I’m still on the road for one last day, so the architect countdown returns on Tuesday. I wrote these thoughts while on the plan today.
I’ve just spent the last couple of days at Jasper Park Lodge playing golf with the Director of Golf Allan Carter and the Golf Superintendent Perry Cooper. The chance to talk with both men about the merits of my favorite Thompson course was a real treat. The moment that stuck with me the most was the two completely different conversations that took place on the 8th hole. To set the stage I will explain the 8th hole. The tee shot is from an elevated tee aimed directly between a 30 high foot ridge on the right and another 30 foot hill on the left both featuring very steep banks where the fairway passes between. The aiming point is made clearer by the narrow band of fairway that flows between these spectacular slopes. The approach shot is then about 30 degrees to the right with the green set on the same angle as the fairway. The green is sloped sharply from back to front with a large treed hillside behind and a sharp drop off on the front left. It is one of the best holes on the course, and one of the best reverse cant holes I have seen – period.
With Allan the first day, we talked about the natural aiming point between the hills, the fact that the land falls sharply left requiring pin point accuracy to try squeeze a ball between the hills, the need for a new back tee to return the correct landing zone, the extra fairway on the left short of the hill that still provides a great line in (just longer), the way the 8th green requires a draw approach from a natural draw lie, the fact that Thompson placed the green so naturally under the massive slope in a natural amphitheater, the deep hollow on the front left that gobbles the short aggressive approach leaving a tough recovery, the fact that he used no bunkers (nor were any needed) and finally the steepness of the green which is hard to see due to the greens proximity to the hill. In short, the hole is flawless.
The approach shot taken from low on the left hill
The next day I played with Perry Cooper and Perry had a completely different view of the hole. The area that Thompson chose for the tee limited tee surface and had the morning sun blocked by the mountain and trees. The natural valley where the fairway is built is directly on top of rock making the turf always wilt in the heat. The carts have to run on the fairway due to the rolls and hills on both sides and are forced through a neck 20 feet wide between the two ridges leaving the turf always stressed out (it was a walking course). The green itself is below a large bowl where water and ice all congregate at the green causing this to be a tough site for winter damage. The trees and mountain beyond are both in a location that limits the early morning sun which makes the spring particularly tough. Add in this is the coldest spot on the course through elevation and location and you can have frost issues up at the 8th green while the rest of the course is easily playable. Perry has his hands full.
The fascinating part of this is the conflict between the two professions. I’m sure Perry would love to move the hole or at least the green site just to give him a fighting chance of dealing with the tough conditions he has to deal with and the expectations that he has to meet. Anyone knowing anything about turf grass in the mountains will know the idea of great turf at Jasper early is a Herculean task for even someone as experienced as Perry. People have the nerve to complain about a bit of winter kill, when the course (in my opinion) was in great shape and will be in magnificent shape in a very short time – the time when they used to traditionally open due to weather. I feel for Perry’s situation at Jasper and this hole in particular. I say this but I could never support any change to the architecture of this hole since it is one of the highlights of the course.
That said I do think they need to: build a new back tee to return the correct landing area for the better players, route a new path left through the trees and around the back of the large hill on the left to take cart traffic out of the middle of the fairway, sand cap the fairway to help the wilting issue, remove trees from above the green, and (without the aid of research) return the feeder slope on the right of the green that should be there to feed the ball into the green. Architects will always find great holes that create tougher situations for superintendents, the trick is to limit the amount they have to deal with and alleviate as much of the potential problems as you can. In restoration and renovation the ideas are the same, you make all the possible improvements to the maintenance issues while keeping the architect’s vision..