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The Year in Review – Part Four - The Renovation Business



The revised 6th at Elm Ridge



My golf design career is split into two parts. Weir Golf Design, which designs new courses or rebuilds an existing course like Laval (Blue). The other side of my work is my renovation business which concentrates strictly on restorative-based work. This blog will deal exclusively with that side of the business.



2010 New Clients


This year saw the addition of four new clients:


1. Knollwood Country Club - designed by Seth Raynor - Westchester, New York.

2. Islington Golf Club - designed by Stanley Thompson - Toronto, Ontario.

3. The City of London who asked me to review entire public golf system

4. Maple Downs - designed by William Mitchell - Vaughn, Ontario.



Other Inquiries


I had six additional inquiries.


One was very compelling and a course I really would have liked, but I passed on the opportunity and choose to support a very good friend who had done excellent work in a trial role because I felt he deserved the opportunity to continue - which he has.


I was asked to interview for two other clubs that were fairly modern, but the work was not what I was looking for at the time so I suggested they would be better served by others on their list. I know that selecting the right projects is crucial to doing great work and I have become increasingly careful in what I choose to get involved with.


One inquiry was to renovate an existing course and adapt a residential component but that did not suit me my tastes and I recommended another local architect who was a better fit and they are now working together. The remaining two and I continue to dance. One is a very cool Walter Travis course in the US that lacks only the money to go forward. The other is a very compelling Stanley Thompson course where members have approached me to gauge my interest, but the path to change will be very complicated.



2010 Master Plans


I have “survived” the last three years largely by the amount of Master Planning I have done. Most of the plans have been done for a dozen new clients over that period, but a new trend that has emerged is the desire for older clients to update or revised their plans. Most often this is because the previous plan is complete and the club wants to explore any remaining opportunities to improve. In a few instances they have had a change in philosophy where a club or staff is more open up to controversial or complicated work such as tree removal or green recapturing.



2010 Construction


The spring brought one larger project at Galt Country Club. The scope was mostly sand replacement for the bunkers, but a number of new bunkers were added and a couple of key bunkers were made during the process. The only other spring work was some green expansion and short grass work at various clubs.


The summer brought our first project at Knollwood where we completely restored the16th green site back to its former character. It was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding projects I have ever been part of and I thought the results were amazing.




1926 - the dramatic green site



Spring 2010 - smaller green with no wrap around bunker




November 2010 - pushed back out to the edges and bunkers returned



The fall brought three projects. The largest one was the renovation and restoration of the green side bunkers at Elm Ridge (South Course).We added a bull nose detail for character, restored most original noses and even moved a couple of oddly placed bunkers to have greater impact. I was very pleased with the results and expect to continue on with the fairway bunkers next fall.


The second one was a trial project at Oakdale on the 9th green of the Thompson Nine where we renovated the bunker with a high degree of detailing and shifted the locations slightly to improve the character of the green site. I worked with Donnie to personally hand-edged the bunkers on a frosty morning leaving me with back pain for the week that followed.


The final project is the range and storage pond project at St. Thomas which continues even today. The scope is enormous with a major expansion of the pond’s capacity and the entire fill being used to rebuild the range with a chipping green, larger tee and more available length. The pond is done but the range work continues and I will be heading there on Tuesday to see the progress.



Work for 2011


People don’t believe me when I tell them I never know what I’m doing until the spring. I do have a Master Plan to do for Maple Downs this winter. I expect to build more bunkers with Elm Ridge and have quite a few potential projects, but nothing is set in stone. But then again, that’s the way every winter begins….



December 11th, 2010



Tommorow: My Thoughts on the ASGCA









The Year in Review – Part 3 - The Newsmakers




The most memorable moment of the Year (courtesy golf digest)



I’ll take on the year’s most interesting stories in order and finish with some extra highlights in specific areas.



Much to do about Nothing


Davis Love III summed up the change in grooves as much to do about nothing. He said, "There hasn't been that much effect. It's just an adjustment.” Statistically the long players continued their dominance and those who drove the ball accurately were only a half a percent better in overall performance.



“Poop”ie Hills


Poppy Hills Golf Club will undergo a major renovation designed to bring the AT&T back. While they had serious discussions with architects like Gil Hanse, they have returned the original designer. I’ll never understand why a club or organization would return to the same person when the first effort is seen as sub-par.


I think they should have hired Rees Jones...



Quote of the Year


“She’s slower than evolution” 


It came early but Christina Kim’s comment on the slow play of her playing partner was priceless.



Let’s shave - Part One


How nasty was the 14th in this year's final round of the AT&T? The hole saw just eight birdies against 17 bogeys, five double bogeys, one triple bogey and three quadruples. All because the right of the green is too steep and the left of the green was cut short.



The 18th at the "TPC of Wentworth" (courtesy of Golf World)



The Pete Dye Retro Award


Wentworth hired Ernie Ells to renovate the course and bring up its stature. While there were a lot of changes nothing can compare to the 18th. He built a green site that looks so much like Pete Dye’s work that the course was dubbed the TPC at Wentworth by the Press. During the tournament last year it was criticized for being too severe and therefore discouraging the pros from attacking it in an attempt to make a dramatic closing eagle. The green was once again rebuilt lowering it and making it larger to encourage more players to attack the green. It still doesn’t change the fact that it’s unnerving to see timber bulkheads against water in the Heathlands of London


Mona Lisa Gets a Moustache


The worst renovation work this year was the new bunker work at Pebble Beach. The bunkers were completely out of scale, context and character from all the other bunkers. 


Would they Play Every Event Once?

Around middle of the year the suggestion of four year rotation where players must play each event once was raised by the commissioner and supported by the Tour Policy Board. This was one of those game changers that would bring more people to Professional Golf, but of course Phil and Tiger quietly nixed any chance of that happening. The tour will find the networks might play tough in the next round of negotiations because of this.




 The 14th green was everyone's focus ... twice (courtesy golf digest)


Let’s shave - Part Two


The chipping area left of the 14th green at Pebble beach was created by Mike Davis the senior director of rules and competitions for the USGA. After watching the AT&T he changed the short grass line to half way up the hill to make the recovery shot more reasonable. We lost none of the theater from the spring, but more of the player’s were able to get up and down during the US Open from that new rough line.



Year of the Goat


In the fall Pasatiempo Golf Club has started employing 200 goats to clear brush from the ravines on the back nine. At one point these ravines were clearly visible and a key component of the drama. It’s expected that the Goats will take around twelve weeks to open the ravines back up. This is the Innovation of the Year in Golf.



What Bunker?


2010 will not be remembered for a single great shot but rather for a great mistake. The lasting image for me is still Dustin Johnson failing to realize he was in a bunker and grounding his club. It’s hard to ignore the scene with a mob of spectators who are standing in the same hazard and how it must have clouded his judgment in such a pressure filled moment. It did leave me thinking that the architect and the style of architecture were indirectly responsible for this rules nightmare.  



Individual Blog of the Year - Tom Dunne - Out and Back


Ron Whitten wrote “A Critic’s Rant” to prod the architecture community into action, but I don’t think even he knew that it would elicit such a wide spread negative response. Tom Dunne’s is the best of the bunch and probably the best read I can offer up from the blog world this year.


A sample of the response:


“Instead of developing original golf holes to address 21st-century technology, time constraints and resource limitations, architects are preoccupied with decrying technology and clamoring for a rollback in ball distance. Sorry, folks, that’s called progress.” (Dunne quotes directly from Whitten’s piece)

No, that’s called a howler. Does anyone see the contradiction here? He mentions “resource limitations”, but doesn’t seem to connect the dots that the “progress” he’s defending means higher initial land costs, higher maintenance budgets…and more of all the things that make courses harder to build and the game more expensive and time-consuming to play. This “progress” raises the threshold of what might be considered a viable piece of land for golf by several orders of magnitude. Indeed, some iconic examples of the art form wouldn’t be built today simply because their property would be considered too small. Merion East, arguably the most ingeniously routed course in the world, is what it is in part because of its intimate setting. If you want to see innovation–or even just good old-fashioned quirk–give an architect limitations, boundaries, thorny puzzles to solve.


The entire piece can be found here:




Magazine Article of the Year - Chris Millard - Golf World


Chris wrote a piece a two piece article on the current state of golf architecture. The original piece is Altered Course and the follow up piece was called The New Stewardship. It was accurate, informative, blunt and well researched. It was the best piece I read all year. The second article is here:


The Ron Whitten sidebar on China was brilliant in the first piece!




December 10th, 2010



Next: My Renovation and Restoration Business 








2010 Year in Review – Part Two – The Courses



Nefyn - while not a great golf course - it is a great site 



Best New Course of the Year – Castle Stuart


I have not seen any of the courses of the Baja Peninsula, but I have seen some of the other contenders. In 2007 I picked out two courses to watch and they were Castle Stuart and Old Macdonald. In the end they remain the two leading candidates for the best course opened in 2010. I found time to see both and have no qualms in choosing Castle Stuart as the best new course of the year. I found the detailing brilliant and the bunker work to be some of the most innovative that I have seen. Gil Hanse at Castle Stuart has gone one step beyond what Kyle Phillips did at Kingsbarns.



par three 11th at Castle Stuart - all created from scratch!



Architect of the Year – Gil Hanse


Not only did he build what was probably the best new course of the year, he continued to make a case for being the top restoration and renovation architect in the business. The work completed at LA CC is staggeringly good. His work has spread to the Far East to include Tokyo Golf Club and now includes places like Winged Foot. Nobody in golf can match the depth, quality and diversity of his clientele. The only worry for Gil is whether he can maintain his hands on approach as he becomes more and more popular.




The Trips in 2010


While I can’t match the quality and depth of last year, I had another staggeringly good year for seeing some of the most interesting courses on the planet.


I played seven rounds in Florida split between two trips. The Highlights included Donald Ross’s San Jose Country Club wonderfully renovated by Dan Schlegel and Indian Creek a brilliant William Flynn where the greens are all raised and completely surrounded by short grass. This confirmed the approach to Laval



The facinating short four 13th at Indian Creek



The spring brought an extensive trip through Wales including the god-awful 2010 course where they played the Ryder Cup. It also introduced me to gems such as Pennard, Aberdovey, St. David’s and Southerdown which are all well worth seeking out. The highlight of the trip was Royal Porthcawl which had a staggeringly great set of par threes and some outstanding fours particularly on the back nine. The finish of the trip was a round at Royal Birkdale an impressive course running always between the dunes. Finally the surprise was Fowler’s hidden gem called Delemere Forest a stunner of a heathland layout that left me awestruck often throughout the round. It made it clear that England is the enormous hole in my experiences with architecture.


June and July were Canadian trips that brought me to the quirky and entertaining Victoria followed by the restrained and brilliant Royal Colwood They were the last two on my list of must sees and this gives me a tremendous overview of Canadian Golf. July brought another round at Banff Springs while on holiday with my wife. As good as the course is, it could be a lot better. Come to think of it so could Jasper Park. I wish Fairmont would invest some money in the two courses.



Prairie Dunes 4th



August took me to Prairie Dunes in Kansas for multiple rounds. Prairie Dunes is the best course I played and likely one of the best ten courses in the world. The sense of place rivals Royal County Down. The same trip took me to play the clever and understated Shoreacres and Steve Smyers renovation of Olympia Fields South which I enjoyed.


October featured a trip to Denver where I played Colorado Golf Club, Common Ground and Ballyneal. Colorado Golf Club was brilliant the way the course embraced the land and how they incorporated it into the site and maintained so much of the native landscape. Common Ground is a thesis on excellent public golf. Ballyneal was simply one of the great golfing experiences playing through towering sand hills. It has the best set of fives after Highlands Links and is a must play.




The impressive Ballyneal



The final trip was actually the best and most impressive. In four days I played Knollwood where I work, Quaker Ridge, Yale, Fishers Island, Fenway and Winged Foot. Fishers Island may be one of the most ideal experiences you can have in golf. The golf course from the 3rd tee to the 12th hole has no rival in golf, it’s that good. The golf is all exquisite and the setting along the ocean is breathtaking. Winged Foot is more impressive for how strong the golf is. You simply have to hit great shots into those greens, but at the same time the course has width and room and you are pretty hard pressed to lose a ball. It also happened to be my low round of the year and likely the best round I’ve played in quite some time. I had a serious shot at breaking 80.




My favourite hole in Westchester Country - 4th at Quaker Ridge



Biggest Surprise of all the Courses


Yale was the one that surprised me the most. I’m awestruck at the audacity they had to build that course. It may be the biggest swing for the fences in history of architecture and it thrilled me all round long. The scale of the course is enormous, the risk they were taking were incredible, even the site was likely too severe for a golf course – and yet the golfing ground is some of the finest the game has to offer. Magic!





Yale's 8th - miss left and its 20 feet down into a bunker, miss right and its 30 feet below the green with the green sloping away - no other course has this impressive a scale



Next Year?


I will be in Hawaii this winter and have made arrangements to see David McLay Kidd’s Nanea. I think it’s likely that I’ll make another spring trip, this time to South-west Ireland, centered on Ballybunnion, Lahinch and Waterville. I will be travelling to Denver this spring for my annual ASGCA meeting, but there is no great golf on the agenda. My next American adventure will be to Boston. I plan to play Myopia Hunt, The Country Club, Eastward Ho, Old Sandwich, Boston Golf Club and return to Essex County. That trip will depend on Laval.



I know I’m very lucky to have the ability to make the trips that I do. I’m blessed with a staggering number of opportunities to see many of the world’s greatest courses often because friends offer to make the arrangements because they think I will benefit from the experience. I’m grateful they feel that way.



December 9th, 2010







2010 Year in Review – Part One - The Death of Golf Architecture?




a permanent change has taken place



I had my last meeting for the year on Monday night which means I begin my annual tradition of writing the Year in Review. I began writing last night and discovered I have quite a lot of ground that I would like to cover. In my preparation I appear to have eight entries to come and the plan is to post an entry each day until the full review is done.


The first two are on golf architecture in general. This one takes on the state of the industry. 



How Bad is It?

“The difficulties observed by both the golf industry and the ASGCA members in the past two years do not represent a short term “blip” from which the industry will recover as the economy and real estate market heal. Instead we believe a permanent change has taken place.”


I read this in one of my recent newsletters. I was taken by a couple of thoughts. One is we damned well deserved this because the incredible building boom for last two decades was based around a mirage created by of easy access to capital and a never ending supply of cheap money. The golf industry built a series of unrealistic business models that drove the cost of the game out of reach for the average person and essentially economically ended the growth of the game. So now we sit in the penalty box for what could be a decade for our sins as an industry.


For the older players in the business I guess this change could be conceived to be a permanent since the implications may affect the balance of their career, but at the same time they enjoyed the greatest run in golf construction in history. For younger architects like me the mantra is to survive this period knowing there are far too many architects and too little work to go around. The biggest fear is a complete bust in China.



The Death of the Big Firm


This leads me to the next obvious conclusion which is the death of the large design firm. The marriage of Golf and Real Estate is over for at least a decade and without real estate to justify the fees for the big name designer there is no one left to pay the freight. With low fees and very few projects, there is no longer a need for staff or office space. This decade will see the emergence of the owner operator working out of their home. We all know that to survive this decade requires having little overhead and tremendous flexibility.


I’ve also noticed a recent trend where designs are being built by multiple independent contractors working together. It began with Pete Dye and has continued on with his associates such as Coore and now Doak. The employees maintain a link with the original company allowing them to work together. The company effectively has reduced overhead. The independent contractor now gains the option to take on their own clients or continue to work with the original firm. Some design firms are using this model now too.



Doak's 7th at the Mosiac Project



The Collaboration


For those who would like to see some interesting collaborations, this will likely be the greatest chance in history.


Right out of the gate we have one. Bill Coore and Tom Doak are building a pair of courses on the Mosiac Property in Florida. They routed the courses together and then split the 18’s. According to Bruce Hepner there will be some minor overlapping of crews during construction and each is certainly going to spend some time looking at what the other is building.


I personally think this is the tip of the iceberg on collaboration. I understand that Jeff Brauer and Damian Pascuzzo are working together on a rebuild of the 36 holes at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad California and I expect to see other architects join forces and work together on both new projects and renovations. I think this is a way for some to increase their ability to work in specific areas and for others a chance to work together with a friend.


I certainly enjoyed my opportunity to work with Gil Hanse on Scarboro and would love the chance to work with him again in the future.



Written on December 8th, 2010



Tommorrow – Part 2 - The Courses 









Is the Architect the Director?


I was quite ill this week-end which meant I was relegated to bed and watching TV since I was too tired to read. I found myself watching a documentary about director Alan Parker, the man who directed Midnight Express, where he talked about his career as writer and director. I’m fascinated by the design process for other arts (yes I do consider golf architecture an art) and love to draw the parallels between the different design processes to learn from them.


At one point he discussed how other director’s avoid working with great actors who are difficult people. He mentioned that he liked to work with very intense actors people since were so serious about their art and much of the difficulty stemmed from their being almost too prepared for their role. He said he would rather deal with the challenges of trying to restrain the performance or deal with some off screen complications rather than work with someone limited in talent or worse uninspired.  


There is an interesting parallel here. In many ways the architect is both the writer and director of the vision. But just like a movie the results can be raised or lower by the abilities and performance of those whom the artist is surrounded by. It may take effort to find a way to harness the skills or support of another, but often your rewarded for your effort.


Alan Parker talked about giving the actors freedom to improvise to see if there was magic in the moment and then reining them back to the script if there was not. As architects we encourage our shapers to venture beyond our directions when we trust their abilities and instincts. Often this is how we push ourselves and our own personal envelopes to grow.  But just like a director we must always oversee the entire project and make sure very last piece fits into an overall vision.


“A great movie evolves when everybody has the same vision in their heads.”

Alan Parker



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