Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Architect #9 Old Tom Morris

Best Course: Royal County Down

Other notable work: Muirfield, Lahinch, Royal Dornock, Prestwick (12), Carnoustie, Crail, St. Andrew’s (New), Cruden Bay

Notable Renovations: Machrahanish, Nairn, St. Andrew’s

Overview: The earliest architects laid out their courses right out in the middle of the field and often in a single day. They had no mapping or aerial photos to go by, the simply walked and looked for natural green sites. They plotted back and forth between the green sites until they had a rudimentary routing. They then provided some site direction to how to claim the course from the terrain. They had no ability to alter the natural terrain, so they concentrated on the best green sites and found the best holes that the land would yield. They were very much at the mercy of the men who followed and brought there courses to fruition.

Royal Dornock's 14th

Since there were few architects, they often were brought back to make modifications to improve holes and benefited on the ability to slowly evolve the course. They began to widen fairways, build new greens, add new bunkers and even add new tee areas in order to accommodate the increase in play and the improvement in the abilities of players. They started to add features to the courses that influenced the way holes were played which offered inspiration to the future architects.

Old Tom Morris had apprenticed under Allan Robertson at St. Andrew’s until a disagreement about the gutty caused a rift and Morris left for Prestwick to become head green keeper and head professional. He eventually returned to St. Andrews when Robertson retired to fulfill the same duties until his retirement in 1904. During this time he won the British Open four times, was an architect, and developed both courses through his extensive applications of topdressing sand that vastly improved the putting surfaces.

Praise for the work: The routing he did at Muirfield changed golf course design. It did not go out and back but instead returned to the clubhouse after each nine. The front nine turns clockwise and the back nine runs counter clockwise. As the holes turn the wind is encountered on each side on each nine with no more than three holes in a row are in the same direction. Royal County Down features a similar routing.

The routing for Muirflied

There is no getting around the quality of many of his green sites. He certainly had an eye for the most natural locations, particularly nestled between dunes. He also saw the advantage of plateaus and created some wonderful elevated green sites that were on the tops of dunes rather than in between. He produced most of the great early layouts and was certainly studied by many of the best architects yet to come.

Criticisms: For all the great ones, there are also some courses that were incredibly bad. The original layout at Royal North Devon had an excessive amount of holes that crossed over each other. There are so many blind shots at certain course that you are left to question his routing skills.

The major question comes from what can really be credited to Old Tom Morris. Most of the great courses that he is given credit for have undergone extensive renovations before becoming the inspiration they are today.

Great Quotes:For true success, it matters what our goals are. And it matters how we go about attaining them. The means are as important as the ends. How we get there is as important as where we go.”

The 3rd at Royal County Down

Favourite Course: Royal County Down
The front nine is my favourite in all of golf. Many point out the number of blind shots, yet each one does not feel blind to me, and when you get over the dune the natural hole that lies out before you is worth the blind tee shot. Every hole ends in another intriguing and interesting green site well worthy of the adventure in trying to get there. Every tee shot is different and each green site presents its own unique challenge of how to best find the green surface. There are more options at County Down than you may first think and often the ideal shot is not the most obvious. After each hole you immediately say I wonder if that would be a better way to play the hole – and isn’t that after all the mark of a great course. And on top of all that Royal County Down is the most beautiful place I have ever played golf.

What I take from him: The selection of natural green sites is the foundation for a great routing.

Next Architect:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Architect #10 Perry Maxwell

18th at Southern Hills

Best Course: Prairie Dunes

Other notable work: Crystal Downs (w/Mackenzie), Southern Hills, Dornock Hills, Old Town

Notable Renovations: Colonial, Augusta National, Pine Valley

Overview: Perry Maxwell was originally a banker who had an interest in golf and golf course architecture. After the death of his wife in 1919 he made a trip to Scotland to tour the top courses including the Old Course at St. Andrew’s. This happened to eb the time when Maxwell met Alister Mackenzie and arranged a partnership that would lead to quite a few great projects together. Maxwell returned and went into practice as a golf course architect full time using the contacts he made at the bank to help finance design contacts. It was those contacts, particularly with oil companies, that would keep him very busy even when the rest of the architects were struggling to find work.
He had actually built the nine holes at Dornock Hills before this trip, but the trip certainly changed everything for Perry. Maxwell also traveled to see other courses and was particularly influenced by the National Golf Links designing holes that were clearly influenced by what he saw.

Praise for the work: Alister Mackenzie said of Maxwell, “Mr. Maxwell speaks of my ability to make a good fairway or develop a worthy green, but I wish to tell you that in laying out a golf course and to give it everything that the science and art of golf demand, Mr. Maxwell is not second to anyone I know.”

Bill Coore mentions Maxwell as one of his four key influences beginning with the excellence of his routings and finishing with the quality of his greens. Maxwell’s greens were so well thought of that he was invited to rebuild greens at courses including Augusta National and Pine Valley. His use of interior contours was extremely original and it is fascinating how these rolls created really great interior and exterior pin positions at the same time.

The 9th at Dornick Hills

Maxwell’s skill in routing is best illustrated on the front nine at Southern Hills. The first four holes play counter clockwise making an interesting use of both the hill and creek. The next five holes are clockwise around the outside finishing again on the main hill. No two holes in same direction because of the winds and no two holes anything alike. He realized that strong winds limited the player’s options, so even in his architecture he created opportunities for players to still hit fairways and green with a lower flight. The bunkering was also brought to the side to catch the wayward, rather than in front tp penalize the short.

Maxwell believed in moving as little as possible and building his courses at minimal expense. He took what the ground offered and made that a key element in the design, understanding that the rolls and undulations would be enough to confound most good players. Most of his work was limited to the bunkering and greens that would emphasize the strategy that he had prepared in the routing.

Criticisms: There have been a few suggestions that his architecture was too simple and that he may have developed better courses by manipulating a little more of the land. It is has been pointed out that the bunkering can be a little too plain and that a few flourishes of style would have added a great deal to the aesthetics of his courses. I think these opinions come from forgetting where he practiced and (most importantly) “when” he practiced. The mid-west did not have the money or pretense of the big cities in the North-East or West Coast. The architecture reflects the region and its people and likely Maxwell’s values as well.

Great Quotes: It is my theory that nature must precede the architect, in the laying out of links. It is futile to attempt the transformation of wholly inadequate acres into an adequate course. Invariably the result is the inauguration of an earthquake. The site of a golf course should be there, not brought there.

10th at Prairie Dunes

Favourite Course: Prairie Dunes

There is no course that embraces its site quite like Prairie Dunes. It is hard to tell where the prairie ends and the golf course starts. The course features one of the best routings in golf, some of the best bunker work the game has ever seen and a great set of greens to finish the course perfectly.

7th at Old Town at opening

What I take from him:
That even when you take a minimalist approach, you still can build the best courses by seeking out the best undulation to create strategy, avoid moving dirt beyond greens tees and bunkers, limited the bunkers required, fit the course to the land, and build great greens that create strategy all by themselves. He also teaches me superior results come from a little more time and a little more work done by hand.

(Thanks to Chris Clouser for inspiration and images, he has also written a book on Maxwell called The Midwest Associate: The Life and Work of Perry Duke Maxwell)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Architect #11 William Flynn

(image courtesy of Geoff Shackelford)

Best Course: Shinnecock Hills

Other notable work: Cherry Hills, Huntingdon Valley, Philadelphia, Rolling Green, The Country Club (Squirrel 9), Lancaster, Cascades, Lehigh

Notable Renovation: Merion

Overview: He began his career as the construction supervisor at Merion and remained on as superintendent for a short time helping establish the course. He would continue to be involved with Merion assisting Wilson in 1924 with a major renovation and eventually would make his own modifications to series of holes leaving the general layout we know today. There are many who feel Flynn should get a co-design credit at Merion.

Flynn partnered up with Howard Toomey just after WW1 with Flynn the designer and Toomey handling the engineering side of the work. They remained partners through to 1933. Flynn hired and trained a series of great assistants and future architects including Red Lawrence, William Gordon and Dick Wilson. Flynn was particularly active around Philadelphia producing a series of solid golf courses which compete with each other for attention. The culmination of an excellent career had to be Shinnecock Hills where he had his finest site and certainly produced his greatest work.

Shinnecock Hills 5th hole

Flynn was more than a designer, he wrote extensively on the issues that effected design and the game including the problems with the ball (in 1927!). He also produced a series of articles on turfgrass and design for the USGA Green’s Section.

Praise for the work: William Flynn was one of golf architectures greatest strategist. His routing skill was certainly one strength of his work and varied to working with the land or running intentionally hard against the contour when he wanted to increase the challenge. He is one of the few architects to really embrace the intentional use of hard cross-slopes and reverse cants to really ratchet up the pressure and difficulty on his courses. While some would dismiss this as a poor choice in the routing, this is far cleverer than most would give him credit for.

Philadelphia CC 3rd hole, notice the use of carry angles

He meticulously planned out his courses from the routing through to detailed design on paper. Flynn’s drawings were certainly the most detailed of any architect of the time and it’s still quite amazing to go out to one of his courses and see how well his plans translated to the field. Flynn also was made site changes or came back to make improvements to his courses often providing more detailed drawings which make following his intent easier than just about any architect from that era.

Criticisms: Flynn certainly knew how to make a course tough. His use of reverse cants to make the player have to work the ball just to stay on the fairway adds a great deal of difficulty to many tee shots. When he follows this up like the 16th at Huntingdon Valley with a green that requires a draw approach from a fade lie, you have one of the toughest holes in golf. Flynn understood the strategic possibilities of the land, the tendencies of side hill lies and often would use this against the player to challenge their ability to hit shots. Many don’t like this, but others like me see this as a brilliant technique – and the way to build for the PGA Tour players without resorting to length.

My personal criticism of Flynn comes from the presentation of the holes themselves. Flynn’s architecture, while extremely well thought out, tends to look very similar. The courses can be hard to distinguish when you see a lot of them – the fact that so many are located around Philadelphia hurts rather than helps his legacy. There is no question in my mind that he should be called the father of modern architecture for how much he controlled the way the player must play his courses. His work is so carefully planned and thought out that it lacks the touch of whimsy or unusual that in my mind creates a more memorable experience.

Great Quotes: “The principle consideration of the architect is to design his course in such a way as to hold interest of the player from the first tee to the last green and to present the problem of the various holes in such a way that they register in the player’s mind as he stands on the tee or on the fairway from tee to green”

Favorite Course: Huntingdon Valley

While I can’t deny Shinnecock is better, Huntingdon Valley is still my favorite for how he chose to route his way through the site. I happen to love the high banked holes on the front nine that either force you to work the ball into the slope to stay on fairways or give you opportunities to occasional “use the grade” to make a shot. I love the contrast on the back nine where he takes you through a variety of holes featuring some great carry angles, clever use of the creek and a dynamite reverse cant hole, all ending on the spectacular uphill 18th. The variety and unique nature of the course make this a must study for architects.

What I take from him: Flynn is a great example of how to use land to influence play. This begins with the value of a cross-slope and the infinite ways it can be used to influence play. His heavily sloped greens teach us how they can be used to add options like the redan style greens or force an approach angle through a stiff green slope. Flynn used carry angles about as good as anyone ever has and is a great study for how to set up a risk and reward shot with hazard placement.

(Wayne Morrison and Tom Paul are currently writing a book on Flynn due out fairly soon)