Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Einstein and Golf Course Architecture

Albert Einstein undoubtedly could have taught all golf course designers a thing or two about golf course design. 

Take this quote for instance, "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." We could make this more apropos to golf with a slight change, "Any intelligent golf course designer can make their courses expensive, more difficult, and less golfer friendly. It takes a tough of genius or common sense to move in the opposite direction."

Haven't the "fools" been part of the game's demise. With golf courses growing increasingly difficult to play, and more expensive to build and maintain; we have created an uneconomically sustainable model. And it was owner's and golf course architect's egos driving us straight into this golf participation contraction and depression.

Now, Einstein hit it out of the park with this one. Einstein sums up our industry's arrogance, "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." We were stupid as an industry and we showed no restraint. We thought that we could just keep building less playable and more expensive courses and things would be OK; they weren't and they aren't.

Going forward, it is incumbent upon all of us to do what golf course designer Einstein, would have done; spend less, and insure that our golf courses are immensely playable for average and newer golfers, while remaining challenging for better players. Einstein would surely be a proponent of smaller clubhouses, less amenities, and a focus on really does take a genius.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Minimalist Golf Course Architecture Movement- State of the Union

The last decade has seen a tremendous shift in golf course architecture. In a "back to future" sort of movement, more natural and sustainable types of golf courses sporting strategic and playability options have become not only accepted but also desired and expected. The movement has been termed Minimalism. The true Minimalists, Coore and Crenshaw, Doak, Hanse, and a couple of handfuls of others, have been at it a lot longer than just the last decade. They have brought a style of golf course design back from golf's origins to the forefront of modern golf design. Golfers along with golf developers embraced these courses with their typically lower construction and maintenance costs. And as market acceptance of Minimalism has grown, every Golf Course Architect/Designer on the planet is trying to jump on board.

No man involved on this bunker. Pure minimalism
It has been and continues to be interesting to watch many Golf Course Architects embrace or at least attempt to embrace the new Minimalist Movement in Golf Course Design. These conventional Designers seem to have fallen short of making the transition. More often than not, they just morph into another form of convention and sameness. Putting uniform rough edges and longer grasses on bunkers and earth forms seems to be the standard approach, but the forms are the same as they have always been. Green shapes, contours and sizes don't change, nor do the fairway widths, contours, and grassing lines, nor do the bunkering schemes and certainly the playability and strategic options don't seem to have changed. It's as if, just a little bit of window dressing is all that it takes to make the leap. These wannabe Minimalists should spend more time studying nature and varied golf strategies, and a lot more time on site during construction if they want to join the ranks of the Minimalists.

Minimalist features and earth forms must originate from nature not man. Man or in this case the Designers must learn to mimic nature while offerring varied strategic options if they want to join the movement. And as for those with more analytical minds and souls, they may never be able to make the leap. Minimalists are artists at heart. They have an innate ability to imitate and manipulate nature to create inspiring golf. Great golf courses are a derivative of nature first and man second. Until conventional Designers understand this they really don't have a chance of becoming Minimalists.

It isn't very hard to imagine some of this erosion being incorporated into a course
And as much as we see the wannabe Minimalists struggle to produce natural, unique golf, we also see the struggles of that original group of Minimalist pioneers. Because even the true Minimalists need to guard against falling into their own sense of commercialism, comfort and convention to insure that their courses don't have a sameness and repetitiveness or even, dare I say, become caricatures of great golf courses. These same pioneers must remember that embracing the ground game was the beginning of the movement and more and more, we see them drifting away from the ground game to embrace "cheap" aesthetics. Is a Minimalist true to themselves when they create virtually all of their green sites perched on benches? It still looks like Minimalism but it surely doesn't play like it, when the ground game options have been minimized or eliminated and the air game is the only option. Maybe all of us should look in the mirror once in a while and remember that playability must remain at the forefront of Minimalism.

Perhaps all Golf Course Architects and Designers should be required to periodically renew and refresh our minds and bodies through the study of nature, oh yeah, and maybe a trip to the Old Course.

There are natural forms and shapes all around us, all we have to do is look. These images presented herein are examples of feature inspiration that I saw in Western North Dakota and South Dakota. It isn't that hard to imagine golf and links golf that embrace great and varied strategic and playability options on this ranch land or to use these concepts as inspiration on another piece of ground.

Forms inspired by nature are tough to create when the study and focus of golf course architecture is often only about other courses.

It's all right there; everywhere we look, the shapes, forms, and imperfection of nature are evident. All we have to do is look.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Libertarian Philosophies in Golf Course Architecture

I want to propose and coin a "new" concept in golf course design...Libertarian Golf Course Architecture. Libertarian Golf Course Architecture encourages or possibly even demands that golfers make a choice and generally have choices and options in how they can play holes and golf shots. This design philosophy may be much closer to the origins of golf than any other philosophy presently in play. The Libertarian Golf Course Architecture philosophy allows golfers to have free will and play the golf hole with varying strategies and the golf shots that can be played in different fashions. Golfers should be allowed to play as bravely, aggressively, safely, smartly, or for that matter, idiotically as they choose to. It isn't our job as designers to deprive the golfer of his choices or options, only to present them as an organic puzzle for the golfer to solve.

Too often in golf, the golfer is forced to play the hole and entire golf courses in a certain manner. Could that be Totalitarian Golf Course Architecture? Perhaps Pete Dye could be likened to the Mussolini of golf course designers based upon his propensity to impose his will on the golfers...kind of like being the benevolent dictator of golf course design. He is going to tell you exactly where to hit the ball and what shots you must hit to have a chance at success on his courses. Shot after shot, your options are very limited.

And while some might not unreasonably suggest that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are more like, well, Haight-Ashbury in the 60s with a little Ken Kesey thrown in for good measure. We could view them as the flower children or the counter culture of golf course design but I think that they are that and just so much more than that. What Bill and Ben are, is perhaps the first modern designers to embrace Libertarian Golf Course Architecture coupled with an organic process and understanding of golf. They just understand earth forms and their relationship to nature and how that interacts with golf and the golf experience.

On the positive side of Golf Architecture, there are a growing number of golf course architects that trend towards these Libertarian Golf Design Philosophies. They encourage you to have strategic options and the ability to play a hole differently based upon your own assessment of the conditions, course and your game at the moment. Coore and Crenshaw, Doak et al. Gil Hanse, and a few of the lesser knowns, including Zokol and me (Suny, Zokol Golf Design) all like to give golfers options, even if the golfer doesn't initially realize it.

Zokol and I believe that in order for a golf course to be compelling, that a more libertarian philosophy of golf course architecture must be employed with just a touch of a laissez-faire approach to strategy. Call it freedom of choice in strategy and shot selection or Libertarian Golf Course Architecture.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Root Development on Non-USGA Greens

In the past, I have railed against the USGA green construction method (USGA Greens and The Emperor's New Clothes) as being a mistake and founded on poor assumptions. The reason for this is simply that I have never believed that their construction method would grow better grass or provide better putting qualities than some other methods. Additionally, USGA greens will cost more to build and maintain, while possibly leading to more leaching of nutrients and pesticides into drainage-ways than some other construction methods.

The pictures below were sent to me from Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club's Superintendent, Norley Calder. Sagebrush is a Whitman, Zokol, Suny design, built with a non-USGA green construction method that I developed to achieve a superior low maintenance, low input putting surface. Norley has these greens running at 11.5 feet on a daily basis with a single cut and no rolling while being irrigated once every 7-10 days during the hottest summer weather. Sagebrush's green roots may be one and a half feet deep and these non-USGA greens may be the best putting surfaces in all of Canada.

Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club Spring 2011

How deep do these roots go?

USGA greens typically have their deepest and densest roots in their first full year and by year two, the root depth is reduced to seven or eight inches maximum with much less mass. Conversely, greens built with sound agronomic principals get better with age and rooting gets better from year to year, not worse. Pictures don't lie and neither do roots!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sagebrush Post at Now on the Tee

Now On The Tee blogger, Matt Bosela, has yet another great post on one of his trips to Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club last year. Matt has taken some great photos of the course before and here are some more.

#5 Bunker

 #9 Green

 #14 Second Shot

Below are pictures of Matt's group playing the second hole at Sagebrush. In the first picture you can see that his playing partner's approach shot has a very challenging angle and that he must carry the ball to most pin positions. In the lower picture, Matt must have hit the ball into the right side of the landing area's valley and got the better kick and better angle for his approach shot. The shot from there can be played on the ground or in the air. If the pin is anywhere on the back or left side of the green, then the ideal approach is from even further right than where Matt's ball ended up after rolling out 60 or 70 yards.

Aerial Attack

Ground Attack

More great Sagebrush posts from Now On The Tee

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chirkinian Passes

Anybody that ever spent any time with Frank Chirkinian came away with one thought...he was special. Special in a sense in that the word "icon" which, is used all too frequently these days, seems totally inadequate in describing what Frank Chirkinian was; he was a giant in the golf and TV industry. He passed away yesterday. His brilliance and his acerbic wit and cutting remarks, all offered with blunt honestly, will be missed by many. Each week when you see a scoreboard on TV, think of Frank; he was the one that gave us scoring as a plus or minus against par. Up until that point, golf was scored solely by gross score, pretty tough to understand what was going on while golfers were still on the course. The TV camera in the blimp, yes, that was Frank too.

Many in the golf business got to know Frank through his role at CBS and were aware of his creative intellect and vision. My relationship with Frank was different. Frank was an Armenian from Philly, as I am, knew my Father and Mother well and grew up with my Aunts, Uncles, and other assorted relatives before he became the TV broadcast pioneer.

For six years beginning in 1986, I spent a week with Frank at Castle Pines, where I was the Golf Course Superintendent for the "International" PGA Tour event. My wife and I always looked forward to that week and especially for the chance to get together with Frank for dinner and some lively discourse. During the broadcast of one of the tournaments, I received what may be the record for most "on air pops" (mentions during the broadcast) for a Superintendent during a PGA tournament. The course played pretty well and the greens were regarded as some of the best, but I always felt that Frank was taking care of me. Underneath his crusty exterior there was this huge heart.

Looking back at those years and being able to spend time with and observe Frank, his intensity, intellect, and genius reminds me just how fortunate I was in knowing Frank.

And just one last thought- What would the PGA Tour have been like if they had hired Frank Chirkinian as Commissioner?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Golf Architecture's Forgotten Course of Study- Golfers

Golf Course Architects are missing the single-most important facet of golf course design- golfers. Golf Course Architects have typically had a defined course of study that includes studying landscape architecture, reading books by and about golf architects and golf course architecture, along with playing and or studying great golf courses. And we can all talk about strategy, angles, length, and all of the other aspects of design that people tend to focus on but what they are missing and why they often struggle to create golf courses that are immensely interesting and playable for golfers of all skill levels is that they have not studied golfers and how they play golf. Since we are designing courses for all golfers, wouldn't it make sense to study how golfers of varying skill levels play the game? Shouldn't this be the first thing that we study as opposed to being the last, if at all?

In the past I have written about the 40,000+ Hours on Great Golf Courses, which is about how much time I've spent on great golf courses. During those 40,000 or so hours, I suspect that I have seen more golf shots played by more types of golfers than the vast majority of Golf Course Architects. Studying how golfers play the game, may be more important than any other single course of study in Golf Course Architecture and yet, it has been virtually ignored by most students of golf course architecture. Can you imagine a traffic engineer designing roads without studying how people drive cars? It seems unlikely, although I think that we have all been in traffic jams where it seems as if the traffic engineer hadn't studied how people drive. And for that matter, we've probably all played too many golf courses where it seemed as if the Golf Course Architect hadn't studied how golfers play the game. Quite often, Architects have to come back and "fix" their golf courses within a year or two of the course opening. I wrote about that in Golf Architecture's Definition of Insanity. Perhaps if those Architects studied golfers and how they play the game of golf, they wouldn't have to "fix" their newly built courses.

In my Anarchist's Philosophy of Golf Course Architecture, I have been critical of modern golf course architecture as being formulaic, stuck in convention, and flawed based on being significantly or primarily based on the study of the great golf courses and golden era architects. It is one of my contentions that golf course architects should study nature first, golf course architecture second and lastly and perhaps most importantly, how people of all skill levels play golf.

When Golf Course Architects begin studying how golfers play the game, they will become better at designing and restoring golf courses.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Mobile Device Application for Shade Studies

Welcome to the new world.

Applications for mobile devices are coming to turf and there is one out now, that while not a "Turf" application, will be a tremendous tool for turf managers.

These applications can be found on Shade Apps and are available for a nominal fee. These applications will allow you to track the sun's movement for any day of the year and capture the images. Knowing where the sun is and isn't for that matter, just became very inexpensive and very easy. The guess work has been removed and everyone can afford to do their own shade studies now.

Use them well!