Friday, December 22, 2006

The Year in Review – Part Five – A Philosophical Look at My Business

The restored creek and bunkers at the Cutten Club

The first year is essentially finished and that’s why this becomes such a great time to look back at what was accomplished, and to have a look forward at what I want to achieve in the years ahead. When I started out in January, I produced a full business plan and one day in the middle of working on it, I decided that I really should write down my long term goal. This is what I wrote:

"I want to have a small boutique firm known for the quality of its work. My aim is to develop a clientele that I enjoy working with and to work on the courses that I admire. I will continue to actively preserve important works of golf course architecture for future generations to study. I will give myself the freedom to choose work so that I still have time for my family. My number one goal is to develop a few new courses where I will show that Canadian golf needs to return completely to the ideas of the Golden Age if there is going to be a new course built that finally rivals Thompson’s best."

In looking back I have achieved many of the goals I had set out to accomplish. I have enough work going forward that I can now be selective about the projects that I take on and the people I choose to work with. While I’m in a position where I could potentially expand, I’m going to stay small and selective rather than becoming like Tom, Doug or Graham. My original mantra was less work and more time spent producing a higher quality of work; that is still my philosophy going forward.

Obviously I have not developed a new course but I am confident that someone will see me as an opportunity to build something a little better than what’s being currently built. Since my philosophy involves less disruption to the natural site, they will also enjoy the benefit of a much more economical build while still getting all the great Golden Age design philosophies that have been proven to build better courses. I will build great courses that are also great businesses models; I won’t be building any monuments that have no economic viability.

The more I write, the more I have become interested in writing. In particular, I have always believed that nobody has yet written anything definitive on the golf architecture of Stanley Thompson. My interest is not about writing a book, in fact I don’t have the ability to do that, but in eventually sharing what I have learnt. I’ve been considering the idea of an essay on Thompson’s evolution as a designer. I have almost all the research that I require, but I’m too busy to take this on.

Blog will return between Christmas and New years family dependent.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Year in Review – Part Four – The Blog

I began this little exercise begrudgingly cursing Robert Thompson all the way for suggesting this was something that I should do. I was dumb enough to be initially excited which resulted in me sending out emails to friends and people in the golf industry to let them know I was going to write a regular blog and that they should check it out. While I was long on opinion, I was short on writing talent, and quickly wondered if I was going to make a fool of myself.

While I still occasionally curse this blog, I must give full credit to Robert since this turned out to be an outstanding idea. My original belief was this blog would be used to promote my ideas, my business and my views; but really it evolved into a completely different outlet. I do use the blog as an ongoing place to let people know what I’m up to, but it’s now become more of a place for personal expression.

I’ve always had something to say and this gave me an opportunity to finally speak my mind on certain ideas and aspects of golf architecture. I found that the more I got into the blog, the more I became serious about writing on golf course architecture, the more I needed to read and research things to explain them to an audience. This helped me collect my thoughts and fully understand what I wanted to do in future projects. I gave me a much clearer picture of what I liked and what I didn’t like. It eventually lead to a clarity for what ideas in golf course architecture that I wanted to apply and has lead to me being better prepared to design a new course.

There were other lessons along the way. I found out quite quickly that I couldn’t say exactly what I thought. This still kills me at times since I’m fairly open and candid about what I think. Tom Doak’s style in the confidential guide was the original intent, but I eventually realized that I could not afford to be that candid in the end. I also discovered blogging has the grammar police and people expect the same quality of writing found in any printed publication. At first I was pissed off – but they won out – since I edited more to avoid them.

A regular blog like this is truly like writing a short column or articles a day. This was pressure that I didn’t expect and coupled with the constant search for fresh ideas, pressure that occasional makes me want to pack it all in. I think my strength was when I found big ideas to concentrate on. Looking at individual holes, hole types, or the basic elements of golf architecture has lead to the best of my writing. The 10 courses you should study was my personal favorite idea for a series –and it must have been a good idea –since it lead to a 4 page article in Travel + Leisure Golf that I’m quite proud of.

I plan to continue on exactly as I currently do even after I finish the year I committed to. I hope to eventually take people through the actual design of a course - on line – I just need that project (and that will come). You may get an advance look at this process since it looks like I will need to produce a series of holes this spring for a major renovation project. Till then I will finish the hole series and also put out a series on what I won’t do and why

Tomorrow: the final installment at my year looking back - my business in review

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Year in Review – Part Three – The Highlights!

Top Golf Architecture Story

No question the number one story in Golf Architecture is Tiger Woods Golf Design. I think this story represents the culmination of Tiger Woods as a brand. He will be paid more to design courses than anyone else in history without ever showing and any aptitude for the art…unless hitting a ball well counts. Golf continues to get more expensive and more exclusive as a result.

The Course You Hope Never Gets Built

I always wanted to see waterfalls and sand dunes combined and now I may finally get my wish. But wait there’s more…. “The Donald” has already suggested that this yet to be designed course will eventually hold a British Open! Wasn’t the K Club for the Ryder Cup bad enough? Trump claims his mother is distantly Scottish and that is why this is the perfect place for Trump International; all I can say is thank god he has no Canadian heritage. Here’s hoping the environmentalists or bankers kill this before he destroys another patch of prime landscape.

The Article that moved me the most

“For me Golf is at its best when I can feel the ground and the wind and here the swish of the clubhead, when my mind is pliant, ready and open, when I’m in tune with my surroundings. That’s when I have my perfect moments.”

Taken from a paragraph from Lorne Rubenstein’s piece called “On the Edge” printed in Travel + Leisure Golf. The story had a profound effect on me much like James Dodson’s “Final Rounds.” I got me thinking about what was important and what were the moments and places that I enjoyed the most. I enjoyed them a little bit more after reading his elegant prose.

Best Investigative Article

Robert Thompson’s expose of the RCGA was fascinating for what it brought to light, but even more so for the reaction it caused from the RCGA. It came at a time where people were openly questioning the RCGA and Stephen Ross in particular. Some of the quotes were startling and the revelations were often stunning even for me. It certainly stirred up Canadian Golf like no other article has in a long time; funny enough I think this was good for the RCGA because they are trying to become a more transparent organization.

The One I Didn’t Believe

The IPSOS Reid participation survey that the RCGA trotted out to say the game was growing ran flat into the face of an obvious decline in golf in Ontario. With most courses reporting a major decline in rounds this made most people question the results. When 25% of all players play in Ontario and all courses were feeling the pinch, how could they have got the result they did. Unless….the sample was small and represented every region equally which did not give proportional representation…..which created a convenient result.

Consistently the Best Golf Web Site

This will be renamed the Geoff award! I honestly don’t think there is a better source of information on golf. When you add in his sharp wit and terrific research, you get a wonderful dose of what’s going on a daily basis combined with hilarious opinion. Geoff is the USGA’s “inconvenient truth” writing about what ails the game, he is the voice of reason when the ruling bodies have lost their way.

The Confidential Guide to Canadian Golf

No blog is like Robert Thompson’s “Going For the Green” which provides more inside information into the going’s on in Canadian Golf than any other source. I find him funny, maddening, informative, and fearless. You won’t always agree with what he writes, but it certainly never boring to read either.

Best Architectural Quote I read all year

From Geoff Shackelford’s daily quotes: “when he is continually made to feel the birch-rod of the rough with its bunkers for every wayward shot, golf becomes an exercise of caution rather than of courage.” Max Behr

Tomorrow: a look back at the year with my blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Year in Review – Part Two – Architecture

When you look at Charles Blair MacDonald and Hugh Wilson, you realize that before they created The National Golf Links of America and Merion (East) - their respective masterpieces - they spent a great deal of time looking at other courses and other architects work. Both traveled abroad to look at the best holes on the finest courses, they evaluated the strategies, and they incorporated the best ideas in their own work. In that spirit what I wanted to do was present a list of what influenced me this year.

The Architect Who Sets My Bar

Up until recently I felt that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (C&C) were the benchmark for the best work currently being done. Their work at courses like Sand Hills and Friar’s Head has influenced a countless number of young designers into paying closer attention to the ground. Friar’s Head is a great example of not beginning a course until the right routing is found and not settling for anything less. Sand Hills is simply the landmark course for our generation of designers!

Over the last ten years Tom Doak has paid close attention to what Bill Coore was doing and there is a clear influence in his work. While there were signs of greatness in High Pointe, there is no question that Pacific Dunes marked Tom’s coming out party as a major force in golf architecture. Where he has really begun to shine is with his most recent work where he has shown his willingness to take even more risk than Bill Coore. He has begun to try new styles, has successful dealt with all types of sites and has continued to let his imagination and the imagination of his staff bring more new ideas to the table. I believe Tom just getting started, the 4th course at Bandon will be one to watch, and for that matter so will anything else he does.

The Course That Altered My Thinking

There is no doubt that Mike Strantz’s Tobacco Road was a course cut from a different cloth. I have never seen the combination of intimidation and opportunity so masterfully combined together. The course is maddening, exciting, fun, and frustrating all at the same time; but once you finish you can’t wait to play it again. As an architect you admire his audacity to build something so different and controversial. I admire the man for having a real philosophy. He built his course to look very difficult but actually play a little easier than they appeared so that you had a bigger thrill when you made a great shot. I commend Mike for talking so many chances from intentional blindness to very wild greens he certainly pushed the envelope better than anyone else. I’m sad at his passing for the genius to come and the family left behind.

The Most Interesting Feature I Saw

I still think that Gil Hanse is the wild card to me. There is an immense amount of talent inside Gil, and yet there are things that I occasionally don’t get with his work. He is the one most capable of finding a completely fresh idea that will catch people off guard. I went out to see Castle Stewart near Inverness, Scotland and was blown away by the very unique bunker detailing that he was going to use. The idea was to make bunkering that looked like the famous Hutcheson photos from the turn of the century. Imagine sod walls with broken edges. Castle Stewart is going to be completely shaped like Kingsbarns, and where Kingsbarns occasionally looked too modern (shaped) to be a true links, Gil is going to extremes to make sure he doesn’t have the same issues. This is the single course I most look forward to seeing done. I think it will change his career overnight.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Year in Review – Part One - Professional Golf

This week will be my year in review beginning with my feelings towards the current state of professional golf.

I watched a grand total of three tournaments this year and none from start to finish. I used to watch around 20 tournaments a year but have grown to hate the professional game. “Bomb and gouge” has lead to “dull and unwatchable” for me. I miss the style of professional golf that got me interested in the game where players with skill had as much chance as players with power. I miss the banter I began with from with players like Chi Chi, Jake and the Merry Mex, now each player seems to spend as much time with a media relations expert as they do with a swing teacher. When I saw last weeks article on Jim Furyk in the Wall Street Journal talking about him as a small corporation – I knew why and where the game had changed – and why I no longer watched.

This isn’t the first time a profession sport has lost me – professional tennis was the first one I remember. I was a huge tennis fan as a teenager. I rooted against Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors but loved watching them play. I loved the antics and game of John McEnroe trying to overcome the incredible skill and dominance of Bjorn Borg. The game was full of strategy, counterpunching and even the strength of a big serve was not enough to beat “the complete player”. Then the game changed – the larger racket and tennis academy created a game dominated by the serve – I watched for a while before giving up. I lost interest with that style of game and the new players like Lendl that lacked the personality to carry the game forward.

Hockey has been a lifetime passion for me and watching it was another of my favorite pastimes. Hockey is another game that I’m only just trying to return to after 5 years of refusing to watch. To give you perspective of how into watching hockey I was, I participated in a rotisserie league and hockey pools for 20 years before giving up watching altogether. I gave up on the game when coaching - and the neutral zone trap in particular - removed the need for skill from the game. As the game got slower and defense ruled the thinking of everyone involved – the general manager made it worse by only drafting the biggest and strongest players ignoring smaller players with superior skill. “Dump and chase” removed the need for skating, stick-handling and passing. They finally fixed the game in order to bring back the fans after the ridiculous strike last year. Now we talk about Ovechkin and Crosby rather than the Left wing lock.

This year I stopped following the PGA tour. I don’t care for any of the players, I hate the present version of the game, and now even the venues are awful. The rise of the tournament player courses and the use of horrible layouts for majors have been the final nail in the coffin. Courses such as Valhalla, Hazeltine, Atlanta Athletic Club, The K Club, Medinah, just to name a few only feed into the worst aspects that professional golf has to offer. Not to mention they have all been selected for financial reasons rather than quality venues. Even Augusta is not quite as interesting down the stretch as it once was. I’m waiting for the Tour Players Course in LA so that I can finally stop watching completely.