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.