Thursday, April 19, 2012

Designing in the field.

An 'epiphany' at Oakville's 9th hole earlier this week -
we need another bunker!
"The designer should not be tied down too closely to his original plan." - Alister Mackenzie (1920).

Flexibility to deviate from drawn plans as a golf course takes shape is so important. I was most recently reminded of this a few days ago during a site visit at The Oakville Golf Club, where we're in the midst of a comprehensive bunker project.

Oakville's 9th is one of four holes there featuring alternate tees. A tee immediately adjacent to the 8th green, at right, presents a markedly different (and superior) view down the fairway than you get from the alternate tee way left of the previous green. These alternate tee views present a bit of a design challenge relative to locating fairway bunkers that visually 'make sense' from both tees.

The right tee is the original from George Cumming's 1921 design. The left tee, on the opposite side of the club's entrance drive - cutting between holes 1 and 2/8 and 9 - was installed some time later. Again, I prefer the original tee. From there golfers are presented an uninterupted view of the entire hole. Three bunkers cut into an upslope along the left side of the fairway are clearly visible; and, another bunker features at right, on the direct line from tee to green. You can't see the putting surface from this (right) tee, but the flagstick is visible over a crest in the fairway - a good-looking hole with an old-fashion sensibility fitting of the course's heritage. Perfect.

From the left tee though, you can't see the flagstick (because of overhanging tree limbs in the left rough and a rise in the ground along that side of the hole) and only a bit of sand is seen. Looking at this situation earlier this week, it occurred to me that another bunker short of the existing one down the right side would not only improve the picture presented to golfers from the left tee but also emphasize the (cool) right-to-left angle of the fairway as viewed from this spot. Frankly, this isn't something that I could have 'seen' while drafting plans for this project a few years ago. It was actually a patch of bare dirt in this area that suggested an additional bunker. Such opportunities - often triggered by something like a patch or pile of dirt - always present themselves as a golf course plan evolves from concept to reality. Again, this is why a golf architect should 'not be tied down too closely to his original plan'; that is, if the intent is to create the very best golf course possible.

From initial conceptual planning through to 'opening day', there are always opportunities to improve upon initial design ideas if a golf course architect spends enough time on-site during construction and is provided the necessary flexibility to deviate from concept plans. Of course, there are always budget- and time-related concerns relative to making adjustments in the field - which is why 'contingency' is the most important line item in any budget and/or construction schedule!

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