Tuesday, September 16, 2014

William Flynn on the Ball and Course Length

Joe Valentine and William Flynn

Growing up in Philly, I was a Flynn fan before anybody started talking about him. And, having worked at Merion for Richie Valentine whose father, Joe Valentine, was Flynn's construction foreman and successor as Superintendent upon Flynn's departure, I heard all of the Flynn stories along with some pretty good Dick Wilson stories. But, what I wanted to document in this post, was just how forward thinking Flynn was.

Here are his thoughts from 1927 on the ball and length of holes and golf courses.

Again the question of the ball has a great bearing on what type a certain length hole will be. Time was, and not so many years ago, when a hole 400 yards long on average ground was a good two-shot hole for the star players; now, the same hole is perhaps a drive and spade for the better class golfers.

In view of this the architect of today plans his full two-shot holes from 440 to 500 yards, depending on the character of the land and if the distance to be obtained with the ball continues to increase it will be necessary to increase the length of all holes on golf courses accordingly if the same standards of play are to be maintained.

All architects will be a lot more comfortable when the powers that be in golf finally solve the ball problem. A great deal of experi- mentation is now going on and it is to be hoped that before long a solution will be found to control the distance of the elusive pill.

If, as in the past, the distance to be gotten with the ball continues to increase, it will be necessary to go to 7,500 and even 8,000 yard courses and more yards mean more acres to buy, more course to con- struct, more fairway to maintain and more money for the golfer to fork out. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An Addiction- Golf Courses and Little British Cars

Little British Cars and Golf Course Architecture...connected?

I have to admit to all of my friends that I have a problem. Yes, I'll admit it publicly and in electric print, I own a 1968 Triumph GT6 and I enjoy driving it and working on it. Being a LBC (Little British Car) means that at times, I work on it as much as I drive it.

Perhaps, LBCs and Golf Course Architecture are inexorably tied together for me. Both are a constant work in progress and can never be perfect. Both are linked by their unique character and require a "feel" to understand them. Even more to the point, each can drive you mad.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pinehurst and the US OPENs...Firm and Fast and Brown?

Pinehurst #2, 2014 US OPEN

The USGA's Pinehurst ideas are great and the idea of having the Men's and Women's (and pre-teens) OPENs back to back is just tremendous! Whether it's viewed as a success or not, it was an idea that had to be tried; I hope that it works. The "Firm and Fast" setup, I love, but I don't think that USGA Executive Director, Mike Davis or the rest of us help spread the Firm & Fast movement by preaching to golfers that brown grass is the answer. Firm and Fast, and green grass are not mutually exclusive and provide a workable solution for golf course conditioning.

As a big fan of the work being done by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, I think that the renovation of Pinehurst's #2 is wonderful. It was planned with F&F conditions for the OPENs and regular play in mind; it's good for golf. There are those that miss the traditional US Open setup with narrow fairways and penal rough. I wasn't one of them, I liked the wide fairways and waste areas of Pinehurst for the OPENs. Perhaps, in the future, the setup will be dictated by the venue's inherent characteristics and qualities versus a committee's whims.

The USGA's agenda of pushing "Brown is the New Green" is noble in its intent but can not be supported as a viable option. First of all, I'm a Firm and Fast advocate and have been for all of my career. As a Superintendent, I was providing firm and fast conditions on a regular basis some 30 years ago, before it was in vogue. In 1985 at Cherry Hills, I caught a lot of flak for the golf course being too firm for the PGA Championship but the golf course wasn't brown, it was green both during and after the Championship..."Firm, Fast, and Green."

Pinehurst Director of GCM Bob Farren (second from left), is flanked by No. 2 Assistant Superintendent John Jeffreys (far left), No. 2 Assistant Superintendent Alan Owen (second from right) and No. 2 Superintendent Kevin Robinson (far right). (Photo by John Gessner)

The Pinehurst golf course maintenance staff under the direction of Director of Grounds, Bob Farren, and Superintendent, Kevin Robinson can provide virtually any conditions desired. If the USGA wanted "Firm, Fast, and Green," Messrs. Farren and Robinson would have provided it. Don't get me wrong, I really liked the course, the setup, and the center row irrigation with brown edges and especially with the way it played for the OPENs. I just think that golfers won't buy into "Brown is the New Green" and that we should focus on "Firm, Fast and Green."

Achieving F&F while turning the golf course brown is very simple, just turn off the sprinklers for awhile. What the USGA may not have considered fully, is that in order for golf courses to recover from the normal wear and tear of carts, mowers and golfers, is that the grass needs to grow. Brown, dormant grass doesn't grow much and recovers slowly, if at all, from any kind of traffic. Let's encourage the USGA to change their mantra from "Brown is the New Green" to Firm, Fast and Green.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Frank Hannigan...A Friend...He will be Missed

Richard H. Sikes (left), Frank Hannigan (center) and Joseph C. Dey Jr. examine the position of Sikes' ball during the 1963 U.S. Amateur at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa. Sikes sought relief from a hole he thought was made by a burrowing animal. He was not granted relief and lost in the championship match to Deane Beman. (USGA Museum)

Frank Hannigan was perhaps the loudest voice of reason in golf. His wit and reasoned, straight forward discourse and writings are going to be missed. He could never have been accused of political correctness. Golf needed him but wouldn't listen.

But I'll also miss Frank Hannigan because he had a profound influence on my career. I met Frank, or Mr. Hannigan as I referred to him in those years, at Merion during the 1981 US Open. Frank needed to see a few things on the course and I was charged by Richie Valentine (Merion's Superintendent) to take him around. Now, in those days the Open was a much more intimate, championship centric event, so that I, as the Assistant Superintendent, got to spend one on one time with Mr. Hannigan, quite an honor.

Based on that little bit of time that we spent together chatting about golf, The Open and Merion, I called on Mr Hannigan in 1984 for a letter of reference for the Cherry Hills Country Club Superintendent position. And now, these 30 years later, I remember well, that conversation. I asked Mr. Hannigan if he remembered me and he said that he did. He asked me what I had been doing since The Open and I told him that I was the Superintendent at Rolling Green Golf Club. Frank got all excited as he talked about what a great golf course Rolling Green was and about the 1976 Women's Open that was held there. Then we talked about the Cherry Hills opportunity and he said that he would gladly write a letter of reference for me.

Well, I got the job at Cherry Hills at the ripe old age of 25 years old and I had no way of knowing what Frank had written in his letter until years later when Cherry Hill's General Manager, Joe Vincent, gave me a copy of the letter. Frank's letter to those of you that knew him was just so typical. I'm paraphrasing a bit; Frank wrote that he didn't know whether or not I could grow grass but that I ran the US Open at Merion. 

Over the years, I kept in touch with Frank and we'd run into each other occasionally. Frank would have me laughing at his take on some of my exploits in the industry. I felt that we were kindred spirits, in that each of us stood up for what we believed in and called it the way we saw it. Golf will miss Mr. Hannigan.

Trees and Frank Hannigan: An interesting aside to many of you, Frank Hannigan was one of two men responsible for the tree removal movement, looking critically at the over-planting of trees on golf courses. This movement led to the rediscovery of more varied strategy, better turf conditions, improved vistas, and quite often, a return to the golf course architect's original intent.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Goats and Golf at The Presidio

Organic Weed Control

There are some old goats at working at The Presidio and I'm not talking about Richard Zokol and me working on Suny, Zokol Golf Design's "Era Appropriate Renovation." The Presidio Golf Course has their own herd of goats providing weed control.  And much to the surprise of Superintendent, Brian Nettz, some of the goats were pregnant.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Template Holes...the case against them

Template holes stifle originality in design.

How can I say that? These template holes are revered by golf course architecture-philes. The greatest Golf Course Architects in history went to the well with these template holes, but should we?

Alps, Biarritz, Cape, Cardinal, DellEden (High-out), Eden (High-in), Gibraltar, Hell's Half Acre, Island Green, Long, Maiden, Perfection, Postage Stamp, Punch Bowl, Redan and reverse redan, Reef, Road, Sahara, Short

There are great, earth shattering examples of these  template holes out there and no one debates that but I have a question. How is going back to the well on these classic/historic template holes any different than Tom Fazio repeatedly creating holes with similar playing characteristics and aesthetics for which he is roundly criticized by Golf Architecture's intelligencia? How many of today's Designers are guilty of this design repetitiveness? And don't even get me started on the Tour 18 concepts that may or should cause intestinal discomfort for some of us.

If a designer has preconceived notions about what good is through their love of template holes, one might suggest or infer that they'll go into their default design mode instead of exploring options and possibly finding "new" and different golf holes, nary I say, a great, new original golf hole worthy of template status.

More thoughts on today's Golf Course Design:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Homage to Riviera's #10...Sagebrush #13

#13 at Sagebrush

Riviera is once again hosting golf's best and it causes me and many others to think about the Tenth hole. The Tenth hole, has come to embody the drivable Par 4. My partner Richard Zokol loves this hole with all of his heart and soul. Professional golfers, Golf Design aficionados, and virtually anyone that would ever even think about discussing the drivable Par 4 will automatically default to talk of the Tenth at Riviera, the prototypical drivable Par 4. It is "the" drivable Par 4 and everybody knows it.

So, when we, Whitman, Zokol, Suny, were designing Sagebrush and there was an opportunity for a fairly short downhill Par 4,  Zokol wanted to embrace the embodiment of Riviera's Tenth. We didn't want to, nor did the topography allow for a copy of the hole, but the spirit of the Tenth could be captured in a very different aesthetic and topographical environment.

Whitman threw up his arms and told Zokol to figure it out. There was really nothing there for a green site; it all had to be created. Even though the 13th green looks as if it belongs to the property and was always there, it is by far the most manufactured green and surrounds on the course. 

The hole plays downhill at 320, 292, 188, 178 yards and Zokol wanted the layup shot to require a very difficult approach shot to offer significant encouragement to the golfer to drive the green and that the further to the right that the shot was missed the more difficult the recovery shot.

#13 From the Tee

As we talked about the hole and it really all came down to a green and the surrounds which had to be created, I wasn't sure that I was "getting" the vision. And that caused me to get out some modeling clay (plasticine) and sculpt what I thought Zokol was looking for. He loved the model and we gave it to the shaper to build after having hauled a lot of fill into the area. What happened to the model...well, rumor has it that Whitman placed it gently into the irrigation pond.

Take a look at the hole and you'll see that the bunker gets deeper and deeper as you go further right and back. And then the short grass continues to slope away drastically the further to the right and back. All of that with a green the slopes rather smartly from the right to the left with OB to the left of the green.

The scale of this picture that Zokol took of me after he and I finished the bunker with Italian Grape Hoes shows just how much more difficult things get the further right and back you end up.

Did the hole work? Did it capture the essence of Riviera's Tenth? All I can tell you is that a high percentage of golfers attempt to drive the green. In fact, there was a hole-in-one on the 13th by Chuck Kobasew, a right winger for the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL. We took that as a sign of success.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Organic Green Shapes, Lost in Time

Many of the great old golf courses, when built, had remarkable greens and while the contours may still be with us yet today, the green shapes are not. Green shapes, over the decades, have devolved into unimaginative ovals and egg shapes. Just how these wonderful organic shapes were lost will become evident with a bit of understanding about the nature of golf course maintenance. But what may be more important and relevant is just how much these changes have affected modern golf course design when it comes to green shapes.

Look at these Donald Ross plans from Aronimink Golf Club. These are some wonderful shapes that are anything but the routine shapes that plague most courses today. I know these greens at Aronimink a little bit, having worked there back in the 70s and the while the contours were still there, the shapes from Ross's plans were simply gone. The recent renovation there went a long way to restoring these great greens. 

Aronimink Golf Club #13

Aronimink Golf Club #3

So what happened? Well, that's pretty simple, during the 1960s when courses almost all used triplex mowers, either completely or during the "shoulder" seasons and the triplexes couldn't follow the cleanup pass (outside ring cut) of the greens because of their turning radius. Along with that, anyone that has ever mowed a green knows that it's a cardinal sin to scalp the collar while mowing the cleanup pass. Those two factors when combined with superintendents that weren't constantly monitoring the greens' edges resulted in today's mundane green shapes on most of our great old courses.

In many cases more than 10% of the putting surface was "lost" and along with that, some great pin positions. And what makes matters even worse, is that today's golf course designers grew up on dumb downed green shapes and their point of reference when designing or renovating greens is just as dumbed down . . . modified circle, oval and egg shapes on most greens.

Designers should be careful in creating and rediscovering organic shapes for greens lest green shapes become caricatures. Organic shapes for greens should not be forced, they need to be tied to landforms and be consistent with the design.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Turf Legend has Passed

Educator, Researcher, Mentor

Dr. Joseph M. Duich passed away this month. Dr. Duich was the most influential educator in golf course maintenance. It is easy to say and accurate as well to say that golf course maintenance, as it has evolved today, would be very different had he not been leading the way.

Golfers don't realize that one man was more responsible for the improvement of golf course conditioning than any other single factor in the game. Dr. Duich, a plant breeder by training, was responsible for all of the significant improved bentgrasses introduced from the late 1950s through the mid 1980s. At the same time he was training students to become golf course superintendents and overseeing Ph.D. candidates. He was a consultant to Augusta for more than two decades along with many other courses and he was always available by phone to any of us.

Joe, as I was able to call Dr. Duich many years after finishing school, led the Penn State turf program when it was the finest program in the country. I was accepted into the program in 1978. That year the average applicant was 22.4 years old and had already had two years of college and over 4 years experience working on golf courses. The year that I got in, 1978, there were 108 applicants for 35 spots in the two year program. In those days, Joe's former students were Superintendents at 15-20 of Golf Digest's Top 100 courses.

As an educator, Joe was really different. He rarely answered a question outright; typically, he would fire back with a few questions that would steer you and allow you to figure it out yourself. And if you were going to ask a question in class, you better have had your thoughts clearly formulated. Many of us can remember Joe dressing down a student that asked a "weak" question or statement. Joe took this as a teaching moment, he didn't want any of us to ever ask or state anything that wasn't well thought out. He taught us better thought processes along with turf.

What many of Joe's former students don't know, is that he gave the royalties from his grass breeding efforts back to the University to further the turf program.

Dr. Duich was instrumental in the careers of over 1,000 students and he changed golf course maintenance standards forever. He will be missed by his students. His influence on golf will continue.