Sunday, 19 January 2020

Update - January 2018

Thanks for coming here.

Most of the original 500 posts are now gone. I've kept around 70 posts for now and will see if I want to remove the entire blog at a later date.

I've never been a fan of the blogging format or how my images constantly disappear. So, I decided to eliminate most of the blog and take the best of the writing to as a series of essays. I will continue to add more essays to my company web site.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

NEW Advice for Future Golf Architects

Highlands Links Crew
For years I’ve suggested a combination of practical experience and a degree in Landscape Architecture as a pretty solid combination which would provide you with an opportunity to join a design firm. Well guess what, design firms are a thing of the past and are likely never to return. This is the era of independent contractors where the vast majority of future architects are building or renovating the courses. To succeed in the current climate, you must be able to build what you design.
Some like me have enough of a legacy to practice the old fashioned way, but the truth is we are a dying breed. I’m lucky to have a very specialized niche and have been around long enough to be on most radar screens for my style of work. I’m not sure if someone like me will exist twenty years from now.

The Firms are Essentially Dead in a Generation

So how do you become an architect now?

The future is Design/Build. Therefore any University of College education is no longer a necessity to break into this business. If you want my advice on how to break into the design field, I would say go work in construction. It won’t cost you anything and if you’re good, the experience will pay you as you go.

If you want to be a designer then you better become a really terrific shaper. I believe the future designers will mostly start on bulldozers. There is a romantic notion that all shapers are creative genius which you can draw from. It’s also far easier to survive building what you design while you wait a decade or more for enough of a turn in the economy to get your opportunity because you have two ways of getting paid!

17th at TPC - done in the field ....

There’s more to it than that. You need to be able to generate business because it doesn’t come to you. You need to be comfortable speaking to large groups. You need to know how to run a business because many great golf designers went bankrupt. I can go on, but all of that is the second part of the initial question.

So how do you start?

Don’t go to school … go work in golf construction.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Pete Dye - Golf's Most Influential Architect?

Trent Jones - Founder of the Modern School of Architecture

A great question was posted on Golf Club Atlas in the discussion group a few weeks back. It asked the question, “Is Pete Dye the most influential architect since World War Two?

When in 1951 Ben Hogan said, "I'm glad I was finally able to bring this course—this monster—to its knees." A star was born – Robert Trent Jones.

Herbert Warren Wind’s timely profile in The New Yorker that focused on Trent Jones and his changes to Oakland Hills made the architect a household name. His career took off and since there were no influential holdovers left from the Golden Age, the new generation of architects embraced the architectural philosophy of Robert Trent Jones and in mass began practicing the Modern School of Design.

Modernism has absolutely dominated golf design world wide from the end of World War Two to the present day.

Pete Dye was one of those architects who followed in the style of Jones, but a trip to Scotland and the desire to set himself apart from Trent Jones took him in the opposite direction. He intentionally built shorter courses based around the links of Scotland trying to differentiate himself from Trent. He also drew upon the courses of Raynor, Langford and Ross for additional influence. The work may have initially stood out because of the contrast, but have survived the test of time because the underlying ideas were outstanding.
Pete Dye-courtesy of Links Magazine
Course like The Golf Club and the original Crooked Stick were effectively the first Minimalist courses built. While Minimalism would not become a significant movement for at least 25 years, the origins lie with Pete. Many future Minimalists, like myself, point to this work as an influence on our design philosophies.

Interestingly the person who seems least interested in that work is Pete, who when given the chance renovates to his current philosophy and style.

People began to pay attention to Pete right away. Harbourtown was full of imaginative holes, looked and played unlike anything else built in that era. Short holes, timber walls, wild greens and long grasses all captured our imagination. The golf course look amazing on television and its success would lead to the commission to build the TPC at Sawgrass.

TPC Sawgrass - The Course that Changed Golf
At TPC Sawgrass, Pete was being asked to build a course from essentially a swamp. This meant the entire project would have to be created from scratch. He delivered a brilliant test of angles, courage and patience built largely on the same principals that he had used before, but ratcheted up the difficulty to test the mettle of the players. They didn’t talk about the risk and rewards scenarios, the aggressive use of diagonal bunkering, the marvelous greens or grand theater that Pete and Alice had created. They bitched about the intentional blindness on the shot four, the difficulty playing from Pete’s severe chocolate drops, the narrow margin for error because of the timber walls and the fact that the 17th was completely unfair. They hated the place. We loved the fact they hated the place and turned this into a significant television event. Pete was featured in the television coverage, discussed in magazines, players complained about his work during the event and eventually he was tossed in the lake by Jerry Pate. Like Trent Jones at Oakland Hills, only decades later - a star was born. Soon Pete Dye was on American Express commercials saying “Do you know who I am?” And most golfers answered, of course, your Pete Dye!
Whistling Straights - Courtesy of Golf Digest

The commissions came fast and furious with many of them being intended for golf tournaments. Pete’s view on architecture had changed at TPC and now he was going bigger, bolder, harder and more shaped. Each project spiraled up the results culminating in Whistling Straights where nobody knew how many bunkers there were. I have to admit along the way, he completely lost me. I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to reconcile with the fact that I like his early work, but detest most of his work after TPC Sawgrass. I recognize that he’s brilliant, but don’t care for the combination of over-shaping, difficulty and length that I find define the latter half of his work. The restraint in his early work is impressive; the lack of it later in his career is oppressive.

What was more amazing was how many other architects rushed to design like Pete. The amount of work with railroad ties and other typical Dye features skyrocketed as everyone tried to catch his star by copying his work. It's too bad that most didn't understand all the best aspects like the diagonals and instead embraced his worst ideas like the Island Green.
Doak, Crenshaw and Coore - Tomorrow's Influence
One of the more interesting aspects of Pete is who worked for him and their impact. As Pete became successful he began to attract some of the brightest young minds in architecture. When you look at the people who worked for Pete you see the names of Bill Coore, Tom Doak, along a whole host of others. When you extend that out to others who worked for them and you include names like Gil Hanse. That’s pretty much the leaders of the Minimalist Movement in Architecture. When you speak with anyone who worked with Pete, they quote many of his architectural ideas and you can hear the influence he was on each of their careers. The extension of his architectural tree is quite enormous among the leading active architects of today.

The leadership on tomorrow may actually be rooted in Coore, Doak and to a slightly lesser degree Gil Hanse. They are the leaders today. They are Minimalists and so are most of the young architects of tomorrow. They may eventually be the most influential people in the future, but that’s making a massive assumption that Minimalism will have as long and dominant run as modernism, but in a shorter attention span generation I’m not fully convinced that Movements can last near as long.
Golf's Most Influential Architect after WWII
Therefore this comes down to Dye or Trent Jones. Pete’s a better architect and has a better architectural tree. I give Jones the first two decades, but I give Pete the next three. Jones has little or no influence on new architects coming into the business and Pete clearly still attracts their attention. So there is no contest, Pete is indeed the most influential architect since World War Two. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Why a Master Plan?


You don’t run a business without a business plan. So why would you renovate your golf course without a comprehensive look at what you are trying to achieve.

I believe this is the one opportunity to talk about the big picture and philosophy of what you are trying to accomplish before you start to look at projects. You need to talk about expectations. You need to address issues like attracting future members. You must talk about how you want the course to play on a day to day basis. Often many of these philosophical questions influence the direction of the Master Plan. Understanding growing environments may be the single most important aspect of this process.

The most important part of Master Planning is having a broad based committee that represents the entire club’s playing membership. If the committee is well struck, the Master Plan process is usually fun and educational since many members of the committee learn a great deal more about the play of other players and the issues a superintendent faces in meeting expectations. Once well educated about both, the process becomes a sorting through all the possibilities to find a solution that fits the culture of the club which must including the financial aspects.

The Master Plan focuses the club on what needs to be addressed or what needs improvement. It helps the membership decide on capitol allocation, which often competes with the clubhouse and other areas with “plans.” It identifies connected projects for efficiencies, provides a breakdown of costs and even includes a recommended phasing plan on how to get the work done within the typical yearly capital allocations available for improvements.

Most clubs have a culture of consistent in house work such as tree removal, grassing changes and tee work. Many superintendents use the plan to find small projects that fit manpower or left over capital in their own budgets. It allows us to take on some smaller projects in short notice if wither the circumstance demand action or the capital surprise opens up a late season opportunity.

My Master Plans happen to include a Master Plan Booklet, which allows new members on the board or committee to read through all the documentation and immediately come up to speed on how the plan was developed. This avoids starting the process again a few years later. I find it helps maintain the focus and avoid personal agendas. It also helps the process continue on through the decade without re-starting as boards change.
After Image from Laval Master Plan

I even recommend all documentation be shared on line with the membership. I provide the plan, images and booklets and suggest they be available at the clubhouse at all times. I also run multiple meetings with the membership at large to help engage the membership by explaining why we need to make the changes we recommend.

I see all of this as a written and illustrated step by step instruction about the club, what problems need addressing, what recommendations have been made, they have images that show what they will all look like, they have breakdowns of what it will cost and finally how will it impact you the member.

That’s why I do them, because the members of the committee and club can read through the entire process and answer all those questions by the time they finish the document and make an informed decision on whether they want to spend money on projects or not.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Sustainability in Our Maintenance

This section is also from the talk I did for the USGA and this section is about what a change in maintenance could do for golf.

this is actually all you need - Lossiemouth

I would like to see a future with a more British or Australian style approach to turf maintenance. I personally think that the playing conditions are superior to ours since golf is best played firm and fast. I do think architects need to recognize this future and make sure the running approach is almost always an option in the courses we work with.

The transition will be toughest on superintendents at older courses where the turf conversion to bentgass and more fescues will take a long process. That’s why I see value in starting now with tree removal programs designed to help conversion programs.

I’m not so sure about whether we will see lots of green re-grassing, but I certainly do see a movement towards re-grassing of fairways and tees in preparation for a reduction on inputs. The one question I have is whether we will continue to seed with the new turf types that have high maintenance requirements or whether we will see a shift back to some older alternatives that require less maintenance.

photo by Brian Ewan

What I do think you need from architects is recognition of how this will impact play. We’ve had decades of architects making courses only accessible to aerial play.  If we are going to go firm and fast we need to open up the ground game as an option for the average player.

 Perhaps we need a complete change of focus. When talking with the Superintendents in Melbourne they talked about maintaining where you are supposed to be playing from and largely ignoring where you are not supposed to be. The idea was largely based upon limited water, but when you think about how much money we spend on green lush rough it does make you question our choices.

I think there is far too much emphasis placed on maintaining, irrigating and grooming our rough. When a player finds the left or right side of the hole, they are almost always in a poor position to approach the green. That in itself is a penalty for poor play. Imagine the savings on water, irrigation, fertilizer and manpower if we simply did not actively manage our rough and let it the rough play as the weather dictates.

Bandon has the idea right about sustainability

On that end I wish we did what the Australians do and simply let our courses have seasonality in their presentation. Australian courses go from brown to green and back to brown again depending on rain. We may need to convert over our roughs to become more drought tolerant, but the savings in water use and irrigation heads easily justifies this.

There is no question in my mind that Superintendents would embrace an even more sustainable approach to golf maintenance now if they knew their jobs were not linked to the current level of expectations. We as architects need to drive this concept, educate the memberships and help them understand that their course may occasionally look a little less than perfect but it will play even better than before.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Growing Enviornments

The following is an excerpt from my presentation of An Enviornmental Approach To Golf Architecture. This section was from the section on the importance of growing enviornments in the quest to lower inputs. (Inputs would be defined as water, fertilizer, herbiciide and pesticide)

The only way to lower inputs is by concentrating on growing environments. Architects need to spend far more effort making sure ever green site is an excellent place to grow turf and a lot less time worrying about aesthetics.

The simply answer is that any tree interrupting 5 hours of morning sun and nine hours of daily sun is an impediment to an environmentally sensitive approach to maintenance. Ask the clubs that I work with, I am a ruthless tree hater, but that’s the only way to achieve the goal of healthy turf.

One of the reasons the British courses can get away with minimal inputs is the growing environments. They receive full sun, are wide open to the wind and in most cases are built on well drained soils. We can’t duplicate those conditions but we can cut enough trees for adequate light and airflow.

Soils are a little tougher issue here. Most of our soils are tight and yet in most instances very little has been done to improve the drainage. Greens should be a given, but so should chipping areas, approaches, fairway hollows and even under some key tees if we want to reduce the inputs. We need to address compaction and moisture as much as sunlight and airflow if our intention is minimal inputs.

The biggest change everyone needs to make is their view of trees. Environmentalists want us to reduce our inputs and use less water, but they also want us to keep as many trees on the site as we can. What they fail to see is the contradiction they create. The trees will always out-compete the turf and the superintendent will be forced to supplement the turf to help it survive. The trees have to go in order to promote sustainability. Tree by-laws are now the greatest detriment to a better environmental solution and we need to lobby to make that clear.

The reality is the more trees we remove around the golf course, the less likely we are to require input and the more likely we are to promote the turf we want to develop. It’s imperative that we eliminating shade, root competition and create airflow if we want to produce optimal conditions.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

My Conundrom with Pete

courtesy of Paiute Golf Resort

Pete Dye represents one of the great conundrums for me as an architect.
I consider Pete Dye one of the most important architects in history. I happen to think that Pete’s earliest work prior to the TPC was quite clever. I was particularly impressed with my visit to The Golf Club in New Albany where some of his trademark ideas like timber work was a brilliant punctuation to what is largely a subtle and clever piece of architecture.  I think his early work is one of the key influences on the origins of the minimalist movement. In fact I many ways he is the father of the minimalist movement. The fact that he trained many of the key players in this movement also adds to his importance.
Every architect (me included) respects Mr. Dye for his knowledge, skill and audacity. He singlehandedly changed architecture on more than one occasion and is a largely the leading influence of the last thirty years. Because of this most architects hold Pete Dye up as a major influence on their design ideas.

I don’t.
In fact I can honestly say that as much as I respect the man and his abilities (and in the past have studied many of his most significant courses) I have very little interest in seeing his work. I do like a few of the early designs, but once he began to aggressively manipulate his sites he lost me.  I also found that once he got involved with the PGA Tour he became length obsessed and relied very heavily on the intimidation of ponds hard up against fairways and greens. I respect the strategies because there always well thought through, but I can’t appreciate the style for its level of difficulty.
And yet here I am reading “Bury Me in Pot Bunker” for the second time. I’m also off to the Honours Course in Tennessee to see one of his best designs (that I haven't seen).  I know he’s really talented, so it must just be me. I keep coming back to the question what is it I just don't get?