Friday, May 25, 2007

Architect #22 – Max Behr

Best Course: Lakeside Golf Club in California

Other notable work: Rancho Santa Fe: (written by Geoff Shackelford) Behr’s brilliantly routed inland masterpiece in San Diego incorporated coastal sage scrub and land features to create strategic interest.

Overview: Max Behr is one of the greatest writers on golf of all time and was the first editor of Golf Illustrated. He also provided the single best explanation about what golf architects should be trying are to accomplish with strategies and the playing experience (see below).

Praise for the work: Max Behr was a bit of a radical in his approach. He disliked the use of rough and preferred to have wide open areas where strategy was dictated by bunkering. He talked eloquently about the placement of hazards with the following quote, “The direct line to the hole is called the line of instinct, and to make a great hole you must break up that line in order to create a line of charm. The line of charm is the provocative path that shaves off distance and provides an ideal an ideal line into the green, usually by skirting bunkers and other hazards. The golfer wants the most direct line he can find to the hole, while the architect uses bunkers and other hazards to create risk and reward options that suggest the ideal line for the player, or the line of charm.” He actively defended his greens from all but the ideal line using green contours, approach slopes and bunkers to make placement from the tee more important than it initially appeared.

The 13th at Lakeside Golf Club (photo courtesy of Geoff Shackelford's The Golen Age of Golf Design)

Criticisms: The question raised by one architect was if his work was so great - why did so little of it survive. Some criticism has been suggested that he was a far better writer than architect.

Great Quotes: “The concern of the architect should be positive and have solely to do with what a golfer should do. His mission is not that or a moralist, the principle word of whose vocabulary is DON”T. The golfer should not be made to feel that he must renounce, that the primary object for him is to conquer his faults. It is not for the architect to inform him he played badly. That is for the professional. No, the mission of the architect is that of a leader. By the development of his hazards he exhorts the golfer to do his best, enticing him at times ‘to shoot the bones for the whole works.’ Thus he instills the golfer a spirit of conquest by presenting him with definite objectives upon which he must concentrate. It is for the golfer to stamp his law upon the ground. It is no way the business of the architect to stamp his law upon the golfer. But thus it is in most cases. The penal school of golf spells death to that spirit of independence, life and freedom which we are all seeking, and which we should find in all places of our recreation.”

A shorter one: “What then, should the function of hazards be? The answer is: to attack skill through the mind.”

His best: Lakeside Golf Club (written by Geoff Shackelford) Bobby Jones fell in love with Max Behr’s inland links while filming his 1931 golf movies. Behr believed in wide fairways and multiple hole location options to dictate tee shot placement. It is safe to say that Lakeside inspired Jones and MacKenzie to go forward with Augusta National’s revolutionary design.

What I take from him: His thoughts about playing freedom have shaped my design philosophy and I know put a lot of time in designing towards the ideal playing experience because of his writings. He has made me determined to design in the freedom for players to choose the routes they want to take, the difficulty they will take on and the playing experience they want for themselves.


Anonymous said...

Good get on Max Behr. I too am a big fan of the defending the "Line of Charm". I beleive it to be the basic principle of golf architecture. Without it, golf resembles bowling - a clear alley with the penalty along both sides.

Also, we now know that JS is really Max reincarnated.

Simbo Jones said...

Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club is way better than Lakeside. Rancho is just was too exclusive for anyone to realize it. Non the less, Max is the bomb.

xyz said...

Having now played Hacienda and Rancho Santa Fe, I must say Max was something special as an architect, not just a phenomenal writer. Keep up the good work, Ian.


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Unknown said...

Ian, my name is Tim Barrier CGCS and I've been the Golf Course Superintendent at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club for 25 years. I have some unique perspective on Max Behr. Give me a call sometime and we can have a chat.

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