The latest from a road warrior
This annual design awards feature now is in its 21st year, each one more arbitrary than its predecessor. As usual, it’s drawn from my latest year of travels, which usually amounts to 150 days on the road and visits to 125 or more courses. – Bradley S. Klein
Booked on Golf Award
With traditional golf publishers having bailed on the niche market of architecture, a trend has emerged of micropublishing club histories. Three recent arrivals stood out in terms of layout, research and significance. “Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History,” by Neal Hotelling, photography by Joann Dost, is indispensable as a research guide to the site of this year’s U.S. Open. “The History of Mountain Lake” by Cynthia Zaref goes behind the scenes into a 1917 Seth Raynor gem in Lake Wales, Fla., south of Orlando, that despite ranking No. 67 on the Golfweek’s Best Classic list, still is unknown in Florida. “Crooked Stick Golf Club,” by Chris Wirthwein, explores the genesis and evolution of the seminal mid-1960s course that launched Pete Dye’s reputation.
Taxpayer Revolt Award
The wealthy Coachella Valley town of Indian Wells, Calif. ($148,000 median family income), spent $70 million on its impressive 36-hole property – Indian Wells Golf Resort – with distinctive designs by Clive Clark (Celebrity) and John Fought (Players) and a glitzy clubhouse that looks like a spaceship from Mars. Yet as with many other munis, there’s no avoiding the cheapskates. Town resident property owners here act out like penniless retirees in protest at any sign of their green fees surpassing $35. Here, their golf is heavily subsidized by resort-goers being charged $155, and Troon Golf, which manages the place, negotiates with the town for enough hotel tee times to make the place work.
The 1 Percent Solution Award
It might seem crazy for China to turn 13,000-square-mile Hainan Island in the South China Sea into the People’s Republic of Golf, with more than two dozen courses in various stages of design, construction, orplanning. But making Hainan into the Myrtle Beach of China is no more or less rational than nationwide ambitions to build 50-75 new courses per year for the next decade to add to China’s inventory of 300 courses. In the U.S., a golf participation rate of 10 percent is an ambitious goal. But China needs to draw only 1 percent of its 1.6 billion people to the links. If those 16 million golfers play only five rounds per year, they’ll need 2,500 courses. No wonder every U.S. architect and his nephew are in China scoutingfor work.
Gentlemen, Start Your Golf Carts Award
Pete Dye’s daily-fee ode to Americana – Brickyard Crossing in Speedway, Ind. – has four holes inside the famed 2 1/2-mile oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Best diversionary path: After the Redan seventh hole, drive the cart around to the back of Gasoline Alley, take the ramp under the track and into the stadium proper, then just hop a fence or two and crawl under an opening and you’re on the finish line of the world’s most famous racetrack. By the time you get back to the eighth tee, only two groups will have passed you.
The Dentists Are Smiling Award
We’re talking major orthodontics here, and getting the Flossmoor (Ill.) Country Club membership to go along with this ambitious restoration involved some considerable pulling of teeth. A number of ambitious members worked hard behind the scenes, superintendent Bob Lively labored tirelessly on the grounds, and architect Ray Hearn made 54 visits. The result is a stunning revival of one of Southside Chicago’s underappreciated gems. Massive tree work has reclaimed lost fairway corridors; greens have been expanded to recapture the older drama; and bunkers have been rebuilt to create diagonal strategy and integrate more intimately with landing areas. In short, the place now shines bright.
An Idea Whose Time Has Come and Gone Award
Chipping areas became trendy in a mistaken view that if they work in the sandy soil of Pinehurst No. 2, they can work anywhere. But on heavier soils, they just look like dopey little hollows – which are all they were during the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Unless properly sized and integrated with the surrounding natural landforms, they’ll be nothing more than cheap facsimiles of a substantial ground game where short grass is used strategically as a semi-hazard.
Turf Wars Award
Fast and firm agronomy is imperative for budgetary reasons and because ecology demands less fertilizer, less irrigation and less labor. So here’s to: mowing greens less and rolling greens more; wildflower roughs and naturalized areas; less winter overseeding in the Southeast and playing dormant Bermudagrass fairways more; tree management as a vital tool in healthy agronomy by allowing wind and sunlight to work their magic on turf; and slackening bunker management so that these areas play, as the rule book suggests, as “hazards.”
Silver Lining in a Rain Cloud Award
Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., got run through the ringer during the 2009 U.S. Open thanks to torrential downpours that turned the layout into a mosh pit. The one good thing? The rains exposed the 411-yard 18th as a joke of a finisher because it drains so poorly and there’s no relief for “lift, clean and place” from casual water. Now that the fairway has to be raised, drained and rebuilt, let’s hope the USGA and architect Rees Jones can come up with a strategic bunker pattern rather than one that guarantees a mindless lay-up off the tee .