Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lee Janzen talks design

Lee Janzen is a throw back, at least when it comes to golf course design; he favors the likes of Seth Raynor. A neophyte golf course architect with just one project under his belt, he methods are reminiscent of designers like Raynor.

“I’m old school. I do it in the dirt,” he said. “A hundred years from now when they’ll looking for drawings and they’ll be none.”

So far Janzen’s only project has been a reworking of nine of the 27 holes at University Club at Cobblestone Park in Blythwood, S.C., a P.B. Dye layout.

Along the way, he turned an uncomfortable par-4 that doglegged around homes, into a long par-3, also reworking the two holes that followed.

Janzen said he designed the changes in the field, giving instructions to a shaper as they went. Another company installed the drainage. The Cobblestone website says Janzen will be adding nine more holes, although no date for construction has been set.

Janzen said he picked up the design bug in 1993 while spending hours with architect/swing coach, Rick Smith, during the building of his highly acclaimed Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich.

Janzen has eight Tour titles but is best known for twice winning the U.S. Open, with both victories coming on heralded classic designs. In 1993 he won on Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course and in 1998 took the title at the Olympic Club Lake Course. Surprisingly, Janzen is critical of the way the USGA prepared that course.

He said the deep rough served to negate the penalizing characteristics of the heavily sloping design. Janzen would have preferred wider fairways that would have allowed wayward shots to roll off into the trees rather than stop in the rough. Janzen is optimistic that the way the USGA is setting up the U.S. Open venues since Mike Davis took over as senior director of rules and competitions. At Bethpage’s Black Course, for instance, the primary cut of rough was mowed lower than in years past, allowing for recovery shots besides just wedging out back to the fairway.

On Tour, Janzen lists Pebble Beach, Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club and TPC River Highlands as his favorites. “It has that old style feel,” he said, while lamenting the fact that Westchester Country Club West Course is no longer hosting an event.

Janzen said his overall favorite layouts are Chicago Golf Club, Fishers Island and Mountain Lake, all Seth Raynor designs. There’s also two Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore creations he touts, Old Sandwich Golf Club in Massachusetts and Sugar Loaf Golf and Town Club in Florida. Janzen’s a fan of the Steve Smyers-designed Wolf Run Golf Club in Indiana. The two have known each other since Smyers, an accomplished amateur player, defeated Janzen in a junior tournament when the two were teenagers.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kenny Perry discusses River Highland's architecture

Kenny Perry blistered the TPC River Highlands Thursday with a nine-under-par 61, tying the course record and followed with a two-under round Friday.

Asked if River Highlands needs to be lengthened to combat such low scores, which was due in part to the soft conditions brought on by weeks of rain, Perry's response was, no.

"If you really want to change the scoring conditions, you don't have to add length at all. You have to get the guys to think a little bit out there and play a little more course management instead of the old bomb and gouge approach," he said. "So I mean I love this golf course, it's one of my favorites. It's got a lot of risk-reward holes. The finish from 13 in are just beautiful golf holes coming down the stretch, and no, I don't think they need to lengthen the golf course at all."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Three players assess the TPC River Highlands layout

TPC River Highlands is a Pete Dye design with reworking done by protege Bobby Weed. Dye redid many of holes on the existing layout while adding others. Featured throughout is just what you would expect from Dye and Weed, there's plenty of strategy where positioning a tee shot on one side of a fairway results in a better line to the green. Those players that can work the ball left and right have an advantage.

Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, lists River Highlands as one of his favorites on the PGA Tour.

"I think it starts out with the fact you have everything. You have some long holes. You have some short holes, but they're both demanding. You have some lefts, some rights, and you have a lot of ups and downs. I think you also throw in just the unique aspect... starting on 13," Johnson said. "Well, even 10, 11 and 12 are good. But the back nine in general, 13 through 18, those holes are just great. There's not a hole you like more than the next. You know, if you're hitting well, and putting well, you can make some birdies. At the same time, if you're a little bit off, it will bite you."

Stewart Cink also likes the layout; he won the tournament in 1997 and 2008. His take on the design is different from Johnson.

"We know where the targets are off these tees. We just try and hit it off the target, and the fairway (width) is immaterial," Cink said.

Boo Weekely appears not to be a fan of River Highlands. His only appearance came in 2002. Asked what he remembers of the course, he replied, "Nothing."

"It's all a blank?" the PGA official asked.

Boo: "It's all a blank. I mean, I tell you, maybe what came back was a bad one, though, but it came back. It seems like the bad ones always pop up. But on hole 17, the year I was here, I think I made double on the last or on 17 there to miss the cut."

The official pressed on: "Hit it in the water?"

"Yes sir. Hit it in the water. But the golf course is gorgeous. I'd like to see it with the sun out."

There's no water on 18 so Boo's end came on 17.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Travelers Championship Continued -- Ricky Barnes

Ricky Barnes led the U.S. Open through three rounds before tying for second after a final round six-over par 76, but headed up to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship anyway. For those of us who have covered this tournament for a number of years, a rule of thumb is that the guys who finish first or should have finished first the week before are a guaranteed to withdraw from the Travelers, usually at about 10 p.m. Sunday night. Barnes, though, made the trip and so will U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, whom Barnes was paired with in the third and fourth rounds.

During his time in the interview room Monday afternoon, Barnes was a bit surprised when he was asked if he thought about pulling out of the event.

"I just want to get out and play. If you're playing well, why not keep playing?" he said in part.

That night, while filling divots as a volunteer on superintendent Tom Degrandi's grounds crew (I worked for him part time in 2008), I had a chance to talk with Barnes again, this time on the seventh fairway. He's never been to TPC River Highlands and was walking the course with his caddy/brother and a wedge, hitting full shots into greens as well as chipping from the falloff areas that are prevalent on the Bobby Weed design.

"You know, the reason they asked you that question about withdrawing, was because most guys in your position, don't show up," I said.

"Really? I talked to Lucas Sunday night and said, 'are you going up' and he said, 'yes,' and I said I was too," Barnes replied.

"You know, the fans really appreciate you and Lucas coming up," I told him, which he was glad to hear.

We chatted or a bit longer and off he went to see River Highlands while I filled divots.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Anthony Kim at the Travelers Championship

I'll be posting from this week's PGA Tour stop the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. where I've mowed grass for superintendent Tom DeGrandi.

Anthony Kim was in the press room today at 12:20 p.m. for his 11 a.m. press conference. He shot three-over par with three 71s and a 70 in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black making 11 birdies, 12 bogies and a double along the way.

Asked about the rainy conditions at Bethpage Black, Kim replied, "I think when you're younger, you grow up playing and you don't use an umbrella, and you just go and chip and putt and try to get the ball in the hole as fast as you can."

"It's called the U.S. Open. If you're an amateur, if you're just a local guy that tried to qualify and got lucky enough to make it, you had the same opportunities as everybody else. You know how to play in the rain. It's obviously a huge test of patience."

Kim played nine holes Monday afternoon and will play nine more today. "It's in tremendous shape," he said of the conditions. "It seems like this course is made for somebody that can strategically play this golf course. And if that's the case, I feel like I'm in good shape."

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Perpetuation of Golf Architecture Myths

Listening to the words of golf announcers or reading the words of golf writers, it is very easy for those unfamiliar with golf course architecture to be lead down the wrong path when it comes to what makes a quality golf course or golf hole, or the defining style of an architect.

Recently, while watching TV coverage of the PGA Tour stop in Memphis, golf announcer Frank Nobilo demonstrated how ignorant some golf announcers are of even the most basic design strategies.

During the Friday telecast, Nobilo described the tee shot on no. 10 at TPC Southwind as, “trees on the right, trees on the left, they act like goal posts.” I was waiting for him to say, “an awful quality,” but instead he made it sound as if splitting the uprights was a desired design characteristic, when in fact it is nothing short of a compete failure on the part of the architect.
Part of his problem is that Nobilo was a member of the PGA Tour and for those who play golf for a living, the less thinking they have to do the better. While all the great course designers were fans of alternate lines of play and causing players confusion by visual deception such as crossbunkers or the intentional lack of depth perception, golf professionals want to stand on a tee and know exactly where the preferred line of play is. A narrow band of fairway, even if guarded by six-inch deep rough, is much preferred to a wide-open landing area where the correct route to play is not immediately apparent, or might change depending on the wind. Goalposts to the pros are a perfect direction indicator; for the rest of us, it’s an aberration.
Nobilo’s not the only one I heard miss the point weekend.

There was the Golf Channel announcer, describing the 16th at Bulle Rock during the LPGA’s McDonald’s Championship as a, “tree-lined, a lovely hole.”

Bulle Rock is a Pete Dye-designed gem. The 16th is a medium length par-4 where players who choose to pull the driver bring more problems into play as the fairway narrows but are rewarded with a much shorter approach to a tight green with bunkers left and right.
The print media is by no means immune from this sort of misinformation passed on as fact. Leading up to the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, New York Times writer Charles McGrath wrote a wonderful piece about the disputed design history of the course -- A.W. Tillinghast or A.W. Tillinghast and Joe Burbeck? (

In the midst of the piece, though, McGrath, wrote, “This is somewhat subjective ground because everyone agrees that unlike Donald Ross, famous for his domed greens, or C. B. Macdonald, who tended to reproduce his favorite holes on all his courses Tillinghast had no signature style.”
Sure Ross built domes greens -- on two courses -- the famed Pinehurst No. 2, which he lived next to for the last years of his life and with which he constantly tinkered, and Sara Bay Country Club in Florida. At least McGrath didn’t write that Ross built “small greens.” That misnomer has appeared in print so many times that it is now taken for fact, when it is not. Ross did not design small greens as the norm, he built greens that would be considered average size then and now, probably between 5,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet on average, and went as large as 8,000 square feet at places like Wannimoisett Country Club in Rhode Island.

As for Macdonald, he didn’t “reproduce” his favorite holes; he used them as templates. The Short Hole at Sleepy Hollow, bears little resemblance to the short at National Golf Links of America and neither of them are copies of the original. The same holds true for the two who learned design under Macdonald: Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, who each interpreted and then altered the templates style to the specific site.

The good news is, though, at least McGrath wrote about golf course architecture at all and that the New York times gave it great play in the paper and on their website.

Monday, June 8, 2009

An Odd Golf Club

I’m not a collector of old golf clubs, but I’ve volunteered to help a friend try to identify the make and year of a large number of hickory shaft clubs her family accumulated while running Canton (Conn.) Public Golf Course, which opened in the mid 1930s and closed in 2003.

Among the items was this putter with the swastika-like symbol at the heal and toe. I contacted Peter Georgiady, author of “Wood Shafted Golf Club Value Guide,” probably the best reference for antique golf clubs. Georgiady told me, the club was made for the B. Altman department store in New York City - years before the Nazi party came to power - by the Morehead Co. of Milwaukee. Manufacturers, especially ones that made clubs for a variety of outlets, identified their products with what is known as, “cleek marks.” Morehead’s symbol was reportedly taken from the Navajo symbol for good luck.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Overlooked Genius of Fishers Island Part 2

Another shortage par-4 is the 12th hole, which plays 389 from the back tee with the prevailing wind usually coming from the right. As you can see in can see in the left photo (click on the photo to make it larger), taken by Brett Zimmerman, the left side of the green is well above the right, perhaps as much as five feet. This style of Seth Raynor hole is often referred to as a Two-Shot Redan, as the green style mimics that of a Redan, a par-3. Here the feature is reversed so that the high side is on the left.

The green is angled to the left side of the fairway making that side the preferred route in. However, playing too far left can leave the ball below the feet of a right-handed player or in the rough. Those who play to the middle or the right of the fairway, often must aim their approach shot out over the right bunker that sits some 10 feet below the putting surface so the whipping wind can blow it back. What few players realize, though, is that the high left side of the green can be used on the approach, or in my case seen here, out of the bunker.

Most times that people are in the right bunker they leave their attempt to get out on the bank and the ball rolls back to their feet. Few realize, playing the shot some 10 to 15 feet beyond the pin and up the slope will bring the ball back down to the pin.

From the fairway, a well-played shot left will result in the ball being directed by the hill down to the pin. It is exactly these kind of features that make golf so much fun. Unfortunately, few modern architects integrate them into their designs.

By the way, while my sand shot was a good one, I missed the putt for par.