Sunday, 9 September 2012

Highlands Links Retrospective – Part 1 – Becoming the Consulting Architect

1981 on my way to another easy par

I’m off to Highlands Links today and will write each day on a different aspect of my time with the course finishing up with a look to the future.

The first time I saw the course was in 1981 when I played the course with my father. I was 16 years old and a pretty solid player putting together 10 pars and a score in the mid eighties. It was well established in our family that “I was going to be a golf course architect”, so my father and I had begun to travel to see the great courses and further my education. I photographed the entire course and remembered all the details vividly for the next three decades. I was one of only two Score panelist who had seen it in 1984 when I first voted for it as the best in the country. They didn’t have enough votes but the two who voted had it one and two!

I returned in 2008 to play the golf course with golf writer Robert Thompson. The golf course had received a lot of great press in 2000 after the so-called “restoration” by Graham Cooke, so I was really excited to see it again. The course was in marginal shape with the 9th and 10th greens being largely devoid of turf. I was surprised that almost every great view was gone and all the playing corridors had narrowed over time. Still the great bones were largely there. The one shock was the bunkers, some were now gone, others were dumbed down and a series of oval bunkers were all over the course when none had existed in the past. The work was awful and I was really pissed off at the damage to such an important heritage and publicly spoke out.

2011 on site rebuilding bunkers
It turns out I wasn’t the only thinking this one since quite a few others questioned the work before and after. The staffs at Highlands Links and Parks Canada were among those who were disappointed with the results.

In the meantime some key figures in Parks Canada got Stanley Thompson recognized as a person of National Historical Significance. Highlands Links suddenly became an important focal point of his career since it was the one truly public course out of his best work. The Highlands Links staff used this momentum to put out a tender looking for a restoration architect with Thompson experience who could put together a plan to bring the course back to its origins. The goal was to establish the course as a “Place of National Historic Importance.”

Anyone reading this knows that in the end I won the proposal call. It was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had as an architect because I needed to do this work. I’ll share a fact that nobody knows about the tender. I made it impossible to lose the RFP through price.

I was elated to be entrusted to restore Thompson’s most significant course. I felt I have proved my abilities as a restorer and researcher with the work at St. George’s. I had plenty of other historical experience with other Thompson Courses too, so the timing was ideal for me. The topper was another architect I respect sending me a note that said “You’re the right guys for this project, I’m glad you got the work.”

Tomorrow – Researching the Past

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