Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Links Magazine This Month

cover courtesy of Links Magazine

I think this issue is particularly interesting to read and I thought I would touch on some highlights. I'll share links when/if they become available.

We are presented with both sides of the debate on the renovations to the old course. Historian and researcher Scott MacPherson argues that improvements are more common at the Old Course than people know. Tom Doak counters that the historical importance of the course trumps the importance of tournament golf. It’s fun to read side by side because both make a solid case.

I was amused by the list of the remaining untouchable par fives, The Untouchables, which is an update from the twenty-one holes that Tom Doak identified twenty years ago for a Golf Magazine feature. I’ve seen one, 9th at Rolling Green in Philadelphia, played a few that have dropped off and have no desire to see any of the other ones on the list. I agree with the Bobby Jones quote in the article, “It was one of our principles at Augusta national that even our par five should be reachable by two excellent shots.” I think these holes are a monotonous slog for all but the ridiculously long.

There is an interesting piece called 8 architects, 8 questions which shares each architect’s influences, shows different perspectives, touches on philosophy and finishes with a look ahead at design. The architects were Bill Coore, Tom Doak, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Gil Hanse, Rees Jones, RTJ Jr. and Jack Nicklaus. No surprises really, but a fun read all the same. I plan to answer the same questions in the same limited space this week for my own amusement … and perhaps yours too.

Tom Dunne working at Highlands

The original reason I have the magazine is to read Tom Dunne’s piece called Restoration Hardcore about his experience working on the construction crew at Highlands Links. He describes what the work was like and the characters on the crew and his own feelings about the work being done. He finishes up with his views on the relationship between the town and the course includes the surprise announcement that the course was going to be potentially privatized and the crew would be let go. I would have enjoyed his opinion on that issue, but it was all up in the air at deadline time.

The magazine includes the 100 Most Prestigious Private Golf Clubs in the World. I found out I’ve played more than half including eight of the top ten. They can’t be that prestigious … after all they let me on the property. I was pleased that the only club that ever refused to allow me on the property did not make the list! I’ve found all these clubs to be friendly and accommodating, so credit to all of them.

A piece I particulalry enjoyed was Adam Lawrence’s Courses of Most Resistance. He talks about how Minimalism had won the battle over Modernism to become the current dominant style, but because of the crash of 2008 there will be only a handful of new projects for the minimalists to build. He touches on two of my friends, Mike Nuzzo and Jay Blasi and how they see moving ahead in this era. I also found to my great surprise that I was featured in the last paragraph of the piece.

Canadian architect Ian Andrew, one of the golf industry’s deepest thinkers, takes an optimistically Darwinian view. “I think the economic troubles of today are good for the long term health of golf design”, he says. “With less work, there has been an essential thinning of the herd. The designers of the future have been reduced to a very small group. Only the best will manage to last and see the other side.”  


Monday, 25 February 2013

Architects in World Golf Hall of Fame


Those In:

James Baird
Ben Crenshaw
Pete Dye
Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Charles Blair Macdonald
Alister MacKenzie
Old Tom Morris
Willie Park Jr.
Donald Ross
Walter Travis

Those Not In:

HS Colt
A.W. Tillinghast
George Thomas
Stanley Thompson
Seth Raynor
Perry Maxwell
William Flynn
Charles Alison
Tom Simpson


Many of the list that are in the Hall of Fame because they made it as a players.

I was pleased to see Willie Park Jr. added this year, but once again this was because he was a great player too. I’ve always felt the Hall is very short of worthy architects. It's nice to see Pete Dye and Willie Park Jr. but neither of these men should have come before Colt or Tillinghast. I will quickly point out that Dye's inclusion - while alive - was very important and appropriate, but Colt and Tillinghast should have been there from the outset. It’s time for the Hall to right this wrong and at least bring those two in. Then they can begin the debate on the rest of the list.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Future of Golf Course Development - Interview

How can the game of golf sustain itself through place-specific golf course development?

1] It appears that key stakeholders within the golf industry have, and continue to, strongly push an agenda that is directed towards the growth of the game. What are the consequences of such an approach to the game of golf, and thus golf course development?

I don’t think they promote growth at all.

I think they depend on growth to support their existing infrastructure and now that’s come to a standstill. Their frightened in many cases and I personally think the problems will last for a decade or more. Nobody has addressed the real problem. Everyone is focusing on trying to bring new players to the game, but the biggest issue is retention. The game has become too expensive to play regularly, takes too much time out of our busy schedules and people leave over the economics.

We will have to address a couple of major fundamental issues to actually deal with this. The escalating land costs. The increasing amount of land required because of technology. The ever increasing costs to meet conditioning expectations. And the fact that costs have gone up as revenue has dropped dramatically. But that won’t happen till the ball is rolled back to reduce land requirements and the maintenance standards are changed to make North American courses look and play more like the United Kingdom. I`m not holding my breath on each major issue and I would expect close to zero growth for this entire decade.

2] Golf’s last great growth period was driven by real-estate specification, with very little premium on quality golf course design.

The fatal flaw was the belief of the developer that they could forever sell their lots at a premium and flip the golf courses over to a willing buyer. They paid top dollar for a marketable name and paid top dollar to build to impress home owners with no plans or understanding how to run that business. The intention was a quick flip to members or a management company who would take over the facility.  They never worried about the quality of golf course, whether it was too expensive to maintain or whether it was a good economic model. That was someone else’s problem. They were just selling lots at a premium by adding the facility and that’s all that mattered.

a] What are the long-term consequences of real estate reliant golf course development on the game of golf?

Few of these golf courses work as a business. They were built for way too much money and without any end-user in mind. You can’t run them as a legitimate business because the overhead exceeds the revenue stream. The worst part is they were built to be high end facilities for the elite making them largely too hard for the average player on top of being too expensive for the average consumer. So they don’t even work as facilities to bring people to the game. The model was generally high end and there are very few high net worth people playing golf. They also were impacted by the market crash of 2008 and went back to working longer hours.

b] How can golf course development exist without real estate?

It used to be you built a course in a location with a demand. You built it as cheaply as you could keep an eye on maintenance to make things work. You then charged a modest fee and built your regular base one player at a time. This modest approach still works.  You also made improvements as you could afford them. Almost makes too much sense when you think about it. Golf courses are businesses and businesses need to make a profit to survive.

3] It can be argued that the comparatively ‘radical’ nature of golf courses built in the early exportation of golf from the British Isles were vital components in ensuing the establishment and long-term success of the game in countries such as the US and Australia. Despite this, it appears that the majority of developments in today’s emerging golf markets have borrowed from the one-size fits all, modern approach.

They were built in great locations because the cost and expectations were minimal. The game grew before the expectations grew. People were just grateful to have a place to play. Expectations are actually a problem of this generation. They expect too much, often where it’s not possible  and golf is being hurt by this selfish attitude.

 a] Why have golf course developments in emerging golf markets failed to innovate?

The selected the wrong model – North America – as the standard. Many cultures like the courses to be a controlled and perfectly maintained environment. They see that as the highest form of architecture and don’t understand the core of the game is how it’s played, not how it looks. Almost all decisions are made by people who don’t play golf and often the courses are built to their vision of the game.

4] Given the nature of golf courses in the British Isles it is my opinion that golf developments in emerging regions can (and must) meet the cultural/social demands of the local golf population if the game is to establish and sustain itself in the long-term. a] How can golf courses best function as social assets?

Public facilities are social assets, but very few public facilities are being built because of economic pressure and the belief that golf is a game for the elite in society. There is a stigma to the game that comes from the North American version. That`s another problem that must be addressed to ever see public money invested in the game.

b] What responsibility must golf course architecture in directing the long-term future of the game?

In the last couple of decades 90% of new golf courses were designed to meet the demand of 10% of players. Only the best can play them and only the wealthiest can afford to play. We need to reverse the pyramid so that 90% of the courses are fun and cheap places to play. Then we as architects could help make progress in the growth of the game.

5] With the inclusion of golf into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio providing hope of a golf development boom in South-America, and the continued construction of new courses in growth markets such as South-East Asia, it is my opinion that the golf industry is at a ‘breakpoint’ in which it will be vital to shape a place-specific model of golf development that is sustainable and accessible to all. As the game continues to globalize, how are the challenges facing golf course architects (and the golf industry) today likely to evolve in the future?

In many ways we would be better off if nothing happened for a decade and many of the modern designers retired. They won`t change their spots and they`ve done enough damage to the game. The next generation is building a different type of course that is more inclusive of lesser players, more environmentally sustainable and a damn good economic model. We need those designers to become the trail blazers.  Rio is being built by one and my hope is we could show the world something different. That was why that choice of architect was so important. 

6] Golf course development in emerging markets appears to be following a private model driven by real-estate speculation, and to a lesser extent tourism. If golf is to be accessible, and sustain itself in the long-term, then, in my opinion, there must be a balance between public and private golf.

Public golf won`t get built in these tough economic times. New golf will come from various serious and wealthy golfers looking to create a legacy project or a really simple old fashioned business plan that meets the demand of the current market. There will not be any in between for quite some time.

 a] To what extent should the golf industry guide the development of courses at a regional scale (if this is even possible)?

They shouldn`t guide anything. It needs grass roots people who understand who they can attract to come and play their course. Golf needs to go back to what it was which was a really efficient small business. Corporate golf has damaged the foundations of the game because the goal is not long term success but short term profit. Golf needs to return to its roots.

b] What types of course should we be building in countries unfamiliar to the history and nuances of the game?

Ideally we should be building much more rudimentary and fun layouts where people are unlikely to lose a golf ball. You want them to make a few pars or bogies and generally enjoy the day. The one thing they don`t need is a `championship Course that makes the game difficult to play. That frustrates new players and drives them out of the game.

The one thing still being built in large volumes in the emerging markets is long challenging golf courses. And we wonder why the game won`t grow.




Monday, 4 February 2013

The Opening Hole

The Opener on Red - Courtesy Golf Club Atlas and Mark Saltzman
In an ideal world I’ve always felt the opening of a course should welcome the player to the day. You should feel you have enough room to play and don’t fear losing a ball.

My preference is a mid-length par four, but a longer one is fine too. I try to avoid using a short four since players will need to wait for the hole to clear. I’ve always felt they are better used later when you are warmed up and capable of considering the decision and challenge if you miss. But the opener at Detroit Golf Club proves they can be a fun an exciting start too.
I don’t like a very long four unless it’s fairly open since it’s an intimidating start. The opener at Muirfiled in Scotland works because you can run the ball in and don’t worry about bunkering, but for many these holes are unreachable with even a hint of wind.
I’m personally don’t like a par three because I prefer them to come later in the round where I can either showcase a great setting or push the player a little more with the architecture. I’ve played a one shot opening and they need to be fairly simple, which to me is a waste. I consider threes to be the chance to create highlights on the course.
The OPener on Blue - Courtesy Golf Club Atlas and Bryan Izatt
I don’t like a par five because it slows play as players wait for the green to clear. I also consider this hole another decision hole that is better placed later in the round. I have one at Laval because that is what the land dictated not because that was what I wanted. Very long fives like Scarboro solve that problem, but it feels like a slog to open unless the hole is architecturally interesting.
The opener on the Red Course at Streamsong bothered me. There was water in front of the first tee, nasty long grass on the left and right of the first fairway. The topper was it was routed into the prevailing wind. Game On! Too much, too soon. I think if there were more exposed sandy areas on the 1st hole of the Red, it would have allowed players to find their tee shots and get started on the day. It's just my opinion, but I would be too quick to go play the Red again, whereas I look forward to playing the Blue.
In contrast the Blue at Streamsong had a wide open expanse where it was nearly impossible to lose a ball and being shorter allowed for a myriad of clubs from the first tee. Thanks. Now I'm ready for more difficult holes because I've had a chance to make a swing without intense pressure. That's how I prefer my opening holes to be.