Thursday, August 17, 2006

Found - Kawartha's plan

This was not planned. I found out today that an art gallery has the 1932 Stanley Thompson plan for Kawartha Golf & Country Club. I will get more information and post the location, so that others can visit the drawing if they wish.

This makes me more optimistic that the drawings are not gone, they are out there to be found.

Finding Stanley Thompson….

The famous Banff model

Between the 1940’s and the 1970’s many amateur historians or collectors removed drawings and plans from clubs, particularly when the club showed no interest in preserving and keeping the documents. Sometimes they had the club’s blessing, sometimes they did not. Often they would take it home before it got tossed away. Other materials were archived and forgotten.

Finding Stanley Thompson’s missing documents has been my personal Holy Grail for well over 10 years. I share this obsession with other people including Bill Newton of the Stanley Thompson Society. Bill provided me with a window to what is lost, “When I was about nine or ten and on a visit to Uncle Stan at Dormie House, I remember his sand table where he sculpted holes, the large map of Canada with red pins marking his projects, and a paper mache model of a golf course. Many years later, I realized that it was of Banff. And years after that, I became haunted with the notion of it all lost along with other items. Consequently, I formed the Society with preservation as a primary objective.”

Big Baby at Jasper around opening

A year ago I was given a number of Stanley Thompson letters from a gentleman acting as an intermediary for a collector. I received the documents, digitally scanned them for distribution, and presented the originals to Karen Hewsen, the librarian and archivist at the RCGA, for preservation. It is my opinion that, if we are to understand the history of golf architecture, these historical pieces belong in public archives and not in private collections. Clubs and collectors may prefer to keep their originals, but with the current digital scanning technology, even a scan made available to the RCGA’s archives would help. The part that still haunts me is his collection he has all Stanley’s drawings including the water color and I dearly would like that to be available to the public again. Right now he won’t part with any of it.

Karen Hewson has speculated that the whole collection is sitting lost in the National Archives in a box waiting to some day be catalogued. I was hoping she was right, but Geoff Cornish had said in an interview done recently that they left everything behind when they moved to Dormie House. I fear that the models are most likely long gone because of this, but it has surfaced recently that the gentleman who owned/bought the office building did indeed go through his things and keep a few items. I understand John Smith from the Thompson Society has reportedly talked to him about acquiring the items. I would love to find out what he has even if there is no way for any of us to acquire the records – just so we know what is still around.

Routing plan for Highland Links

I’m very dependent on finding these items to do an accurate restoration work. It was photos donated by Paul MacNaughton to St. George’s Golf & Country Club that were instrumental in the accuracy of the bunker restoration work that I completed for St. George’s in 2002. The information in those photos contributed directly to the success of the project, giving important insights and valuable data that we otherwise would not have had. Craig Moore has just recently found a 1955 aerial of the Cutten Club that will make our restoration efforts far more accurate. Imagine a window into the course only two years after his death.

There is so much missing from his field note books (like Sunningdale’s) to his models (like Banff’s); is it in a dusty box or on the wall of a collector’s house. I sit and wonder.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Routing Study - Highland Links

The 2nd looking down to the green

This by far is the most unusual of Thompson's routings, and it is why this is one of the most enjoyable experiences in golf. When Stanley surveyed the property on foot, he must have recognised how unique each area of the golf course was going to be. After he had finalised his routing, whether intended or intuitive, he made a decision of shear genius. He separated each unique area with a long walk. So why was this important? This makes the course unfold like a series of chapters from a great book, each chapter (or set of holes) has its own unique setting. When combined together it makes for wonderful journey through the local landscape.

I’ll explain this further. The first six holes are routed along the rolling land of the headland, which originally had ocean views on all six holes (this is something they desperately need to fix). I couldn’t think of a better way to start with all those ocean views!

The wild and much tighter 7th

After the sixth green, the hole that plays along the ocean, Stanley takes you inland on a long walk to relax and enjoy the river valley as you enter the forested highlands (first change of pace and setting). The trees and mountains now dominate the setting of the course, and the player has to adjust to a more secluded and intimate setting. The holes are now fully framed by trees and mountains, with the tee shot on the 7th being intentional tight and tough to offer a complete contrast to the previous holes. Stanley does a wonderful job of creating an exciting stretch of holes while still maintaining a walkable course through this tough terrain. This stretch continues through to the tenth green.

The valley holes of 10-12

Once again a change of scenery started with a walk over the old swinging bridge and along the magnificent Clyde Brook. The 11th and 12th were once wide open, flat and fairly straightforward. This gentle stretch of land and golf was made to act as a breather in the middle of the round before taking on the tougher stretch to follow. I love how the old photos show the river was intended to be visible from both holes. I found out the river was to be the focus of the two holes but they ran out of money to pay for the bridge crossing that was required. The walk from 12 green to the 13th tee is the prettiest walk in golf (another great transition to a new setting) again along the river and up to the 13th tee.

At the thirteenth hole, Stanley returns the player to very rolling land with views out to the ocean. While the holes are much tougher, experiencing a view of the ocean make them inspiring. This remains my favourite stretch of holes on the course and the golfing terrain he selected has no equal. The highlight of the round is probably the dramatic 15th that tumbles wildly down towards the ocean in the background. Once again the golfers experience another wonderful walk, this one by the church, to the final set of holes.

The magnificent 15th

Holes 16 to 18 do not have a view to the ocean, although, I can’t help but wonder if the ocean was clearly visible on the right of the 18th hole. The final stretch is a return to the darker evergreens similar to the opening holes, here Stanley had designed a series of friendly holes to give players an opportunity to make a par. Stanley was always cognisant of resort play and making the courses enjoyable for the average player. I think he felt after such a long journey, making a par in the final stretch would be a great way to finish the round.

The 17th hole

Highlands remains a top 100 course in the world. Out of the five best Thompson courses, it is probably the most understated architecturally, but it may be the course that works most closely with the landscape. This is why many feel it is Thompson’s best work and the best course in Canada.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Top 100 Continued - What makes a course great and My Top 25

Toronto's wonderful 15th green site

So what makes them great?

1. Great routing – hardest element to measure, but best described as the holes seem to all work perfectly one after the other.
Example: Highland Links is a wonderful run where each hole seems in the right spot (I'll touch on this tomorrow by discussing the Highland routing)

2. Great architecture – from greens to bunkering
Example: St. George’s bunkering is so good it can almost carry the course single handed

3. Great setting – there is no comparing an Oceanside course to a housing course
Example: Dakota Dunes versus Eagle’s Nest

4. Mixture of hole types and hole lengths – 18 holes in a valley setting or a 7,400 yard course is dull
Example: Devil’s Paintbrush provides the seemingly impossible with the seemingly too easy all day, a testament to good design and fun

5. Balance of strong and fun holes – can beat your brains in or be too easy either
Example: Hamilton does a wonderful job of testing all your skills and giving you plenty of opportunity, a perfect mix of brains and brawn

6. Great par threes – It is almost a must
Example: Jasper Park has a perfect set from pitch to driver and all yardages in between

7. A full mixture of par fours from drivable to unmanageable
Example: Toronto Golf has the perfect mix of all yardages green types and settings

8. Par fives that are interesting rather than just long
Example: No course in the world can top the mixture of great par fives at Highlands

9. A golf course that makes you think – 18 clearly defined holes with one option per shot lacks strategy – the course must invite you to take risk and play smart
Example: Kudos to Rod Whitman for giving you a million options at Blackhawk.

10. A course that has continuity – from architectural style through to feel, too many ideas or too many elements ruins a good piece of architecture

This is the weak point of Canadian architecture, the new courses have an advantage because they haven’t been tinkered with. This is also the reason so many of the courses like Mayfair have gone from the top to off the list.

My Top 25

St. George’s
Highland GL
Jasper Park

Banff Springs
Devil’s Paintbrush
Eagle’s Nest

St. Thomas

Lookout Point
Osprey Valley Heathlands
Wolf Creek

Bigwin Island

My take on the Top 100 – The Panel

Hamilton G&CC 12th hole

I see the list as a selection of the greatest 100 Canadian “golf experiences”, rather than the selection of the greatest 100 “golf courses”

My main issue is with the list is who makes up of the panel. To Bob Week’s defense he has done a great job of improving the panel but I still think he needs to go one step further. Removing the two top Canadian amateurs and the two PGA tour professionals would help remove some of the bias that all top golfers bring to the table. They almost always judge a course on how it makes them play. They tend to favor long tough golf courses in immaculate shape over anything else. They also have a tendency to see only the courses that hold events or exclusive private clubs where they are treated exceptionally well. They don’t have the time to travel the countryside to see enough lesser known courses to have a balanced perspective. I’m not saying they aren’t interested in or don’t understand good architecture, but I do believe they come with certain expectations that favor the elite city courses over the rest. Just look at the list.

The panel is always strongest if all the members are well traveled, because then we are comparing courses on equal terms. There are a few guys who are not as well traveled as you would hope. I’ve been to every city except Victoria and I still think I haven’t seen enough. So who would help the list….w ell what group is better traveled than the golf architects? I strongly believe the panel would improve with the addition of around 5 or 6 architects to help provide balance to the list. Doug Carrick, Tom McBroom and Graham Cooke just to offer a couple of names would help provide perspective from one coast to the other. I think this would also help get more support for the courses in smaller towns that often overlooked since the architects often seek out lesser known gems on their travels. I think that courses of significant architectural merit, like Toronto GC would finally get the proper support they deserve. The current panel is very bias towards new work, and architects tend to be more bias towards older courses and this would help balance things out.

Some may suggest the architects have the most to gain and would vote for there own work. This may be true if Tom’s list of top holes in the world found in Paul Daley’s book is any indication, but I think you can trust that group to vote for the best courses. I think the best way to oversee this is to make the architect’s votes public. If they are bias to their own work, this can be easily seen, and they can be removed from the panel. No architect needs that humiliation. You may suggest architects have too much to gain to be part of the process but so do the director of golf, golf superintendent, director of marketing (for clublink no less), who are all part of the panel! I think it’s time to bring back the architects to the panel. I think it will make a better list.

I’ll post my top 25 this afternoon, and I may write something else too, then I think I will drop this topic at the end of today.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Top 100 - how many have you played?

Ive played:

9 of the first 10
10 of the second 10
7 of the 3rd 10
5 of the 4th 10
6 of the next 10
13 of the next 25
and 14 of the last 25

64 of the top 100..... I would love to know the panelist average since I have more opportunity than most with my renovation travels.

Top 100 - More thoughts

I thought I'd post on and off on this subject today and tomorrow and then move on.

Here's some thoughts on misplaced courses.

1. National - this is simply not the best we have to offer in Canada

2. Beacon Hall - never got this one, never will, a nice club on a nice piece of property with very safe architecture. Does not make my top 25

4. Paintbrush - love the course, but a little too high

9. Shauaghnessy - this is proof that too much extra credit is given for hosting an open (see Glen Abbey)

11. Taboo - way too high, nice course, but service far exceeeds the quality of the course (or does that matter?)

13. Glen Abbey - not in my top 25, just look at the front nine by itself and tell me the course is great

23. Copper Creek - I worked on this an even I know it's wrong

35. Osprey Valley Heathlands - top 25, Carrick Design's best detailing ever

47. Bear Mountain - is a new course, what gives?

49. Summit - misunderstood for how good it is, too understated perhaps, should be top 25

54. St. Thomas - easily a top 15-20 if you go and see the course

57. Catarqui - top 20, a great piece of Thompson history

59. Marine Drive - a completely dull course played down a "hallway"

62. Laval - sufferes from no visitors, great back nine

63. Rosedale - other than being short please tell me where the weakness is?

67. Scarboro - could be top 10 and no worse than 20. Never understand why people don't get this one is it just yardage?

72. Mt. Bruno is definately a top 25 candidate, but may be access is the issue

76. Beaconsfield - may favourite Montreal layout gets no love, is this still fall out from the Ladies Open? Top 25-30

84. Glendale - This course is a bit of a sleeper, worth seeing

86. Lake Joseph - the top 10 was silly , but so is this

I already supplied my list of courses that should have made this.

Top 100 - Initial thoughts

I will definately be writing on Score's Top 100 in Canada tomorrow. This is what I think is missing from Score’s list?

Top 50
Royal Ottawa

Top 100
Highland CC
Maple Downs
Red Deer