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.