Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Chat With Lester George About the Old White Renovation

When architect Lester George began work at the Old White Course that hosts this week's PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic, virtually everything original designers C. B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor left behind was gone, with the exception of the 8th hole, the Redan. There is much speculation as to when the alterations occurred and it might have happened as far back as the mid 1930s. Nevertheless, it was George's charge to reclaim as much as he could.

The course opened in 1914 and Raynor, with Charles Banks completing the work after Raynor's death, updated the course around 1925-1926.

Using aerial photos of the course taken prior to the modifications, George set about returning Old White to its original design as best be could, including using "Dragon Teeth" bunkering, sharp, cone-shaped mounds, that are clearly visible in the aerials and existed on the Redan.

Since no mounds remained on the fifth hole, (pictured here) named "Mounds," George put Dragons Teeth there as well in the locations they seem to be on the aerial.

He installed approximately 450,000 feet of drainage to help with water problems that, George surmises, date back to the inception of the course. He said it is readily apparent that Raynor created fairway contouring to channel water through the property.

Because of real estate encroachment on part of the course, George was not able to restore all of the holes, such as on nos. 14 and 16. The 14th was a Cape Hole and the 16th Narrows. Raynor moved a tee when he returned in the 1920s, making the 16th more of a Cape Hole. During the restoration, George gave Narrows qualities to the 14th.

He also reworked 17 so that it now has Road Hole feel to it. Surprisingly, Road was not part of the original hole designs at Old White, one of the few Macdonald-Raynor designs without one.

George said the greens and bunkers were all rounded off, when he arrived, and he's tried to reestablish the original sizes and shapes.

George marvels at the some of the movement in the holes.

"The seventh, Plateau, has a washboard fairway," he said. "No. 2 has a hog's back running down the length of the fairway."

Tees were added to holes 2,11,13,15-17 making the par-70 course 7,031 yards from the tips.

According to George, expect the leaders to eviscerate Old White.

"I think we might see someone shoot a 59," he said. "If it gets soft, they're going to go low, low."

The forecast is for thunder showers Thursday, warm and partly cloudy Friday and Saturday, with a chance of rain on Sunday.

With the front side a par-34, a score of 29 is very much a possibility. Both par-5s are on the home nine and are reachable for the longest players.

Even with the added tees, much of the Macdonald-Raynor strategy will be lost to the length of the Tour Pros but they still will have decisions to make on some holes. Flagstick placement will also play a role in defending the course. The par-3 18th at 162 yards, (shown here) with it's Horseshoe feature should be fun to watch come crunch time on Sunday.

No matter what the score, though, it will be a joy to know the work of Macdonald, Raynor and George will be seen on television screens across the country.

(Photos courtesy of Shannon E. Fisher)

Monday, July 26, 2010

PGA Tour Tees It Up At a Macdonald-Raynor Design This Week

This week the PGA Tour is at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulpher Springs, W.V. for the Greenbrier Classis and, frankly, I have mixed emotions.

First of all, I'm ecstatic that the work of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor (restored by Lester George reopening 2006) will be getting national recognition but I'm also afraid that golf announcers who know little to nothing of architecture will not only fail to understand the nuisances of the golf course, but also describe what is there inaccurately to viewers at home. I have deep pains in my gut when I imagine Garry McCord or David Feherty waxing poetic on the work of Macdonald and Raynor. Frank Nobilo's head might explode when he realizes many of the holes are not framed by trees. These three think long and straight is a legitimate and favored design strategy.

I'm hoping Peter Oosterhuis is announcing this week. After his days on the PGA and European PGA tours, Oosterhuis was head golf professional at Forsgate Country Club in New Jersey, which has an exceptional Charles Banks as one of its two layouts. He's also a big fan of Yale University golf course.

This could be a great opportunity for those golfers who think penal bunkering in landing zones and in front, behind and on both sides of greens is good design, to see the error in their thinking. Unlike the work of Robert Trent Jones and his hack copycats, Macdonald, Raynor and others produced golfing grounds where thought is required on virtually every shot. The best part about that for golfers is the fact that that school of architecture is, in fact, fun.

The pros who tee it up Thursday through Sunday will overpower the layout, at times, but that shouldn't stop the announcers from illuminating viewers to the architecture that allows the average players, of varying length and skill, to challenge Old White, and others like it, and find delight in doing so.

(Picture of the original 18th green, courtesy Lester George)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Friend Iain and His Pals Cash In on Oosthuizen's Victory

My pal Iain David Dye, who I met while volunteering at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland for the 2005 Open, was at the tournament this year, also held at the Old Course, when he had a chance encounter with eventual winner Luis Oosthuizen that turned out to be quite valuable.

Here's Iain recounting of the events. (In the photo taken on the first tee of the Old Course, Ian's the good looking one on the far left.)

"We were standing at the 12th tee of the Old Course on Thursday. Louis and his caddie walked up onto the 12th tee from the 11th Green, Louis looked at his ball and asked his caddie for a new one. The caddie chucked the ball at Tom who is my mate Shaun's son.

"We were all laughing and joking about how much the ball would be worth if he won the Open. We were late back on the Thursday night to my parents' house, and we had been talking all night about how we should put money on Louis as it could have been fate.

"Both myself and Shaun put £20 each on Louis on Friday morning and by 6:30 pm on Sunday we had won £520. If we had put the bet on on the Thursday night we would have won over a £1000."

To convert that into American dollars, for a bet of $30.40, they each took home $790.27!

Don't forget, Shaun still has a golf ball from the 2010 Champion Golfer of the Year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to play the Road Hole, Then and Now

During the 150th playing of the Open Championship, Lee Westwood was rightfully lauded for his magnificent play at the 17th hole. During one round, his approach shot landed just short of the Road Hole bunker leaving, what looked to be, an impossible up-and-down. Playing over the hazard onto the narrow green and at the flagstick was too risky. The only sensible alternative seemed to be to pitch away from the hole, leaving a putt of at least 25 feet. Westwood, though, pulled out his putter and ran the ball around the Road Hole bunker and onto the green. Leaving himself a makeable putt for par, which he sank. The scenario is nearly identical to the one that Alister MacKenzie detailed in his book, The Spirit of St. Andrews, published in 1934.

"I remember shortly after the war, watching the contestants in the Open Championship or some other important competition playing the seventeenth at St. Andrews. One of the the competitors had pulled his second shot wide of the the road bunker: I said to a friend who was with me, 'Here comes an American. Watch him pitch over the Road bunker and land in the road beyond.' Instead of doing so, the played at a little hillock, only three feet across, to the right of the road bunker, and his ball curved in a complete semicircle and lay dead at the pin.

"I said to my friend, 'That is the best player I have ever seen. Let's follow him to the clubhouse and find out what his names is.' We did follow him and we found his name was Walter Hagen."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quinnetucket Golf Course Update

The latest news is that there is no news. I talked with the Mayor's office a few weeks back and the Mayor and the city attorney are going over the lease. The signing could come at any time.

Here's a recent photo of the third green site from the 7th fairway.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rediscovered Seth Raynor Photos and Bio

I was contacted recently by a member of the the Country Club of Charleston who was looking for photos of Seth Raynor. It turns out that the club has commissioned a portrait of Raynor, the designer of their course, based upon photos that were uncovered at Princeton University where Raynor graduated in 1898, with most likely, a civil engineering degree. Princeton published bios and photos of the members of Raynor's class in conjunction with their 25th reunion in 1923.

In both pictures, Raynor comes across as a serious-minded fellow. One image is from the year he graduated, at the age of 24, and another from 1923 when he was 49, looking old for his age. Less than three years later, some surmise because of his incredibly hectic work schedule, Raynor was dead.

What I find most intriguing about the article--besides the fact Raynor's middle name was Jagger--is that it appears to indicate that Raynor might have traveled overseas to study the great golf courses. Perhaps, though, the sentence was meant to mean that Raynor, as an understudy of Charles Blair Macdonald, used the layouts that C.B. had visited in Great Britain as his guide. If Raynor did journey there, it would be quite a discovery. If not, this small item, nevertheless, gives an interesting glimpse into the life of man of who so little is known other than his work.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Facebook Post of the Week - Turf Related

Northland Country Club Turfgrass Management In you are keeping track: Fungicides applied to the golf course in 2010...ZERO!
A great idea letting golfers, non-golfers and environmentalists just how few chemicals are applied by diligent golf course superintendents.