Friday, March 16, 2007

1920-1930 - Part 3- The books that shaped the Game

This era brought one of the most important developments in golf course architecture for future architects – the architects began to write books. The insight that this era offered to future architects is stunning. We learn about the basics of design, routing, strategy, philosophy through examples of some of the courses that were mentioned this week. My knowledge of architecture comes as much from these books as it does from all other sources and experiences when combined. This is where most future architects begin – or at least should.

The first to come out was Some Essays on Golf Architecture by Colt and Allison (1920). It was a collection of Colt’s writing and observations offering a series of insights and lessons into the design of golf courses. The book is short but full of many observations and anecdotes that give you concise looks into different facets of building a golf course in that era. The book was followed soon after was Alister Mackenzie’s Golf Architecture which remains a personal favourite. Alister expressed his very strong views on playability and design, but went deeper into the philosophical ideas of design and playing experience. He talked a lot about the psychology of the player and the architects influence over what the player experiences out on the course. He laid out much of his own personal philosophy and prefernces in design which is clearly evident in the body of his work. This was a much deeper looking into the art and science and was the first book to step away from a more how to do approach featured in many other books.

The end of the era brought three more outstanding books. The Links by Robert Hunter (1926) takes the reader with Hunter on his travels through England and Scotland with Hunter pointing out the good and bad on a series of golf courses he visits. Hunter slowly educates the reader about golf architecture, particularly pointing out the failings of penal architecture and the elements of architecture that add the greatest interest. He even sprinkles in a few surprising criticisms of famous courses along the way in order to educate the reader about design. Scotland’s Gift – Golf by CB MacDonald (1928) came soon after giving us MacDonald’s reflections of the game and his masterpiece. While we get excellent insight into how the National Golf Links of America was developed, we also get insight into other areas of golf including the origins of the USGA. This a rich book full of great quotes. The last was The Architectural Side of Golf by Wethered and Simpson (1929). This is perhaps the most thorough analysis of the strategic school of design. The book is very poignant and full of strong opinions particularly from Simpson when it comes to penal architecture. The interesting discussion that ensues about the ideal course is particularly interesting and the accompanying text and illustrations are some of the best.

I can not express how important this part of the Golden Age influenced future architects. It is the single most important decade in shaping most of the latest generation of architects.

Next Entry:

Thursday, March 15, 2007

1920-1930 - Part 2- America

The decade opened with a course called Pebble Beach (1919), and like the landmark courses discussed before, it was also planned by a first time architect named Jack Neville along with Douglas Grant. The golf course features some very great holes – revised by Mackenzie, Egan and others – but what made the golf course great was the amount of ocean front and its influence on so many holes. Samuel Morris planned housing around Pebble Beach, but instead of being on the ocean, he set it back and let the views out be over the course and out to the ocean instead. Pebble Beach was a great example for future integrated golf and housing projects where the golf did not have to be compromised to maximize the value of the housing.

The next course built in this massive development was Cypress Point Club by Alister Mackenzie where once again the golf course features the most ideal land. Where Cypress Point was clever was how Mackenzie used his architecture to integrate the trees, the dunes land and the ocean frontage. It is a remarkable lesson in the importance of transition and how this is accomplished. Anyone trying to integrate two completely different environments should look at this example. Cypress Point also does a wonderful job of teaching us about how the best holes are far more important than meeting convention, back to back par threes and fives are lost within this paradise.

George Thomas
would start Riviera in 1927 with a simple box canyon that was not overly spectacular and would go on to eventually create one of the greatest courses the game has to offer. The amazing thing about Riviera is the amount the course rewards a player who can work the ball. Thomas balanced fades and draws even occasionally asking for both on many holes. He used trees, bunkers and slopes to influence your decisions, but also used carry bunkers and options to encourage thoughtful play. Riviera is almost a flawless example of a golf course that is fair and interesting for the average player, while an exacting an clever test of a great players ability to work the ball and use their head.

There were other architects regional architects including Langford and Moreau who were all busy at work building 100’s of new courses throughout the United States trying to fill the demand for new courses. One particular architect bares specific mention for the influence he would eventually have. William Flynn was a Philadelphia based designer of a series of golf course that were not as aesthetically pleasing as Mackenzie or Thomas work, but Flynn was a master strategist. Flynn carefully laid out his holes so that the golfer had to make shots in order to score. He used a combination of green slopes, fairway slopes, trees and bunkers to force the player to shape and work the ball for position. He often completely dictated playand became the basis for the modern school of architecture.

Next entry:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

1920-1930 - Part 1- Architects Venture to Other Lands

The 7th at Hirono by Charles Alison

Through the twenties Harry Colt remained a major influence to all, but now his protégée’s are also becoming prominent too. Charles Alison began to work all over the world on Colt’s behalf. He was to eventually push Colt’s influence into many countries including America. His greatest influence would be in Japan where his work in 1930 at Hirono is still revered and looked up to by all current Japanese architects. Alison was one of the first architects to travel the world to design courses.

Mackenzie's Royal Melbourne

One of Colt’s other protégé was Alister Mackenzie, and while the relationship was not as close as it was with Alison, Mackenzie’s was equally as skilled an architect. Mackenzie would also travel, but in case on his own behalf after he left the short partnership with Colt. He would also have the same mythical influence on a country, and in Mackenzie’s case it would be Australia. Royal Melbourne would have been enough alone, but his visit brought a series of great courses that influenced everything that followed. His work is so prominent in that country that his architectural style and aesthetic reflects in what is still built today. I think it would be fair to say he also have a massive impact on golf architecture in America as well – which I will touch on tomorrow.

Tom Simpson was a very prominent architect in the United Kingdom, and his impact was stretch into mainland Europe where he and Colt built many of the finest courses found there today. He played a particularly important part is design most of France’s finest courses and would be considered their most influential architect – must have been the cape or the beret! Simpson was also responsible for many changes to famous links courses where he continued to introduce strategic architecture anywhere he could. The 14th at Baltray remains a persona favourite of mine.

The Dixie course at Royal Montreal by Willie Park Jr.

Other architects continued to seek greater opportunities abroad like Willie Park Jr. who would end up working extensively in Canada and the United States planning a series of prominent courses before in his case eventually having to head home due to health issues. Golf was expanding quickly and so were the architects who had opportunity to work further and further from home. Some choose to stay close to home, but most couldn’t resist the chance to have a great impact on the golf in a new country.

Thompson's Devil's Cauldren - under construction - without bunkers

There were also a few architects who were homegrown themselves including Canada’s Stanley Thompson. Thompson began his long and illustrious career in 1920 at Muskoka Lakes and by the end of the decade had built many of his greatest courses including Banff and Jasper. Even Thompson would head to other countries including America and then throughout South America.

Next entry:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

1910-1920 – Part 2 – Three Great Architects

17th at Pinehurst #2

There were many architects active through this period doing great work, but three emerged to create some of the greatest courses in American Golf.

Donald Ross began his design career before almost immediately upon arrival from Scotland, but it was his move to becoming a full time golf course architect early in this decade that began arguably the most storied career in American golf architecture. Ross emigrated from Dornock, where he was head professional, and brought with him many of the ideas of that great links. He began with Oakley in Boston, and would use that city as his base for much of his career making a massive impact on New England golf, but it was his long association with Pinehurst that would have the most dramatic impact on his design career. Ross began slowly renovating and laying out courses around Boston, but it was through the work he did at Pinehurst and the connections he made that he quickly began to design courses at a massive rate right through to his death. What Ross brought to design was an outstanding understanding of strategy. He used fewer bunkers in more prominent positions to influence play. He brought to golf architecture a greater emphasis on green contour and short grass around greens as another way to defend par – influencing the thoughts of future American designers. Ross was more subtle than most, yet his courses stood up as equally well as more flamboyant projects of the time. He taught us that architecture could be restrained, straight-forward and honest and still be outstanding.

The 18th at Winged Foot

The enduring image of Tillinghast is that of the impeccably dressed architect poring over the plans for a golf course. Tillinghast was the first designer who consciously set out to create golf holes that were visually attractive. He helped transform golf course architecture from its roots in nature to a greater art form. He drew on the principles of landscape design, engineering and art to transform an average green location into a spectacular site entirely created by Tillinghast’s imagination. To Tillinghast’s credit he was able to consistently change the character of the courses he created from project to project. The bunker and green complexes at Winged Foot and Baltusrol are not at all alike. Yet both are joys to look at and play despite their obvious differences. Variety was the name of his game; he seldom presented the same look into a green on the same course twice. He also led a larger than life lifestyle and his architecture was just as bold, brash and full of confidence as he was.

The 6th at The Creek Club

The final architect is Seth Raynor. Raynor was originally hired to survey out the holes at the National Golf Links for MacDonald, but was eventually retained to oversee construction. Raynor was soon expressing his creativity and ability to visualize MacDonald’s instructions to create the holes at the National Golf Links. Raynor was eventually convinced by MacDonald to strike out on his own in 1914 and then helped send him a string of high profile clients though his business connections. Raynor largely followed MacDonald’s approach and adapted the same hole concepts. Raynor has been criticized occasionally for working to a template, but once you review the routings and the clever variety of his adaptations you soon realize this man had series talent and lots of personal imagination that made these variations work so well. Raynor experimented with combining concepts and even tried a few new ones himself. It’s not until you list the courses he built until you realize how truly great he was.

Monday, March 12, 2007

1910-1920 – Part 1 - Landmark Courses

Oakmont's 14th, clearly penal in nature

Three of the most important courses in golf architectural history all can trace key moments to this decade. Each one of them went through a slow transition toward what it would eventually become.

While Oakmont originated in 1904, it was the transition from Henry Frownes to William Frownes in 1911 that began a long campaign to continually improve the golf course. It was William who made Oakmont what we know today. Oakmont is likely the ultimate and almost perfect expression of the penal school of design. William Frownes believed that a shot played poorly should be a shot irrevocably lost and set out to insure that with all his changes. Frownes continually added bunkers to any location where players missed their shots and seemed to have an opportunity to recover without penalty. He also revised par and added length to make sure that the course would always be deemed to be the toughest in the world – and likely still is. The lesson for designers here is to go with the flow of the land. The course fits the site perfectly, yet the use of the terrain has created many of the biggest complications of the course particularly with the greens that fall naturally with the grade.

Merion's short and interesting 7th

The next course was Merion which opened in 1912. It was planned by Hugh Wilson who like CB MacDonald also made a pilgrimage to Scotland and England to study the great courses of that era and came back to lay out the course for the club. Unlike Oakmont, Wilson created a course that was full of strategic options and opportunities to try and score. The course went through years of transition where holes had to be altered as the road got progressively busier, the bunkering was improved by Wilson and then later by William Flynn and finally the course went through an evolutionary process under the guidance of superintendent Joe Valentine. Despite the evolutionary improvement, what really set the course apart was the remarkable skill at which the course fits perfectly into such a small site. I personally feel there is no finer routing in golf. The course has 18 great holes and the most interesting flow of any course I know. It begins fairly strong, which forces the player to work hard at the beginning. The course then becomes short and full of decisions through the middle where the player is under pressure to score. Finally the last 5 holes are as hard a run of golf as you can find anywhere and the player is literally trying to hold on. The flow is as important as the holes themselves in creating greatness.

Pine Valley in 1924, clearly more open, and lost more sand

The last course is Pine Valley, which is clearly based in the penal design, but unlike Oakmont strays into the strategic school where opportunities are given to challenge the course – but often at your own peril . It’s the mixture of the insurmountable holes like the 5th with strategic holes like the 6th which makes this a fascinating course to study. Designer George Crump found himself dissatisfied with the quality of courses around Philadelphia and set out to build a great course to test the greatest players in golf. While this is largely his work, he did collaborate with Harry Colt on the routing. He also sought the advice of George Thomas, AW Tillinghast and others while under construction. The course represents Crump’s slow and meticulous process of continually walking the property until he had a routing that not only made best use of the land, but also fit his carefully considered ideas about length and types of holes he felt were necessary to make a perfect course. It was his obsession and patience that lead to Pine Valley’s sublime set of 18 holes, but unfortunately the same pressure likely lead to his untimely death too. Pine Valley remains one of the most impressive courses in golf, full of great opportunities, a tremendous price for a missed shot, fantastic green contours, tremendous pressure placed on a player, the use of intimidation as an architectural weapon, the completely unique aesthetic appeal of the sand barrens surrounded by trees.

Next entry: