Friday, March 02, 2007

Finding a Theme before a Design

Sand Hills, a discovered routing through patience and architecture that matches the scale and raw qualities of the site

I’ve spent the entire week talking about style of play. I think before you design a single hole, you must make decisions on how you want the course to play, what you want it to look like and what you want the course to be. I think if you simply sit down to design holes, you will follow patterns and tendencies that produce a consistent style but avoid exploring all the possibilities. Often you need to take a step back and think of all the other great holes you have seen in order to find the right inspiration or to explore all the possibilities for a potential new approach.

When I sat down to work through some routing ideas and concepts for the changes that will eventually come at Saskatoon Golf & Country Club, if found myself taking the time to write down what the course was supposed to be. I committed myself to the idea that Bill Kinnear’s architectural style would be the basis of what I was going to do. Since I would be adding new holes to existing holes I had an obligation to make them match as close as possible so that the course would remain cohesive. I wrote down typical fairway widths, noted the bunker placement patterns, looked at his green sites, and considered his playing strategies at Saskatoon and Riverside. This didn’t mean that I was left to copy holes, what it meant was I had a playing style and aesthetic that became my framework before I began even to route. When I went looking for holes, it was a combination of natural features and similar style holes that drove the process.

The hole aimed out at the quarry butte, lots of width, bunkers moved into the interior of the fairway, multiple options for play

Let’s look at this using another project to explain this process further. I worked on a design for a quarry site near St. Catharines. I had no framework and was left to make decisions on how I wanted the course to play. It was completely up to me what aesthetic I wanted to bring and what I felt should be the overall experience. The nice part was I had such a dramatic site that many decisions made themselves. There were limitations to how I could route because of the space and severe topography, but the eventual routing left holes with width. With width came the opportunity to use of the interior bunkering to get the playing characteristics that I have lovingly described over the last two days. I had set out to embrace the quarry at every opportunity and routed until it became a key feature or backdrop at every hole. Every hole featured the quarry prominently, so that it was the main theme for the course, even the whispy native grasses around the quarry edges gave inspiration to a bunker style and a look that would blend best with the site.

Many people thing that anyone can design golf course, but we all know lots that you that leave you uninspired and very few that you wish you could play every day. The greatest courses have almost invariably come from a clear philosophy on how the game should be played and the ability of the designer to give the player the freedom to explore and discover their way around the course.


Cassandra said...

How interesting! Kind of like deciding to write a poem in iambic pentameter!

Evan said...

Great post Ian. Thinking about courses that I really enjoyed they all had a certain feel to them and there are a lot of courses I've played that I thought it had some good holes, but it seemed out of focus. I guess this is because of the use of different styles within the course (also somebody revamping an old course with a new style) gives you the sense that you're playing different courses within the same round. Your final thoughts in the post are 100% accurate when I think about golf courses and their design and enjoyability.

Tim Nugent said...

This is the intuitive stuff that separates the golf course architect from thr armchair architects. It was nice that you used both remodelling and a "from scratch" example, as both have their own parameters. In many instances, it is this "Big Picture" design theme that is left to the domain of the Principal architect (ie. Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, etc.). Then the project architect is left to actually "grunt-out" the design and do all the detail work. You should also mention that this is the main reason why guys like you - someone who labored for a long time under Doug, wish to hang out thier own shingle. It's not that there is any problem between you and him (like you've tried to explain) but rather, you had gone as far as you could and needed the ability to take on the daunting take of being the final arbitrator of the design "theme, strategy, and style". You may also want to expand on the trend of design fatigue experienced from the "big name/associate(s)" firms - see above - verses the more varied offings of solo or partner firms. In the Big Name firms, the associates know what the "Name principal" likes and naturally keeps doing that in order to "please" him. This limits the amount of "out-of-the-box" design that an associate is willing to risk. Soloists (Dye, Stranz for example), on the other hand, are free to push the envelope because, well...they can. This is perhaps the one main reason why people are now returning to the Golden Age architects. These guys had that freedom and that's why their courses still stand up today.