Friday, March 23, 2007

1970-1980 Jack Nicklaus begins...

Another fascinating period for what it meant to the future of golf course architecture. As an important side note, what I’m going to continue to talk about is the major events and major players in the design business who have made a lasting impact on the way golf architecture is now practiced. This means I will skip by some who did have an impact. That was always the idea of this series – but I know that I’ve now entered the era where most architects are alive and many are in practice – and a few may be sensitive to being ignored.

This era was the initial sign of the future rise of the celebrity or “brand-named” designer. The first “name” designer was Jack Nicklaus, the designer of Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville, who remains even through to today the best known of the “brand-name” designers – those golf architects who are recognizable by name. His later successful transition from player to architect ushered in the next great architectural trend – one that remains prevalent today – the trend to hire a “brand name” designer to design a new course. Nicklaus’s serious interest began with his visits to The Golf Club to see what Pete Dye was building. While he struggled with many of the ideas that Pete had, he certainly became increasingly interested enough to get eventually involved with Pete - as only a consultant - at Harbour Town in South Carolina. Harbour Town turned out to be ground breaking and the flash point to beginning a new trend in golf course architecture. Harbour Town may have been the symbolic end to the Trent Jones era even though he and many others continued to build in that style long after the popularity had declined.

In 1973, Jack would work with Desmond Muirhead to develop Muirfield Village Golf Club, the new home for his Mermorial Tournament. The plan involved a tournament course - largely based upon Augusta National - and a housing community built around the outside of the course largely to finance the project. Muirhead planned the community and (according to most) routed the golf course. Desmond was a man with unusual ideas - and likely frustrated Jack – and they parted ways before the course was built. Jack hired Bob Cupp and Jay Morrish to be his staff and to see the course through to completion. Jay Morrish was the on site architect for Muirfield Village. The course displayed Jack’s ideas about play - demanding high soft approach shots - and aesthetics. H followed this approach until the last few years where he softened his demands on players and began to build courses that were a little more player friendly - and better from my view. With the success of the Memorial Tournament and the high praise for the course, Jack Nicklaus was in high demand right from the outset. He would become one of the most prolific golf architects in this era.

Pete Dye was definitely the rising star in golf architecture circles during the 1970’s. The decade began with Harbour Town, which immediately attracted golfer’s imagination during the Heritage Tournament. They were enthralled by his courses that looked so different than anything else they had seen. The timber banks, waste bunkers, pot bunkers, tiny greens, use of accent grasses in the bunkers, tight fairways, etc. This looked nothing like their home course and golfers traveled in droves to see this magical place.

This happened because this was also the decade where televised golf took off with large ratings brought upon by stars - like Jack Nicklaus. The public was now exposed to all these new courses through their television and this exposure was responsible for the rise of Pete Dye.


Chris Henry said...

Informative as always. It's an education to read your blog, Ian. Well done!

Thomas said...

Just to clarify, and I confirmed this recently with a wise old sage that Desmond was at the tail end of completing Muirfield Village, or at least it was close to being completed. This person who was also involved told that on paper, here one would think that they would have been perfect for one another--they complimented one another--on paper. However it was those two egos that simply got in the way. There was lots of turmoil.

As a friend of the man, I can attest his passion for Muirfiled Village was just as enduring as his love affair with books. MV was his baby, which made it even more intense when it was somewhat ruthlessly taken from him. Desmond claimed that if Charlie Nicklaus hadn't of passed on, he would have kept Jack in line and not let his ego get in the way and I have always believed him on that. Desmond was very enamored with the senior Nicklaus.

In the same breath, Desmond was also very disenchanted with one person in particular--a fine man himself--Jay Moorish. I can attest to at least two conversations I had with Desmond where he would exclaim hurt and anger at his former associate. Jay worked directly for Desmond. He hired himand gave him his chance, and when loyalty could have helped in dealing or smoothing out a rough situation for the boss, Jay bought into the champion golfer mentality. While some will think this was a great move on Jay's part and that he made the most of it, I've seen the look of hurt and betrayal on a certain face of one of the more interesting characters of golf from our life time.

I haven't seen MV in person, but I can say that looking at pictures and seeing it on TV, the typical Desmond features are there. Look at the free flowing style of how the pakes and ponds were constructed, those outlines, and it's Muirhead all the way. Same with the strategies that once existed there.

Desmond for all of his quirks LOVED strategy. Now if I could have ever convinced him to stop building some of that other stuff!

PS: I have all of the original routing, land planning maps and land use plans for Muirfield Village. The routing map is clearly in Desmond's hand. Given that at that particular time--the practice and playing schedule of a champion golfer--I'll almost guarantee it that JAck's sites visits were quick and blunt, which more then likely killed Golforce.

That's what I know of it...

Dick said...

My dad worked for Keith Dewar who was building all of Nicklaus' early courses and at the time Jack was working with Desmond Muirhead.
This was in the late sixties and early seventies and they did courses at Palm Springs, Bay City, Michigan, Dallas Texas, Huthison Island Florida (Sailfish Point) and then M Village.
Dad was not very impressed with Jay either, but liked a guy named Joe Mullinoux (sp)?
These were all before the Abbey when Jack went on his own, but still used Dewar and his shapers, etc. which is why the Abbey has Desmonds contours etc.

Ian Andrew said...


I would love to see the routing plan just to see how much the original course has been tinkered with over the years.

I enjoyed your post and the perspective it offered.


Sam What Am said...

I just played Silver Springs Shores for the second time. #18 is one of the most innovative golf holes I have ever seen. #3 is a "Tin Cup" hole; a 350 yd par 4 around a lake, but you can try to hit the green from the tee over 270 yds of water. I knew the architect had to have been someone special. So, I've spent the last hour reading about Desmond Muirhead.

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