Monday, January 31, 2011

Architect Gil Hanse on Castle Stuart Hosting the Scottish Open

Architect Gil Hanse's Castle Stuart Golf Links in Inverness, Scotland, which he co-designed with owner Mark Parsinen, was recently named the host site for the 2011-13 Barclays Scottish Open, quite the coup for a layout that opened in 2010. I had a chance to talk with Hanse about it.

This is the first time a design of his will host a major golf tour. TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., an Arnold Palmer layout that Hanse completely redid, is home to the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship, part of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

This year, Hanse will pull off a double-double. The week prior to the Deutsche, the playoffs get underway with The Barclays at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., a Donald Ross course Hanse reworked. Barclays also hosts the Scottish Open.

Hanse said he first was made aware that Castle Stuart was in the running as new site for the Scottish Open in December. It had been announced that Loch Lomand, the host for the past 14 years, was out and that the search was on for a links course since the event is held the week before The Open Championship.

"Mark Parsinen would love to have an Open Championship. This was an opportunity too good to pass up," Hanse said. "We'll present a tournament that sort of replicates what they're going to face."

This year, Royal St. George's is The Open venue.

Few courses host such an important tournament this early in its life, but Hanse said the turf at Castle Stuart is already in wonderful condition. That is owed to the fact that head greenkeeper Chris Haspell and general manager, Stuart McColm, who grew in the highly regarded Kingsbarns Golf Links originally owned by Parsinen, were part of the project from the earliest stages of construction. Hanse and his design partner, Jim Wagner, also brought to the table experience in establishing a new course.

"Everything we did, they were so heavily involved," Hanse said. "I'm perfectly comfortable that through the green will be fine."

The condition of the deep fescue areas will depend on the Highlands weather. A rainy spring and summer will produce thicker grasses than if there is a drought period, just as on any established links course.

As to how the golf course will hold up to the pros, that will depend on the weather. If conditions are benign, Hanse said, then, as on most links golf courses, the players will go very low. In harsh conditions, scores will skyrocket.

For the tournament, Hanse said he'd like to see a couple of relatively calm days and a couple of days of average summer conditions.

"I hope that the wind is not the story," he said.

Castle Stuart plays just over 7,000 yards from the back, but could easily be extended. According to Hanse, fill pads for additional tees were built but not turfed and now sit in the tall fescue. If they were to be used, the course would lengthened to over 7,400 yards. Hanse said he and Parsinen have no plans to utilize them this year.

"The thought now is to let them play and we'll observe and make modifications if necessary."

As far as holes Hanse said he is looking forward to seeing the pros tackle, he lists the third and the final three.

The third and 16th are drivable par-4s running in opposite directions so one should always be down wind. The 17th is a par-3 of 220 yards that should play into the prevailing summer breeze meaning players could have as much as a 3-wood in their hands. The 18th is a par-5 that will probably yield some eagles.

"A par there will be like making a bogey," Hanse said.

The tournament is not only great news for Castle Stuart and Hanse, but also for the Highlands region of Scotland that is never part of any major golf event.The hope is that Inverness, with a population of approximately 60,000, and Aberdeen, with a population of about 210,000 and 120 miles away, will heartily support the event.

"My expectation is that the community will be solidly behind this," Hanse said.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Design Mistakes Abound at My Home Course

The layout where I am a men's club member, Hunter Golf Club, owned and operated by the city of Meriden, Conn., is in the midst of a series of awful modifications that do nothing to improve strategy. In fact, some of the revisions serve only to make the layout that much more difficult for higher handicap players.

Seeing the work, it comes as no surprise that a golf course architect was not consulted for the changes. I really have no idea who is calling the shots but the ultimate approval of the work falls on the shoulders of the the Golf Course Commission, that according to the city website, "is a seven-member advisory panel which provides direction and oversight for the Hunter Golf Course."

They're doing a hell of a job.

The original Hunter was a Robert Pryde design that opened in the 1920s and existed very much in its original state until the late 1980s. Then, the city of Meriden swapped land with a neighbor allowing the course to be lengthened while also eliminating consecutive uncomfortable severe down-and-up-holes that slowed play.

It was architect Al Zikorus, a second rate Geoffrey Cornish, who was chosen to create a new layout. What he produced was, at best, boring and mundane and, at worst, frustrating and maddening. Nearly all 18 holes run in a north-south direction. The course is virtually void of strategy. Long and straight is almost always good off the tee. Of the 14 non-par-3 holes, none reward a tee shot with left-to-right flight while four holes favor a right-to-left flight. The middle of the fairway invariably presents the best angle for an approach shot.

On the dreadful the first hole, the best angle from which to approach the green is from the left rough.

The par-threes are forgettable. The second hole, at about 175 yards from the whites, is uphill and blind but could easily have presented the golfer with a Redan-like challenge. Unfortunately, Zikorus placed the runway tee in a position so that the angle was eliminated.

Architect Brian Silva walked Hunter with me a few years back and pointed out that the three most interesting green complexes on the golf course are not in play but are leftovers from the Pryde design. They include a stellar Punchbowl that is now on the back left of the driving range and a wonderful two-tier creation in the left rough of the fourth hole.

The revamping of Hunter began about three years ago when it was determined there was little that could be done to prevent flooding of the 10th fairway during particularly rainy periods or the spring thaw. Water settles in what is the first landing zone for most golfers on the par-5 hole, sometimes creating a swamp for weeks on end. It was decided to build a forward tee parallel to the problem location from which the hole plays as a par-4. In theory, a wonderful idea.

In reality it was a disaster. As shown in this photo taken this fall from the 18th forward tee, the new 10th teeing ground acts as a damn preventing the water from the draining into a pond. (The hole plays left to right.) It is a simple mistake that a talented course architect would not have made.

This is not the only mishap on this hole. Prior to the 2010 season, bunker work was done.

Zikorus originally built a large sand hazard in left front of the green that had morphed into a lifeless blob by the time it was renovated. The original placement was awful. The location posed no threat to longer and average players, some who reached the green in two especially with the usual summer tailwind, or laid up and played in with a very short iron.

Unfortunately, shorter hitters were forced to carry their longer approach shots over the bunker to a green that runs away and to the left, giving them a minuscule chance of keeping the ball on the front half of the green.

For those bailing to the right, a dreadful clump of trees was left siting just off the putting surface.

The reworking of the bunker gave the club a perfect opportunity to improve the hazard. Instead, the new version is just as awful as the original. What would have made more sense would have been positioning the bunker some 30 to 40 yards back down the fairway. That would have put it precisely in the middle of the landing area for longer hitters when the hole plays as a par-4, forcing them to contemplate laying up or trying to carry it. That same location would have caused consternation for the medium length players when it is played as a par-5. It would force them to rethink the second-shot strategy since the opportunity of reaching the green with a crack 3-wood would now be in the realm of possibility. Also, higher handicappers and shorter hitters would then have been able to access the front portion of the green with a well-played bump-and run; not an easy shot. Instead, the bunker, now a bland saucer shape, was reduced in size and moved slightly to the left of its predecessor.

To the right of the bunker a mound was added, which obscures the green from the fairway. For
reasons that I cannot fathom, the mound and area to the right of it is maintained at rough height, which only serves to thwart any but the luckiest run-up attempts.

Then, for reasons the mystify me, a second bunker, also disc shaped, was positioned in the left front corner of the green. The bunker sits uncomfortably in and on the land in an area where few players ever hit a shot. Previously, if a ball did land there, the healthy, thick rough was enough of a hazard. As with the front bunker, this one also forces the golfer – think poor player – who does find himself there, with a sand shot of close to 30 yards if the flagstick is in the back portion of the green.

Making matters worse is the proximity of the two bunkers to each other and to the cart path. The above photo was taken from the location where carts are parked and players access the green. The most direct route to the putting surface is the narrow strip between the two bunkers, a “cow path,” in Silva’s words. Early in the first summer after the bunkers were built, a plastic chain was strung across the route because it was already damaged from wear. The fringe and green were suffering as well. Another gaff that most, if not all, architects would have avoided.

But wait, there’s more.
This fall the city decided that it needed to supplement the existing row of willow trees that separate the parallel 10th and 18th holes by planting saplings. Yes, at Hunter there is a place for trees on a golf course. As I hope you can see from the photo on the left, they were planted in a precise row designed to supplement the mature trees when they die. Apparently, nobody told the powers that be at Hunter that nature abhors a straight line.

There was no reason for trees in the first place since there is pond and stream on the left of the 10th fairway. The large willows on the right allow golfer only one route, down the middle. Supposedly, the trees are there to prevent players on the 10th tee from bailing out into the 18th fairway, but some well-placed bunkers on the right side of the hole, would have take care of that problem, something a course architect with talent might have suggested. A good architect might have even placed a series bunkers that would have acted as hazards on the 10th and 18th holes.

All the debacles were not confined to the 10th. I’d be remiss if I did not show the bunker work on the short 9th hole, a downhill—uphill par-4 of about 360 yards with out of bounds right and left. The hole is a long iron or hybrid off the tee for many players. Because of the narrowness of the fairway (there are trees on the left before the out of bounds) most find it a difficult tee shot.

The green sits comfortably at the top of a rise and originally had a large lifeless bunker to the right. Here, again, the golf commission had a chance to improve on what was there. I would argue that the bunker served no purpose and that replacing it with rough and subtle mounds was the way to go. I would also have extended the front of the putting surface closer to the edge of the hill so that those failing to precisely play an approach to a front pin placement would see their ball tumble down the slope. It is common green design found on courses by the likes of Seth Raynor, Wayne Stiles and Donald Ross.

There are those who would promulgate the idea that a bunker is needed to stop wild shots from running across the cart path and possibly out of bounds or into the bushes that surround the pro shop. In that case, a smaller bunker with just a little artistic flair to the design, since it is visible from the tee, as is the UFO-like clubhouse, would have done the trick. Instead, the bunker was moved towards the front of the green. It is ugly in appearance and too large for the site, detracting from the white farmhouse and trap rock ridge that is the backdrop of the view from the tee, along with the UFO. For the poorer player that finds the front bunker, the bunker shot, just like on the 10th, can be at least 20 yards in length, an extremely difficult task for anyone. Here, too, an architect with a modicum of talent would have produced a much more strategic and pleasing result.

The mistakes at Hunter continue. Other bunkers have been reworked with no discernible rhyme or reason and, I'm sure, more abominations are on the way. It's too bad. Hunter had a chance to make modifications that would have improved its standing among the golf courses in the area. Instead, it chose a path that will only perpetuate its reputation as a layout of no repute.

Former Blackstone National Employee Arrested for Stealing

This one hits close to home. A reporter for a number of Central Massachusetts news organizations was arrested for stealing close to $100,000 from the Sutton, Mass., layout, a Rees Jones design.

According to the "Worcester Telegram" story found here, "Kenneth P. Powers, 49, of 36 Abbott St., No. 4B, Worcester, is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 28 in Uxbridge District Court on one count of larceny over $250. A criminal complaint was issued Jan. 11."

"At the time of the alleged theft, Mr. Powers was golf pro shop manager at Blackstone National Golf Club on Putnam Hill Road, Sutton"

The story also says that Powers was fired from the "Telegram and Gazette" for plagiarism of a Sports Illustrated piece in 2005.

At the time, Powers was the New England Patriots beat writer and was ordered to return to Worcester from Jacksonville where he was covering the Patriots-Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl.

"Substantial portions of a column originally written by Peter King and published Jan. 24 on the Sports Illustrated Web site were printed Jan. 30 in the Sunday Telegram under the byline of Ken Powers," wrote T&G editors at the time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Trump Fires First Salvo Against Members of Engineers Club

Donald Trump is moving forward with his attempt to purchase Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor, N.Y., out on Long Island. In today's New York Post story, Trump takes a shot at the segment of the membership that is resisting his bid, calling them, "losers."

Engineers is a fantastic Herbert Strong design that opened in 1918 with Devereux Emmet making changes two years later. It hosted the 1919 PGA Championship, won by Jim Barnes, and 1920 U.S.G.A. Amateur, captured by Chick Evans, and has fantastic greens. The one on the first hole is one of my very favorites in all the world.

Architect Tripp Davis has done some masterful restoration work in recent years. (Pictured here is the 16th green as it appeared shortly after the club opened.)

You can access my profile of Engineers that ran in Links magazine by clicking here.

What is most confounding about Engineers entertaining Trump's bid to purchase the course is that Engineers is on sound financial footing.

"We are cash flow positive," one member told me.

The crux of the dispute comes down to one point. When Trump approached the club about purchasing it, there were 122 equity members along with two classes of "trial members." Trial members were either on a three-year or five-year plan. The difference between the equity and trial memberships comes down to two points: money and voting rights. Equity members pay more annually than trial members and are, therefore, afforded the chance to vote on major issues such as improvement of the golf course or sale of the club. Trial members are allowed the exact same access and benefits, such as tee-times and use of the amenities but have no voting rights.

Within the club, a group of equity members formed, A Better Engineers. They contend that those who were trial members prior to the negotiations commencing with Trump should not be allowed to become voting equity members. The reason being is that under Trump's plan, if he were to buy the club, equity members would pay less in annual dues than trial members do now. Many trial members became full equity members so they could vote to have Trump purchase the club, which would result in lower annual fees. They did so without a thought as to what Trump would do to the layout once it was his.

From initial indications, Trump - as would be expected judging from the other courses he owns - has no understanding or regard for Strong's creation.

Engineer's most famous hole is the 90-yard par-3 known as the Two or 20 Hole, since a golfer could make either score quite easily. The hole was abandoned for a number of years but revived and now embraced by the members. According to one person I talked with, Trump hates it and said he doesn't understand the hole.

He also has no use for the undulations that define Strong's putting surfaces.

"I want my green to run at 12," he told members.

To want Engineers to run at 12 feet on the Stimpmeter would mean some greens would be unfair and most will see excellent pin placements lost. Trump wants 12 on the Stimp, then he'll be leveling greens.

A member I spoke with said the it is not just Trump, but also members of the Engineers board who are the occasional social golfers, who do not grasp Strong's work and, as a result, see no reason in defending the architecture.

"They are not golf course advocates," the member said. "They don't appreciate it. They don't know how good it is."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Faxon Out at NBC, More Jacobsen Instead

According to a press release from the Champions Tour: "Brad Faxon, who will become eligible for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 on August 1, will no longer be a part of the NBC commentary team in 2011. Peter Jacobsen, the winner of two Champions Tour majors (2004 U.S. Senior Open, 2005 Ford Senior Players Championship), will have an increased role and work eight tournaments for NBC."

Faxon had a one-year deal with NBC for 2010.

So, one of the few voices who actually understood golf course architecture is off the air. I had high hopes that Faxon would become more comfortable in his analyst role and take the opportunity to educate the golfing public about finer points of golf architecture such as strategy and options, or why a hole where "everything is right in front of you," isn't the ideal design.

I've long been a fan of Faxon. He wrote the forward to my first book, To the Nines, and even suggested courses that I should include, such as Marion (Mass.) Golf Course. I was also on site with him and co-architect Brad Booth during the construction of Bay Club Mattapoisett (Mass.). I was impressed with his willingness to ask questions during the building of the course and his willingness to admit - unlike other tour pros - that he had a lot to learn in respect to course architecture or construction.

On the air, I viewed Faxon as the anti-Frank Nobilo who during the PGA Tour's stop in Memphis last year said, of one hole, "Trees on the right, trees on the left. They act like goal posts." The worst part is that Nobilo meant it as a compliment of the design.

With Peter Jacobsen getting more air time that translates to more yucks in the David Feherty, Gary McCord school. Just what golf doesn't need.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You Can Be Ian Poulter's Style Consultant for a Day

This press release just in from the PGA Tour.

"Ian Poulter finished the final round of the 2010 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship victorious, hoisting the Walter Hagen Cup wearing pink slacks and a pink sweater complemented by white shoes, belt and visor for his first victory in the United States. In 2011, he will open his title defense by allowing fans to choose his apparel for the opening match. The first World Golf Championships event of the 2011 season tees off at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, in Marana, Ariz., for the third-consecutive year, February 21-27. Tournament officials, in conjunction with IJP Design, announced today that the “Dress Ian” Facebook campaign will give fans the ability to select one of three possible outfits for Poulter to wear on Wednesday, February 23, for his first-round match. Area students, graduates and fans of the University of Arizona and Arizona State University will have familiar color schemes to choose from as two of the options incorporate school colors into the outfits. Fans can go to or here to view and vote on the outfits and can even follow links to purchase outfits at a discounted rate."

Unfortunately, to vote, you have to be a Facebook member and then "friend" the Accenture Match Play. Championship. The big letdown is that all three choices of outfits are boring, perhaps even lame. There's nothing as good as the photo of Poulter shown here.

(Photo copyright the Daily Mirror)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Augusta National Teams Up with EA Sports, Eldrick Woods

From comes this piece that says Augusta National Golf Club will allow its layout to be used in a video game.

"Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National, and EA Sports announced today that Augusta National and the Masters would be featured in 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters,' the next edition of the popular video game franchise," wrote's David Dusek.

I'm wondering if this alliance will continue annually. Is so, will each new version have a statement read by the Augusta National chairman during a virtual press conference explaining how the most recent alterations to the golf course make it that much better while claiming the layout still adheres to the intent of original designers Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie?