Friday, January 20, 2012

Some influences.

On-site at VGC, January 18.
It's been an interesting week at Victoria Golf Club. Over the past few years, we've had great success remodelling bunkers and making other improvements to the course during the winter months. Victoria is usually quite mild this time of year. Our luck ran out this week. A freak winter storm wreaked havoc over the past few days, shutting our job down.

I've been working on other things in the meantime, including the beginnings of a comprehensive tree plan for VGC. I also spent some time yesterday answering questions from a golf writer planning to pen an article on young golf architects, under the age of 40. One of the most interesting questions posed was: Which designers have influenced your philosophy and whose work, among your contemporaries, do you admire?

Inevitably, having worked along side him for a decade, Rod Whitman has greatly influenced my philosophy and understanding of golf course architecture. Rod has extraordinary talent for the two most important elements of golf course design - routing and contouring golf holes. From a construction standpoint, Rod taught me how to effectively implement design ideas on the ground, which is incredibly important. Ideas are one thing, knowing how to get those ideas on the ground is an entirely different proposition.

Philosophically, I’ve been greatly influenced by many of the same people as Rod. Studying the works and writings of men like Alister Mackenzie (author of Golf Architecture and The Spirit of St. Andrews), Robert Hunter (The Links), Tom Simpson (The Architectural Side of Golf), and (Victoria's own) Vernon Macan, who wrote prolifically and brilliantly on golf course architecture during his lifetime is a very important part of an education in golf in general, and course architecture in particular. It sounds a bit cliché these days, but I’m mostly, and unabashedly influenced by the greats of the so-called Golden Age of golf design, between the wars.

(As mentioned in a recent post here, I continue to be amazed that eighteen of the top-20 courses in the world, according to GOLF magazine, were built during the pre-World War II era. The others - Pacific Dunes and Sand Hills - were designed by Tom Doak and Bill Coore and his partner, Ben Crenshaw.)

Dave Axland, who’s been Coore and Crenshaw's main man for some 20 years now, has also been a big influence. Dave’s an old friend of Rod’s. He worked with us at Blackhawk Golf Club and Cabot Links. Dave is a super-talented golf archtiect in his own right. He and his partner, Dan Proctor, are designers of the great Wild Horse in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Both Dave and Dan have been integral contributors to creation of a number of outstanding courses designed by Coore and Crenshaw as well, at places like Sand Hills, Friar's Head, The Plantation course at Kapalua, Bandon Trails, and Chechessee Creek Club. Dave's helped me tremendously over the years, specifically with construction, costs and scheduling issues. In this regard, Dave's one of the most selfless people I know.

Among contemporary designers, I have to include Doak as well. Reading Tom's book, The Anatomy of a Golf Course, back when I was 18 (when it was first published, in 1992) provided a tonne of insight and inspiration. This is the first book anyone interested in golf course architecture should read. It's a wonderful summary of all of the classics by the likes of Mackenzie, Hunter and Simpson, discussed in a modern context. Tom was also very helpful when I was bold enough to contact him on several occasions as a young man seeking some advice on getting into the business. Gil Hanse, too. I have great admiration for Gil’s work. Coore and Crenshaw rightfully get a lot of praise for their attention to detail, but from what I’ve seen by Gil and his partner, Jim Wagner, they deserve equal praise. Visit Boston Golf Club, Castle Stuart, and their recent restoration of Los Angeles Country Club's North course (with Geoff Shackelford) to see what I mean.

Moreover, Gil is a very interesting, thoughtful, courteous, engaging, and impressive guy. Much like Bill Coore (and my friend, Ron Prichard, too). If I were to advise a young person interested in the business of golf course archtiecture to model themselves after any two people, it would be Gil and Bill.


  1. Jeff,
    Pleased to see things are going so well. I just read your Dec. article on "traps/bunkers" and RTJ. Our winter course Pauma Valley is a classic example.The worst is known as Big Mouth, a huge gaping trap immediately in front of the approach to 17th green. Bigger than Essex and not as attractive. Given all this Pauma is an excellent test of golf.
    John Mingay

  2. Thanks John. Always good to hear from you. I'm sure Pauma is an excellent test of golf, RTJ was good at that... I just have a difference of opinion on general design philosophy. Looking forward to getting back to Cap. some time soon.