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).
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.
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.
I’ve been attempting to catch up on golf literature and my wife assisted this Christmas with a copy of Golf Has Never Failed Me, a compilation of Donald Ross’s scant writings, organized to provide insight into the Scot’s approach to golf course design.
It won’t provide many mind-boggling realizations for those who have a generalized understanding of Ross’s rather generalized style. Simply the bare necessities for planning a golf course (from finding a property to draining it) and the strategy of laying it out (from routing to Ross’s range of sand hazards).
There was one subject that intrigued me, however, which Ross put far more emphasis on than the average 2020 GCA conversant:
“The old courses in England had separate tees at every hole. The old courses had tees so long and wide that you never knew what kind of shot you were going to have at any given hole,” he wrote. “The modern golf course should either have tees fifty yards long or three or four separate tees at every hole.”
That’s a lot of tee…a lot more than you see at the average golf club during 2020. So I got to thinking…what holes would benefit from the application of this Ross principle? The possibilities were endless, but I’ve narrowed it down.
Many are tweeting their “best golf courses I played for the first time during 2020” lists. So I decided to jump onboard the rubbing-it-in train, while also creating some worthwhile conceptual content (hopefully).
So here are the six best courses I played for the first time during 2020 (not in order), with emphasis on how they currently practice Ross’s teachings or, more likely, my radical reinterpretation of one of that course’s tees to change the hole’s play.
A recent round of golf played made me consider what made for quality residential golf, and it seems like I haven’t been the only one thinking on it. Adam Lawrence of Golf Course Architecture just dropped a feature in last month’s issue, speaking with golf course architects on how to best bring golf courses and housing together.
A slight bother in that conversation, for someone who lives in Columbus, is that Coore and Crenshaw’s new Cabot St. Lucia is that these are not the same caliber of course I’m referring to when I refer to “residential golf.” I may not be talking about poor people, but I am talking about Ohio.
Said recent round was on a course designed by none other than Arthur Hills, which exuded healthy habits in building a real estate development course.
Donald Ross fans in Ohio are in the midst of a few good years. At the top of the list, most obviously, is Andrew Green’s restoration at the Inverness Club, and Scioto Country Club will seek to usurp the throne (as the state’s preeminent Ross) when Green undertakes an overhaul during 2021. Brookside Country Club in Canton beat both to the punch when Brian Silva restored its Rossiness during 2003. Although not quite at major-host level like those courses, Kevin Hargraves’s work at Columbus Country Club is earning raves.
The Columbus metro area will continue the theme, at least theoretically: Some big-name, big-walleted Denison University alums are making it possible for Gil Hanse to create a masterplan for the school’s course, which was designed by Ross as Granville Golf Club. We’re hoping like heck work begins sooner than later, and we’re especially eager to see what happens between holes Nos. 14 to 17.
This blog is not about how Bandon Trails is my favorite course at Bandon; I’ve only played two of them and I’ve got to side with the majority of raters in that Pacific Dunes was the better of the two. That said, there’s something about Bandon Trails that is inherently bloggable; it’s a non-links course among four trve links courses (a contentious argument on several fronts)…and that’s probably why I’ve seen more blog posts about Trails than I have any other course. Even if Trails is on numerous Top 100 in The World lists, we sometimes act like it’s the ugly little Bandon brother.
Basically, people like me feel like we’re fighting some hipster battle when we declare Trails to be our favorite at Bandon (I make a similar argument regarding St. Anger being the best Metallica album post-“Black”).
But again, this isn’t a blog post about why Trails is actually the best (and seriously, I don’t hold it against anyone who believes that to be true). Pacific Dunes was the best course I’ve yet had the opportunity to play, but right now I haven’t quite formulated thoughts beyond the standard 18-hole-tour blog post thesis: “dude, the views” (I’ve gotten a bit beyond that but I’m not sure it’s an interesting post).
So I too am writing about Bandon Trails. And my topic is “dude, the views.”
One of the wonders in the era of re-appreciating the classic era of golf course architecture is the touch of mystery that lurks behind much of it. Documentation has been lost on most of the world’s most acclaimed golf courses, and dedicated devotees are always digging to get back what was lost.
George Bahto was among the best of them, and was held among the foremost academics on C.B. Macdonald. His book, The Evangelist of Golf, is often the first step in an education on Macdonald’s template system, and their place at the National Golf Links of America.
We’ve come to accept Bahto’s answers — as well as those from numerous experts — as concrete. Should we? No doubt, Bahto put the work in…but an extreme lack of first-hand sources means nothing is infallible. The Evangelist info on the “Bottle” template is not a clear example of this. After all, Macdonald himself described what the origin of the concept was. But if I may be so bold…I’d argue — as someone who frequently and subconsciously chooses to misremember — that Macdonald may be guilty of the same.
Here I argue, dangerously, that our accepted understanding of the “Bottle” has long been misled by none other than Macdonald’s own words. It’s a proposal that can’t be proven…but there’s evidence it’s not a throwaway theory either.
Several months ago, scratching a creative itch, we set about creating The Appalachian Golf Trail, consisting only of notable golf clubs located within walking distance (less than 5 miles) from the most famous hiking trail in the United States. The results, of course, were a disaster. Of the eight clubs identified, only seven have survived until the publication of this post. One, the Hanover Country Club, has since been closed by Dartmouth College. The others are fine, to our knowledge.
That disaster being completed, and our boredom continuing, we began seeking another topic to fill some blog space. A chance encounter with a ‘90s computer brought forth the obvious solution: The Oregon Golf Trail.
There is a significant difference between this and the Appalachian Golf Trail, namely in that you can still hike the Appalachian one, and the Oregon Trail has largely been paved over. After all, using Bill Coore’s routing logic (he follows animal trails, assuming they’ve already figured out the best ways around a property), the Oregon Trail existed for a reason. It was the most passable way to get from Kansas City to Portland. Therefore concrete roads have often been built along the rivers where a dirt one once ran. The point is you can’t, safely at least, hike the Oregon Golf Trail. That said, for the fun of the exercise, we’ve left the “five mile” rule in place. The result is a collection of six public golf courses, along with a collection of privates that you can try to tap as you travel West.
Here’s a map of the Oregon Trail so you can plan your trip and follow along with this ridiculous exercise. One bit of advice: Never try to ford the river with your golf clubs.
Blind approach shots make for uncomfortable discussion among “woke” golf course architecture folks. On one hand, the idea of simply launching a ball into space and trusting your distance is not a hip concept to those committed to the “Strategic School” of golf course architecture. How much “luck” should be required for something that’s allegedly strategic? On the other hand, even C.B. Macdonald could not deny the appeal in the original “Alps” at Prestwick, bringing the concept back to his American designs. Very few have the backbone to suggest Macdonald is “wrong.”
At its base are two contrasting values. The second value is the principles of Strategic golf, which places almost all emphasis on the player; both their ability to gauge risk and reward, and execute upon them. But golf’s roots in the Scottish links relied on a bit more. It relied on luck. Great courses require great players to execute strategically, but it also requires them to react to wild bounces and curious results. Blind shots into punchbowl greens are more at home in this philosophy.
And so there’s some uncomfortable thumb-twiddling when the idea comes up in modern architecture conversation. The intrigue and suspense of walking up to your ball after launching it into the (relative) unknown, versus the inherent unfairness in blinding the green.
Pete Dye takes an alternative tack to the blind approach at Pete Dye Golf Club. In fact, he does it three times.