2005: Features - Details, details

Baiting Hollow, N.Y.

Doing big things well means getting all of the small things right. Even something as simple as a yardage book conveys a message about the tone and feel of a golf club.

Ken Bakst, the 1997 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, likes to do things well. That’s the approach he’s taken for a decade in the development of Friar’s Head, a private club on the north shore of Long Island. The course, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, opened in 2003 and has received rave reviews. It’s ranked No. 3 on the Golfweek America’s Best list of Modern Courses and heads our list this week of Best New Courses. You don’t build a golf course in the politically charged environment of Long Island by caving in. And once you have that determination and vision, you can fill out the details accordingly.

A lot of clubs farm out their yardage books to national firms. The result often is a glossy package, lots of detailed information, and a slick product that looks packaged and smart. But that’s not what Bakst is looking for at a tradition-bound place like Friar’s Head. So instead of buzzing the 200-acre site with helicopter-borne photographers, he’s allowing an idiosyncratic, self-taught golf course architecture junkie named Tommy Naccarato to develop a tasteful, modest little pocket guide to the golf course.

Naccarato, a.k.a. “The Emperor,” couldn’t be happier. His assignment is to convert Coore’s hand sketches of the holes into meaningful distance guides for Friar’s Head members and caddies.

The Emperor acquired his moniker through years of study. An electrician by training who was working in the Los Angeles area, Naccarato, 46, became bitten by the architecture bug early in his golfing life and has been chasing (or been chased by) it since. Like many mid-handicappers, he finds it more fun to walk an old Mackenzie or A.W. Tillinghast course than to play it.

A Golfweek rater, he’s the kind of “arche-type” who, upon playing Pine Valley, deliberately hit into the treacherous bunker on the par-3 10th hole to experience that legendary hazard first-hand.

Of late, Naccarato has been forced to put aside his electrical gear and deal with a chronic weight problem. He’s using the time off to develop his computer graphic skills, to the point where he’s now doing some consulting work for golf course designers needing Photoshopped plans and other illustrative material.

As for Friar’s Head, three years ago Naccarato was part of a group of interested students of architecture that devised the club’s distinctive logo of double red and white flags - nautical lettering for “F” and “H.”

Now he’s back, this time working on Coore’s drawings, and adding just enough information to make them useful for a yardage guide without overloading them with numerical detail. He’s devised what he calls a “Coore font” derived from the designer’s own handwriting that conveys a classic touch.

Naccarato also has a bag full of yardage books with him – the kind he wants to avoid – that overwhelm golfers with statistics and suggested lines of play. Coore’s drawings, by contrast, are almost analytic in sparse detail. They suggest the naturalistic hole renditions that classicists such as Tom Simpson or George Thomas penned in the 1920s and 1930s.

That’s precisely the tone Naccarato and Bakst are seeking. When it comes to getting things right, whether on a large scale or small, nothing can be overlooked. Tradition arrives not by accident, but by design.

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