Monday, 27 December 2010

#16 – George Crump

courtesy of Tom MacWood's article on Crump in

Only Course: Pine Valley GC

Overview: George Crump felt that the only way Philadelphia area golfers were going to compete with other cities like New York was if it had a true championship course to produce and develop the best players. He used his fortune, and the backing of many other prominent investors’ money, to build his dream course in the sand barrens of New Jersey. Crump put the rest of his life aside and moved to the property to continuously walk the property in order to find the best possible routing for the course. In fact he walked the alternatives over and over till he was certain that he had only the best routing and then moved onto the next set of holes to do the same again. He engaged Harry Colt to spend a week on site part way through the process to help him with the routing, and while he followed some advice like the 5th, the course is largely his routing and design. He also brought many other architects including AW Tillinghast to seek ideas and alternatives. This has lead to Pine Valley being called the greatest collaboration in golf architecture, but I personally still see this as Crumps’s master work where he was smart enough to seek and use advice when he needed the assistance.

The amazing 13th hole, possibly the best second shot in golf

Praise for the work: There is not one single weak hole on the course, with many of the holes being among the finest the game has ever seen. He not only set out to build a great course but laid out a plan for certain hole types and a planned mixture of lengths and challenges. The interesting thing is he walked and walked the property until he found the exact mixture he set out to have. There is everything here from the insurmountable hole through to a short and drivable par four. Just look at the first four green sites: a peninsula, a skyline green, a drop shot and a fall away – it continues throughout - no course is as consistently interesting and diverse as this one.

The second reason Pine Valley is special is the setting, which while sometimes compared to Sunningdale, is unique because of the open expanses of sand and scrub. Many architects have copied the idea of islands of green surrounded by expanses of sand and a backdrop of trees but nothing has ever compared favourably to Pine Valley’s magnificent character.

The use of the fairway slopes, green contours and the severity of the hazards leaves the player with one of the toughest tests in the game. The intimidation he feels to execute shots that is punctuated by holes that force you to only hit you best really affects the psyche of the player all round. The interesting thing about the course is after a few plays you realize the fairways are quite wide and there are alternatives on occasion that make the course far more playable than it first appears.

The approach to the 18th

Criticisms: The penalty for missing shots is seen as too severe and many of the holes are felt to be too exacting to be fair. The fact that the areas between tee and fairway are unkempt and usually forced carries is seen as too penal. The bunkering often does not allow anything but a short recovery and occasionally leads to an unplayable lie is seen as unfair.

Great Quotes: “I think I have landed on something pretty fine. It is 14 miles below Camden, at a stop called Sumner, on the Reading R.R. to Atlantic City—a sandy soil, with rolling ground, among the pines.”

The opening par three 3rd

What I take from him: There are many things from mixing the green settings, to aesthetics, the use of cross-slopes in the landing areas, green contours, the need for a diabolical hazard on occasion, etc. etc. As you can see this course is an educational institution for an architect - full of so many great lessons on how to plan and design a golf hole. The 13th alone teaches and architect about the use of land to create optional routes and how to use bunkering to emphasize the passive and aggressive lines appropriately – pure genius.

The real lesson from Crump is greatness takes patience. Dedication to one course at a time has shown to be one of the keys to excellence. He never settled for the first routing and kept looking and looking till he found exactly what he wanted the course to be and then spent the time on site getting everything the way he wanted. Greatness lies in the obsession with the details.

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