Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Some thoughts from Trinity Forest

Full-out architecture fans had been looking forward to the Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest, perhaps as some sort of statement that somehow the architects of the course are clearly the best. Just remember that Professional Men's Golf is not Golf and as I wrote a week ago, we like what we like, we ought to recognize why and test ourselves more. Golf is life and we kid ourselves if we stick to things that flatter our strengths and hide realities from us. The fact is that this course set up "the proper way" was leading to 30 under par pace the first two days. Wind and rain didn't take too much out. Those who know can point to this and say there is nothing like Links but Links IS. Overall there was no undying love for the place and none terribly unhappy, save Matt Kuchar one of the days he flubbed.

I've heard the criticism that Coore & Crenshaw don't go far enough. That they need to enhance nature a bit more. I'll admit this is usually my feeling after playing one of their courses. Not the "Hater" I get called by the sycophants, but just not in love, this is a reason, if not the reason why. It is why I'm generally more excited by a new Doak or Hanse more. A new Smyers. A chance for a new Kelly Blake Moran. Did we see just another version of the RTJ hard par, easy bogie except sometimes it was easy birdie.  We did see the fallacy of Fast & Firm couples with equipment out of control, routine 350 yard drives on the flat.

Tom Doak has oft been quoted as liking short grass as a hazard. It is a major tenet of the minimalist-naturalist-renaissance-(...) movement. (Sometimes I don't know what to call it) Bigger contours are often more challenging to these players, but that combination of major contours and great(er) speed on a continuum shows that the balance is on a knife's edge.

Then when you throw together various combinations of firm/fast  dry/wet  no wind/wind we arrive at Links or proper golf. Sometimes it's very take-able, sometimes it's unplayable. Then consider that the USA is a virtually unnatural place for golf. But enough of that, I'm NOT a hater, I truly enjoy Coore & Crenshaw's work, I just want that enhancement.

We did see far more linear reward and punishment. We did see the big ball rewarded.The landscape to the uninitiated as seen on TV was frankly just boring. But any flat course is very hard to catch on camera, unlike the lie that you cannot tell how much elevation change is really out there (ANGC, e.g.) oh yes you can if you know how to use a camera, you sure do. I learned that in Colorado and tried to foster that in my photography of Lehigh CC, well-documented here.

I just think there's not enough there to truly baffle the professionals, but it was great to see the modern wave of design presented front and center on TV. Nice to see a landfill/toxic site used nicely.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why We Have Favorites and then, there is Dye.

Tour Pros like to look good, we are constantly told "These guys are good." But they don't like Dye. Dye makes them very uncomfortable. Pete and Alice have two careers - re-introducing through architecture in the design-build mode strategic design, and creating and/or fostering a cadre of incredible architects doing the best work today. Some of them our faves and just why is that. It is an essential question and the answer lies in what we want out of golf to a great degree.

This past week, we were subjected to the yearly feint praise by the Tour Gods in their yearly visit to TPC Sawgrass. Remember, it is a shadow of its initial incarnation. As no other - Dye can and does make you uncomfortable. But there is comfort as well, like the 5 - 3 - 4 finish, I'm researching that one.

Dye at his best never lets you feel that you've won, that's what sets him apart.You really don't get that very often, if at all. From the ranks of the Dye Family crew, we get Bobby Weed, Mike Strantz, Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Rod Whitman, more, too, all among "The Best Today".  They are certainly progenitors of the movements we see today, if not the same look.

Someone messaged me today asking me if I ever got tired of playing Dye, since I play one all the time. After he played a lite version (which I haven't yet) in Myrtle Beach leading to a comparison of some holes he posed the question. Dye as everyone else has used if not template holes but sets of ideas to be reproduced. The lowcountry of SC as well as the FL marshland encourages some repetition, I suppose lacking much of a third dimension and Dye has often built an Alps template hole to honour his Father. Fazio of course says all his holes are unique and signature holes to boot, but those of us getting around know that's B.S. C&C love to use their "Sailing Par 5"  as I like to call it because as you can tack your way (Think #3 at Bandon Trails and its cousins at Hidden Creek and Chechessee to name a couple, hey, it's really OK) through.

Tour Pros always rave about Harbour Town, but it is rather softened (literally and figuratively) and widened since debut. That job was originally given to Nicklaus and knowing Pete, the story goes he contacted him with a message something like "I don't know what the hell to do, can you help me?" Harbour Town isn't full-out Dye, that's why the pros love it so much. I play mine 4-5 times a week and Harbour Town a few times a year. Long Cove, too.  There is no comparison of Colleton to Harbour Town, the pros wouldn't like it.

I used to play at Boston Golf Club, still do a little, good amateurs with little tolerance for  double bogies and four putting don't like it much. Hanse makes you uncomfortable, too. Add my fellow Florida Gator Steve Smyers to that list as well. Leave your ego in the trunk and enjoy yourself and laugh at your shortcomings.

I think a secret to a course or architect being liked lies in what you are asked to do, and how that question is asked. How you answer it. How you CAN answer it. How you feel about answering it. How do you perceive how difficult it was to achieve that answer. How well did the question and answer fit your skillset? Not fitting a skillset leads to that discomfort that makes us wrongly label a particular hole "A bad hole". You cannot hit a rope draw into the prevailing left to right wind?  It's a bad hole. (Me as a kid in South Florida before I learned better)

So about TPC Sawgrass -   A lot of players opined this week in interviews. Dye got labelled early as creating "Target Golf" where that actually means that strategies must be obeyed or you can look like an idiot. Also, those strategies are flexible, different on different days. Now they are less so at Sawgrass as green contours are flattened to allow 14+ on the stimp, easily achievable with ultradwarf Bermuda cultivars. The PGATour generally pampers these guys in allowing very loose shots to have minimalized penalty. Non-linear penalty.

Dye provides what I like to call non-linear punishment. Small misses and even good shots poorly thought out can be labelled DOA. A lot of golfers do not like non-linear punishment. Fazio and C&C as two popular examples do provide more linear punishment as two examples, something liked by stroke play competitors. Thus we see the USGA Amateur ranks showing up on Fazio courses (Senior Amateur it seems permanently) and many good amateur players prefer C&C to Dye and Hanse, even Doak.

So I think our favorites are often determined not just by milieu but by comfort. Comfort in the questions asked and the answers required, and especially our perception of just how much we were challenged to produce the result.

Now as Pete gets very much into late chapters of his life, we must also give some large margin of that praise to his right hand on many more recent projects - Tim Liddy. I am proud to say that I have known Tim for years. Those unfamiliar with him can go to the Feed. The. Ball. podcast series by Derek Duncan and listen to him and Tim bat it around for an hour and a half. (Also be sure to catch my pal Mike Young, the most recent release).