Friday, December 9, 2011


December 9, 2011

It’s a term all golfers are familiar with.  You’re playing with friends and find yourself kicking the ball along what looked to be a hole you could pencil in a reasonable number.  Fifteen minutes later your ball rests within the leather and your cohorts utter the term “It’s Good”.  Immediately you are overcome with a barrage of mixed emotions.  First relief…that the party hole is over…next the frustration with your game sets in and you question every element of your swing…finally you embrace the words that have given you a new lease on the game. 

These two simple words have become a staple in the lexicon of the game.  They have given hope to the everyday player that the game can go on and even at the highest level “it’s good” has been known to ease the pain of the game.  We all remember the late Payne Stewart’s historic gesture when declaring Colin Montgomerie’s twenty foot putt to win their match “good” once the 1999 Ryder Cup had been decided, taking the raucous crowd’s attention away from Montgomerie and placing it more appropriately on the reverence and traditions of the game.  A hand shake ensued and the game was preserved.

Recently, the “goodness” of the game again found its way into my life…and in a way that many experience every day.  Each year I make an effort to find and study exceptional golf...sometimes in places we are all familiar with and at other times simply within the landscape that surrounds our everyday life.  This year offered an exciting opportunity.  My father-in-law was celebrating his 70th birthday.  He has been a lifelong golfer, more avid in his retirement years, a club player, but not one to travel to the special courses of the world.  As a gift, my brothers-in-law and I brought him to Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, a Pete Dye gem set along the banks of Lake Michigan best known as the host course for recent PGA Championships.  The trip provided great inspiration for me artistically, but more importantly gave my father-in-law an unforgettable experience.  That experience was not only driven by the holes we played, but by the beautiful ever-present now!  It became an event in our lives where even the leaves strewn across the bridges we crossed seemed to be falling into place.


Walking along the fairways and trying to unravel the strategic battlefield laid out in front of us gave us pause.  We were faced with an uncommon thousands of sand hazards as well as a distracting view to the expanses of Lake Michigan.  How do we honor these places, these accomplishments...we play.  And we played.  As we approached our last putts on the last day there seemed to be only two words to concisely summarize the moment…and as I remember it we all pocketed our balls and uttered a resounding
“It’s Good” ….and it was Good.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Historical Reverence

 by Robert McNeil, President, The Northeast Golf Company
ASGCA, Associate

The presumption that one knows…to the point of considering themselves an expert…the distinct idiosyncrasies of another’s way of thinking about things, reacting to environmental inputs or inner most artistic desires is certainly very difficult to swallow.  This level of understanding is tough enough to accomplish within many years of wedded bliss, never mind with someone you’ve never met.

This applies in life and certainly applies to golf course architecture.  Rather than become the venerable Ross, Tillinghast or McKenzie expert… the practice of Relative Historical Reverence…sprinkled with a lot of respect brings reality to the restorative process.

What is Relative Historical Reverence?

Simply stated it is responding to the architecture of noted golf course architects from an historical perspective that identifies several important elements:

  1. Does the work have some importance within the history of golf course architecture?
  2. Is there an “obvious” philosophy that was employed? 
  3. What was the actual involvement of the architect on the specific project?
  4. What was the “state of the game” at the time strategically?
  5. What were the maintenance practices at the time and can the course deliver the expected conditioning through today’s standards of upkeep.
  6. Given the evolution of the game, does the original design offer the intended strategies, playability and shotmaking cues?
  7. Is it worth attempting to restore of the original design?  If yes, get the research team to work…if not are there elements worthy…if not is there an era style that sensibly fit the property….if not then you have properly done your research and your plan may have broader flexibility. 

 Recapturing Raynor “geometry” at Gardiner’s Bay in Shelter Island, NY

Style presumption is another touchy subject.  To think that architects of the stature of Ross or Travis or Flynn would employ the same style of bunkering, approach contouring or green surfacing on all of their courses is ridiculous.  Even more so, projects that may have been designed at different ends of technological advancements in construction and maintenance were likely driven by the ability to do things differently.  Finding decipherable aerial photography from the period of original design is the most important first step in determining the form and positioning of bunker styling, green shapes, fairway contouring, strategic features and the existence of certain trees.  Assuming something is the way it is because it was done somewhere else is usually a step in the wrong direction.  Measurable design connections both and physical and photographic will likely lead to some reasonable conclusions and design directives.  

Read, read, read.  Whatever literature, correspondence, field notes, are available regarding a particular architect, course, era, design trends, or issues relevant to your project will be helpful.  Read carefully, again the presumption of expertise must not be taken lightly.  Because Ross designed the venerable Seminole in Florida, means very little in terms of its applicability to the not so recognized Kernwood Country Club in Salem, Massachusetts.

Hole 9 bunker restyling, Kernwood CC Donald Ross-1914

“Respectful renovation” is a term that has been coined and it fits.  This encompasses most of the improvements that are likely applicable to a course that was built between 1910 and 1935.  Respect for the work of the architect, whoever it may be and respect for the design and construction processes that existed at the time.  With the knowledge gained through research driven by historical reverence taken from a position of respect and understanding of the era, real ideas can be argued, explored, planned and executed.