates on the influence of Langford & Moreau’s work at Maxinkuckee Country Club on the Dyes

In order to truly understand and appreciate the work of an architect, it is necessary to look at their sources of inspiration. After all, there are very few (if any) completely original ideas in art or science. Contemporary practitioners are always building upon or reacting to their forebears, and their work is therefore linked to the past.

Pete Dye brought to his craft several different influences which were touched on in the second edition of this series which looked at French Lick. It is not hard to imagine how The Old Course, Pinehurst #2 or Camargo would make an impact on a budding designer—each course is brilliant in its own way with a story to tell about form and function. But there is a far less likely source of inspiration that Alice O’Neal Dye added into the mix that was just as important in terms of both aesthetics and methods. By bringing Pete to her family’s vacation town of Culver, IN and exposing him to the work of William Langford and Theodore Moreau at the Culver Academies course and Maxinkuckee Country Club, she cemented the bold approach that would epitomize the pair’s courses for years to come.

The Little Club on the Lake

A short drive south from South Bend, IN is a lake named Maxinkuckee and on that lake is a town called Culver. Not exactly remote, but certainly out of the way. Like many towns throughout the Midwest, Culver is known for its natural, bucolic beauty, attracting residents and vacationers to its quiet life of recreation since the mid-19th century. What makes this town quite a bit different than most is that it is also home to Culver Academies, a world-class boarding school, and its associated summer camp.

The Academies had a grand plan to build a resort with 36 holes of golf designed by Chicago architect William Langford and his partner Theodore Moreau. The first nine opened in 1920, showcasing the duo’s magnificent architecture on a piece of land that is half open, half wooded and rolling throughout. Sadly, the additional 27 holes would never be completed.

The home hole at Culver Academies

At the same time, just down the road, the membership at Maxinkuckee Country Club was catching the golf bug. They built a rudimentary little course on a hillside parcel of land with a creek meandering through it and began play in 1921. Culver being a small town, those early golfers were well aware of Langford’s work and when it came time to expand their course, they naturally turned to the Chicagoan. Five holes were added, the others refined, and by 1925 play was in full swing on the course that would remain largely unchanged until decades later when the Dyes enjoyed and were inspired by it.

The Course

The first three holes at Maxinkuckee are not anything special by country golf standards, save a few noticeable flourishes on and around the greens. Upon reaching the tee at the par-3 4th with its contoured green set in a stand of old-growth trees, Langford devotees begin to get a sense that their perseverance will be rewarded. Players walk up to the top of the ridge that separates the two sections of the site, and from the 5th through the 8th, Maxinkuckee delivers a shot of bold features to the vein on par with Harrison Hills, Spring Valley and Kankakee Elks. Any person with even a passing interest in architecture or engineering has to stand and marvel at these creations and wonder, how did they do this? Pete’s Dye’s interest was much greater than passing, and he must have been enthralled.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Sculpting with a Steam Shovel

There is something that just looks right about the forms that William Langford and Theodore Moreau built, epitomized by courses like Lawsonia Links and West Bend. It’s a subtle elegance that complements the bold style, striking a perfect balance on a natural landscape. After my first visit to Maxinkuckee, with the “how” question still burning in my mind, intriguing hints were delivered from two trusted sources.

First, Ian Gilley of Sugarloaf Social Club posted this aerial photo of the outstanding 5th hole with its green seemingly extended out onto a peninsula.

It is as stunning from the ground as it is from the air.

Second, Derek Duncan discussed Langford and Moreau and their approach to steam shovel architecture with Kye Goalby on the Feed the Ball podcast. Goalby is the consulting architect at West Bend Country Club and he said, “The first time I tried to build the Langford bunkers, I failed miserably…I started looking up steam shovels online and you start seeing how a steam shovel works.” He went on to explain in detail the difference between the function of an excavator, with its bucket facing and digging down, and a steam shovel with its upward facing bucket and extending arm.

Returning to Ian’s photo and Google Earth a flash of insight hit illuminating how Langford and Moreau went about their work. Although they had the might of the steam shovel at their disposal, like any skilled builders, they would have sought to conserve effort while producing the best possible holes. Sculptors fundamentally have two distinct methods from which to choose—start with a block and chisel, or build the form up from scratch—and both were brilliantly used to create Maxinkuckee’s 5th and 6th holes.

The 6th tee, the approach and green on the 5th, and a portion of the 7th fairway run diagonally along high ground.

The steam shovel, which rotates in an arc from a stationary base, was positioned at various points to carve away from the higher ground, creating the peninsula on which the 5th green sits. This was equivalent to chiseling a statue out of a block of granite. Some of the shoveled material was likely used to build the green and its surrounds up even higher to increase the scale.

The bulk of the material was moved to build the pad and surrounds for the 6th green, pushing it up significantly from the existing topography, in much the same way that a sculptor would build up a statue using lumps of clay. Once built, refinements were made with hand labor.

The artist’s vision was combined with the engineer’s efficiency to produce two green sites of equal greatness.

Pete Dye did not have YouTube to search for steam shovel videos like Kye Goalby and I did, but he would have noticed the features and landforms, leading a mind like his to ponder the how and why of it. His curiosity and willingness to tinker in the field was critical as he and Alice were often tasked with creating courses on less than ideal sites. It is one thing to be able to envision or sketch a hole. Figuring out how to build that hole is entirely another matter. Over the decades, the Dyes proved their genius in both aspects of the craft. Their tools were the excavator and bulldozer instead of the steam shovel, but their charge was the same as the architects who inspired them at places like Maxinkuckee—sculpt the earth to create compelling golf that stands the test of time.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


23 Comments

Journey Along the Shores – Part 9 (Inspiration for the New Canal Shores)

In recent Journey Along the Shores posts, I have been focused on what we are doing to improve the course now.  With Autumn quickly approaching, stay tuned for news on the next batch of improvement projects.

Let’s take a break from the present, and revisit the subject of the future of Canal Shores.  There are exciting discussions taking place on how to increase the beauty of the property, the playability of the course, and the sustainability of the facility.  The Board and community have yet to make concrete decisions about a Master Plan.  However, since I posted about a 4 Course Concept, there has been quite a bit of enthusiastic feedback, including from people who know much more about golf than I do.  To the best of my ability, I have integrated the ideas that these experts have generously shared.

I have also repeatedly been asked a question – What will this look like and how will it work?

Before answering, first, a disclosure.  There are no original ideas in my Concept.  Rather, what I have tried to do is envision a new Canal Shores that leverages best practices from the past and present to provide a golf experience that is more flexible and fun for all of our players, especially kids.

THE ROLLING GREEN

There is one aspect of golf that every man, woman, and child can enjoy, regardless of skill level – putting.  Who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a ball tumbling into the hole?  That is why I have proposed the creation of a putting course for Canal Shores.  It is a place that can be enjoyed by all, and where kids can begin to learn the game properly – from the hole outward.

Inspiration for The Rolling Green comes from the world’s most famous putting course – The Himalayas at St. Andrews.  Pictured below, it is the home to the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club, and is also open to the public for a very modest fee.

Closer to home, course developers and operators have started adding putting and short courses to their offerings.  Mike Keiser has proven to be a visionary with the opening of the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes Resort putting course, designed by Tom Doak and Jim Urbina on 100,000 square feet of wildly contoured duneland.  The course is no charge for resort guests and area residents.  Having played it myself, I can attest to how incredibly fun (and addicting) it is.

Even the USGA has gotten into the act.  On a visit to Canal Shores, USGA senior executive Rand Jerris shared that Gil Hanse designed a putting course at the USGA headquarters.  “Everyone used to eat lunch at their desks, but not anymore,” Rand explained.  “It has fostered a sense of community among our staff.”

THE KIDS LINKS

In Scotland, where the game was born, access to the links was not a right.  It was a privilege that young players had to earn through developing skills and etiquette.  Where were kids to learn the game?  Often, they had their own “courses” set aside – open spaces with greens, minimal hazards, and undulating ground.

Inspiration for our Kids Links was provided to me by Northwestern Coach Pat Goss on a recent trip to Scotland with Luke Donald.  Pat played North Berwick, and saw the Children’s Course, one of the oldest in existence.  This is a space for kids only.  No adults allowed unless accompanied by a child.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing a short course designed to engage kids and beginners, at CommonGround outside of Denver.  Designed by Tom Doak, the course is packed with interesting ground features and cool greens.  The evening I was there, it was also packed with parents and children.

And a final piece of inspiration was provided to us by Lisa Quinn, Executive Director of the The First Tee of Chicago, when she stopped by Canal Shores.  She tipped us off to the Youth Links at Cantigny in Wheaton.  I plan to load my boys up to go play this gem – they play, I caddie.

THE BACK LOT

Watching players progress in the game to the highest level of competitive performance is very rewarding.  Who doesn’t like seeing an advanced player produce mind-blowing shots?

Giving the area’s competitive players – Northwestern’s men’s and women’s golf teams, ETHS’s teams, AJGA amateurs – a world class practice course on which to develop their games exposes the community to part of what makes golf great.  It can never be mastered, and so the reward is in the progress.  Watching better players has always inspired me to keep developing my game, and I subsequently get to experience the joy of hitting shots that seemingly transcend my ability.

And to up the ante, what if the Back Lot was open to parents and kids as a “family course” so that we could walk and play in the footsteps of more advanced players?  I know my boys would love that experience.

Inspiration for the Back Lot comes from existing practice facilities, and short courses.  I am particularly intrigued by the outstanding work done by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw at Bandon Preserve.  Although a par 3 course, it has the fundamentals of a great practice course – variety of approach shot distances and angles, challenging hazards, and big, interesting greens.

Ask any visitor to Bandon, and they will tell you that the Preserve provided challenge, and maximum fun.  Architect Dave Zinkand includes his work on that project at the top of his list of favorites.  (Read the GeekedOnGolf interview with Dave here)

Other college golf programs have provided their players with first-rate, imaginative facilities on which to practice their craft.  University of Illinois’s Lautritzen/Wohlers Outdoor Golf Practice Facility, The Playground at University of Washington, and Stanford’s Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex are all examples of how a practice area can be both beautiful and beneficial to players.

As a resident, it would be very exciting to me to have top players out showcasing their skills for me and my kids to see.  And you never know – with a space like this, we might even be able to convince former Northwestern players such as Luke Donald and Matt Fitzpatrick to stop by and visit when they are in town…

THE JANS COURSE

What about players who have the skills, and want to play golf on a “standard” course?  Canal Shores does not have the space that allows for a typical 18 hole golf course.  However, that does not mean that players have to settle for “less than”.  Rather, what can be offered in a renovated short course – The Jans Course – is the kind of fast, fun and flexible golf that fits with today’s busy lifestyles.

Facilities around the country, including nearby Arlington Lakes GC (stay tuned for the GeekedOnGolf interview with architect Mike Benkusky on this project) are reimagining what a “round” of golf could mean.  The creativity of these initiatives is inspiring to me.    

The Jans Course could be routed in numerous combinations of par 3s and 4s into 9 to 14 holes.  If/when the time comes, we’ll leave that to the GCA professionals.  Regardless of the routing, we can draw on the rich history of early-20th century architecture for style inspiration.  Donald Ross, William Langford, Seth Raynor and others have left us with numerous examples of how to create interest with bold features that also fit the natural surroundings.  We need only look around in our Chicagoland “backyard” to courses like Old Elm, Shoreacres, and Skokie CC to see how beautiful and fun these golf holes can be.

Tee-to Green Hazards would likely include minimal bunkers to keep maintenance costs down, but those we have could have the classic look of Golden Era courses.

Without bunkering, The Jans Course could rely on Ground Features – humps, bumps, hollows, and hummocks – to challenge players in a creative and beautiful manner.  In a visit to Canal Shores, architect Drew Rogers stressed the value of these features in giving players variety without sacrificing playability (read the GeekedOnGolf with Drew here)

Our Greens will likely need to be on the smaller end of the scale, but that does not mean that they won’t be interesting.  We are not looking for severity, but rather the subtle contouring that confounds players and makes them want to come back for more.  On his tour of Canal Shores, Rand Jerris encouraged us to preserve and/or recreate some of the neater greens on the course, thereby maintaining a link to the origins of the course.

Is all this possible at little ol’ Canal Shores?  Not without commitment, resources and significant effort.  But otherwise, why not?  We do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Rather, we need only look around for sources of inspiration that abound when the spirit of the game is upheld.  With that spirit, we can transform a unique space into one of the truly great golf facilities on the planet.

Are you inspired?  Stay tuned for news to come…


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


7 Comments

A 1,537 Mile Drive – The Fort, Hyde Park, Camargo, French Lick, Harrison Hills

My schedule worked out such that I had a few days to hit the open road for golf adventure.  With much appreciated help from Tim Liddy and Jason Thurman, a tour through Indiana and Ohio came together which allowed me to add to my experience of Ross, Raynor, Dye, and Langford (with a healthy dose of Liddy).

Each of these architects practiced the craft of design and construction differently to my eye.  Raynor and Langford, through the lens of the engineer, produced features that are elegant in their simultaneous simplicity and boldness.  Ross and Dye, with the flourish of the artist, blended their creative vision with the landscape.  All used masterful routings across the rolling land to deliver beauty, interest, challenge and a sense of profound joy for me as a I walked the fairways.

Before diving into the photos and commentary, it is worth mentioning that the trip was bookended with golf at my dad’s community golf course in Galesburg, IL where I had the pleasure of whacking it around with Pops and my little guys.  I would trade any of these top-tier golf experiences for a chance to walk with my dad and watch my boys discover the joy of this great game.  For me, that golf is in a class high above the Top 100.

Tim has graciously offered to add his commentary.  I will post it shortly.


THE FORT

Round 1 was supposed to be at Harrison Hills, but they had storm damage, so I hit The Fort instead.  I found out after the round that Tim Liddy worked extensively with Pete Dye on the course.

Having only played the ASU course prior to this, I am inexperienced with Pete Dye’s work (other than what I see in pictures and on TV).  I was surprised to find a course that had plenty of interest as it moved over the rolling terrain without feeling overly manufactured.  The bunkering, greens, and green surrounds had splashes of creativity, but that creativity fit into the landscape nicely.

The course is in a State Park that was previously the Army’s Fort Benjamin Harrison.  It feels remote (a la Bethpage), which I always enjoy, even though it is in the suburbs of Indianapolis.  There was plenty of space to make big holes, and the course has a set of four par 5s that I absolutely loved, including back-to-back 5s on the front nine.  Those holes were gettable, but not without solid strategy and execution.

Sadly, I don’t feel like I got to experience all of the fun of bounces and rolls that were possible because the course was so water-logged.  I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that The Fort was designed with fast-and-firm foremost in mind, but I would say that it would be a blast to play on a drier day.


HYDE PARK GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

HydePark-Clubhouse

Hyde Park’s Clubhouse as seen beyond the ravine that dissects the 12th hole.

Prior to the trip, I had heard from several people that Hyde Park was underrated.  I expected to like it because I am a Ross guy, but what I found was that underrated is an understatement.  The work that Tim Liddy, Eric O’Bryan, and Pat O’Brien have done to restore the course is as good as any that I have seen.

The first hole is relatively straightforward and is a gentle setup for what is about to come.  Heading to the 2nd tee, one gets a first glimpse of how the routing will use the hills and ravines and it is simply breathtaking.  Hyde Park’s #2-7 is an all-world stretch of holes (and #10-15 is no slouch either).  The course is routed using the hills to provide elevation changes and quite a few high-to-high shots, which I find thrilling.

The big picture is outstanding, but the course might be even better in the details.  For example:

  • Use of straight lines on tee boxes, fairway grass lines, and green fronts is a really cool contrast to the natural roll of the land.
  • The variety of Ross bunkers are beautifully placed and shaped, with some dug down to create scale, and others built up.
  • Greens are extended out the edges of the green pads, which I find to be a really neat, classic look.
  • The green contours are mostly subtle, but tricky and fun nonetheless.  I suspect that it takes a long time to really learn those greens.
  • Tree management at the course is terrific.  The course has beautiful, old specimen trees galore, but it does not feel over-treed.
  • The fairways are Zoysia, which was so pleasant to play.  Dear Lord, please let me play on fairways like that when I am an old man.

Even without the strongest finishers on each nine, I was still blown away.  As an every day course, it doesn’t get much better than Hyde Park.


THE DONALD ROSS COURSE AT FRENCH LICK

RossCourse-OpeningView

A first glimpse of the golf to come literally takes the breath away.

I read reviews and looked at numerous photos of the Ross Course.  I expected it to be gorgeous because every photo I have seen of the place is beautiful.  Walking out to the first tee, and seeing the course laid out across the land, I realized that the pictures don’t do it justice.

Most of the greens are on high points on the property, which achieves two objectives: 1) the course plays mostly uphill, adding to its challenge, and 2) each hole culminates with another beautiful vista.  It’s like getting a little reward for surviving the climb.

The challenge of the Ross Course just begins upon reaching the greens.  The contours were the wildest I have ever seen on a Ross design, and they were a blast to putt.  On quite a few holes, my playing partner and I lingered to try some of the putts that would result from approaches hit to the wrong section of the green.  I could have spent hours…

The bunker variety and placement is just right, and the color-contrasts of fairways, bunkers, and tall grass are simply sublime.  It is no wonder that a course that looks like a work of fine art in color and composition is so photogenic.

It’s a general theme here that I would like another chance to play these courses in drier conditions.  There is little doubt in my mind that the weather had taken some of the teeth out of the Ross Course the day I played it.  Playing dry and firm, look out.


HARRISON HILLS GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

After playing two stellar Rosses and a legendary Raynor earlier in the week, I thought that I might be out of WOWs by the time I reached Harrison Hills early on my final day.  William Langford and Tim Liddy proved me wrong with their 71-years-apart collaboration.

I had heard about the course from Dan Moore and others, and after playing Lawsonia Links in the Spring, I was excited for the round.  Tim challenged me to determine which holes he did in his expansion of the course.  I got 17.5 right….  I won’t share the answers here – go play the course and see for yourself.

The distinction between the Langford and Liddy holes is not so much one of design as it is a feel of age.  Tim’s holes just feel newer.  With proper tree and turf management over the next 20-30 years though, I suspect that it will be nearly impossible to distinguish who did what.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


20 Comments

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

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

(Photos courtesy of Dan Moore Golf)

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

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

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

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


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?

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

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

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

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

How did the two of you connect?

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

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

Describe your process for a renovation project of this nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were your goals going into the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were your biggest concerns going into the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you love most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf