New course nothing more than marketing ploy
Breathless news from Sarasota, Fla., Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin are collaborating on a new golf course design called The Concession. The name commemorates the historic gesture at the 1969 Ryder Cup when Nicklaus conceded a 3-foot putt to Jacklin in the final match at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England. Had Jacklin missed the putt, his team of British and Irish golfers would have lost outright. Instead, the squads tied (and the United States retained the Cup).
Great act of sportsmanship, but what does it have to do with course design?
Nothing actually. At least not anything that Jacklin could explain at a recent news conference. But who cares? It makes for interesting marketing, which in the eyes of too many people today is about all that architecture has become.
The least they could do at The Concession is have the ninth and 18th greens interlock, as if shaking hands. Next thing you know, Jacklin and Dave Hill will honor the 1970 U.S. Open by collaborating on “The Hayfield.” Soon, we’ll hear about “The Re-Do,” a Pat Bradley-Annika Sorenstam collaboration honoring that graceless scene at the 2000 Solheim Cup when Bradley made the Swede replay a shot.
Why stop there? How about “The Cat Fight,” by Danielle Ammaccapane and Michelle Wie. Or “The Over/Under,” co-designed by Pete Rose and attorney John Dowd (who wrote the report for then-baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti.) You can bet that course will feature a phone bank in the clubhouse.
When cheap, superficial marketing brains take hold, anything is possible – like the course that bears a celebrity name though it was designed by an unknown architect.
Makes me wonder what effect such marketing ploys have. They certainly hike up the cost of the golf course without much increased value. Worse, they create a haze of confusion about the design process, as if a few cocktail parties and an inaugural tee shot suffice to exhaust the scope of the design process. At that rate, anybody can be a designer – provided you’ve established name recognition. Or, you can become green chairman or win the club championship, in which case you, too, become instantly qualified to hang out a shingle and practice.
It must be tempting for those who have arrived at the pinnacle of their profession to find clients lined up from here to Cucamonga ready to throw millions of dollars at their feet. Like the proverbial big-name designer who shows up at the first tee and asks his trusted associate, “Hey, Harry, where’s this one go?” Or the jet-setting architect who shows up late on opening day because he got lost on the way from the airport.
There are PGA Tour players whose involvement as consultants (for six-figure fees) amounts to nothing more than video opportunities atop mounds of dirt (with rolled-up plans in one hand as they point with the other to the great beyond). Gene Sarazen earned his co-consultant credit with Sam Snead on The Slammer & The Squire Course in St. Augustine, Fla., by riding around the site for an hour in a four-wheel and then insisting on a pot bunker somewhere, anywhere out there.
The balanced picture doesn’t emerge when local writers accept at face value then report as fact the nonsense produced by PR flaks. Nowhere is this publicity effort undertaken with worse consequences for architecture than in the case of “signature designs” and “signature holes.”
The signature design concept dates to Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the early 1960s, when he advertised his work – and name – as having collector’s value. Today, the concept has degenerated completely, to the point where a designer charges a 25 percent premium for his own “signature design” as opposed to having a cheaper, generic design that is churned out by his design shop.
If you really want to get into the gutter of cheap marketing, take a close look at the concept of “signature holes.” Instead of working on the basics of strategy, the naturalness of routing and the match between a hole and the lay of the land, designers have been egged on by developers, photographers and publicists to design for razzmatazz and the “wow” factor. In a world of cheap celebrity, the award for best design is reserved for the prettiest and sexiest layout. Not that it has a thing to do with sound design or shotmaking variety.
I love showing up at a course and being asked by the host pro or director of publicity which one of their 18 gems I think is their signature hole. When I tell them I don’t believe in the concept and that it’s a cheap marketing ploy, they act hurt and deflated, as if I just stole their pet dog.
In a curious act of creativity, some designers have reverted to the ultimate cliche of all: “We don’t believe in a signature hole,” they’ll say. “We believe in creating 18 of them.”