Sunday, 25 November 2012

Today I sent a letter to the ASGCA

Today I sent a letter to our association, it reads the following:

One of the great questions we face is when to take a stand.

Most issues are very personal so it’s very difficult for an organization to take a stance on something that that may be important to some and not important to others. Preservation of important historical work has always been a contentious area among ASGCA members because not all of us share the same perspective. Some think evolution is important and others like me would rather see the most important works preserved for future generations to study.

While I may not personally like what some architects choose to do with historical courses, I had never seen a proposal so egregious that I thought we as an organization needed to take a stand.  Until now. The latest proposal for renovations to the Old Course in my opinion crosses that line. While I’d prefer they let well alone, it is not the entire proposal that compels me to write this letter. It is the desire to alter the contours of the land. Any change to the undulations or green contours shows a complete disregard for St. Andrew’s hallowed ground.

I’m not foolish enough to believe any course should be locked in time or not allowed to make change, but recommending changes to the ground contours and green contours of The Old Course is a travesty.

The architecture of the Old Course represents the wellspring for all of golf course architecture. Almost every exceptional idea brought by a future generation has a direct link back to the Old Course. In particular the Eden hole with its magnificent green is perhaps the single most copied hole in the history of the game. All the great architects who visited St. Andrews have made mention of the qualities and attributes of the Eden Hole and yet three men propose to toss this legacy aside to accommodate a tournament that comes for one week in every five years.

This is a breach of the Public Trust and something we must ask them to reconsider

Yours sincerely,

Ian Andrew

The only way for this madness to stop is for all the architecture societies to openly question the work. 



Saturday, 10 November 2012

Why I Think the Future of Golf Architecture is Bright

Thursday I found myself listening to a 30 minute interview with Camille Paglia. She was in studio to discuss her latest book Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. I was a little taken aback when she stated that there had been not a single significant figure of profound influence in the visual arts since the 1960’s. She explained that in architecture and performance art we have seen many important works in recent decades. Even industrial design was in a golden age particularly with products by Apple and others, but the visual arts were artistically dead.

She believes the multimedia revolution of the 1970’s has sapped artistic creativity and innovation in the arts. In the past sculptures and painters spent a great deal of time perfecting their skills long before they achieved artistic success. When you look at an artist like Monet and marvel in the length of time it took to perfect his techniques before he began to create his greatest and most admired work. While there were a few prodigies like Picasso, most great artists were Masters who spent decades refining their skills and honing their craft. Yet today’s society seems unwilling to consider the long route to greater success.

Camille felt today’s artist doesn’t know how to build or create anything with their hands. Computerization and the development of task specific software have revolutionized the ability to generate and illustrate a proposal, but it’s also created a new breed of designer and artist who are using computers to sidestep the process of actually “making” the art. The fear is that art may be stripped down to a thin veneer built around computer generated form.

I’m pretty sure it was Philip Johnston who recently lamented that students are no longer using a pencil to create architectural designs. The latest students are from a new generation of tech savvy kids who utilize the latest software written specifically to generate form. Many architects see this approach to design bypassing the essential intuitive stage of sketching, doodling and thinking with broad brush strokes. Once you turn to hard and rigid lines, you tend to turn to the logic side of the brain and use what you know best rather than take a creative risk.

One of the negative aspects of the internet is that designers look at what their contemporaries are doing and simple copy. They apply the same “visuals” to their own work and fail to realize the success of the project they are copying has more to do with how it’s played and less to do with how it looks.

I’ve always believed that it’s impossible to strive for something meaningful without philosophically understanding what you are trying to accomplish. Over time I’ve come to believe that you “can” design in emotion, rhythm, etc. into your work, but it requires understanding how each of those emotions works in built form and assessing why other examples have elicited that response. It does not guarantee you will receive the reaction you hope to gain, because emotions are personal, but you will have a better chance than those who have not considered how to create an emotional connection.  

And that is the crux of what Camille is saying there is no depth to the art. Modern art lacks any attempt to appreciate or understand the great works of the past and to pay particular attention to why they make us contemplate them.

There is no permanence in modern artist’s approach because their goals are so focuses in the now, which is essentially an immediate response to what they’ve done. Because of this newfound approach Camille suggests that much of the current visual arts are done to elicit a reaction rather than contemplation. Camille felt almost modern visual art work suffers from trying to be shocking rather than even provocative.

Perhaps that is why the scale of the projects has increased, to make up for the fact the intellectual reach has declined. Artists have gone bigger and bolder in almost an attempt to say “damned it, pay attention to me,” and not because their concept or ideas need a larger canvas to convey the message but they are literally down to their last trick. In many ways golf architecture is particularly guilty of this artistic sin.

To this day I’m still left breathless when I go to the McMichael Gallery to look at Tom Thompson’s study pallets. They are often the light on a single section of leaf. When you follow a dozen of these studies all covering different aspects of the work and then see the full canvas, you realize that your reaction to the work is not just to “the painting”, but rather to the full composition and all its small and fully realized details that draw you deeper into the work. I’ve sat down occasionally and gone from leaf to leaf.

I think golf architecture is a much better place than most arts.

There has been some profound and influential work done by the golf designers of this generation. The influence of that work is clear on the next generation. Interestingly, I think the economic troubles of today are good for the long-term quality of golf design. With less work, there has been an essential “thinning of the herd.” This has also played a role in the future designers too since they have been reduced to a very small group. Only the best and most serious students of architecture will manage to last and see the other side of this decade plus long drought we can expect.

Think of it this way, they are the ones who will be spending a decade or more out on site working on their craft. Think of them as a group of potential Monet’s or Tom Thompson’s working on an individual leaf each day perfecting that one and moving on to the next part of the composition. All that repetition and experience makes them butter prepared for the opportunity that will eventually come.

Unlike the visual arts there is no fear of the computer or multimedia ruining Golf Design because we are running hard in the opposite direction. I see the busy and successful architects using less “pencil” (forget computers) and spending any additional time in the field running equipment or even shovel. We have gone back to roots on so many levels.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Restore, Renovate or Rebuild?

St. George's was a Restoration
My first work on my own was a couple of projects involving courses of historical significance. I was a very vocal proponent for the preservation of historically significant work and the clubs were interested in preserving their architectural, so the decisions were only about how to rebuild the features so they would be mistaken for original.

That work was very well received by other clubs and it led to quite a bit of new renovation work. Most of that work was once again on courses of historical significance, but in many cases the courses had major alterations that could not be reversed and I was now required to make some decisions.  This became my first taste of renovation work and what I concentrated on was getting some of the original ideas to the new holes and making all the work to look like the original architecture and hide what had happened. I still preserved the remaining original features but this began the understanding of I would be asked to interpret what I was working with. I still tended not to stray too much from the original architecture and prided myself on re-creating what was lost, even in new locations.
Weston was a renovation

I remember calling Bruce Hepner to talk about restoration and renovation work because I was conflicted about some of the decisions I was being asked to make. Bruce and I share many similar opinions  on the big picture items like green recapturing (always), grassing lines (move them out where appropriate or possible), tree removal (necessary for sunlight, playability, views, health) and tees (more options equals better golf). We talked about everything from alterations to the original design for agronomic and technical issues through to dealing with the distance the ball travelled. Bruce helped me with some perspective on where to draw the line. Until you face the conflicts yourself, its hard to understand how difficult some of these decisions are early on.

Over time I began to get calls from other clubs where there was no architectural legacy to preserve. In this instance I took a much broader look at the architecture and set out to make the course more interesting to play. I looked at adding ground game options, playability, improving the strategic locations of bunkers, aesthetics and growing environments. I felt that was a critical role we had to play because we had more opportunity to address those issues than the superintendent because we were seen as impartial. I felt more comfortable with making bigger changes to these courses because often the routing was fine but the architecture was rudimentary.

Until recently I never really considered a complete rebuild. I always thought that I could solve the worst problems with the occasional rebuild of a hole or two and then a major renovation to the rest of the holes to make them more interesting to play.

Rebuilding of Laval's Blue Course was a Complete Rebuild

I have been involved in three in recent times.
 In Laval the club you had one of Canada’s elite clubs. They had a very disappointing second course with one of the worst routings I have ever seen for the second nine holes and two styles of architecture between the two nines. What they did have was the money, interest and second course to put all the club play on to allow them a complete rebuild of their second course.

The second involved an expropriation where they needed to replace nine. They rebuilt a very congested and short public course into a range and nine new holes. What I did do here was re-create the interesting greens for the original layout so they felt they still had part of their original course.

The final one will become the most common source of rebuilds for me. I have a club that has huge agronomic issues with its greens requiring a complete rebuild of all 18 greens. I have used this a s a chance to re-asses the architecture of the course and change the style of architecture to a course where the ground is no in play. The course is on an exceptional piece of land with a solid routing and weak architecture. I used the complete rebuild of the green sites to change the course.

Great architecture, regardless of who is the designer should be preserved or retained. Poor architecture, even by someone famous, requires you to consider your options and often suggest improvement. Rebuilding is a last resort when something is so completely screwed up that your better of starting again.

So how do I decide?  Since I never want to drive someone into bankruptcy, its 50% architecture and 50% economics. Regardless of your desires as an architect, you must put the long term financial health of the club or ownership first to ensure they can continue to operate a business.