Thursday, October 05, 2006

Future Restoration of the Current Architects

The awesome Sand Hills by Coore and Crenshaw

This post begins with some interesting assumptions (by yours truly) on whose work will be seen to be very important down the road. Guessing who will be that important is a bit of a stab in the dark, but I think I have a body of support behind a few of the names.

I do not think that any of the biggest names, like Fazio, Jones and Nicklaus, will have their work actively restored. I see their architecture continual evolving in the Augusta National mode. I think part of my feeling comes from the fact they have controlled so much of the architecture that little has been left to chance and the courses are far less likely to evolve. While their work does not inspire me, this is not a knock on the architectural quality but more my feeling that they are the modern equivalent of Trent Jones and Dick Wilson whose work is considered solid but unspectacular. Every noticed there is nobody out there pushing Trent Jones restoration despite 500 potential courses.

So who will we preserve? My feeling is four guys stand out; Bill Coore, Tom Doak, Mike Stranz and Pete Dye. Bill Coore’s work is definitely the finest of our current generation and has raised the bar for future architects like myself. Interestingly, much of his work harkens back to the Golden Age with the excellence in details and the time spent on finding a routing. The next one is Tom Doak, who has built a series of excellent and very natural courses using vegetation and techniques that will surely evolve. His work again harkens to the Golden Age, but there is an exploration in ideas that will prove to make him a popular architect in the long run. The next guy will have the strongest following, the most detractors, and I feel the greatest following for restoration. Mike Stranz is my version of Tom Simpson in his ingenuity and risk taking. The guts to leave uncomfortable holes and pressure filled situations will encourage many to want to understand the man. If I were choosing one where restoration will need to take place because of alteration, it would be Mike’s work, since much of his work will be under pressure for softening. Pete Dye I will get to at the end because he’s the most interesting.

(There are many others who show the same promise and I’m watching them to see what there next work brings. Gil Hanse and Mike DeVries are too obvious candidates).

Tabacco Road will be preserved as a testiment to Mike

So how will it take place down the road? This is where everything will be different. Each of the three above are well written about and have taken the time to write articles. There courses are all widely photographed and well documented. There is likely as built due to modern irrigation practices available for each course. The owners at most of the courses have chosen to keep all their notes and plans because of the respect that is already out there. Restoration will be much easier looking out 50 years, just because of the technology that we currently live with and the amount of information available in seconds.

The fun part comes from the future decisions at very landmark courses and this is where Pete Dye springs to mind as the most fascinating of all the architects to restore in the future. Look at his work, but more interestingly look at the potential decisions!

1. has any architect changed their ideas as much as Pete Dye
2. Crooked Stick fundamentally changed architecture, and then he renovated it in a completely different style; and I’ve heard he thought it was better before! What do you do?
3. which TPC at Sawgrass do you restore to? The first one the players hated but was the course Pete intended, the most recent evolution that everyone grew to love, or the one that will be unveiled this spring.
4. Do you restore his most modern that was really done by his sons or apprentices?

As you can see there are lots to consider down the road for the next generation of restoration architects.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Badger Experts and Bird Psychologists

Castlestewart construction on a windy day.

When I went around the Castlestewart with Gil, we were walking up the 10th hole when he mentioned the badger den near by in the gorse of the sea cliff. This became the start of a very typical conversation between architects. “So what were the craziest environmental requirements on this project?”

Before I continue you will find that most current architects agree with the environmentalists that there are places where holes should not be built and there are locations where courses should never be proposed. I believe in the preservation of natural ecosystems and that we should work to fit our holes within the landscape rather than rebuild the entire site and destroy natural habitat. Generally I have a great deal of respect for the people whose job it is to protect the natural environment. What I don’t get is the ones that start any meeting with, “You realize I’m fundamentally opposed to golf because it destroys the environment” There is enough evidence through the monitoring programs that this is not the case and in fact golf courses have been proven to be a benefit in many cases as opposed to a source of harm.

I’ve had a few memorable experiences with approvals but my favorite took place with the new nine at Nobleton Lakes. A member of the Conservation Authority fought to protect a series of 16 foot diameter puddles in the middle of a (clay) farm field because it was a “potential pocket wetland that might support amphibians” This is was very amusing since I had photos showing the pocket wetland was completely empty two weeks ago before the rain. This was even more frustrating when you look at the adjacent Class 1 wetland (highest designation) 200 yards away and knew that it had proposed holes approved to go through it from another architect’s approved plan! I was only trying to alter the routing to keep the holes between the woodlots and out of the wetland because I thought it made for better holes, less disturbance and I didn’t like the idea of going near a wetland area.

Back to Castlestewart, the badger which is an extremely aggressive creature was nearly eradicated by farmers due to the nature of the animal. It is now endangered and there are badger experts who are brought in to protect any known badger dens in order to protect the species. Mark Parsinen was asked to bring in an expert and the council also hired their own. Now I best add these experts are not cheap! Well as it turns out the two experts could not agree what to do and fought constantly about how best to preserve the den (which nobody has ever seen active). Each time they met and disagreed you know somebody is left still paying the tab. Some argue that this would just be called a classic consulting tactic to increase the billable hours. So now there is protection around the den, too bad there seems to be no badgers.

The other thing they had to do a Castlestewart was to build a large, and I mean large, berm to block the view into the site. Makes sense, so the locals won’t have to look at the site right? No…. it blocks the view of the birds from their nesting area a mile or two down the coast. Apparently the site of construction drives the birds into being inadequate parents for their offspring (I guess). Just one thought, can’t birds fly?

If you wonder why we do this, this is just part of the approval process on may of our new projects. Protecting the environment is important; rationale thought would be even more helpful sometimes. I think they just forget we are all actually on the same side.

....and this concludes my writing on Scotland

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Kingsbarns has been one of the most widely praised golf courses to be built in the last 50 years. This was considered the first great golf course to be built in Scotland since the Mackenzie Ross reconstruction of Turnberry. The course was a project that Kyle Phillips had looked to get built for quite a few years before finally linking up with Mark Parsinen. What Kyle had to begin with was a spectacular setting that sloped quite severely toward the ocean. It was not ideal for a lay of the land course but would be exceptional with lots of earthmoving. Instead of trying to route around some very difficult cross-slope Kyle and Mark simply shaped the entire site to bench a series of holes, which also means that every hole looks easily out towards the ocean. Why Kingsbarns works is because of the shaping. Where this could have been a very American style “faux links” golf course, it was not. Faux links usually feature repetitive looking with shaping but Kyle and Mark went to great pains to emulate the land found on the existing dunes courses, including using a dune expert. The shaping here is a model for all projects and may be some of the best ever on a course built with almost no natural contours.

The cool part about the shaping was that Kyle and Mark built literally 1000’s or irregular shapes including scars, ridges, straight lines, sharp slopes, sloughed faces, and small scale rumples until the whole site looked as if it existing like that in the first place. Even the land immediately in front of the 6th tees featured rumples a few small gorse bushes to providing a very “natural” appearance. It still looks shaped at times, but at other times the work is so good that you wouldn’t know. The best way I can describe the work is there was almost no detail missed no matter how seemly insignificant. That definitely teaches any golf architect is that once again it is the level of detail and the level of commitment to finishing everything off properly that is the difference between a great course and one that is worthy of discussion among the world’s best. This seems also to be further proof that the commitment and interest of the owner is very important to ensuring that everything is done well

Kingsbarns reinforces my belief about having an opening vision on what you want to build. If you want to build a links then you must spend the time observing and learning what a dune line is supposed to look like. You need to understand the irregularities of links land and the small features that also come with the much larger features. You need to be able to think through what erosion and rehabilitation look like. You also have to understand the hole concepts and style found on a links and not resort to more standard American style ideas, like raising all the greens. My favourite work at Kingsbarns was the many greens that come in on grade or others that fall with grade. Rather than having the greens always pitch from the traditional back to front he mixed up the variety which held far more interest. I think one of our biggest failings in North American golf architecture is not building enough greens that are extensions of the fairway. That is one of the ideas that I will certainly bring to my first solo course. This style of green play encourages the option between using the ground or flying it in, the traditional North America style green site almost always requires a ball in the air.

Does Kingsbarns deserve the praise and world attention it gets? Yes, they were able to create a modern course from scratch that appears like a links course. Considering what they started with, this is a testament to some very talented people and a fantastic imagination. It is one of the best four or five modern courses I have seen.