Golf Course Architecture

It has been years since I was really into golf. My desire to play faded through college, and went away altogether while I was working in Washington D.C. Law school consumed me for another year and sent me to China during the prime golfing months this past summer. There was always an excuse. And I was lazy and busy, if that makes any sense.

But now, for some reason, I’m returning to the game that I grew up loving. The only problem is that with winter nearing (although, you wouldn’t know it if you looked outside today – 70* and sunny), the PGA Tour winding down and the Silly Season offering only mild entertainment, I’m looking for new sources of golf entertainment to satisfy my recently rejuvenated jones for all things golf.

The topic of golf course architecture has caught my eye. I’ve subscribed to several blogs that write about it frequently – Geoff Shackelford, Ian Andrew’s “Caddy Shack”, On Golf Architecture, and The Golf Course as Art. I have no desire to design a golf course. My interest is form a player’s perspective. If I can understand the courses I’m playing better and the design elements behind them, then perhaps I can better position my shots during a round. The history of it is intriguing, too.

My two home courses while growing up were very different in design. One was the Traverse City Golf and Country Club, a course “designed and built by Tom Bendelow, a Scotsman from Aberdeen who was one of America’s pioneer golf course architects.” The course is a traditional tree lined country club type course and the management has recently made an effort to open up some of the holes with the addition of heather.

The other course was The Bear at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, Michigan. The Bear is a Jack Nicklaus designed course, and is very typical of an early Nicklaus design – many holes demand high fade shots.

In fact, the playing experience at The Bear is summarized perfectly by this quote from a recent article in The Weekly Standard titled, “Putting Golf Back on Course.”

On many of [Jack’s] courses, the average player will lose half a dozen balls a round, many of them having found a watery grave in one of the man-made water-hazards of which Nicklaus is so fond. As a player, Nicklaus probably wouldn’t even notice many of the water hazards that litter his courses. But the typical golfer does.

My novice observation is that there is a clash between minimalist architects who favor using what the land provides and fitting a design to the land and new-age architects who strive to define exactly how each hole should be played.

I’ll be reading more about golf course architecture and seeking books and articles as winter settles in.