Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Architect #7 Stanley Thompson

Best Course: St. George’s G&CC

Other notable work: Jasper Park, Banff, Highland GL, Capilano, Kawartha, Catarqui

Notable Renovations: Beaconsfield

Overview: Stanley Thompson began his career working for his brother Nicol Thompson and George Cumming. He quickly found himself on his own with a large busy business designing and building courses when Nicol and George decided that they had too much work to do and retreated to their positions at their respective golf clubs.

St. Georges 12th hole

Stanley’s business continued to grow between all the new contracts he had for courses and the number of construction projects he had for building courses for other famous architects like Charles Alison. Stanley’s business continued to expand from coast to coast leading to larger projects and wealthier clients - which culminated in his work for the two great Canadian railroad companies. The course at Jasper was his first prominent commission, but it was the work at Banff Springs that would cement his place as one of the preeminent architects of his time.

At Banff he was inspired by the shapes of the mountains and the valleys around the site and set out to use those forms in his bunkers. The bunkers began to take on a style that would become a trademark feature for many of Thompson’s greatest courses. This new style of bunkering was so awe-inspiring it managed to compete on equal footing with the surrounding mountains for golfer’s attention. The work was so good that Thompson was rushed back to Jasper to make those bunkers just as inspiring!

Banff's famous 8th

Praise for the work: Very few architects can match Thompson’s flair for the dramatic. Thompson certainly had a sense of humor and combined that with a great deal of talent to come up with some of the most artistic and interesting features golf architecture has seen. He was not opposed to creating the odd horseshoe, man’s head or octopus in order to create a memorable feature – but also managed to place these flourishes in with a series of great bunkers so that the feature just blended into the picture to be found only though close inspection.

His bunkering that was so varied that no two bunker ever looked alike on his courses. They were so intricate that they changed shape and forms as you walk by and are often as interesting seen backwards as they are from the front. He believed in borrowing the scenery around the hole and often cleared the holes extra wide so that you can see more of the landscape beyond. There are very few other architects that can match the aesthetic of a Thompson course – he is perhaps without peer in this area.

Thompson believed in playability and more than any other architect previously mentioned thought of the common man (“dub”) as a target in his designs. While he did create and plan holes for the finest players, he almost always created enough width for them to be comfortable, and often gave them an alternative way of avoiding the greatest of trouble. The only real exception to this was his occasional heroic hole where he asked the player to step up and hit there finest shot after a series of comfortable holes. The most common element of a Thompson course is they are fun.

Criticisms: While it pains me to say this, I think Stanley’s one weakness is that he often set up a hole for great dramatic effect but left the same holes with somewhat limited strategy. Thompson’s penchant for the dramatic often placed a bunker into a natural hillock because of the visual impact it made, but often left a key position largely undefended since it fell on lesser land. Some bunkers have become important through changes in equipment whereas many of his bunkers were never in play even for the wildest of players – but they look great.

Jasper's famous 18th, loved by Mackenzie

Great Quotes: "Nature must always be the architect's model. The golf course should fit the terrain. The lines of the bunkers or greens must not be sharp or harsh, but easy and rolling. Every now and then I get a mean streak and like to fool the boys a little. But, I never hide any danger. It's all out there for the golfer to see and study."

Favourite Course: Jasper Park
Give me one final round and I will pass on Cypress Point and Pine Valley to play Jasper Park. The golf course provides magnificent long views out to the mountains on every hole. The holes themselves give you plenty of room to enjoy the day, but Stanley also gives you a series of points in the round where you need to step up and make a great shot too. The par three’s are the best collection in Canada ranging from the long 4th to the tiny and diabolical “Bad Bay” at 15.

Highlands short 4th

What I take from him: He’s obviously my number one influence. I try to borrow from his artistry, his showmanship, his sense of humour, his ability to really mix things up, the occasional moment of restraint, the holes without bunkers, the opening up of views, the diagonal use of a hillside to climb a grade, the need for friendly courses, the use of the unusual as part of the design, and the desire to leave the fairways on native grade.
The biggest lesson is the playing experience; you enjoy playing his courses because he never set out to beat you – only to entertain you.


Anonymous said...

I think you may have sold old Stanely a little short, probably so as not to look biased. No one would have faulted you for putting him in your top 5. There may have been 8 or 9 or 10 who were in his league, but there weren't six who were clearly better than Stan the Man.


Anonymous said...

Ian, I'm curious -- in the recently published book on Thompson's architecture, you put him as one of the five greatest architects of all time. What has changed your mind?

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Anonymous said...

Ian, I'm curious -- in the recently published book on Thompson's architecture, you put him as one of the five greatest architects of all time. What has changed your mind?

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