The New Sitwell: Are the Alister MacKenzie and Willie Park Greens of Yore Possible in 2021?

At some point in your life as a golf course architecture aficionado, you’ll stumble across a photograph of the No. 12 green at Sitwell Park Golf Club, a Sheffield-area course that doesn’t attract as much international attention these days, despite the name “Alister MacKenzie” on the marquee. You, if anything like me at that point in my understanding of golf course design and construction, will squint your eyes and grin in the “you gotta be kidding me” method.

What is now known on message boards simply as the “Sitwell Park green” was created to combat a routing problem struck by MacKenzie during 1913. The routing required two greens, nos. 12 and 18, sit next to each other while requiring an uphill approach. If he had performed a common “cut and fill” to build the greens atop the hill, the putting surfaces would be both blind and punished but the newly-steepened slope. MacKenzie chose to create a large green that poured down from the top of the hill, full of roll almost unimaginable to the modern player (which you can see below).

Even at the time, local players were scandalized and the green disappeared, replaced with a far more pedestrian model.

The Sitwell Green remains celebrated online. Tom Doak, a proponent, built No. 13 at Barnbougle Dunes as a tribute to the lost putting surface. But even that, one of the funkiest greens on the planet, seems a bit watered down compared to the inspiration.

I began to wonder…with minimalist golf being all the rage, what’s preventing the creation of Sitwell-level green slopes?

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The Bunkers at Broadmoor (Indiana) Country Club and The Indefinable Donald Ross

I was driving along Interstate 70 and decided that I wanted to play a Donald Ross…so I stopped at Broadmoor.

No, not the Denver-area resort. Although that Broadmoor checks all the above boxes, I live in Columbus and needed a quicker fix. That, and an email alerting me to all of the restoration work that had recently been completed by Bruce Hepner, led me to pull up short in Indianapolis and check out the other Broadmoor, a country club on the near-west side of town.

I’m the kind of guy who does bare-bones research in the lead-up to a round — usually looking at Google Map aerials — so I know what to expect and, more importantly, what I should ask about.

Immediately, from one glance at Google, I had several questions, and they all dealt with the bunkering. After playing the course, I had even more.

It’s dangerous to describe a “normal” Donald Ross course, as the architect created almost as many courses as his Golden Age competition combined, which gave him room to wiggle and tweak. I’ve read Golf Has Never Failed Me and I’ve played enough Ross courses to know that no one breaks Ross’s rules as much as Ross himself.

That said, the bunkering at Broadmoor struck me as highly irregular on three fronts. I was able to speak with Bruce Hepner, who oversaw the restoration for Broadmoor, so he could set the record straight on these three aspects of Broadmoor’s bunkering.

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Just a post-Royal St. George’s Essay on Approaching Golf Course Ratings and Discussion

GOLF recently ran a panel regarding Royal St. George’s, with particular focus on the concept of blind shots. The question (“are blind shots fair, or too gimmicky?”) came on the heel of Brooks Koepka’s suggestion that Sandwich featured too many of them. The GOLF group — featuring four of its panel of 100 raters — concluded, to differing degrees, that blind shots were in fact a good thing, distinctive to links golf.

The unanimous result disappointed me. I say this as someone who equally values the blindness present at Royal St. George’s.

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Don’t Buy The Hype: An Argument Against Allegations of “Subtlety” at Pete Dye’s The Golf Club

Reviews for The Golf Club often include one word more than any other: “subtle.” It’s a term long distasteful to me…as a former music writer, editor, and general writing prick. “Subtle” comes across as a crutch, communicating a realization that one enjoyed what they had just listened to or seen…but were not sure why.

If this pleasure was difficult to define, it must be “subtle.”

The Golf Club was not subtle. In many ways, it is Pete Dye’s least subtle design. It encapsulates the essence of Facebook’s founding mantra, packaged into a golf course architect: Move fast and break things.

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Alex “Nipper” Campbell and Potential, Unacknowledged Architectural Brilliance at 3 Major Hosts beyond Moraine

Nothing is more annoying than a humble brag posturing as a blog post. You’ve played a Top 100 golf course, and you’re sharing it with us by profiling said course! Thank you! The good news for you, my humble readers, is that I have not played a Top 100 course to crow down to you about. Nope.

But yeah, I totally landed a tee time at Moraine Country Club for next month and I’m pretty happy about it.

But in the name of journalistic integrity, as well as my own genuine curiosity, I sought out more information on Alex “Nipper” Campbell, the Scottish pro who designed Moraine. Namely: “What else did he do?”

The one-hit wonders of golf course architecture hold an appeal in their “what if.” What if George Crump had spread his apparent talents wider, rather than just dying over Pine Valley? Why couldn’t Henry Fownes have just done one more, away from Oakmont?

Moraine may be one tier below these courses, but not by far. The “mystery” of Crump and Fownes is relatively easy to put a lid on: “Sure, they could have created other world-class courses, but they didn’t.” Campbell and Moraine is more mysterious, because the golfer designed several other courses, none of which compare to his peak. “One-hit wonders” happen frequently in the music business, where one great album simply doesn’t translate into the future. We’re biased…but it seems that golf course architecture shouldn’t work that way.

Shouldn’t brilliance that resulted in a monument like Moraine have shown its face at other locations?

Campbell’s other offerings around the Dayton area certainly display some quirk, and no doubt the years have removed features that may better display Campbell’s skill.

Don’t worry: This isn’t a post attempting to claim Alex Campbell did not design Moraine Country Club. Rather, it’s an attempt to claim that Campbell’s hands were involved in the creation of several other courses…clubs more noteworthy than the majority of his remaining discography.

So here are several other courses where Campbell may have had a hand, and where he hasn’t received his due for it. From most likely to least likely:

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The Key to Restoring Augusta National: Make The Masters Match Play (5 Showcase Holes)

You already know this blog post is covering the most over-covered golf course in history, so bear with me while I touch upon ideals that have been cemented across similar forums for years: Strategic golf is good. Courses that give golfers multiple routes to reach either the same or varying conclusions (depending on execution) are good. 

These principles are often over-simplified as “risk/reward.” But risks and rewards only tell half the story. We often forget that the alternative is “low risk/acceptable outcome.” 

All too often we glorify the big risk taker and executor, while ignoring the conservative player who succeeds in a less sexy manner. This is ironic; Old Tom Morris, perhaps the very base of what we call “strategic golf,” was notoriously conservative. He lay in wait during matches, making decisions based upon the errors of his rivals. Considering he had largely designed the course where most of these matches took place, he forecasted when his opponent would be in trouble and took the safest route afforded to him (by their play). He often won passively, which is a win all the same. 

The aforementioned course, of course, was the Old at St. Andrews, which was also the prime inspiration for Augusta National. 

Jumping topics, I recently saw a tweet from Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg fame, praising the WGC Matchplay event at Austin Country Club. “Match play is the best format of golf,” he wrote. “There is so much more raw emotion shown by players and it’s easier for the casual fan to understand and follow. More match play please.” 

Many have called for a match play-based major, which would up the ante for both “raw emotion” and “easier for the casual fan to understand.” The most popular candidate is the PGA Championship, only because it’s the skinny kid brother to the U.S. Open and by far the less popular of the two. The logic against such a decision is that the PGA is also the least-likely to host at matchplay-friendly courses. The last three occurred at Bellerieve, TPC Harding Park and a Bethpage Black that’s gotten way too skinny for meaningful match play.

But what if there was a consistent host built upon such principles…a course designed to mimic Old Tom’s stomping grounds? 

You see where I’m going here. 

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Pete Dye’s Redans and the 2021 Major* Circuit (Whistling Straits, Kiawah Ocean Course and…yes, TPC Sawgrass)

As a blogger, I frequently find myself behind-the-times…intrigued by themes exposed in that weekend’s PGA play…which means they’re behind-the-times even if I hit “publish” on Monday. I found myself in a similar situation this weekend, while considering one hole at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course. 

The good news (a first for me!): The theme this hole inspired remains relevant as 2021 is a strange year that, thanks to last year’s COVID cancellation, will feature three major golf tournaments hosted at Pete Dye designs (note lowercase “major,” Players haters). 

Pete Dye’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think “templates,” but he’s got them. The most prominent (and worst) was on full display this weekend, as Sawgrass’s famous island par three turned Thursday into an Italian horror film for many pros. Dye’s second most-popular template, which can be found across almost every one of his designs, is the Double Dogleg par five, a concept he took from A.W. Tillinghast and now truly owns. Even Tillinghast (Dylan) would have to admit Dye’s (Hendrix) version was better. 

Dye liberally used another concept that was popularized by another architect, and this one is far less recognizable to the average GCA enthusiast…intentionally so. Dye certainly liked to play the “wild card” persona, which meant going out of his way to make it appear he wasn’t just copping a look from the MacRaynor factory when working with perhaps the most revered template of them all.

Here’s how Pete Dye took radical approaches to the Redan, and where you’ll see them during the 2021 championship season (plus a few bonus versions). 

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Ohio Updates 2021: This Year’s Changes at Scioto Country Club, Muirfield Village, Coldstream Country Club and Elsewhere

Between it being cold and working on other projects, I haven’t been able to get out to play new courses and, accordingly, take advantage of that play to create new blog content.

Regardless of whether I’m there or not, the courses themselves continue to make moves. Being located in Ohio, I tend to keep a more persistent finger on the pulse of courses around my home state. Therefore, this post will only serve to give a quick summary of course changes you can plan to see around Ohio during 2021. Hopefully my Ohio audience will find something to pique their interest…but perhaps the rest of you might consider coming over to the heartless of it all and see what’s been going on with our courses. 

After all, a better state slogan than “the heart of it all” would be “our golf course collection is way deeper than you realize.” 

I’m hardly omnipresent so if you’ve got a tip regarding your own Ohio club or a club in your vicinity, give me a shout. Happy to give you a shout with the update. 

Here’s the plan for 2021: 

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In Light of The Nu Lido, 7 Other MacRaynor No-Longer-Existing Courses That MIGHT Be Worth a Recreation

Perhaps you’ve heard: The Keiser family is establishing a literal clone of the legendary Lido Golf Club outside of its Sand Valley Resort in central Wisconsin. It’s to 2021 what the opening of Bandon Sheep Ranch was to 2020: the headline we golf course architecture people will milk for the rest of the year. 

The key word in Lido’s description is “legendary”; not because the course is some figment of an idealistic imagination but because it’s become a pillar of worship for architecture enthusiasts. 

Perhaps it truly was the single greatest golf club ever made and perhaps not. Regardless, it’s certainly the lost golf club we romanticize more than any other. Part of the problem is we’ve made room in our mind for just the one no-longer-existing golf club, in the same way that most dads have only made room for one metal band (Metallica, and the “Black” album more specifically). 

There are many other MacRaynor courses that have since gone under. Were they quite the gems that Lido was? Maybe not…but we also don’t really know, do we? They may not have a Santa Claus-level of mystique but we’re talking Macdonald-Raynor here. These courses were at least Easter Bunnies. 

Here are seven lost MacRaynors that might not have become Lido-level iconoclasts…but should certainly be on the mind of Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, or whatever architect wants to next create a MacRaynor tribute. 

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An Immodest Proposal: Totally Overhaul Bethpage Black’s Greens for Tillinghast’s Sake

Using a highly unscientific method (namely the opinions of participants pre- the 2019 PGA Championship), we can assume the average golfer should not expect to break 120 at Bethpage Black. You know all about the rough and the massive bunkers. You know about the sign telling people (like you or me) to spare ourselves the shame and turn back. 

The greens are also legendary. Legendarily boring. I would hazard the same average golfer, while on the way to their 121, would not putt more than 36 times. I have admittedly spent my entire golfing career banking on the assumption that if I can get on in regulation, par is guaranteed. Hardly true at most championship venues, this assumption is especially true at Bethpage Black (and its brother, Bethpage Red). 

It’s as if whoever designed the course (more on that in a jiff) wanted golfers to feel better after the hardships they overcame on the way to the green and thus presented a pancake to putt upon. 

That sort of logic doesn’t jive with Black’s wider purpose, which is no longer to serve as “the people’s country club,” but rather bring big events (and cash) to the municipality. The iconic nature of its brutality has waned a bit in that regard. Tiger Woods was the only player to break even during the 2002 Open (-3), five players broke even during ‘09 (Lukas Glover winning with -4) and then the dam burst for the ‘12 and ‘16 Barclays, where a minus was required to finish within the Top 35 and 30, respectively. The 2019 PGA took a U.S. Open approach to conditioning but Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson still managed to smoke their way to -8 and -6, respectively. 

Black is no doubt still highly-equipped for PGA play, relative to the course competition. But some new greens would go a long way.

Confronting the course’s authorship is the first step in overcoming the conservative hump. 

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