Friday, July 20, 2007

The Final List

After some hindsight and rethinking, the list ended up as follows:

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

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

15. Herbert Fowler
14. William Langford
13. Tom Simpson
12. Willie Park Jr.
11. Charles Alison

10. William Flynn
9. Perry Maxwell
8. Seth Raynor
7. Stanley Thompson
6. Donald Ross

5. George Thomas
4. Charles Blair MacDonald
3. A. W. Tillinghast
2. H. S. Colt
1. Alister Mackenzie

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Current Architects that Would Make the List Now - Part 2

This will be the end of the series, but may bring the most discussion.

There are 100’s of architects practicing right now, but only two current architects would make my list if all work ended today and we took the time to evaluate careers. There may be others, but I would need more time to reflect on that.

Sand Hills 4th

Bill Coore’s place among the great architects is already guaranteed at this point. His work at Sand Hills became the defining course for this generation – the ripples still continue to influence even the biggest names in the business. Sand Hills was a great natural site featuring massive rolling hills, natural sand blowouts, and long views out to the horizon. When presented with the site, Coore realized that there were hundreds of natural holes in every direction. Rather than change the site or link the very best holes he could with long paths - he patiently walked and walked the site till he found a progression of 18 natural holes. He let the flow of the land lead him around the property. The blowouts became the primary strategy and the unique quality that sets this course apart from all others.

Friar's Head 10th

Coore recognized that these blowouts had the size and scale to compete with the wide open space and chose to swing his fairways around these features with large lateral movements. This approach was most appropriate since the wide lateral movement fit the monumental scale of the site. The course is strategically outstanding, sits in complete harmony with the scale of the site and blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape – think Prairie Dunes on a grand scale. There is more to Bill Coore than one project – in fact there is a string of great project – but this one does such a good job explaining why he is among the elite.

Old Sandwich by Coore

The second architect is far more controversial and the wild card. If he hasn’t said his goal is to be the greatest of his generation, he certainly gives you that impression. Doak – by plan or not - has followed Alister MacKenzie’s career path - from writing a book on golf architecture to working in foreign lands to have an international impact. Tom has spent time restoring MacKenzie’s courses and producing a book on the doctor’s life’s work as a tribute. He even shared his stance on criticism of other architects work - he can be quick to compliment a peer and just as quick to condemn work he doesn’t like. Since MacKenzie is often cited as the greatest architect of all time – what better role model to chose?

Pacific Dunes 13th

Tom came to prominence with his work at Pacific Dunes – while he did other wonderful courses – this was the one that brought all the attention and acclaim. In contrast to most new courses it was shorter, had a quirky routing, all while seeming to get the most out of the site. The course was beautiful, strategically compelling, the use of width with interior bunkering was a clever approach to high winds, the greens were more contoured than most modern courses, and it was down right fun to play. Tom had built a course that brought comparisons to Cypress Point something that must have brought him a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Barndougle Dunes 5th

Since I’m trying to avoid any negatives about living architects I choose not to write about why I didn’t consider a few big name architects.

The Final List:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Current Architects that would make the List - Part 1 - Pete Dye

There are at least three architects currently practicing that I would chose to make my list. The first and most obvious is Pete Dye - who while not retired - is at the very end of his long and illustrious career. I’m not going to place any of the architects but with Pete I’ll give an indication of where I see him.

To me Pete’s career is defined by two periods, the Early Years and the Modern Years. The Early Years featured courses that were largely built to the lay of the land and were heavily influenced by the links courses and architecture of the British Isles. Dye’s work was as much a reflection to his experiences at the famous links, as it were a reaction against the architecture that was being built at the time. Pete’s use of sod walls, railroad ties and other unique elements all made early appearance long before becoming trademarks to his work, but more often it was the inclusion of subtle landforms and small contours that were the real key to his greatest early holes. While he paid homage to the style of golf that he loved from overseas, he also displayed his own unique sense of humour with how the techniques were applied. Many of these ideas would become the basis of his style throughout his career - others would come and go depending on what inspired him on each project. What I admire most of his early work is the restraint that he showed and the clever use of the native ground to effect strategy. What sets him apart from most other great architects was his key role in changing the direction of architecture at that time. His work in the early years became the very foundation of the Minimalist Movement that would emerge at the end of the century – ironically long after he himself abandoned the very notions that it is founded upon.

The Golf Club

The Later Years began with his involvement in the TPC at Sawgrass and culminated in Whistling Straights. Pete took many of his early ideas about design that at this point had been tested against great players. He used this knowledge against the players by adding his latest ideas (particularly things they didn’t like or understand) to a tournament course. He employed all his skills as a builder to overcome what was largely a nothing site and eventually crafted a complex thought provoking and strategic layout to test the best the players had to offer. The TPC was brash and bold, full of difficulty through the dramatic use of water, wild green contours, nutmeg grinders (quickly removed), severe bunkering, intentional blindness, and a good dose of intimidation. He not only caught the player’s attention (and outrage), but captivated the public to the point that Pete Dye was quickly the most recognized golf architect in the game.

The TPC was a high point in his career and a flashpoint for a dramatic change in his style. He was offered a quick succession of projects, with each owner looking for the next TPC at Sawgrass – or even something more outrageous if it could be had. Pete became well sought out and well compensated with his pick of projects and great budgets. I think he also became a bit of a victim of his own success. Each owner wanted to outdo the last and each project became bigger and bolder to the point that Pete was reshaping everything and taking more and more architectural risks. There are a lot of great holes and some really good courses but also a few true clunkers along the way. Pete’s courses were always solid due to the underlying strategy that is built largely on carry angles and options to attack – but outwardly many of these courses look over-shaped and overdone. The culmination is Whistling Straights - such a great course on so many levels and yet so overdone at the same time.

Pete Dye was the greatest architect of a generation and is easily in the top 10 for his innovation, vision, strategic genius and influence on the future. He is without a doubt the father of the Minimalist Movement and that’s worth a few points alone too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Architect #1 Alister MacKenzie

Best Course: Cypress Point

Other notable work: Royal Melbourne, Augusta National, Crystal Downs (w/Maxwell), Pasatiempo,

Remodelling Work: Pebble Beach, Kingston Heath, St. Andrew’s Old, Lahinch

Overview: In 1907, there opened up an opportunity to build a new course called Alwoodley near Leeds. Alister Mackenzie offered his services and presented the group with a layout and series of drawings for the course. The founding members called in Harry Colt to offer his valued opinion. Colt walked the property and even stayed at MacKenzie's house. Colt largely agreed with the routing and general layout that MacKenzie had already devised. Eventually MacKenzie was left to build the course on his own and his career had begun.


Colt eventually invited Mackenzie to join his firm and while they made an impressive team, there has been some evidence of tension between the two great architects. It is no surprise that MacKenzie would eventually move on, but that was after MacKenzie went to Australia on Colt’s behalf and would change the face of architecture in Australia.

One of the biggest breaks for Mackenzie came in 1914 when he garnered first prize in the Lido Competition for the best designed two-shot hole. His par four featured 5 alternative routes and multiple play options and was eventually adapted for the 18th at Lido Golf Club. This brought a great deal of attention on both sides of the ocean since it was judged by Horace Hutchinson, Bernard Darwin and CB Macdonald.

Mackenzie’s career was full of many great commissions all over the world culmination with the greatest of all at Augusta National where he was paired with Bobby Jones to design a course that was based upon the playing style and experience of the Old Course.

16th at Pasatiempo

Praise for the work: MacKenzie could do it all. His work has so much variety from the strategies to the artistry that he almost defies description as an architect. His routings featured holes that very few would dare try, he almost seemed to revel in the oddest bits of land and there possibilities for holes. Some of his short fours have pushed the envelope well beyond the norms, yet have yielded some of the most fascinating and confounding great holes in golf. MacKenzie reveled in holes like the Road hole that are too tough, recognizing that greatness came from pushing the limits rather than finding convention. I always loved his bitter disappointment at the lack of controversy at Cypress Point feeling that controversy was a clear indicator of excellence

Every part of his designs pushed the envelope from the wildly contoured greens through to spectacular bold bunkering that framed his strategies. MacKenzie loved to present multiple options from hole routes to approach styles, leaving the player often to choose where they cam in from and what style of approach to hit. He generally presented the player with choices but occasionally pushed the player to hit one great dramatic shot too.

In my experience only a handful of architects have been able to create bunkers that blur the line between strategy and art and the greatest of all was Alister MacKenzie. He was able to combine artistic flair, with scale, a little intimidation, a tremendous amount of strategy and the greatest blending of grades around bunkers any architect has ever done to build the best bunkers the game has ever seen.

Criticisms: There are a small few that question some of his more unusual holes as being a bit too quirky, but there are very few that can find much fault in his work, particularly with the list of great course he has designed. The only one question I can bring up is the limited time on site at Royal Melbourne and Crystal Downs where another architect largely provided the bulk of the field work. His Australian credits are long, yet his trip was very short.

Royal Melbourne

Great Quotes: 'It frequently happens the best holes give rise to the most bitter controversy. It is largely a question of the spirit in which the problem is approached, depending on the player. Whether he looks at it from the 'card and pencil' point of view and condemns anything that disturbs his steady series of 3’s or 4’s, or whether he approaches it in the 'spirit of adventure.'

"It is essential that [the architect] should eliminate his own game entirely, and look upon all construction work in a purely impersonal manner. He should be able to put himself in the position of the best player that ever lived, and at the same time be extremely sympathetic towards the beginner and long handicap player. "

“It is much too large a subject to go into the placing of hazards, but I would like to emphasis a fundamental principle. It is that no hazard is unfair wherever it is placed.”

“A hazard placed in the exact position where a player would naturally go is frequently the most interesting situation, as then special effort is needed to get over or avoid it”

“No hole is a good hole unless it has one or more hazards in the direct line of the hole”

17th at Cypress Point

ress Point
I choose this one largely because I have not played Royal Melbourne. Cypress Point represents the greatest transition work in the game. Moving from the dunes to the forest, back to the open dunes land and eventually to the ocean is done so seamlessly that you barely notice the change of scenery. The entire course holds together cohesively despite the fact that the setting is in constant change. The way MacKenzie uses the bunkers in particular to pull everything together is magnificent. I love the way bunker and dune often has no definitive start and end, all great examples of site directed architecture which was most appropriate at Cypress Point.

5th at Crystal Downs

: He is the clearest example that greatness comes from pushing the boundaries. MacKenzie pushes me personally to explore the unusual bits of land in quest of unique hole opportunities that I may otherwise avoid. He challenges me to push my limits in the type of holes I will present and the strategies that they may require – holes like the 5th at Crystal Downs prove a hole may have no strategic answer – and that itself may lead to greatness. He never settled for a conventional approach in anything he designed, from the contours of the greens to the styling of his bunkers he continued to push the envelope to push his own art. The wonderful thing about all of this is the strategies that unduly his courses are every bit as good as the strategies employed by Colt or Thomas, but the visual presentation was so much more.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Architect #2 Harry Shapland Colt

Best Course: Royal Portrush

Other notable work: Hamilton, Toronto, Sunningdale (New), Swinley Forrest, St. George’s Hill, Rye, (advising Crump) Pine Valley

Remodelling Work: Sunningdale Old, Muirfield

Overview: Colt was originally a lawyer by training but was far more interested in the pursuit of golf. He was one of the founders of Rye and remained as the honorary secretary for many years after. He became the first secretary at Sunningdale, which turned out to be a position that would help him make important contacts for future work. Colt also made continual improvements to Sunningdale throughout the years.

Just before the First World War, Colt became a full time golf architect and one of the first (if not the first) architects who was not a golf professional first. Colt concentrated his efforts in the UK, with a mixture of new commissions and a great deal of renovation to older layouts. As his reputation quickly grew many more inquiries came from further afar - at first the British Isles, then the mainland of Europe, eventually North America, much later Australia and the Far East.

Sunningdale Old #12

While Colt made a series of trips to North America from 1911 to 1915, he would choose to stay closer to home and mainly work throughout the United Kingdom and the European mainland. He would instead trust a series of partners with much of the foreign work. With Charles Alison taking on most of the work leading to his long and storied career representing Colt in many parts of the world. Alison’s impact in the Far East was the watershed moment for all future Japanese architecture. Likewise, Alister Mackenzie’s trip to Australia was the trip that shaped Australian golf architecture. Colt himself was the key influence to Belgium and Holland.

I feel comfortable to argue that Colt was the most important influence in early architecture. While Park and others represent key moments in architectural development, it was Colt who was able to put together a style and technique that quite simply shaped all future generations of golf course architecture. Almost all the great architects profiled were influenced through his writings and by visiting the courses that he had designed. Harry Colt made golf course architecture a profession, from the way he attacked the projects he had to the way he conducted a business. He became the standard that we all have worked from since.

Toronto Golf Club #6

Praise for the work: Colt felt his courses must be part of the countryside, residing in, rather than imposing upon the land. He suggested they should also be given a chance to grow into their surroundings and become part of the countryside itself. That is quite likely why Colt was one of the first to suggest planting with his courses. It also explains why his holes feel like they were found rather than produced, even when he was required to make change to the landscape. His early holes usually lead you in gently and he was one of the first to openly suggest the use of all clubs be an important requirement in design. He concentrated on the course as a whole trying to balance out the lengths of holes, although given the opportunity he would often select particularly appealing points for par threes and route holes to accommodate those outstanding opportunities.

Rye Golf Club

He did not set out his bunkers to penalize an errant shot, but rather to challenge the skills of a better player. He was one of the first to set up and defend angles of attack perfecting the idea of the carry angle in the process. He was one of the earliest architects to see the intellectual side of design and would lay out his courses to test a players decision making as much as his conviction. While some of his bunkers have scale and character, much of his work featured smaller pot style traps that were often deep and tough to extricate yourself from. He certainly felt that a player taking a risk was justified to lose a shot when they failed to achieve the task. At the same time he would provide plenty more opportunities for them to run the same risk, so that if they could achieve the task, they could make a shot up later in the round.

Criticisms: There is a criticism that Colt has designed a collection of great courses, but it has been suggested that he lacks that one standout course that makes you say nobody else could have done better. Some point to Muirfield as the one, but others find it lacking. Some suggest Royal Portrush is the course, but others think it reputation comes more from difficulty than it does from architectural merit. A few even point to his role at Pine Valley, but the early drawings seem to indicate that Crump was still the key figure. Colt may lack that one seminal project, but his body of work is so strong that he earns the respect of all architects none the less.

St. George's Hill

Great Quotes: Immediately when we attempt to standardize sizes, shapes, and distances we lose more than half the pleasure of the game.

Favourite Course: Royal Portrush
I will say up front that I do struggle with the level of difficulty currently presented off the tee by the nasty fescue that borders the fairways, but strategically the course is brilliant. The course features wonderful angles of opportunity from the tee through to the green. The bunkering challenges you to flirt for a better approach but sharply penalizes a miss. Colt managed to the mix the lengths on all the threes, fours and fives so that the variety is stunning and the hole types are just as varied. The greens feature wonderful rolling contours full of delicate pin positions and feeding slopes that make for entertaining putting throughout. There is not a weak hole, just a lack of dunes land at the end.

Sunningdale New #5

What I take from him: I’ve always felt that Colt’s use of bunkers in the fairway is without peer. He has the ability to defend a line with one, or introduce a series of bunkers that force decisions. He used every technique from flanking to diagonal through to interior – his strength was placing no limitations on what he would do.Colt represents a style of architecture that is both challenging and comfortable, where depending on the game the player has that day, they can either add or reduce risk accordingly. I’ve always felt the writings of Max Behr explain the ideal game, and that the architecture of Harry Colt show you examples of it in the ground.