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.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Architect #23 – Robert Trent Jones

Best Course: Spyglass Hill

Other notable work: Valderamma, Peachtree, Cragburn, Montauk Downs, Dorado Beach,

Notable Renovations: Augusta National and Oakland Hills

Overview: The 1951 US Open made Trent Jones’s famous because he had done the renovation to Oakland Hills. Ben Hogan’s famous remark “that I brought the monster to its knees,” and the attention he had through a series of articles about his work, made Trent the most famous and recognizable architect in golf. At Oakland Hills, Trent created what he called target golf by pinching most landing areas on both sides with bunkers and heavily bunkering the greens to create difficulty. He ushered in the tactics that the USGA still embrace as the way to conduct a US Open.

Trent Jones claims to have originated a new school of design called the heroic school of architecture, which was a blend of the penal school and the strategic school. While he points to Tillinghast and Thompson as inspiration I feel there is a lot of William Flynn in his work too. Trent often used a combination of carry bunkers and target bunkers to emphasis the strategy of many landing areas. He also used flanking bunkering on occasion and even fronting bunkers at greens to mix things up. His architecture was very visual and he tended to fully define all the target areas from tee to green and make the course easy to understand and challenging to play.

Praise for the work: There is no question that Robert Trent Jones was the champion for the average player. The variety in yardages and the mantra of a hard par and an easy bogie was something the public liked and the media embraced as good design. Trent Jones employed a common sense approach and a visual flair to create a “new” standard for golf design that was easy to understand and clear right from the very first play.

His courses featured huge tees and greens that were easy for maintenance. His designs had huge flexibility in set up that offered seemingly endless variety. He kept the challenge by building well defined pin positions into very large greens, but the real secret was the flexibility in the set up from long to short and from hard to easy depending on tee markers and pin positions that made the game much more enjoyable for the average player.

Trent Jones introduced the idea of creating ponds right up against greens to add beauty and challenge. He was particularly fond of this idea for par threes where the hole was all carry from tee to green. He believed this particular heroic shot made the holes memorable with the water heightening the excitement. The only problem with this was he overused the technique to deal with holes without natural features. As he used it more and more so that it became almost a standard on the green sites of most of the par fives, when you add in the similar use by other architects of that era and you get an awful lot of work that looks and plays very similar. This technique is still overused by many architects today.

The other criticism is he took on too much work and ended up turning too much to a formula where all his work looks and plays the same. Any art done to a formula is no longer art. While his work is very solid with few mistakes anywhere, it is too predictable and safe to really compete with the great work by the architects to come.

Great Quotes: “a hard par and an easy bogie."

My favourite: Spyglass Hill, despite the fact that you begin on the best stretch of land and finish with the remainder of the holes in the trees, the golf course is rock solid from start to finish. Some of the interior holes, like the 16th are some of the best on the course. I personally think that the 4th hole at Spyglass is the very best hole I have seen of his work.

What I take from him: To be very frank it’s his marketing skills. He turned the media coverage from the Oakland Hills renovation into a sales pitch. Once Herbert Warren Wind wrote a very flattering piece in The New Yorker about Trent and the Open he recognized the value of all the attention and coveted it for the rest of his career. He brought us the idea of the signature architect and made his own name a brand name.

Next Architect:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Architect #24 - Herbert Leeds

(picture is from Geoff Shackelford's book - The Golden Age of Golf Design)

Best Course: Myopia Hunt Club, ranked 33rd in the Classic List in Golf Week. The course was so good that it hosted four early US Opens.

Other notable work: The Palmetto Golf Club in Georgia, and Kebo Valley Golf Club in Maine

Overview: Not a lot is known about Herbert Leeds other than he came from wealth and was a lifelong sportsman excelling in sailing and golf. He was even a member of the USGA executive committee in 1905.

He does not have a large body of work so we are left to judge him mainly on Myopia Hunt - the focus of his life’s work. Leeds was not happy with the state of American course architecture - particularly the original course at Myopia - and persuaded his club to build a new and much improved 18 holes. He began by visiting Shinnecock Hills - then the standard of excellence - to learn about the architecture. He paid close attention to the greens set in the natural hollows and on top of plateaus and employed the same techniques. Where he excelled was how he also incorporated the undulations of the land to challenge the tee shots. He reinforced the strategies with numerous bunkers to penalize a misplayed shot. While he did design a couple of other courses he focus was making refinements and improvements to Myopia Hunt right up until his death.

2nd hole at Myopia Hunt

Praise for the work: Whether the strategies came from evolution and observance - or right from the initial design - the results speak for themselves. He was known to carry white chips with him and if a good player got away with a seeming miss, he would drop a few chips in the area and a bunker would shortly appear thereafter. Because of this approach to bunkering the course has often been called penal, but that would be underestimating the superior strategies created by the cants of the fairways and the severe contours he created aton the green that create strategy. The bunkers simply supported or emphasized what he had already laid out.

The use of landforms remains the genius of the course by combining severe penalties for a miss and the tiny greens as targets, the course still holds up well in a modern context. The club has one of the finest collections of short holes in golf.

The Taft Bunker on the 10th at Myopia Hunt

Criticisms: Myopia is considered more penal than strategic in nature due to the proliferation and depth of the bunkers that Leeds added over the years. There has also been criticism for his famous chocolate drop mounds created by burying the stone walls found on site. He built them because he felt the mounds were more fair that playing around the walls. The critics have suggested the mounds look forced upon the site and have pointed out the future influence on the use of mounding to add definition.

My favourite: Myopia Hunt Club

Kebo Valley, early 1900's

What I take from him: Utilizing the natural cants to create strategy is an underestimated skill in routing. For bunkers to have meaning and create strategy - they must be deep and occasionally penal. That green contours are the most important contours of all.

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