Tuesday, 14 July 2015

British Open Q & A

Architectural Q&A

Selected question from an article coming this week ...
 
2nd Green Before
1). What was your first impression of The Old Course ?

I walked the course years before I ever played there. I knew the strength of the course was found in subtle details and the way it played as opposed to how it looked. So I walked from bunker to bunker, green to green and started to accumulate ideas for future use. I was a very young architect at the time and it was like taking a master class in golf course architecture. If anything I was a little overwhelmed. One of my lasting memories was watching six consecutive groups playing to the front pin behind the large roll on the 14th. So many failed before I saw the perfect running shot richly rewarded. So many of the clever ideas I was collecting revolved around ground contours mowed tight. It changed my design philosophy on what made great golf.



4). For many first time visitors to The Old Course there is a sense the course is not as great as many have stated. Why do you think that is ?

North Americans are very visually driven. They are caught off guard by the number of blind shots and the constant lack of definition. Good shots seem to get bad results and bad shots go without penalty. It simply doesn’t match the North American well-struck, well-rewarded style of architecture. They ask after, how can anything be good when chance is playing such a large role in the outcome?

Those who admire the course understand that greatness lies in how this course plays. Since the ground is such a massive factor in the results, position is often far more important than it appears upon first playing. Often that location is unmarked and seemingly undefended. North American’s prefer an architectural roadmap.

The Old Course is like a great work of literature. You may revel in the way the author has presented ideas and themes for you to explore, but upon second reading you discover the craftsmanship and complexity found in individual paragraphs. Each time you study the work, you begin to realize the book is even far more complex than you could have ever first imagined.

5). What's your impression of The Road Hole? Fan or foe ?

You have the opportunity to take as an aggressive line as you dare down the right and be richly rewarded with position. You can also play a passive line left and play around your problems. After the aggressive tee shot you can show your skill and play a draw, short right, and use the ground contours removing the risk of the road beyond, or roll the bones and play a fade and have everything on the line in one swing. Sounds like one of the greatest holes in the game to me.



Sunday, 5 April 2015

Masters Week Q&A


I was asked again to participate in a golf architects question and answer session based around Augusta National. I'll post the link once it is up. But what I will do today is offer a teaser with a few of my answers. Of note: We were asked to be brief because of limited space.

There are lots of Masters and Augusta National articles on this blog. Simply scroll through the index and you will find previous writings on holes and greens.


1). Founder Bobby Jones and course architect Alister MacKenzie patterned the creation of Augusta National Golf Club after many of the qualities found at The Old Course at St. Andrews which both men respected immensely. Has the movement in recent years away from the original intent sought by Jones and MacKenzie been a good or bad thing from an architectural dimension? 

It was originally a course full of width and options. Competitors had the opportunity to play for positions that made certain pin locations much easier to access. Some of that still exists, but on many of the holes the addition of rough and trees have removed these options. Those holes are less compelling to watch.

2). Let's assume you were called in to advise the club on future improvements. Would you recommend retention of the "second cut" - otherwise known as rough to most mortals -- or return to the total fairway look used at Augusta National for many years?


I would remove all the rough and allow the players to roll the dice on any shot. This will lead to even more excitement. We will see more “miraculous shots” and just as many fall back by overplaying their hand. 



7). If MacKenzie were alive today what do you think his comments would be concerning the nature of the course as played today for The Masters?

To quote MacKenzie himself, “Too many cooks spoil the broth which is more applicable in the case of golf courses than anything else” I think he would be frustrated by how little is left. Sure most of the routing is intact and the setting has matured wonderfully, but he would find it hard to accept that holes have changed and almost every green has been rebuilt.

8). Over the years there have been many changes made to the course -- single out one you believe really helped make the course play even better.

Perry Maxwell’s greens are some of the very best on the course. I would argue that his work is better than the doctors at Augusta National. But that should not be a surprise since MacKenzie respected and worked with Maxwell. 


The one question he should have asked is what is the single greatest architectural feature found on the course. In my opinion its the 14th green, which is easily one of the ten best I have ever seen and a contender for the best green in all of golf. Creativity, complexity and contrasting slopes makes this a rock star among even the great greens. You can find the contours on my sketches of the greens: Here



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Black Swan Event - Revisited

In 2009 I wrote the following:

I’ve recently become very interested in Nassim Taleb’s idea of The Black Swan. The Black Swan is an unforeseen and unpredictable event that has an enormous impact on society. There is no way to predict the coming of a black swan event, but history has shown us again and again that these events occur with regularity. What is unknown is when.

Many, through hindsight, have suggested that some events like the financial crisis of 2008 were predictable, but we all know even with hindsight that timing the event was impossible. Therefore even the most minor of the events remain completely unpredictable. As a quick aside I don’t agree that a Black Swan Event can be a positive event such as the birth of the internet since the impact is far to long term for my definition. Only a devastating event has enough impact to change the “known” landscape in an instant.

The reason I bring this up is one of the interesting ideas that goes along with this is the notion of collective blindness leading up to the event. I personally think that to a large degree we have seen collective blindness as a contributing factor to why we had the financial crisis. Everybody enjoyed the endless growth, but nobody was willing to step back far enough and ask whether it was sustainable and what would happen when the music stopped. 

Taleb’s basic theory is that all consequential events come from the unexpected. So thinking of all of this, I find it fascinating to look at the current state of the golf design business. I was reading about the level of work in the Far East and reflecting on how many architects are concentrated and busy in this region. A high percentage of that work is being done in China with a large percent of that on Hainen Island in particular. I kept thinking about this concentration of architects and projects and wondering what if the music stopped tomorrow?
What would happen to the golf design business if the government of China “enforced” the ban on new golf courses? What if the real estate market collapsed since nobody appears to play the game? 




Last year we saw the moratorium on golf in China enforced. Many courses were plowed under to return to farming. Currently the government is reviewing the courses that were built illegally and deciding what to do with them. Things have definitely changed ... for now? … for the long term? … we just don’t know that answer and it will not come any time soon.

In my mind when I wrote the first piece, I thought was the next shoe to drop for golf course architecture  was a complete stop to golf development in China. The financial crisis was obviously the first and will be the most meaningful for this generation because it has impacted the access to capital for projects. It was a generational event for golf course architects. The impact of China is more regional in nature, but that does have a spillover effect.

On the high end, people like Bill, Tom and Bill are busy because that end of development never goes away. We need to keep sight of the fact that they are the exception, not the rule. So let’s talk about the other 99% of architects. The China based firms have laid off their employees and will see another round of new architects entering into the competitive fray.

In 2009-2010 (this is an estimate on my end based upon personal relationships) I figured about a quarter of the architects ended up having to find a new profession through necessity. In 2015, I see another similar period where competition goes up exponentially and some will not find enough work.
I do think the design/builders may do fine since they have more options for survival, but all the new architects will face a very Darwinian atmosphere where few will thrive.  I expect by the end of 2016 it’s quite likely we will see another 25% forced to look at other industries.

So is that it? Is that the great (and perhaps necessary) thinning of the herd?

I don’t think it is.

Perhaps it’s my deep love of writers like Cormac McCarthy but I don’t think we’re done. The Financial Crisis wasn't predictable. China couldn't be predicted because there was no transparency in the process. While we knew it was based upon the early speculation of a transitioning society, we also knew that progress would be controlled and that meant stops and starts along the way. The only revelation was nobody mentioned water as a potential factor in slowing or stopping golf development in China

Which brings me to the point I wanted to talk about. Is access to water the next Black Swan Event looming over golf architecture? I don’t think it will impact everywhere, but it will in regions where the resource is scarce. I think the next Black Swan Event will be a moratorium on new golf development in locations where water is transferred from another watershed to meet the needs where water is short. I see California being first, but other Southwestern states will eventually follow.



Monday, 9 March 2015

Green Is Beautiful Article


8th at Islington being built
My article on building steeper rather than flatter greens during a green rebuilding program. After visiting a course that went through a recent rebuilding, I couldn't remember one single green among the group because they were all so flat and similar. When faced with multiple rebuilds last summer, that was the last thing I wanted to leave behind.
The other issue is clubs want fast greens. If they are steep, then they will be fast. It's easier to manage speed than to try and manufacture it. If you don't have to cut them tight, you will have more grass and therefore healthier greens... that's also a major reason for building them steeper than current convention believes.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Great architecture is 50% Design and 50% Presentation

4th Green site - feeder slope is key feature
One of the most important aspects of golf course architecture is how it’s presented. The golf course superintendent and golf club can positively or negatively impact your architecture and how it will perform with their own choices. If they maintain the turf to reflect your architectural philosophy and design intent, they will emphasize what you have created.

When Mike and I designed Laval-sur-le-lac’s Blue Course, we had to make sure that it would be challenging enough to host a Canadian Open, but friendly accommodating enough to ensure the average player would still have fun playing the course. We addressed that contradiction by creating a golf course with immense flexibility in the set-up.

3rd - miss and everything runs away
The golf course was designed with no rough and tends to fall away at the edges. So when the greens are firm and fast, the surrounds cut tight and the pins are moved to the edge, the golf course can be toughened and danger can lurk at every turn. But slow up the greens and surrounds and add more middle pins and the course plays decidedly friendlier. Because of all the short grass players can play to their strengths and make the game easier on themselves.

We knew from the outset that the club understood what we intended. More importantly all of us (club, Mike and I) had full faith in Luc Ladocuer to vary the conditions accordingly. We knew he could push the architecture during an event or soften it for the conditions of the day. I’ve played there multiple times and the presentation showcases the architecture making the course fun to play.

Quite a few years back I went to see one of my earliest designs. While the course has lots of bunkers, the real challenge is the contouring of the greens and extensive use of shortgrass around the perimeters to make the course challenging. It also droops over the edges at every turn, making the surrounds a key feature. Off the tee it’s wide and very accommodating and it was designed as a second shot golf course with some of the most interesting and complicated recovery shots I have ever generated.

10th at Riviera's new set-up in 2015 brought criticism
The last time I played, the round was disappointing because the surrounds were long and puffy. You could no longer play a running or chip or putt a recovery shot from the short grass around the greens. Even a miss would sometimes stop on the slopes and not run out to the intended consequences. The greens were still quite good, but the course was a pale version of itself without the impact of the chipping areas. The design relied on their importance and in this case the maintenance had negated the architecture. I was devastated heading home and have never gone back since.


It was a stark reminder that unless the maintenance meets the architecture, your best ideas can be lost through height of cut or the presentation of the surfaces. Golf architects must be cognizant of the complexities of the superintendent and help them at every turn. In turn the Superintendent needs to understand the architecture and how best to present it for play. Great architecture is half architecture and half set-up.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Geeked on Golf Interview - Another Preview

"Is there a particular element of a golf hole that you like working on the most?"
The grassing lines, they are the most underrated and important element on a course.
Commonwealth - and the absence of rough
In the simplest terms, short grass emphasizes the importance of the undulations on the ground and long grass eliminates them. The more the ball has the opportunity to react and move on the ground, the more interesting the architecture is. The more short grass in play, the more options the player has to try a myriad of shots. Where you place your grassing lines will either identify all the available architecture or mask it.

No rough around greens and bunkers at Augusta
Greatness in architecture is most often found when the distance between success and failure is razor thin. This is why Raynor’s work resonates so much. Many people get stuck on the engineered nature of shapes, when the beauty is how it plays. By having the green and collars come right out to the very edge of his plateaus, there is nothing to save a ball once it reaches and edge. You either on or looking at a recovery shot, unless you have used a feeder slope and come up short. One of the keys to this approach is having all the transition points slightly over the bank to make sure nothing is able to stop at the edge and the fact that the greens and their contours are emphasized more through the infinity backdrop this creates.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Preview of Interview for "Geeked for Golf"



I was asked to "Describe your process for a design project."
I begin with a philosophical question, what experience do I want them to have? There are so many options on style, set-up, approach, etc. You also have to address what everyone’s expectations are and how you can reconcile their needs with your own philosophy in a way that works for both of you. For example when we built Laval, we had to plan for a Canadian Open and membership play. We solved that riddle with our design approach, based very much on the Sandbelt Courses of Melbourne and how fun they were for day to day play and how tough they could be made with a firm, tight turf and edge pin locations.
When it comes to routing, my personal methodology is to walk the property looking for vistas to borrow (or avoid), features that will make great ground for golf and natural places to end a hole. I collect as many as I can without worrying about the routing. I also like to accumulate options to naturally move uphill, since these are often the keys to an imaginative and walkable routing where no transitional holes are required. Finally, I believe a great set of threes is a paramount, so I identify the most dramatic locations possible and try to incorporate them into the eventual routing.
The next step requires persistence and patience. You find a few alternatives to walk through and you go test each one. You’re looking for a continuous journey through the landscape without interruptions. It should be a terrific walk long before it becomes holes. So you discard sections that lack, add other locations that peak your interest and walk and walk. You go through this process until you finally can walk eighteen holes and have it unfold like a story.

One of the great secrets to a routing and developing rhythm is the understanding that a break between dramatic locations will make the setting that follows far more impressive by comparison. It’s like a rollercoaster where you don’t want a continuous run of thrills. You need the spaces in between to lower the heart rate and let you prepare for the next thrill. It’s not just about finding and designing holes, it’s all about how you want them to feel and part of that is how you develop the rhythm of the course.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Dilemma

Building 12th at Laval
A very long time ago I found myself the target of what I can now look back as the funniest insult ever hurled my way. The poster on Golf Club Atlas called me a "third rate, third tier architect." I have a lot of company if I'm the bar. It brings some self reflection and questions about the work I do.


Many famous architects come from wealth. So much so in a few cases that they never accepted a design fee for their work. Others tried to run with the wealthy and lost everything (Tillinghast and Thompson among them). Even a couple of the biggest names in golf today come from a position of wealth that others don't know about. It a rich man's game and some would argue a rich man's profession. I don't have that luxury.

When this is all you have, often you have to choose a path between financial stability and artistic opportunity. For a long time I have concentrated on making sure that I have a great business ... do very good work ... and hope the new opportunity will come with a growing reputation for solid work. Well, from a business perspective that's smart, but its slightly naive too. To get new projects, you need to run in the right circles and know the right people.

I know some, but I don't do what I need to do. That takes effort and money to accomplish and that runs contrary to running a safe and successful business. And risk.


I still want to build a great golf course from raw land. I have occasionally wondered whether I would ever see the opportunity to fully express myself. I have recently had a couple of opportunities that almost met that standard ... but in my mind .. not quite.

I really enjoyed the creative process of building Laval (Blue) with Mike Weir. It allowed that self expression to make it into the style of play and the complex set of puzzles that Mike and I left for the members to solve. We did not play it safe and many of the highlights come from the greatest risk. It was the last time I ever had a doubt that I could build something great ... given the opportunity.

More of those opportunities have come, but none has yet been a raw land project.


You can't consider my own personal dilemma without considering the times were in. Most architects are having a tough time finding work unless they are wildly successful already or niche players like me. Between Financial Crisis of 2008 and China finally imposing a complete stoppage of all new golf course, it is likely that half of the architects working since 2000 are either retired or doing something else.


I know what I need to do. I have to change the work I chase, end some arrangements that I have and spend a lot more time on the road in pursuit. I always argued that the people who are most successful in this business are not a fluke. It's the hard work behind the scenes that make them successful, but if you've met them, they also pay a personal price too. And there in lies the dilemma, its time to ask what price am I willing to pay?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Golf at Maple Downs

The tee shot on the 12th hole
I invest a lot of thought into what I'm trying to accomplish when I design. 

How do I want them to feel? Where does this fit into the rhythm of the round? Do I want to draw them into taking risk? Do I want them to make a decision? What options should they have available? How will a higher handicap manage a tougher section? This is all carefully thought about long before I design holes.

I've been luck enough to work on two projects where I was able to share my own design philosophies. I thought it would be interesting for each membership to understand how the holes came about and make a few suggestions to help them explore the possibilities in the ground. After that, the rest is always up to them ...

I thought I would share a sample of the piece I wrote for the 18 holes Maple Downs, set to re-open next spring ...

The second shot from a "safe" right side lay-up


Hole 12 - Bottle

A great short four should confound you through its options. Each choice should spell out the obvious benefits of success, but be clouded by the potential for disaster. Ideally the decisions should be so difficult that the choice is eventually based upon the emotions of the player at that very moment. In this case the first instinct is to try and drive the green because it looks so close of the elevated tee. With experience a player will know that only a draw has a reasonable chance, but pulling it even slightly left is going to be absolutely dead. They might get a fade home in a big wind, but anything reaching the surface is through the back and landing short is sure to head dead right on the first bounce. So then where would you lay-up? Well, the left fairway short of the bunker is wide and flat, but also blind and the green runs away from play. Far right is ideal for an approach because the green offers a backstop from this angle. But the landing zone begin to narrow just as the angle improves and the fairway runs downhill directly into the fairway bunker. How about driving it long right, but anything over the bunker will run through into deep rough well below the green staring directly into one of the deepest bunkers. Worst yet, is the strong potential for a downhill lie to an elevated green fronted by that bunker. So where do you go? And that at less than 300 yards that is strength of the hole.

The green, which was moved well left for sunlight exposure, falls from front left to back right with almost every pin being down the right side. The slope is very consistent from the first quarter to the back. There is a sadistic little back left shelf that can be pinned, if you see the flag there play to the bottom right and putt up the small shelf to the pin. From anywhere else, it won’t stay on top.

High handicap’s Guide to Lower Scores:


Play as right as you dare off the tee, long enough to see the green, but short enough to avoid the bunker. From there play a low running approach shot the massive fairway cant. It will corral your running approach and turn it hard right towards the green. It will take feel to develop this shot, but it is a sure thing if you lack the trajectory to play into the backstop. Besides, it takes the front bunker out of play.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Bell Let’s Talk – I Have Anxiety


A few years back I shared the fact that I have Anxiety … the fact is I always will.

One in four people are thought to have some form of anxiety. I would have been surprised by this until I became an open enough person to share the fact that something was wrong and reach out for help. It began with me telling my wife and doctor about my panic attacks, at the time I had no idea what they were, and even doing that turned out to be therapeutic. There is no greater moment of relief that the one that follows you reaching out for help. It’s been a long journey since.

I remember one of our close friends saying, you, you’re the last person I ever would have thought would have anxiety. But that’s the rub, it doesn't mean you’re forced to stop living, it just means some days are harder to get through than others. Often you do a great job of hiding the problems you’re having.

My personality is that I’m an unusually open person and that turned out to be very helpful. It meant I could tell my spouse and doctor, but it also meant I was willing to share this news with select friends. It took a long time, but eventually I refused to be embarrassed by this fact I my life and it became more widely known. I knew that talking about it was the key. You see I deal with this using cognitive therapy, because my doctor and I determined that was best for me.

I eventually shared it with guys I play hockey with. We were an open group who told weekly tales of our lives for humour, but occasionally for a little support too. So I shared. That’s when the surprise came, over a few weeks’ time I discovered that six guys I played hockey with were dealing with some form of anxiety or depression in their lives. Six! Some medicated, some not, but all had sought help from a doctor. The odd thing that struck me was each was the least likely person I would have thought. A successful engineer, an ambulance attendant, a successful businessman, you get the idea … ha … and I guess a golf course architect too. But then again mental issues can strike anyone and at any time.

I still deal with anxiety ... I always will.

But I told someone. I got help. In my case I work hard at keeping my anxiety in check. I've become comfortable with the knowledge that mine is unlikely to ever go away. I have told my friends and have lots of support when I need it. I reach out and never feel I have burdened a friend. I don’t let it define me. 

I speak out “every day of the year” to help someone else do the same.

If you have some unaddressed issues, please go tell anyone, the solution starts at that moment.


Monday, 26 January 2015

Jasper Park Evolution


I spent the last month researching and writing a piece on the evolution of Jasper Park Golf Course. I plan to post the article in a week or two on Golf Club Atlas as a resource for people to understand and appreciate the work of Stanley Thompson. The piece has approximately 40 images to support the text.

With all the early praise for Jasper in 1925-1926, it’s stunning to think that the bunkers at Jasper Park would look quite different by the time they played the Canadian Amateur in 1929. The piece reviews Jasper from the origins through to the 1929 Amateur.

It has been long rumored that the work was done immediately upon the completion of construction of Banff Springs, which would have meant 1929. The story was that once the CNR had seen the finished results at Banff Springs they demanded Thompson return to Jasper immediately and make their bunkers even more impressive than Banff’s.

The only problem with this story is by the summer of 1929 Jasper Park had hosted the Canadian Amateur and the pictures taken in that year clearly show the bunkers have been changed prior to the event.

6th green - looking out over the 10th hole

In the Fall of 1928 a team of British senior golfers, including Alister Mackenzie, visited Jasper. Mackenzie was quoted saying,, “In Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, Canada has taken the lead in golf course architecture and has produced 18 holes that within the whole scope of my experience and knowledge are not surpassed. Quite apart from its scenic features, which are glorious, and considering it purely from the golfing standpoint, I consider the course to be the best I have ever seen. It is greater than our Gleneagles which we are inordinately proud.” Regina Post September 1928

It was far more likely that Mackenzie was impressed by what Jasper had become that what was originally built. So when was the work done...

My research took me to some unusual locations to retrieve photos and information. The source of some very important photos turned out to be the Science and Technology Museum. With-in their archives I was able to go through the collection of railway images from CNR. This was my long-shot, but my intuition was rewarded with exactly what I hoped to find, photos of Jasper Park from 1929 and 1946. The first clue to their existence came from a couple of images at the Yellowhead Museum in Jasper Townsite.
4th green in 1926
But the more rewarding find was the book Golf in Jasper Park by A.J. Hills in the Toronto Resource Library. In that book, I was able to use the information on each hole to piece the puzzle to what was built and what was changed by Thompson.

What I found compelling about the bunker renovation at Jasper Park is it provides a window into what was going on inside of Stanley Thompson during this period. He was quickly transitioning from a very good architect to the creator of some of the most impressive and imaginative landscapes the game has ever seen. It provides a chance to observe what he saw differently from one period of his career to the next - the one that made him a legend.


Of note: None of these images were used in the piece 


Monday, 19 January 2015

We Need Your Playing Accomplishments?


Mike and I discussing the 10th at Riviera

One of the funniest moments I ever had was when I was working on the Weir Golf Design Web Site. The person organizing the site had just finished putting Mike’s playing accomplishments on his page and felt mine should have the same symmetry. So making an assumption they asked, “We need all your playing accomplishments.”

I deadpanned, “When I was eighteen I coughed up a four shot lead with nine holes to go in the Junior Club Championship and lost by one when I three putted the final hole.”

It was met with stunned silence. 

I finally said, “Why don’t you list where I have lectured, it almost matches Mike’s list numerically and it’s far more important.” Funny, I can stand in front of 500 people and talk freely, but I can’t hit a ball straight with an exceptional round in progress …


3rd at Pacific Dunes - source of two discussions

I've twice in my life been told (interestingly by ASGCA members), “If you were a better player, you would have better understanding of strategy.” Interestingly both comments stemmed from a discussion about the same course, Pacific Dunes. One felt it completely lacked “strategy.” That's impossible, but anyway, my counter-argument was that not everything has to be defined and challenged by a hazard to be strategic. Besides, the undulations in the landscape and cant of a green forms the basics of strategy before we begin to bunker. The other architect felt that you should be rewarded for hitting greens and was disappointed in putting defensively. I pointed out to him how wide open the holes like the third were to play and that the defense was all set at the green. It was an ideal approach to a resort course on a windy site. 

Their own weakness was their criticisms revolved around their own game.

Sometimes it helps not to be a strong player because you watch everyone else's game intently to see what the impact of features are for all styles of play. Great design encompasses all players, not just the elite.

A broad perspective is often the best perspective when it comes to designing holes.


Friday, 16 January 2015

Who Routed Capilano?

courtesy Global Air Photos


So who "really" routed Capilano?


Here is an article by Robert Trent Jones Biographer James Hansen called, “Who routed the course at Capilano: Thompson or Jones?” published on October 30th, 2014:



Here is my response by letter to the magazine (published this month):


Dear Editor,

I wanted to reply to Professor James Hanson’s article in the last issue of GCA, in which he made the case that Robert Trent Jones was responsible for the routing of the Capilano course in Vancouver, not Stanley Thompson. “I routed the holes for Thompson at Capilano,” Jones asserted in his 1988 autobiographical book, Golf’s Magnificent Challenge.

The full quote reads: “We soon turned north to Canada, where there was still some money with which to build courses. I routed the holes for Thompson at Capilano, worked on some short courses in Ontario and Quebec and helped him with the course in Banff, where they were having trouble with winter kill on the greens.”

Interestingly, a few pages earlier Jones says: “Thompson's modus operandi was in keeping with his personality. He would walk a property to get a feel for it, never taking a note, then sit back with a bottle of Scotch and a good cigar and design the course. And they were always good. Jasper Park and Banff Springs in Alberta, Capilano in Vancouver, Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia – all were wonderful, beautiful layouts.”

So which quote represents the truth? 

Hansen says: “If anyone would dispute Jones’ claim to Capilano’s routing plan, it would be the Canadian golf historian and Stanley Thompson biographer, James Barclay (who died in 2012). But even Barclay, in his biography of Stanley Thompson, The Toronto Terror, conceded, ‘Jones did the course routing for Stanley Thompson’s classic layout at Capilano’.”

The problem is they both cite the exact same single source – "Trent Jones" in Golf’s Magnificent Challenge

So let’s step back for a moment and pull together what is known about Stanley Thompson and Capilano.

For perspective, by 1931 he had already built 67 courses and in 1932 Thompson would build Noranda Mines, Woodbine in Toronto, St Leonard’s in Montreal, Sunningdale in London, Ontario, Waterdown near Hamilton and went to work at Gavea and Itanhanga in Rio.

Hathstauwk, Eric Whitehead’s club history of Capilano, mentions AJ Taylor met Thompson and hired him to design the course in 1931. In Canadian Golfer in February 1932 we read:“Stanley Thompson, golf architect of Toronto, is in Vancouver this month on consultation in connection with building a very fine new course.”

When we look at when Thompson was compensated for the job,it is worth noting he was paid on 20 April 1932, for a visit. We know Thompson met Taylor at the Waldorf Astoria in July 1932 from Hathstauwk: “This 1932 meeting at the Waldorf, which was eventually adjourned to an informal cocktail session down in the hotel's famous Peacock Alley, was merely in the nature of an early report on preliminary drawings created from a topography map.”

From this information it’s rational to conclude that he walked the site in February and then produced a routing on a topographic map while in his hotel room. This had been his modus operandi throughout his career.

The timeline also brings into question Trent’s travels since he went to Banff during the summer, to consult on turf and see the sites in the Bow Valley before headed out to Vancouver to see the British Pacific Properties. Throw in the length and complications of train travel and it’s unlikely that he was back before Thompson met with Taylor.

But that’s not the limit of the supporting information. Thompson went to Vancouver in the spring of 1933 to inspect the site “and had his course design on paper.” Some clearing began immediately under the direction of Stan Conway. They began with the clearing of the centre lines with the intention to work their way out later. We also know that Thompson submitted construction plans (typically layout plans) in June 1933 that included the irrigation drawings referred to in another letter after that visit.

Using the notes about payment once more, it is worth noting his next visit came on 20 October 1934. The clearing at Capilano turned out to be absolutely brutal given issues with the massive boulders and huge tree stumps found on every hole. It was in 1935 that Stanley hired Geoff Cornish as an associate to help address the lack of soil on site.

Thompson’s next visit was 9 November 1935, followed quickly again on 31 January 1936. At this point he was directing the construction and was supervising the green contours and bunker shaping on these trips. He wrote 12 pages of “finishing notes” on 4 February 1936, that outlined all the work he wanted completed on each hole to finish the golf course. His (often sarcastic) letters and telegraphs (published in Hathstauwk) were sent to British Properties project supervisor John Anderson document the timing of the rest of his construction visits.

But we also need to address what Thompson was like to work for. Hansen says: “Not just that, as 80-year-old records now preserved in the Robert Trent Jones Sr Collection at Cornell University Archives show, Trent Jones also produced sketches for some of Capilano’s green complexes.”

But when Thompson had time he didn't produce green drawings,he would build models. In the Nashwaak Review’s “Interview of Geoff Cornish,” Cornish, one of Thompson’s associates, says: “You know here in Cape Breton, Stan only did models of one or two greens, like I showed you last night. He did some courses, such as Capilano, where he did all eighteen.”

There are images of the complete model he made for Banff. There’s a great photo of Thompson painting an individual green model in 1950. His nephew talked about visiting just before his death and the house being full of plaster models. Stan also did not do working drawings, just routing plans with tees, fairways, bunkers and greens hand drawn. These were always produced by the engineering firm Wilson Bunnell & Borgstrom from his tracings.

There are various interviews around with former Thompson associates, including one I conducted with Geoff Cornish myself. The one constant is how decisive Thompson was on what he wanted. He had his associates supervise construction, but both Robbie Robinson, another former associate, and Geoff have made it clear that Stan did not welcome input. He was very particular about getting precisely what he wanted, often gruff with them and never one to extend an opportunity for them to design holes. “You learnt by observing,” Geoff once said.

Thompson was, after all, a man who convinced titans of industry to spend way more than they budgeted. He was an architect who was always the centre of attention according to his family and peers. He built St George’s, Banff and Jasper along with 64 other courses before he started Capilano. What are the odds this man would hand over the routing of his most important commission to one of his junior partners?

The evidence provided by James Hansen is not enough to make any change to the accreditation of Capilano.

Yours sincerely

Ian Andrew
Ian Andrew Golf Design
Brantford, Ontario