Friday, January 13, 2012

"The game has changed."

The par-five 12th hole at the Victoria Golf Club.
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard "the game has changed" after proposing restoration of a classic golf course, I'd have a few extra bucks in my pocket. This is a very common response from golfers who oppose the idea of putting an old golf course back together.

Sure, playing equipment technologies have improved greatly since the pre-World War II era, when so many of the best courses throughout the world were designed and constructed. Yes, the golf ball travels a lot further today; mostly for the best players... but, for the most part, has the game really changed that much?

Take a look at the world's top-20 courses, according to GOLF magazine's most recent biennial ranking, in 2011 (with annotation):

Pine Valley, 1918 (few major revisions)
Cypress Point, 1928 (few, if any major revisions)
Augusta National, 1933 (notable revisions; most pre-World War II)
St. Andrews-Old, 1400s (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Royal County Down, 1889 (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Shinnecock Hills, 1931 (few, if any major revisions)
Pebble Beach, 1919 (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Oakmont, 1903 (notable revisions by original designers up to 1950s)
Muirfield, 1891 (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Merion-East, 1912 (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Sand Hills, 1994
National Golf Links of America, 1911 (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Royal Melbourne-West, 1926 (few, if any major revisions)
Royal Portrush, 1929 (few, if any major revisions)
Pinehurst No. 2, 1907 (notable revisions by original designer, pre-World War II)
Royal Dornoch, 1886 (notable revisions, pre-World War II)
Ballybunion, 1893 (notable revisions, pre World War II)
Turnberry, 1909 (notable revisions, shortly after World War II; course was used by RAF)
Pacific Dunes, 2001
Crystal Downs, 1932 (few, if any major revisions)

Most of these courses have rightfully been lengthened over time. Perhaps a new bunker (or three +) has been added, here and there. But, otherwise, the integrity of the 'original, pre-World War II' design work remains unchanged. Exceptions are the two relative newcomers to the list (in bold). Sand Hills was designed by Bill Coore and his partner, Ben Crenshaw. Pacific Dunes by Tom Doak and co. Over the past 20 years and more, these men have unabashedly claimed to be strictly influenced by 'golden age' designers and courses. (The so-called 'golden age' of golf course design is generally recognized as the period between the two world wars.) Sand Hills and Pacific Dunes exude 'golden age' design principles per se.

So then, does GOLF magazine's ranking of the world's top courses speak to the fact that the game really hasn't changed that much? I could write a book on this subject. But this is a blog. So, for now, I'll sum it up like this:

In the early 1950s, Robert Trent Jones thought "the game had changed". Beginning with his redesign of Donald Ross' South course at Oakland Hills Country Club, in suburban Detroit, RTJ began designing golf courses differently than his predecessors. His first original design on GOLF's ranking appears at #88: Valderama, in Spain. Then came Pete Dye, who resurrected old-time concepts and 'golden age' principles (big time), following a trip through the British Isles during the early 1960s. Dye's first course on GOLF's ranking appears at #44: Whistling Straits, in Wisconsin.

Then, again, there's Coore and Crenshaw + Tom Doak - the only post-World War II era golf course designers to crack the world's top-20 courses, with Sand Hills and Pacific Dunes. Coincidence? Or has the game actually not changed that much at all?


  1. what!!!
    this is sooooooo boring. only read this for a report

  2. i am reading this for a report