Thursday, July 22, 2010

Golf Architecture- Majors and The R&A, USGA, and PGA of America

The best golf courses in the world are routinely asked to make architectural changes to their courses in order to get a Major Championship. It isn't hard to see why a club would succumb to this pressure. After all, golf history and tradition are driving factors in hosting a Major and then of course there are the revenues and prestige for the clubs and courses.

What gives the R&A, USGA, and PGA of America standing, from a Golf Course Architectural standpoint, to change great golf courses? Is anyone in any of these august or semi-august organizations any more qualified to make changes to great golf courses than any group of golfers in the grille or bar after a round of golf? I don't think so. Are these organizations so arrogant as to think that they know how to make the greatest golf courses in the world better than they are?

Today, the most common reason for the architectural changes demanded by these associations is because the golf ball travels much further than it did in the past. So in order to balance their inability and lack of intestinal fortitude to control the distance the golf ball travels in Championships, the great protectors of the game of golf, demand that changes be made to the great golf courses. Shame on them. Maybe St. Andrews should make a local rule for the The Open and tell the R&A how far the ball can go. Maybe Pebble Beach and St Andrew's should have accepted their Opens with the caveat that the distance the ball travels will be the same as it was in say 1972 or 1982. Is that asking too much? Don't these great golf courses have the right to have their golf courses protected from the latest Wham-O Super Ball?

But it's worse than that, even before these organizations lost control of the distance the ball travels, they were making changes to great golf courses. I don't know how far back it goes but I know that it goes back at least to the 1960s with Joe Dey at the USGA making changes for US Opens at two golf courses I know pretty well. Changes were made, that in my opinion did not make the golf holes or courses better, just more one dimensional. What, other than potential revenues to host courses, gives these organizations the right to make architectural changes to great golf courses?

What will it take for the World's Greatest Golf Courses to say enough; if you want to play our golf courses, you'll play it as it is? If you, the governing bodies of golf, have allowed technology to get out of hand, deal with it yourselves and leave our golf courses alone.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Runoff Areas- Rewriting Golf Course Architecture History

In the last couple of weeks we have seen runoff areas featured at Pebble Beach during the US Open and at Aronimink for a PGA Tour event. Some modern golf course architects and so called restoration experts have convinced golf's oligarchy that runoff areas are historically accurate and were prevalent features for some golf course designers of the "Golden Era" of architecture.

In the 1920s and the 1930s there were no runoff areas on golf courses. It's just that simple, the revisionist golf course architecture history is purely a fabrication. How do I know this? Good question and the answer will appear self evident. Fairway mowing heights in the 20s and 30s were generally between 1 and 1.5 inches or about the same as today's intermediate rough height. Does a ball roll very far in intermediate rough? No, it settles down very quickly. It really is that simple, the great designers of the 20s and 30s could have wanted to have runoff areas but the mowing heights didn't allow it to happen. Greens in the 20s and 30s were maintained at 3/16 to 1/4 of an inch or about the same as the most closely cropped runoff areas of today.

Now mind you, I really like short grass around putting surfaces, although I have difficulty understanding why most modern designers only utilize short grass to take the ball away from the green. It seems as if a balance of run-on areas and runoff areas would be more interesting golf architecture but that's another blog for another time.

Having worked at Aronimink some thirty plus years ago, I really enjoyed seeing the golf course on TV. I did golf course setup there for three years and knew the golf course fairly well. I thought the changes were an improvement to the golf course but to call them historically correct in regard to playability is just flat wrong.

Below are two articles from the 1930s that talk about fairway mowing heights. We might assume that in the 1920s the mowing heights were even higher.

1933. The Bulletin of the United States Golf Association Green Section. May. 13(3): p. 86-87.