Monday, 27 December 2010

#10 Perry Maxwell

Best Course: Prairie Dunes

Other notable work: Crystal Downs (w/Mackenzie), Southern Hills, Dornock Hills, Old Town

Notable Renovations: Colonial, Augusta National, Pine Valley

Overview: Perry Maxwell was originally a banker who had an interest in golf and golf course architecture. After the death of his wife in 1919 he made a trip to Scotland to tour the top courses including the Old Course at St. Andrew’s. This happened to eb the time when Maxwell met Alister Mackenzie and arranged a partnership that would lead to quite a few great projects together. Maxwell returned and went into practice as a golf course architect full time using the contacts he made at the bank to help finance design contacts. It was those contacts, particularly with oil companies, that would keep him very busy even when the rest of the architects were struggling to find work.
He had actually built the nine holes at Dornock Hills before this trip, but the trip certainly changed everything for Perry. Maxwell also traveled to see other courses and was particularly influenced by the National Golf Links designing holes that were clearly influenced by what he saw.

Praise for the work: Alister Mackenzie said of Maxwell, “Mr. Maxwell speaks of my ability to make a good fairway or develop a worthy green, but I wish to tell you that in laying out a golf course and to give it everything that the science and art of golf demand, Mr. Maxwell is not second to anyone I know.”

Bill Coore mentions Maxwell as one of his four key influences beginning with the excellence of his routings and finishing with the quality of his greens. Maxwell’s greens were so well thought of that he was invited to rebuild greens at courses including Augusta National and Pine Valley. His use of interior contours was extremely original and it is fascinating how these rolls created really great interior and exterior pin positions at the same time.

The 9th at Dornick Hills

Maxwell’s skill in routing is best illustrated on the front nine at Southern Hills. The first four holes play counter clockwise making an interesting use of both the hill and creek. The next five holes are clockwise around the outside finishing again on the main hill. No two holes in same direction because of the winds and no two holes anything alike. He realized that strong winds limited the player’s options, so even in his architecture he created opportunities for players to still hit fairways and green with a lower flight. The bunkering was also brought to the side to catch the wayward, rather than in front tp penalize the short.

Maxwell believed in moving as little as possible and building his courses at minimal expense. He took what the ground offered and made that a key element in the design, understanding that the rolls and undulations would be enough to confound most good players. Most of his work was limited to the bunkering and greens that would emphasize the strategy that he had prepared in the routing.

18th at Southern Hills

Criticisms: There have been a few suggestions that his architecture was too simple and that he may have developed better courses by manipulating a little more of the land. It is has been pointed out that the bunkering can be a little too plain and that a few flourishes of style would have added a great deal to the aesthetics of his courses. I think these opinions come from forgetting where he practiced and (most importantly) “when” he practiced. The mid-west did not have the money or pretense of the big cities in the North-East or West Coast. The architecture reflects the region and its people and likely Maxwell’s values as well.

Great Quotes: It is my theory that nature must precede the architect, in the laying out of links. It is futile to attempt the transformation of wholly inadequate acres into an adequate course. Invariably the result is the inauguration of an earthquake. The site of a golf course should be there, not brought there.

10th at Prairie Dunes

Favourite Course: Prairie Dunes
There is no course that embraces its site quite like Prairie Dunes. It is hard to tell where the prairie ends and the golf course starts. The course features one of the best routings in golf, some of the best bunker work the game has ever seen and a great set of greens to finish the course perfectly.

7th at Old Town at opening

What I take from him: That even when you take a minimalist approach, you still can build the best courses by seeking out the best undulation to create strategy, avoid moving dirt beyond greens tees and bunkers, limited the bunkers required, fit the course to the land, and build great greens that create strategy all by themselves. He also teaches me superior results come from a little more time and a little more work done by hand.

(Thanks to Chris Clouser for inspiration and images, he has also written a book on Maxwell called The Midwest Associate: The Life and Work of Perry Duke Maxwell)

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