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Architecture Glossary - Tie-In

27 March, 2023
Ryan Book

The message of great, strategic golf course architecture is clear. The actual words used to describe those golf courses, however, are many. The Architecture Glossary column will examine more precise terms and concepts that one will find when exploring golf course architecture. Hopefully understanding these terms, and why certain architects employed them, will help you to better understand the golf courses you play…and maybe even improve your scores!

Today’s term is ‘Tie-In’.

This month marks a slight break from the norm. Thus far, the majority of the terms we’ve presented have tied specifically to golf course architecture in the sense of how the game is played; identifying a particular feature or style of feature, with an explanation of its relevance to the strategic design of golf courses. Today’s term, “tie-in,” occasionally comes into play strategically, however it is far more important to understand from the perspective of actually building a golf course.

The current trend in golf course architecture is minimalism, or creating courses that appear to lie perfectly within what Mother Earth provided, with little help from man. This concept has, understandably, created the misconception that minimalist masterminds such as Tom Doak and Bill Coore don’t move soil.

Pacific Dunes: Jim Urbina suggested using excess sand from the dune at No. 4's green site in order to cap the fairway. Thanks to his shaping expertise, the final product seems equally tied into the "natural" landscape (Photo: Bandon Dunes Golf Resort). 

They certainly do. They probably move less earth than any generation of architects aside from the game’s earliest linksland designers, but heavy equipment is certainly involved. The key is for the course to ultimately look like a natural fit within its environment, following this outside help.

Tie-ins are any number of actions taken by golf course architects and constructors in order to ensure this oneness with the surrounding environment.

Consider Doak’s No. 4 at Pacific Dunes. The architect describes the construction of the hole in his book, The Making of Pacific Dunes. The base layer of the hole was the same solid sandstone seen elsewhere along the property’s coast, which required sand-capping in order to cultivate a fairway. He credits Jim Urbina with coming up with a two-birds-one-stone solution.

“Jim convinced me we could cut away some of the dune at the green site,” Doak writes. “The effect was twofold. It made the green site larger and also meant we wouldn’t have to haul as much sand in from the other side of the golf course. Once the sand was moved, Jim came back in and shaped it all; the bunkers and contours you see to the left of the green are all his work.”

The result is one of 18 at Pacific Dunes that looks completely natural. The truth, of course, is that some took more work than others to appear that way.

The utilization of tie-ins is hardly limited to “minimalist” projects, however. In fact, it may be even more important for maximalist ones. Consider the work of Pete Dye, who has completed numerous projects on “brown sites,” or locations otherwise unfit for building anything else due to potential health hazards. Some examples are probably a bit too much to be considered proper “tie-ins” — Whistling Straits, for example, was essentially created from scratch out of Dye’s imagination, versus attempting to tie into anything that was naturally onsite.

Pete Dye Golf Club: The creek running from the (real) mine is obviously manmade, but Pete Dye's talent for tie-ins helped make No. 6 at Pete Dye Golf Club blend seamlessly into the West Virginia landscape (Photo: Ryan Book). 

Pete Dye Golf Club, however, is essentially one big, dramatic tie-in. The site of the property had been a coal mining operation and, when Dye arrived, it looked like one. The waste generated and scattered around the property was about as unnatural as could be, and the ultimate goal was to create a golf course that fit into the otherwise beautiful West Virginia mountain landscape. Although Dye encouraged leaving portions of mining equipment around the property to reflect its history, he also worked to mold the landscape back into a more naturalistic state…whether by shaping contours with an earthmover or by encouraging native grass growth on the edges of the course.

A tie-in does necessarily need to be an environmental one, however.

We mentioned earlier that the first wave of proper golf course architects moved about as little earth as any of the following generations. The simple reason is that it was considerably more difficult to do so prior to the 20th Century, resulting in what remains some of the most naturalistic courses on earth. They had their own tie-in opportunities, however.

Many golf resorts, such as the aforementioned Bandon Dunes, celebrate the isolation of the golf experience. Other locations, particularly in the UK, celebrate a golf club as the center of a human community. There is no better example than St. Andrews Links, which is strongly linked to the city that hosts it, and where visiting golfers adore the iconic sights of the Royal & Ancient and other buildings as they come down the final stretch.

St. Andrews Old Course: Allan Robertson didn't try to tie the Road Hole into the linksland at the Old Course, but rather into the St. Andrews community (Photo: St Andrews Links). 

If the Old Course were to be built in the modern day, many architects might play No. 17 away from the hotel and road running along the right of the long par four. Better for insurance purposes, sure, but Allan Robertson chose to have the hole hug what was then a railroad station, and then snuggle up to the namesake Old Station Road at the green. Not only did he create one of the most celebrated strategic holes in all of golf, he also tied the community’s celebrated course into the community itself.

“Cultural” tie-ins, as you might call them, tend to be a bit more controversial. Although few waggle their fingers at Road, North Berwick Golf Club’s “Pit” inspires more heated debate. As with “Road,” there’s a wall in play upon approach to the green, however this one cuts across the fairway and along the right of the putting surface, requiring a forced carry. David Strath may have simply enjoyed the quirk of his creation, however he was incidentally tying-in the property’s long rural history. The club may be one of the oldest in the world but, as members will tell you, the wall is even older: “Don’t argue with the wall – it’s older than you.”

North Berwick: North Berwick's "Pit" makes no bones about tying in an ancient stone wall for the approach shot at No. 13 (Photo: North Berwick Golf Club).

A more modern example of the same idea is the fifth hole at Sentosa Golf Club’s Serapong course.

Anyone aiming to create an isolationist golf experience at Sentosa Island would be out of luck; Singapore is among the more densely-populated places in the world. Ron Fream didn’t fight what he was given. He had plenty of waterfront to work with on the north side of the property, but none of it would produce Pebble Beach views. Therefore he embraced the urban landscape, sending the par five north so that the background of the green would be the massive nautical shipping terminal that many have come to associate with the course.

Sentosa Golf Club: Ron Fream didn't try to hide Sentosa's busy Singapore surroundings, instead routing the fifth hole to embrace the urban grandeur (Photo: Sentosa Golf Club).

Such “cultural” tie-ins require much less muscle than the environmental ones created by modern minimalist architects, however both play important roles in cementing the personalities of the courses in question.


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