Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Architect #15 – William Langford

(Courtesy of Geoff Shackelford's "Golden Age of Golf Design")

Best Course: Lawsonia

Other notable work: Wakonda, Harrison Hills, Skokie and Happy Hollow

Overview: William Langford was a civil engineer who graduated from both Yale and then Columbia University. There have been many suggestions that his work was heavily influenced by his exposure to the work of MacDonald beginning with the National Golf Links of America. Others have pointed specifically to Raynor’s work at Chicago Golf Club since it was in his home town. No matter if any particular course influenced him Langford’s work certainly is reminiscent of Raynor, Banks and MacDonald.

Lawsonia's 5th (Courtesy of GolfClubAtlas.com)

William Langford and Theodore Moreau formed their design partnership in Chicago in 1918 and went on to build around 200 courses throughout the Midwest leaving a legacy of excellence and influence in particular for Pete and Alice Dye.

Praise for the work: His work is unmistakable particularly when he used very muscular forms to emphasize a green site or a bunker location. His boldly contoured plateau greens stand out in golf course architecture for their scale and when defended by deep bunkers became intimidating and beautiful at the same time. What makes the green sites so incredible is how he softened his transitions more than Raynor which made his green sites blend in better with the surroundings.

His routings were terrific in the way he would identify the most interesting land for fairways and have the holes tumble up and down the landscape until they would end at either a natural green site or one that he would create. He incorporated ravines, hilltops, and valleys but could also create features that were just as interesting. One particularly effective technique of his was to use bunkers to curve the fairway back and forth like an “s” to create very strategic holes, where a player was asked to consider working the ball both directions to succeed.

The greatest characteristic of his work was the monumental scale he used and how appropriate it was for the mid-west landscape. Where he worked with large open sites he produced features large and powerful enough to compete with the long views and the endless horizon.
Harrison Hills amazing 15th (Courtesy of GolfClubAtlas.com)

Criticisms: Many of the greens are on high plateaus with bunkers or banks so deep that the average player almost has no way to recover. The severity of his features makes them penal. There is also the question about the volcanic appearance of some green sites and whether a more lay of the land green site would have been more natural and more appropriate. Like many others I have brought up, most questions come through the severity of his forms.

Great Quotes: “Hazards should be placed so that any player can avoid them if he gauges his ability correctly, so that these obstacles will make every man’s game more interesting, no matter what class player he is.”

Favourite Course: Lawsonia From the tee you are asked to skirt cavernous bunkers to gain position, the fairways roll up and down an to and thro, the green sites test you nerve and skill with the certainty of trouble if you miss, and finally the wild undulating contours of the greens are some of the more dramatic in golf. From short threes to long muscular fours and fives, the course offers it all from beginning to end. This may be the best course that few know.
Lawsonia's 18th, the flag is the only clue to the massive scale (Courtesy of GolfClubAtlas.com)

What I take from him:
Very few can work in a large scale successfully and Langford was one of the very best. He built landforms and features that were able to compete with the vast spaces that he was often asked to design a course over. He knew that in this case size mattered.


Guy said...

Also known for his work on the Daily Show. What a dead ringer for Jon Stewart!

Anonymous said...

The Links at Lawsonia is such a great course. I was blown away by Langford's vision.

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Anonymous said...

I was a caddy at Wakonda Club many years ago. Langford designed some interesting holes there and the green complexes were probably his genius. It is an inspiring course to play. I remember a couple of holes where it appears that the club took out his original bunker, making some of the holes less severe. I remember this particularly on the par 5 8th hole. I know the course has been tweaked over the years, but apparently they haven't severely changed Langford's overall vision.

Smiling Dog Surfer said...

I have recently taken on the responsibility for marketing a course in Martin County Florida purportedly designed by William Langford. The course will undergo some sort of revitalization/restoration, and in that context I am looking for sources of background information and documents, perhaps even original course design documents.

The course was originally commissioned by the St. Lucie Golf Club and Tennis Court Club (Stuart, FL) in the early 1920s. When the first 9 opened in February 1924, it took the name “St. Lucie River Country Club".

Ultimately, the course passed to Martin County, with management by a private board. The Langford designed course, with some modifications, is still played today, though it is in tough shape.

Any tips or pointers on where to continue my research? In that regard, I have been trying to find contact information for a Mark Chalfant who wrote an article about Langford's courses.

If you can shed some light on all this, please drop me a note at canderso@martin.fl.us

Anonymous said...

The volcanic is what makes him so great.
One never forgets these holes and the pure fun playing them.
His stature in design just grows and grows.