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John Connolly

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After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« on: October 02, 2016, 09:40:28 AM »
After watching Ryder cup matches on a post-Golden Age design, I wondered what it is about such courses that disappoint so many. What I see are strategic options and risk reward contemplations. What don't these post WWII courses accomplish that those built by ODG's did? I know they can become bloated for pro events and I'd like to avoid those discussions. I'm imagining them in their 6600 yd layout for regular play. In that setting, what are the real differences between the design tenets of the Golden Age and immediately post WWII?



"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Ian Andrew

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2016, 10:28:17 AM »
There were a couple things in play.

1. There was a massive gap between eras of new golf courses being built (new people - new methods - new ideas)
2. Much of the early work was low budget and done with inexperienced people designing courses (lots of Civil Engineers)
3. Mechanization was in vogue - in construction - but more importantly in maintenance
4. Trent was popular - his style and philosophy was the standard

That gets you to the 1960's ...
-

Peter Pallotta

Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2016, 11:28:01 AM »
John - it's a very good question. The only point/angle I can suggest is this:  Take the top 10 or 20 greatest American courses of the golden age, the most acclaimed and revered ones then and now, and ask yourself how many of them were designed -- or would've been a joy to play -- for the average golfer of the day, using the equipment of that era. My guess would be only a very few, unless shooting 120 almost every time out was their idea of fun. Did many/most of them provide options and choices and strategy? I suppose so; but for our golden age golfing predecessors I'd imagine those courses provided a pretty similar experience to what average golfers in the 50s and 60s got from Trent Jones' courses and what average golfers in the 70s and 80s got from Jack Nicklaus' courses. It's when golfers of the latter 20th century started using modern equipment -- at least the steel shafted kind, but certainly the titanium and graphite and new types of golf balls -- to play these great golden age courses that they all became not only lovely to look at and strategic, but also fun to play.  What the Renaissance has brought -- besides a healthy regard for natural settings and aesthetics and an obvious love/respect for the old skill of routing courses in the pre-mechanical age and a perennial appreciation for strategies and choices -- was a design ethos that provided today's golfer playing a new course with modern equipment the same experience he would have if he played NGLA, today.       

John Connolly

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2016, 11:28:40 AM »
Ian,


So how did those differences manifest themselves as "inferior"? As an example, Raynor's Redan templates with its attendant intrigue, the peninsula'd cape par 3 with fronting water is considered a lesser construct. For what reason? Or is that an untrue assumption on my part?


Why is fairway bunkering by Ross, extending into the line of play, more memorable and more strategic than a similar construct by an unknown (or well known!) architect of the 1980's?


Why would the mechanization you speak of preclude interesting design? Is attention to detail all this is about?

"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

John Connolly

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2016, 11:41:55 AM »
Peter,


Thank you for, as per usual, thoughtful response. Let me pull one line out and examine it slightly:


It's when golfers of the latter 20th century started using modern equipment -- at least the steel shafted kind, but certainly the titanium and graphite and new types of golf balls -- to play these great golden age courses that they all became not only lovely to look at and strategic, but also fun to play.     


Are you implying that the physical forms these golden age courses have are more aesthetically satisfying, for whatever neuropsychological reasons, than post WWII courses? I.E., there's just "something about" that Maxwell green that we connect with more than RTJ's? And if you'd say, "yes," then why is that? And while I may concede that aesthetic point to you, I still don't know how to concede the point that Golden age courses were more strategic than those that followed (I realize you didn't say that but I've heard it before).
« Last Edit: October 02, 2016, 11:49:21 AM by John Connolly »
"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Peter Pallotta

Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2016, 11:58:31 AM »
John - I think one of, say, Tom D's many skills is to create courses that look like they've been there 100 years...and as he has said on here, because he often finds greens and often moves very little dirt, they look that way in part because the dirt HAS been there 100 years, unmoved/unchanged.  I think many of the golden age courses, some of which benefitted aesthetically right from the start from being built with shovels instead of steamrollers, have also benefitted because they now in fact HAVE BEEN here 100 years, and so nature has had time to soften all the edges as it were and to blend back in with the man made.  On your other point: I happen to believe that the vast majority of all professional architects over the last 100 years understood the importance of angles and choices and providing different ways to the green for different golfers (in short, strategy) -- but the architects from the 50s and 60 aren't around anymore to harangue greens committees and superintendents into cutting back the rough or cutting down trees to restore width and playing angles, and, until recently, even those architects still living and working haven't had much sway in this regard.
Peter 

Joe Hancock

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2016, 02:41:48 PM »
 I wonder if part of the answer lies in the maintenance practices that were standard for the times of the designs. When the OD G's were designing courses, there was generally one height of cut and then the greens height of cut. You could hit the ball anywhere and at least have some recovery shot options available. Once maintenance standards changed to include thick rough separating out of play areas from Fairway, strategies changed and it became a much more aerial  approach. Recovery shots around greens became an exercise in flop shots and bunker shot execution.


So, I think once you consider irrigation, mowers and turf grass selections, it becomes a discussion much more complicated than just design.
" What the hell is the point of architecture and excellence in design if a "clever" set up trumps it all?" Peter Pallotta, June 21, 2016

"People aren't picking a side of the fairway off a tee because of a randomly internally contoured green ."  jeffwarne, February 24, 2017

BCowan

Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2016, 02:56:26 PM »
I wonder if part of the answer lies in the maintenance practices that were standard for the times of the designs. When the OD G's were designing courses, there was generally one height of cut and then the greens height of cut. You could hit the ball anywhere and at least have some recovery shot options available. Once maintenance standards changed to include thick rough separating out of play areas from Fairway, strategies changed and it became a much more aerial  approach. Recovery shots around greens became an exercise in flop shots and bunker shot execution.


So, I think once you consider irrigation, mowers and turf grass selections, it becomes a discussion much more complicated than just design.

Well said

Nigel Islam

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2016, 03:02:30 PM »
I'm gong to say it was what we gained rather than lost. Trees and ponds became used extensively as methods to toughen and "beautify" the course.

Ian Mackenzie

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2016, 03:46:01 PM »
Perhaps it's somewhat naive on my part, but I have often wondered what a course like Hazeltine would look/play like if you just changed the bunker design. Instead of those very symmetrical "tic tac" or aspirin/Tylenol-looking things, replace with blow-out, natural, fescue-capped "minimalist" bunkers. Get some brown in the fairways, etc.


Then introduce your question, John.


I know this has been covered before, and I do not seek to hijack this thread, but to what extent does bunker style and maintenance practices influence one's interpretation of design?

Tom_Doak

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2016, 03:55:46 PM »
It's not just bunker design.


The best response so far has been "attention to detail."  When the power to move big earth came into vogue, the attention to smaller, human-scale detailing was lost.  The "something about" Maxwell greens is detail at the human scale which is so important to short game play.  After Maxwell and his peers, the emphasis shifted from doing cool finish work with lots of subtle wrinkles, to doing efficient finish work by machine, without wrinkles. 


The transition was also eased by the fact that few of the guys who built courses in the Golden Age survived in the business into the 1950's, so the sense that subtle finish work was important, was also lost.  Mr. Jones' experience in the business was from 1935 onward, when costs were the primary consideration, and his other interests lay in building courses efficiently so he could jet around the world and build more of them.


It's not impossible to build cool features at a human scale with modern machinery.  It just took a lot of years for anyone to identify that it was important to try.

Mike_Young

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2016, 06:38:29 PM »
I would add that fairway shaping became more of a feature than in the golden age.  Courses began to be built on land that would not have been used in the golden age.  I see so many in the south where large road pans were used to cut thru sections of ridges for fairways etc and it just gave courses a different image. 
"just standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona"

John Connolly

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2016, 07:54:40 PM »
It's not just bunker design.


The best response so far has been "attention to detail."  When the power to move big earth came into vogue, the attention to smaller, human-scale detailing was lost.  The "something about" Maxwell greens is detail at the human scale which is so important to short game play.  After Maxwell and his peers, the emphasis shifted from doing cool finish work with lots of subtle wrinkles, to doing efficient finish work by machine, without wrinkles. 


The transition was also eased by the fact that few of the guys who built courses in the Golden Age survived in the business into the 1950's, so the sense that subtle finish work was important, was also lost.  Mr. Jones' experience in the business was from 1935 onward, when costs were the primary consideration, and his other interests lay in building courses efficiently so he could jet around the world and build more of them.


It's not impossible to build cool features at a human scale with modern machinery.  It just took a lot of years for anyone to identify that it was important to try.


Tom,


Kinda ridiculous for me to say this to you but I think you nailed it. Maybe it wasn't so much that strategy and risk reward went away - their presentation just became less intriguing.
"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Peter Pallotta

Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2016, 09:06:46 PM »
John - I may be wrong, but I think your summary line is spot on, i.e.  strategic presentation just became less intriguing. (That's a great word, btw.) That's why I've raised on a few occasions my belief that "aesthetics" is often too narrowly defined around here, as if it was just a surface-level addition to the more important playability aspects instead of what I think it actually is, i.e. a multi-level integration of all aspects of golf course architecture.

Peter     
« Last Edit: October 02, 2016, 09:08:53 PM by Peter Pallotta »

Sean_A

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2016, 09:08:15 PM »
What is strategic presentation?


Ciao
New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Turnberry, Isle of Harris, Benbecula, Askernish, Traigh, Minehead, St Medan, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

John Connolly

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #15 on: October 02, 2016, 09:20:04 PM »
Sean,


When I started the thread I was thinking that somehow the strategic elements of golden age architecture were lost as time went on and that's why the brawny courses of post WWII by RTJ, and others of his ilk, were not highly regarded. But I don't think that's it at all. The strategy is still there, but more muted because it has not been "presented" in as intriguing and beguiling a fashion as when done by the ODGs. And what many of the professionals today have opined is that course presentations suffered by less attention to detail and "finish work," as Tom put it. The presentation of those strategic elements, whether found in bunkering, contouring of the green or even fairway shaping, was just not as good because the trade lost a bit of its need, or desire, to craft it so.
"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Peter Pallotta

Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #16 on: October 02, 2016, 09:21:50 PM »
Sean - I'm surprised that you of all people would ask that. You've spent years providing insightful reviews of under-stated, low to the ground, unspectacular golf courses built in the pre-mechanical age that, despite their seeming simplicity and naturalness of design, have proven for decades to be overflowing with the kind of charm and strategic options capable of engaging and challenging generations of golfers of all skill levels (including you). That kind of presentation, with strategies seemingly embedded into the very earth from which these courses were hewed, seems to be that most indicative of the golden age.

Peter       

John Connolly

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #17 on: October 02, 2016, 09:34:06 PM »
Peter,


Speaking of strategic options. When I play par 5's, your general indifference to them comes to the fore. One would think that when an archie has a chance to give the golfer not 1, not 2, but 3 shots to make him think, it would be the biggest canvas to work with. But, alas, strategy is too often reserved for either the first or third shots, with hardly a synapse fired for the second. Penal bunkers along the flanks of play are redundant. You've already fired offline. Those are not strategic bunkers - they're penal. How very 1898 of them. How I wish 3 shotters made one think on the 2nd shot more than "how much to leave 80 yards in?" But I digress.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2016, 09:38:29 PM by John Connolly »
"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Peter Pallotta

Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #18 on: October 02, 2016, 09:49:37 PM »
J - at the risk of beating a dead horse, the reason that the 8th at Crystal Downs is the only Par 5 I've ever loved is not (or not only) that it is a paragon of strategic design but that it melds/integrates the land and the look and the shots in a way that is continually intriguing and challenging from the moment you tee it up until the moment you pick it out of the cup. The presentation, the fluidity of detail, is the work of human hands and hearts and minds, not that of mindless and heartless machines...

Sean_A

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #19 on: October 02, 2016, 09:53:00 PM »
I guess I was thrown by the language.  So it seems like you are saying the strategies for many classic age courses were found in the terrain rather than added or shaped?  If so, yes, I agree, but would also say there are plenty of instances of strategies added...that is what bunkering is all about. 

I spose much of this debate comes down to if you like to see terrain stripped out and reshaped or courses laid on the terrain with minimal shaping.  There is room for both approaches though I think it is awfully difficult to get the strip and reshape approach to look at all like a course unto itself because shapers are often going to fall back on what they know or perhaps aren't that talented or perhaps don't have the time or money to do the job well.  Whatever the case might be, there is often a stark visual difference in how 50s-90s courses look compared to earlier designs...especially in the UK partly because of cut lines, partly because of bunker usage, partly because of water usage (ponds etc).  In the US there is still a stark difference, but that is often because of shaping...there is a modern look and feel to shaping which often looks unnatural or too regulated as soon as one looks beyond the set piece.  For me, I detest the look I grew up with...tons of 60-80s courses which were meant to look like golf coursesrather than land on which there is a golf course...that look still permeates the minds of a huge percentage of golfers even today...so we have a huge percentage of courses without an identity.  Even if a property isn't overly shaped, its easy to muck it up with sand and water....two features which later archies seemed for the most part more willing to utilize. 


Par 5s...they are harder to make interesting partly because the shot dispersal is more varied over 3 shots compared to two. Its hard for an archie to cover the possibilities over 500-550 yards in ways which are interesting, but not ott.  For me, par 5s should just be skipped unless there is a compelling reason to include them.  Why waste the time, effort and money on holes which are so often disappointing when the yardage between 225 and 325 could be focused on?   

Ciao
New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Turnberry, Isle of Harris, Benbecula, Askernish, Traigh, Minehead, St Medan, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

John Connolly

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #20 on: October 02, 2016, 10:06:25 PM »
Sean,


I didn't mean to imply classic courses couldn't be shaped. What I think I've learned is that it if a hole needed shaping, it had better be done with some serious intent, focus and care. Otherwise it would fall flat. When the game was exported to the States at the end of the 19th century, early archies had a helluva time making courses interesting, and strategic, because they didn't have links to work on - no heaves and sways of sand and fescue laden land. So they resorted to contrivances to give interest - cop bunkers, ditches, etc. Golden age brought thoughtful design via angled bunkers, contoured greens etc., to overcome this ... and voila ... Now we sit and reflect on those courses of the classic era. But there has been a strong comeback in design, hasn't there?
"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Tom_Doak

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #21 on: October 03, 2016, 05:12:27 AM »
I think you are still missing the point.


"Strategy" is highly overrated.  More than half the interest of a links course, and half the interest of a Golden Age course, is the randomness of nature -- the unevenness of your lie and stance for your second shot, or the three-inch contour twelve feet in front and to the right of the hole, which makes it important to hit your approach from the left, or makes the chip shot from the front much more tricky.  These things can add to strategy, if you know the golf course well enough -- but most players do not.  Even so, such features add a ton to the challenge of the course and the fun of it, and curcially, they make the course different when you go back out again the next day.


Modern construction took much of that away.  Many designers wanted the course to play the same way each day, so you would marvel at the genius of their design, and so the player who thought just like the designer would be rewarded.  Contractors and shapers wanted to show how PERFECTLY they could grade the fairway.  Look at them!


It is not about the detailing of the bunkers ... most of those little things never come into play.  Contours come into play on every shot.  Contours are what's important, and the smallish ones are the most important of all.  Mr. Jones and Mr. Wilson somehow missed all that.

Sean_A

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #22 on: October 03, 2016, 05:40:50 AM »
Sean,


I didn't mean to imply classic courses couldn't be shaped. What I think I've learned is that it if a hole needed shaping, it had better be done with some serious intent, focus and care. Otherwise it would fall flat. When the game was exported to the States at the end of the 19th century, early archies had a helluva time making courses interesting, and strategic, because they didn't have links to work on - no heaves and sways of sand and fescue laden land. So they resorted to contrivances to give interest - cop bunkers, ditches, etc. Golden age brought thoughtful design via angled bunkers, contoured greens etc., to overcome this ... and voila ... Now we sit and reflect on those courses of the classic era. But there has been a strong comeback in design, hasn't there?


John


You are talking to the wrong guy concerning the shaping of the pre-Colt generation.  I like so called Victorian features.  I like bold, in your face, obviously man made stuff erupting from the ground with no connection to the natural terrain...partly because its so rare.  But the question one should ask is why were those features deemed necessary?  Where Colt etc had a huge edge was in routing courses to take advantage of natural features and figuring out where best to build courses based on terrain and soil and turf.  They also figured out that high greens drained much better and were therefore firmer and therefore easier to effect strategy of design.  The green side shaping and bunkering was at times lovely, but secondary to how the land was used. Just as with the top echelon of designers today, Colt etc used what God gave them very well, so the touch of man far less necessary.  But even the Colt generation got carried away at times and went crazy with bunkers rather than sticking to focusing on terrain.  I guess the temptation to add to God's work was just too much at times....I wonder if that was because routings may not have been considered that important 100 years ago? Were aesthetics even then a primary consideration for the average Joe Blow? 

I believe that what makes the top new(ish) guys special is that they look for a routing which maximizes the natural features.  This makes it a load easier to shape stuff to look far more natural.  In effect, standardization is removed by this lot. But like Colt and the boys, sometimes these guys cannot resist temptation....


Get a guy who knows how to route a course, isn't afraid to really push the boat with shaping and uses the natural features well and you will get a unique course...thats Kington.

Ciao
« Last Edit: October 03, 2016, 05:51:38 AM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Turnberry, Isle of Harris, Benbecula, Askernish, Traigh, Minehead, St Medan, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

John Connolly

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #23 on: October 03, 2016, 09:39:02 AM »

"Strategy" is highly overrated.  More than half the interest of a links course, and half the interest of a Golden Age course, is the randomness of nature

It is not about the detailing of the bunkers ... most of those little things never come into play.  Contours come into play on every shot.  Contours are what's important, and the smallish ones are the most important of all.  Mr. Jones and Mr. Wilson somehow missed all that.


     Your notion that strategy is overrated is an interesting one - one that I hadn't anticipated. I can't pretend to know why that might be the case. I'll hazard a guess - we enjoy golf less because of strategic options than the thrill of variabilities and vagaries that hide in plain sight?

I think I understand how randomness contributes to the quality of the course and enjoyment of play. The quirk of links confounded the first time player but, as you say, repeated play would give the player a sense of "strategy" as he began to understand how the ball would play against the land, and would use such knowledge to his advantage. And where the States did offer interesting land, the ODG's seized upon it and left lasting, and world class, courses. So yes, as the landforms go, so goes the course. It's on those flat featureless courses where wizardry was needed. Many a flat piece of property has created some interesting golf, certainly in my neck of the woods. There is one very highly regarded course nearby that is absolutely flat as a pancake with no rumpled land but it's talked about in hushed tones. Why? Great, very unnatural creations that "wow" many that come through, although the deep system of ravines adds to the aesthetic experience and "strategy" of the course. But once the ball hits the turf, it's what this lauded golden age architect created that offers all the interest.

When I recycled the notion of "attention to details" from my original post into my most recent, it was meant to describe working hard to get the look right, not that every grass blade on the bunker eyebrow had to be in place. If the land didn't offer it, what was the ODG to do? What I think I've learned from the professionals here is they created those features, e.g. micro and macro contours, with great thought and attention, trying hard to make them appear as natural as possible. I guess one need look no further than William Flynn's nickname, "nature faker," to see how highly this was prized. Flynn admitted there were times you'd have to spend a lot of money moving dirt to make it look like you'd moved none at all.
 


« Last Edit: October 03, 2016, 09:42:01 AM by John Connolly »
"And yet - and yet, this New Road will some day be the Old Road, too."

                                                      Neil Munroe (1863-1930)

Mike_Young

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Re: After the Golden Age - What was really lost?
« Reply #24 on: October 03, 2016, 09:44:46 AM »
One might also note that for so many of the courses built during the 80's and 90's, the routing was not done for the golf as much as for the RE values. 
"just standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona"

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