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Turf Club at the University of Guelph


Last night I spoke to about 30 students at the University of Guelph. It was an opportunity to talk about what I see as the future of golf course architecture and how that will impact them. I spoke for around an hour and answered questions for another 30 minutes.


The main focus was on how the combination of economics, water and impending legislation will lead to a new style of maintenance in golf design. I talked about how over time they are going to continue losing their tools to treat turf, how water restrictions will have an impact on the future style of maintenance and finally how even simple economics will affect their careers. I also touched on the future look and style of architecture that will come through this fundamental shift in maintenance.


They’re lot in life will be to deliver the same high quality turf as their predecessors, but under much tougher circumstance.


The turf club is a student run organization where the students themselves have selected a number of professionals to come in each Thursday and speak to them. We are given no subject matter, but we obviously need to make sure we have something interesting for them to learn. In the previous weeks they have had Rob Ackermann from Weston and Keith Bartlett from St. George’s. I applaud them for bringing in two guys as smart as Keith and Rob. This series is a chance for them to learn from the best in the business or to bring in somebody in a related role like myself for context.


I organized the speaker series when I was in Ryerson (85 to 87) and brought in the top landscape architects, architects and urban planners. One of the wonderful things about being a student is nobody (with a conscience) can turn down a student. We got the who’s who of designers of that time simply because I was brash enough to ask.


I’ve spoken now to five student groups in the last six weeks. I’ve enjoyed each experience and plan to do more next year if asked. I find the students are beginning to ask better and better questions as they increase their own experiences and understanding of the business they are about to enter.




The Debate about The Deuce



Pinehurst 16th green - simple but hard to hold


I think Pinehurst #2 is one of the best courses I have seen, studied and played. Yet I can’t think of another course on my list of the finest courses that elicits more negative comments.


I’ve often wondered why they can see what I see. My initial speculation was that most players can’t understand how to play it, but I’ve decided that’s not it. It’s certainly one of the only courses I know where passive play is rewarded. It’s very hard for a player raised on modern design and used to being rewarded for well struck shots, to embrace something that often takes the slimmest of misses and rewards that with the most impossible of recovery shot. How many players can embrace a course where you have to convince yourself that missing is a better solution than finding the green? The course is all about playing well defensively and I think that is where the negativity is born.


A smart player can avoid bad numbers all day by avoiding a bad miss. I got completely schooled by my father when I played there as a teenager. We played a match against each other about the time when my game was at its peak. I was consistently playing well, but at Pinehurst I was easily beaten despite hitting the ball great all day. I’ll never forget the confusion this caused me.



The 8th hole playing to a high plateau green


I said to Dad, “I played better than you, but you beat me easily.” My father replied, “You played awful.” He continued, “Although you did hit the ball well.” I was young and frustrated and said, “Well you didn’t hit it worth a damn.”


Dad smiled and said, “You do realize I didn’t play for half the greens on my approach.” He continued, “I figured out right away that missing in the wrong spot with greens this fast and contours this strong meant I could not get up and down.” He played a very conservative 18 holes with the intention of never being in the wrong spot and comfortably shot 80.


I attacked the course all day and racked up as many double bogies as pars. I had more pars than Dad and the only birdie of the day but so many doubles that it wrecked what should have been an outstanding round. I was not smart enough to recognize what the course was offering.


I don’t think it’s a case of understanding the design. I think the issue most people have is they are unwilling to play the way the courses demands they play it and then disagree with inevitable results that follow.




The Blog format must change


I’ve blogged on blogger and I’ve blogged here. I’ve decided that I don’t like either format. The biggest issue I have is accessing older writing. I find neither format is good, but this one is particularly awful. What I’m currently searching for is a new way to store all my information and make it easier for others (and myself) to search through. I would like to have simple access point, followed by simple choices on subject matter, followed by further breakdowns on information, and finally a list of articles by title. I want you to be able to search through and find what you want with ease.


I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to do this is start fresh. I have entertained the idea of starting a brand new web site with all the content I've ever written and an RRS feed back to the Weir Golf Design site. I’ve also entertained the idea that each blog could be catalogued in this web site and organized, but part of me does not want my original content on this site either.


I have to figure out the exact format that I want first. The next trick is to remove and transfer all the information from both blogging sites and then place it into the new format. This will likely require me doing a lot of work to transfer information, but at this point I think I have no choice.


I will be meeting with a golf web site owner today who has offered to assist this process. His main interest is cataloging and adding my content to his web site. The obvious advantage is the additional traffic that I would receive. The disadvantage is that I’ve always liked having the autonomy to pull everything off at a moments notice if I ever decided that was in my own best interest.








Maple Downs



My notes from the first walk


This week-end featured a walk around Maple Downs with the greens committee. Saturday was selected because it allowed the entire committee the opportunity to come out and spend time on the course with me. This particular Master Plan will be a little more involved than most since the long term plan for Maple Downs involves rebuilding the greens.


Since they are rebuilding greens, it opens up the possibility to move a green to a better location. Saturday was an opportunity for me to walk the club through these all these “opportunities” and find out what people felt about each. I didn’t mind what the reaction might be, but I do need feedback to gauge the level of interest in the idea since this is a window into the membership. I found one of the early ideas was met with intrigue but not a decisive reaction that may have been since it was the first and people were being cautious about what they said. One of the later holes had the suggestion of a green relocation that was met with a great deal of enthusiasm and the idea will surely make the Master Plan.



The old 5th tee location - a much better angle


I love the course walk. I like to hear what people say and their ideas. I enjoy when someone passes along an idea that I’m not thinking about and looks for my reaction. There were some fascinating reactions, both for and against ideas at the same time. The most important part of the work was discussing the philosophy for the course. That is vital to me and in this case it involved the elimination of a lot of fairways bunkers and the widening of fairways up onto the undulations. The bunker idea had full support whereas the widening brought more debate.


Saturday was my fourth walk and even then I was making small adjustments as I went. I’ve learned that just like a new project, more walks lead to more ideas and eventually more clarity. I feel lucky to be involved with the club and to be entrusted with such an important moment in the club’s history. I think we have the beginnings of an interesting plan and I look forward to spending this winter putting it all together.






My Talk at the University of Guelph





Today was the day that I spoke to the students in Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph. I graduated officially from Guelph in 1991 - although I was full time only in 1988 and part of 1989.


I opened up with what I do - and then brought up the reason why I was there. I had not been in the building in over 20 years!


•         50% of all emails and letters sent to me this year have my named spelt wrong

•         20% of all inquiries obviously don’t know what I do

•         80% of all inquiries are by email only (not a fan of this approach)

•         50% of all applicants have no golf experience at all – and are generally unrealistic in their expectations (this is a major generational problem)

•         10% have never held any job (I had my first job at 13 – how could I possibly respect you?)


I shared with them a little of my own story to explain how active I was outside of school and how much experience I had when I graduated.


I wanted them to understand that they needed to gain as much experience away from school as in.


•         I told them that an education doesn’t guarantee you a job

•         As an employer I care more about what “else” you’ve done while in school

•         If you’ve done nothing - I would assume you to be lazy

•         Your portfolio matters, your marks don’t


I shared some advice on time management, skills to find employment and provided perspective on how many steps it took to get to where I am today. I talked about my experiences in a large firm (lousy), medium (fun) and small firms (best) and why I eventually decided to work for myself.


I explained that all of them were in competition with each other and having a better resume will tip the balance in their favour, particularly when work is so scarce. I even explained to them how I get work and why I get selected over other architects. Other comments:


•         Read the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand to understand commitment and conviction

•         Step out of the comfort zone and take more risk in school - you will learn as much from failure as success – so take chances

•         Never leave home without a sketch book, a note pad or a voice recorder since the best ideas never come while your at your desk

•         The question I wish designers would ask more is “How do you want someone to feel in your design?”


My advice to all students is:


•         Take more risks

•         Go see examples of great work in person

•         Do more than the requirements

•         Spend more time on your presentations

•         Get as much practical experience as you can

•         Think long term and choose the best experience over the best paying job

•         Network with professionals

•         Figure out who does the most interesting work and make a plan on how you can end up working there


 I love what I do. I enjoy every day and look forward to the next one. So can you - but it takes effort to get to that point.




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