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.

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