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What Architecture Type is Your Golf Course?

Randy Wilson


Do you understand golf course architecture?


A few years back, Ted, a GCS friend of mine, became entangled in a dispute between club members.  It all started when a green committee member discovered the dark art of classic golf architecture by reading Brad Klein, Geoff Shackelford and Tom Doak and began to lord his superior knowledge over fellow committee members, the starter and the kitchen staff.


Pitchfork-and-Torch-mob-150x150.jpgFollowing the pattern of a typical social struggle, the members without architecture knowledge began to arm themselves, digging up old works by Robert Hunter, Ross, MacKenzie and Thomas in an attempt to dethrone the newly crowned classical golf lord.  Younger members entered the fray, bringing lethal tactics like lurking on golfclubatlas.com or Geoffshackelford.com and the conflict escalated.  Soon, the angry mob realized they needed a higher authority to settle the question:  Is our course of the Heroic Strategic School or the Risk/Reward . . . or the feared Penal school of golf design?


The club pro, realizing that taking sides would mean unemployment, refused to comment and sent the dueling factions to Ted.


Aware that I had long dabbled in the blackest aspect of golf theory, Ted asked me to come look at his course and pronounce it Heroic, Strategic or any combination of the two.


By now, the vocal anti-classicists had entered the battle, quoting their hero, architect Mike Young, a leader of the rebel faction opposing blind loyalty to the ODG (Old Dead Guys) architectural style.  One  fellow even tried to introduce the teachings of Fazio, but fled when the mob turned their fury upon him, accusations of heresy filling the night air.


Ted, although an excellent GCS, had fallen victim to the weak link in the GCS educational system.  His university had prepared him well to be a golf course management scientist; his skills in soil science, business management, communication and environmental synergy were amazing, but the school had omitted golf course design history, theory and chainsaw philosphy.  They preferred to leave that to the same folks that teach opera, film studies and astrology.


anatomy-of-a-golf-course-102x150.jpgmasters-of-the-links.jpgArriving early at Teds coursebefore the mowers went outI handed him the two most important books for surviving an architecture inquisition:  Doaks Anatomy of a Golf Course and Shackelfords Masters of the Links.  I told him to read both before lunch and then I went out to determine what style architecture his course possessed.


Like many golf courses, Teds course was not one particular style, it was composed of a number of different kinds of designs.  After a quick look, I knew it would be hard to break the bad news to Ted.


It was Penal. Not just penal, but real estate bait penal, the worst kind.


The first indicator was the routing:  The course snaked through saddle cuts and improvised valleys, leaving the high ground, the good land . . . for the houses.  Next, there were no options off the tee, just one place to hit the drive.  The greens all had the same look, that catchers mitt tilted toward the golfer with few cup placements and bunkers were everywhere, over 40 on the front alone.  But the kiss of death hovered over every single green . . . there were no ground game options to approach the greens.


Ted was in a tough spot.  His members were now aware, after taking a bite of the apple of classic golf architecture wisdom.  Every Monday, after several weekend hours of golf broadcast exposure, those members would approach him with architecture opinions absorbed from TV golf announcers.  TV announcers had recently learned to fill dead air by talking architecture trivia while tour clones plumb bobbed, stalked putts from 360 degrees, visualized, pre-shotted and backed off when they heard a nematode cough.


David, did you know that Alister Ross not only used horses to shape this green, but he once shot and killed a pumpkin where the fairway bunker is?


Yes, Farthington, that was just before he fell into the vat of whiskey and drowned while fighting off his rescuers.


I did the best I could for Ted.  I lied to him. Ted, this course is unique, a wonderful blend of every architectural style.


Ted tossed Doaks book at me, What youre really saying is . . . its a mongrel. A hideous Frankenstein golf course.


I shook my head. Ted, Im saying that you can use this opportunity to unleash the chainsaw, widen the fairways, reduce the rough and make the course play faster and easier.  Dont fight their fascination with classical style, adapt it for goodand hey, look at it this way, you cant make the architecture any worse.


As usual, a Rockbottum CC education video follows this essay.  Unlike most Rockbottum training films, this one does not have any MOG (Mystic Order of Greenkeepers) CEUs; in fact, just watching this video will lower your intelligence and might even cause you to lose CEU points.



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