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Behind the architectural curtain - 2017 PGA Championship

11 August, 2017

2017 PGA Championship - Quail Hollow Club

Behind the architectural curtain

by M. James Ward

The 99th PGA Championship commenced Thursday with Quail Hollow Club serving as host site. Significant changes were made to the course following the 2016 Wells Fargo event – this is the first time the "new" course is unveiled for the world to see.

Acclaimed architect Tom Fazio and his team expedited the changes immediately following the '16 Wells Fargo event. The issue of when courses go through various "changes" can mean a wide array of responses in terms of the finished product. The late Clifford Roberts, long time major domo at The Masters, was quizzed by a reporter regarding specific "changes" made at Augusta National. Roberts furled his brow and corrected the reporter by saying Augusta doesn't make "changes" but makes "improvements."

This is the first return to the Southeast since the PGA was held in 2012 at The Ocean Course at Kiawah in South Carolina.

How will the players react is unknown at this point. Quail Hollow has always been a stern test of golf and whoever emerges as champion will clearly savor the moment in hoisting the Wannamaker Trophy. The architectural panel for this installment weighs in on a variety of topics.

Q1. Quail Hollow added several new holes into its design for this week's PGA Championship specifically – how tough is it architecturally to blend the previous with the new?

JOHN FOUGHT: If you have the same type of property, and you are renovating the entire course it is not difficult. I have worked on several projects in the last few years in which this was accomplished flawlessly. It is much more difficult if you are trying to match a different type of property – open vs treed – or to work with a course where the design motif is not consistent. But overall I think integrating new holes or features is not difficult but it is meticulous work.

JEFF BRAUER: There have sure been some great efforts in the last decade to match styles old and new, whereas 30 years ago, everyone figured you couldn’t really do it, so why try? I visited Inverness in Toledo, OH last year, and that was probably the course that set off the restoration craze, because Fazio’s new holes were completely different than the old Ross holes. Funny thing is, over time, they seem to have blended together pretty well. Initially its always going to look different, but if you get it close, over time course evolution and maybe people’s memory and attention to detail help out the cause.

REES JONES: Every project is different, with a wide range of variables, but blending the old and the new can definitely be challenging. In this specific case, I don’t think it was too difficult. Course owner Johnny Harris and the Fazio group have been remodeling the original George Cobb layout for the past fifteen years. A great deal of work was already completed and a consistent design style already established. These recent changes are simply a continuation and extension of the earlier work.

JEFFREY BLUME: Stylistically speaking, blending the old and new is not that difficult particularly if the work is being done by the same architect or by a past or present associate of the original architect. The task is more difficult if the characteristics of the property for the new holes are different (topo, vegetation, configuration, etc.). Also, if the course is an old classic design where the original architect has passed away, then a tremendous amount of research needs to be done to match the styles, philosophy and architectural expression.

Q2. Given the desire by host organizations (USGA, R&A, PGA of America, Masters) and the respective host clubs when getting ready for the world's best players have we reached a point where it's necessary to have bifurcated rules in equipment so that future clubs do not have to keep adding more and more distance as well as ramping up overall difficulty?

JEFFREY BLUME: I think that the U.S. Open at Merion showed that length is not the only, or most important tactical examination for the best players in the world. At the end of the day, the player that gets the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes wins regardless of his/her relation to par. I am not a fan of bifurcation, and I think one of the great things about our game is that we all play under the same rules.

JEFF BRAUER: Rather than implementing a special tournament ball, I favor the current direction of using newer courses, with suitable length and difficulty. Part of that would be designing for spectators and TV, not unlike the TPC network, which Erin Hills and Chambers Bay might have done better. Another would be adopting a more limited rotation of courses for the US Open and PGA. We all love seeing the classic courses and Jordan Spieth tackling nearly the same course as previous golf greats, but forgoing traditional courses seems better than disfiguring them, at least to me.

REES JONES: It’s been talked about a lot, but I don’t think bifurcation is ever going to happen. The major golf associations don’t seem to be as concerned as they used to be about the final number players shoot under par. Adding length and tightening up the target areas are options, but the course set-up should be transitioned back to an easier set-up after the event to encourage existing players to stay with the game and encourage new ones, especially younger people, to get involved. The key for the future of golf is making sure the game is accessible, affordable and fun to play.

JOHN FOUGHT: While I don’t think the USGA or R&A will bifurcate the rules I think it is what should be done. The alternative is to limit distance for everyone, which they are clearly not willing to do. When golf courses have to be enlarged (lengthened) to accommodate the best players they get more expensive to maintain which makes the overall game more expensive; this is not what we need to do. And many of our great classic courses can’t be lengthen so they have become obsolete for major tournament play. This is sad.

Q3. When people are watching this week's telecast of the PGA Championship or any major event is there something you pay particular attention / notice as an architect more so than the casual viewer?

JEFFREY BLUME: Course conditions and set up are of particular interest to me. I find it fascinating to see how the competition/rules committees respond to differing weather conditions. I also enjoy watching the players adjust to the conditions from day to day and even hole to hole. The design of the course is also interesting, but most of the major championship venues are well known so the small tweaks that are made usually only impact a few holes.

JOHN FOUGHT: Does the course include the need for all types of shots – long to mid irons on par fours. Does it have nice variety – interesting short, medium and long holes? I love strategic design providing options for players. A mix of holes testing a player’s ability to manage their game. Ben Hogan always preached to me to be a successful tournament player you had to learn to think your way around the course. This is the essence of tournament golf at the highest level.

JEFF BRAUER: I am always looking at unique little features, like unusual bunkers or creative slopes. I usually have my doodle pad on my lap, and when I see something I like, I hit rewind, pause, and sketch out those features. I have drawers full of them, and pull them out every so often if I think a situation might benefit from them.

REES JONES: I observe how the players attack the holes. So much has changed, because of the increased distance factor and how proficient the world’s best players are today. We set the stage as architects – but it’s the tournament committees who set the conditions of play. It's more difficult for architects now. In the past, professional events were generally played from the back tees, so our tournament designs were structured with that mindset. Now, the host organizations are introducing more variety with course set-up, throughout the duration of an event, so our designs must continue to evolve and accommodate that accordingly.

Q4. What's the best restoration of a course that has hosted a major?

REES JONES: The Country Club, which hosted the 1988 US Open, really initiated the restoration movement. We essentially removed all of the changes that had been implemented over the years that really didn’t fit and lacked cohesion and brought back to life the original design elements and characteristics that made the course such a great test. Bethpage Black has been another significant restoration that has hosted two US Opens and will soon host a PGA Championship and Ryder Cup event. Our work there re-established the qualities and intent Tillinghast originally envisioned.

JEFF BRAUER: I haven’t seen them all, of course, but was always impressed with Rees work at Brookline.

JOHN FOUGHT: Oakmont. A great historic championship course that removed its debilitating tree cover. Oakmont was never meant to have trees line every fairway. It simply inhibited the original design. The course today is back to being one of the greats and it has led the way for other clubs to restore the shot values through tree removal which has improved the overall golf IQ of the game.

JEFFREY BLUME: Oakmont prior to the U.S. Open Cabrera won. The de-forestation was a radical change resulting in a golf course that played dramatically different. It also made it a little easier on we architects that needed to remove overgrown areas on our projects. “If Oakmont did it, then why shouldn’t you”.

Q5. What's your take on the PGA Championship possibly moving from its traditional August time frame to a May date because of the needs of other such as the PGA Tour and the Summer Olympics?

JOHN FOUGHT: I love the idea of finishing the regular tour schedule by Labor Day thereby not conflicting with football. I also like the idea in having a major in successive months – April, May, June and July. This is logical and makes the Fed-Ex season-ending playoff series even more exciting. The one downside is that the PGA would have to be played in the Sunbelt areas because May is probably too early for places like Minnesota, New York, etc. However, that might also allow some of the better southern venues a new opportunity. Overall I like the idea.

JEFFREY BLUME: Moving the PGA is an interesting idea. On one hand, the move to May might allow other courses in states such as Texas and Florida to host the event before the weather gets too hot. I think it is a shame that two of the most populous states get ignored by the major championships, particularly when so many champions call those two states home. On the other hand, August is traditionally a slow sports month and the PGA is a marquis event in a slow sports news time. If it moved to May, it would have to compete with the NBA and NHL playoffs as well as the early part of the baseball season. It would also be interesting to see how a move would impact the PGA Tour schedule.

REES JONES: I see it being beneficial to all parties, as well as the game itself. I think golf viewership is perhaps strongest in the spring. Moving the Player's Championship back to its original date in March would be very positive. I think by moving the PGA to May and eliminating the current gap month between majors is also a good idea; however, I would have some concern about the PGA in May, due to the potential of a late spring and less than ideal conditions when a more northern course hosts the event. The move also benefits The Tour Championship and ends the season on a high note, as the event no longer would compete with college and pro football. On balance -- I think it makes a lot of sense.

JEFF BRAUER: Everyone here in DFW would be glad to give you the Byron Nelson May dates – it always seems to be raining then. I like it as a permanent idea because I think the British Open will always be well regarded, and it would create more interest in the PGA championship. It might limit venues to southern and mid south locations, although playing in too cool weather would just replace playing in too hot weather in August. I have read that Valhalla might be the permanent home. Not sure I would go that far, but would favor the PGA creating a limited rotation too.

The participating architects

JEFFREY D. BRAUER – Formed his own Arlington, Texas based golf course design firm in 1984. He has since designed or renovated over 100 courses. Among his most noted designs are The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, The Quarry and Legend Courses at Giants Ridge, and the newly renovated Superior National Golf Course, all in Minnesota. He also designed the three top rated public courses in Kansas, Firekeeper, Colbert Hills Golf Club, and Sand Creek Station. Has won three “Best New Course” awards among his other honors. He has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1981 and served as President in their 50th Anniversary Year of 1996.

REES JONES – Born into the game of golf. Grew up traveling with his family to golf courses all over the world and worked summers for his father, renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones. After college at Yale and graduate studies at Harvard, went to work in 1965 as a principal in Robert Trent Jones, Inc. In 1974, founded his own design firm, Rees Jones, Inc. Has designed or redesigned more than 225 golf courses in his career. Among his notable recent remodels, renovations and restorations are Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower and Upper Courses), Hazeltine National Golf Club, East Lake Golf Club, City Park Golf Course, among others. Jones has earned the moniker "The Open Doctor" for his redesign of courses in preparation for major championships including seven U.S. Open venues, eight PGA Championship courses, five Ryder Cup and two Walker Cup sites as well as the President's Cup. Among his awards include the ASGCA’s 2013 Donald Ross Award, the GCBAA’s 2014 Don Rossi Award, and the GCSAA’s 2004 Old Tom Morris Award.

JOHN FOUGHT – Former US Amateur Champion PGA tour player. When a spine injury forced him to suspend his player career he turned his passion for golf to designing golf courses. He has been involved with more than 70 golf design projects. His courses has been the host venue to more than 60 national championship events.

JEFFREY D. BLUME – Managing general partner of Jeffrey D. Blume, Limited, a golf course architecture firm based in Houston, Texas. He is the current Vice President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and a former General Chairman of the Shell Houston Open. Over twenty eight years in the golf course design profession, he has completed commissions both domestically and internationally. Some of his more notable designs include Grand Pines Golf Club at Bentwater, Sterling Country Club, and the renovation of The Golf Club at Texas A&M.


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