Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bunker work at Dismal River

While at the Dismal River Golf Club, working for Renaissance Golf Design I asked project manager Brian Slawnik if I could tackle a proposed green side bunker on the 15th hole.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear the words "sure, why not".  My primary duties would be preparing 6 greens and several tees for seeding that Fall but I worked harder knowing that I now had some creative license to begin the bunker construction. 

It turned out to be a tremendous learning experience in visualization, time and labor management, and handling all the material that I was excavating.  What started out as a raw exposed dump site turned out to be a strategically significant addition to the golf hole.  Illustrated below are several photos which chronicle the process.

A raw pit of sand, just waiting to be sculpted.
A rough start, this thing needs a lot of love.


A view from above shows the dramatic fairway contours adjacent to the bunker.  Much of the excavated material was used to soften and conect these contours so that they would be practical for play and maintenance.

Above and Below:  Chunks of sod where brought in to define the top edge and formalize the bunker so that it would not completely blow away in the harsh winter months of Western Nebraska.  Looking forward to seeing how things evolve in the coming season.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Classic Golf Architecture-- Does Form=Function?

Touring golf courses in the Northeast has been a great pleasure for me this Fall.  There are literally dozens of seriously great golf courses all within 1-3 hours drive (depending on traffic) of NYC alone.  A truly unmatched stock of golden age golf.  Since starting work on Paramount's (A.W. Tillinghast) restoration I have been able to see Sleepy Hollow (C.B. Macdonald), St. George's (Devereux Emmet), and Whippoorwill CC (Charles Banks), all built in the early 20th century.  Touring these courses in addition to an intensive study of Paramount has allowed me to think critically about how the architecture of this period was influenced not only by the technological limitations of the time but also the way that golf was played.

During my recent visit to St. George's in Stony Brook, Long Island I was struck in particular by the green complex of the short par four, 4th hole.  Guarding the front of the green and hidden from view is a massive pit filled on the bottom with sand.  I could not tell the bunker was there until I very nearly walked into it upon approaching the green.  After playing my ball out of that sandy cavern (and taking bogey) I began to think how this feature fit into the overall scheme of the design.  Upon observing the surrounding landscape and playing the next few holes I came to the conclusion that the bunker was not necessarily apart of any grand scheme in the design but merely a function of the need to see the target.  The property is quite abrupt and hilly, in particular where the end of the 4th hole came to be.  By digging a massive 10 foot pit, Emmet and Co. were able to use that material to prop up the surface of the green so that it could be viewed from the fairway.  In this case it seemed apparent that the form of the green was vastly a necessity of its function, to see the target. 

By creating a bunker feature, Emmet was able to get the most out of his green site, which would be otherwise out of view, fitting it into the rest of the routing.  Also to consider, in the absence of ideal ground conditions (ie. sandy soils) and heavy machinery the "push-up" style of green construction was the easiest and most effective method.  By flopping the soil behind the pit and forming a raised platform, the putting green could easily shed water and the ensuing bunkers could be used to add strategic and visual interest around the green, both a positive consequence of function influencing form.

I believe that many of the golf courses built before the advent of the steam shovel, aka bull dozer,(with the exception of a few modern design) are as close to equating form and function than at any other time in golf construction.  Some today would call Emmet's building style at St.George's minimalism, I say this is the logical practice of golf course construction.

Paramount Country Club-- A Restoration..

#1 Green atop the hill

My latest project has taken me back home, as luck would have it, only 30 minutes drive from a free meal at my parents house!  I will be helping to restore the little known, yet impressive, Paramount Country Club in New City, NY. An A.W. Tillinghast design (1921), the golf course is part of the former estate of Adolph Zukor, movie mogul and founder of Paramount Pictures.  Golf holes here rise and fall over very hilly terrain on the front nine and follow some more interesting fairway contours on the back nine as well.  Many of the greens pitch steeply from back to front, a typical feature of many classically designed golf courses.  Over the next two Fall seasons, Paramount Country Club will be receiving its due justice under the guidance of architect Jim Urbina and superintendant Brian Chapin.  The scope of the restoration, outlined in Urbina's master plan, embraces the inherent history of early 20th century golf architecture, restoring original bunkering schemes and shapes and sizes of the greens.  Paramount is a golf course with great bones in good hands, it will surely make a lasting impression.
#5 Featuring newly restored fairway bunkers

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

37 Days at the Dismal River Golf Club

The Dismal River pictured with 13,15, and 16 greens
Spacious Nebraska sand hills

Chasing work around the world has its benefits, but I really can't say with much certainty where I'll be working six months from now...At the beginning of this summer I thought it might be a good idea to take online courses for a degree in turfgrass management (it still might be) until I got the word that I would be travelling home to New York for a restoration project with Jim Urbina. All the while I am receiving e-mails about working in China, Scotland, and then out of nowhere, Nebraska!

I travel light and am usually available to work in a matter of 1-3 weeks, easily able to get on a plane to China or Australia and work there for a month or two. This is exactly what happened at the beginning of August 2011. I exchanged e-mails and phone calls with Renaissance Golf Design in regard to their latest project in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, one of America’s treasured golf lands. I couldn’t resist the offer, the project promised to be great along with a chance to sharpen my skills for my upcoming work in NY.
10 and 11 Green viewed from atop "little horseshoe"
The first week we all began to get our feet wet, mowing down fairways and areas to be disturbed but the true golfing landscape quickly unfolded before our eyes. The property at Dismal River is amazingly fit for golf with many natural green sites and naturall hazards, there is no way this could have been created by man. Architect Tom Doak simply blazed a path to a golf course that was always there.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Logo Says it All

Silvery Phacelia (Phacelia Argenta)
While working closely with the local fauna on the Bandon Preserve I got it in my head that the silvery phacelia plant would be the perfect place to start a logo concept. The silvery phacelia is a rare dune plant which thrives in the open sand dunes of Oregon’s south coast. Its largest known population exists on the Southern tip of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (follow the link to learn more about the conservation effort of the silvery phacelia plant at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Takin' it All In by Jeff Stein).

In order to bring my idea to fruit I decided to enroll myself in a bronze casting class at South West Oregon Community College, Coos Bay, Oregon.  I spent two nights a week for two months developing the logo through its many and varied stages of production, not a simple task.

I started with a carefully molded wax model and was able to reproduce my design five times from a "mother mold" that I created from the original.  The bronzing process was a success, but much more painstaking than I anticipated.  Each of the five silvery phacelia statues, in addition to ten smaller single bronze leafs, required hours of finish grinding and sanding because of the imperfect process that is bronze casting.  In an attmept to put together the killer marketing package I created a graphic design of the stautes that I hope with make it as the offical logo of the Bandon Preserve. 

I am obviously proud to have taken an idea born of my own physical work and then to create an object that holds space with weight and texture, it is extremely satisfying.  The last step to unify the idea in my head was a marketable graphic that could be printed, embroidered, or stamped.  The graphic design process was something even more foreign to me.  For this I hired an extremely talented artist, Jon Snider of Goodspeed Graphics.  We corresponded through e-mails and pictures of my bronze statues.  From our distant communication we were able to come up with a pretty good preliminary design that I hope will please those in marketing at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. 
Preliminary Logo
I have relished the opportunity to fully immerese myself in all aspects of the Bandon Preserve project.  Through my experiences working on the golf course I received a first class education from Bill Coore and design associate Dave Zinkand.  At the same time I learned about development, project management, maintanence practices, and marketing. Its been one of my best learning experiences so far on the job and I can't wait to begin my next project.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Takin' it all In, The Bandon Preserve

I decided to publish this one on Out and Back, an online golf journal that I greatly admire. The journal is run by Thomas Dunne, former senior editor for Travel + Leisure Golf magazine. Mr. Dunne's " is an attempt to bring some of the qualities that readers enjoy in a printed magazine–among them strong writing, an editorial point-of-view, a commitment to clarity and accuracy–to the Web....Editorially, the goal is to create a haven for original writing and, as resources grow, to fairly compensate professionals and talented “part-time” writers for their work."
I am not only thrilled to be working on this new and exciting project, but also participating in a growing community of online journalism.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Clearing is an on-going process throughout the construction of a golf course and an art form all on its own. If you clear too much the golf hole may look out of place and if you clear too little the hole appears crowded. It is a balance that starts by peeling away the layers from the center, out.

Pictured above is a natural area with a sparse covering of beach grass, moss, and native grasses. We are attempting to replicate this look in our initial clearing around the perimeter of this hole. Pictured below is Zach Varty standing in waist-high beach grass prior to clearing. The second photo illustrates the vegetation that Zach and I have manually cleared.

(Before) / (After)

(Before) / (After)

The primary objective of this task was to reveal the contours of the dunes without disturbing the natural land forms. At the same time I am thinking how to visually break up any obvious line between what was cleared and what was not. In some instances we will keep the thin cover "look", gradually blending vegetation into the boundary of play. In other cases, after revealing the true shape of the dunes, the top 6 inches will be carefully stripped and later seeded with native fescue within the playing corridor. Pictured below is an area in front of a green that was cleared by hand. After getting a look at the contours it was decided to strip the remaining moss and grasses to provide a more consistent approach to the green.

An understanding of scale is the key to achieving the right look in any given space, whether working with large trees or low shrubs. While clearing beach grass on the Bandon Preserve I am learning that the transition between the playing corridor and the native areas does not begin on the periphery. Instead, finding what is pleasing to the eye starts closer to the middle. Depending on the particular space, I might skew towards the left or the right to frame a transition between the immediate playing area and the native vegetation. In the context of this project visual symmetry is not necessarily desired while randomness and is favored.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Checklist for Day 1

I started my first official day of work at the Bandon Preserve today with my housemate and co-worker Zach Varty. We got up bright and early to receive our first assignment from construction manager and golf architect Dave Zinkand. We met at the gravel staging area left of the 2nd green just after 7:30 am. Dave walked us around the site and handed me a notebook and Zach a yardage laser.

Assignment #1: Shoot all distances from the center of the tee to the center of the green on each hole, record them, report back.

Assignment #2: Measure total square feet of all greens and tees.

Assignment #3: Clear all the scotch broom and beach grass you can find in the line of play (this is when I knew I would have some serious job security). The site was largely covered in shore pines, gorse, scotch broom and beach grass before initial clearing. Zach and I are the two man team assigned to climb all over these wavy-gravy dunes, clearing the invasive and unwanted plant material, to expose the native dune plants laying below. Half of the time we are simply pulling beach grass to highlight some very interesting dune contours.
The layers of overgrowth are slowly peeling away and we are seeing some cool stuff out on the Preserve.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Are you sure you want to design golf courses?

Designing golf courses seems to many golfers as if it would be a dream come true. The truth is that everyone would like to be calling the shots, making key decisions, and putting his or her stamp on the project. It's nice to be the boss.

The reality is that you don't get to be the boss until your dues have been paid. In a recent meeting with architect Bill Coore and associate Dave Zinkand, at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Coore recounted his beginnings in the golf business. "I put on waders and stood in swamp water up to my thighs. We were chain sawing trees, clearing for a golf course." Are you sure you want to be designing golf courses, Coore asked with a grin. Point taken.

I then told my sob story about my first gig building golf courses, at the Old Macdonald Golf Links right here in Bandon. I thought I would be building bunkers or shaping fairways, you know something cool. Instead I was sent out to an area roughly the size of 10 football fields with a bucket and was told to pick up all stones I could find that week. No one shed any tears for me but we all chuckled.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fins up at the Biltmore, Miami, Florida

There is a special "old-timey" feeling that you get while driving up to the Biltmore hotel. The Biltmore boasts not only a 1925 Donald Ross golf course but also a 15 story tower, standing sentinal over the layout. Against the mostly flat property the tower appears even bigger, adding to the ambiance and charm of this golden age golf course.

When I first played the Biltmore about 10 years ago the 5th hole was a medium length par 4. However, much to my surprise and delight, the routing was somewhat different this time around. Ross's routing allowed for several different sequences and was easily altered. In its current sequence the rhythm and flow of the round is vastly improved. Golf architect Mike Devries writes an excellent article on the subject, using Dr. Alistair Mackenzie's work at the Meadow Club as an example. Playing the Biltmore on this day was like discovering a brand new golf course all over again.

The new 5th hole, formerly the 18th, is a 90-degree dogleg right with a deceptive array of bunkers guarding the fairway. The tee shot asks the golfer to make a somewhat uneasy risk/reward decision at just the right time in the round. Flashed up bunker faces also make it difficult to judge the distances between the bunkers guarding the inside and outside corner of the dogleg. One must decide whether to drive over the bunkers and cut the hole in half or to drive safely up an unobstructed fairway. As a finishing hole the options presented are compelling in a tight match, however the ensuing trade off in the routing is far superior.

Old Routing

New Routing

Red = Front NineGreen = Back Nine

By trading the old 18th for the new 5th, the golf course saves two of its best holes for the finish.

For me this trade-off makes the biggest difference in the flow of the round. The old routing orders holes 6- 9 around a baranca which requires difficult shot making. In the new routing, holes 7, 8, and 9 remain in order but the difficult 6th (now 17) is saved for the climax of the round.

Both holes (177) present considerable risk/reward decisions over the baranca.  However when put back to back these holes put too much pressure on the golfer. In regard to the flow of the round it is much preferred that they are separated in the order of play and it also gives an observant golfer a close up look to the 17th green from the 7th tee.

Risk/Reward # 7 Tee Shot
The new 18th is a reachable par 5 which can make for an exciting finish. It is a strong hole guarded by bunkers all up the left side finishing with a large but flat green. After playing the new routing I was instantly struck by a very simple point made by Mr. Devries in his article, that a golf course is made up of a collection of holes to make a whole! Although the new finishing hole is not as extreme or flashy as the risk/reward 5th, the golfer is instead rewarded with a complete golf course emphasized by a sound routing and an appropriate build up of required shot making.

The new par-5 15th is a true three shot hole with an excellent green site located above a lurking baranca. One should take plenty of club on the third shot to avoid getting too close to the steep
slope of the awaiting canal. The putting surface is shaped like a saddle, high on the left and right, sloping heavily from back to front, as are many of the greens at the Biltmore.

The old 5th has now becomes the new 16th, a gentle par 4. The golfer should look to score on 16 as the new 17th presents the most difficult approach to a green on the entire golf course. From the tee the golfer can see the wooden bulkheads that separate the green from the winding baranca. The 17th is a long par 4 that requires a strong drive over a cluster of trees on the right side of the fairway to gain the best approach to this well protected green. A poorly executed drive demands a smart lay up on the second shot or risk a 200 yard+ carry over water to an elevated green. Once you get to the green a two putt is not guaranteed on this heaving green, featuring several tiers and lots of slope coming at you from back to front.

In this opinion I have only tackled the meaty parts of the golf course who owe their character to the baranca that winds its way through 6 holes. The rest of the course is also pretty darn good, featuring deceptive fore-bunkers purposfully set in the line of play.

Depending on which tee you play the golf course could be extremely playable or difficult. There are two sets of back tees which seemed to be added at some point after the original construciton of the golf course, probably to accomodate the growing distance of the golf ball. Many of the standard white tees (~6,000 yards) are very close to the previous green, which I enjoyed as a walking golfer, but I found this a bit too short as I hit mostly wedges and lower irons into the par 4's.

The Biltmore is one of my favorite places to play golf in South Florida and will continue to provide enjoyable golf for many more golfers who may see other versions of its creative and adaptive routing.