Sunday, 2 January 2011

Monterey Peninsula Shore Course

Mike's illustration of the 9th hole

“I hope to carefully shape this new course so she will bend and sweep with the natural terrain of the rocks, trees, grasses and ocean. My dream is that she will appear as she has been dancing among the Cypress on this coastline forever, and now she is the new, wonderful discovery of just a lucky few people.” Mike Stranz describing what he wanted to do at the Shore Course.

Mike's illustration of the 11th

Last year I went out to see the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula with two other architects, Scot Sherman and Art Schaupeter. This was the course that Mike Stranz had won the commission with some of the most impressive sketches I have ever seen – it was a complete rebuild. This was to be my first chance to finally see a Mike Stranz course, the guy that many called a radical, an architect that drew praise and criticism in equal measures.

I know Mike’s favorite quote is by Alister Mackenzie “A first class hole must have the subtleties and strategic problems which are difficult to understand, and are therefore extremely likely to be condemned at first sight even by the best of players”

The completed 11th hole

Defenders of Mike like to point out that his courses are visually intimidating, but have great playability hidden in the course and that his application of width and optional routes does reduce the perceived difficulty. Mike has commented that many players try to play from the wrong set of tees and also try to play beyond themselves. I wanted to form my own opinion.

I did expect to be overwhelmed with his obvious creativity, but was curious to see if I cared for the level of difficulty he was reputed to build in. The course was as provocative and attractive as I expected, but it was also very understated and very playable. All three of us were very impressed with the flow of the course. It fit the land. It seemed to hug the natural features and it embraced its surroundings instead of competing with them. It seemed to dance among the Cypress on this coastline forever.

The 12th fairway shows the sweep of the fairway and how well the course fits into the site

The other part of the course we all enjoyed was how he created the strategies. He used the natural looking bunkers to create wonderful horizontal sweeps in the fairway which enticed you into a game of risk and reward all day. He used bold bunkering and green contours to reward you for careful placement. He wound the course back and forth to bring the strong winds into the game, but gave you room and optional routes to deal with the inherent difficulties. Simply a well conceived and wel thought out piece of architecture.

The Shore course is a must play for a young designer like myself. Mike left so many wonderful and simple lessons on how to use that site to get the most out of it – and he did. It makes a wonderful testimonial to the artist that was lost with his tragic passing.

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