I had an amazing conversation while playing the Blue Course that was about criticism of golf course architecture.
One of the things we talked about was the fact that it’s far easier to find the minor flaws or perceived faults than explain the larger ideas and broad concepts that often carry an entire project to a remarkable result. Sure we can break down the details of a hole, both positive and negative, but rarely do we talk about a philosophical stance or grand set of ideals that often has a greater impact on our enjoyment or fascination with of a course than a shape, a grassing line or bunker. We tend to review by details.This week I thought there was a philosophical difference between the Red and the Blue and I thought it had greater impact on how each turned out “From My Perspective.” And those words are important. I think it’s important we remind ourselves that “Our Perspective” is what we have and not some “Grand Knowledge of Everything about Architecture.” Very few are capable critics because that requires accepting what is not within your comfort zone and looking with interest at what you may dismiss or potentially ignore. We are not naturally good at that. We’re even worse at admitting that to ourselves.
We must start by understanding that our views of strategy, design and all the aspects we see in golf design are not a Universal Truth but a Personal Perception of the facts. Most are indeed shared, but many are not. Our view is not “The View” but simply “Our” view.It’s important to understand how we work to acknowledge how we perceive the world around us. The brain works on two levels. The first is an intuitive response system that makes quick decisions and many instinctive judgements that allow us to function without being slowed down … by well thinking too much. It is our first response to just about every situation and piece of information we receive. The secondary system takes over and provides careful consideration and for lack of a better term is your analytical side. It functions about 10% of the time in the average person.
Mid round I ended up taking about going to Musee d'Orsay with my wife and looking at paintings by Alfred Sisley. Cynthia loved the work and well I did not. When I dismissed one particular painting as just another “ship in the fog” (I am an ass sometimes … ok often) she made me stop go back and look again. We moved both back and forward until I eventually found a series of spectacular details “in the fog” from both perspectives including buildings and children that I could only see by getting close or far enough. I needed to look at what was in front of me rather than glance and pass judgement. Often we look at this vast landscape and see only what we think we see or want to see rather than what is there.I think one of the issues we have is we often only have enough time to allow our intuitive brain to make snap judgement and quick decisions. In very general terms this is actually efficient and is more often than not accurate “in general terms” at least, but if you’ve ever spent any time looking into this process, you come to learn that the way the intuitive system is essentially flawed when it comes to critical thinking. You see we allow our biases to be far more involved in the decision making when intuitive and we also defer to what “we expect” often over what we actually see. In simple terms, we will be overly supportive of an artist we already like and over critical of something that we have already dismissed.
One of the great problems of understanding brilliance within golf architecture is far more it is found in the obtuse rather than the obvious. So at a quick glance we can only draw on an instinctive impression and miss something far greater and grand that impacts WHY this intuitively works, which occasionally has less to do with the elements and more to do with a conceptual ideal.And that brings me to the concept of perfection.
We revel in a 300 hitter in baseball and a 55% shooter from behind the arc in basketball. Yet I have often found myself on a nearly perfect golf course where a singular element is allowed to tumble the entire house of cards and the result is a complete dismissal of the course.Many of the courses we admire have an element of improvisation and creativity in the moment. They are full of passion and moments of shear brilliance that likely never could have found their way to paper or plan. This week I saw moments that made me say f@#$ I wish I did that. There were a few places where I was left curious on the decision making, but that’s good too. I don’t want perfect courses, I want passionate architecture.
I’ll digress to explain myself better …I went to see Robert Cray many years ago because I was a huge fan of the first two albums. He played each and every song perfectly without a mistake that I could hear at least to my limited ear. The concert was … well disappointing. Many years before, I saw Emerson Lake and Palmer where a massive part of the show was improvisation. It was never perfect and occasionally appeared lost, but the highlights were worth the risk and my impression from the evening was this was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had and the minor miss-steps were so inconsequential compared to the brilliance that carries the night.
There is no such thing as perfection in golf design. There is some knowledge to be found in what we think doesn’t work as long as we take the time to explain clearly WHY we think this is an issue. I believe if you can’t explain why, you lose the right to be critical. There is far more learned and gained from looking far deeper into the canvas and sharing what moves you and WHY.