Friday, 6 December 2019

Part Two – Year in Review – My Business

Master Plan image of 7th at Brightwood

Part Two – Year in Review –  My Business


It was a very busy year for construction work. The spring started well with a few construction projects finishing up. The summer was steady with St. George’s being the prime focus. The fall saw an incredible run of projects leading to a quieter than normal early November finish. It was a very solid year.

Numbers and Lists


Miles Driven: 30,305 km. (not including rental car miles)
Flights Taken: 54 (this is pretty normal for me)
Total Miles Flown: 23,565 (nearly half of previous the year)

My Business

Courses Visited: 30
American Work: 20%
New clients: 5
Construction Projects: 9
Interviews: 3
Phone Interviews: 1
Face Time Interview: 1
Potential New Clients: 1

Interviewing gets more bizarre every year. From RFP’s clearly written by your competition, a member openly suggesting the club should hire them, being told before an interview the club intends to hire an American. So, why am “I” here? We had to include a Canadian. I wish you picked a different one …

New Clients

In 2019

  1. Brightwood Golf & Country Club – Completed a Master Plan for them this year
  2. Cataraqui Golf & Country Club – Drainage and Restoration Planning
  3. Mactaquac Golf Course – Golf Course Report
  4. Penfield Country Club – Completed a Bunker Renovation Project

New Clients in 2020

  1. Midvale Country Club in Rochester
  2. Antigonish Golf Course in Nova Scotia

2019 Construction Projects

3rd Hole at Pepper Pike
  1. Pepper Pike Club Bunkers – April, May, September and October

This fall we completed the bunker work on the golf course. Every bunker is now finished and we even managed to get the new 11th tees done too. We fixed the chicklets at the 12th. Long story, but funny one too. While there is more grassing work to do, a few trees to remove and tees to build, we are most of the way in our Legacy Plan. Mike of Precision Golf was a Rockstar this fall. Kenn Happ keeps moving turf for me to make the grassing lines much better every time I visit. Ans always a shout out to my man #FlymoNate

18th at St. George's in Construction

  1. St. George’s Bunkers – April to August

This was a complete surprise for me. We had finished two green rebuilds late last year and this was talked about, but I did not see converting all the bunkers to Billy Bunker in the Spring and Summer of 2019. Golf superintendent Ian McQueen knew the Bentonite Liner they were installing works, but was not the best answer for all the high steep faces. For that amount of bunkering, he felt he needed to have Billy Bunker. I agree. KCM Construction, led by Bryan Smith rebuilt all the bunkers and converted everyone over to Billy Bunker. This included the creation of a lip detail using topsoil filled burlap bags hand dug into the faces for stability. In the end the project would use 15,000 bags. I went over to thank the crew that did this work every visit. They are the men that make a job special. In the middle of the project we got a 5” rain storm that flooded the nearby highway making National news. And Ian had no washouts! Billy Bunkers work.

On a personal level I got the chance to repair bunkers that been either damaged or altered over the last 20 years. I had some new images and took the opportunity to improve on accuracy and detail. We returned the scale to a couple where more recent tree removal allowed for the entire bunker to be rebuilt. Ian’s ready for the Open. If there was more Bentgrass available we would have had more of the grassing lines back in place. That’s the next project at St. George’s

7th Hole at Ashburn (old) ready for finishing

  1. Ashburn (Old) Front Nine Greens – August and September

The largest project I had this year was the rebuilding of the Front Nine greens at Ashburn Golf Club. Last year’s Back Nine greens were in play and Rene George delivered some amazing greens for sodded greens. Best I’ve seen.

This was the nine holes with the most original Stanley Thompson greens. I had to adjust a few to address drainage and slope issues pin, but I tried to leave the greens mostly intact. Everything went really quick until interrupted by a Hurricane. 1000 bags of sand and full tarping of the open sites managed to minimize the damage repair to one day. The only casualty is I still have back issues related to the day we were moving sand bags. Something popped and I’ve not been the same since. The work was done by NMP Golf and supervised by my good friend Geoff Proffit. This was his last large project and I’m thankful I was part of that. Geoff, at least in my eyes, is a legend. Job went smooth because Gordie Smith is such a great man to work with. Hope to get the chance again on something New.

  1. Beverly Range – August, September

This project was a small one compared to the others, but kind of grew into something a little bigger. Credit to General manger Mark Cunningham for a grander vision. The construction was by Flightline Golf. The range will have more tee and much better visibility than before. Jamie Steele did a nice job in opening up the views to the land below while providing some strong targets to hit to. Thanks to Golf Superintendent Scott Dyker and his staff for all the clearing … and growing.

  1. Cherry Hill Renovation Project – August, September

I’ve spent my career working with John Gall. He was the superintendent I worked with on the restoration of St. George’s which made my career. We then worked on the restoration of Scarboro and finally Cherry Hill. These were all big projects for me. So, it makes me happy “and sad” to say John has retired. At least that means I won’t get my notebooks crewed up by his dog. Jeremy Krueger will be a fine replacement and together we will continue to refine the grassing work and remove some trees.

The construction work at Cherry Hill was a collection of small projects. John had picked away at the grassing lines, but on a few holes, we needed some mounds removed to finish that work off properly. Flightline Golf and good friend Darren Hancocks made the changes and built some tees and paths. Then General manager Caroline Molen asked the perfect question, “What’s left?” and that led to two new bunkers. The big stuff is done. Unless of course you want to talk network fairway drainage. That will come.

4th Hole Bunkers at Penfield CC

  1. Penfield CC Bunkers – August - October

The work at Penfield Country Club started in September and carried on till the early November. I honestly never thought we had a chance of getting the entire course done in one fall, but my buddy Tony Gratzey and the incredible Jamaican crew at Faery Golf were so efficient. They overcame everything from bedrock to nasty weather.

The project took very modern bunkers in some strange locations, put them in better locations, then gave them an old school look that combined elements of Charles Alison with a little local Donald Ross for character. This leaves me with one hole to eventually fix, but that will take a bigger commitment. I’ve already got some ideas on that one.

To make this job go even better Doug Vanderlee began to mow an acre or two of rough to become future fairway. He was as committed to seeing the grander vision come together. He pushed forward when I wasn’t sure we should. He was a great partner all project. Thanks to Tom Schoenle for giving us the ability and occasional the financial flexibility to make every right call. The results speak for themselves and he needs to get credit on this too.

A special shout out to members who thanked Tony and his staff at every opportunity. I’m always impressed when club members go out of their way to be friendly with the crew. Most clubs’ members are excellent, but this was at a new level of amazing.

  1. Laval-sur-le-lac Range – September - November

The project required deviation from the original plan because we found bedrock “everywhere.” That’s easily managed when it’s a hole, much easier when there’s many of them, but really difficult when its one location and you’re short of fill. We ended up going outside the site for additional fill to solve the issue. The work will achieve the visibility that the club wanted for the target fairway. When the weather will allow, the work is being done by NMP Golf and managed by the Golf Superintendent Luc Ladocuer, but its been a tough go right from the start of construction.

  1. Highland CC - October and November

This was the final stage of a bunker renovation project at Highlands CC. The entire project was an opportunity to update the details, add a liner, change out the sand and occasionally move things to where they work better. We also used this as a chance to tone down my original work. Finding people to do hand work is an issue in golf, so it was time to look at the bunkers and make sure this project would become more sustainable for the long-term. I think we did a nice balance of retaining the character, but making it a little less complicated to maintain. Work was done by Vergeer Golf and managed by Greig Barker the Golf Course Superintendent.

People wonder why I’ve recommended grass faced bunkers when I’m asked to produce something original in renovations. Fist up, I do believe in them conceptually because they get the bunkers closer to the green, but the main answer is the long-term sustainability is better unless you can afford something like Bentonite or Billy Bunker.

Wheatley Hills Putting Green Project

  1. Wheatley Hills – November

We stopped restoration work to address the clubhouse area. I worked with a landscape designer to co-ordinate the paving and path systems around the clubhouse. His stair work work and walking paths done last year were beautiful. We just needed to address the golf areas. So, we rebuilt the putting green this fall and got the grades to work without walls and stairs. This was a project where a lot of people in a lot of disciplines worked together to make a complex little area work. I loved what everyone accomplished and now none of the path system is visible from the patio.

This was quite a year of construction for me, but it’s also the end of a great run. I had consistent work with the same clubs going for the last few years. Each one of them is essentially done. I was lucky to have all that work to do.

2019 Construction Work?

Pepper Pike Club – Spring and Fall
One or two visits for grassing and tee work

Kawartha Golf & Country Club - Summer
We will be adding two new holes to Kawartha to replace the current 15th and 16th holes. The new three and new five will replace the holes. The 14th will revert back to its original alignment and play as a par four.

Wheatley Hills Country Club - Fall
I expect that we will finish the remaining bunkers on the 11th and 14th holes.

In Summary

I really don’t have much construction for next year. I have a full Master Plan for Edmonton and some reports for two clubs to put together beginning in the Spring. I expect to have a quiet year.

Rather than fret and begin to look for work, I’m committed to making better use of the extra time available to do other things. Whether playing more golf, a few overnight kayak trips, spending more time up north, or finally setting up the wood shop out back, this may be an interesting year for life beyond golf architecture.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

My Year in Review - Part One - Ian's Travels

10th at Myopia Hunt, unusual choice, set down in a gentle valley

I made one trip to see new courses and played in two events this year. The trip was to Boston, the first event was at Ohoopee and the final event was at Pinehurst.

Golf By The Numbers

Rounds Played: 15
Competitive Rounds: 4
Average Rounds Most Years: 25
Boston Trip: 5
World Top 100 Courses: 4
Rounds in the US: 11
Lowest Round: 83 at Old Sandwich
Highlight: Playing even par from 5 to 15 at Old Sandwich
Lowlight: Weather in Pinehurst (39 degrees and rain)

What am I looking For in Golf Design?

I’m not looking to see the next course by the Big Three unless it’s on an amazing setting. They are all great architects and I think the body of work they will leave behind will be seen as one of the great periods in golf design. Some of their recent renovation and restorations have been great for the game. My problem with golf design is not their work, but the fact that three architects are essentially getting all of the projects in North America. It’s the lack of variety in the artform that troubles me. They all share the same basic playbook and each represents a variation on a similar theme. While individual holes and sites vary, I kind of know what it will look like and what it will play like long before I arrive. That’s a problem for me. That’s why I won’t go to see the work unless it’s on a special site.

Which brings me to my favourite course of the year …

7th Green Tobacco Road: controversial when pin is cut high, fun when cut low

Course of the Year Tobacco Road

It was a breath of fresh air to play something this out of step with Minimalism.

It reminded me of going to the Met in NYC. As much as I liked seeing the French Impressionist, I was far more moved an inspired by the works from the Great Upheaval period like Picasso and Kandinsky. I like to have my ears pined back by something I don’t expect or necessarily understand on first viewing. I’ll take audacious and uneven over something very comfortable and easily understood.

Tobacco Road is the most divisive course I know. I like that.

Mike puts you into an uncomfortable state from the outset. He uses intimidation to make you always feel that shots are harder than they really are. But he’s also baiting you to roll the dice and go for it when often that is not the prudent play. I love his sense of gamesmanship. I feel the constant push and pull between position and aggression. And because of that you never find a safe comfortable rhythm.

He’s better than the Big Three at narrowing up the line between wild success and abject failure. Part of the reason is he is more comfortable with inflicting deeper pain, but the other is he’s more willing to give you a shot without any safe play. There’s nothing jarring than being told, no options, let’s see what you got. There’s no reward greater than hitting that shot.

I love his concept of “looks hard, plays easier than it looks” because the feeling of overcoming longer odds gives you a much higher high. If you can let the score go, you get to enjoy a rollercoaster ride of emotions on a golf course full of thrills and horrible disasters. It’s about as much fun as you can have playing golf.

Famous 9th Green at Myopia Hunt

Favourite Golden Age Course – Myopia Hunt

This might have been the single greatest experience of the year. There are a lot of lessons in how important it is to trust the land right up to the last second, where you then commit and push everything to the limit. The contrast between something so subtle and something so audacious is delicious. There are multiple out of the box ideas on green placements and green contours that teach small things make all the difference. The use of cross slopes throughout is a masterclass in design. I learnt more from Myopia Hunt than any other course this year.

Brilliant 11th from the tee at Essex CC

Favourite Golden Age Course – Essex Country Club

Essex is a textbook example of how to present a great piece of land. This is by far my favourite Ross course because it presents a greater variety of architectural ideas than Pinehurst #2.

The deuce is sublime because of what it represents conceptually to golf, ridiculously tough for the professionals, but weirdly playable for the patient golfer. Taken down one notch is set-up and contour, it represents the perfect example of what public courses should be designed like.

Essex actually has more to lessons to teach because it has better land and more varied choices. It has one of the greatest collections of great lay of the land holes. These understated moments are critical to setting up the bolder and wilder holes. The pacing allows each dramatic element or landscape to feel even more impressive. The pacing of the round at Essex is sublime. You are given freedom and scale on one hole and then tasked with something more heroic and intimate on the next. Each hole, whether understated or adventurous is excellent. What takes this to such a lofty position in the game is holes like the 6th, 11th and 18th are best in class and some of the best holes I have seen and played. We talk about the rhythm at Merion being special, so is the rhythm at Essex, it’s just a different type of three act play.

15th at Old Sandwich, pretty little short hole

Old Sandwich

I could play this course every day. The width, options and playability make this the perfect members course. I really, really liked it, but I was not blown away by it.

The lack of a really dramatic hole, outside of the really cool 5th hole, was a surprise. Every hole was really well planned and each one works really well in the landscape. My issue with Old Sandwich is there is a continuous consistent rhythm that never really breaks beyond the 5th hole. The golf course is really good, all of it, really good, but the very best courses have iconic holes or stunning stretches that take you even higher. It didn’t have that singular moment.

From the back of the 5th at Plymouth CC

Plymouth CC

From the second shot to the 4th green through to the 18th green, Plymouth CC is as good as Essex, Myopia Hunt and Old Sandwich. The undulations, the variety of holes, the audacious green sites leave the player breathless with delight. Can I make the opening three better? This was the first trip where I wondered if it was time to do a little more work to the opening holes to take the course up a step.

Future Travels

Robert and I are talking about a short New York trip to play on Long Island, but with my late start to the year, I may need to work all of May and June to make up for that. With my lack of fall projects, perhaps a late trip is in order instead.

The event that got me to Ohoopee will be going to Sand Hills next year. I think it’s in May and I said I would go. It will. I expect this will be my last golf architecture meeting I will attend. I’m think seriously about dropping going to golf matches this year too.

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 to pick 5 courses for the rest of my life.
Here is the piece:

  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