Monday, 27 December 2010

#20 – Hugh Wilson

Best Course: Merion Golf Club

Other notable work: Merion West, Cobb’s Creek, (finished last 4 holes at Pine Valley)

Overview: Merion Cricket Club like so many other clubs decided to move to upgrade their facilities. Lucky for them that Hugh Wilson had both the time and the interest to spend seven months abroad studying the great courses of the British Isles. He even sought advice from C.B. MacDonald and went to see the National Golf Links to assist him with ideas for the new course he would build.

Praise for the work: There have been many suggestions that Wilson adapted and borrowed famous holes to create the holes at Merion but I personally don’t see the some of connections that have been drawn. Merion has a full set of unique holes each in response to the land that Wilson was given to work with. What makes Wilson’s work at Merion special was how he found these eighteen great holes on such a small and tight site. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the perfect routing for this property.

The famous 11th green site

Wilson also brought with him a few architectural innovations of his own. The bunkering was outstanding not only for the placement and the strategic implications it had, but also for how visible they were and the aesthetic quality they brought to the golf course. The “white faces” created a beauty not seen at other courses, but also a new level of intimidation by there size and placement. It is believed that Wilson used bed sheets in the field to review the bunker locations and lines until he was happy and then the crew would set about building the bunkers. Wilson’s bunkering at Merion taught architects that bunkers had a visual importance as well as a strategic importance.

Criticisms: The questions on his inclusion will always stem from the fact that his place in architecture is built on one great course and that the fact that his other courses are only interesting at best. The role of evolution, Joe Valentine and William Flynn also deserve some credit for Merion. Finally, that the course is too short to be great. All I can say is that I feel sorry for anyone who can criticize the course after playing it.

The West course at Merion

Great Quotes: “Looking back on the work, I feel certain that we would never have attempted to carry it out if we had realized one-half the things we did not know.”
His best: Merion Golf Club - I personally feel there is no finer routing in golf. The course has 18 great holes and the most interesting flow of any course I know. It begins fairly strong, which forces the player to work hard at the beginning. The course then becomes short and full of decisions through the middle where the player is under self imposed pressure to score. Finally the last 5 holes are as hard a run of golf as you can find anywhere and the player is literally trying to hold on. The flow is as important as the holes themselves in creating greatness.

The 12th at Merion in 1924

What I take from him: He routed the course as the land gave it to him. He didn’t worry about par, mixing holes, or any other trivial standard. He took the time to find the best holes that the land would yield. The bunker visibility and scale is certainly something all architects have been inspired by and I think his influence in this area is underestimated.

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