Friday, March 30, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

New MGCD site almost ready to 'launch'.

New fairway bunker at Oakville's 1st hole,
under construction last week (click to enlarge).
Obviously, I haven't been posting here as regularly as usual during the month of March...

My colleague, Keith Cutten, and I have been working on a new web site design. When the new MGCD site 'launches' (very shortly), this blog will move there. The web site redesign will also feature more photos of our work, additional writings on golf course architecture, etc.

In the meantime, I have a busy couple of weeks ahead. I'll be back at The Oakville Golf Club later this week, where our bunker renovation project is progressing nicely, with help from Evans Golf; then it's on to Seattle, for a consulting visit at Overlake Golf and Country Club.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fantastic weather = start at Oakville.

Working on a greenside bunker at #2, earlier this week.
Fortunately, I haven't had a lot of time to post here over the past week. Fantastic summer-like weather in the Toronto area (is it really still mid March?!) had me out working on golf courses.

Our bunker renovation project at The Oakville Golf Club began on Tuesday. By week's end, rough shaping of green surrounds at the par-three 2nd hole - which involved eliminating three bunkers; creating a swale along the back and right side of the green to improve drainage; and, (re-)shaping a single greenside bunker at front-right of the putting surface - was complete. Bunker work had started at the 1st hole, too.

Oakville's a neat project; it's a 9-hole private club course, originally designed by Canadian Golf Hall of Famer, George Cumming (1879-1950) - some 40 kms west of downtown Toronto. Mr. Cumming was head professional at The Toronto Golf Club for half a century, and a pioneer golf architect in Canada. For a time during the early 1920s (when he designed Oakville), Mr. Cumming was in partnership with a young Stanley Thompson and his eldest brother, Nicol, (head professional at Hamilton Golf and Country Club), designing and building golf courses throughout the province of Ontario.

The 'bones' of Mr. Cumming's layout at Oakville - a nice routing over a relatively subtle property bi-sected by a meandering stream - remain in place. But many changes have been made to the course over the years. As a result, there's currently a glaring lack of design continuity. Along with improving function, the jist of this project is to restore design continuity at Oakville by implementing a classic bunker style (and creating some other features) consistent with the course's heritage/early 1920s golf architecture. In the process of revising bunker schemes at all holes - with intent to add some 'teeth' to the course - the total number of sand hazards will be reduced from 40 to 29, without compromising challenge, playing interest or the course's overall aesthetic.  

I was also at York Downs Golf and Country Club this week, where we're working on completing a Long-Range Golf Course Improvement Plan. Established in 1922 - with an 18-hole course designed by legendary British golf architect C.H. Alison (NLE) - York Downs is one of Canada's most historic golf clubs. It's current course (27-holes, in Unionville, north of downtown Toronto) was designed by Geoffrey Cornish, and his then partner, Bill Robinson. A very, very interesting concept for improvement of the course was agreed upon this week; in turn, I'm very, very excited about moving forward at York Downs as well.

*More details on both of these projects will follow as things continue to progress... so, stay tuned.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gil Hanse wins Rio.

Gil Hanse and Tom Doak at The Creek Club, 1989
 - a 'classic' image too good not to borrow from Masa Nishijima's blog.
You know, we have worked really hard at this for a long period of time, and that means -- and don't get me wrong. I love what we do and we are very fortunate and very blessed, but sometimes when you're choking back dust and you've been on a bulldozer for 12 hours and it's 90 degrees and all you want is a beer, you know, sometimes you think, oh, man, this is a little bit hard. I think Jim and I can reflect back on a lot of those times. You know, this is a nice reward for that dedication and effort I think that we put into what we do.

- Gil Hanse, following yesterday's announcement that Hanse Golf Course Design has been awarded the job of creating the Olympic golf course at Rio de Janeiro, for the 2016 Summer Games.

I was anticipating the announcement of the winner of the design competition for the Olympic golf course at Rio with a lot of bias. I wanted Gil Hanse win. I've admired Gil, and his work for nearly two decades now.

Back when I was a teenager obsessed with golf architecture, it was all about what Tom Doak and Gil Hanse were up to; they worked together back then. I read all of Tom's writings, and made special trips to see their new golf course designs and restorative-based work on classic courses. Tom and Gil were up-and-comers then, but their philosophy on golf and approach to course architecture gave me a strong sense that things were changing for the better. It's taken awhile but yesterday's announcement confirms that sense I had, two decades ago.

I think many of us - particularly from my generation of golf architecture fanatics - looked at this incredibly important commission at Rio as a potential "game changer". As architecture critic Brad Klein puts it, the selection of Hanse as designer of the Olympic course "is a powerful step in the emergence of a more naturalistic, more traditionalist and ecologically sensitive approach to golf and golf course design".

One of the wonderful things about Gil's architecture is that it isn't so much about building individual holes and doling out penalty for errant shots. It's about creating - in some cases simply preserving - interesting, beautiful landscapes that fit with, and are senstive to the environment. In many ways, the golf then simply takes care of itself.

I first talked with Gil back in 1998 when I was a whippersnapper on my club's Green committee. We were looking for a golf architect to assist with restoring Donald Ross' original design at Essex Golf and Country Club, in Windsor, Ontario. In my mind, there were only two candidates - Tom Doak and Gil Hanse (who had set-up his own shop by then). Although both had done some very interesting work by that time, they were relatively unknown. We ended up hiring Doak, and his then-associate Bruce Hepner. But I stayed in touch with Gil; and, he's always been accommodating and very encouraging to me. More than being a very talented golf course designer and builder, Gil's a great person; so is his partner, Jim Wagner.

I met Jim once, on-site during construction of French Creek Golf Club, near their home base in Philadelphia. I watched as Jim shaped a bunker, using a 'chunking' technique he's perfected, which involves taking big, gnarly pieces of native sod and stacking them irregularly on the edge of a bunker to get a beautifully natural, eroded look. Gil and Jim have created some of the most attractive bunkers ever imagined.

Their most recent work is really, really sharp - Boston Golf Club and Castle Stuart, which garnered rave reviews from the world's best golfers during last year's Scottish Open. PGA Tour players have also raved about their renovation at TPC Boston - originally a comparatively mundane "Arnold Palmer design" that Hanse and Wagner have transformed into a course that, in Hanse's own words, "now looks like it belongs in New England". Plainfield and Ridgewood - where they've restored classic designs by Ross and A.W. Tillinghast - have also hosted PGA Tour events in recent years. But it's Los Angeles Country Club's North course that's, perhaps, their crowning achievement in the field of classic restoration. Working in collaboration with George Thomas' biographer and Los Angeles native, Geoff Shackelford, Hanse and Wagner restored what is arguably the most complex golf course design in history, at LACC -  George Thomas' "courses within a course concept", and some of the most artistic bunkers ever made.

The powers that be at Rio have made a very wise decision. I'm absolutely thrilled for Gil and Jim, knowing that the Olympic golf course at Rio will be everything we expect it to be... including a catalyst that (should) positively effect people's understanding of golf and course architecture worldwide.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Amateur architecture.

Geo. Thomas, Jr. -
perhaps the greatest amateur
golf architect of them all.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize is the most prestigious award in building architecture. It's presented annually to "honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture".

This year's Pritzker Laureate is Chinese architect, Wang Shu. Reading about Shu yesterday, I fell in love with the name of his Hangzhou-based studio. Establised in 1997 - with his wife and fellow architect, Lu Wenyu - Shu boldly calls his studio "Amateur Architecture". A curious name for the office of a man who's now recognized as being at the very top of his profession? Perhaps not.

An amateur is "a person who engages in a study, sport or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.” Shu often explains in lectures and interviews that “to me architecture is spontaneous for the simple reason that architecture is a matter of everyday life. When I say that I build a ‘house’ instead of a ‘building’, I am thinking of something that is closer to life, everyday life. When I named my studio ‘Amateur Architecture’, it was to emphasize the spontaneous and experimental aspects of my work, as opposed to being ‘official and monumental’."

I'm continually fascinated by the many parallels between building architecture and golf architecture; and, the name of Shu's studio - which is so smart in the way it speaks strongly of his love for his work, and methods - made me think of some of the great "amateur" golf architects of the past. Most notable are George Crump, Hugh Wilson, Henry and Bill Fownes, and George Thomas, Jr. - men who also engaged in a study, sport and activity (golf course architecture) for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Despite the name of his studio, Shu actually gets paid. Crump, Wilson, the Fownes', and Thomas never made a dime for creating Pine Valley, Merion, Oakmont, and Riviera, respectively. An interesting tidbit in golf history, for sure.

Perhaps I should change MGCD to "Amateur Golf Architecture Studio"? Nah, Shu beat me to it.

You can read more about Wang Shu and the Pritzker Award, here.