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Macdonald’s “Bottle” Template and Inspiration Beyond Sunningdale(?)

One of the wonders in the era of re-appreciating the classic era of golf course architecture is the touch of mystery that lurks behind much of it. Documentation has been lost on most of the world’s most acclaimed golf courses, and dedicated devotees are always digging to get back what was lost. 

George Bahto was among the best of them, and was held among the foremost academics on C.B. Macdonald. His book, The Evangelist of Golf, is often the first step in an education on Macdonald’s template system, and their place at the National Golf Links of America. 

We’ve come to accept Bahto’s answers — as well as those from numerous experts — as concrete. Should we? No doubt, Bahto put the work in…but an extreme lack of first-hand sources means nothing is infallible. The Evangelist info on the “Bottle” template is not a clear example of this. After all, Macdonald himself described what the origin of the concept was. But if I may be so bold…I’d argue — as someone who frequently and subconsciously chooses to misremember — that Macdonald may be guilty of the same. 

Here I argue, dangerously, that our accepted understanding of the “Bottle” has long been misled by none other than Macdonald’s own words. It’s a proposal that can’t be proven…but there’s evidence it’s not a throwaway theory either.   

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The Oregon Golf Trail: Pack Some Clubs & Play These Courses on The Greatest ’90s Computer Game

Several months ago, scratching a creative itch, we set about creating The Appalachian Golf Trail, consisting only of notable golf clubs located within walking distance (less than 5 miles) from the most famous hiking trail in the United States. The results, of course, were a disaster. Of the eight clubs identified, only seven have survived until the publication of this post. One, the Hanover Country Club, has since been closed by Dartmouth College. The others are fine, to our knowledge.

That disaster being completed, and our boredom continuing, we began seeking another topic to fill some blog space. A chance encounter with a ‘90s computer brought forth the obvious solution: The Oregon Golf Trail.

There is a significant difference between this and the Appalachian Golf Trail, namely in that you can still hike the Appalachian one, and the Oregon Trail has largely been paved over. After all, using Bill Coore’s routing logic (he follows animal trails, assuming they’ve already figured out the best ways around a property), the Oregon Trail existed for a reason. It was the most passable way to get from Kansas City to Portland. Therefore concrete roads have often been built along the rivers where a dirt one once ran. The point is you can’t, safely at least, hike the Oregon Golf Trail. That said, for the fun of the exercise, we’ve left the “five mile” rule in place. The result is a collection of six public golf courses, along with a collection of privates that you can try to tap as you travel West.

Here’s a map of the Oregon Trail so you can plan your trip and follow along with this ridiculous exercise. One bit of advice: Never try to ford the river with your golf clubs.

Continue reading “The Oregon Golf Trail: Pack Some Clubs & Play These Courses on The Greatest ’90s Computer Game” »

A Unique Approach to Designing Blind Approaches: 3 Cases at Pete Dye Golf Club

Blind approach shots make for uncomfortable discussion among “woke” golf course architecture folks. On one hand, the idea of simply launching a ball into space and trusting your distance is not a hip concept to those committed to the “Strategic School” of golf course architecture. How much “luck” should be required for something that’s allegedly strategic? On the other hand, even C.B. Macdonald could not deny the appeal in the original “Alps” at Prestwick, bringing the concept back to his American designs. Very few have the backbone to suggest Macdonald is “wrong.”

At its base are two contrasting values. The second value is the principles of Strategic golf, which places almost all emphasis on the player; both their ability to gauge risk and reward, and execute upon them. But golf’s roots in the Scottish links relied on a bit more. It relied on luck. Great courses require great players to execute strategically, but it also requires them to react to wild bounces and curious results. Blind shots into punchbowl greens are more at home in this philosophy.

And so there’s some uncomfortable thumb-twiddling when the idea comes up in modern architecture conversation. The intrigue and suspense of walking up to your ball after launching it into the (relative) unknown, versus the inherent unfairness in blinding the green.

Pete Dye takes an alternative tack to the blind approach at Pete Dye Golf Club. In fact, he does it three times.

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Land Crunch in Singapore to Offer Near Endless Fields for Golf Design Inspiration

Singapore has a space problem. Being the no. 29 city in the world for population density makes it thicker than any American city. And, among those 28 ahead of Singapore, only Seoul comes close in terms of being relatively-not-impoverished (RNI, a metric tracked by the BPBM Economic Forum). The difference between Seoul and Singapore is that one is an island, and one is not. Seoul can play the suburbs game, and Singapore cannot.

This spells trouble for Singapore’s golf courses, as its government has asserted it will focus on housing developments and infrastructure, while cutting an estimated 40 percent of golf courses by 2030 (there’s a big asterisk on that number, which we’ll get to in a minute). I’m not saying I like the idea of cutting 40 percent of golf courses, but Singapore is displaying reasonable growth. It’s not a flocking point for nouveau rich and NIMBY Democrats. It’s an economically-accomplished one-city nation with no land for its next wave of births.

But that doesn’t mean the golf courses need to disappear.

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Monday Morning Golf Course Architect: Erin Hills No. 4

The most frequent complaint I hear from those who visit Erin Hills for the first time: “It’s long for the sake of being long.” The solution to this problem is fairly simple: Just play from shorter tees. Guys who play from the tips at Local Golf & Country Club shouldn’t be playing the tips at a 7,800 course, much less one designed with the U.S. Open in mind. Consider the length differences from the Black to the Green (6,750 yards) on No. 14, my favorite hole at Erin Hills…106 yards, down from 613 to 507. It’s intended to be a risk/reward hole. If you don’t think about going for it after a solid drive, you’re playing from the wrong tees. Guys who average 295, hitting downhill, can do that. You cannot.

That rant aside, we turn to a hole that actually gave the pros trouble, despite its relative lack of length: No. 4.

Playing at just 440 yards from the Black tees, the hole played as the second-most difficult during the 2017 U.S. Open. It trailed only No. 3 for score-above-par, adding a quarter to the average player’s scorecard.

I enjoyed playing it, even if the pros didn’t. But it could be better. And I aim to do so, as part of “Monday Morning Golf Course Architect.”

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Tillinghast Templates Part 4/4: The Reef (Newport Country Club, Ridgewood, Bethpage and More)

“I have known Charley Macdonald since the earliest days of golf in this country and for many years we have been rival course architects, and I really mean rivals for in many instances we widely disagreed. Our matter of designing courses never reconciled. I stubbornly insisted on following natural suggestions of terrain, creating new types of holes as suggested by Nature, even when resorting to artificial methods of construction. Charley, equally convinced that working strictly to models was best, turned out some famous courses. Throughout the years we argued good-naturedly about it.”

If you were to take A.W. Tillinghast’s word for it, the Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture was broken into two camps: those using templates, and those going without. There’s a kernel of truth to this…and plenty untrue as well. Tillie, for all his hay about the “natural suggestions of terrain,” frequently turned to templates. Tillinghast went as far as developing his own portfolio of templates. There are four, and this series will shed some light on these “lesser templates,” typically ignored in today’s conversations on the subject of designed holes.

Today’s is perhaps the most legendary of Tillie’s templates, because it’s the toughest to find in the “ideal” state that the architect described during his writing. Most of us are familiar, at this point, with the Great Hazard, and many even know the “Tiny Tim,” Tillinghast’s more famous short hole template. He was no slouch for strategy, but Tillie enjoyed coupling such thought with a fair amount of brawn, including within Par 3s.

And so, today, we examine the last of Tillinghast’s templates, the “Reef.”

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The “Valley” Template: Explaining Perceived Design Diversion from C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor

“By the way, first hole at Tamarack is a Road Hole.”

It wasn’t a promising preempt to my scheduled phone call with Anthony Pioppi, who—as an author/blogger/podcaster/historian/etc and, most importantly, leader of the Seth Raynor Society—was more equipped than most to shut down new ideas from the fringes of golf architecture analysis.

My intended point of discussion: “What’s a ‘Valley’ hole?”

It’s not that I didn’t know what a “Valley” hole was (and if you don’t, no worries…we’ll look a bit more at this somewhat obscure MacRaynor template), but that I wasn’t sure if Seth Raynor knew what a “Valley” hole was. It’s an absurd thought, I know—that Macdonald’s construction chief wouldn’t have picked up on the concept by implementing Macdonald’s ideas—yet almost every Raynor example of a “Valley” seemed to be tremendously off-base.

And so I reached out to Pioppi, whose aforementioned expertise I hoped would generate some clarity. And, though the road was twisted, I’ve got a theory. We’ll get to Tamarack’s so-called “Road” soon, but let’s start with a primer: What is a “Valley” hole?

Or, at least, what does amateur-hour architecture blog BPBM allege that a “Valley” should be?

Continue reading “The “Valley” Template: Explaining Perceived Design Diversion from C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor” »

Tillinghast Templates Part 3/4: The Double Dogleg (Shawnee, San Francisco Golf Club, and More)

“I have known Charley Macdonald since the earliest days of golf in this country and for many years we have been rival course architects, and I really mean rivals for in many instances we widely disagreed. Our matter of designing courses never reconciled. I stubbornly insisted on following natural suggestions of terrain, creating new types of holes as suggested by Nature, even when resorting to artificial methods of construction. Charley, equally convinced that working strictly to models was best, turned out some famous courses. Throughout the years we argued good-naturedly about it.”

If you were to take A.W. Tillinghast’s word for it, the Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture was broken into two camps: those using templates, and those going without. There’s a kernel of truth to this…and plenty untrue as well. Tillie, for all his hay about the “natural suggestions of terrain,” frequently turned to templates. Tillinghast went as far as developing his own portfolio of templates. There are four, and this series will shed some light on these “lesser templates,” typically ignored in today’s conversations on the subject of designed holes.

Today’s is most definitely the least-recognized of Tillinghast’s templates…perhaps because it often appears to simply be quality course architecture. The majority of his templates are instantly recognizable: The “Great Hazard,” of course, has an obvious great hazard, and the greens on a “Tiny Tim” stand out for their ring of defense. Technically today’s template also has an easily-identified feature built right into its name…but it’s not as glitzy as the phrase “Great Hazard.”

And so we examine Tillinghast’s “Double Dogleg.”

Continue reading “Tillinghast Templates Part 3/4: The Double Dogleg (Shawnee, San Francisco Golf Club, and More)” »

Ohio in 50 Features: Sleepy Hollow Golf Course and The Forgotten Abyss

Ranking the courses in any region—especially one as golf -rich as Ohio—is very much grasping at pins. Selecting a feature—a green, a bunker, a creek, even a dip in the fairway—that best defines those courses is an even more subjective exercise…which is of course why we’re doing it. Ohio in 50 Features” aims to highlight the Top 50 courses in the Buckeye State and focus on one key element at the course that gives a greater representation of the the club’s style, its architect, its history, and—hopefully—some fodder for you to check it out when you’re in the region. Our first entry is a  worthwhile municipal offering in the Greater Cleveland / Akron areas, Sleepy Hollow Golf Course.

Continue reading “Ohio in 50 Features: Sleepy Hollow Golf Course and The Forgotten Abyss” »

Tillinghast Templates Part 2/4: The Tiny Tim (Bedford Springs, Baltusrol, and More)

“I have known Charley Macdonald since the earliest days of golf in this country and for many years we have been rival course architects, and I really mean rivals for in many instances we widely disagreed. Our matter of designing courses never reconciled. I stubbornly insisted on following natural suggestions of terrain, creating new types of holes as suggested by Nature, even when resorting to artificial methods of construction. Charley, equally convinced that working strictly to models was best, turned out some famous courses. Throughout the years we argued good-naturedly about it.”

If you were to take A.W. Tillinghast’s word for it, the Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture was broken into two camps: those using templates, and those going without. There’s a kernel of truth to this…and plenty untrue as well. Tillie, for all his hay about the “natural suggestions of terrain,” frequently turned to templates. Tillinghast went as far as developing his own portfolio of templates. There are four, and this series will shed some light on these “lesser templates,” typically ignored in today’s conversations on the subject of designed holes.

The first is the most frequented of Tillie’s templates, but rarely receives recognition as being just that…a “template.” The reason may be the huge variety present across this template’s history; Macdonald and Raynor always incorporated some degree of ingenuity into their own templates, but Tillinghast’s variance in this concept may fool some into not recognizing it as a template at all. And MacRaynor’s use of a similar (yet distinct!) concept doesn’t help Tillie’s cause.

And so today we look at the Tiny Tim. Continue reading “Tillinghast Templates Part 2/4: The Tiny Tim (Bedford Springs, Baltusrol, and More)” »