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.