Tuesday, 27 November 2018

My Year in Review – Part Two – My Work in 2018

Pepper Pike 8th green, 15th in background 

Business Overview

It was a very busy year for construction work. The spring started well with a few construction projects. The summer was unusually quiet and I took some time off.  The fall saw an incredible run of nine projects over three months. It may have been the busiest fall I have ever have had. It's the first one to go into December in nearly 20 years ...

Numbers and Lists


Miles Driven: 26,800 km. (not including rental car miles)
Flights Taken: 54 (similar to last year)
Total Miles Flown: 50,539 miles 

My Business

Courses Visited: 26
American Work: 20%
Income in Fall: 50%
New clients: 4
Construction Projects: 13
Interviews: 2 (0-2)

New Client List

  1. Sao Paulo in Brazil (Planning Report)
  2. Agawam Hunt (Donald Ross) in Rhode Island (Planning Report)
  3. Oakfield Golf Club near Halifax (Master Plan)
  4. Sussex Golf Club in New Brunswick (Planning Report)
Equipment Operated

  1. Mini-excavator (multiple times and multiple sites)
  2. 450 dozer (Wheatley Hills)
  3. Sand pro and blade (Orchard Park)


Pepper Pike Club – April/May and September/October

This project involves extensive tree removal, bunker work and changes to grassing lines. The spring work included the 1st, 2nd and 7th holes. The fall work included the 8th, 9th green, 15th, 16th and 17th being completed. The work is being done by Precision Golf based out of Cleveland. Tree removal and grassing work is being done by golf superintendent is Ken Happ and his amazing staff. Expect to finish this project next year.

Islington 18th Green and 10th Green in Background
Islington’s 18th green – April

We had to relocate the creek, because it was undermining the clubhouse. The creek relocation was designed by Mark Schollen and the construction was done by R&M Construction. We relocated the green to maintain its relationship with the creek and moved the cart path further away from play to improve the aesthetics. Work was done by KCM Construction. Superintendent is Andre Aymar. Hole is in play.

Galt Practice Facility – April

The club built a new teaching building, added a 100’ x 100’ net facility and a new putting green to make the most of the front entrance. The netting work was done by Skyline and the golf work was done by Flightline Construction. The golf superintendent is Mark Piccolo. Mark quietly did a wonderful job of recovering the course from severe flooding damage.

Crag Burn Practice Facility – April

The rule of thumb is people only use the upslope and flat areas to work on their chipping and pitch shots. Essentially I flattened the worst chipping facility I have ever seen. I did this by accumulating all the hills and mounds into one slightly elevated central green with two deep greenside bunkers. Work was done by Tony of Faery Golf and the golf Superintendent is Ned Booth. Will re-open this spring.

Ashburn Old - Relocated 18th green
Ashburn (Old) – August and September

The largest project I had this year was the rebuilding of the Back Nine green sites at Ashburn’s Stanley Thompson course. Most of the greens and even some of the holes were not originals. They were added by another architect and didn’t fit the remaining holes. The intention was to bring all the green sites back in context with the first nine holes. Original Thompson greens like the 11th were retained while the new holes and greens were given a Thompson inspired facelift. The biggest change was the relocation of the 17th to incorporate a dramatic location which improved the safety around the 3rd and 18th tees. Work was by NMP Golf, supervised by Geoff Proffit and greens were sodded by golf superintendent Jason Fillion.
Oakdale 7th Green Bunkering and Feeder Slope
Oakdale Knudson – August, September and October

This is the other large fall project. It involved rebuilding the 1st and 5th green on the Knudson course, renovating all the bunkers, rebuilding four tees and removing all the awful mounding around the holes added twenty years ago. The goal was to remove two bad renovations from a decent nine-hole layout. The mound removal component was a massive project. My personal intent was to create a third Stanley Thompson nine to match the other two nines at Oakdale. The construction is by Flightline Golf and the Golf Superintendent is Michael Dermott. This project will continue into next Spring.

The Briars – September and October

This was a combination of lining some of the bunkers, tweaking a few and making a few changes to improve the conditioning and character of the bunkers. The work was originally quite understated and I removed a few features I had added decades back to simplify some bunkers and really downplay the shapes. I’m mature enough to realize this is a better answer. It works better in the setting. The work was done by Flightline Golf and the golf superintendent is Patrick Greenman.

Pinegrove – September and October

The work at Pinegrove Country Club started in September and carried on to the end of the year. The club decided it wanted something simple and visible, which eventually determined the style we would be using. This unintentionally took us back to the style of Howard Watson without ever being my original intent. The detailing is very strong, the lines are simple and the really bad renovations are gone. Work was done by NMP. Golf superintendent is Guillaume Despr├ęs.

This was the final job for Donald from NMP. He was excellent and I told him so often. When I thanked him for his great work on my final day on site … he shed a tear … and said he couldn’t remember a project he enjoyed more. That’s the way we would all like to transition to retirement.

Orchard Park – September

Nothing more challenging than being asked to re-grade an iconic green. The first green at Orchard Park is among Travis’s best greens, but at 20% pin locations and averaging 5% slope it was no longer viable. All I did was change 5% to 3% and shift the major roll on the back left to the back of the green. The false front is intact. This took the pin area over 50% without changing the look or the essence of the green. Work by Tony of Faery Golf and the golf Superintendent is Bob Kelly. Should be back in play next Spring.

St. Catharines – October

This was a simple bunker job involving the 6th and 13th green sites. We deepened the low side bunkers and then shaped them to match the bunkers done the previous two years. Work was done by Flightline Construction. Golf superintendent is Dennis Piccolo. Love Dennis’s unorthodox and effective ways of dealing with his clay property.

Laval-sur-le-lac –  October

I knew we were rebuilding the 11th green because we change out the green’s mix on a one green every year on the Willie Park course. I tweak them for drainage, but generally leave the greens alone. I did take the tier out of the front this time that was added by another architect. What I didn’t know was we were also resurfacing the 1st of the Blue Course. We lifted the entire green site and surrounds to improve the drainage and airflow (trees are all gone on the west side too). Mix from the Blue course green was used in the Green course green. Work done by NMP Golf and the golf superintendent is Luc Ladocuer.

18th at St. George's before sod goes back on
St. George’s –  October

The work involved rebuilding two of the greens. The back of the 18th green was lowered to create pin locations across the entire upper plateau. We also rebuilt the 3rd green by removing the two rolls that come into the green and softening the green so everything behind the false front is now available for a pin. Both greens were expanded during this process. I was involved with the 2014 rebuild, but did not make the final call on most of the greens including these two. I don’t see any more changes coming now the three greens have been softened. The work was done in early November by KCM Construction. Golf superintendent is Ian McQueen. Work around the greens on the bunkers is in progress, but an early winter has deferred that to Spring.

Wheatley Hills Punchbowl green site in progress
Wheatley Hills – November

The club continues with an Emmet restoration. This time out we are making a change to a green site that is not a restoration. The 4th green will become a punchbowl green. This is something Emmet did and this will be the most dramatic transition we will do to the course. Work began in November and continues now. We are waiting for the green to be shaped by Geoff Porteus and hopefully we can get the sod back on the green before winter shuts us down. The green and surrounds will be completed in the Spring. Golf Superintendent extraordinaire Ben Orlowski fearlessly pushes on despite the delays. A side note, I ran a 450 Dozer for two days, well, because someone had to and I think I finally found some confidence with operating one. I was happy with the results.

This was quite a year of construction for me and reminiscent of 2009 and 2014 when I was busy on site just about every day.


Spring Work

  1. Wheatley Hills – Finish 4th Hole - April
  2. Pepper Pike Club – Bunkers – April
  3. St. George’s – Billy Bunker Project – April
  4. Oakdale Knudson Nine – Finish Project – April
Fall Work

  1. Highland CC – Bunkers – October
  2. Cherry Hill – Minor Renovations - October
  3. Wheatley Hills - remainder of bunker work - October
Potential Projects

  1. Ken-Wo – Some Bunkers – July
  2. Ashburn (Old) Front Nine Greens and Bunkers – August
  3. St. Catharines – More Bunkers – October
  4. Hillsdale – Full Renovation – August to October

2019 or 2020

Design Consulting ...

Tom Doak was awarded the contract to build the next golf course at Sand Valley. I walked a different quadrant with him a year ago when he made that pitch, but this one is for the other choppier quadrant I have not seen. He has asked myself - and one other individual - if we would consult on the project. I have said yes and he shared the news on Golf Club Atlas. I'm not sure what I can add, but that would be really fun for me to be part of a new design. As much fun as I've had on going to join Gil's construction projects, there is no involvement in the design ideas. I look forward to the opportunity, but I expect that may be 2020 and not 2019.

Friday, 23 November 2018

My Year in Review – 2018 - The Personal Stuff

I decided that I would still do my Year in Review. It will be just two parts this time, with the second part covering my business.

My Golf - By The Numbers

Rounds Played: 50
Rounds at Brantford G&CC: 45
Trips: 1 (Georgia)
Lowest Round: 81 (w/ “9” on the final hole) 
Lessons Taken:

Why I Left Brantford Golf & Country Club
7th fairway, cut off by trees
I joined four years ago to play regularly and see if I could improve my game. I did find my game. But I became really frustrated by all the trees in play and had enough of playing a penal golf course. The golf course needs a change of approach, hopefully they let Keith do his job without interference. Until that happens, I won't return.

Courses I Visited

Best Modern Course Ohoopie Match Play Club
5th hole Image by Andy of Fried Egg
I honestly think this is the best detailed golf course that I have seen out of all the modern work. I’ve seen some wonderful shaping and finishing in places like Bandon Dunes, but this has gone beyond anything I have seen. The extra credit goes out to Robert Nelson for the year he spent dialing in the extra detail work. The big shaping is terrific, the details done in construction were excellent, but the micro details and hand planting is extraordinary. I expect this will make the Top 100 in the World. This will be a breakout course for Gil.

Best Renovation – Sleepy Hollow
3rd at Sleepy Hollow
This is the best renovation I have seen in a while. I had seen the course, but never liked the upper middle stretch of holes. Everything that I loved about the lower holes is still there, but better. The Tillinghast stretch that I thought was a miss has been turned into Raynor Templates and this was why I enjoyed seeing the course so much. The highlight for me was the Road Hole and Knoll Hole. Better takes and more interesting architecture. I’ll be honest, I still don’t like the 10th and I was perplexed by the outside pins on the thumbprint. But all in all this was a great job.

Golden Age Gem - Wannamoisett Country Club
Famous 3rd hole
The land is ok. The golf course is big, brawny and tough as nails from start to finish. But what stood out was not the intensity, but the subtle and not so subtle details at the greens. Some amazing putting surfaces, but it was the grassing around the greens that I admired the most. I saw some of the most aggressive fall-offs I have seen. While the 3rd hole is one everyone talks about (and rightfully so, it’s the iconic hole), it was the 5th green site that absolutely blew my mind. The most impressive aspect is the course is set on less than 100 acres. Front nine is easily World Top 100 material, back nine is solid but not as architecturally inspiring losing architectural steam as it finishes.

Future Travels

Robert Thompson and I are looking at a Scottish trip that will include Machrie, Machrihanish and the nearby Machrihanish Dunes. I’m considering an offer to join Drew Rogers in Ireland too. I plan to travel and play more.

The Book
I might return to writing the book on Stanley Thompson’s five key commissions this winter. I thought I was ready to publish last year, but my choice of editor had some family issues that put things off. Since then I have thought of some new visual ideas that I would like to draw. I also received advice from Tom Dunne that will lead to a partial re-write. It will be better for the delay.

I’m not in a rush to publish. There was a recent book on Thompson and I want some time in between the two of them. I have a lot to do to bring my revised ideas to paper. I also began entertaining the idea of finishing it but not publishing it as a book.

Why I left the American Society of Golf Architects

Want to buy a coat?

I loved the annual meetings in interesting places like Scotland, but good locations were rarely selected. The Chicago architecture tour and Australian Matches were my two personal highlights. I enjoyed dinners with people like Bill Coore and Gil Hanse. I even got to spend time with giants of the industry like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Pete and Alice Dye. 

I tried to make it work. I got involved. I helped start, and then served on, the educational committee for close to ten years. I tried to make things more interesting for myself and other members at the annual meetings. But in the end I found there was absolutely no value in being a part of the organization. It was a chance to see friends and nothing more. It wasn't worth the expense and time. 

My decision came down to, remaining in the ASGCA, taking Cindy to Europe every year for two weeks. That was a very easy choice. I have no bad feelings about my time in the ASGCA. It was worth a try. In the end I decided I have better things to do with my time outside of work.

Purchased River Kayaks in 2017

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Cape Breton Highlands Essay

I have published another detailed history of Stanley Thompson's five master works. This one covers how the course got built from concept through to completion. The story touches on the expropriation, the changes in design, the actual build and even the aftermath. Images clarify everything from the process through to original built form.

In many ways it is my love letter to that special and complicated place.

The essay can be reached directly here:

Or you can being with Ran's lovely introduction first:

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Bunker Podcast and Article in Golf Course Industry Magazine

Last month I did a podcast and interview with Guy Cipriano of Golf Course Industry Magazine on bunkers. We touched on everything from design to maintenance in the podcast. The article addresses more maintenance issues and draws in a number of Golf Superintendents.

I think the podcast is worth a listen because a few thoughts question conventional thinking.

The article is here and is called; Bunker Mentality

The Podcast is here Tartan Talks #7 "Bunkers"

Sunday, 22 January 2017

5 Courses For The Rest of My Life - National Golf Links of America

I was asked by FriedEgg.com to pick 5 courses for the rest of my life.
Here is the piece: http://www.friedegg.co/golf-courses/january-ask-an-architect

  1. National Golf Links of America Southampton, NY. C.B. Macdonald
I’m a massive fan of golf architecture history and there is no better museum that the National Golf Links of America. Charles Blair Macdonald studied the classic holes of Great Britain extensively before creating his own adaptations of those holes at the National Golf Links of America. We know Macdonald famously said there are only four or five good holes in golf, but at The National he managed to create a magnificent collection where most of his templates exceed the quality of the original holes.

But what sets The National Golf Links of America apart from other great golf courses is it’s the ability to adapt. There are so many interesting and challenging pin positions on every green that a week spent playing the course will be a week playing entirely different approaches because of the intricacies of the greens. Some greens are so radically different, depending on pin locations that often players will need to come in from the opposite side of the fairway to have a sporting chance.

But the greatest joy lies in the style of play. Eventually we all begin to hit the ball shorter and lose the height from our shots. The joy of the National Golf Links of America is you can pretty much play along the ground all day and still do fine. In fact, I’d argue that you should on many holes regardless of skill that is a smarter play. No matter what skill level you have, the National accommodates all players and allows almost every playing option. For me, that equals fun.

If I could arrange one annual round anywhere, I'd fly to Long Island and play there over every course in the World. Yes before Cypress Point, Pine Valley, etc. It's that good and that much fun.

15th at NLGA, courtesy of Golf Tripper

Saturday, 21 January 2017

5 Courses For The Rest of My Life - Jasper Park

    2. Jasper Park, Alberta, Canada. Stanley Thompson, 1925
In Jasper, Stanley Thompson inherited a marvelous piece of land from the Canadian National Railway. The site had wonderful rolling terrain which got progressively stronger the closer you were to the mountains. The heart of the property contained a beautiful glacial lake that could be incorporated into the golf course, but the vast majority of its shoreline had to be left for the lodges. The routing stays mostly on the softer undulations, but it does venture down into a lower valley and right up to mountains a few times during the round for drama. What’s most memorable about the routing is the way Stanley managed to line up all 18 holes with 18 different mountain peaks.

What I enjoy the most at Jasper Park is the scale of the golf course. Stanley recognized that if he increased his clearing width, he would open up wider vistas out to the mountains, but it would also change how the course played. While it is hard to lose a golf ball, the golf course could have become insignificant within the setting. So Thompson added a lot of very large bunkers to match the scale of the site to bring the attention back down to the golf holes.

When you play there you are in awe of how the visual canvas works in harmony with the setting. You find out the scale provides you with so much more room that you hit more fairways. The elevation means you gain a few extra yards on each shot. As you play you will have likely made more pars or birdies than you’re used to. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy the mountains than a fun filled round of golf at Jasper Park Lodge.
11tth hole - courtesy of Edmonton Journal

Friday, 20 January 2017

5 Courses For The Rest of My Life - The Old Course

3. The Old Course, St. Andrew’s, Scotland. Robertsom/Morris

St. Andrew’s is the well-spring for golf course architecture. Almost every great idea ever incorporated in golf design can be found on this immaculate links. The irony is many ideas were not planned by expert nor was the course built over outstanding terrain. The magic lies in the multitude of small details that when collected together deliver an incredible playing experience. It reminds us every time that golf is not about how a course looks, but how it plays on the ground.

After finishing a recent enjoyable round at St. Andrew’s Old, played in very aggressive winds, I had an epiphany about the experience. I realized that the style of the architecture at the Old Course had little to do with punishing poor shots and had much more to do with encouraging intelligent play. Its greatest attribute was the freedom to choose. I had always appreciated how the course provided me with the option to select an appropriate route and the opportunity to play a variety of shots. I’m still thrilled by the unlimited options throughout the round, but it took a round played under difficult conditions to drive home the importance of having the freedom to set your own path.

I played well that day despite the wind. While I was pleased with the results, I knew that to improve my score that I would need to take on much more risk the next time out. St. Andrew’s Old is one of the few courses I know where you can have this sort of experience regardless of weather.

Eden Hole Image courtesy of St. Andrew