Tuesday, June 27, 2006

18 Holes – Day #18 - 10th at San Francisco

The incredible 10th tee shot. The trees on the right are now long gone and the view is opened back up.

Well this is the last hole and another unconventional choice. The 10th at San Francisco is the finest example of correct use of scale that I know, this is a hard technique to explain and an even more difficult technique to use. I wanted to talk about scale during this list but I must admit this quality is the most elusive and requires an intuitive feel for space. I would honestly say that there are no more than a handful of architects that can work at a large scale. I have even seen a few good ones try to go to a large scale to disastrous results. I will spend this entire piece trying to explain how Tillinghast did it, and this may be to mixed results too, for this is a hard principle to get.

The aerial is crucial to understanding this hole, so I recommend you look at it often as reference. From tree line to tree line the clearing for the 9th and 10th fairway is 300 yards wide! What it does is create one of the grandest views from any clubhouse in golf. The hard part for Tillinghast was to find a way to make the 9th 10th and 18th holes not get lost in that much space. It would be overly simple to say that Tillinghast increased the bunkers to enormous sizes to help fill the space, but it is more than that. What Tillinghast did was take everything to epic proportions so that nothing would get dwarfed by the space. The bunkers are obviously large, but the mounding and fairway widths are much larger than convention too. Tillinghast was also smart enough to intentional blend the bunkering on the 9th and 10th so that they appear from both side to be an extension of the bunkering for each hole. This essentially helps create enough size and expanse within the bunkering to create definition, but more important balance with the landscape.

So why the 10th? The beauty of the 10th is you feel like you could hit that tee shot anywhere, but the Cypress trees closer to the green are unusually tight for San Francisco, and your real target for the tee shot is the smallest on the course. You must be right edge of the fairway, just beyond the carry bunker, to have the right line to cut the ball into the green. A fade is the only play to hold this green with a long iron, since the green angles sharply to the right behind an awaiting bunker.

So what can we learn from this hole? Understanding the beauty of scale and space can lead to breathtaking architecture, but not understanding it leads to the biggest misses in golf (just look at Doral after Ray Floyd for a great example). To work on this scale means to spend extra time getting the sweep and drama into the bunkering in particular. You must be painstaking in your details, since everything gets magnified by the open space. Only a confident creative hand that is capable of the broadest strokes can succeed on this level.

18 Holes – The List

10th at Riviera – George Thomas - 4
14th at Royal Dornoch – John Sutherland - 4
13th at Pine Valley – George Crump - 4
4th at National Golf Links of America – Charles Blair MacDonald - 3
14th at Royal County Down – Old Tom Morris - 4
9th at Cypress Point – Alister MacKenzie - 4
13th at Tobacco Road – Mike Strantz - 5
4th at St. George’s (NLE) – Stanley Thompson - 4
8th at Royal Troon - William Fernie – 3

14th at St. Andrew’s (Old) – Alan Robertson – 5
13th at Gleneagles (Kings) – James Braid – 4
4th at Royal Portrush – Harry Colt - 4
10th at Friar’s Head – Bill Coore - 3
5th at Merion – Hugh Wilson – 4
15th at Portmarnock – G. Ross & Pinkeman
6th at The Creek Club – Raynor
4th at Seminole – Ross
10th at San Francisco - Tillinghast


Peter said...

Thanks, Ian.
That's an excellent description of an aspect of gca that I hadn't ever thought about. Now that I AM thinking about it, I see how much the overall impression/experience of a golf course is determined by its sense of scale/size/ proportion. Very interesting.

Matt said...

Thanks for all the work you put into this Ian. I greatly enjoyed reading the entire series.