Tuesday, October 25, 2011

VGC: golf course archaeology.

VGC's par-three 2nd hole, post-restoration.
It's interesting working on a golf course that's been around since 1893. It's like archeaology some times. You find some interesting things when bunkers and other pieces of ground are opened up.

While restoring a bunker between the 1st and 17th holes, at Victoria Golf Club, today - one that hasn't been in existence since the 1970s or earlier - we ran into the main line of an old irrigation system installed in 1986. In other spots, we've run into even older irrigation pipe, clay drain tile (likely from the 1920s), etc. It's amazing what's underground at VGC... while people play golf over top.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is the amount of sand built-up atop the original elevations of most greenside bunkers. At the par-three 2nd hole, for example - which was the first hole we restored at VGC, back in January 2009 - about three to four feet of blasted and wind-blown sand created very dramatic, high shoulder features on bunkers flanking the putting surface. Originally, the top elevation of these bunkers were nearly level with the green surface. Along with club officials, we determined this evolution - which was imperceptible, over time - had actually improved the hole.

Even though we're "restoring" the golf course per se, removing these elevations would have actually made the 2nd less dramatic, both visually and from a playing perspective. So, the evolved bunker elevations were retained. We've continued to do the same as we continue with bunker work at VGC, 

Years prior to encountering this situation at Victoria, I knew that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw ran into a very similar issue at famed Riviera Country Club, near Los Angeles, where they were working at restoring the brilliant work of legendary golf course architect, George Thomas. At Riviera, Coore and Crenshaw also decided to retain the top elevation of bunkers built-up by blasted and wind-blown sand. And, Riviera's bunkers are some of the most attractive hazards in golf.

There are always gray areas in (so-called) golf course restoration. Genuinely restore? Or leave well-enough alone? These are continual questions. Learned, intelligent judgement is required when assessing whether or not this type of evolution has actually made a golf course better, or worse.

And, then again, golf course architecture is entirely subjective... as long the course drains.

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