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The Long Lost Lido Found — Twice

05 March, 2021

The Long Lost Lido Found — Twice

Most years feature one piece of golf course-related news that dominates the others. The opening of Bandon’s Sheep Ranch was quite the headline for 2020. A short way into 2021, and another Mike Keiser project is already the talk of the town:

A recreation of the legendary Lido Golf Club, to be constructed near the Sand Valley Golf Resort in Central Wisconsin.

The hubbub is justified by years of growing interest in golf course architecture, and particularly the philosophy of Charles Blair Macdonald. The stockbroker was dubbed “The Evangelist of Golf” by writer H.L. Whigham, and his template approach to course design — incorporating influence from the world’s most renowned holes, as seen at the National Golf Links of America — has been a central concept to the study of “The Golden Age” of golf course architecture.

National Golf Links of America 4th hole - Redan

The Lido was another Macdonald design, and one that fell into oblivion following the second World War. Such was the acclaim from players and experts during its time that it has become an object of fascination for modern architecture enthusiasts.

That it would soon (2023) be available to the general public (or at least those staying at Sand Valley) inspired a wave of celebration.

Amid the noise, you hardly would have guessed that another new Lido had opened in just the past year. Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner led the creation of a modern Lido at the Ballyshear Golf Links in Thailand.

Ballyshear 12th green

Two recreations of the same classic golf course, within the period of just a few years? How does one explain the sudden rush on Lido?

Macdonald’s NGLA has always been a mainstay of architectural discussion and remains so to this day. Conversations on his acclaimed templates — including the Redan, Eden, Alps, and Long among others — almost always include the version from NGLA. A slew of originals at Lido, less prominent among Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s future designs, offer intrigue.

NGLA 9th hole Long - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems

Macdonald invited readers of Country Life and amateur architects to submit original designs for inclusion—with the entries judged by Bernard Darwin, Horace Hutchinson and Herbert Fowler. The winner was Alister MacKenzie, whose multi-fairwayed “Home” closed the routing. No. 15, named “Strategy,” was unofficially submitted by Tom Simpson (as he was an affiliate of Fowler, a judge). Raynor is believed to have adapted what would become known as “Raynor’s Prize Dogleg” from another submission, which became the No. 6 “Dog’s Leg” hole.

Perhaps the club’s most iconic hole was the debut of the “ Channel,” a Littlestone-inspired par five that dared the bold to hit its island fairway on the way to an eagle opportunity.

Littlestone Golf Club - 16th hole Channel - image courtesy of Littlestone Golf Club

NGLA, however, was built for skilled amateurs and featured two U.S. Amateur champions among its membership. The Lido was longer and meaner, perhaps designed to test professionals and match Pine Valley’s notoriety as a man-eating test of golfing will.

“Lido if you know it is like a boiled New England dinner, which if it doesn’t kill you young will make you a very husky citizen, set to digest anything that comes your way. So it is with Lido,” wrote Bernard Darwin for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Once you’ve become inert to these ferocious carries and the all-engulfing rough, the iron has entered your soul and you are capable of tackling any golf course that the genius of Charlie Macdonald or Seth Raynor or Walter Travis can conceive.”

Bret Lawrence, a golf historian, notes that the Country Life contest specifically calls for two-shot holes, suggesting Macdonald didn’t want another short hole.

“He wanted two-shot holes, which are basically two full-shot holes,” Lawrence explains. “You could kind of get the sense from there that he wanted more of those as opposed to a drive and pitch kind of hole, which would make it shorter. He was looking for more strategy in the longer holes...because he wanted to test the professionals.”

The originators, however, weren’t professionals, but wealthy New Yorkers who had previously tapped Macdonald to build clubs such as Piping Rock. With names like “Vanderbilt” on the ledger, no expense was spared, and earth was moved to such a degree as to put Whistling Straits to shame.

Piping Rock Club 13th hole - image courtesy of Jon Cavalier @LinksGems

“It almost seemed like they were trying to develop the area,” says Lawrence. “There was nothing out there at the time.”

Those plans hit the skids with the onset of World War I and the original investors had lost interest by the Great War’s conclusion. The next buyer was William Reynolds, a former senator who began the area’s real estate boom and built a hotel, putting the retitled Lido Beach Golf Club on the map for the wider population. At its peak, the club featured more than 1,000 members. Unfortunately, that peak ended with Reynolds’s death; between his family and other investors, the “all-engulfing rough” soon received less care. Even at its critical peak, Macdonald was disappointed in the upkeep.

“What he was unhappy about was — he mentioned this in Scotland’s Gift — that they didn’t keep up the golf course,” explains Anthony Pioppi, executive director of the Seth Raynor Society. “I think he expected the Lido to be treated the way National treated its golf course.”

The U.S. Navy assumed control of the property during the next World War and it never returned. The legend, however, lived on, culminating with the new projects from Hanse and Tom Doak, who will be handling the Sand Valley installation.

Those two projects will ultimately provide radically different Lido experiences, however.

The Ballyshear Links is much less a carbon copy, due to the limits of the property Hanse and Wagner had to work with. The pair pitched the project to the owner of the Ban Rakat Club, understanding that they would need to tweak the original routing a smidge to make it fit, and their approach would be more in line with Macdonald’s approach at NGLA; creating interpretations of the historic holes versus clones.

“Normally...we feel strongly that a golf course should be the product of its surrounds. But in the back of our minds, my partner Jim Wagner and I have often wondered what we would do with a completely flat site — what can you do to distinguish it?” Hanse said in a statement. “The most famous example of a manufactured golf course from The Golden Age was The Lido. Jim and I had always wanted to do a Macdonald/Raynor, angular grass-faced bunker design. We pitched the idea to the owner at Ballyshear and he loved it.”

And that’s where Doak’s Lido will be different: The plan is an almost exact clone of the original Lido, built in Wisconsin rather than Long Island.

Such a feat is possible because of technological advances. Peter Flory, a Chicago-based architecture enthusiast, has been building a 3D replica using the course design feature of The Golf Club computer game. That prompted a call from Doak, who had watched Flory’s progress via Golf Club Atlas. What began as a Flory’s passion project became the driving force for the course’s recreation.

“I would not have agreed to take it on if I didn't think Peter's work gave us a chance to do it accurately,” Doak told Top 100 via email.

Still, Hanse’s rendition didn’t require such digital wizardry, so the sudden Lido lean can’t all be attributed to modern tech. So why now?

For Doak, Flory’s work represented a potential punctuation for a sentence that had begun long ago.

The architect had previously created a tribute to Lido’s designer for Keiser, with the Old Macdonald course at Bandon Dunes. This track, like Macdonald himself, aimed not to replicate anything but rather adapt existing templates to the Oregon landscape. Apparently, even during 2005, Lido was on Keiser’s mind. Doak says the resort magnate expressed his interest in recreating the Lido while the pair discussed the third course at Bandon.

Old Macdonald 4th hole - image courtesy of Bandon Dunes

Bandon was blooming at that time, but Keiser’s resort ownership has only grown since then, operating nine 18-hole courses (and accompanying par three courses) between his three resorts. Doak suggests the root of both Keiser’s windfall and Lido’s rise is the relatively recent appreciation for golf course architecture.

“There is 100-times more interest in golf architecture nowadays. Forty years ago, when I was a student, you were lucky to find a copy of Colt's or Macdonald's books through interlibrary loan,” he says. “Websites like Golf Club Atlas, podcasts like Andy Johnson's (The Fried Egg) and Derek Duncan's (Feed The Ball), and the golf magazines have all made golf architecture far more of a mainstream topic. They even talk about it on TV a little bit!”

That still doesn’t explain “why Lido?” Why wasn’t someone like Keiser interested in restoring, for example, Ocean Links (Raynor’s nine-hole neighbor to Newport Country Club ) or the original El Caballero (Billy Bell’s masterpiece in the Los Angeles hills, prior to the club changing locations)?

Simply put, the amount of information on these courses pales in comparison to Lido.

“I think Lido is in a class by itself in that regard; it was much more well documented because of who designed it, because of the contest that helped make MacKenzie famous, et cetera,” Doak says, admitting even he knows relatively little about other lost tracks. “I'm a bit of a geek about this stuff, and I don't know one-tenth as much about the other courses you mentioned.”

Information does exist, however, and there are certainly golf history buffs looking for it. Flory has begun creating a similar 3D model of Ocean Links, sharing his progress on Golf Club Atlas.

A rendering of Sand Valley’s Lido by Peter Flory

With that in mind, could the current Lido projects portend future projects focused on tributes to, and total recreations of, legendary golf courses? And if so, is that necessarily a good thing for the current state of course architecture?

Pioppi is wary.

“I do think that’s going to be a trend. I think because of this technology, people are going to be able to recreate holes. I mean, what’s to stop somebody from recreating the Old Course in Wisconsin? With this kind of technology, who knows?” he says. Still, he can accept such things if it means more eyes on golf course architecture. “For me, the bottom line is people are talking about architecture, which is good.”

One “victim” of the Lido project is Doak’s “Sedge Valley” Swinley Forest concept, an original 6,100-yard course on the Sand Valley property. It will eventually happen...but not until the Lido wraps up. Doak doesn’t begrudge the Keisers for prioritizing the new project over his original design...but he does make a lighthearted jab at golf media’s (including Top 100) role in the narrative.

“Unfortunately, this interview and all the others are demonstrating that the idea generates a lot of free publicity...more of it than my proposed third course at Sand Valley did,” he says. He states that Lido would be his only personal recreation. He compares the value of the project to his work restoring the Chicago Golf Club and others, preserving the legacy of architects he admires. “If I didn't think this particular course was worth restoring, I certainly wouldn't be doing it.”

If we’re being accused for feeding the furor that results in the recreation of a legendary golf course, we’ll plead guilty! We’re looking forward to playing both new Lidos sooner rather than later. That said, we’re equally looking forward to celebrating what golf course architecture will be, and not just what it was.


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