Friday, September 01, 2006

The Hole Series

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In this month's Score magazine is another installment of my Hole Series.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Your Strategy to Beat the Architect

The short, direct and dangerous route on the left and the long and safe route on the right - great strategy by Stranz at Tabacco Road

We all want to shoot lower scores. Almost everyone sticks to swing tips, lessons or practice to improve their ability to hit the ball better. A few spend the time to learn course management and make great strides in keeping rounds together when they usually would come apart. Very few take the time to analyze the strategies and the architects thinking in order to beat them at their own game.

Ever noticed how on certain architect’s courses you always seem to play well, whereas on another architect’s you seem to always make mistakes. And I’m not talking about the simple factors like width or green contour, but more about what the architect gets you to do. I find most architects are creatures of pattern and tend to use a similar bag of tricks most times out. The very clever ones seem to be able to spin an infinite amount of variation using a myriad of old ideas, but the majority sticks to a limited set of options on a consistent theme. The clever ones require a lot of work for you to learn the course and one playing is never enough to try and out think them (if you ever can – see my piece on the 10th at Riviera to understand what I mean). For the rest, all you need to do is spend enough time observing their habits and it will help you with your decision making.

Most architects seem to prefer to stick to the basics on strategy. Bunker the fairway right and the green on the left and you have the most common strategy in golf. Play towards the trouble for the best angle into the green. This is the base strategy of probably half of all “designed” holes in golf. There may be more bunkers surrounding the ones that matter, but if you remove the fluff, you will be able to often break it down to this idea. Now this can vary from Flynn’s use of carry bunkers on a diagonal to clearly indicate the line and location for the tee shot, or be illustrated by the use of parallel bunkers by Willie Park Jr. (and others) where you play as close to them as possible for that ideal line. My only warning is for someone like Pete Dye, he will offer this on 16 or 17 holes and then on that exception you find you made the perfect shot to end up with the worst line. As Pete said, you have to do it occasionally to keep their attention, otherwise they are too comfortable.

Where it gets more fun is when you play a course by a less conventional architect like Mike Stranz. Mike’s philosophy was enticement and punishment. He loved to offer a shorter dangerous route combined with a longer safer route. Scoring will come from avoiding the pitfalls with Mike, but the big challenge is how long can you avoid your desire to “give it a go.” I watched a clinic on how to score at Tobacco Road, my playing partner (Bobby Weed) took the occasional chance for some birdies, but also played safely away from certain death settling for a par right from the get go. Often restraint is the most important tactic on a course made for gambling – although it’s not near as fun..

Each architect has their favorites, William Flynn and Doug Carrick love carry angles and using that technique to indicate the ideal line. Rees Jones leans towards the most basic of approaches of position for line with almost no variation on that approach. Bob Cupp likes to guard the line to the “mayor’s office,” a spot which sets up perfectly for an approach into the fall of the green. Each of us has our beliefs in what we think “you” should have to do in your round of golf. Learn our beliefs and our habits and you may save an extra shot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Stanley Thompson is Officially a Person of National Historic Significance

I got an email from Ken Donovan today that couldn’t have made me happier.

“Stanley Thompson has just been recognized as a person of National Historic Significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. This designation will take place at Cape Breton Highlands Links in Ingonish. “

Ken is best known for writing the wonderful essay called "Thinking Down the Road: Stanley Thompson, Canada's Golf Architect, Artist and Visionary, 1893-1953". If you haven’t read it you should, it’s found in the The Nashwaak Review, St.Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, vol. 14/15 (Fall, 2004 -Winter, 2005), pp. 252-302. The interview with Geoff Cornish in the back is as entertaining as his wonderful essay. The pictures are enough to leave your mouth open wishing you could see it in that form.

And that is where this announcement comes in…….

This means that an important course under government control, like Highland Links, can be restored as a place of historic importance. The fact that Highland Links is a historic site would give the people in charge of the course the opportunity to go to Parks Canada and explain to them why the tree removal is necessary to “restore the historical views and playing widths”. This would provide an opportunity to finally open up many of the long corridors and view sheds lost through growth and Parks Canada policies.

This also opens up the slight possibility of restoring the bunkers back to the original locations and shapes. They are clearly shown in a wealth of photos that are easily obtained through the course or through the National archives. There are even a few found in advertisements and other sources. I dream of seeing Highland Links restored properly, and this definitely takes this from the unlikely back to the possible. It’s a very happy day for any golf historian. I have to commend Ken and Mark for their efforts .

The other courses that spring to mind are Banff Springs and Green Gables which are also on Park Canada land. It’s never to late for Banff, but it may be too late for Green Gables which is scheduled for a renovation by McBroom which from all reports will fundamentally change the course.

On a more personal level, I don’t think this changes things at most existing courses. It may encourage more preservation, but most courses are well aware of the legacy that they understand is worth protecting. I look forward to seeing the impact at Highlands, it’s so appropriate that the ceremony will be held there to honour Stanley Thompson.

Field Notes

The proposed 13th at Red Deer

There are a lot of occasions where you are invited out to review a golf course and get invited to explore all opportunities. You find out from the club that they are open to making changes either for improving the overall quality of the course or to find much coveted length. Often this leads to the exploration of alternative ideas to improve holes, a chance to review strategies, or even the occasional look for an entirely new hole. When I do this, I tend to sketch my thoughts in the field and these “doodles” are often fairly accurate reflections of what I end up doing later.

The image at the top is for the new green site (which is actually the original green location) for a hole at Red Deer Golf & Country Club. When reviewing the course I determined the club had a great opportunity to shorten one of the fours into a drivable par four to add more balance to the layout. When I looked at the green site and circumstance I immediately thought of the 7th green site at Scarboro. That hole is a really great short par four by Tillinghast, and it offered a great solution on how to make the hole at Red Deer complicated and dangerous at 315 yards.

The cleverness of this hole comes from the green and the bunkering. The green is narrow and very difficult to hit from anywhere but directly in front. The narrowness demands great accuracy and makes the choice between laying-up and trying to hitting it real close a tough decision. The fact the green is elevated with a strong back to front pitch and the false front adds additional challenge for better players who spin the ball. That’s why I often turn to the great holes and green sites for inspiration; there are so many good ideas from which to draw the best answer for the club. You just have to be familiar with the holes and able to recognize where they fit best.

3rd at Kawartha

The image above is the other side of drawing ideas in the field. Working drawings provide the basic scope and general direction for the work, but the reality is many holes are altered in the field to make sure that the what you see in your head makes it all the way to built form. These are called field fits and they are done to tie in work properly, ensure visibility, create the intended slopes, provide more movement, add dramatic flair, and generally add more of the architects imagination and creativity than any plan could explain. all I find they occasionally require some doodling to work the ideas out in my head or to explain to a shaper the concepts as opposed to the grades. I was at Kawartha today removing all the mounds and trees from a recent renovation to the 3rd fairway and trying to make a situation where the tee shot still fit the rest of the course despite a much wider clearing. The concept explains much of what I’m trying to do with fairway movement and bunkering to use the width provided and still create strong strategies that work on that site.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Red Deer Charette

This is the extension of the 4th hole to bring the Red Deer River into play and into view

This wasn’t a completely a charette because I did do some preliminary routing work to give myself some ideas on what was possible. Usually the first stage is to walk the golf course with members of the greens committee and the superintendent. I like to use the initial stage is to collect ideas and alternatives for discussion. Since the interview was conducted out on the course where we did discuss ideas, I was familiar with the holes and had a good feel for what direction the club wanted to go. A little routing investigation was a smart head start. I still intentionally took on the approach of a charette, to see if I could make the plan grow from a couple days looking at the course and talking through ideas.

I arrived at Red Deer (just in time for rain), and we went into a boardroom to talk about the plans and possible ideas. I definitely prefer to meet before going out to review the course, because it makes it easier to focus on what I need to accomplish. The club confirmed they were very interested in additional yardage being an important part of the plan, but proved to be very open to the ideas in trying to return a little more traditional architectural character. They understood when I recommended that a little restraint should be shown to retain a variety in yardages and a little courage would be required to really make the course a reflection of its era. I was very pleased that they agreed with my approach and were willing to take a long view and make a few extra changes to undue certain modernizations that did not fit. It was a relief that they understood my traditional vision for the club.

The potential new par three looking the other way up the river

We did make it outside after the meeting to walk and review the larger changes. I did discover some of my ideas worked better than expected including a new potential par three with a spectacular view up the river. I also found one of my larger changes did not since the mapping did not match what was in the field. We returned to the clubhouse and had dinner, this time with the entire board and once again went through our options. I took some time to explain my thought process and walk them through the potential changes. I also gave them two possible plans depending on whether a proposed land swap did go through. The committee was quite enthusiastic about the change so at that point I had clear direction. I wasn’t sure we could accomplish all this in one visit, but the committee made was pleased with the plans. I still wasn’t done.

I spent the second day looking at alternatives and reviewing them. I also spent four hours accumulating all the problems and difficulties of the property for the Superintendent. A superintendent a sharp as Wayne is an architect’s dream. I felt I finally had all the background information together and was ready to return to the plan.. I finished up with a round of golf with the Director of Golf, club president and next years club president. It was eye opening to see where the ball was going, which fortunately it went where I aimed that day! I did make a few revisions according to what I learnt from that round.

That night I went back to the hotel and begun the traditional end to the charette. I finalized a plan based upon the current envelope, the club’s direction, and my notes from the field. I began to produce a series of sketches to illustrate the changes to the holes. I also collected a series of images to illustrate the style of architecture using examples from existing courses to talk about different ideas. I ended up even producing a few simple illustrations to explain the different principles of modern architecture versus a more traditional architectural approach. In short, more carry bunkers off the tee and flanking bunkers at the greens versus more target bunkers off the tee and forced carries at the green.. The next day I presented the ideas to the membership and it was met with quite a few question and a very strong level of support. At the end of the presentation I knew I had a plan (with a little more tinkering at home).

I would definitely do this again.