Monday, May 23, 2011

Minikahda Layout Eviscerated By National Media (1916)

While conducting research for the forthcoming book, "History of The Minikahda Club Golf Course," I spent a great deal of time on the 1916 U.S. Open held at Minikahda.

It was the furthest west the event had ever been and when Chick Evans walked off the final green as the champion, he became the first amateur to hoist the trophy.

The layout was a Tom Bendelow design that incorporated virtually all of the original nine holes designed by Willie Watson and Robert Foulis in 1899. Prior to the tournament, Minikahda was aware that the layout needed to be improved following play and had hired Donald Ross for the job. There is now way, however, the club could have expected the harsh criticism the design received following the tournament. It was considered too easy and lacking in length and strategy by players and writers. (Below is the article by Bunker Hill that appeared in The American Golfer magazine.)

Reading the denunciations, I wondered if there are any big name architects today who would stand for such disparagement of their work. I get the feeling that Pete Dye and the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore would read the disapproving words and forget them. For the preponderance of the others, though, I could only imagine how their frail and sensitive egos would handle such legitimate criticism on a national level. (If you're an architect and you think I'm referring to you, then I probably am.)

American Golfer, Aug. 1916

By Bunker Hill

“I will not mention the name of the professional who said:

‘What’s the use of wasting time and money going to play in a national open on a course like Minikahda? Any man might win there. It isn’t any test of real golf, for it demands nothing in variety of shots or in knowledge of execution beyond the drive, mashie and putter. Or wait, -- I might add that the player has to have some ability in hitting a tee shot with the iron, on holes where wood is over long. I’m speaking truthfully,’ he went on, ‘when I say that had I personally gone on the course with no clubs other than a brassie, mashie and putter, and been as well acquainted with the layout as I was at the completion of the championship, I haven’t a doubt that my score would have been lower by many strokes. To state the case further, the course no not only was merely a drive, pitch and putt, taken all through, but it was anything but a test of putting. The Minikahda greens were of such surface texture that all a man had to do was bang the ball straight at the cup from any point and feel that if he hit it both hard and straight at the cup he stood a good chance of holing the ball. There was none of that delicacy of putting stroke which is demanded of the golfer on some of the leading eastern courses, and no disparagement of Mr. Evans’ victory is intended when I say that I will form my judgment of his reputed improvement in putting after he had demonstrated his effectiveness of his new style on some of the keen and undulating greens of the east, such as at the national open championship presumably will encounter at the Merion Cricket Club during the national amateur championship.

‘As for the professionals, I know of many, myself included, who would delight at the chance of playing for the open title next year on a course like the Myopia Hunt Club or the Brae-Burn Country Club. These are the courses where the golfer is put to the test not alone on his execution of the simpler shots, but on his ability to use all the clubs in his bag and know when, as well as how, to use each club. No man can play Myopia or Brae-Burn with a brassie, mashie and putter, yet hop to land a title in a representative championship field. Either there or at Brae-Burn, a man must (and I emphasize the must) get his distance with a wood, plus accuracy; he must be able to pick up a brassie for distance and proper direction; he must be able to play full iron shots, half irons, mashie and niblick; he must know how to play out of bunkers which are as tenacious of their hold on the ball as those to be found abroad; he must have the power of the wrists and the knowledge of applying it, to get anywhere out of the rough such as Myopia boasts and, he must have the delicate touch, coupled with innate putting sense, which will enable him to sink a goodly number of putts of ten feet and under on greens where the ball has to be tapped almost as lightly as walking on eggs without breaking them.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rick Phelps Elected ASGCA President

Here is are excerpts from the official press release.

BROOKFIELD, Wis. – Rick Phelps, ASGCA was elected President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) at the organization’s recent 65th Annual Meeting in Denver.

Phelps is Owner and Golf Course Architect for Phelps-Atkinson Golf Course Design in Evergreen, Colo. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Design from the University of Colorado. His list of representative courses includes The Broadlands, Broomfield, Colo.; Devil’s Thumb, Delta, Colo.; Panther Creek Country Club, Springfield, Ill. (with Hale Irwin); and Antler Creek Golf Club, Falcon, Colo. Remodels include Pinnacle Peak Country Club, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Pinehurst Country Club, Denver; and Liberty Lake Golf Course, Spokane, Wash.

Phelps continues a family legacy in his service to ASGCA; his father, Dick, is a long-time ASGCA member who served as president in 1980. .

As ASGCA President, Rick Phelps plans to focus on golf courses which are affordable, playable and sustainable. “The most famous courses in North America are well known, but they make up less than five percent of the total number of courses,” he said. “The lesser-known projects also have stories to tell. I want to bring attention to the other 95%, including the public courses where over 70% of all rounds are played, and educate people inside and outside the golf industry that the median greens fee for those courses is $28.”

As the golf industry continues to change domestically and internationally, Phelps will also actively promote the value of ASGCA and its members. ASGCA continues to be the largest organization of golf course architects in the world and its’ members the most experienced. More than two-thirds of 2011 Annual Meeting attendees work on projects outside North America.

Defining a "Small" Green and a "Deep" Bunker: An Informal Poll

Recently, New York-based golf writer Ann Ligouri wrote a review of the two golf courses at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida for the New York CBS television affiliate. She used adjectives that are common in golf course reviews but in reality have absolutely no meaning, describing the greens of the The Ocean Course as "small" and the bunkers of the Breakers Rees Jones Course as quite "deep." She gave no concrete numbers as to what "small" or "deep" entail.

According to the Breakers web site, the Ocean Course was designed in 1896 by Alex Findlay (incorrectly spelled as Findley on the site) and renovated by Brian Silva in 2000. I'm assuming Rees Jones designed the Rees Jones course but I didn't check.

I wondered that when it comes to the sizes of greens and the depth of bunkers, if words such as small, average, large and deep do have meaning to golf course architects and those who write about golf course architecture, so I unscientifically polled a group of 14.

I asked these question: what is the size of a small green; what is the size of a medium green; what is the size of a large green; what is the depth of a deep bunker; do you consider a deep bunker one that is well below the surface of a green (Seth Raynor, etc.) or one that you must walk down into, such as a pot bunker?

Here are the results

Small bunker: This ranges from fewer than 3,500-square feet to fewer than 5,500-square feet. The most common answer (6) was fewer than 4,000-square feet.

Medium bunker: The size varied from 4,000-square feet to 7,000-square feet. Five answered 6,500-square feet and four answered 6,000-square feet.

Large bunker: The smallest answer to this question was 5,000-square feet, the largest 7,500-square feet. The most common answer was 6,500 square feet according to five people who replied

One architect's reply to the green size query was, in part, "There are a lot of 'conditions', or 'depends' with the answers to these questions. As for greens, what is small depends on the slope in the green (what is pinnable), what club your hitting to the green, how firm the greens and approaches might play (how small will the green 'play.') They can be too small for maintenance or playability or reasonable strategy. In the interest of good design It is really not purposeful to assign numerical values to what is big or small. It depends - that should be the answer."

One other architect said the size of a green has as much to do with surrounding land. If, for instance, a green is built at the level of the fairway, and both areas are maintained firm, then the size of the actual putting surface is almost irrelevant.

In an interesting side note, he said he is amazed at how often those who have supposed intimate knowledge of a golf course have incorrect perceptions of green sizes. As an example, he recounted how he was brought in to expand a green that the superintendent said was 2,500-square feet. When it was measured, it was nearly double that size.

Depth of a deep bunker: The most common answer was six feet by four repliers. Two answered deep enough so the player cannot see out of them. An interesting perspective since that means a deep bunker to Dirk Nowitzky is a little different than for Justin Timberlake.

One reply was four feet for a a fairway bunker and six feet for greenside.

It was nearly unanimous that Raynor's bunkers are considered deep.

As one respondent put it, though, there are many ways to determine a deep bunker. It might be a deep if: 1. You need stairs to get in and out of. 2. You can't see the flag from the bottom. 3. You can't play at the flag from the bottom even if you could see it.

To put Ligouri's original article into perspective, the greens at the Ocean Course average at least 5,000-square feet, which is medium size in the minds of all but one who responded

While Jones may have designed a few bunkers with a depth of five feet, there are no six-foot deep bunkers at the Rees Jones Course. However, I'm not sure of Ligouri's height, so they might all be deep to her.

(Photo 1: 17th green Fox Chapel Golf Club, Pittsburgh, Penn.)
(Photos 2: 4th hole Fenwick Golf Course, Old Saybrook, Conn., 150 yards, green approximately 2,200 square feet.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bubba Watson's Favorite Golf Courses: No Thinking Required

Bubba Watson stopped into Cromwell, Conn. today for the Travelers Championship Media Day at TPC River Highlands. As defending champion, he gets to sit on a small stage and be interviewed by ESPN's Chris Berman, who acts as host, and the Connecticut media. Unlike many who have been in the champion's chair, Watson is charming, funny and willing to talk.

One of the hottest players in the world, Watson followed up his first career victory in Cromwell with an appearance on last year's Ryder Cup and two more PGA Tour titles. He comes across as being on top of the world.

During his nearly hour-long interview, Watson spoke about how he uses his imagination on the golf course and envisions moving the ball either right or left as he plays a hole.

"I look at a course and see what it gives me," he told us Tuesday afternoon. "I let my instincts take over."

With that way of approaching a layout, I made the assumption that Watson would be partial to courses that require a player to use thought from tee to green. I was wrong.

I asked him about his favorite stops on the PGA Tour and whether places that are considered shot-makers' courses appeal to him, layouts such as Riviera Country Club (a George Thomas design), TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course (A Pete Dye design redone by Bobby Weed, who also designed River Highlands) and Harbor Town Golf Links, another Dye creation. It turns out the Watson, like the vast majority of tour pros, prefers layouts where he doesn't have to think or have a chance of being distracted by the architecture.

Since virtually the birth of the golf design profession, architects have known one of the best ways to get a golfer off his game, especially a good one, is to make that golfer think. Watson proved the point.

Watson said his favorite hole at River Highlands is the 10th, the only tree-lined one on the course. It sets up perfectly for his fade off the tee. He's a left-hander.

"It's the one hole where I focus. The others I lose it," he said.

He went on to laud Quail Hollow Club, a Tom Fazio creation, because the grass of the rough and fairways are not the same color and that allows him to select his target.

"It's easy for me to focus," he said.

He cited the same reason—turf hues—for liking Muirfield Village Golf Club, the Jack Nicklaus design that hosts the Memorial Tournament.

"Everything is defined, so it's good," Watson said.

One course that does not appeal to him is, in fact, Sawgrass. The above photo is of the 11th hole. Watson said all the water and bunkers are hindrances.

"There's a lot of things that take my mind off of what I'm supposed to be doing, which is to hit the fairway."

Knowing that they created a design that gets into the brains of golfers, at least according to Watson, means Dye and Weed created a wonderful layout where thinking is a requirement for players of every caliber.

Le Golf National - Links and Target Golf?

The 2018 Ryder Cup was awarded to France today. Here is the Associated Press story.

According to the website, "The Le Golf National Albatros golf course is located in the flatland region of Guyancourt, surrounding the historic Chateau of Versailles, once home to Louis XIV. The Albatros course was designed by golf architects Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge design built in the late 1980's "was created in the Scottish 'links style' as well as the 'target golf' style of the U.S. courses, adapting well to the native landscape."

An interesting description that makes no sense since links and target are two distinctly opposite styles of design.

The website goes on: "From the Championship tees the total length of the course is just over 7,000 yards. Its layout consists of well trimmed slick greens, vast undulating fairways dotted by innumerable links bunkers, sand traps, water hazards, fescue roughs, trees, bushes as well as the rigid slopes and artificial sand mounds."

Never heard of a links bunker and nothing says links style like trees,bushes and water hazards.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

GCSAA Awards Garske Grants

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) has awarded its 2011 Joseph S. Garske Collegiate Grants to Addison Esoda, Michael Barnard, Andrew Fanning, Ryan Hall and Alaina Jordan.

"The Garske Grants are one of the unique scholarship opportunities GCSAA makes available to students each year," said GCSAA President Robert M. Randquist, CGCS. "Thanks to Par Aide and The Environmental Institute for Golf, the Garske Grants are also one of the unique benefits to our members – scholarship money available toward their children's college education."

Esoda, from Marrietta, Ga., earned a $2,500 scholarship with a first-place finish in the overall scoring of the Garske Grant application process which includes community service, leadership, academic performance, and a written essay. She will attend the University of Alabama. Her father, Mark Esoda, is the GCSAA certified golf course superintendent Atlanta Country Club in Marrietta. He is a 24-year GCSAA member.

Barnard, from Burnet, Texas, earned a $2,000 scholarship with a second place finish. He will attend Baylor University. His stepfather, Michael Kelley, is the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Delaware Spring Golf Course in Burnet. He is a 12-year GCSAA member.

Fanning, from Lumberton, N.C., earned the $1,500 third-place scholarship. He will attend the University of North Carolina. His father, Dyrck Fanning, is the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Bayonet at Puppy Creek in Raeford, N.C. He is a 25-year GCSAA member.

Hall, from Lake Geneva, Wis., earned a $1,000 scholarship. He will attend Marquette University. His father, Phillip Hall, CGCS, is a retired 30-year GCSAA member.

Jordan, from Westfield Center, Ohio, receives a $500 scholarship. She will attend Slippery Rock (Pa.) University. Her father, Mark Jordan, is the GCSAA certified golf course superintendent at Westfield (Ohio) Group Country Club and is a 24-year GCSAA member.

The Garske Grant was established in honor of Par Aide company founder Joseph S. Garske. It is funded by Par Aide and administered by The Environmental Institute for Golf, the philanthropic organization of GCSAA. The program assists children of GCSAA members to fund their education at an accredited college or trade school with one-time, one-year grants awarded to five winners without renewals.

Friday, May 6, 2011

St. Andrews Golf Club May Soon Admit Women Members

The St. Andrews (Scotland) Golf Club, founded in 1843 is on its way to admitting women members, according to a story in the Guardian.

I'm a member of the club.

According to the piece, "The committee at the St Andrews Golf Club, which is run from a handsome Victorian mansion overlooking the greens and fairways of the fabled Old Course, has written to its 2,000 male members recommending that it admit women to the club. The club, founded in 1843, has warned its members that under the new Equality Act, the club could face prosecution for failing to allow women to join. Keeping the ban would be a 'retrograde step' as it would mean women would also have to be barred from its clubhouse as guests."

Not everyone approves of the move, including one prominent women's organization, according to the article.

"Shona Malcolm, chief executive officer of the Ladies Golf Union, which has 3,000 affiliated women-only clubs, said: 'We have absolutely no problem with single-gender clubs at all. We're very supportive of single-gender clubs: what it does is allow golfers the freedom to choose what kind of club they want to join.'"

The courses of St. Andrews are, in fact, all municipal layouts owned and run by the town. There are a number of clubs that have rights to play on the eight layouts, including the Old Course. The most famous of the organizations is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club whose headquarters are located behind the first tee of the Old Course.

The St. Andrews Golf Club clubhouse is almost directly to the right of the 18th green. Invariably, during any tournament played on the Old, whether it be the Open Championship or the Dunhill Links, there is a shot of St. Andrews Golf Club members watching the action from in front of the clubhouse or leaning out open windows on the second and third floors.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Boston Golf Club Reopens

There is good news in regards to Boston Golf Club. The Gil Hanse-designed layout opened for the season Saturday.

According to people with knowledge of the situation, a group of members stepped up to fund the operating expenses of the club for the year. At the same time, BGC is working on renegotiating a lease with the landowners.

This does not mean the club, ranked as the 21st best modern course according to GolfWeek magazine, has avoided closing. Any new lease deal must be approved by the membership.

The Most Ridiculous PGA Tour Stat Ever

Greens in regulation, okay. Fairways hit, fine. Strokes Gained-Putting? Just stop it.

Apparently, the PGA Tour will not rest until you need an advanced mathematics degree. At some point the statistics for victories per year and lifetime will be unimportant to the tour.

Here is an edited version of the press release with some of my comments.

The PGA TOUR today begins to present player putting efficiency in a more accurate, meaningful way by introducing Strokes Gained-Putting as a new primary statistical category.

Developed initially by Professor Mark Broadie of Columbia Business School and further analyzed in collaboration with a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology led by Professor Stephen Graves, Strokes Gained-Putting measures a player’s putting performance relative to his fellow competitors in a tournament and will offer a more accurate portrayal of his overall putting performance.

While ShotLink, powered by PGA TOUR technology partner CDW, has provided a wealth of putting data to determine proficiency from various distances, the primary overarching putting statistic continued to be Putts Per Round, which simply measures the average number of putts a player takes over 18 holes and can be skewed by chipping close to the hole after missing a green.

(Soon we'll see the Strokes Gained-Chipping statistic. AP)

Strokes Gained-Putting, however, takes into account putting proficiency from various distances and computes the difference between a player’s performance on every green – the number of strokes needed to hole out – against the performance of the other players for each round. This ultimately shows how many strokes are gained or lost due to putting for a particular round, for a tournament and over the course of a year.

The statistic is computed by calculating the average number of putts a PGA TOUR player is expected to take from every distance, based on ShotLink data from the previous season. The actual number of putts taken by a player is subtracted from this average value to determine strokes gained or lost. For example, the average number of putts used to hole out from 7 feet 10 inches is 1.5. If a player one-putts from this distance, he gains 0.5 strokes. If he two-putts, he loses 0.5 strokes. If he three-putts, he loses 1.5 strokes.

(Of course, this rating system does not take into consideration the difficulty of the putt. A putt from six feet that breaks a foot is given the same value as a putt from the same distance that breaks an inch. AP)

A player’s strokes gained or lost are then compared to the field. For example, if a player gained a total of three strokes over the course of a round and the field gained an average of one stroke, the player’s “Strokes Gained Against the Field” would be two.

While it is being introduced today, Strokes Gained-Putting tracks players’ performance back through the 2004 PGA TOUR season, since it is based on ShotLink data that already has been collected.

Entering this week, Nick Watney leads the category, gaining an average of 1.215 strokes on the field per round with Brandt Snedeker second at 1.132.