Sunday, 2 January 2011

Restoration Decisions

Part 1 - Shades of Grey

I deal with a lot of renovation work – and as time has progressed – more and more of the work is restorative in nature. I’m grateful to be in this position and have made a lot of effort to learn about each of the courses I work with and about their respective architects. The one thing I find about this line of work is that it is occasionally very humbling since you can never assume that you know enough and must keep searching for more clarity on each architect – knowing that nothing will ever be completely black or white.




1939 St. George's aerial







A few courses such as Cataraqui and St. George’s turned out to be very well documented and the courses were pretty accurate restorations – but most have limited information leaving me with shades of grey to deal with in order to do my job. This is where you combine all the clues you have – from photos through to aerials – with some of your experience with that particular architect. You occasionally end up in the position of having to make an educated guess. You rely on what is still intact and combine that with what you know about the architect and try to make any renovations match the work and strategies f the existing course – this is called a sympathetic renovation.

Often while the desire was for a restoration – so you restore what you can and then fill in the remaining blanks the best you can through experience. As a close friend said about his work on a Thompson course recently – and he did a great job – how can I call it restorative when I didn’t know what was originally there. That’s the reality of some of the work you get involved with.

The Thompson Plan for Kawarth Golf & Country Club




The only part of this job that can become frustrating is when a crucial piece shows up right after you finish the work - like the Thompson plan did at Kawartha Golf & Country Club. The other side of the this is when fortune gives you what you need right before you start – Craig Moore from the Cutten Club located an old aerial from which I revised the Master Plan and tender to insure it was more accurate.

Today I was at Cherry Hill Club looking at an old Master Plan – I have more than five years of additional insight into Travis and I knew a few areas could use a tweak to be more accurate and interesting. After meeting with the club, I slogged my way through the rain to review the greens and reassess the grassing lines. I knew so much more about his work and understood a few of the features that left had previously left me perplexed – it was the perfect opportunity to bring a little more accuracy to the plan.




The Working drawings for Travis's Cherry Hill Club








I wish it were all black and white, but its not, it’s almost shades of grey. I find it’s the way that you handle those shades of grey that separate the work from being inappropriate or hard to distinguish from the original work.

Part 2 - Plans, Images or Built Form?

I thought I would continue to look at restoration this week and delve further into the world of grey.

One of the greatest debates - coming mainly from the restoration of Donald Ross courses – is whether to restore to his plans. This is applicable to other architects too, but the main proponents to using drawings work a lot with Ross courses. Donald – or his associates – was well known to put together very detailed grading plans with clear instruction into the intent of what he was trying to build at each green site. He left us many copies of complete greens drawings in places like the Tuft’s archives and now architects have embraced that resource to help with restoration efforts.

Some architects argue that these are the best resource that an architect can have since the intentions and directions are all there for you to use in restoring the hole. Other architects counter that every architect makes field adjustments on site and we should have far more respect for the final built form than what is represented on those drawings. Their argument is that drawings are always the starting place for all work, but the real craft comes with direction – and change – made in the field.

Ron Whitten recently chastised the architects who stick “too purely” to drawings with their restoration efforts. He has pointed out that Ross himself rebuilt a number of his courses to keep up with the changes in technology and that Ross was a believer in renovation even with his own work. Whitten’s argument is pure restoration is the equivalent of an architect putting their head in the sand and ignoring the changes taking place around them. He feels that historical renovation is appropriate but should be “sympathetically” – which means keeping the character, strategy and style but not necessarily preserving the actual features.

Like all great arguments – there is no right or wrong – only a strong opinion from either side. So where do I sit?

I believe built form and opening day photos takes precedence over working drawings. If you’re going to restore – then it must be what was actually built. If you’re going to make alterations to deal with the changes in the game then it usually becomes more appropriate to sympathetically renovate. I find in very general terms I tend to do both. I like to keep most of the holes intact and look mainly for new tees so that I’m not altering the architecture just returning the old intended landing area. I prefer to leave all short holes well alone since they usually feature the wildest and most interesting architecture. If you lengthen those holes – often down the road the green becomes a candidate for a rebuild to bring in fairness. I generally try to pick my spots from where I try to gain length or improve holes that seem to lack some of the charm that others have – if I can do this using lost features or strategies than I’m more inclined to make change. If change involves new ideas – I tend to steer the club to accepting a shorter quirkier course and try to council the club against alterations. That’s where I sit on this debate.

To fully understand how grey an area this is: I am introducing some new short grass areas at Cherry Hill Club (by Walter Travis) but everything is based upon – wait for it – the working drawings! I have no photos from the early years but I do have his working drawings and enough other examples that support the idea. All in all – there is no actual answer to this debate – only opinion – and even that changes through different circumstances.



Part 3 – Is everything by a famous architect worthy of restoration?

The 3rd at St. George's - the most out of character green on a great course that I know.






Tom Doak – known for his excellent restoration work – said that not everything should be restored. There are cynics that suggest the restoration movement is just a “fad” and will eventually come to the logical end called “progress.” Others argue that this so called “progress” was previously known as “modernization” and it was the source of so much architectural malpractice that it drove clubs to restoration since the work of the older architects was so clearly better than the renovations of the newer architects.

I think when you area dealing with the work of one of the greatest architects of history – you have an obligation to try and preserve most of their work for future generations to learn from and for the members to enjoy. I think a good restoration begins with preserving what obviously already works very well and identifying the features to the club so they won’t be lost by future generations. The next stage is to point out what is not working as well as it should and figure out if there are any easy ways to make it work without major change – such as a new tee or an additional bunker. Finally the last stage is to look through the holes that time and equipment has rendered obsolete and figure out if there is a way to make change and still preserve pieces to keep the spirit of the holes. The last alternative is to take those architectural elements and recreate them in a new location.

But what if the course was designed by one of the greats but really doesn’t have much in the way of great architecture to work from? What if an associate built the course? What if the project was a routing plan built by the members? What if it’s a great course with one awful hole?

If there is truly little there, you preserve what you can and set out to renovate the course to the style of the architect – that way the work should blend in with the original features that remain. If an associate worked on it – if it’s good you work with it since it doesn’t matter who designed good work – if it’s bad you make change based around the famous architects work making sure you still blend in with what will remain. In most cases features like bunkers are all done at once to keep things consistant and to allow for a broader change if necessary. If the architect did a routing plan but the features lack the artistry – you simple step in and try to make the course appear like it was done by the original architect by interpreting the drawings. If it’s a great course with an awful hole – you fix the hole. You try to work with the original intent and just remove the part of the hole that fails to work – like a green or poorly placed bunker scheme.

Occasionally you find yourself looking at a course that provides little or no inspiration – if they want a restoration – you pass on the work (and yes I’ve done that before). If they understand you need to make change - then you pick a style based around an architect, an era, or a technique that is appropriate for the course and the club.

Tom Doak is right after all – there are courses by famous architects that should not be preserved.

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