Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Looking at the list in Hindsight

I will finish up on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

It will be a while before I consider another blog series as involved as this one. I’m finding I’m much too busy with work to continue at this pace. I’m not sure what I will write about coming up and I’m considering a “best of” week to create a break for me and to highlight a few of the best series from the past.

I have some hindsight I would like to offer on the list:

I definitely think placing Trent Jones in was a mistake and at the same time I felt leaving Frownes out was an oversight. With both Wilson and Crump on the list, it is hard to justify Frownes being left off. The other four are still good choices.

25. Mike Strantz
24. Herbert Leeds
23. Henry Frownes
22. Max Behr
21. Herbert Strong

The Old Tom debate was fascinating. I knew I was going out on a limb with Old Tom, but I felt the early influence was crucial to the development of golf architecture. It turns out that I may have given him too much credit for existing work which in most cases has turned out to be another architect’s work. The more I read, the more information I received, the more I felt I had misjudged his role in the development of some key courses. The influence is still there, and some great work exists, but I think it is not quite as significant as I once thought.

20. Hugh Wilson
19. James Braid
18. Walter Travis
17. Old Tom Morris
16. George Crump
15. Herbert Fowler

Fowler was the man I didn’t know and the more I read after I posted the more I realized I had sold him a little short. I find I’m drawn to his architecture the more time I spend looking at courses that he has done, and I’m quite convinced that a visit to Eastward Ho would also have a huge impact on what I think of Fowler. The rest is a list of architects who have all influenced what I think about design with Maxwell and Langford being more recent fascinations.

14. William Langford
13. Tom Simpson
12. Willie Park Jr.
11. Charles Alison
10. William Flynn
9. Perry Maxwell

People have questioned my “anti-bias” against Thompson, but I’m quite certain I have his place right. One friend felt his best 5 were better than the likes of Tillinghast but I don’t agree. I would also counter that his next five can’t touch Tillie’s so it is a matter of where that line is drawn. Ross may confound the people off who think he should have been one or two - I like his work a lot - but I don’t see the genius that other people do.

8. Seth Raynor
7. Stanley Thompson
6. Donald Ross

Thomas’s remaining work is too strong to ignore. Macdonlad built the best course of the bunch, but then repeated himself in work that followed. Tillinghast certainly had the depth of exceptional work that few can touch. These are all great and gifted men whose work you should seek out every chance you get.

5. George Thomas
4. Charles Blair MacDonald
3. A. W. Tillinghast

The final two on Monday and Tuesday – The number one architect was the easiest selection to make. I will post a final revised list at the ned too.

Next Architect:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Architect #3 Albert Warren Tillinghast

Best Course: Winged Foot

Other notable work: San Francisco, Baltimore (Five Farms),Ridgewood, Bethpage, Fenway, Philadelphia Cricket Club,

Remodelling Work: Quaker Ridge, Scarboro,

Overview: A. W. Tillinghast was born in Philadelphia in 1874, the only child of a prosperous family. He became captivated by the game of golf in the 1890s, and made annual pilgrimages to Scotland where he took lessons from Old Tom Morris – one of golf’s greatest icons. Tillinghast was a good enough player to compete, playing in early US Amateurs and Opens. His golf architecture career began when he was asked to lay out a course for friends on their farm at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware. It was an instant success. He immediately went into the golf design business.

18th at Winged Foot

For nearly 20 years he ran a very successful design business, until the bottom fell out after the market crash of 1929. He designed approximately 60 courses and remodeled or expanded an equal number during this time. Because of his skills and social connections, he acquired more than his share of great projects and left behind a handful of courses that are considered among the finest in golf. Some of his best include 36 holes at Winged Foot, both Baltusrol layouts, the San Francisco Golf Club, the East Course of the Baltimore Country Club, Somerset Hills in New Jersey, 27 holes of Ridgewood (also in New Jersey), and the Black Course at Bethpage on Long Island. He had a great run of courses and success until the Great Depression ruined his business. He worked for the PGA of America to keep his head above water, but eventually became totally disenchanted with golf. He and his wife moved to California to set up an antiques shop. With limited success, he attempted to re-establish himself with Billy Bell, but never achieved the same excellence. He died in 1942.

The enduring image of Tillinghast is that of the impeccably dressed architect poring over the plans for a golf course. He enjoyed being out “in the dirt” relying on inspiration to fine tune the details of each hole as it emerged from the landscape. There are great stories of Tillinghast sitting under the shade of a tree, bottle in hand, calling out directions to his workmen. He undoubtedly was as colorful as he was talented.
Praise for the work: 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. Tillinghast drew on the principles of landscape design, engineering and art to transform a property into a spectacular playing field. His routings looked to the prominent feature of the property for inspiration, but he when faced with a featureless section of the site he immediately applied his imagination to create an entire green site from scratch or use an imaginative bunker scheme to make a landing area really interesting.

The grass faced bunkers at Five Farms

Tillinghast was one of golf’s great chameleons changing his style and character on a regular basis. When you contrast the stark grass slopes of Five Farms against the huge faces and flashes at Winged Foot and then contrast that with the lacy edged bunkers on a massive scale at San Francisco, you realize Tillinghast had no limits on what he could do. The greatest compliment I can give Tillinghast is that a number of his greatest courses are only on average sites. Winged Foot for example is a fine site but nothing particularly special, yet through the green sites that he created and the challenge they present he has crafted one of the toughest and most interesting pieces of architecture that architects cab study.

Criticisms: I can’t give Tillinghast a free pass for the work he did on behalf of the PGA. While many courses were lucky to get his advice, but others were hurt through his efforts too, including a few of the great architects in history where he removed features or changed entire holes through his advice. The Sahara was a cross-hazard. While I understand and personally enjoy the concept, it is the type of feature that in many instances only really penalizes the poor player.

Great Quotes: “The merit of any hole is not judged by length but rather by its interest and its variety as elective play is apparent. It isn’t how far but how good”
“I am thoroughly convinced that many of our country’s courses are hurt tremendously by stretching holes out for no other purpose than to bolster up the scorecard distances and figures. There seems to exist a feeling that the collection of par figures must determine the worth of the courses. Let us remember that in golf we do not measure pleasure with a yard stick.”

The 7th and 8th at San Francisco

Favourite Course: San Francisco
San Francisco is built to a monumental scale, which helped fit the site perfectly since there were originally such long views all around the course that competed with his architecture. It would be overly simple to say that Tillinghast increased the bunkers to enormous sizes to help fill the space, but it is more than that. What Tillinghast did was take everything to epic proportions so that nothing would get dwarfed by the space. The bunkers are obviously large, but the mounding and fairway widths are much larger than convention too. Tillinghast was also smart enough to intentional blend the bunkering on the 9th and 10th so that they appear from both side to be an extension of the bunkering for each hole. This essentially helps create enough size and expanse within the bunkering to create definition, but more important balance with the landscape.

The 10th at Winged Foot

What I take from him:
Understanding the beauty of scale and space can lead to breathtaking architecture. Tillinghast teaches us all about scale and the need to spend extra time getting the sweep and drama into the bunkering in particular. You must be painstaking in your details, since everything gets magnified by the open space. Only a confident creative hand that is capable of the broadest strokes can succeed on this level.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Architect #4 Charles Blair Macdonald

Best Course: The National Golf Links of America

Other notable work: Yale, St. Louis, Piping Rock, The Creek, Mid Ocean

Overview: Charles Blair Macdonald was an outstanding player, and even managed to win the first United States National Amateur, although he made them replay the championship when he didn’t win the first time! Macdonald was an extremely wealthy man who was very well connected to the elite of that era. Macdonald was obsessed with golf from the outset and spent countless days practicing his game and visiting the great courses of the United Kingdom long before embracing on golf architecture – he even had a locker in Old Tom Morris’s golf shop at St. Andrews.

Macdonald soon became obsessed with having an American course that could compare favorably with the great links courses. He used his connections for the financial help and then toured the countryside looking an ideal site eventually settling on a property near the end of Long Island. Macdonald next traveled across the United Kingdom and touring all the great courses collecting notes on what he felt were the best holes the game had to offer. He then returned to Long Island to design a course based around the great holes, but also had the fortitude to believe he could make improvements to the basic concepts of many of the holes. He only had to find the holes on the land and adapt the concepts to the terrain and he had his ideal course.

The Cape Hole at NLGA

Praise for the work:
Macdonald once said “there are only four or five good holes in golf. The local scenery supplies the variety.” He was knowledgeable enough to collect a series of ideas from famous holes to use as a base for his design work, but smart to understand why these particular strategies were superior to most others. By understanding the strategic implications of each concept, he was then free to adapt them with ease to create the best situation for that strategy that the terrain had to offer.

His improvements, such as making the Redan downhill to make it more visible but also more viable, were dramatic improvements on the original. His own concepts and adaptations had a lasting impact on how future architects would view strategy and hole set-ups. At The National you become in awe of the rich variety of strategies, the wonderful mix of hole types, and the level of interest he manages to keep from start to finish.

The great difference between the work of Raynor and the work of Macdonald is in the greens. The is a much greater use of contour in MacDonald’s greens which infuse the design with an incredible amount of variety through pin positions. The varied pin locations means that his courses can be set up in an infinite number of ways with it unlikely that any playing experience over a week would be the same. He also used lost of fairway width to allow the player to play to a certain side or location to access certain pin positions on particular days – this also provided a great deal of playability to his layouts for lesser players. The flexibility and variety makes the playing experience at the national entertaining no matter at what level you can play the game.

The Biarittz at Yale


Macdonald was and opinionated autocrat who was overbearing and self important. While his strength and conviction was very important to the development of the National, I have often wondered if his arrogance was responsible for the continued use of templates. There is no getting around the quality of the holes and the golf experiences he provided with each of the courses he built, but you must wonder what was missed by adhering so firmly to the templates and not following more of the land. This point is made most particularly on the par threes where quite often one set blends into the next – particularly when you add in the work of his protégé Raynor.

Great Quotes: “The object of a bunker or trap is not only to punish a physical mistake, to punish a lack of control, but also to punish pride and ego”
“The risk of going into a bunker is self imposed, so there is no reason why a player should condemn a bunker as unfair.”

Favourite Course: The National Golf Links of America
The National is the best example outside the Old Course itself about the strategic freedom. The player is left to avoid or encourage risk throughout a round. The National is ripe with opportunity to encourage risky play and full of enough disaster to avoid being a push-over. It is one of the best course I have ever played and perhaps the best playing experience I have enjoyed. Each green site features so many possible interesting pin positions that you would never grow bored playing the National.

The Redan at NLGA

What I take from him:
All great architecture has roots in the great holes, seeing and understanding the great strategies is vital in creating your own great holes. Even the best architects in this series paid close attention to what others did well before them. The greatest lesson from Macdonald comes from where he made the adaptations, what he did differently and why many are superior to the source of inspiration.