Interviews & Articles



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Q&A with Golf Course Architects Riley Johns & Keith Rhebb

I’m looking forward to talking with Golf Course Architects Keith Rhebb of Rhebb Golf Design & Riley Johns of Integrative Golf Design. The Society had a spring gathering in 2019 and Rolling Green CC was one of the courses we played. Riley & Keith happened to be involved with restoration/renovation. We will delve into the restoration/renovation of Rolling Green CC, Winter Park 9, and Forest Dunes 10 hole course. We have an array of questions and very interesting and informative answers by the young duo. Riley and Keith have prior experience working with Coore/Creenshaw & Renaissance Golf Design.

Forest Dunes #8

TWG- So much of life is timing. How did you know it was time to forge your own path in the golf business?

RJ-It wasn’t so much a planned decision, but rather a gradual evolution born out of the necessity to simply conduct business. I began receiving calls and inquiries from some local golf courses regarding small projects here and there and I needed a mode in which to get paid. It was around this time that I also began sub-contracting services out to other architects in the form of shaping or drafting. After a certain point, it just makes sense to formalize oneself into a company for tax, insurance, and bookkeeping reasons.

KR- Honestly, I wasn’t looking to forge my own path into the industry. I would have been really satisfied with spending the rest of my career as a shaper, but there was a group of people who opened a door. I knew that with the right team, we could succeed at taking the next steps. I’m glad I took that leap of faith. It’s enhanced by knowledge and appreciation for golf course design and the golf business as a whole.

WP9
Rolling Green

TWG- The Society had a Philly gathering last May and Rolling Green CC where you both are currently consulting. It blew many of us away with how good it is. It’s a great responsibility working on classic courses. Do either of you ever get nervous with such a tall order?

RJ- Not so much nervous as excited. Seeing the potential at a place like Rolling Green, or the potential in a raw piece of ground like Forest Dunes, it is exciting to have an opportunity to pursue our craft on many different levels and sites. The responsibility is great, correct, but that just comes with the territory in golf architecture regardless of the client or site.

KR- What rings true to me about your observations is that everyone who sees Rolling Green is blown away with how good it is. There is a great responsibility with such a project. Finding the right balance between respecting all that is good while refining it in ways that make it even better. The nerve-wracking part is ensuring that we’ve communicated that to the membership so that they can understand the process and also envision the final product. Speaking for myself, I’m better at building golf than communicating about it!

Rolling Green prior

TWG- TWGS member (Mayday Malone), has a few questions regarding RG. Describe the research you did into the origins of Rolling Green & the technology you applied to map it on the existing course?

RJ- We knew that a thoroughly researched, evidenced-based design approach was critical when trying to understand accurately the early years of Rolling Green’s history. The information we gathered was essentially going to become the foundation, or at least starting point, for all future discussions.

Keith and I embarked on a six-month research and fact-finding mission. We investigated and assembled as much pertinent historical material related to William Flynn and Rolling Green as possible. We cataloged historical plans, articles, aerials, drawings, and ground photos found in newspapers, magazines, and photo archives located in both public and private institutions. Our search even led us to finding the course’s original 1926 hand-drawn linen plan which was stashed away in the basement archives of local engineering firm’s office located in Philadelphia, the same firm that worked with William Flynn!

Concluding this extensive six-month research process, we consolidated and digitized all the evidence we had gathered. Once combined, we were able to piece together a comprehensive, true-to-form picture of what Flynn’s original masterpiece looked like during its first few years of existence.

Using forensic-like digital mapping and overlay techniques, we then compared Flynn’s original 1920’s drawings/plans and aerials with today’s site. Layering and analyzing the historic data with hi-resolution Orthoimagery and a sophisticated LiDAR survey plan of the property was the key to understanding the big questions of what was verses what is. Using this overlay process, we were then able to determine the original shapes and sizes and locations of all the original greens, tees, fairways, and bunkers. Moreover, because all of our data was now geo-referenced, we could then go back out onto the golf course and physically GPS those 1926 features in the field.

KR- Riley summed this up perfectly. The process of using technology to look back into the past was very eye opening and even humbling at times. It gave us a great understanding of the 1926 course and baseline off of which we can respect Flynn’s design for the modern game. To this day, we don’t want our finger prints to stand out on William Flynn’s Rolling Green design. When we are finished, our hope is that it will be difficult to distinguish where we started and finished the work.

Rolling Green

TWG- What are the challenges of making recommendations that diverge from your research?

RJ- It really depends on what the goals and objectives of the project are. Looking at a classic golf course in a modern context is always going to present challenges. I try and find out where on the spectrum the collective conscious of the Club lies. For example, do they consider their golf course a museum piece that is meant to be preserved as faithfully and authentically to the original design as possible, such as a Chicago GC or NGLA for example, or is the Club more open to tasteful modernization enhancements along with the lines of a Cal Club or Pinehurst #2 for example. Both have merit, it just depends on what the Club is looking for.

KR- Again, I agree with Riley. It often comes down to the objectives of the club and its membership. Saying that, we have a set of principles that we hold ourselves to when doing work at Rolling Green. As long as we are operating within those design principles, we can justify making that move-in best faith-outside of the research.

Rolling Green after

TWG- Brian Chapin (RG keeper), was able to join us for the gathering and he gave a nice talk after the round. I have found a knowledgeable & passionate keeper is very important to successful renovation/restorations. Can you elaborate on the team effort?

RJ- As part of our research process, Keith and I, along with Brian Chapin, visited, played, and made study of William Flynn’s most notable golf courses to better understand his design tendencies and nuances. We were also able to then experience first-hand and observe how modern technology influences the playability on his courses today. These fact-finding research trips also helped inform potential construction, grassing, and mowing practices at Rolling Green. Brian’s contributions to the research, and his input on the final presentation, are both key components to the success of Rolling Green’s restoration efforts.

KR- Brian is one of the reasons why Riley and I took the job at Rolling Green. It’s not always about the course itself; the people you work with and the relationships you build along the way matter. When all parties work together and their strengths complement one another, the course only gets better as a result of that collaboration.

Winter Park 9

TWG- You both were a part of a $1.2M renovation at the Winter Park 9 in 2016. The course is located in Winter Park, FL and many of the rounds are enjoyed on foot. This renovation seems as though it was the starting point of your careers. Please share your feelings on the WP9 and what it means to you and the game of golf.

JR- The growth of the WP9 has been amazing to watch. Not in my wildest dreams did I think they would be packed wall-to-wall daily with all ages and classes of golfers like they are today. They are now servicing some 50,000 rounds a year which is just incredible to see. It’s also great to witness all the families participating with their young kids learning the game for the first time.

When we first began the design process at WP9, we asked a few questions to ourselves-what is wrong with the game that prevents newcomers from getting hooked? We figured that golf took too long, it cost too much, and the architecture was not engaging enough. So, our objective from day one was to build a course that addressed these three simple problems. It’s neat to see, five years later, those objectives in action.

KR- That’s tough to put into words-for a variety of reasons! Winter Park is a special place and it was really exciting to have the opportunity to bring the knowledge and skill-set we gained from working on some of the great modern-day courses to renovate a municipal course. It shows that not every great course has to be an expensive endeavor. We put out hearts into the process and it’s my hope that people can sense that when they walk off the 9th green. I live in Winter Park and much to my wife’s chagrin, I often drive out of my way to drive by the course. Every time I pass by, I’m thankful for and humbled by the opportunity.

WP9
WP9
WP9
Forest Dunes pre

TWG- With the success of the WP9, it really shows that a great location, talented architects, and a great maintenance meld, that golf can be very successful. WP9 has basically uncomplicated the game and has let golf be the focal point. Hopefully some golf investors will take note and replicate a version of this. I would think that the WP9 success, led to the Forest Dunes 10-hole par 3 job?

RJ- Yes, it did. Lew was aware of the success of the WP9 and wanted something similar in genre to compliment his two 18-hole golf courses at Forest Dunes in Michigan. Lew was also keenly aware that Keith and I built WP9 in 3 months and he needed his new short course completed in the same amount of time in order to hit the critical grassing dates. Finishing the grassing on day 83, Lew jokes that we beat our own record by 7 days!

KR- That definitely played a role. I also think that Lew took peace of mind knowing that if he had a question or concern, he could walk out to us for a face-to-face meeting. Having your architects on site mitigates the extra stress of building a new course off of ownership’s shoulders.

Forest Dunes

TWG- Your new 10-hole short course opens this year @ Forest Dunes, and many of us are excited to play it. You both built the course in around 83 days and on a shoestring budget. I think this will be a great addition to the property as some folks are not interested in playing 36. My friend Joe Hancock, assisted you on the project. Do you have any stories about Joe or the course that you would like to share?

RJ- Joe was a great addition to the project and we all had a blast building the golf course together. He is also a wealth of knowledge, especially when it comes to his home state of Michigan. For instance, Joe has found a curious loop-hole in the Michigan fish and wildlife laws, where if you physically punch a fish and knock it out, you can actually keep it and cook it. Punching fish bare-handed doesn’t require any kind of licenses because you are not using any type of equipment or aid. You just can’t bait the fish and punch them apparently. Joe can tell you all about his fish punching hobby, it’s incredible.

KR- Riley nailed it and I need to thank him for that laugh with all that’s going on with the COVID-19 crisis.

Forest Dunes seeded

TWG- Speaking of Joe, his question for you, “people view your lifestyle as glamorous”. “What makes it worth it to you being on the road so many days a year?” “Is it the people you work with, the work/sites, or both?

RJ- Definitely both. Seeing and experiencing new places and cultures is always fun and interesting. Being able to share those experiences with like-minded friends makes it even better. The places we see and the people we meet is a big part of what makes this career so attractive to me personally.

KR- Both…although you can be on a spectacular site and, without the right people around you, be entirely miserable. Over time, this can kill the creative process. Surround yourself with the right people though, and they will bring the best out of you (and you hope to do the same for them)- which only enhances the design and/or build. It’s also rewarding to know that the fun that we have designing and building these courses will lead to long-lasting memories for those who will play on them for years to come.

Forest Dunes grow-in

TWGIf you had the choice between 2 properties to build on, would you rather have a sandy soil property with 5ft of elevation change or a property with clay soil that has 80ft of elevation change with ridges, a creek, and other natural features?

RJ- Sandy soil and 5ft of elevation. Way less constraints when drainage and trucking logistics are not a factor.

KR- Flat site with sandy soil!

WP9

TWG- I happen to enjoy green contours with 4-6% slope or tilt which can be found on many Golden Age courses. Many greens today are being softened, slope wise due to the “Greens Speeds Arms Race”. We are also losing interesting pinnable hole locations on greens. People think that they shouldn’t have to firmly stroke uphill putts. Lag putting is a lost art and many amateurs do not hit the sweet spot on their putts. Are new course developers handcuffing architects IYO with slope % restrictions, so green speeds can be 11+?

KR- It’s really subjective; you might enjoy greens with those contours but a beginner might find them frustrating. For me, it’s not just about the green contours, but what’s happening around the green. For example, are there surrounding contours that, if used properly, will limit the challenge of the green slopes.

RJ- Yes, the arms race that is pushing green’s speeds to faster and faster levels is a real phenomenon that is happening. However, I have not personally been handcuffed by clients or clubs regarding softening green’s slopes. We typically work with clients who let us do our job without interference.

Keith and I often design greens with hole locations found between 2-4%, and slopes on greens (false fronts, bank slopes, feeder slopes, etc. with grades exceeding well over 10%). We agree that this type of slope variety is part of the game and essential to testing the best and most creative putters. However, we do not control where the holes are actually cut on a daily basis. Players who typically play stroke-play, and are actively trying to protect their handicap arithmetic, are often less receptive to challenging or sporty hole locations. These individuals are often the ones who then proceed to complain to a Greenskeeper or staff member about particular hole locations requiring careful study and execution– more than they are used to at least. Rather then explain and educate such players on the nuances of ‘slippery putts’ and approach shot management, its easier to just abandon those hole locations altogether and keep the peace.

Riley & Keith, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us on all your projects.

Q&A with Golf Course Architect Jim Nagle on Kirtland CC

I’m excited to talk with Golf Course Architect Jim Nagle of Forse Design regarding the restoration of a Gem by the name of Kirtland CC. Ohioans know of this titan designed by Golden Age Architect Charles Hugh Alison, but few outside the state know where to go to look for the good stuff! Jim and Ron have made a successful career in restoring Golden Age courses and this isn’t their only Alison course. The Society is fortunate to be playing Kirtland in a few days and will experience the course first hand. Some nice tidbits from Jim could never hurt.

TWG- What is your opinion regarding grass or flash faced bunkers at C.H. Alison golf courses? I believe that Alison courses are best preserved in Japan. Are they predominately grass or flash faced?

Great question to start the discussion on Charles Alison and one that Ron Forse and I struggled with leading into the restoration/renovation of Alison’s Davenport C.C. We were familiar with early photos of Kirtland which showed a predominately flashed bunker style and the early photos Hirono and Sea Island revealed the same. At the time we were seeing a stronger preference for flashed faced bunkers and not grass faced bunkers. When we finished our restoration of Davenport we opted for the flash look.

Hirono Golf Club

Bunker Detail

However, when we started the restoration at Kirtland, the team (Club, Maintenance, and Forse Design) all settled in on a semi-flashed bunker style. Kirtland originally had a combination of flashed and grass-faced bunkers throughout the course. Those bunkers that were entirely flashed were likely to present a problem with wash-outs and something the club was attempting to reduce. We all felt that reconstruction of all the bunkers in a semi-flashed appearance was most suitable to meet the end needs of the club and maintain architectural integrity throughout. That particular style suited the maintenance practices, intended budget and appearance for the course. So, I guess that’s a long way of still not answering your questions. I like the appearance of the flashed bunkers at Davenport. I also really like the semi-flashed bunkers at Kirtland. No strong preference for one over the other, but ultimately depends on the site and original design.

Kirtland #14, 1929 (Flashed Bunkers)


Kirtland #12, 1929 (Semi-Flashed)


Davenport CC #15


Davenport #17

Kirtland #9, (Semi-flashed bunker style with less irregular sand lines)


Kirtland #10


Kirtland #15

TWG- I’m excited to play Kirtland again. I feel that the front 9 which has great rolling land gets overlooked by the back 9 which has severe elevation changes. I think I prefer the front 9, how do you and the membership view the two nines regarding preferences?

I can’t speak for the membership, however, I do not have preference of one nine over the other. Each nine has a nice combination in lengths of holes, both nines have holes which require proper placement of tee shots to approach the greens (1, 5, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, & 18), and the greens can be equally demanding throughout. I do give a nod to the front nine when considering the par 3’s. The diagonal alignment of the 3rd and 6th greens creates greater interest and potential for heroic carries depending on the hole location. The 11th and 17th are open to the front and lack the diagonal alignment. We evaluate courses and golf holes based upon three elements: Strategy, Naturalness, and Variety. Strategy and Naturalness are obvious, but Variety comes in many forms. The lengths of holes with a particular par group; the locations of green side bunkers; doglegs; routing direction of holes; fairway bunker placement and use of land within the routing. Both nines have an abundance of these three elements.

TWG- How much emphasis do you put into proper tee placement for strategy when restoring the course? Does it vary depending on which Golden Age Architect you are restoring?

Tee placement is just as important as bunker placement or other intended hazards. The relocation of a particular tee or its distance from a hazard can compromise or eliminate the design intent or strategic elements. Alignment and distance are critical.

TWG- I believe the current pond that is shared on the 3rd and 6th holes was a ditch originally? I’d really LOVE to see that feature restored Do you or any members want to relocate the irrigation/retention pond on another area of the course?

To date this has not been discussed. Personally, I am fine with the pond in its present location. The pond is situated in a low area allowing for collection of storm water and sits naturally within its surroundings. The only other available land within the property which can provide the most efficient watering system is the triangulated area between the 2nd and 7th holes. The old pump house was situated below the 13th tee and was constantly flooded and a real detriment to the club. Once the new irrigation system was designed the pond at #3 and #6 became the primary storage pond for the entire course. We do not see the pond moving any time soon.

TWG- How is the tree removal process going at Kirtland? Have you cut down as many as you would have liked?

The tree management program is progressing in the right direction on the course. As with many tree programs, it is on-going. I am especially fond of the work that has occurred on holes 10-17. When we started working with the Club in the early 2000’s the lower holes were very heavily disguised behind massive stands of trees. The course looks and plays much better as the tree program has continued and will continue to do so as the years pass by.

2003 and 2017 images of the tree management implemented between the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes.

2003

2017

TWG- Alison greens are known for having tilt verse bold internal contours. How do Alison greens stack up to other Golden Age Architects that you restore? How do Kirtland’s green compare to other Alison courses that you have seen/played?

I think Alison greens stack up very well against other Golden Age Architects. I find his greens to be very similar in nature to William Flynn. You could categorize their greens designs as- Apparent simplicity but actual complexity. When you first glance at the greens, one finds them to be much more challenging than they appear. The greens at Kirtland are comparable to those at Davenport C.C., a very fine Alison course which deserves more recognition than it gets. I also saw similarities to some of his greens at the Chevy Chase Club in Maryland. Golfers may find a more heightened first impression of greens at MacKenzie, Park Jr, Ross, or Travis but time spent on Alison greens will reveal a different kind of genius.

TWG- Since your work started at Kirtland, have more of the members taken an interest in learning about C.H. Alison?

We would like to think so. However, those members on the green committee or planning committee appear to have a greater appreciation beyond when we started there.

TWG- What are some of the nuances at Kirtland that you find great, that someone might not see their first time around the course?

See the response to #6. Angles- Although many holes play relatively straight there are preferred angles to approach the greens. His use of fairway bunkers, albeit limited, and out-of-play areas (O.B.- Holes 4, 7, 8, 10, and 14) revealed many of those preferred lines. The alignments of many greens reinforces the need for the proper approach. No doubt technological advances in equipment diminish many of those intended strategies, but on some holes the penalty is still present if wrong off the tee.

TWG- The 11th hole at Kirtland has some flooding issues I’ve been told, is there any long range plan to improve that?

It’s quite an unfortunate situation with limited solutions. Raising the green is not a option. Designing a new hole and eliminating the 11th from the routing is not an option. To date, minor attempts at reducing the frequency have be attempted by adding a small berm in the approach. Any significant improvements will require years of permitting, engineering fees, waivers, and bureaucratic red tape.

TWG- I think Alison was one of the best at using land to create bunkers that served a purpose. Many Golden Age courses were over bunkered in my opinion. Alison bunkers seem to have a purpose in providing strategy first, while fitting them into the land beautifully. He killed 2 birds with one stone imo. How do you see it?

I touched on it briefly with the response to #8. Today’s definition of a minimalist is someone who creates a very natural, eroded looking golf course. I would consider Alison to be a minimalist, but in a different sense- limited use of fairway bunkers. Very skillful at the strategic placement of bunkers without excessive use.

TWG- What is your favorite hole on the course and why? Which hole is the most underrated?

I’m a sucker for the strategic devilish short par 4’s. Not necessarily drivable, but one that grabs the golfers attention. That’s the 13th at Kirtland. An elevated tee shot to a rather non-descript fairway void of any bunkers. Play left and the green is not nearly as receptive as playing to the right where the green opens up. Tee shots played to the left require a carry over a deep bunker guarding the left side. Left is the shorter play, but not always the best play. The fairway was wider to the right and our hope is to expand the fairway closer to the river and river bank reinstating a long lost strategic component. The green is also one of the smallest on the course.

13th hole- 2017

Kirtland #13

Hard to say which hole is the most underrated. Many golfers will often overlook the 1st hole as they are simply wanting to get off the tee and get their game underway. I do believe the 1st at KCC is a magnificent starting hole. A precursor of what is yet to come. Strategic angles, wide fairway, rolling alluvial topography, deep bunker and a deceptive green. That pretty much sums up Kirtland and golfers haven’t even set foot on the 2nd tee.

1st Hole- 2017

Kirtland #1

TWG- What was your favorite change after the restoration and why?

We’re not done! To date it has been the green expansions. My two favorite expansions have been to the 12th and 14th holes. Both expansions captured long lost hole locations tucked close to hazards and in some cases the expansions reinstated a two club difference into the approach to a green. I am particularly fond of the restored irregular outline to the 14th hole. As an architect I believe that the green expansions are the critical component to a successful restoration project. A quality design starts at the green and works its way back to the tee. Why reinstate or restore bunkers and fairway widths without recapturing the tucked hole locations and internal contours of the greens. To me it seems very shortsighted.

The yellow line designates the size of the 14th green prior to expansion. The red line represents the approximate limit of hole locations prior to expansion.

What was your main takeaway after studying C.H. Alison and his philosophy?

Similar to what I have taken away from William Flynn- simple is better. That is not to say their courses are simple designs, not by any means. They both were routing geniuses who took advantage of what the land offered and presented a course that fits so beautifully onto the natural topography. Their bunkering, on some not all, was placed with purpose and not used in excess. Their greens can be studied and played time and time again, yet a later visit or round reveals something new.

Jim, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us on Kirtland and C.H. Alison.

Q&A with Golf Course Architect Keith Foster on Moraine CC

The Society is pleased to interview Keith Foster on his work at Moraine CC, one of the host courses in our May gathering.  Keith started out in 1985 working for Arthur Hills.  In 1991, Keith formed his own Design Company.   Keith has many solo designs to his credit, with the The Harvester in Iowa ranked 40th in Golf Digest Top 100 public Golf courses.  After 10 years of new designs, Keith gave up doing his own courses to focus on doing restoration work on 2-3 Golden Age clubs a year.  Keith spends 9 months a year on his Golf restorations and the other 3 months traveling the world buying Antiques for his Antique business.

I have been fortunate enough to have played 3 courses that Keith has done renovation/restoration on (Orchard Lake, Moraine, CC of Detroit).  Unfortunately, I haven’t played the courses prior to his work and possibly can’t appreciate their transformations as much as others.  Once I played Orchard Lake, I was hooked and that led me to Moraine CC (Kettering, OH).

The Society is pleased to be able to play Moraine in late May this year.  It’s one of the two courses we will be playing for our Wright Bros Gathering.  Let’s ask Keith a little bit about Moraine…

Moraine #7

 

TWG- Well the Walking Society is very fortunate to be playing Moraine and Miami Valley in May this year.  What was your first impression arriving on site at Moraine, with the dramatic change of elevations on a course in Central Ohio?  Well I’m guessing a chainsaw was your first thought, what was your 2nd thought? 

My first thought was how wonderful the property was and the second, how charming to walk the length of the property to then return back to the clubhouse.

 

Moraine #16

TWG-  What really impressed me with Moraine is the natural shelves that a fair amount of greens sit perched on.  Would you agree that the green site locations at Moraine, is the strongest attribute of the course? 

I love the green site and pads. They are wonderfully distinctive.

 

Moraine #8

Moraine #8

 

TWG- How in the world did the Club allow you to cut down that many trees?  I love it and think it’s the Gold Standard for tree management.  I’m sure you have some good stories regarding opposition and hope you can share them with us.

Moraine is in my view really is no different than many great Golden Age courses that have had over the years, so many trees added and then added. The membership at Moraine was kind, receptive and supportive to its return to their wonderful origins. My job and responsibility is to convey the vision with integrity and clarity. I am thankful for their trust and confidence.

 

Moraine #16 green side

 

TWG- The bunkers at Moraine are true hazards.  A good ½ shot penalty for most of the fairway bunkers.  Were the bunkers originally that deep or did you add some teeth to them? 

I actually raised about a 1/3 of the bunker floors.

 

Moraine #18 green

 

TWG- #’s 10-12 at Moraine sit on the flattest section of the property.  I happen to think the 10th hole is very good architecturally speaking and might get overlooked.  Behind the green is a nice shaved area, which makes for a nice back pin location.  Do these features get overlooked due to the great change of elevation on the other holes?

Absolutely!

The 10th and 11th were flattened out many years ago as I understand it. During our program, we reintroduced a few softer contour lifts but compared to so many of the other golf holes, those 3 holes are tame, topo wise.

 

Moraine #15 Longview

 

Moraine #15 looking back

Moraine #15 looking back

 

TWG- The par 3’s at Moraine, have really good balance with #2 & #11 being stout and #5 & #15 being short to mid irons.  The green sites at #5 and #15 are so good and one can just imagine ‘’the Nipper” walking the land grinning as he located these two sites on his routing. 

The 2nd and 5th are Nippers while the 12th and 15th are mine. Both the 12th and 15th had nothing Nipper about them remaining due to the greens being rebuilt in the 40/50’s.  My hope was to recapture his intent on those 2 greens.

 

Moraine #7

 

TWG- Let’s discuss the interesting short par 4’s (#6, #7, and #16), reminisce of the drive and pitch holes of yesteryear due to the downhill elevation.   I can see so many big scores on these holes, very difficult to hit and hold the greens from the rough.  Longer players have options to try and drive #7 or hit the 2 iron off the tee.  Fairways and green side bunkers are very deep and frame the fairways and greens so well.  Do many clubs and players overlook the great value in Drive and Pitch holes in your opinion?

In my humble opinion, we have become a game of sheer length and with this, we have lost the charm of finesse. I personally enjoy shorter yet compelling holes rather than the brutish ones.

 

Moraine #7 green

TWG-  I have a bit of contention with the flattening/softening of Golden Age Greens to accommodate the modern greens arms race.  Lag putting is an Art/skill and is overlooked imo.  Are there any greens that you have softened that you later wished you hadn’t?

Thankfully I have worked hard on my ability to soften greens in a way that maintains and honors original intent. I don’t want to go to much into it as I am never one to talk much about what I do. I just get on with it and focus on great results. To me, my best work is if I can’t tell I did anything. To me, that is great work. At Moraine, yes I did touch many of the greens but only where needed and did so softly. To me, green pitch and cant is a critical element to be very mindful of.

 

TWG- Keith, please share your thoughts on Moraine and what our Walkers in May should look for.  I’m sure I missed many points, so feel free to highlight what I missed. 

Don’t think you missed a thing.  Moraine is a wonderful walk.  I love the green / tee connections which are among the best in the game.  The original ground forms are powerful and the scale at Moraine is impressive.  I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to have played a part there.  Great Club, wonderful membership and a really talented Superintendent in Jason Mahl. And their pro, Brent Sipe….fantastic too.

 

Moraine #16 looking back

 

Thanks again for your time!

 

Q&A with Golf Course Architect Mike DeVries

Links golf on King Island Tasmania Cape Wickham  #1 (Larry Lambrecht)

 

Kinglsey Club  #18 (Larry Lambrecht)

 

Greywalls #9 (Larry Lambrecht)

 

The Society is pleased to have interviewed Golf Course Architect Mike DeVries for a Q & A.  Mike hails out of Traverse City, Michigan and has designed 6 Golf courses worldwide, along with restorations and renovations to his credit.  If you haven’t played one of Mike’s courses you need to plain and simple.  Mike’s Cape Wickham in King Island, Australia is now ranked 24th in the World by Golf Digest in 2016/17.  The Kingsley Club and Greywalls in Michigan rank highly in a state with a deep bench!  Mike’s 3 SW Michigan courses (The Mines, Pilgrims Run, and Diamond Springs) are not to be missed in the Greater Grand Rapids area!  His most noted Restoration work is The Meadow Club; which is Alister MacKenzie’s first North American course.  Mike is highly energetic which carries over to his passion with the great game of golf.  His career path is established, proven, and far from over!   Well let’s get to the Q&A interview……..

TWG- Well Mike it’s great to interview you for the Walking Golfers Society.  I’m a fan of your work and I have played all of your US Designs here in Pure Michigan (Go Bucks)!  Can you tell us about your early days of playing Golf and whether or not you were Walking from an early age?

 

Well, my grandfather taught me the game at an early age and I started by whacking some sawed-down woods from the yard, trying to hit it over the road.  When my grandparents and uncle played, I would follow them around the course.  They were typically in a golf cart – the classic old 3-wheel cart with a tiller steering bar – and that was exciting to me, like most other young kids.  I mean, here was a motorized vehicle that was more our size and every once in awhile, I was asked to move the cart, which was pretty exciting to do.  I would chip and putt around the green, particularly where my uncle finished, since he was a really good player and I tried to mimic him.

When I was a little older, I played a little 9-hole course, where my mom or grandmother would drop me off and I would play as a single or get paired up with other kids, adults, or whoever was available.  That was always a walking game, as it was a hilly little course, par 32.  When I played on the golf team in high school, we always walked.

When I started working in the pro shop at 14, I got carts out and loaded bags for players onto the carts – almost everyone rode at that time.  When we would go play after work, we took a cart and then went to pick the range afterwards.  Throughout high school and college, when working at the course, I almost always took a cart because everyone did, except 4 guys in their 80’s – they always walked, at least the front nine.  I guess you could say they knew what they were doing!

For the last 30 years, I have walked 90+% of the time.  It is a much more enjoyable game and the cadence helps your rhythm and swing.  It is more social and friendly.  There are still outings where everyone rides and usually it’s a shotgun, so you need to get out to your hole.  Other times, the course is broken up with long green to tee walks and it would add an unbelievable amount of time to the round, so I ride then.

 

TWG- Well we know that many courses designed from 1980-2008, weren’t too friendly for us walkers!  Did you ever turn down a job due to the owner refusing a Walking Routing or even worse, banning walking?  A mutual friend of ours refers to this as ‘’Routing 101 Malpractice’’.

No, I have never had that dictated to me but most owners do have carts on their course, so you need to accommodate for them in the planning and long range maintenance.  All of my owners have been interested in having their course “walkable” because they understand that it makes for better golf and a better experience, even if someone is riding in a cart.

 

TWG- You have designed 5 courses in Michigan (Diamond Springs, Pilgrims Run, The Mines, Kingsley, and Greywalls) and what impressed me so much is that each design is very unique.  You feel you are on a DeVries track but I think many golfers wouldn’t know if untold.  My feeling is you had 5 unique properties and each site gave you more freedom to take chances.  How do you see it? 

Each and every site has its own unique features and sense of place.  A good design brings out those qualities that say this is “X Golf Course” and make it special.  Michigan has a lot of great terrain that is very applicable to good golf.  It also has lots of good sandy soils that are great for growing quality turf.  If you have good soils and nice contours, the key to creating a fun golf course is to bring out the qualities of the site and let the lay of the land give you interesting problems for golfers to solve.  Certainly, there are areas where you have to move dirt and create features but first it is important to get as much out of the land as you can with what is inherent in the site.

 

TWG- I wanted to address Diamond Spring and it’s unique one cut design, with 60-yard-wide fairways and fine fescue Native rough.  One could say it’s the poor man’s Augusta on Sand?.?   The fairway contours lead to some nice speed slots.  It has a few challenging walks but interesting land is the reward.  Can you please tell us about this ‘’Field of Dreams” Golf Course in SW Michigan?

Kris Shumaker wanted to be able to mow the entire golf course with essentially two heights of cut: green and fairway.  This gave him the opportunity to use big gang mowers to quickly mow the course with 2-3 people and would give golfers the ability to hit the ball just about anywhere, find it, hit it again, and play a fun round without looking for lost balls.

The angles of play make it advantageous to be in a particular position to score well but the average golfer can just move around quickly and have fun.  This is essentially what the Old Course at St. Andrews does and it is a great concept that I try to employ when the land and program allows it.

Diamond Springs is a really great walk because the land is basically flat with a number of long eskers that go across the property.  These broad ridges are used for tees, greens, as obstacles to drive over or around, and provide great character to the golf course without making for excessive “hill-climbing.”  Then on the NE section of the course is an old ravine that intersects or abuts holes 9 and 14-18 – these “gorge” holes are very dramatic and strategic in how aggressive you want to play your shots, so it heightens the intensity for the golfers and gives them a crescendo at the end of the nines.  There is a little walk-back from 14 green to 15 tee, but if you know the course and it is not busy, you can play your tee shot on 15 before going to the 14th green and that saves time.  Besides that, the course is really a great walk.

 

Greywalls #5 (Larry Lambrecht)

TWG- With many Golden Age designs being neutered over the last century with quite possibly their boldest features being removed by club boards, do you think that has led to a resurgence of quirk in the modern era?  Do you think there are Good examples of Quirk and Poor ones? 

Quirk is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?  One person’s quirk is another’s bad golf, so it is hard to say you can put it in, without it feeling forced.  I think you make decisions at to what is acceptable, depending on what it would cost to “fix” something or make it more middle of the road.

For instance, at Greywalls, I had to get from the low area of holes 2-4 up to the 5th, 6th, and middle plateau holes – in order to make that happen, the 5th hole has a severe uphill drive.  The green site is very dramatic and unique but the landing area was tight, so we had to blast a section of the left side to make it more playable for the average player.  The hole is a short 4, so a drive doesn’t have to be big but it is possible for the big hitter to go for the green, which is blind from the tee.  The “quirk” and challenge of the drive might be more to the negative but is offset by the very dramatic green site between rock outcroppings and a vertical wall (“positive quirk?”).  Subsequently, it is one of the more memorable holes on the course.

 

Diamond Springs #14 (Larry Lambrecht)

 TWG- You have built some edgy greens such as #14 at Diamond Springs, #7 at Greywalls, and #13 & 17 at Kingsley.   Do you think the golfers prefer them to your subtle greens such as #18 at Greywalls? 

Usually, those more severe greens are dictated by their sites and I try to balance them with softer, more subtle greens to create balance and variety throughout a course.  So, overall, I am not sure golfers like certain types more than others but enjoy the differences in them on the course, as long as there is balance.

#7 at Greywalls is an interesting choice, as it has some very big movements in it but is also very subtle in its deception, since the severe downhill nature of the land still controls many of the slopes but, optically, it looks like the ball will be going uphill or break the other way.  It is a wonderful green and is one of those where local knowledge helps out considerably.

 

TWG- Do you feel you have benefited with your Landscape Architecture degree in the Golf design business?  Would you recommend a young guy pursuing a Golf design career to spend time in the studio, on a Construction site, or something else? 

Yes, my schooling was very helpful and really provides the big picture on lots of design and planning concepts.  Understanding the game of golf and how it is played by all kinds of golfers is also important (and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a great, or pro, golfer to “get” that).  Getting around and seeing/playing the great courses of the world shows you what works and why, as well as exposes you to many different environments for golf.  Getting experience on a greens maintenance crew and a golf course construction crew gives immeasurable insight into how to build and maintain a course.  Those experiences and many others provide for lots to draw on when designing a new course or working on a classic design.

 

TWG- Over Dinner last summer we had a great conversation about Millennial golfers and I was impressed with your response.  You didn’t feel that we should cater to them and that we should instead teach them proper etiquette and form.  Amen!  How do we explain to them and others that walking on the Golf course can save them money on a Gym membership and increase their enjoyment on the course at the same time? 

It is hard to convince them of many things that don’t involve using a cell phone or having it handy almost all the time.  Golf, as an industry, has done a poor job of explaining what is great about this sport: you walk and get exercise that way, you communicate directly with your playing companions in conversation, you have the opportunity to put away and get away from the stress of always being “connected” with everyone else, you learn respect for your fellow man by being quiet when they hit, and you learn to do the right thing by calling a penalty on yourself when no one sees it happen but you.  Golf is a unique and very difficult sport but those elements above reveal the true spirit of the game. The golf industry needs to start promoting what is special about our game and that will attract people.

Another great aspect of golf is that it is a way to bridge generations and share something together.  I learned from my grandparents and uncle early on.  Golf was not easy and I didn’t love it every time but it taught manners and respect while also giving lots of highs with those (rare) pure shots.

Walking the course is actually quite quick if you all go to your ball and play ready golf – I’ve walked a “tougher than average to walk” course as a threesome in 2 ½  hours.  And you can choose to play only 9 holes if time is a factor.

 

Cape Wickham #18 (Larry Lambrecht)

 TWG- You have built world renowned Cape Wickham in Australia and I’m sure have spent a good bit of time in the Land Down Under, I’m Jealous.  The culture there is much different I hear.  Do you see more of our 2nd and 3rd tier private courses adopting an Aussie model of 700-1000 Golf members at a smaller fee?  We are slowly starting to see more clubs in the US embracing Trolleys, hopefully it continues.

American golf versus golf in the UK, Ireland, or Australia is quite different.  I am seeing more golfers walking, for exercise and the enjoyment of the game, but it is not anywhere near the walking mode of golfers in the rest of the world.  Certainly, I think the more health conscious younger generations see that as a benefit but many of them also just take a cart 90% of the time.  Courses should encourage walking by not always including the cart fee in with the greens fee.

It would be interesting if an American club would follow the larger membership – smaller fees of an overseas club but it would probably need the right developer/location to make it really work the way it does elsewhere.

Trolleys, caddies, and carrying your own bag are becoming more common in America once again but carts still rule most courses.  The recent (last 20 years) interest in playing hickory-shafted clubs has also spurred traditional golf approaches to the game.  Regular golfers see that and become interested, asking questions, and maybe even trying hickories.  Hey, maybe there is hope that golf will return more to its roots and walkers will prevail over carts?!?

Thanks for having me and Keep Walking!

TWG- Thank You and Amen!  

Greywalls #10 green, with Mike DeVries

Q&A with Golf Course Architect Doug Carrick

The Walking Golfer is excited to present the following Q&A with Doug Carrick, a renowned Canadian golf course architect and the current President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

The Q&A discusses topics such as building walking friendly courses in residential communities, the future of golf course design, along with Doug’s design philosophy and how he tries to ensure that his course are enjoyable for walking golfers.

Early in his career, Doug worked with Robbie Robinson, a very well respected Canadian golf course architect who had learned from the great Stanley Thompson. Doug founded Carrick Design, Inc. in 1985, and over the past thirty-four years he has been involved in the planning and design of over fifty golf course projects, many of which have received design awards and/or acclaim from the various golf magazines. Doug has been published in numerous trade publications, invited to speak at a variety of professional conferences and recently elected President of the ASGCA by his peers as mentioned above.

Carrick Design have built many courses in the golfing hotbed of Southern Ontario including King Valley, Eagles Nest, Angus Glen, Osprey Valley, Big Win Island and their newest work at Cobble Beach. Greywolf Golf Course in BC and the River Course at Humber Valley Golf Resort in Newfoundland are two other Canadian courses Carrick has designed. Beyond the borders of Canada, Doug’s resume includes The Carrick on Loch Lomond in Scotland and two courses in mainland Europe.

Humber Valley in Newfoundland. Photo by Clive Barber and courtesy of Carrick Design Inc.

Doug and his team have been involved in designing and building many stand alone courses and others that were routed through residential communities or resorts. Carrick Design have also worked on many classic golf course renovation projects including those at Capilano, Summit and St. Georges.

Please read on for the Q&A.

TWG – With all of the courses available in the Toronto area, why did you join The Summit GC?

DC – I joined Summit more than thirty years ago, in 1978, when I was nineteen years old. At the time I was still playing some competitive golf and I felt Summit was a good test of golf that would help me develop my game to a higher level.

TWG – What are the qualities of this classic Cumming/Thompson design that appeal to you as an accomplished golf course architect?

DC – I love the seclusion and individuality of the holes. It’s a great escape from the city. The elevation changes, tree lined fairways and small greens place a premium on accuracy and the undulations in the fairways force you to learn how to play shots off every type of lie.

TWG – Do you tend to walk when you play Summit GC?

DC – Yes. When I get the opportunity to play Summit I walk, almost all the time. Only on rare occasions do I take a cart.

TWG – As a golfer and architect, do you generally prefer to walk or ride when you play or does it depend on the circumstances?

DC – My preference is to walk. Although there are some courses and/or some circumstances when it makes more sense to ride in a cart, but my preference is to walk.

TWG – Do you think walking is an important element of the golfing experience, or can a cart golfer fully appreciate the course and its design nuances while riding?
DC – I believe golfers experience more when they walk a golf course. All the senses of sight, touch, sound and smell become more engaged when walking a course. However carts have made the game more accessible to a wider range of golfers, those who have difficulty walking, and to a wider range of environments, mountain and hilly sites, where walking is difficult.

Inspiration for a walking golfer. Photo by Clive Barber and courtesy of Carrick Design Inc.

TWG – As a city, Toronto has a plethora of great golf courses, and you have been involved in a number of them. It seems like the “classic” courses are all great walks, while many of the “modern” courses are designed with carts in mind.

Is this an accurate description of a shift in design philosophy in the Toronto area over the past 25 years?

DC – I believe the shift from courses that can be easily walked to courses that are more suited to cart use has happened for a number of reasons.

First of all, many courses built in recent years have been associated with some type of residential development that is integrated within the golf course. This type of arrangement often spreads out the distance between holes to allow for road crossings and can sometimes add significant length to the overall distance to get around the course.

Secondly, carts represent a significant portion of the revenue at most golf courses and many golf course operations rely on cart use to help make their courses financially viable.

Thirdly, many of the properties that new golf courses are built on today are often not well suited to golf courses that can be easily walked due to excessive slopes, hilly terrain and significant environmentally protected areas that can lead to long distances between holes.

TWG – Can you think of any of your courses that have been built in Toronto over the past 25 years taht are an enjoyable walk?

DC – I believe King Valley, Greystone, Magna Golf Club and all the courses at Osprey Valley are relatively easy and enjoyable to walk.

TWG – Why are these such an enjoyable walk?

DC – The distances between green and tee from one hole to the next are relatively short and the terrain is relatively gentle, with not many severe climbs. The natural environments at these courses are also pleasant to experience.

TWG – How do you, or can you, influence clients to make their courses walker friendly?

DC – Whenever possible I try to design courses that can be walked with relative ease. Sometimes it is difficult to do this because of development requirements, environmental concerns or because the sites are too hilly. Most times the developer/owner determines the policy with respect to walking or mandatory carts. As architects we rarely have the opportunity to determine cart or walking policies, all we can do is try and design courses that can be walked. The rest is up to the owners.

The spectacular walk that is the course at Bigwin Island Golf Club. Photo by Clive Barber and courtesy of Carrick Design Inc.

TWG – How do you design for a walking golfer’s enjoyment if a client has made it clear that they are a priority?

DC – The key to designing a golf course that can be easily walked is to make the distances between the green of one hole and the tee of the next hole as short as possible, while keeping in mind safety concerns. It is also important to design the course routing in such a way that severe slopes or elevations changes are utilized on downhill holes and more gradual slopes and elevation changes are used on uphill holes. It is also important to make uphill climbs in stages whenever possible, rather than all at once.

Integrating elevation change into the design is critical. Photo by Clive Barber and courtesy of Carrick Design Inc.

TWG – Is it more difficult to design a walking only, or walking friendly course, versus a cart golf course based on your experience with a wide range of terrains across Canada?

DC – Walking courses are far more challenging to design today than they were in the past because of the nature of the present day sites, which tend to be more severe with more environmental restrictions, and also due to the demands for residential development associated with many modern golf courses.

TWG – How can an architect decrease the impact of cart paths on courses? That is – visually, in terms of path cost and maintenance, in terms of turf impact and repair.

DC – An architect can reduce the visual impact of cart paths by keeping them well back from play areas and by screening them from view through treed areas or by routing paths behind rolls and undulations in the fairways. Paved cart paths are far more cost effective to maintain than gravel cart paths, and they also tend to have a longer life span. Turf wear problems can be greatly reduced by avoiding cart traffic that enters and exits paths at one point. It is better to have carts entering and exiting paths at a variety of locations or at an oblique angle to the path.

TWG – Is it possible to route a great walking course through a residential community?

DC – It really depends on the amount of integration of homes and golf holes. Courses that have home lining both sides of every fairway tend to have more road crossings between holes which lengthens the overall distance walked. Courses that only have homes located on the perimeter of the golf course are generally more compact and distances between greens and tees can be reduced. So the answer is yes depending on the design approach taken.

TWG – Can you give examples of a couple of your projects that struck a great balance between real estate development and walkability?

DC – Certainly. I think Magna Golf Club and King Valley Golf Club are both good examples of this.

TWG – In a recent article, you mentioned that the time management issues that we face in modern society will probably force, or lead to, the creation of shorter courses that are faster to play. How will the architect maintain interest and challenge while improving speed of play on these shorter courses?

DC – More compact course designs with shorter distances between greens and tees, shorter overall course length, keeping in mind that 90% of golfers have great difficulty managing a course in the 7,000 yard range, will no doubt help to reduce the length of time it takes to complete 18 holes.

I believe the challenge and character can be maintained through good strategic design, great variation in hole lengths so that all clubs in the bag are used, this can be achieved most easily by creating variety in lengths on the par threes and par fives. Undulating fairway and green contours can also add great interest and challenge to a course without the need for excessive length.

TWG – Do you think technology should be “frozen” or “rolled back” to a previous period in order to make shorter courses as challenging as today’s 7+ thousand yard “championship” layouts?

DC – I believe that the distances the golf ball flies should be rolled back. Trying to change club technology is too complicated and has too many variables. Changing the ball is much easier. Golfers will still lose golf balls whether or not they fly farther or shorter, so a change to the golf ball shouldn’t hurt ball sales.

I believe our generation today has more pressure to balance their time between work, family and leisure activities. Golf will suffer if we keep building courses that take longer to play and cost more money to build, maintain and play. The cost of land continues to escalate and protection of our natural resources is becoming more and more important. We can’t continue to consume larger and larger tracts of land for golf.

Because of these factors I believe the ball should be rolled back in order to ensure future growth in the game. Or we design shorter courses and accept the fact that skilled players will only need three clubs -driver, wedge and putter.

TWG – Do you envision courses of the future being more or less walking friendly?

DC – I hope and believe that the majority of future courses will be walker friendly.

TWG – How can golf course developers and architects be more responsible to the environment in terms of construction techniques and future course maintenance?

DC – Developers and architects can be more responsible by respecting the sensitive natural features that need to be protected, by using water more efficiently and by incorporating natural areas in non- play portions of the golf course to encourage the flourishing of wildlife and natural vegetation.

TWG – From your portfolio, it is obvious that you have a gift for adapting your style to the terrain and environment at each site. What is your thought process in determining what “style” is right for a course and how do you go about preparing your initial design thoughts?

DC – Determining the style for a golf course is primarily derived from looking at the natural character of the site and designing features that are sympathetic to the character of the site. In cases where the site has limited natural character, we often consider what is offered at other courses in the same market area and how we can design something that offers a different golf experience than what is already offered.

The routing must flow naturally through the site. Photo by Clive Barber and courtesy of Carrick Design Inc.

TWG – Which three Carrick designs are your favorite walking courses and why?

DC – The Carrick on Loch Lomond, Osprey Valley Heathlands Course and King Valley Golf Club are my favorite walking courses. All of these courses are relatively compact, with easy walks from green to tee and they are in beautiful natural settings.

TWG – You are extremely well known and respected in both Canada and your industry, which is evident by the recognition that your designs have received and your appointment as President of the ASGCA. Is there a specific reason that you have not designed any courses in the US?

DC – The US golf course design market is very competitive, especially among the “celebrity” or well known designers. All of the Canadian Designers have been challenged to gain notoriety or recognition for the work south of the border. I believe it comes down to lack of familiarity with the work being done by Canadian designers, south of the border. Not that we haven’t tried to secure projects in the United States, it just hasn’t happened yet. I hope that once we do one project in the US that others will follow.

TWG – How important to the client was “walkability” in your design at Loch Lomond?

DC – Walkability of the course at Loch Lomond was a primary consideration in the design of the course, as it is a big part of the golfing culture in Scotland.

TWG – How did it impact your routing of the course, if at all?

DC – It encouraged me to find a routing that allowed for easy walking with short distances between greens and tees and gradual climbs going uphill and steep drops going downhill. My goal was to avoid any strenuous climbs, especially on the back nine which is located in the undulating terrain of the Highlands of Scotland.

TWG – Has designing and building a course in Scotland changed your philosophy as an architect in any way?

DC – Having the opportunity to see and play many of the great links courses in Scotland, while building the course at Loch Lomond certainly gave me a much deeper appreciation for many different qualities found on the links courses such as: fairway undulations and irregularities, green contours, small but penalizing bunkers, courses that can be played in 3 hours or less, reduced maintenance requirements, firm, fast and dry fairways and greens, walking and the traditions of the game.

TWG – Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions.

DC – You’re welcome.

Q&A with Author Tom Coyne

Tom Coyne has achieved a great deal of success as a young author. His first novel, A Gentleman’s Game was adapted into a film. Tom’s second book, Paper Tiger and his recent work A Course Called Ireland chronicle his time living two very different golf dreams that many people would covet.
Tom has a knack for doing what others only talk about, and then telling them from personal experience what it would be like. His books are brilliant stuff.

Tom’s writing style is engaging and entertaining. As an avid walking golfer and reader, I can honestly say that Paper Tiger and A Course Called Ireland were both polished off in no more than an evening or two, and I will certainly be reading both again.

Paper Tiger chronicles Tom’s experiences over the course of a year in which he totally and utterly dedicates himself to the game with the hope of qualifying for the PGA Tour. Tom moves to Florida, hires a swing coach and a psychologist and plays many competitive tournaments, while entertaining and educating the reader every step of the way.

A Course Called Ireland is about a four month long walk that Tom decided to make around the coast of Ireland while playing every golf course along the way. Tom’s experiences in Ireland are enlightening on many levels. The book explores Irish culture, Irish weather, the logistics of walking around a country where cattle dictated where and how most of the roads were built, the allure of links golf, the relative purity of the game in Ireland, and the power of the human spirit in difficult times.

Tom Coyne on the Bog Road. Photo courtesy of Tom Coyne.

Tom Coyne was kind enough to answer a series of questions that were provided to him by Society member Pat Craig and I. His responses are interesting and insightful, just like his books.

We are very grateful to Tom for taking the time to answer questions for TheWalkingGolfer.com and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

For more information on Tom Coyne and to purchase his books, please visit www.TomCoyne.com .

TWG – “Paper Tiger” and “A Course Called Ireland” are very different books, but dream adventures for many golfers. Which was harder to explain to friends and colleagues – That you were planning on trying out for the PGA Tour or that you were going to walk the entire coast of Ireland while playing each course along the way?

TC – Each idea sparked very different reactions from people.

With Paper Tiger, when I told people what I intended to do, how I was going to live my life for a year (playing golf every day, all day, with a coach, shrink, trainer, sponsor, etc.), I was usually met with predictable surprise, but also with a bit of envy, I think.  Every golf dreams that year for themselves, it’s something we’ve all told ourselves we’re going to do some day, and when you encounter someone who is actually doing it, it’s funny, I got a lot of,” Damn, I should be the guy doing that” from people.  Especially from better players, there seemed this feeling of, “Who do you think you are?  Why the hell aren’t I out there?”  So it was kind of interesting.

The reaction to A Course Called Ireland, when I told people that I was going to walk around Ireland with golf clubs on my back — people just kind of seemed confused by the whole thing.  It was either a confused, “Why the hell would you do that?”  Or a, “Can I please come with you?”  There was actually a good deal of the latter.  Anyone with interest in Ireland, or Guinness, seemed to get the idea right away.

TWG – If given “unlimited” time do you think you could have made it through Q-School and got your Tour Card?

TC – Probably not.  Though I’d be up for trying.  I think there are golfers who are comfortable in their tournament skin, and there are golfers who are comfortable in their ten dollar nassau, winner buys the first round skin.  I became convinced that I am a golfer of the latter variety.  With more time and more tournaments under my belt, I could have gotten more comfortable on that first tee, or more focused in the middle of a four day tournament, but I think in my golfing heart of hearts, I just have too much damn respect for par.

These kids go out and destroy a golf course, they just pile on birdies.  I’d get to four under and freak out, make a nine on the next hole (really, I did that once).  I could play, but could I ever really believed I was a player?  I don’t know.  Time wouldn’t have made a difference.  When you go into this kind of experience as writer first, golfer second, you’ll always feel like somewhat of an imposter, no matter how you’ve whittled down your handicap.

TWG – Based on your experience, how much of a pro golfer’s greatness is talent and how much is hard work?

TC – Everyone seems to be working their asses off now, so it has to be the talent that’s making the cut.  Everyone has the coach, shrink, everyone hits the weight room, everyone beats balls until their hands bleed.

I played with some great young players who you just knew weren’t going to escape from the mini tours–sure, they could shoot 69 in the sun on a Florida course, but that puts them in the company of thousands.  The real players I encountered just had that different aura about them, and if that’s talent or arrogance, I don’t know.  But some guys just looked like they didn’t even see you.  They were clinical in the way they practiced, played, picked a golf course apart.  They seemed to own their game in a way that always impressed me.  And I suppose you only get to that point with genuine talent — you can’t fake the look in some of these players’ eyes, how it sort of made you want to step off the course and let them play through.

TWG – In Ireland, how did your game hold up after walking so many miles each day? Did you have to change your schedule to accommodate any of the rounds due to fatigue or injury?

TC – Exhaustion definitely impacted some rounds.  I dragged myself around Doonbeg, and I was literally dizzy tired in Donegal.  But when I had some rest, and after I had walked myself into top shape, my game definitely improved in Ireland — playing a links course in the elements with eight clubs in your bag forces you to be creative.  My touch definitely improved, as did my golf imagination.  I’m probably more comfortable trying to run in an eight iron from 120 than step on a gap wedge now, and I like that about my game.

I didn’t have to make changes for injury or fatigue, but some of my guests along the way quit some rounds early — my brother in law’s achilles just about exploded one day on the road to Greencastle, so he was off the golf circuit for a few days.

TWG – Having spent so much time on the roads of Ireland, stories must have accumulated quickly. Are there any that didn’t make “A Course Called Ireland” that you would like to share?

TC – I have journals stuffed with stories that didn’t make the book.

Here’s one — on the first night, sitting in the beachside town of Kilkee, we were enjoying some pints after golf at an outside table perched above the ocean.  Sun was setting, it was absolutely fantastic.  A local comes by, looks out at the waves and says, “Hey, look, there’s a whale out there!”  And sure enough, out in the calm water, we saw the water breaking over what looked like the back of surfacing whale.  We all got excited, got up, took pictures, the locals came out of the pub and pointed along with us.  We eventually figured out that there was a rock out there in the ocean that did a pretty good whale imitation, and that everybody in the pub knew that except for us.  But we laughed at ourselves just as much as they laughed at us.  So I have some great pictures of a rock in Kilkee.

Tom battling traffic on the highways of Ireland. Photo courtesy of Tom Coyne.

TWG – Were you able to maintain the amazing fitness gains you achieved on your adventure in Ireland?

TC – Absolutely not.  I have returned to a sedentary desk life of cheesesteaks and word count.  I get winded when I walk my dog.  I’m trying to get in shape, but I think it’s going to take the next book to make that happen — with both Paper Tiger and A Course Called Ireland, I was in the best shape of my life.  So I need a book deal to get my cholesterol back down.

TWG – Which Irish courses did you consider to be the best walks?

TC – There isn’t a bad one on the island, but Carne, Connemara, maybe Ceann Sibeal stand out to me because of their remoteness, their uncrowded, unspoiled feel.

A great walking round of golf has that sensation of discovery to it, that feeling like you’re the only person who knows about a special place, or who has tred this way, and you get that on these lesser played links.

For spectacular, Old Head is a pretty great walk, and the only walk where you might find yourself having to sit down and clutch the earth — it’s not for those with a fear of heights.  And Mulranny was a fun walk — the course shares space with horses, donkeys, and sheep, and I played along with all of them.

TWG – How did “the walk” contribute to your enjoyment of the links courses in Ireland?

TC – When you golf in Ireland, you walk — no carts — so the walking is an integral part of the whole thing.  And as with any round of golf, but particularly in Ireland, doing it on the hoof allows you to take in the course, and the country, at the ideal pace.  You have enough time to soak in surroundings and smells, the feel of the seaside grasses under your feet.

And by walking all the way — doing the miles between the courses on foot as well — I was able to take Ireland at a pace that most travelers don’t get to experience.  I had to stop in places where people don’t stop, I had to stay or eat or spend a night in a place where the tourist busses just passed by.  So taking Ireland by foot guaranteed that I’d have an experience unlike what others had enjoyed or written about.  And that would make the book better, which I hope that it has.

TWG – Do you believe walking to be the preferred way to experience and enjoy a golf course? Or does it depend on the course and the location?

TC – It certainly depends.  My vote is usually for walking, but in Ireland, it’s an absolute must.  Something about a golf cart on a links course, it just looks profane.

But there are so many new courses being built over here that really can’t be walked — modern layouts seem to have zero concern for the ambulatory golfer, and that’s a shame, and probably why I so much prefer the old turn of the century courses that we’re lucky enough to have in abundance in Philadelphia.  When I was in Florida for Paper Tiger, it could be a ten minute drive through three neighborhoods of villas to find the next tee box.  I’ll take the cart in that situation.  And if I’m playing a goof off scramble or Monday outing where the cart may or may not be loaded down with a twelve pack of swing oil, I’ll take the cart then, too.

TWG – Is there anything we can learn from the Irish in terms of getting our children interested in golf from a young age?

TC – We can learn loads from European golf in terms of growing the game with kids.  I could do a thesis on this, but I’ll sum up what they have, and we could use:

–          More nine holers (Ireland is full of them, and they’re real golf courses, not pitch and putts, and a great place for kids to learn the game cheaply)

–          More community courses (golf in Ireland isn’t burdened by exclusivity the way golf over here is — if there’s a course in town, it’s the town’s course, and the putting green is likely crowded with young golfers)

–          Very reasonable junior and family memberships

–          Tee boxes open to kids during the day while mom and dad’s at work

And overall, a less fussy, stuffy approach to the game — play in jeans, play in sneakers, who cares.  What the Irish have over us in a lot of ways is perspective.  Their country being a wee bit older than ours, and having gone through a load more crap, there’s a certain wisdom in a lot of the ways they look at things — and they’re wise enough to think, hey, it’s a game, let the kids play.

TWG – How did you evaluate each course before giving a recommendation in your book? Was there a specific criterion or was it just a matter of whether you enjoyed yourself or not?

TC – I’m not a student of course architecture or an authority on course design, and I’m pretty up front about that in the book.  I ranked and rated the courses according to where we had the most fun.  And that could be influenced by the weather, how I played, what kind of reception did we get in the pro shop, or in the lounge.

I listed the courses in the back according to which I would walk back to first, and that had much to do with the layout and quality of the links, certainly, but if I didn’t have a great day there, it didn’t make the list.  I’m sure purists would be shocked to hear I left Royal County Down off my list, but the way that we played it, without course guide or caddy (we arrived before either were available), was absolute confusion.  We bled golf balls that day.  It makes everyone else’s top ten in the world list, but I recall two dozen rounds in Ireland more fondly.  But I’m certainly willing to give it another shot.

TWG – If you had to play two courses in Ireland once a week for the rest of your life, which courses would you choose and why? And let’s say that you can drive from one to the other!

TC – Two?  Very tough call…  Carne, because I just love that place.  And then it gets tough…Dooks…Ardglass…I’d want it to be something playable, doesn’t beat you up too badly, easily walkable, but without any boring holes or flat notes…I’d say Cruit Island, a nine-holer up in a corner of Donegal.  I could go around it four times a day and not get bored, it’s just all fun, and you can get around it in about an hour.

TWG – Have you been to Bandon Dunes? If so, how would you compare the golfing experience there to your favorite links courses in Ireland?

TC – Haven’t been to Bandon, but I get a lot of emails asking me if I have, and a few open invitations from guys who make that pilgrimage.  When I say in the book that we don’t have a single true links course in America, according to strictest definition, Bandon always comes up.  I’m certainly not the arbiter of who gets the links distinction (it has to do with soil, vegetation, etc. — it has to be built on dunes, essentially, no turf), but the fact that we have zero, and Ireland, a country the size of Indiana, has 40% of the world’s supply–that’s really one of the notions that kicked this whole adventure off in the first place.

TWG – Do you see another golf book in your future or is it time to move on to something else?

TC – Tough to say,  Three books, not sure how much more I have to say about golf.  Perhaps more travel than sport, but I don’t know, it’s hard to get away from that golf ball, the stories keep working their way back to it…

TWG – Tom, thanks so much for your time and for answering our questions.

Interview questions provided to Tom Coyne by Patrick Craig and Rob Rigg.

For more information on Tom and his books please visit www.tomcoyne.com .

Q&A with Golf Course Architect Tom Doak

When Tom Doak agreed to answer a few questions for the members of The Walking Golfers Society we were ecstatic.

The Q&A focuses on building golf courses for the walking golfer.

Tom Doak is one of the top golf course architects in the world, and like so many successful leaders in their field, he is the best because his life has been dedicated to learning, interpreting and implementing the extensive knowledge he has compiled about golf course architecture in a unique way.

Tom’s love for golf course architecture started at a very young age. His passion was noticed at Cornell University where he was awarded a scholarship to travel to Scotland, caddy at St Andrews, and visit the many great courses located in Great Britain and Ireland.

Tom’s encyclopedic knowledge of golf courses is legendary and he has put that information to great use while designing golf courses and writing about them.

In 1992, Tom wrote “Anatomy of a Golf Course” which is a must read for anyone interested in golf course architecture. He followed it up with the out of print and hard to find “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses” in 1996 which features honest and forthright review of over 800 courses. The “Doak Scale”, which he created for “The Confidential Guide”, is used by golf course architecture buffs around the world to discuss and rate courses.

In terms of golf course design, “minimalism” is the foundation of his philosophy.  Tom, and his team at Renaissance Golf Design, always work with the land, moving as little dirt as possible, and spend an extensive amount of time onsite to develop the optimal routing for both the course and the ground it will be built upon. “Minimalist design” is the “in vogue” philosophy for many golf course architects, but Tom has been committed to it since his solo design career began with High Pointe in 1989.

Tom’s broad knowledge of golf courses, his uncanny ability to find the optimal routing on any property, his committment to work seamlessly with the land before him, and his skill in surrounding himself with a great team of designers, project managers and shapers, has provided Renaissance with the opportunity to work on some of the best sites and build some of the best walking courses in the world.

Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle Dunes, Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers and Sebonack (designed with Jack Nicklaus) are a few of Tom’s courses that are consistently found at the top of any magazine’s course rankings. His new design at Bandon Dunes, Old Macdonald, will probably be added to the list after its opening in June, 2010.

As a walking golfer who enjoys learning about golf course architecture, I am in awe of what Tom has accomplished.

His designs epitomize the experience benefit of walking when you play, because the thoughful routing, subtle nuances and bold contouring, and attention to detail in the shaping of bunkers and greens, can only be fully realized if you are walking the course.

Please read on for the Q&A.

TWG      What was, or would be, your dream site to build a walking friendly golf course?

TD         I don’t have one “dream” site … we’ve had the good fortune to work on 7-10 sites which would be a dream for any architect, and I’m confident there are more of them out there. The good news is, you can build a walking friendly golf course in nearly any setting.

TWG      How do you think differently about routing a walking versus cart specific golf course?

TD         I don’t think I’ve ever designed a “cart specific” golf course; we try to make every course walkable.  But generally, if you have to design around cart paths, you have to space the holes farther apart so that the cart coming up the path is not in danger from another hole.  I know I’ve designed a few holes where I thought afterward, “Gee, if we had to have cart paths, I couldn’t have built this green this way,” because of access issues.  The tenth at Pacific Dunes is a good example of that … the green sits between two big dunes, and the only good way to the next tee is right across that green.

TWG       What does the request for a “walking friendly” course mean to you?

TD           It means you want short transitions between greens and tees, and not too much hill climbing.

TWG       How do you minimize green to tree transfers?

TD           That is really the lost art of golf course design.  Most modern architects figure that everyone will just drive to the next tee so the transition doesn’t matter, but if you are a stickler for short transitions, you have to be much better at routing the course to minimize blind or partially blind tee shots.  You probably also have to have the strong stomach to decide that having one or two tee shots from less than the ideal angle, is better than having to walk or ride 100 yards out of your way for a tee where you can see better.

TWG       Is there a green to tee transfer distance that is simply unacceptable to you?

TD           No, not really. Sometimes you might have to have one pretty long walk in order to make other holes work seamlessly.  The longest walk I’ve seen on a golf course is about a quarter mile between the 12th and 13th holes at Cape Breton Highlands.  Stanley Thompson treated that like a nature walk along the river, a lull in the play that makes you remember where you are.

TWG       Do you have any examples of a situation where you decided not to build the “best” hole possible because the transfer from the preceding or subsequent hole would be too far?

TD           I’m sure we do this once or twice per course.  I am not sure I want to point out an example, because I don’t want people to start pointing out where I “compromised” the course.

TWG       Do you think Crystal Downs is a good walking course despite its hilly nature? If so, what was done in the routing to make it walking friendly despite the terrain?

TD           Crystal Downs is a beautiful walk, but it’s pretty strenuous getting from the tenth green up to the 11th and then way up again to the 12th tee … they could stand to have an oxygen station at the 12th tee!  I’ve heard in the old days there was a horse & wagon in the summer months to take people up from 11 to 12.  Realistically, though, that one climb probably prevents 20% of the members from thinking about walking.  And a lot of times I will walk the front nine but then take a cart for the back.

TWG       If you were given a piece of property like Crystal Downs, what would you do differently, if anything, to integrate the hills and valleys into the routing to make it easier for the walker?

TD           Crystal Downs is one of the great routings ever.  There’s no way around that one long uphill transition, because the property is very skinny there between a road and the bluff … you couldn’t play “east and west” to tack your way up the hill.  Nobody could improve on that routing.

TWG       Is there more, or less, earth moving required in building walker specific versus cart specific golf courses, or does it just depend on the site?

TD           It depends mostly on the architect’s attitude.  On a walking course you might have to move a little more dirt in places if you insist on not having a blind tee shot … but that’s probably a very small percentage of what modern architects typically move.

TWG       If a property owner requests a design that is “cart golf” focused, due to location, clientele, etc., is there anything that you try to do with the routing to make it walkable as well?

TD           I’ve never had anyone ask for “cart golf” only, and I would probably turn down the job if they insisted on that.  However, there might be a cool property where it’s totally impractical to walk the whole 18 … Stone Eagle was pretty close to that.  Even so, most people will walk the bulk of the course and let a forecaddie take the cart, and they’ll only take the cart for a few uphill stretches or green-to-tee transitions.

TWG       How have environmental regulations helped or hindered the design of walking specific golf courses, and golf course architecture in general?

TD           The biggest effect is that we may have large areas of wetlands that we’re not even allowed to clear and hit over … and if there are a lot of those, it’s likely there will be some very long transitions around or across those wetlands.

TWG       Do you think we will see more Ballyneals (natural terrain great for walking) or Stone Eagles (mountain side cart specific) built in the future, from an economic and land availability stand point?

TD           I just hope there are more sites like those out there.  For the short term, there aren’t going to be very many golf courses built, period … but maybe the ones that are built will be on sites that are more suitable for golf and for walking.

TWG       Can a great walking golf course be routed through a housing development?  If so, how? Can you think of any?

TD           Lots of great courses have some housing along the perimeter … even Cypress Point and Pine Valley and North Berwick.  But the typical modern land-planned development where the golf course is wound through housing areas and crosses several streets makes it difficult to do a good walking course.  In such cases I would try to convince the client that a “core” course could be built on less acreage and made easily walkable, and leave more acres for development, but fewer of those lots would have golf course views.  I’ve been told by some of the leading land planners that the model of putting housing lots around every hole was starting to become unpopular, anyway, and that high-end developments were looking more toward having a “core” golf course … but as slow as development is now, it will probably be a few years before you can really tell if that’s a trend.

TWG       Are there any challenges, such as trees, that can make routing a good walking course through a parkland site more difficult than a wide open linksland site? Or does modern equipment make it fairly easy to work in any environment?

TD           Well, trees do impose one extra condition, in that you can’t just play to the next fairway from any angle you want, because sometimes there might be a specimen tree in the way … which limits the choices on where to place the previous green.  Sure, equipment lets you take down any tree in your way, but sometimes you don’t want to, or you’re working in some protected California oaks and you really can’t take the trees out.

TWG       What are your three favorite walking golf courses in the world and why?  What did the architect do with the land to make them best in class?

TD           Pretty much all of the great courses in the world are easily walkable … it is not a prerequisite for being ranked in the top 50, but there aren’t any notable exceptions.  I’ve been quoted before that courses like Cypress Point and Cruden Bay are so great, in part because the routing takes you around the property just like you might walk around to explore it for the first time.  I would like to think some of my courses fall into that category as well.

TWG     Thanks so much for your time.