Monday, 27 December 2010

#24 - Herbert Leeds

(picture is from Geoff Shackelford's book - The Golden Age of Golf Design)

Best Course: Myopia Hunt Club, ranked 33rd in the Classic List in Golf Week. The course was so good that it hosted four early US Opens.

Other notable work: The Palmetto Golf Club in Georgia, and Kebo Valley Golf Club in Maine

Overview: Not a lot is known about Herbert Leeds other than he came from wealth and was a lifelong sportsman excelling in sailing and golf. He was even a member of the USGA executive committee in 1905.

He does not have a large body of work so we are left to judge him mainly on Myopia Hunt - the focus of his life’s work. Leeds was not happy with the state of American course architecture - particularly the original course at Myopia - and persuaded his club to build a new and much improved 18 holes. He began by visiting Shinnecock Hills - then the standard of excellence - to learn about the architecture. He paid close attention to the greens set in the natural hollows and on top of plateaus and employed the same techniques. Where he excelled was how he also incorporated the undulations of the land to challenge the tee shots. He reinforced the strategies with numerous bunkers to penalize a misplayed shot. While he did design a couple of other courses he focus was making refinements and improvements to Myopia Hunt right up until his death.

2nd hole at Myopia Hunt

Praise for the work: Whether the strategies came from evolution and observance - or right from the initial design - the results speak for themselves. He was known to carry white chips with him and if a good player got away with a seeming miss, he would drop a few chips in the area and a bunker would shortly appear thereafter. Because of this approach to bunkering the course has often been called penal, but that would be underestimating the superior strategies created by the cants of the fairways and the severe contours he created aton the green that create strategy. The bunkers simply supported or emphasized what he had already laid out.

The use of landforms remains the genius of the course by combining severe penalties for a miss and the tiny greens as targets, the course still holds up well in a modern context. The club has one of the finest collections of short holes in golf.

The Taft Bunker on the 10th at Myopia Hunt

Criticisms: Myopia is considered more penal than strategic in nature due to the proliferation and depth of the bunkers that Leeds added over the years. There has also been criticism for his famous chocolate drop mounds created by burying the stone walls found on site. He built them because he felt the mounds were more fair that playing around the walls. The critics have suggested the mounds look forced upon the site and have pointed out the future influence on the use of mounding to add definition.
My favourite: Myopia Hunt Club

Kebo Valley, early 1900's

What I take from him: Utilizing the natural cants to create strategy is an underestimated skill in routing. For bunkers to have meaning and create strategy - they must be deep and occasionally penal. That green contours are the most important contours of all.

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