Saturday, September 22, 2012

1st (new) blog post in 2 long is now up at

Alas! This blog has officially moved to Mingay Golf Course Design's new web site at, where all previous entries at this blog site are now archived as well.

Thanks for your continued interest in MGCD. We look forward to seeing you at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Development of a bunker #oakvillegolfclub

Proposed location ~ March 2012.
Click on all images to enlarge.

Rough shape.

Field sketch, illustrating proposed detail.

Done ~ June 2012.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A few thoughts on Olympic-Lake.

During my last visit to the Olympic Club, in January 2009,
the new par 3 8th hole was under construction.
Click on image to enlarge.
The Olympic Club's Lake course, where the 2012 United States Open will be decided today, isn't my favourite. Granted, I'm a bit spoiled. During the same trip to northern California, back in January 2009, I also visited San Francisco Golf Club, The California Golf Club, Pasatiempo, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach. By comparison, Olympic-Lake was underwhelming.

I really liked the tawny presentation of the course as seen on TV yesterday; there seems to be a very nice texture about the Lake course this week. The large cypress trees, and incredibly unique clubhouse overlooking the 8th and 18th greens are awesome too. And, as usual, I also appreciate some of the thoughtful elements the U.S. Golf Association's Mike Davis has incorporated into the course. Take some of the typically un-US Open-like short grass areas around greens for example. Saturday's 107-yard set-up at the par 3 15th hole was pretty cool, too.

But, in general, the course architecture and set-up at Olympic-Lake do nothing for me. The course is very one-dimensional - which is why it's a brilliant venue for a traditional 'US Open test', I guess. Most fairways are way too narrow relative to the slopes and pace of the course. All of those 'reverse camber' holes, where the fairways bend in the opposite direction of the general pitch of the land, get tiring after awhile, too. And, the short par 4 18th epitomizes the one-dimensional nature of the course. It's an 'over-rated' hole, talked about more because of history than architectural merit. I'm sure someone in contention later today will be playing their second shot to the home green from a divot in the ridiculously narrow 18th fairway, where there's really only 'one place' to drive the ball.

Olympic-Lake is 'hard', yeah - only two of the world's best golfers are currently under par after 54 holes this week. But does that make it a great course? Not in my opinion.

I'm a big fan of Mike Davis. Again, he's done some very thoughtful stuff in setting up some of America's best courses for US Open competition in recent years. As Davis knows, it's way too easy to make a course 'hard', and much better - for spectators and competitors alike - when a course simply plays 'interesting'. There's not enough 'interesting' about Olympic-Lake this week, in my opinion, unfortunately. And because of this fact, I suspect we might see another Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan today; or another Billy Casper defeat Arnold Palmer. With all due respect, is Scott Simpson in the field?

This is what penal architecture and course set-up often produces. To my way of thinking, architecture and set-up should not determine champions. Players should be permitted to golf their balls and, in turn, determine outcomes. Driving to 28.6-yard wide fairways that are running away from you into 6-inch rough and playing to greens that are hard as rocks one day then significantly softer the next (as a result of heavy watering the night before) doesn't help.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

At the Derrick Club.

Visualization of proposed improvement at (what could be)
the Derrick Club's par-5 6th hole. Click on images to enlarge.
Obviously I haven't been posting here as regularly as I would typically like lately; which is good and bad. Bad because I enjoy writing/creating these posts, and would like to keep this blog current; good because I simply haven't had much time over the past few weeks and more. Finishing up our bunker renovation project at The Oakville Golf Club; visiting with a few potential new clients; planning for future work with a number of existing clients (including York Downs and Victoria); etc. has kept me as busy as I've (probably) ever been this year, so far. I'm currently in Edmonton, where I'll spend the next few days presenting our golf course improvement plan to members of the Derrick Club, and guiding tours of the course to further explain things to those most interested golfers in more detail.

Visualization of (what could be) the par-3 8th - a brand new
hole that's part of our plans to improve the layout
and sequence of play at the Derrick Club.
Our plan for the Derrick Club is very ambitious. Unlike a few other clubs where I'm working currently, it's more than a matter of draining and remodelling bunkers at the Derrick. The course suffers from some fundamental problems that can only be sincerely remedied through reconstruction. The Derrick is one of the top private clubs in the Edmonton area, offering members excellent year-round amenities. Frankly, its golf course - originally constructed during the late 1950s - doesn't match up with the dining, racquet sport, swimming, fitness and other facilities at the club. This, for me, is a very exciting opportunity to be part of placing the 'icing on the cake' at a fine club, by providing the Derrick with a top-notch golf experience. The next few days should be fun... then, hopefully, the next few years too, as we implement this ambitious, exciting golf course improvement plan.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mixing it up.

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, which touched on the importance of creating distinctive golf courses, below is a collection of photos illustrating a variety of architectural styles I've been involved with implementing over recent years, at select projects (click on all photos to enlarge) ~

Blackhawk Golf Club ~ Edmonton

Blackhawk was the first project I worked on with my mentor, Rod Whitman. I was fortunate to work on the design/shaping of a majority of the course's 'naturalistic' bunkers under the fine tutelage of Dave Axland and James Duncan (Coore and Crenshaw), and continue to consult at Blackhawk. Pictured above is a bunker short-right of the home green that golf course superintendent, Duane Sharpe, and I 'freshened up' this spring, as part of the comprenshsive bunker 'refresh' project that's currently underway at Blackhawk.
Victoria Golf Club ~ British Columbia

Victoria is a fascinating project. The course wasn't so much designed by an individual (though, Vernon Macan is largely responsible for its current configuration) as much as it's evolved over the past 119 years since golf was first played over VGC's spectacular seaside tract, at Oak Bay, in 1893. As a result, VGC features an ecclectic collection of bunkers, built in different eras throughout the course's existence, which presents a very unique aesthetic that we've faithfully preserved as part of our restorative-based work there. Pictured above is the par 3 2nd hole, shortly after my colleague, George Waters, and I remodelled its bunkers in winter 2009.
Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club ~ British Columbia

Working with Rod Whitman, Richard Zokol and Armen Suny on the design/construction of Sagebrush was a wonderful, educational, rewarding, and unforgettable experience ~ appreciated more so now, in retrospect, than on those long days while building the course when 35C heat and 50km winds consistently tried to beat us down. I'm not sure I'll ever be involved with another project on a scale comparable to Sagebrush, either. Laid out over a 300+ acre tract that was formerly part of the Quilchena Cattle Ranch, the course features a couple greens that measure some 25,000 square feet, incomparably wide fairway areas, and hundreds of massive, 'blow out' style bunkers that beautifully fit the rugged, desert landscape there, in interior B.C. Pictured above is the approach to the par 4 17th, from approx. the centre of the fairway, where a few of those aforementioned 'blow outs' beautifully decorate a hillside along the left margin of the hole. The par 4 18th hole can also be seen in the distance.  
Overlake Golf and Country Club ~ Seattle

Overlake was also originally designed by Vernon Macan (during the early 1950s). Located on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, the course features a fine routing and an excellent collection of greens, but its suffered typical affects of aging. Unfortunately, there's a lack of historic materials to clearly illustrate Mr. Macan's original design intent; but still, the goal is to restore a 'Macan sensibility' throughout the course. So, we've made a study of Mr. Macan's work elsewhere and have tried to implement looks and strategies throughout the course consistent with his design style and philosophy, at Overlake. With great assistance from my colleague, George Waters, the bunker pictured above was installed short-right of the green at the par 3 12th hole in fall 2010. It's style was inspired by historic photos of a bunker at nearby Inglewood Golf and Country Club, which was also originally designed by Mr. Macan.
The Oakville Golf Club ~ Greater Toronto Area

Tucked away, along the eastern bank of 16 Mile Creek, some 40 kms west of downtown Toronto, The Oakville Golf Club is another distinctive and interesting property. This 9-hole private club course was originally designed by pioneer golf architect, George Cumming ~ who was also head professional at The Toronto Golf Club for half a century, and at one time partnered with Stanley Thompson. The course had been remodelled in piecemeal fashion on several occasions since it opened for play in 1921. As a result, Oakville featured contrasting styles prior to implementation of a comprehensive bunker renovation project earlier this year. The goal of our bunker work at Oakville was to restore a style consistent with the course's unique design heritage. Along with restoring design continuity, our aim was to design/build bunkers to match that '1921' the club proudly displays on its logo. Pictured above is a greenside bunker at the par 4 1st hole, exhibiting this 'old time' style ~ relatively simple and classy in shape, with grass down and a flat sand bottom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Building architecture > golf architecture.

Our recent work at The Oakville Golf Club, influenced and
inspired by site characteritics and conditions, history,
client needs and desires, etc...
As I've written (too) many times before, I often think of legendary golf architect A.W. Tillinghast - specifically as his work relates to genuinely creating distinctive golf courses.

The contrasting styles of Tillinghast's golf architecture at Somerset Hills (New Jersey), Winged Foot (New York) and the San Francisco Golf Club, for example, provide a wonderful illustration of this very important element in golf course design.

If we didn't know better, we'd likely think each of these remarkable courses were designed by different architects - not all by the great Tillinghast.

Over the past weekend, I came across a short column on Moshe Safdie in the June 2012 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. Safdie is one of the world's leading building architects, who first became famous some five decades ago with his design of Habitat '67, in Montreal. Safdie has since designed many more revered buildings throughout the world, including the National Gallery in Ottawa and the U.S. Institute of Peace, on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

John Heilpern writes about Safdie's resistence to the phenomenon of "starchitects", who have become "almost as famous in the U.S. as celebrity chefs". The theorist-teacher within (Safdie), writes Heilpern, opposes the unquiet architecture of Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind and what he terms, ominously, "the Bilboa effect".

"I don't think I have a signature style that announces, 'This is a Safdie'," says the 74-year old architect. "But I think star architects have seized an opportunity to go anywhere in the world to produce meaningless buildings. You know?"

According to Heilpern, Safdie is constantly asking what the purpose of a building actually is - as his early mentor, Louis I. Kahn, once asked, "What does a building want to be?"

This, to my way of thinking, is a question golf course architects should constantly be asking themselves as well - "What does a golf course want to be?" The answer to this all-important question should be unique in each case - relative to site characteristics and conditions, (in some cases) history, client needs and desires, and other important factors which should (almost always) assist with consistently creating distinctive golf courses.

"I try firstly to make buildings humane," adds Safdie. "Countries and places have a history, a story, and a culture. I want my buildings to take root and look as if they've always been there... it isn't about pastiche or adapting what's already there. It's about trying to blend the future and the past."

I could (and may) paraphase Safdie relative to my own work in golf architecture, simply substituting the words 'golf courses' for 'buildings'.

Safdie also makes an interesting point to Heilpern about inevitable contraints in architecture, citing past debates with influential American building architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005). "There are no rules," Johnson declared. "Only a sense of wonderful freedom."

... bares no resemblence to Sagebrush, where I was on-site
architect - working with Rod Whitman, Richard Zokol and
Armen Suny - through the course's development.
Safdie disagrees, calling Johnson's credo a socially irresponsible license to design anything that comes to mind. "It's treating architecture primarily as an expressive art, like sculpture and painting," he explains. "But architecture has constraints. They're real. It has to contend with them. Otherwise, a building can't fulfill its purpose and the course of its invention - the life that goes on within it."

The parallels between world-class building architecture and the very best golf architecture continues to fascinate.

What's most important to me is to, many years from now, be able to look back on my career in golf architecture and point to a remarkably diverse portfolio - unique golf course designs which derive from sincerely answering the question, "What does this golf courses want to be?"; distinctive golf course designs that intelligently deal with inevitable contraints in creative ways that allow each course to take root and look as if its always been there; and, individual golf courses that completely fulfill their unique purposes.

The works and wisdom of Moshe Safdie and A.W. Tillinghast speak volumes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A bit more from Uplands.

Some (more) of what's left of Stanley Thompson's 1922 design in Thornhill, Ontario (click on all images to enlarge):

The par 3 4th hole.

Miss the green short at the 4th and you'll face this recovery shot.

Looking at Thornhill G&CC, through the fence behind the 4th green.

Tee shot at the par 4 5th - Uplands' best hole, I think.

Lumpy fairway leading up to the 5th green (not sure what's
being built there, right of the green?).

Looking back at the 5th hole.