courtesy of Ron Whitten
Best Course: Engineers Golf Club
Other notable work: Ponte Vedra Golf Course, Canterbury Golf Club, Saucon Valley (old), Manior Richleau
Overview: Strong left for the United States in 1905 and became the professional at Apawamis Club, a course featuring pronounced land forms and blind shots. When you combine this with his time spent at Royal St. George’s, you start to see a lot of his architectural influence. In 1911, he moved to Inwood Country Club and remodeled the course over several years eventually leading to the course hosting both a PGA Championship and U.S. Open.
He believed in the need for good shot-making and felt that a player should pay the price for a poorly executed shot - occasionally with very dire results. His greens were what set him apart and often set more of the strategy than the more famous bunkers. He designed boldly contoured that required careful approach, from the ideal side of the fairway to avoid running through the green and into trouble beyond.
Praise for the work: At Engineers, Strong's routing approached the hills from every conceivable angle making a full and varied use of the available topography. He routed holes that play straight up the hill, had holes that are routed along the crests with second shots to green sites placed below, and even from one hill to the next. He brought you in at an angle and off the top depending on what topography he could take advantage of. His routing skills were even more impressive at Manior Richleau where he managed to find a great course on a very severe piece of topography with 400 feet of elevation change.
The more subtle joy of Strong’s work was the positioning of play. Players were left often to figure out the need for position off the tee. While a play to an open area in the fairway would seem initially ideal, in reality the contours of the green would be extremely tough to access from that angle and the approach would run off the surface and into trouble. This left the player to think that they simple failed to execute the shot, when in reality they failed to play to the right position to approach the green.
The 2 or 20 hole
Criticisms: The criticism is pretty consistent about the severity of his architecture – even today Engineers appears to be looking to soften the contour of his greens for playability. He architecture has been labeled “a bag of tricks” used to make his course tough rather than good. Most struggle with the boldness and aggressiveness of the architectural forms that he used.
My favourite: The original Manior Richleau was fully of fascinating holes that tumbled up and down one of the most severe properties you’ll ever see.
What I take from him: The ability to find good holes on land that seems far too severe for golf. The guts to build very bold and distinctive holes that are open to criticism but clearly are more thought provoking and interesting than most other architects work. That green slopes are still the single best defense of a hole.