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.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Presidio Golf Course Renovation

Suny, Zokol Golf Design has been working as the consulting architect for The Presidio. Dick and I are honored to have been selected to take on this important assignment. We have been delighted to be working with Superintendent, Brian Nettz, CGCS and General Manager Don Chelemedos from Century Golf.

The Presidio is just so interesting to us since it is one of the oldest golf courses west of the Mississippi and has been touched by so many architects. And it's the fact that it was touched by so many that really created our opportunity. Our opportunity, our vision of the project was to create an era appropriate renovation with a sense or feeling of an old golf course. This allowed us a certain amount of creative flexibility in determining the flavor of the golf course. 

The work on most of the holes has been done in house by Brian Nettz and his staff. Brian has turned out to be a wonderful shaper and has shaped all of the features. He brought in Kaminski Golf to assist with the shaping and construction of #4.

Below are a series of pictures- before, concept, and after. The 4th is a drop shot Par 3 that plays 130 yards from the back tee, 118 yards from the middle tee and 85 yards from the forward tee.

Presidio #4 Before

The Concept


Dick and I originally thought that there should also be a bunker on the left side of the green. But when Don and Brian explained that they needed to insure that there was an eco-buffer down to the native area to the left, we threw our version of convention out the window and you can see the results.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Open and the Graduated Rough Crowd

Following the Open, I listened to commentary on the Golf Channel and PGA Tour Radio from pundits talking about how they thought that Merion should have had graduated roughs. Their opinions were that this was somehow fairer. I don't know about fairer but it certainly would have made the Open easier. First of all, the Open isn't some egalitarian tournament, it's a Championship with the implied purpose of identifying the best golfer. The US Open is supposed to test many things including one's mettle.

But let's get back to just why graduated rough does not necessarily help identify the best golfer. Now if the ideal landing area for every hole was in the middle of the fairway, then I might buy into the graduated fairway idea but at Merion the preferred landing areas are rarely in the middle of the fairway and may vary from day to day based on the pin locations and what club you are hitting. So, if the ideal landing area is on the left side of the fairway and the golfer misses the fairway to the left a few yards, the graduated  rough would aid a slightly errant shot. However, if the player hits the ball 25 yards right of the ideal landing area he could land in graduated rough. Did we help identify the best golfer?

Life is not fair, just like golf is not fair and the attempts to make golf fairer will succeed about as well as governments trying to make things fairer...perhaps we could ask the Politburo for advice on fairness.

You may want to read-

Libertarian Philosophies in Golf Course Architecture

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Open and Why it Worked

Justin Rose with Matt Shaffer, Buddy Marucci and the Golf Course Maintenance Staff

Merion was spectacular. You have to understand that I love Merion, having grown up a couple of miles away and having been the Assistant there in 1980 and 1981. On top of that, I think that the golf course is important, obviously, for its Championship history and turf maintenance history but also for its impact on golf course design. And to see the course in all of its splendor, vetting the best golfers in the world was just as interesting as it could get for me. That couldn't have happened without Mike Davis and Matt Shaffer.

The USGA's Mike Davis has in the last two years impressed me with his insight into course setup. As you may know, I have opined in the past about what in my opinion were lackluster setups with bad decisions. Hey Mike, you nailed it, you got it right, yeah, I might have had the fairways a little bit wider and you didn't use my two favorite pin positions (#3, #16) because the speeds wouldn't have made them fair. Other than that, I've got nothing to say except, thanks for a job well done!

And to Matt and his staff, Wow!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Merion, The Open and The Superintendent's Psychological Warfare

Merion, the USGA's Mike Davis and Matt Shaffer (Merion's Super Super) have intimidated the best players in the world. Maybe, intimidated is too strong a word, perhaps we should say challenged the best players in the world... no I'll stick with intimidated. The level of intimidation is probably inadvertent but it appears to be affecting the players or maybe the players just realize that it's Merion and the Open. The golf course as set up by the USGA with narrow fairways, long rough and some good length added on already long Par 4s and Par 3s has apparently confounded the players not just overtly with conditioning but with the subtleties of the design. When any golfer has doubt or indecision in their minds while hitting a shot, it usually does not bode well for them.

But before that, Matt Shaffer put a kind of doubt into their minds that they have rarely if ever had. Matt talked about how Merion's greens have grain in them. He wasn't mentioning this as a problem simply a fact; his members, mostly all "real" golfers are used to the additional challenge of grain. Now, I'm not talking about the drivel that we hear every week from Johnny Miller, who doesn't understand grass or grain, I'm talking about real grain with areas of grass blades laying down in one direction and right next to them, areas with grain running other directions. Matt likes grain; it's naturally what bentgrass likes to do.

Then, Matt went even further, he talked about all of the different grasses in the roughs at Merion and how the player will have to adjust to the 8 or 10 different grasses in the roughs. Usually, for a Championship or tournament, Superintendents and Clubs try to create a uniform rough. So in other words, most of the time the grass is adjusted to the players' desires instead of what Merion and the USGA have done...let the players figure it out or possibly not.

So now, the best golfers in the world are thinking about a golf course that embraces grainy greens and roughs that have all kinds of different grasses offering all of these different lies. It's enough to send the guys to their sports psychologists with panic attacks. I think that Wilson, Flynn and the Valentines are looking down from the heavens with smiles on their faces.

Memories of the 1981 US Open:

In 1980, we rebuilt several championship tees on East Course. Richie Valentine manipulated the slope of these tees. He believed that the greatest golfers in the world should be able to figure out the slope of a tee and adjust their shot accordingly. An example of what we did was the 15th Championship tee, which we put a 1% grade on from the right side to the left side, creating a hook lie on a hole that you probably want to hit a fade on since there is OB very close to the landing areas on the left side. The member tee was sloped 1% from the left side to the right side creating a fade lie to help the member stay in bounds.