Monday, 27 December 2010

#13 Willie Park Jr.

Best Course: Sunningdale (Old)

Other notable work: Olympia Fields North), Maidstone, Huntercombe, Notts, La Boulie, Formby, Montrose, Weston, Laval-Sur-Le-Lac, Mount Bruno

Overview: Willie Park was one of the famous Parks of Musselburgh. He was an outstanding player and club maker by trade who gradually lost interest in the business choosing to concentrate on his design business full time in 1910. He is generally thought to be the first “golf course architect” through his work at Huntercombe where he made a series of modifications to the land in order to improve the holes. The influence of what he did at Huntercombe changed the face of golf design immediately with the other great architects of that era embracing his approach and designing their own great courses using modifications to achieve greater holes. Their collective work would have far reaching implications to the future courses in Canada and the United States since they and other architects influenced by them would design the new landmark courses through the same approach of manipulating the land to achieve more strategic and interesting holes.

Willie would end up coming to North America where he would build a series of great courses before having to return home due to his poor health. He was forced to leave commissions like Scarboro behind for Tillinghast and Weston for Charles Alison to complete. He was far more prolific in Canada than the United States.
One fascinating side not about Huntercombe was it was planned as a residential golf community, with Willie having a financial involvement, the lack of rail access made it fail with Willie losing much of his wealth.

Laval's 10th

Praise for the work: Sir Guy Campbell wrote that Park had laid 'the foundation stone of golf architecture' and 'set the standard by which the famous architects who followed.”

While I talked about his important decision to manipulate the land to make improvements, in reality most of his courses were built out of the natural ground. He agreed with Hutcheson assertion that ‘Nature can always beat the handiwork of man.’ He spent far more time modifying green sites than he ever did changing fairway contours. The feature that makes me think of Willie Park is the table top greens, whether natural or built up, he certainly looked for them in routings – even choosing to make them more pronounced with a little extra work at the green site. His greens varied from simpler pitch greens through to some really wild rollercoaster greens at other courses.

Willie’s architecture was influenced by his appreciation of the great links courses, using many of the strategic concepts and features found on links courses, but he also allowed the nature of the Heathland properties to create its own unique bunker style that seemed to fit wonderfully into the site. The bunker style he and others developed have had a huge impact on the foundation of what we think of as a modern bunker in a parkland setting.

Criticisms: There are some courses like Calgary G&CC where holes simply don't work in difficult terrain. Some of his greens are excessively large and limit strategy. Through his Canadian work there are quite a few courses that look remarkably similar in aesthetics and routing techniques.

Maidstone's 9th

Great Quotes: “If a bunker is visible to the player, and there is sufficient room to avoid it, it is the player’s responsibility to steer clear of it.”

Favourite Course: MaidstonePark's routing masterfully incorporates a series of marshes, tidal pools, ponds and some really fantastic dunes to create a wonderfully diverse and interesting layout. The use of the ponds to create carry angles is particularly compelling at times. The dunesland stretch is one of the greatest stretches of holes in North America with the ninth being one of the greatest holes in golf – the fun part is that is not as natural as you might first think – kudos to Willie for fooling all of us.

Calgary's 2nd

What I take from him: The value of a green site. I’ve always looked at his green complexes with admiration – particularly the plateau style greens he often created. I love the back bunkers set tight and below the back of the green, the use of sharp slopes and even the occasional false front to place a premium on getting to the green (without taking out the average players ability to run the ball in. I particularly like the way he manages to place the natural role right in key landing areas – so that the land more than the bunkers becomes they key determinant of the hole.

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