Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mention in Golfweek by Brad Kliein

This past week I was featured in Golfweek Magazine (US) in the Eye on Architecture section. Brad Klien provides an interesting page dedicated just to architecture, with a feature called Design 101, in this case a short quiz and a feature on an architect. Much to my great surprise, Brad called and wanted to profile what I was up to. He featured a before and after image of Scarboro and talked about my skills with before and after images in the feature (The before image was cut off from the clipping that was easiest to read).

I’ve always been a big fan of Brad, he certainly knows his architecture, and I particularly enjoyed his book called Discovering Donald Ross. It is one of the books in my library that I read regularly when I'm looking for more subtle ideas on architecture.

Click on the image to read the article

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.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Should bunkers be inside the fairway lines only?

Pacific Dunes #3, offers an excellent example

The best bunkers are built when they are placed where you want to go. I’m not talking about cutting off an avenue of approach, but in a position where you would have naturally played for if there were no bunkers. Or as Alister Mackenzie eloquently said, “A hazard placed in the exact position where a player would naturally go is frequently the most interesting situation, as then special effort is needed to get over or avoid it”

The 16th at St. Andrew’s is made by the location of the Principal’s nose. The bunker cluster is about 260 yards off the tee in the exact location you would play for if the hole had no bunkers. Because of the out of bounds is on the right edge of the fairway, you would naturally aim to the left side of that fairway hoping to cut it back into the middle. Therefore the bunker location creates an instant decision from the tee.

The Braid Bunker at Nairn

The 5th hole at Nairn is a favourite of mine and the bunker added by James Braid makes an enormous difference to your decision making from the tee. It’s not in the exact position you would like to go, since that involves hugging the beach, but in the exact place you would naturally bail to avoiding flirting with the beach. Braid keeps you honest with that one simple bunker.

My final example is the 5th hole at Friar’s Head. Coore and Crenshaw placed a bunker about 260 yards out from the tee, right in line with the green, that must be flown or skirted if you want to reach the green on this short par four. The smart play is to lay-up, but this solitary bunker challenges your psyche and makes you want to flirt with certain trouble. Mike Stranz suggests that, “The more you flirt with a hazard – the closer you stay to hazards or successfully carry hazards – the shorter the distance you should have to a hole with a better angle of approach” By moving bunkers to the interior of the fairways, you have to flirt even more in order to gain the best position on the hole. The remaining width on either side of the bunkering is to allow for more options for positional play and more width for the average player.

Frair's Head's 5th hole bunker, right where you want to hit it

As Willie Park Jr. summed up my thoughts best, “If a bunker is visible to the player, and there is sufficient room to avoid it, it is the player’s responsibility to steer clear of it.” If there are optional ways around the hazard and different ways to play the hole, now we have a lot more interest that flanking fairway bunkers could ever provide.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spirit of Freedom

I have provided you with one of my favourite quotes I know in regards to the spirit of the game:

“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.” – Max Behr

I will always prefer to play holes where I have clear alternatives. I’m not talking about a hole where I can try cutting a corner to gain a better angle in, but a hole where I can play it a multitude of ways in order to secure a score. Think of the 14th at St. Andrews as a prime example, the hole is full of optional routes and favors no particular type of player. You can choose so many different lines in order to suit your own ability and set up your preferred selection on the approach. Holes like this can be played so many ways that it would take 100’s of rounds of discovery to figure out what work best for you – and even that would depend on the wind and how you’re playing. Discovery and freedom are two aspects that I enjoy as a player, it why holes like this have caught my imagination as a designer.

The goal of the architect is to provide an interesting a playing experience as possible. There is nothing more interesting than having an optional way to play a shot or to play a hole. When a decision doesn’t make itself for you and you truly have to choose – these are the moments of freedom that captures the spirit of the game describe by Max Behr.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why a Par 72?

Capilano's opening hole

I wrote yesterday about Rye Golf Club in England being a par 68. Rye is probably one of the most underrated courses in the world primarily because people have a tough time dealing with the unconventional par. Why has par become so important that most new courses are built to a par of 72 because it’s an assumed standard? I can only imagine how many layouts have been compromised or even ruined with an architect trying to find one or two extra par fives to ensure their course adds up to 72.

How many courses feature inferior holes because a course can’t let go of a number? People are still fairly tolerant of a par 71 but any mention of going to a par 70 makes them bristle because this is assumed to be inferior. It’s funny that most US Open venues are now played at par 70, because this is the only way to defend par. I have a club with a very short par five that in today’s game plays as a strong par four. The club is so concerned with maintaining the current par, that they are willing to entertain many costly changes just to maintain the par five. A change on the card would incur no extra cost. It makes my head spin some times.

There was a lot of criticism of Capilano’s recent decision to change the par on the first and tenth holes to four, which reflected the way they played. The members par remained as it always was. For perspective if you’re not familiar with the holes, I’m not long, but I had a nine iron into the first and a six iron into the tenth when I played there last time. The change in par reflected today’s game, and the change cost the club nothing, but there were a vocal group who felt this was a bad decision. Why, the course stayed exactly the same, only the number of strokes required was changed. One way to deal with technology isn’t it? You think historical clubs don’t do this – what if I told you that the Road hole at St. Andrew’s was once a par five. This has been going on for a long time and some of our greatest par and a half holes have come from this process.
Capilano's approach to the 10th green

So as I like to do – let’s take this a step further. Why can’t I design a par 69 or 68 right out of the gate? It would take less land and be faster to play. Since all par fives are either reachable, or become so long that they make horrible holes that eat large acreages of land, why not build far fewer. I know, I know - the answer is convention, and the risk is players will refuse to play a course that has a par in the 60’s. Truth is that this is too big a risk to take that chance.

Let’s look at another possibility, - what if the scorecard had no par listed anywhere and offered a final par only in the total? Would this bother you, or would it release you to simply play the hole as it comes? I still think one solution to fight technology is to lower par. At least we would stop rebuilding classic courses and stop increasing the acreage required for new courses. Makes you wonder, is a course as old as Rye the future rather than a break with convention.

Monday, February 26, 2007

10 Course I want to See and Why – Part 2

I’ve considered an awful lot of courses today and settled on my final five. While I could keep going with this list probably forever, I thought it better to stick to the initial question. It pained me not to select courses like Ballybunion or Fishers Island, which both capture my imagination and I will likely play them before any of my 10 courses on the list. I was stuck to five that offered something different or vital lessons in architecture that I still could use.

Rye Golf Links, Guy Campbell

My interest in Rye is two-fold. I want to see if the absence of a true three shot hole (the first is a par five at 485 yards) has any effect on what I think of the experience. I’m curious to see if I or my companions would realize. I doubt I will notice, and this may offer a huge impact on my feelings about an over-all par. The other side of Rye is the unbelievable variety and quality of golf holes. Rye’s holes are a text book on the variety of opportunities available to using a landform. The holes take on the dominat ridges by diagonally attacking them, playing off them, between them, over them, from top to top, or the devilish run along the very top of the ridgeline itself. All the possibilities are there!

Myopia Hunt, Herbert Leeds

I’ve always had an attraction to courses that represent a specific time in architectural evolution. This is one of the first, if not the firs, great American course. There is much to learn from the use of bunkering through to the importance of cant in a green. Severe and complicated greens can sometimes be a consistent but strong slope and there are some fine examples here. There is probably the finest collection of short holes in golf, so this for me is a must play since I could argue that this is one of the keys to greatness.

Woodhall Spa Golf Club, SV Hotchkins

If you have ever seen a set of photos that illustrate the bunkering and green sites at Woodhall Spa, then you know where I’m going with this one. The bunkering leans on the severe end of things being very tight and very deep, but this is also the element that sets this one apart. You can’t help but be impressed by the steepness and tightness of the faces right agains t the greens themselves. It begs to question how we do our bunkers and offers new insight into what is possible and to what effect it could create. The heather and gorse add texture and colour to the bunker edges to really make this course stand out. Not to mention that there happens to be a magnificent course also waiting to be enjoyed.

Winged Foot , AW Tillinghast

The only really famous course on my list, but selected for so many reasons that it became a must. There may be few better examples of how to make a course tough and demanding particularly at the greens. I have long been fascinated by the green sites and how Tillinghast created depth and demand by flaring up the sides of the greens. The bunkers flanking the greens are some of the most severe and beautiful in golf. But the most important reason because the course is spectacular despite being built over very average land.

Royal Worlington and Newmarket

Once again any course on an average site that manages to find every nuance available in the land and become a great course is of huge interest. The site is cramped, fairly mundane and yet the course has nine great holes (it is only a nine hole course). This may be one of the finest examples of assessing what features you have to use and getting the most out of each one by using on more than one hole to have a bigger impact. Finally these greens are as bold and interesting a set of green as you’ll find.

That’s my 10, no Augusta or Shinnecock Hills, but a very fine set of unique experiences that is every bit there equal.