The Golfer

Best of the World 2018

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T he sanctification of courses by these famous architects can get in the way of thoughtful restorations. I have had people tell me that an architect carefully placed a tree behind a green for depth perception. Yet that tree would have been little more than a two foot sapling when the course was built in the 1920s. Swales in fairways, dug for drainage, are seen as marks of unsurpassed artistry. Odd bunker locations are taken to have deep aesthetic significance. I have come to think that Ross, Travis and others sometimes placed bunkers in certain locations simply to provide a source of fill dirt for nearby green pads. It is not possible to know all of the details of what an architect wanted for a course 75 years after it opened. Even if we are fortunate enough to have detailed drawings, it still is not possible. What still exists on the course may be misleading as well. The fact that an architectural feature may have survived that length of time does not necessarily mean it was intended or desirable. Let's face it—there is always slippage between the drawing and what is put in the ground. Especially when construction crews were new to building golf courses—as many were in the 1920s—or unfamiliar with the architect's preferences, or if the architect made few or no site visits during construction. It is very hard to know what details Donald Ross would have wanted on the 300 or so courses he designed, but never saw. It is entirely possible that he didn't know. Designers from all eras have left a great deal to the interpretation of construction crews, owners and club members. Even when architects oversaw construction, features were constantly being changed in the field. One prime example is Ross, who tinkered with Pinehurst No. 2 his entire life. MacDonald was still changing National Golf Links 25 years after it opened. MacKenzie was rethinking Pasatiempo right up until the end of his life. It is entirely possible MacKenzie would have also tinkered with Augusta National had he lived. It is the only clay based course he designed. Unlike sand based courses with their high percolation rates, clay based courses present unique drainage problems. From opening day, Augusta National had drainage problems on the 4th, 7th, 10th and 11th holes. These problems were one of the main reasons Perry Maxwell, Robert Trent Jones and others were brought in to make changes on these holes. MacKenzie would have understood the need for changes. Like other famous architects of his era, MacKenzie fully expected course modifications would be part of the natural life of his golf courses. When asked to restore or repair an older course, the first, middle and last question is: What is it that we are restoring? The course details as originally intended? As originally built? As it looked at some interim date? And what if the current membership has its own ideas? These are all legitimate issues that should be debated and resolved in any restoration project, but I think the masters of the Golden Age would have scoffed at the idea of literal restoration of their own designs. C ults—whether of Mao Tse Tung, The Grateful Dead or Donald Ross—always get in the way of clear thinking. An overdose of reverence for practitioners during the Golden Age can get in the way of thoughtful restoration. Though a course may be designed by a Flynn or a Tillinghast, it can sometimes be very hard to be sure about the architect's vision for the details, even when good drawings exist. Bunker depths, green contours, runoff areas, lake and creek borders, trees, tee elevations and so forth were often not specified in detail—and all were reinterpreted by other minds over the years. Getting back to a starting point usually involves a lot of guesswork and luck. The best of the Golden Age architects were unmatched geniuses at using existing landforms to build strategy and interesting shot opinions. I stand in awe of what they were able to do. My point is that their genius does not reside in every detail. It can be counterproductive to treat Golden Age courses with too much deference. A balance has to be struck between respect for their genius and the needs of the modern player, new turf types, the current regulatory environment and so forth. Finding that balance is the hardest part of a good restoration. However, when done well, it is also the most satisfying. • " Cults , whether of Mao Tse Tung, The Grateful Dead or Donald Ross , always get in the way of clear thinking — an overdose of reverence for practitioners during the Golden Age can get in the way of thoughtful restoration ."

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