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