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.