Sunday, November 30, 2008

A.W. Tillinghast reveals and implies

From November 16, 1913, Albert Warren Tillinghast writing in the Philadelphia Record (Joe Bausch)

“On Thursday a number of prominent Philadelphians accepted the invitation of the Pine Valley Country Club (sic) and visited the new course in Sumner, N.J. As they stepped from the train they saw something which caused them to marvel. We must remember those early days when some one said:

Now open your mouth and abut your eyes,
And I’ll give you something to make you wise,”

Which we did and on opening the eyes and shutting the mouth again we found a sweet tid-bit which pleased us immensely.

Although they were profoundly impressed by the first five holes, they were destined to reach the ridge near the sixth green before fully appreciating the vastness and grandeur of this valley of the pines. As they stood there the magnificent panorama held them in its spell and I think the thoughts of them all may be expressed in the exclamation of one ”I never dreamed of it!” There was the bright green of the course snaking its way through the somber masses of scrubbed trees, browned grass and white sand, which made the green more brilliant by contrast.”

This is all-important context, especially the last paragraph. Many speculate about Pine Valley in many ways but one area of most importance to me is the original use of trees in the design. Other than driving long enough on the first to reach the corner and grab a glimpse of the unreceptive green, trees do not and pretty much have not dictated any real strategic nature of the course. Tillinghast in his writings about Pine Valley has commented on the greatness of the recovery shots available at Pine Valley. The ability to recover from one's mistakes in life and as mirrored in golf are paramount.

One modern dictum applied to Pine Valley is that of Splendid Isolation a concept that I think is much misunderstood. The original design again as Tillinghast has penned (in the teens, mind you) involved a luxurious routing such that one could not play from the wrong fairway. This was accomplished by widely separating the holes - and as indicated by the "panorama from the sixth green" mentioned above - apparently not by corridors of trees and forest.

I for one prefer long views over a golf course to the corridors of memorial trees and horticultural gardens that golf courses in America seem to have become. Lehigh Country Club, my home club has also become a series of tree-lined corridors without them dictating strategy to the greater degree as well. Beautiful, gently rolling land is best left uncluttered with phalanges of trees everywhere and views of adjacent holes do not just expose the overall beauty of the land but also protect teh golfer by making others aware of their presence.

Most classically designed courses in the USA were constructed without an abundance of trees. That is not to say that the trees all should go, but "If in doubt, Cut it out" I am wont to say.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Entourage the short and long of it

Over at the Media Critic.

Keeping the blog true to golf.

Other non-golf critiques there, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Strategic Lessions #1 The Twelfth

Lessons in strategy:

Crudely drawn using the Hagley Aerial and memory this is as close as I get get to show how the 12th once looked. The yellow line shows the approximate tree line today and the two more faint lines show visibility then (left) and now(right). The most lower bunker is indeed still in place but was once in the near middle of the fairway rather than the edge of the woods.

From the middle of the fairway today:

A change in strategic concept, once allowing a direct line of view to the centre of the green from the tee, one cannot see the green at all from the tee, especially the left/back one. Enticing the long-hitter to bite off more than one can chew is the entire point of the view of the green.

Oblique views:

Going for the green and failing yields a shot to the green in its narrow orientation, a great risk/reward for a match play situation. A great hole (was once) even grater!

The approach from the (safe) right side

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rustic Canyon

A feel for the vastness of the canyon.

I've been a little slow to visit Gil's work in California despite many an invitation from the Emperor, but finally made it in 20-60 knot winds last week. A surprisingly sloped piece of ground perhaps 150 feet from one end to the other it avoids a strict up and back routing and there are some great features and great holes out there.

Most of you have played it so I'll probably be a little heavy on the photos and light on the prose. Biggest criticism I have is par 5 at #1, #9, #10 but thankfully not one at #18. Gil really likes par 5's at #1 (Boston, Rustic, Applebrook, Crail/Craighead) and I generally give him a pass on that point, but I really don't care for par 5 first holes. Too many a times in my youth and beyond I have seen players wait to go for it and then top it, shank it, foozle it and on some days really stink up the next shot or two. Or hole or five. This is a routing feature I personally think limits the flow of the course and course of play. #1 and #9 & 10 are all fine holes, but starting and finishing nines I prefer fours but do not mind a three for #9 or #10 or #18. The standard of a starting par 4 of moderate difficulty is a plus for me. Even a hole that does not require a driver is fine, but a potentially driveable #1 also offers the same problem(s).

I really liked #1 it was a cousin to the fantastic #12 at French Creek, Gil's most difficult piece of ground with which to work, but it shares several features - the smallish green with surrounds functioning as green and the wash/ditch creating angles and reward.

The inviting tee shot - cross one bunker, avoid wash in distance.

The player coming up short of the first from the right fairway and the demands of that approach.

The preferred features of a left fairway approach either second or third shot.

The driveable Bottle Hole variant third. Downwind is rather easy to do it with firm fast conditions.

Right-side trouble on second at number ten

... ... and the Hell's Half Acre to carry

The perhaps toughest-of-all eleventh

... ... ... even without such winds as we encountered

Thirteenth green complex

Fifteenth Green complex (enhanced for detail)

Leave it to the Emperor and the redanman to find a Scot to play with. Alister of Troon on the 17th tee

There are five par 3's.
Four - On last week's play (166) 9i downwind to a very interesting set of green and surrounds contours, mostly blind. A wonderful hole.

Six - (220)5i downwind to a swale-fronted, mostly right-left, back front, contoured green, semi-blind, again a way better than average hole.

Eight - (127) a very controlled 50% 8i punch shot. A quartering into/right-left strong wind with a very treacherous left pin on a turret green - perhaps the most demanding shot of all the threes that day. Reminiscent of Applebrook 9 and 11 features, but its own hole. Perhaps my favorite.

Fifteen - (150) uphill into similar wind to #8, but a massive stepped green by comparison. A very soft, low running five did not work to get close but yielded par due to a tremendous lag putt at teh hands of my new plumber's neck Taylor Made Fontana. Green is unique to course and similar to other criticised unique greens such as 7 Olympic Lake with its three distinct levels. A little out of place.

Seventeen - (190) downhill and downwind, left to right a punch 7i went over. A little mound in front comes into play to slow, speed or re-direct the ball. In 60 knot winds, lady luck is involved, in fact predominates.

Notable variety in the fours from the unreachable in wind 452 eleventh to the drivable third and twelfth, both downwind. Approach shots ranged from pitch back to the green on three to 16* rescue, 5i runner on 11. Included were all varieties of shots, most concerning the golfer's ability to control spin, shape and flight. Especially flight.

Five fives - 1(d), 5(i), 9(i), 10(i) and 13(i) either downwind or into the wind. Five was dead into wind as was 13, 9 crossing right and into and 10 changing from cross/into to full balls to the wind. A hard crossing right to left wind might have been an interesting twist although I haven't come up with where yet, just haven't given it any thought. The use of the wind in play is well-varied and I doubt it is ever very calm there on site, but our day was in a Santa Anna - when the fires were going on (and we were west and north of them so we were unaffected). Humidity was about 3% as is typical of SA conditions, just like a windy Denver foothills day.

Kudos to Gil's design associate Jim Wagner and design consultant Geoff Shackelford for the time spent on site. Emperor told me of his inputs as well so two big thumbs up.

The one feature I really didn't get or like was the contouring of the landing area on sixteen. At least downwind - where you want to land is very narrow and repelling on the left with has unplayable all over the right side and a right-sided wasted bunker. One can try a massive carry left (risking desert wash), risk the mound left or blow it right or boringly lay up. Still thinking about that one.
(sorry it's blurry - wind, you know)
Further back ...

Revisiting this in 2011 I have a new appreciation that I did not get at teh time of this visit. I'll head back to re-look as I was fixated down the left side for some reason.

Overall Rustic Canyon plays more as a Links course than most advertising themselves to be such in the USA. You have to play shot after shot down, curving, running and cunning if you are to score at all. The conditioning for an average day was to die for. Traditional American golfers, especially the card-and-pencil type are not going to like the course as well and some unaware of strategic implications are going to say such things as "There is not enough demand on the tee shot.


This golf course comes very close to being the course in America allowing golf "as it was intended" certainly very close to alone in that group available to anyone with $60 who walks up.

Rancho Santa Fe - Max Behr

-broad view of nine green and comfortable clubhouse

A classic Course I hadn't played before that was way better than I was led to believe it might be and impressed me a great deal. SoCal has sadly been very unkind to its Classical Architects.

A quick Tour, research being done for the story. It appears I have much research to do.


















highlighted contours of fabulous green


Routing: Following a little valley, the routing is very simple - up the hill, down the hill, back up to start. Overall elevation changes are not great, but terrain is used well with inclusion of natural features wherever possible

Overall Quality of Individual Holes: Two par 5's are long, nearly 600 yards and the eighth is a very interesting mid-length hole allowing a fine drive to be rewarded with a very attractive uphill shot to a very interesting well sited green, a real top notch hole. The long holes are made interesting by the quality of the greensites and dictate strategies.

Par 4's range from driveable 10th to long uphill eleventh with all manners of interesting doglegs and hazard negotiations.

Par 3's are 8iron to rescue length to very clever demanding green complexes with available bail outs.

Course Cohesion: Near 100%

Green Complexes: World-class

Bunkering Schema: Highly strategic but not particularily penal.

Conditioning: Firm, fast greens appropriate for contours can be made impossible if desired. No stress seen.

Trees: Rarely in play

Rest of Club: Staff is not smothering, very laid back attitude for a spectacular neighborhood.

Where do I sign up?