Monday, 19 December 2011

Solheim's Ball Proposal

 image courtesy Asian Pacific Golf Group
In the current on line issue of Golf World you can find a piece written by the Ping Chairman John Solheim titled A Long Term Response to Distance
In the piece John provides his solution to the debate on the distance the ball travels. He recommends a system where a variety of golf balls, longer, shorter and the same as today be created and players choose their ball and then a new handicapping system makes allowances for the tee and ball selection.

The following is from John’s suggestion:

Here is how I think we can do just that:

-- Replace today's single golf ball distance limit with three different "Ball Distance Ratings" (or "BDRs") - one that is the same as today's limit, one that is shorter and one that is longer.

-- Adopt a "BDR Condition of Competition" -- each event could apply the BDR appropriate for its course design and yardage, and for the skill level of the golfers competing at the event.

-- Include BDR as a factor in calculating handicaps -- just as "slope rating" or choice of tee box does today, the BDR of the ball you use will factor into your handicap.
The flaw in his idea is the inclusion of a longer ball. Almost all recreational players will want to play even longer ball. They would rather be given an advantage than work to find the improvement in their game necessary to overcome their weaknesses. Allowing this to occur may be a manufacture’s dream, but runs contrary to everything that makes golf great.

As a designer I’m frightened by what an additional 30 yards of distance will do to the safety of golf courses. Most city courses are already having a tough time dealing with the proximity of urbanization to the course and adding another 30 yards is going to increase the problems by a large factor. 

Finally as a designer I have enough trouble trying to create an interesting course for “all” levels of players. I have to rely on the correct use of multiple tees to address the disparity in driving distance. How would I possibly design for a situation where players can choose different balls with a further 60 yard variation on the current day?

Ideas like this are not practical. Speaking of practical, why don't we address the issue with common sense. Golf is clearly in decline. Consider this stream of thought and you’ll understand why I think the only smart choice is a shorter ball.

Shorter ball flight = less land = lower costs to build and maintain = lower price point for consumer = more participation 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Recent Highlands Links Reviews

16th fairway

There has been a lot of people out to see the course this fall.
Here are a few of the recent reviews:

Going for the Green by Robert Thompson

"They should be applauded for what they’ve done. As hard as it was to imagine even a few years ago, Parks Canada has helped lead the resurrection of Canada’s greatest public golf course. While the sixth hole has struggled since the storm, everything else has vastly improved. Greens were in the best condition I’ve seen since the course opened."

story can be found here:

Fairways and Greens by Vic Williams

"A high storm in December 2010 threatened to send Highland Links back into the shadows, but the government came through with the funds needed to return damaged green complexes and bunkers to their rightful places in the vast Thompson repertoire, and though the course is closing for the winter, it’ll open next May with a full head of “come discover me” steam. With opening and finishing holes next to the Atlantic and a whole lot of high-flying adventure in between, Highland Links pretty much encapsulates the Cape Bretoner’s nature-embracing, fun-loving character."

story can be found here:

Cape Breton Post by LeRoy Peach

"I didn’t actually play the Highlands Links, however, I toured the course with Clara Hardy, the starter, who pointed out the improvements made by golf architect Ian Andrew, hired by Parks Canada to recover features eliminated over the years — features which the great Stanley Thompson, the designer, had included in 1939. Ian Andrew did more. He improved the sightlines by culling the encroaching forest on some holes.

Let’s look first at the improved vistas. The trees have been removed from the third tee of the beautiful par three to improve the seascape, including Ingonish Island. Workers culled trees behind the green on No. 8 to let in more sunlight. Likewise there was a cull on No. 9 green and between the 13th and 14th holes — an improvement which now makes it possible to see the sixth hole, the par 5 along the ocean. The most spectacular sightline, however, is on the 16th green. From the back of this green one can now see the greens on Nos. 2 and 3, the tee on No. 4, and most importantly the beautiful North Bay beach.

Thompson was always cognizant of the importance of environment, of never taking away from nature. “Revealed holes” (that is to say, holes “found” in the landscape by Thompson) are juxtaposed against great natural backgrounds. Indeed, backward views were very precious to him. On the elevated side of the 12th green one can look back at the beautiful Clyburn. On the 16th green one views the wondrous face of Franey Mountain.

As well, there have been significant changes to the holes themselves. Through myriads of historic photographs, some of them aerials, Andrew has been able to put back certain features of this masterpiece. In some cases bunkers were rediscovered, in others tweaked. Likewise, some greens have been refurbished. The result is an ever more beautiful layout.

On the par three fifth hole, the bunkers at the back were reconfigured and the so-called dragon bunker on the right side of the green, just above a swale, redefined. The little pot bunker in front of it is the dragon’s flaming breath. Likewise on the 13th hole, a bunker (“a face with a missing tooth”) was restored. On the beautifully balanced 17th hole, a bunker on the left was restored and a bunker on the right was reshaped. Finally, aerials revealed fairway bunkers on the left at the 18th hole and those have been restored. All of these bunkers are stroke savers — depending upon the skills of golfers.
From greens to bunkers, this course is in the best shape that I have ever seen it. Indeed, Ian Andrew has breathed new life into it — increased its beauty and golf values. In his blog, he says himself that, “I have never been more optimistic about the long term future of the golf course.”

Naysayers be damned. I agree totally."

story can be found here:

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Interview on Sympatico about Highlands Links

On Sympatico you can find a recent piece written by Robert Thompson on the recovery and restoration efforts going on at Highlands Links. Included with this is a five minute interview of the two of us talking about the repair work done this spring and the ongoing bunker work throughout the year.

The article can be found here:

The video interview can be found here:

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Return to Highlands Links

17th on Monday night - we began the next day

The goal of the week is to restore the bunkers on the 17th hole.

Tuesday began in pouring rain. Actually come to think of it every day I have worked here it has rained … Ok that’s not true … but almost every day has! I decided to take on the front right and back left bunkers today. The front right bunker was extended left about ten feet to restore the far end and the right side was expanded to reintroduce the original bay that had been lost. What both combinations did is put the front bunker back in scale with the back bunker.

The right and back bunkers pretty much redone

 The back bunker was once one of the most interesting bunkers on the course. It had slowly evolved into a long simple bunker for maintenance reasons. It took a while to figure out the old lines, but we returned the old capes and bays to get the shapes back to match what we saw on the photo. I was pleased as we chased sand all the way up the hill to return the main bay. I introduced the crew to “chunking” where we excavate the fescue bank in large chunks and then puzzle it back together to create all the noses and lost lines where the bunker is filled in. The back bunker looked amazing after we did that.

You can see both essentially have their shape in the photos I enclosed.

The green cleaned up after a 4" watermain broke!

Everything was going TOO well all days as the work progressed far faster than expected. Then all hell broke loose as Jeff (the excavator operator) found a 4” irrigation pipe right beside the back bunker. The green was quickly inundated by a river that looked the colour of the Colorado. It took about 20 minutes to turn the valves off and then about an hour and half for eight guys to repair the irrigation break and remove all the silt, water and mud from the green with snow shovels, squeegees and upside down bunker rakes.

I worked 12 hours today shovelling, raking and getting about as muddy as you can imagine. Outside of the irrigation break, I could not have had a better day.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Economy and Golf Architecture

Frog's Breath - a private nine built while things were too good

I remember watching the economic crisis on 2008 unfold. I had more than a passing interest in what was going on since my wife and I invest in stocks. It’s easy to panic as your investments get cut down 10 or 20% in a short period of time, but we are buyers and not sellers, so we had a slightly different perspective than some. But the reality is that the movements of the market creative massive emotional swings in society. The stock market represents our fears and hopes more than it does our economy.

But November 2008 was different. It was a black swan event and was not to be taken lightly. Through the events that unfolded as the financial crisis became clear I watched all my work dry up in the Spring of 2009. I’m used to a lot of calls beginning in March and the season finding a head of steam by April. The clubs where I was supposed to work stopped projects and no new calls came in for a while. In my conversations with different clubs I found they were all scared.

Through good fortune I ended up with a lot of planning work that year. I had also financially prepared for a setback (too much work going on when participation was dropping fast - the dance had to end) and I used the additional time to do a few things that I always wanted to do. I’m not prone to panic as it turns out.

So here we are in another period of massive gyrations and wild emotional swings. There was a week with four consecutive 5% swings back and forth which suggests that emotions and emotions were running the day.

I started to think about the economy a lot recently. The impact that 24 hour news has and how they generate ratings through fear. I started to think about a stock market where programmed selling based upon quantitative analysis move the markets.  It got me thinking about how on occasion how fragile everything feels.

So it got me thinking about the calls I have received from a few new clubs recently, a few old clubs making inquiries and even from the clients that I work with. I thought about what projects they want to do and what their “short-term” interests are. What I don’t get from any of them is a sense of fear. Everyone is aware of what’s going on, but the fear that permeated every conversation in 2009 is just not there.

The swings in the stock market are not what I pay attention to. It’s the underlying mood of the club I service that matters most. Their optimism tells me that I’ll remain busy with renovations while I patiently wait the decade out for the next run of new golf courses.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Hard par/ Easy bogie

This will be a little out of the box….

I have often wondered whether the concept of “hard par and easy bogie” represents the low point of golf architecture.

A flat rollercoaster has no appeal. One with a single big drop has some limited short term appeal. But a roller coaster with a series of interesting twists and turns gains our undivided attention and has us lining up to ride again and again.

Rollercoaster design is far more complicated than simply sticking a series of endless thrills together one right after the other until the ride ends. If we tried this approach we would simply leave the rider vomiting.

The real secret to rollercoaster design is the space between thrills. Rollercoaster designers understand the rider must be given the opportunity to “recuperate” before the next thrill. Designers know to the second how long it takes to lower the heart rate, not back to normal, but to a point where the rider is prepared for what is ahead.

I used to think that the magical element of rhythm was an impossible concept to design, but lately I’m becoming more and more convinced that it just might be possible.

I think designers have to think more about juxtaposition. Every course needs a hole or two, or even a run of holes that become all about perseverance where a par is a celebrated score. In contrast I also believe it’s essential that every course should also have a hole or two, or series of holes where every player is thinking birdie. There should be clear cut moments where every player feels some freedom and others where you understand that only your best will do.

Most clubs spend a great deal of money making the hardest holes easier and the easy ones harder. And yet no approach could lead to a more average and uninspiring golf course. They are following the concept of hard par and easy bogie to achieve consistency. The net result is the golfer is never overwhelmed or at ease. This is golf without any thrills or reprieves. The concept represents the standardization of the game.

Yet this concept runs contrary to golf’s greatest attraction, its variety. What hard par and easy bogie does is remove any potential to develop the highs and lows that matter a great deal in a round. Golf needs its rhythms to make the experience special.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Interesting Letter from Stan Bush

About 10 years ago I played most of the back 9 at CPC with Sandy Tatum, a few years after he retired from his tenure as the president of the USGA.  We talked about the prodigious lengths that the pro’s were hitting the ball.  He said that the source of the problem is primarily the ball, with the clubs being a minor “nuisance”, as I think he put it.  He said the USGA had conducted extensive testing to determine what was the source for the distances being achieved by the pro’s.

[On that score, here’s a relevant aside. At Firestone I watched on TV as Bubba Watson reached the green on a 625 yard hole in two strokes and he did it with his driver and a 4 iron!]

 Tatum’s principal concern was that too many great golf courses were becoming obsolete.  He specifically mentioned Merion and Baltusrol.  He told me that the USGA had tested the modern ball and the metal-headed drivers by comparing the distance results of the two technologies: the Pro V1 ball and other balls of its ilk ball with a 1960’s steel-shafted persimmon wood and compared the results of that by hitting 1960-type balata balls with modern metal headed drivers.  The result (which you probably already know) is that they found that it was almost entirely the technology of the ball, not the clubs, that was the reason for the increased distances his by pro’s.  On the basis of that data Tatum tried to persuade the USGA should try it on an event like the U.S. Amateur by requiring all competitors to use the same standardized ball provided by the USGA.  Of course that idea went over like lead balloon - the USGA board rejected the idea out of hand.  So, what do you think?  Might one think that perhaps the USGA and the R&A too beholden to the likes of Titleist, Taylormade, Wilson, Bridgestone, etc.?

A couple of years later I heard that the Ohio Golf Association required all competitors in the Ohio Amateur to use a standardized ball which was provided to them by the OGA.  As I recall it, that program lasted for two years and then was dropped.  I don’t know why… but I can guess.

In my opinion, using a tournament ball would not be effective in levelling the field.  After all, the longest hitters would still be the longest hitters with the mid-length hitters would still be yards behind them.  No, the main reason – and Sandy Tatum was right about this – the main reason for a tournament ball is to preserve the game and the history of the game by keeping the older (e.g., the shorter) courses in the USGA portfolio of championship venues.


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Prodigy versus Master

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso (courtesy Wikopedia)
A prodigy is someone who is blessed with a clear artistic vision from a very early age. This is not to be confused with knowing that you want to be an architect since about half of all current architects talk about wanting to design holes from a young age. The prodigy is the artist who at an early age possesses a clear vision of what they are trying to do. They are often the ones who talk about what they don’t like and see themselves as the ones to bring change to the status quo. The wonderful aspect of a prodigy is they tend to acquire the skills they need at an early age and through the clarity of their vision often have great success right from the outset. A prodigy is the artist that we tend to pay the most attention to, particularly while they are alive, because they excite us through their personality and work. The prodigy has the rare ability to create and “walk away” without much backward reflection on the work. They see each built vision as a perfect expression of that moment and appreciate for what it is.

Golf architecture has almost no prodigies.

The Basket of Apples by Paul Cezanne (courtesy Wikopedia)

Most great architects are Masters. The Master is equal to the prodigy in terms of talent. But their route to a successful expression of that talent is much, much longer. Like the prodigy they also know what they want to accomplish, but unlike the prodigy they rarely understand how to get there. They usually begin the journey without clarity and much of the early work is setting the table for what is to come in the future. They obtain clarity through exploration. They learn, work, experiment, seek new ideas, create, assess, refine, create and so on, often for decades until through determination and inherent ability they find what they are looking for. The main reason for this drawn out approach is they seek perfection. Even upon the completion of their most successful work they will often be surprisingly self critical of what they have created. It’s the determination to find perfection that drives them to the heights of expression that we admire.

Golf architecture has approximately twenty Masters.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Black Swan Event

I’ve recently become very interested in Nassim Taleb’s idea of The Black Swan. The Black Swan is an unforeseen and unpredictable event that has an enormous impact on society. There is no way to predict the coming of a black swan event, but history has shown us again and again that these events occur with regularity. What is unknown is when.

Many, through hindsight, have suggested that some events like the financial crisis of 2008 were predictable, but we all know even with hindsight that timing the event was impossible. Therefore even the most minor of the events remain completely unpredictable. As a quick aside I don’t agree that a Black Swan Event can be a positive event such as the birth of the internet since the impact is far to long term for my definition. Only a devastating event has enough impact to change the “known” landscape in an instant.

The reason I bring this up is one of the interesting ideas that goes along with this is the notion of collective blindness leading up to the event. I personally think that to a large degree we have seen collective blindness as a contributing factor to why we had the financial crisis. Everybody enjoyed the endless growth, but nobody was willing to step back far enough and ask whether it was sustainable and what would happen when the music stopped.

Taleb’s basic theory is that all consequential events come from the unexpected. So thinking of all of this, I find it fascinating to look at the current state of the golf design business. I was reading about the level of work in the Far East and reflecting on how many architects are concentrated and busy in this region. A high percentage of that work is being done in China with a large percent of that on Hainen Island in particular. I kept thinking about this concentration of architects and projects and wondering what if the music stopped tomorrow?

What would happen to the golf design business if the government of China “enforced” the ban on new golf courses? What if the real estate market collapsed since nobody appears to play the game?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

10,000 hours Theory

10,000 hours = 3 hours a day for 10 years

There are very few days that I don’t work on some aspect of my art. Whether it is sketching, reading about design theory, seeing new courses, evaluating courses, actual field work or simply trying to get outside of my box and re-assess design from a complete new angle. I continue to work on being a better designer just about ever day of the year.

Herb Simon pioneered a theory in the 1970’s that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve a level of expertise in any sport or profession. After studying many of the world’s experts in many given fields, he found this to be a common denominator among the group. None were natural and ready from the outset. They all had a gift for what they pursued, but each one clearly had worked very hard for a long period of time to become very accomplished at what they did.

One important aspect that remains a critical part of this theory is the fact the person putting in all the practice and time has to have the natural talent to work with in the first place. If the person has no natural talent, even this level of dedication will not achieve mastery over their pursuit. They will always be limited by the natural talent that they have to work with. I was an awful writer in University. I’ve spent years writing every day and become good enough to get published. That is as far as my limited talent will take me. No additional time or additional education will ever help me master writing.

I have always believed in Seneca’s observation that Success is when Opportunity meets Preparation. In studying most artists, the elite are not the ones with the greatest “natural” ability. While they do come from a pool of naturally talented people, they are the ones who are willing to work much harder than anyone else to perfect their craft. The elite are not destined, but rather the combination of talent and determination.

While talent and developing that talent over 10,000 hours are critical to mastering your subject or profession, the final piece of the puzzle is opportunity. It took me a long time to realize that the 10,000 plus hours I have spent (includes the blogging) were critical to becoming a much better designer. I’m only beginning to realize that 10,000 hours may be just as critical to becoming a better businessman. It's going to take a little more creative thinking to increase the opportunities available in this challenging times.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Emerald Ash Borer is here

Entry Hole
I grew up playing a course that was once lined with majestic Elms. I found myself wondering how much more impressive the course must have been before that happened and often thought that watching all those trees die must have been depressing. Unfortunately we are all going to see something very similar as the Emerald Ash Borer sweeps through Toronto over the next tree years.

The beetle was first detected in Essex County in 2002 and has been slowly working its way east. There have been numerous confirmations on golf courses in and around Toronto beginning last year. Unfortunately all native and non-native Ash trees are susceptible. They were a common planting on many courses in the last 30 years and some are key trees for safety.

Since the adults and larvae feed underneath the bark of the trees, they are nearly impossible to detect. The only potential for saving some is an injection program that will protect the trees for a year at a time. But like any solution of this type, it’s expensive and not guaranteed. I spent yesterday deciding the fate of around 300 trees. There is no guarantee an injection program will work, but today we selected 100 trees to protect and hopefully save. That also meant I spent the day deciding which trees would go. I normally have no trouble removing trees, but somehow this seemed different.

I don’t think this is the end of our problems. The Emerald Ash Borer came from China and I expect more of these problems in the future as our economy is globally based. I’m not looking forward to the next three years as many courses will be dramatically impacted by the loss of trees. The only positive that will come out of this is that I have always pushed for diversity and I think clubs will be willing to spend a little more to provide that diversity and protection from the next event.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Golf needs to learn from Skiing

Few sports have better kids programs
Skiing spent almost 20 years with zero growth. In the last 10 years skiing has had a golden period where growth and profits have soared. There have been a number of new resorts that have come on line to meet demand.

Around 10 years ago the ski resort owners, the ones with the most to gain or lose, sat down and looked at why their sport was struggling. They discovered that they were barely getting 10% retention rate with novice skiers. The major complaints were a lack of time (golf can relate to this), how they were treated and in their case the loss of skiers once the kids left the home.

When they looked into how people came to the sport, it was usually through family but almost as often through friends (very similar to golf). They found they had excellent retention with the group they called the thrill seekers, they had modest attraction to the group they labelled the tag alongs, but they had almost no retention on the group they called the socials. That group only came to remain part of the group. They realized that to make skiing more “sticky” they needed to address each group by making it a better experience tailored to them.

Skiing was given the “golden gift” just over a decade ago with snowboarding. Snowboarding brought in a dramatically younger but most importantly ethnically diverse group to the hills. It was the “game changer” for skiing. But skiing was not foolish enough to make assumptions that this was all it needed, like golf was with Tiger Woods. They built terrain parks for the thrill seekers and snowboarders in particular to say we are thinking of you. They improved service and changed the rental system to provide top notch equipment with excellent service to address the socials. Imagine if golf courses provide options for equipment where you could play your preferences at a resort without carrying your bag through the airport, that’s what skiing has accomplished. I rented rather than bringing my skis the last time I went west!

The game changer - snowbaording

But the real key was how they dealt with the beginners (socials and particularly the tag alongs). The mantra forever in the ski resort business was add to more difficult terrain to gain a greater reputation for challenge. The reality was 90% of skiers spent 90% of their time on the beginner and intermediate slopes. Once the ski industry understood that their efforts were misplaced they concentrated on expanding the beginner’s terrain and providing additional diversity in the gliding terrain. Skiing changed for the better and the consumer showed up ready to ski. They had improved the stickiness of the sport by catering more actively to the average skier (the golf industry has to see the clear parallel).

So let’s apply these lessons to golf. The easier the initial experience, the more likely the player is to return to try the game again. The more accessible and enjoyable the experience, the more fun the game is and the higher likelihood that the person stays with the game. So if golf really truly wants to break this cycle of stagnation, the answer is to build the game from the ground up rather than from the peak down. We have no need for championship courses. We need a decade of short, easy and fun courses to grow the game.

Thank you skiing for providing a clear road map to success. The question is whether we will pay attention.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Ireland - Day Seven - Doonbeg

The opener at Doonbeg

When Greg Norman put together the routing for Doonbeg he was presented with a “snail” problem. Environmentalist had identified some key areas of great dunes where the project could not go into because of snails. All architects face restrictions and I’m sute these were frustrating.

The opener at Doonbeg is one of the very best of the holes on the course. You stand at the clubhouse and look at the glove like dunes at the end of the fairway and clearly see a logical green site for an opening five. This obvious choice eventually would lead to complications.
The 6th hole with 13th green below

The front nine was pretty good. I found most of the holes made sense and the flow was generally fine (ignoring the fact I could clearly see what was to come on the back). The ocean side 6th was a personal highlight. I enjoyed his bunker style with marram grass edges and blow out style. I found his use of many central hazards was refreshing. The bunker on the 3rd hole was epic. Finally the ninth was a super end to the nine, a short three set right on the beach with dunes that he clearly made (and were very well done!). After nine holes I was largely impressed.

The back nine left me not only flat, but really disappointed with many choices. There were great holes like the 13th and 15th, but the routing decisions and constant cross-overs were horrible. In my opinion he got enamoured with natural holes and never stepped back and looked at the overall impression that he would create.

The 15th with wonderful green site
Some holes did not sit right to me like the 10th and 11th. Others had safety issues like the 12th where the 8th tees were very much in play from the 12th tees. The fact that the 15th crosses the 5th and then the players walk across the 5th was again dangerous. A few of his architectural ideas were ill conceived such as the central bunker in the 12th green which did not work (nor did the green contours on that green). Some holes were unplayable in high wind, like the 14th, where the strange back angle of the green made the shot impossible in “any” prevailing wind. I found conceptually that hole made no sense. Finally the walk across the middle of the fairway of the 1st fairway to play the 18th was another head-scratch.

My conclusion was the routing was flawed. Greg found the obvious holes and included them in the routing, but never showed the experience or restraint to understand you must abandon some obvious holes to achieve a comprehensive routing.

Ireland - Day Six - Lahinch

5th - The Dell Hole from the back left
Out of all the courses we played Lahinch had the best architecture.

It did have some unusual and brilliant holes in the Klondyke (4th) and Dell (5th) but each was very compelling despite a blind shot on the first and not being able to see 80% of the green (including the flag) on the par three. They just felt right despite what some would question as flaws.

The opener was my favourite of all the starting holes despite the fact the two previous days brought green sites and holes set in massive dunes. The others were beautiful but they were fairly easy due to the surrounding dunes collecting everything in. This one sat on a plateau with every miss leading to an uncomfortable recovery shot. It seemed to tell me – game on!

The front nine on Lahinch was by far my favourite with a run of “world class” holes beginning at the 4th and running through to the 8th. Even the 3rd and 9th were no slouches either. The fascinating thing to me was that once you finished the front, you were done with the largest dunes and as the round progressed you knew were going to head into lesser and lesser dunes as you go. I initially wondered whether the finish would be weak.

7th hole approach
The 10th was played through a valley of dunes finishing on plateau, the 11th (either one since there are two) was a short but fun three (I preferred the new one by Hawtree mainly because of the ocean backdrop and more attractive setting) and the long five along the river was an excellent par five. So far so good, but once again we know we are heading into lesser dunes.

The first surprise was the wild short four playing back into the bigger dunes. What made the hole super cool was the wildly undulating green. Throw in some giant short grass drop offs on the front and left and two super deep bunkers for emphasis and you got a great site. This led us to a progression of long fours and once again I worried about having a let down.

The 8th hole
The long 14th was a tough hole straight into the prevailing wind, what made this really neat were the two “large” sentinel dunes on either side of the approach and the narrow neck leading a great slightly hidden green site behind. The long four heading back through the dunes was even better with an outstanding plateau green requiring real precision or creativity to reach. OK, wow, these are still great!

The downhill 16th was a surprise, tough into a quartering wind but mainly due to the big drop from the tee to green. The hole must be Hawtree design since the shaping was a little too pronounced, but the hole was quite good all the same. The long 17th was set in the flattest piece of land and with the least pronounced dunes. I was a little underwhelmed at the tee, but found the fairway full of some great internal contour (huge lesson when presented with a flat site) and the two sentinel bunkers flashed high in the fronting dunes which created a unique and interesting approach shot. Something from very little always leaves me impressed with a hole.

Hawtree's new 11th hole on the ocean
The 18th was a bit of a let down as the dunes finally disappeared at this point. The tee shot was fine, but the second was fairly dull, even the approach seemed to lack something, until the green itself. The green was very good and the hidden short grass contours at the sides and back were actually wonderful (too bad they were hidden so well). I do expect they will eventually try and add something, I hope not too much, but it could use a few small flourished to get a great design to the finish.

In my opinion Lahinch was the best design we saw.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Ireland – Day Five - Carne Golf Club

8th green site
Carne was definitely the course with the most potential. The dunes at Carne are every bit as big as the dunes at Enniscrone, but in this case they seem to be more spread out allowing for holes to comfortably wind between them. Eddie Hackett did a fine routing the course although he did leave a couple of question marks this time(the last of his career).

The course opens with holes routed through largest of the massive dunes, but quickly plays into the heavily undulating land away from the main dune line. Some of the holes like the 3rd and 8th are standouts and my favourite was the 6th with a massive roll in front similar to the 13th at Highlands Links. All the fours were excellent, whereas the threes and five we only good.

The number one issue I had with the course was the bunkers. The placement was too far away from any fairways and greens to create any strategy. The bunkering was actually a distraction rather than an accent and I think the course would have been better with none. I really think if a good architect was allowed to re-bunker the course, Carne’s stature would be raised immediately.

9th green bunker - they all look like this

The back nine is where Hackett ramps it up since he takes you into the largest of the dunes on the property. The short par five 10th has an outstanding green site and should have been one of the greatest long fours in the game and be played from the front tees. This is mainly due to the prevailing wind that has it playing so short. The 11th is the most famous hole, a short par four, that plays around a 100 foot dune all the way along the right.

11th hole from high dune

The 12th was the only miss. The tee shot plays into a nice valley, but straight at an out of bounds and then turns hard left with a green cut high into the dune on the left. It just seems forced it the setting and left me questioning whether there was another possibility. The 13th was a nice reprieve from the big dunes finishing out by the ocean. The 14th is a cute three played along the dunes on the left with the ocean on your right. The setting is pretty cool, but the green is clearly too steep to pin and the new expansion is so poorly tied in. The 15th, 16th and 17th are all world class holes. I was very impressed with the quality and variety. It was every bit the measure of the best of all the great courses we have seen so far, except the inexplicable bunkers. The 18th is wild romp home over some crazy undulating land set between the big dunes of the site. This all finishes on a cool promontory

17th green

I would recommend Carne to anybody. The course is wild, fun to play and certainly has one of the most impressive settings I’ve seen. It was not as good as Enniscrone, but it remains a must play when travelling Ireland.

Personal note: I had an 8 on the final hole to shoot 83. I played the 7th through 17th at one over including a two shot penalty!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Ireland – Day Four – Enniscrone

Every once in a while when you travel to see golf course, you are left completely astonished by what you find.

the landing area on the 2nd hole

Enniscrone begins with an impressive run through a massive set of dunes for the opening four holes. The highlights are the two impressive and thoroughly entertaining par fives that are as good as any of the great par fives in the World. The opening four holes are so impressive that you think a trip to lesser land would be disappointing, but its not.

The 5th then features an elevated tee shot that must be carefully placed between two fairway dunes in the landing area. The returning four plays back along the same ground before finishing up at a really nice raised green site. The next five plays back off an elevated tee and bends slowly around a lower gentle dune line dotted with blowouts before ending up an elevated green set in the side of the dune. The par three 8th plays off the dune line and out to well bunkered green site set in a flatter area. Finally the 9th plays up the other side of the large gentle dune and features a massive blow out along the right side of the landing area and the ocean all the way down the left before finishing at a nice green. The point is even the “lesser” holes in the routing features some fun shots, plenty of character and some interesting architecture.

4th tee shot

The back nine begins with play up the main dune line and back into the main dunes of the site. The short three that follows is a gem featuring a super cool reverse redan setting for the green site. The hole that follows is one of the better short fours I have played. The scale of the dunes, the all or nothing carry over the blow out and an awesome plateau green set against one of the biggest dunes I’ve ever seen creates a hole that you will never forget. The short four that followed was quite tricky, but prudent play off the tee sets you up for a lovely pitch into a low bowl.

approach to 12th green

Now the really fun stuff comes. The 14th a long five through incredibly massive dunes is as fun a tee shot as there is in golf. The approach is tricky because rather than a typical elevated or green the green is set down inside a large bowl. Not conventional, but sure was fun. The next two holes are standouts, a long par four playing between low dunes on the left and massive dunes on the right all while looking at the town across the bay. The par five employs a similar setting but curves gentle around the mammoth dune before finishing at a green site surrounded by dunes.

The finishing three is played from a high plateau to an elevated green that drops off on both side. I liked the concept a lot but found the “shaping” around the outside of the green to be out of character with the rest. There was some minor over-shaping at the 15th too. The final hole is a long four played through two massive dunes followed by a long iron into a well bunkered green. Once gain the extra target bunkering on the right and over-shaped surrounds identified the work was done during a renovation.

16th hole looking back

All in all the course was outstanding. The set of fives is so good it rivals Highlands Links (which has the best set in my opinion). I would comfortably vote for Enniscrone to be in the top 100 in the World.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Ireland - Day Four – Co. Sligo

The 4th

I really enjoyed Sligo and found the course fun to play.

The opener was easily the best one we have seen so far with a stunningly good green site. The next stretch of holes was great as you traversed the high hill with a four and five. The 4th hole was a highlight with an outstanding plateau green that employs a cool Redan style green. It was really hard to hit the required shot being downwind, but the area long and left was all kept short providing some realistic options for play.

The 5th tee is set 80 feet above the fairway and offers a wonderful view of the remaining nine and a great view of holes 13 through 17. Very few links courses offer such a panorama and it set the table for the holes ahead. The 5th played downwind as did the 6th. The 7th and 9th were played with a cross wind while the long 8th was down wind once again. The holes rely mainly on the combination of burns and a really cool set of greens to be far more interesting than you would expect of flat land holes.

9th hole

The interest was raised once again One beginning with the 9th and ending with the 12th that all play along a far spine that eventually ends at Rosses Point. Each hole deals slightly differently with a major cross fall including a stunner of a three at the 9th where some outstanding bunkering presents a really nasty challenge.

The 13th quarters back into the wind with a three set close to the beach. From then on it’s all hard work. The 14th through to the 18th have you fighting your way back home straight into the prevailing wind. I found the holes somewhat interesting because the dunes are in play, but I was also disappointed in the architecture since it was almost non-existent. I was surprised at how the architecture was far less interesting than some of the interior holes over lesser land.

It leaves me with an interesting question about routing. Is an out and back that finishes into the wind “a firm test” of a players skill or simply a “slog” that I must avoid in my own routings.

Ireland – Day Three – Ballybunnion Cashen

The 12th hole

We went to see the Cashen Course in the afternoon.

The front nine works its way through some massive dunes, but was reasonably playable. The opening hole was generous and the second was quite impressive, the third a beautiful par three and the fourth was a second stunning hole played down from a mammoth dune to the valley below and back into some smaller dunes at the end. I wondered what the fuss was other than the fact that the greens were at best 3,000 sq.ft.

The remainder of the nine worked pretty well although the routing could have easily been slightly different and eliminated the large walk from the 7th to 8th tees. The back to back par fives that followed worked well although one of them really should have been a long four making them feel different from each other.

The one thing I could not get my head around was the scale of architecture. The greens were so tiny and the bunkers were the smallest little “circular” bunkers that they were lost amid dunes. Even bigger was the issue of the greens being that small and presenting an almost impossible target

The 7th hole
The back nine was another story. The entire nine holes plays through the most extreme area of dunes and it felt like Trent had often sacrificed a potentially better routing to have the two finishing holes on the coast. The routing was often awkward, it had safety issues and almost every shot was an all or nothing proposition. Each player we talked to said the course was way too hard.

The issue with the Cashen is the scale. The scale of the dunes meant finding a routing was tough, although I’m fully convinced if he did not return nines and stayed out in the lesser dunes at the end of the site it would have been a much. The secondary issue was Trent’s inability to offer architecture that was appropriate for the scale and severity of the site.

I think Cashen was a huge miss on a great, but tough, site

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ireland – Day Two and Three - Ballybunnion Old

2nd shot to 11th hole

Ballybunnion is one of the better routings I have seen in quite some time. It may be one of the most remarkable examples of how to slowly and meticulously present an excellent golf course. The opener is largely open and then the second presents a tee shot through massive dunes. The 3rd through 6th are all in open land before the golfer is presented with back to back impressive holes in the 7th and 8th. Once more you are sent back to open land before running through the dunes from the 10th right through to the 12th. One last venture into somewhat open land on the 13th and then back into the biggest dunes right through to the18th. It’s this slow and deliberate unveiling that helps bring the golf course to crescendo as you play.

The course could have easily relied on the numerous dune holes to carry the day, but the green sites on all the holes in open land are some of the very best on the course. Some like the opener and 5th require some precision, but are open to all sorts of different shots, others like the 6th and 9th are so incredibly diabolical that only the most precise shot has any possibilities of success. The greens and the surrounds are easily a highlight of the course long before the dunes begin to blow the golfers mind.

Par three - 8th hole

The architectural highlights for me were the 6th green (one of the very best greens I have ever seen and one that I will incorporate in my work – falls off on both sides at a diagonal), the 8th (a brilliant and deceptive short three), the awe inspiring 11th (which plays as an all or nothing approach after a dramatic tee shot) and the awesome long par three 15th (which is as spectacular a long three as the game has). There are another half dozen wonderful holes on top of this too. It’s that good!

Personal note: despite high wind I had two rounds in the 80’s

Ireland - Day Two – Waterville

11th hole - 2nd shot

The second course we played was Waterville. Waterville is a links course designed by Irish legend Eddie Hackett, which has subsequently undergone a lot of work over the last ten years under the guidance of Tom Fazio. Most of the work has been an attempt to add additional character to the holes routed over lesser land, but some of the changes have also been done to add length in order to keep Waterville one of the premier links courses in the World.

The opening nine has received most of the attention. The Fazio team has done a wonderful job of adding new dunes to make the opening nine feel more links like. They have done a great job of generating the variety in shapes, sizes and spacing. Unfortunately the architectural work, like burns and bunkering, had a decidedly North American feel and is not as authentic.

9th approach

That leads me well to my number one criticism I have for the course. The bunkering is mostly there to provide visual stimulation. I was surprised how often a bunker sat simply to the side or worse a bunker on the corner could be carried only to leave you stuck in the rough. I found that I really liked Waterville and felt the course was beautiful, but I was disappointed by the lack of strategy, particularly on the front nine. Playing away from trouble for the ideal line is anti-strategy to me.

The reason Waterville is in the Top 100 in the World is the back nine. The highlight is the par five 11th. The tee shot is played between a wonderful set of large dunes and then the approach is played across or through a stunning deep valley back up to a spectacular elevated green all the way surrounded by large dunes.

I think Eddie Hackett did a marvellous job of routing the holes back and forth through the dunes for the opening three, plays off the top and then back into them for the next two and finally in and out of the dunes to the 18th.

Waterville is well worth playing.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ireland - Day 1 - Dooks Golf Course

Dook's opening green
The Dooks Golf Club was our opening round in Ireland. The course was built mostly by the members over some terrific links land, but in recent times Martin Hawtree has been brought in to help modernize and update the course. Martin’s main focus was adding close to 500 yards.

I really enjoyed Dooks. The opening nine was definitely the strength of the course despite the fact that the holes run back and forth until the 10th along the ocean. What I really liked was the variety of ways which the holes attack the main hill to generate different hole types. There may have been no real standout holes among them but the sum of the front nine holes was certainly a fun and enjoyable experience.

The back nine was good, but just didn’t have quite the same charm for me. My companions did like some of the early and late holes in the nine, but all of us saw the nine being the lesser of the two.

One struggle I had from an architectural perspective was the green site shaoping. The green surfaces

The enertaining 6th

were usually very smart, but my issue often came in the areas beyond. Rather than blending into what was there, far too often these were respaed to create repetitive undulations and rolls. The impact was the course contrasted against the surroundings rather than blended. It’s certainly something I would have avoided at all costs.

The biggest issue I had with Dooks was the way they lengthened the holes. It always seemed to involve an extended walk back to find the tees. There were at least six long walk backs and the experience quickly became tedious. I would have enjoyed a shorter course with shorter walks.

I’m glad we played the course, it was fun to play