Sunday, 2 January 2011

High Water Mark for Restoration


Pat Mucci has asked some questions on Golfclubatlas.com recently (2006) about restoration, and specifically about renovating to a key date or time in a clubs history. This is often referred to as the architectural high water mark.

I’m not sure I buy into the concept of “high water mark.” I do think restoration architects usually choose a date to restore to and then spend their efforts trying to get “most” of the course back to that date. In fact most “dates” present themselves without much debate. Whether due to information or circumstance, one day usually stands out from all others and selecting this date as a high water mark may make perfect sense.

But what if there are many dates to choose from? For example what was the high water mark at Merion for example? The 1930 US Open with Bobby Jones win? Ben Hogan? The Last US Open won by Davis Graham? Merion is the best example where one significant date seems too narrow-minded. While 1930 was a great date for golf, I struggle with that being “the” date for the course when you consider the work of the superintendent Joe Valentine and where the course evolved to during his tenure. To ignore that seems to myopic to me. Merion choose 1930, which was a logical date I guess, but I personally found there are a couple of holes where I wish they never went back to 1930 when they did the recent renovation.

Pat asks the question of who should decide. My answer is an architect or golf writer who is heavily involved in preservation and history of golf course architecture. They need someone who will place the history of the course and the importance of the architecture in its proper perspective. I think a club has to seek outside opinion and see if they all agree. They may need to do nothing until they are truly sure that they have made the correct decision.

Choosing one date is not always appropriate. Most clubs have many significant dates and many photographs that span a series of years. The information provides a series of snapshots to the evolution of the course. While one logical date may tie in with a significant moment at the club, there is also a chance that the architecture of the club was far superior before or after this date. The last Canadian Open at St. George’s brought significant changes and I would argue this was also the architectural “low” water mark for that club, but someone else may choose that date because of the historical significance. Choosing one date brings a danger. Seminole would be an example where going back to “Ross” would be an immediate reaction and yet the 18th green relocated by Dick Wilson is a standout thatmakes the hole great.

This is not a simple question, and truth be told, this can only be answered on a case by case basis. While I don't disagree with the notion of a high water mark, I don't agree with the concept of a high water mark for all courses.

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