When I first played Yale in October 1985, complete with Herbert Warren Wind bundled up in a rocker on the club porch overlooking the proceedings, I thought, ‘This is the world’s greatest site for a golf course!’ I had never seen topography like that and I was in AWE. Back then, Yale was considered a Macdonald course - who the heck had even heard of Raynor other than a dry cleaner in New Jersey?
Yale produced heart-pounding excitement in spades but ... I was asleep at the switch and didn’t understand the critical role of soil. Roll the clock forward 28 years and I now rank soil ahead of both setting and topography as the key ingredient for a great course. Give me Garden City as a naked site over Yale’s. Oh well, live and learn!
George Waters’ just released book Sand and Golf – How Terrain Shapes the Game
emphasizes the importance of sandy soil on the game of golf. Why hasn’t a book that addresses such a crucial subject been written before? After all, other than Augusta, Merion and Oakmont, we all realize that the single common denominator of the world top ~30 courses is sandy loam soil. Yet, architects from RTJ Sr. to Pete Dye have been relatively mum on this crucial subject because 95% plus of their own courses weren’t built on sand.
Since that 1985 Yale visit what has changed the most is that today’s best architects and developers travel to all points on the compass for the sake of working in sand. As a result today’s best courses stand comparison with the best from the Golden Age. After all, no matter how good any architect, his work in clay has little chance to compare favorably with MacKenzie’s in sand.
Age 35, George Waters got started in golf course architecture in the midst of this ‘back to the future’ transition. His generation’s views are materially different than the equivalent generation fifty years ago. George is among a new wave of guys roughly 30 to 40 years old whose primary exposure to golf architecture is sand based. Look at George’s photograph of the 8th fairway at Muirfield. This is the new sexy, both to them and to us! The word ‘scintillating’ comes to mind.
Pete Dye (or anyone else for that matter) on a dozer simply can’t compete with nature in producing interesting, random landforms. While such a fairway like the one above might not sell homes, it does produce enduring, world-class golf, all due to the lovely folds in the soil’s sandy composition that are untouched by heavy machinery.
George provides a long overdue analysis of this vital subject in a refreshing style. For instance, I had never heard it put quite like he does: ‘Rather than considering the holes from above, as they are presented in a yardage book, I realized that I needed to be studying what was in front of me.’
From up above, a yardage book would do a fairway like the 8th at Muirfield a grave disservice. As George says, we don’t play the game from ‘above’. We are at ground level where the terrain dictates so many of our options. George walks the reader through all the benefits of sand, some of which are obvious and some of which are not.
Of course, bad architecture can be layered upon a sandy site as easily as it can elsewhere. Yet, that won’t happen with a guy like George around. The ‘new old’ way of looking at golf is back as George evidences: ‘Too many golf courses focus on separating a good shot from a bad one. The real goal should be to separate a good shot from a great one, while allowing the bad shots to eventually find their way home.’
You know that you are in good company when you read something like that! He points out 'that on many sandy sites, the less you do the better the course will be.'
I still think that some of today’s best designs get over thought and George clearly senses that too. We are fellow staunch devotees of Westward Ho!, which is a case in point for not starching out all of nature’s vagaries. From Friars Head to Swinley Forest, many of this web site’s favorite courses are utilized by George to highlight his various points.
Being involved with the course profiles on GolfClubAtlas.com has attuned me to the important interplay between photographs and prose. I can’t think of a better example of nailing that – having the text clearly explain to the reader what he is looking at – than this book. As such, Sand and Golf becomes a tremendous learning vehicle. It didn’t just happen by luck, either. Talk about commitment, read what George writes here:
I knew there were certain photos that I was going to need and I chased after them pretty enthusiastically. I had to jump up from dinner with Tom Doak in Dornoch when I looked out the window and saw the evening sun finally poking out from under the clouds. I ran up the hill, got some shots of #2 and then sprinted across the course to get a photo of the green at Foxy just as the light was running out. I made similar mad-dashes from my apartment in North Berwick anytime it looked like the evening light was going to be good at the West Links. There were holes, and even specific contours, out there that I knew I wanted to document for potential use in the book. Over the course of a summer I was able to get the shots I needed.
Knowing for years that one is going to compose a book and then getting the required photographs to augment the text is impressive. For a 35 year old, George shows remarkable poise and vision. My various conversations with him, whether hanging around the Cal Club or here in Pinehurst, have always been illuminating. His intellectual curiosity stands out and his sharp mind flashes with ease from point to point. Is that the product of working in the open, team environments fostered by people like Doak and Coore and Phillips? I don’t know but I would bet so. What I know for certain is that I always learn the most from people like George who are out in the field with dirt under their nails making things happen. Sand and Golf – How Terrain Shapes the Game
has been in the making for over ten years – and it shows. We bestow the prized
GolfClubAtlas.com 2013 Book of the Year award to it. Mr. Waters joins past luminaries such as George Bahto and Dan Wexler, who also shed light on under-discussed subjects of great importance. FYI The next two Feature Interviews are with authors contending for the 2014 GCA book honors, one gentleman from Scotland and the other in Spain.
Coincidentally, George’s first job was at St. George’s on Long Island, GolfClubAtlas.com’s current featured course profile. So it goes with the old influencing the new. Golf started as a ground game sport and George reminds us that at its highest form it remains so and that the soil is the all-important determining factor. His book can be bought here at Amazon (link: http://www.amazon.com/Sand-Golf-Terrain-Shapes-Game/dp/1939621038/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387817238&sr=8-1&keywords=george+waters+golf
). Personalized copies can be purchased directly from George by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is money well spent.