Golfweek’s 5th Annual Architecture Conference celebrates 2nd Golden Age of Design

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Golfweek’s 5th Annual Architecture Conference celebrates 2nd Golden Age of Design

Architecture

Golfweek’s 5th Annual Architecture Conference celebrates 2nd Golden Age of Design

Fifty years from now, golf historians might look back upon the present era as a Second Golden Age of Design.

That theme spawned intense conversation among the 14 speakers and 70 other participants in a three-day conference at Streamsong Resort in Central Florida. The Dec. 13-15 gathering marked Golfweek’s Fifth Annual Architecture Conference. Previous conferences had focused on the achievements of specific designers: Donald Ross (2013), Pete Dye (2014), Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (2015) and Tom Fazio (2016).  This time around the goal was to assess an entire era, one characterized by a return to classic-era, ground-game basics.

At an opening session, architects Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, David McLay Kidd and Kyle Phillips drew inspiration from the landmark, low-impact, naturalized design of Sand Hills in Mullen, Neb., the 1995 design by Coore and Crenshaw that all but launched the back-to-basics design movement. Frequent reference also was made to the multi-course resort of Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore., as embodying principles drawn from classic British links golf like St. Andrews: walkability, accessibility to all classes of players, and extremely varied from day to day depending upon weather,
mainly wind.

Kyle Phillips (right) shares his thoughts during the 5th Golfweek Architect Summit as Tom Doak listens. (

Kyle Phillips (right) shares his thoughts during the 5th Golfweek Architect Summit as Tom Doak listens. (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images).

All of which was presented during the conference in contrast to the American-inspired focus of the 1980s and 1990s on difficulty, length, aerial play and intensively lush maintenance. Kidd admits that after he debuted with the initial Bandon Dunes course in 1998, he reverted to creating more demanding courses, in large part because, as he says, “that’s what clients wanted.” Lately he’s made a reversion to classical form with the likes of such wide, generously spaced courses as Gamble Sands in Brewster, Wash. (2014) and Mammoth Dunes (2018), the second course at Sand Valley in Nekoosa, Wis.

The eye-opener, said Kidd, was a thorough re-examination of his own work that led him to see what had made his inaugural effort at Bandon Dunes so successful. “We had tees at 6,300 yards, 6,600 yards and 7,000-something, and it turns out that everyone, I mean 99 percent of golfers there, were playing it from 6,300 yards. They wanted to have fun.”

While clients and certain publicity-seeking sectors of the golf industry were focused on making courses difficult and defending par, Kidd realized that golfers “just want to break 100. They want to find it, hit it. Not lose it.” His new mantra, he said, is “not defending par but defending birdie. That still allows the vast majority of players to get around.”

What’s widely regarded as the (original) Golden Age of Architecture, 1919-1939, saw the development of dozens of challenging, unique golf courses that remain relevant today – Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Augusta National, Winged Foot. Today’s Second Golden Age is not just about building new courses in that style. 

Golf course architect Gil Hanse spoke at the 5th Annual Golfweek Architecture Summit.

Golf course designer Gil Hanse speaks at Golfweek’s 5th Annual Architecture Conference 
(Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images).

It’s also about undoing years of clumsy modernization and reclaiming some of the lost genius of those classic-era layouts.

As a panel devoted to restoration revealed, there are different paths to bringing back that earlier design intrigue. Architect Ian Andrew detailed his meticulous, extremely low-budget handiwork (in the literal sense of the term) bringing back the distinctive features of Stanley Thompson’s 1941 landmark Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia. Andrew said he’s committed in restoration not to what was designed, nor to what is “typical” of the designer, but simply to “what was built.”

It helps having photographic evidence of that. In the very different case of Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford, Conn., a 1927 design by Devereux Emmet, architect Matt Dusenberry said he had scant direct evidence to work with for the inner-city layout. Strictly speaking, he undertook more of a renovation than a restoration; one intended to undo decades of neglect and careless design alterations at odds with Emmet’s overall approach. Dusenberry scoured Emmet courses in the region and was particularly inspired by the use of tile-like and necklace bunkering still extant at Emmet’s best-reserved work, St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Setauket, N.Y. The result at Keney Park is an unusually complex, architecturally sophisticated municipal tract that is more Emmet than was ever there.

Designer Andrew Green talked about a very different restoration path taken at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Donald Ross’ 1919 design was highly studied after holding U.S. Opens in 1920 and 1931 – during which time its holes were extremely well documented and photographed. Green was brought in to fix some bunkers, but the project grew in scope thanks to the availability of adjoining land on which to build some retro-holes.

“For a club of that age to have extra property is unheard of,” Green said. The result, undertaken in 2017 without ever closing the existing 18-hole course, was to undo four ill-fitting modernist holes and eliminate them while restoring some of the old features and allowing the terrain to come through again. Green called it “what Mother Nature created and Donald Ross revealed.”

Mix in all of this conversation with three days of golf and you get a lot to bring back home. Jonathan Mock plans to do exactly that. One of the few non-Golfweek raters in the audience at Streamsong, he’s a board member and green chairman of Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, and is working with Hanse on a master plan for the club. 

“I could not have been more impressed with the programming,” he said. “And I’m going to say that as part of my next board report. The point of that conference is to educate golfers. It’s a way of seeing the game differently as it draws upon the past to move ahead. That’s crucial for a club with a history like ours.”  Gwk

(Note: This story appeared in the January 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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