Friday, February 24, 2012

The importance + appeal of diversity.

The 18th green at Harbour Town Golf Links.
One of my favourite courses in the world, which really ignited my interest in golf architecture as a kid, is Pete Dye's Harbour Town Golf Links, at Hilton Head, South Carolina.

In his book, Bury Me in a Pot Bunker, Dye writes: "In an ironic way, my design concepts at Harbour Town were influenced by the architecture of Robert Trent Jones, in that I took Mr. Jones' ideas and headed in the opposite direction."

While Dye was building Harbour Town, Trent Jones was designing a course down the road, at Palmetto Dunes. Dye took his cue from Palmetto Dunes. In contrast to the long tees, huge bunkers and massive greens Trent Jones was laying out, Harbour Town features mutliple tee positions, tiny greens, waste areas (a term coined at Harbour Town) and abrupt little pot bunkers.

Harbour Town's scale is much tinier, and its profile significantly lower that Palmetto Dunes and so many other courses built during the 1960s; but it's chock full of character and originality. Whether you like Harbour Town or not, it's remarkably original; especially when you consider Dye's concept for the course in the proper context. Bucking every trend of the era, Harbour Town opened in 1969, long before imitators dampened its influence on golf architecture. Some say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but copycats actually diminish originality.

Like Harbour Town, the very best courses in the world are remarkably distinct. This is only common characteristic shared  by the great courses of the world - originality. Take Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America for example. These two giant courses are literally side by side, out on the eastern tip of Long Island, New York, and couldn't be more different. This remarkable diversity is one of golf's greatest attractions.

As I say repeatedly, there are no standards in golf course architecture; yet we see too many courses seemingly designed to conform to perceived 'standards'. This isn't good for the game, or for any particular course interested in grabbing a larger share of a specific market. Think about it, you don't make a point to visit Paris because it's just like your hometown; and, you certainly don't make a special effort to play a course like Harbour Town because it's exactly the same as your local muni. You make an effort to get to courses like Harbour Town because they are distinctly attractive.

More courses need to be more original, like Harbour Town. In many ways, originality = sustainability.

For more on this subject, read this: Preserving the World's Great Golf Courses.

1 comment:

  1. Right on Jeff. Diversity and distinction are essential, and both Harbour Town and Palmetto Dunes have their place (you just hope there are more Harbour Towns in the world than Palmetto Dunes).