Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Lookout Mountain

The 6th hole - Short
It’s always interesting for me to find out my opinion doesn’t run with the group.

In Australia it was New South Wales where I loved every eccentricity and the rawness of the course. Many in the group were disappointed by the blind shots and nasty vegetation on a few holes and preferred Royal Sydney (which was my least favourite on that trip).  Lookout Mountain was loved by some of the ASGCA Members, disappointing to others and even loathed by a few.

The 4th from the landing - note the cross fall!

The golf course sits high up on Lookout Mountain benched into the side of the mountain. The course itself sits on a falling plateau heading towards a precipitous drop. Even the “flattest” of areas are far from flat. The rest is a rollicking piece of land where Seth Raynor constantly battles to set holes with the fall of the land so shots can be managed on such severe terrain.

The 7th hole from the back tee

The criticisms mainly come on the severity of many cross falls and how you barely have any control over the result unless you are willing to play a hard draw or big cut into the slope to hold the shot. I get those criticisms and in many cases they were fair since some of the fairways can’t be hit when dry. I think some grassing changes could mitigate a few of the tougher shots.

The other side of the spectrum is the number of opportunities to use existing landforms to feed a ball into a great position on the fairway or intro the green. The ground is really in play at Lookout Mountain and that’s what I found so compelling. From the Redan, through to the drivable four the ground was there to help. But in just as many cases it created fall offs, false fronts and slopes to potential oblivion if you weren’t careful. I liked the use of the terrain.

#14 The Redan

My only criticism was the greens. The interior contours were often bold, but the edges very rarely touched the banks on the outside of the plateau. The loss of key pin areas and the round shapes set on square plateaus was a little bit disconcerting to look at. I expect Gil Hanse to eventually rectify this and bring it back to original form.

It may have not been the favourite of others in the group, but it was certainly my favourite to play.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Future of Golf Architecture

The following is a summary of a round table featuring Bill Coore, Gil Hanse and Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Robert Trent Jones Jr. began with “In 1974 we all went to Japan to work, because that’s all there was, now its China.” He went on to talk about how important it was to adapt the game to other cultures to help it grow. He also opinioned the PGA Tour has detrimental impact of the game since it presents golf in its worst light of high maintenance and extreme challenges.

Gil Hanse talked about his own business and noted that he has kept his operation small and lean even through the good times. He has instead relied on sub-contractors and collaboration to get through the busier times. He pointed out that nothing is more important than creating a network of contacts throughout the entire golf industry.

Bill Coore talked about the potential of expanding what you do and reminded us that he went to work as a superintendent because there were no design opportunities. He feels that experience made him a far greater architect than he would have been because it expanded his knowledge and understanding of golf architecture.

Bill went on to share that we need more alternative golf course pointing out he learned the game on a 9 hole course. He continued on to say the loss of shorter courses has hurt the growth of the game and we need to step away from the championship golf course model and get back to the basics of somewhere fun to play. He added that perhaps the downturn and economics may force the alternatives to be reconsidered as a viable model. RTJ added that time may also push this change in views along too since new players don’t want to commit as much time to the game.

Bill offered up a pretty interesting idea based around his wife’s view of golf. “I wonder if our courses looked a little less offensive, meaning less consuming, there may be greater acceptance of golf." This plays right into the Gil’s design and concept for maintenance for the Olympic Course which is based upon sustainability and RTJ’s comment about the perfection and presentation of the PGA Tour being a detriment to the game.

This is the last of the pieces I’ll do from presentations. I have 3 more pieces to post this week from that meeting:
1. Lookout Mountain
2. Chattanooga Country Club
3. Thoughts on the Meeting

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Glens Falls Country Club

5th green

A few weeks ago I was hired to work with Glens Falls Country Club, a beautiful Donald Ross course north of Albany, New York. I spent Friday on site helping the club change some grassing lines on the course.

7th hole - 290 yards
I follow a great architectural legacy here. Last year Gil Hanse provided a report for the club that recommended quite a bit of tree removal and widening out the grassing lines to bring the bunkering back into play. I was fortunate to receive a copy and after visiting the course I can honestly say he provided the club with excellent advice. I will work from his report.

9th hole 145 yards
Before Gil was hired the club worked with Brian Silva who helped (mainly) with a bunker renovation. His bunker work was very well done and I plan to send him a note to let him know how much I enjoyed his work. Before that was Geoff Cornish. The original design is Donald Ross. The club has been prudent and barely altered any of the original course beyond a few back tees. The work that has been done recently has been very well thought through.

12th tee - 235 yards!
Glens Falls would be best described as a wild rollercoaster through the forests of upper New York State. The course features some of the biggest ups and downs I have seen in quite some time and the variation in how the land was used is a tantamount to how good Donald Ross was at identifying excellent holes. There is nothing flat from the fairways to the greens and there are so many truly innovative features added including the one of a kind green on the 5th.

17th tee
I feel very fortunate to be working with such a great course. As strange as it sounds, I’ll have a lot of fun making very few changes. My goal is to help them get the grassing lines right. We’ll also probably remove a few more key trees and shift some paths further out of view over time. We may even soften a green that averages 5% and restore a bunker or two but nothing big. Beyond a tee or two I hope nobody ever knows I worked there.

I finished up the day with Chris, Doc and many of the other wonderful members I met and thought how lucky I was. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How do we grow the game?

I think he's hooked already ...

This is another piece from a series of lectures I attended at the ASGCA meeting this year in Chattanooga.

Joe Guerra said (and I whole heatedly agree him) said that the PGA tour does not help to grow the game. I agree with Joe and think that it’s not Tiger Woods that grows the game. It’s the people at the grass roots level who really grow the game.

I found it fascinating how every speaker we had essentially made the same comment. The game will not grow without “women”. I think golf has finally figured out that my generation is different from their generation. Women play a far greater role in the decision making process and are often the one who determines where the “family” will spend their money. Fathers, of my generation, feel a great obligation to play an equal role in raising and shaping our family. If you want me to join, you need to attract my family.

The easiest way to return growth to golf is to change “who” we want to attract and how we go about trying to find new members. Golf needs to institute programs to make women welcome and find a way to make sure they are comfortable. A few private clubs have used a “programmer” who helps them find ways to become an active member. Any club that has more than one league for woman also tends to have a much better gender balance. Women are drawn in by the camaraderie the game offers, while men enjoy the competition against others and themselves. To attract and keep women we must find a process that encourages them as they develop confidence so they don’t get discouraged early on and leave the game. Practice facilities, ladies leagues, social programs and a couple of practice holes can all make it easier for women golfers to find confidence.

Kids need to have fun first. I agree with Joe Guerra’s comment that getting the ball in the air is critical to kids staying with the game. A combination of encouragement, a little instruction and occasionally teeing a ball up in the fairway allows the child to find the fun of watching a ball fly through the air. That’s the moment that first ball goes beyond their comprehension they are partially hooked for life. It then comes down to opportunity and encouragement to turn them into lifetime golfers. We need to mentor the kids and teach them about the game “once they show passion. Eventually as they improve we will introduce the rules.

Golf is getting smarter with trying to attract kids. They have realized the social aspect of team sports attracts participation. The development of junior golf leagues with numbered jerseys, where the kids play two person scrambles against other kids, has been wonderful for making the game more attractive. Kids bring friends and we all know the chance to play with friends (no matter what skill level) is one of the greatest pleasures the game offers.

I think golf needs to be more accommodating. There should be opportunity to make a par or birdie regardless of skill level. We need far greater variation in tee length, but also a greater variety in the challenge so some holes are easier and more encouraging. As Joe Munsch said, “Playing further forward helps make it fun.”

I played nine holes with my boys yesterday. It reminded me that shorter loops for more alternative play work well. I think the kids would play 6 holes late in the afternoon more often than nine because the round finishes quicker. Less time to play would help growth because we could fit this in easier with all the other family activities.

Joe Munsch offered the most brilliant suggestion I have heard in a while. He suggested “family lessons” to teach the game together. My wife has indicated an interest in the game, but won’t play with me or the boys. Family lessons may offer that one opportunity to draw her into the game. That may encourage us to play a family round.

I love Joe Guerra’s idea that we (golfers) need our own Hippocratic oath, where we promise to introduce 5 people to the game over the next 5 years. We are the ones that can create growth if we make the effort.

I want to dedicate this to all the people who have ever run a junior program, fre clinic, introduced other people or go out of their way to help someone feel like they belong.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

RTJ Jr.'s Humour

He gave me this at dinner the other night for working with Gil and
asking for nothing in return. The man definately has a sense of humour.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

State of the Game

State of the Game

It turns out Golf is bigger than I would have thought. Golf 2.0 determined that 1% of America works in Golf Industry. After determining this the golf industry has spent a lot of time recently educating politicians to try and help them understand that many people depend on the industry.

Joe Guerra, Joe Munsch and Mike Davis of the USGA all felt the recent drop in participation was a direct result of the recession. Mike Davis from the USGA said, “The economy alone dictates all the ups and downs in the growth of the game.” He went on to say, “There is nothing wrong with the game, the problem is with the stae of the economy.” I should mention the two speakers who are multiple course operators both cited poor weather as a contributing factor in the last few years.

I found it interesting that Joe Munsch cited the example of Houston where they still had growth throughout the last five years. He shared the fact that their economy benefited through the strength of the oil industry and the stability of the medical industry. It does support the theory of golf being tied to the economy. Although that also supports the point that golf is a discretionary expense to many households.

Joe Guerra shared the fact that 20% of people play 80% of the rounds. The rest are considered casual players who dabble in the game. Joe Munsch told us that golf rounds have remained stable because regular players are playing more making up for the “casuals” who are playing less. The core has not gone. But that does suggest the people we need to grow the game have looked to other pursuits.

Over the last 20 years there has been a 6.5% growth in players. There has been a 30% growth in the number of facilities. This over-supply has that many courses are not being played to capacity and the resulting loss of players is cutting out the profit margin for the facility. It suggests that only a few courses will be built in the near term since there is no demand.

Mike Davis does not see alternative facilities as answer. Instead he feels a focus on sustainability (conditioning, technology, costs, etc.) will be what helps the game absorb all the extra facilities and begin to grow at a more sustainable rate. Essentially golf is fine, but architects and builders are in a world of hurt.

I think we all need to concentrate on ways of making the game grow. For example, all the costs including the cost of technology is passed onto the consumer, perhaps its time for golf to put the consumer first. In my mind the increasing demand for larger parcels of land is killing the game through economics. If we want to save the game and all the jobs associated then its time for golf courses to stop expanding to fit the equipment and its time to get the equipment to fit the courses. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Honors Club

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The 9th green

One of the reasons I was looking forward to going to Chattanooga was to play the Honors Course. I’ve recently shared with you that Pete Dye represents a bit of conundrum to me since I can clearly see the skill in his designs, but I generally don’t care for the excessive shaping and manipulation of the land to create his courses. I was curious to see if I would find the love for his work in Chattanooga that I found at The Golf Club many years ago.

I was fortunate to play with Damian Pascuzzo and asked him mid round about his thoughts on Pete’s work. The discussion centered on Pete’s outstanding use of angles to set up decisions, the ability to create grand theater, his clear understanding of scale and the innate ability to come up with novel ideas. Quite often they were generated by the need to either lose or gain fill. In short, I get Pete is a great architect.

The 6th hole 

I found Honors to be a good illustration of the transition he was making from Minimalist to Maximalist. His routing makes terrific use of the land on so many wonderful holes away from the main lake. The collection of fives (which are fantastic) all standout for the terrain they incorporate. The only real complain I had on the holes away from the lake is the decision to shape and manipulate every fairway. I’ll never fully understand the reasoning for this, nor will I ever appreciate the contrast it creates to the natural undulations beyond the hole.

I loved the green sites and short grass playing areas around the perimeters. Some of the undulations on and off the green were magnificent. He managed to get some wonderful undulation without ever going too far on a single contour. These were an outstanding set of greens.

The main lake from the 15th tee

I always liked the angles and strategies he offered at all the courses I have gone to see. The par 5 17th features one single bunker every bit as powerful and important as the Road Hole bunker. A bunker you must plan carefully to avoid. This becomes tough when Pete allows the opportunity to drive the ball into a great position to get home in two, other than the trees on the right which prevent a safe side approach. You must flirt with disaster to reach the green.

I agree with Damian’s comment about the lake creating great theatre as you can easily watch other players around you. I’ll confess I’ve never been a fan of regular use of water to pressure players at green sites and have always felt it was one of the great failings of the Modern School of Design. Pete brings water into play on five holes and each time right up against the green. While I can appreciate the scale and grand theatre created by the central lake, these were the holes that I liked least as a collection.

The bunker fronting the 17th green

The biggest surprise was for me was the use of trees to create strategy. In some cases like the 6th they were too tight. I remember one of the staff commenting that’s Pete Dye, but I expect the opening was twice as big on opening day and made far more sense. I don’t mind the trees as much as the water since most were big enough to have some options to go under, but I do believe that this course could use some work along a few key forest lines to provide a little more options for the player.

I get the course is meant to be tough and I really did like this more than all the other recent Dye courses I have seen. I do think it deserves the praise it receives and I fully acknowledge that my criticisms revolve more around my own personal taste than any flaw in what Pete has designed. He is a great designer and this course helped me see a little more of what others see in him. I’m glad I made the trip.