A year in architecture – 2018 newsmakers (Part 1 of 3)
by M. James Ward
The 2018 calendar is drawing to a close and looking back there were a number of key newsmakers clearly providing a significant impact on the architectural side of things. In some cases the headliners of 2018 will carry forward into 2019. The golf world is quickly evolving on a range of fronts and the new year ahead will certainly carry both opportunities and challenges.
The case of the Opens – R&A and USGA
The two most significant major championships in golf are also the two oldest – The Open and US Open respectively. Hats off to the leadership of the R&A, starting with head man Martin Slumbers, in setting up Carnoustie for a grand event. Not that many years ago when The Open was played at Carnoustie in 1999 the layout was poorly prepared and a winning tally of +6 resulted in a three-man playoff – famous for the meltdown of Frenchman Jean van de Velde on the 18th hole but often forgotten was the sensational record ten stroke come from behind win by Scotsman Paul Lawrie. That year's Open was nothing less than a survivor's test with fairways choked with nearly impenetrable rough.
Fast-forward to this year's event and the competitors uniformly praised the course. The eventual winner – Francesco Molinari – earned Italy's first possession of the famed Claret Jug. Carnoustie allowed for the full range of scoring possibilities and given the ultra firm and fast conditions it was a true test of nerve, skill and patience. The R&A and the team at Carnoustie showed how to properly showcase a true gem of architectural pedigree. Now with Royal Portrush on deck for the 2019 edition, the momentum for a grand event there is certainly a mouth-watering opportunity and one the golfing world will be primed to see.
On the flip side was the USGA. The 2018 Open at famed Shinnecock Hills was touted by the association to be a lesson in remembrance from the colossal meltdown that happened during the last championship played there in 2004. At that event the USGA failed to supply needed water to a number of the greens – most notably the Redan par three 7th. Mike Davis, the USGA's top man, stated that the USGA had goofed at the 2004 event, however, all systems were ready to deliver a tournament that would not be marred with any such repeat situations.
Those predictions were thrown out of the window during the event's 3rd round. Several pin locations were placed too near edges to render superior shot making to no effect. Instead of properly testing skill, competitors had to hope for Divine intervention, and luck, during the play of those holes.
Complicating matters was the action of Phil Mickelson who clownishly struck a moving ball when he putted the 13th hole. Instead of swiftly giving Lefty the boot the USGA capitulated and applied only a two-stroke penalty. During Sunday's final round the USGA opted change tack and set up a benign Shinnecock Hills. A gritty final round performance by the defending champion Brooks Koepka helped reroute the storyline, but what should have been a positive glow from returning to eastern Long Island was dampened.
Now with the 2019 event going to Pebble Beach for the 100th anniversary of that storied California layout's opening, there will be plenty of eyes watching to see if lessons learned from Shinnecock have clearly been heeded.
The Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland is among the most revered layouts in all of golf. It is also quite unique in that the course has been played both in the traditional manner with the 1st tee commencing in front of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse and proceeding to an approach over the Swilcan Burn to the 1st green. But from 1872 to at least 1904 the Old Course was played in a reverse manner at certain times. One would start from the 1st tee but then play to the 17th green and so forth until the final hole being played from the 2nd tee and heading to the 18th green. Interestingly, while no Open Championship was played in a reverse manner, the 1886 British Amateur was played in that fashion.
The idea of having a reversible course has been attempted in some form or fashion since then but in 2018 the concept gained momentum with distinct entries in that design category.
Tom Doak, one of golf's most celebrated modern designers, proposed such an idea at Forest Dunes, a facility which already has a most successful resort layout called Forest Dunes. Doak, along with his design team, fashioned a pure reversible layout called The Loop, with the Black 18 played clockwise and the Red 18 played counter clockwise. The course in play alternates on a daily basis. Though opened in 2016, The Loop has gained plenty of attention from architectural gurus for its overall inventiveness. Fescue fairways also allow for a serious ground game option which provides for total elasticity in terms of strategic calculations. The Loop also has gigantic greens – averaging 9,800 square feet – thereby allowing for approaches from two different locations.
Another version has come forward with Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Oregon. Here architect Brad Hixson – the man responsible for the first rate effort at Wine Valley in nearby Walla Walla, WA – created a course that is not a pure reversible such as The Loop, but it does provide for a modified version that clearly adds to the versatility of the facility. Only last month the new reversible Bobby Jones Golf Course opened on the outskirts of Atlanta, with two flags on each of nine massive double-greens. Named after the champion golfer, the original 18-hole course opened in 1933. The idea for the reversible concept came from the late architect Bob Cupp – his son Bobby completed the work.
This movement is not just limited to America. Frank Pont from Infinity Variety Design has also been busy on the reversible front and has created a 9-hole layout called Links Valley in the Netherlands and also at Golfanlage Patting Hochrieblick in Germany.
Why is all of this important? Golf is facing serious challenges in bringing new people to play the game. Maximizing the virtues of any site is also a critical component and reversible courses attempt to provide a high degree of elasticity with playability a central dimension. Will the trend continue? Possibly. In certain circumstances with different variations providing a whole slew of golf course options. Ironically, it's very possible reversible courses are indeed going forward – no pun intended.
The Hanse ascendancy
Determining the best in any field is no easy task, especially when the topic of golf architecture is involved and art and science are woven together. But over the last several years it has become obvious to those with eyes to see that Gil Hanse sits at the top of the design pyramid. The 55-year-old started his career in the late 1980s as a design associate with another talent Tom Doak – both Cornell alums.
Hanse moved on from Doak and opened his own practice – Hanse Golf Course Design, Inc., in 1993. Hanse also was one of the very few Americans to have designed a course in Scotland with the Craighead Links for the Crail Golf Society.
Providing restoration and the updating of classic courses also became part of his strong suit and involved numerous courses throughout the Northeast section of America with work at Fenway, Ridgewood, Sleepy Hollow (with George Bahto), Fishers Island, Plainfield, Quaker Ridge, Essex County Country Club (with George Bahto), Aronimink and TPC Boston, to name just a few. The break through moment came when Hanse was selected from a highly competitive field to be the lead designer for the Olympic Course in staging the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Hanse personally lived at the location to get things up and running and the course received praise for its inventive design.
But, even before the Olympic breakthrough, Hanse demonstrated a major follow-up effort in Scotland in working with Mark Parsinen in the opening of Castle Stuart in 2009. Located near to Inverness the layout is regularly cited as being one of the very best modern courses to have opened in the last 25 years and has hosted several Scottish Opens.
Hanse's star has continued to rise with the 3rd addition to the highly successful Streamsong project in central Florida, namely the Black Course. The layout features an impressive array of holes highlighted by generous fairway widths encouraging different playing angles and bolstered by massive putting greens with a range of different internal contours.
This past October Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia opened and is already being touted as another Hanse gem worthy of possible World Top 100 status. Hanse also extended his relationship with Trump after his work at Doral Blue Monster with his effort at Trump International in Dubai, which opened in 2017.
In addition, he updated two classical courses – Winged Foot (West) and LACC (North), which will host the US Open in 2020 and 2023 respectively. The event at LACC will be especially noteworthy as the venue was pursued for many years by the USGA in hosting America's national championship, but the ultra-private club had always turned it down. Hanse's involvement has resurrected a number of the design features created by George Thomas but also with a desire to test the world's best players. There's also the work he's engaged with now – revamping the famed South Course at Oakland Hills just outside of Detroit – dubbed the famed "monster" by Ben Hogan when winning the 1951 US Open.
There's also been his active involvement with the St Andrews of American golf -- Pinehurst. Hanse completely reinvigorated a much-changed #4 course and provided a result more in tune with the sand hills region. His effort in Pinehurst went even further with his creation of The Cradle – a 9-hole short course that just completed its first full season.
The Hanse impact is in all corners of the globe – consulting with Royal Sidney in Australia and in Ireland at Narin and Portnoo. There's also a new effort in Thailand at Ban Rakat Golf Club with a course called "Ballyshear" – the name of the house C.B. Macdonald occupied next to The National Golf Links of America on Long Island. Hanse is also committed to add a second course at Les Bordes in France. He is also being considered for a new layout in Frisco, TX on a property where the PGA of America will be relocating with its national headquarters shortly. That specific course could very well be the host site for future PGA Championships and Ryder Cup Matches. And there's also been major speculation that when a third course is broken at Forest Dunes in Roscommon, MI, his name will be the one selected for an 18-hole layout and related short course.
The Hanse impact has carried over to television and his involvement with the Fox Network when doing golf broadcasts – most notably at the US Open when providing architectural analysis. What's amazing in this progression of designs is the level of detail each of the succeeding courses have carried forward. The Hanse batting average is truly without peer.