Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Golf Canada Article

I'm unable to continue the Top 25 list this week since my schedule for the rest of the week will keep me from the computer. I'll continue next week when I have time again. I did write an article for Golf canada that was published this month and I thought I would provide it to tide you over.

click on image to enlarge and read

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.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Architect #16 – George Crump

Best Course:
Pine Valley GC

Other notable work: none

Overview: George Crump felt that the only way Philadelphia area golfers were going to compete with other cities like New York was if it had a true championship course to produce and develop the best players. He used his fortune, and the backing of many other prominent investors’ money, to build his dream course in the sand barrens of New Jersey. Crump put the rest of his life aside and moved to the property to continuously walk the property in order to find the best possible routing for the course. In fact he walked the alternatives over and over till he was certain that he had only the best routing and then moved onto the next set of holes to do the same again. He engaged Harry Colt to spend a week on site part way through the process to help him with the routing, and while he followed some advice like the 5th, the course is largely his routing and design. He also brought many other architects including AW Tillinghast to seek ideas and alternatives. This has lead to Pine Valley being called the greatest collaboration in golf architecture, but I personally still see this as Crumps’s master work where he was smart enough to seek and use advice when he needed the assistance.

courtesy of Tom MacWoods article on Crump in GolfClubAtlas.com

Praise for the work: There is not one single weak hole on the course, with many of the holes being among the finest the game has ever seen. He not only set out to build a great course but laid out a plan for certain hole types and a planned mixture of lengths and challenges. The interesting thing is he walked and walked the property until he found the exact mixture he set out to have. There is everything here from the insurmountable hole through to a short and drivable par four. Just look at the first four green sites: a peninsula, a skyline green, a drop shot and a fall away – it continues throughout - no course is as consistently interesting and diverse as this one.

The second reason Pine Valley is special is the setting, which while sometimes compared to Sunningdale, is unique because of the open expanses of sand and scrub. Many architects have copied the idea of islands of green surrounded by expanses of sand and a backdrop of trees but nothing has ever compared favourably to Pine Valley’s magnificent character.

The use of the fairway slopes, green contours and the severity of the hazards leaves the player with one of the toughest tests in the game. The intimidation he feels to execute shots that is punctuated by holes that force you to only hit you best really affects the psyche of the player all round. The interesting thing about the course is after a few plays you realize the fairways are quite wide and there are alternatives on occasion that make the course far more playable than it first appears.

The penalty for missing shots is seen as too severe and many of the holes are felt to be too exacting to be fair. The fact that the areas between tee and fairway are unkempt and usually forced carries is seen as too penal. The bunkering often does not allow anything but a short recovery and occasionally leads to an unplayable lie is seen as unfair.

Great Quotes: “I think I have landed on something pretty fine. It is 14 miles below Camden, at a stop called Sumner, on the Reading R.R. to Atlantic City—a sandy soil, with rolling ground, among the pines.”

What I take from him:
There are many things from mixing the green settings, to aesthetics, the use of cross-slopes in the landing areas, green contours, the need for a diabolical hazard on occasion, etc. etc. As you can see this course is an educational institution for an architect - full of so many great lessons on how to plan and design a golf hole. The 13th alone teaches and architect about the use of land to create optional routes and how to use bunkering to emphasize the passive and aggressive lines appropriately – pure genius.

The real lesson from Crump is greatness takes patience. Dedication to one course at a time has shown to be one of the keys to excellence. He never settled for the first routing and kept looking and looking till he found exactly what he wanted the course to be and then spent the time on site getting everything the way he wanted. Greatness lies in the obsession with the details.

Next Architect: http://thecaddyshack.blogspot.com/2007/06/architect-15-william-langford.html