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Erik J. Barzeski

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RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« on: June 23, 2022, 05:02:58 PM »
In this podcast (links below) from Fried Egg Stories, Robert Trent Jones Jr. is quoted as dissing Gil Hanse's historical renovation (restoration, whatever you want to call it) as pure "nostalgia" and as "wiping the memory" of what made the course famous to begin with (i.e. his father's redo of Ross's work that led to Ben Hogan calling it "the monster").

Those are paraphrased.

Some quotes from RTJJr. or the podcast (around 34:00 in to part three):
  • "I am not a believer that we are in a new golden age of golf. I believe we are in a nostalgic age."
  • "I haven't seen what was done recently, but I'm told it was based upon a program from the 1929 Amateur, which to me is like putting a classic Charleston dress on royalty. When you have someone as famous as Hogan defining your golf course as a monster, and when you revert to something with an old dress on that monster, like Beowulf, you've killed that monster and you've also killed your history. So if you decide that you want to erase that, the minute you put a bulldozer on a golf course and take the greens down to their base to put in sub-air or some other technical need, you've lost the art. It would be like chipping away at a marble statue, you can't put it back."
  • "So there's many, many elements in here that I think are programatic, and a kind of fashion, and I think you should think very carefully if you want to erase your literal history."
  • He also said "I haven't seen the work at Oakland Hills but I'm sure it's competent" and "but it comes from a point of view of nostalgia."
https://overcast.fm/+DDTXNPPkQ
https://thefriedegg.com/fried-egg-podcast/fried-egg-stories-how-to-slay-a-monster-the-open-doctor-and-his-monster-part-3-3/

Just curious what others here think. Is he just salty that his dad's work (and his work?) was panned simply because it was undone? Does he have a point? What?
Erik J. Barzeski @iacas
Author, Lowest Score Wins, and Lifetime Student of the Game

Tom_Doak

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2022, 07:05:53 PM »
He's salty about anything that diminishes his father's reputation.


But, Bobby didn't do any work to Oakland Hills as far as I know.  His brother did the previous round of renovations in the 1990's.

Erik J. Barzeski

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2022, 07:13:44 PM »
But, Bobby didn't do any work to Oakland Hills as far as I know.  His brother did the previous round of renovations in the 1990's.
Yes, thank you. I glossed over that part of the podcast until he said what he said about "erasing the past" (paraphrased).
Erik J. Barzeski @iacas
Author, Lowest Score Wins, and Lifetime Student of the Game

PPallotta

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2022, 07:38:07 PM »
On the other hand, it seems to me that an architect who references Beowulf, Ben Hogan, sub-air systems, and programatic elements when discussing a modern day renovation ought not to be dismissed too lightly.

Joe Bausch

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2022, 07:53:11 PM »
The weather was just slightly less than ideal on my visit to Oakland Hills South a little over a month ago.  But I still put together a fairly comprehensive hole-by-hole tour of the layout, complete with the Hanse hole drawings.


Go here:


http://www80.homepage.villanova.edu/joseph.bausch/images/albums/OaklandHillsSouth/index.html


And, as always, enjoy!
@jwbausch (for new photo albums)
The site for the Cobb's Creek project:
https://cobbscreek.org/
Nearly all Delaware Valley golf courses in photo albums: Bausch Collection

Erik J. Barzeski

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2022, 08:48:37 PM »
On the other hand, it seems to me that an architect who references Beowulf, Ben Hogan, sub-air systems, and programatic elements when discussing a modern day renovation ought not to be dismissed too lightly.
Who's dismissed him? I'm asking for your thoughts on what he had to say. What do you think? Do renovations "erase history"? Do they put a "Charleston dress on royalty"?
Erik J. Barzeski @iacas
Author, Lowest Score Wins, and Lifetime Student of the Game

PPallotta

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2022, 09:22:54 PM »
I don't know.
But I'd suggest that, as the original and most recent US Open doctors respectively, RTJ and GH may have more in common than either RTJ Jr. or GH are able to recognize or admit.
And I'd say that perhaps RTJ Jr. isn't criticizing nostalgia as much as he is what would be better termed a 'false nostalgia', ie a celebration of and return to not the way things were (and to the way golf courses actually played) back then but to what we now, with our modern day championship needs and architectural conventions, would like to think of as their original and ostensibly uncompromised state.
PS - thanks, as always, Joe B for your excellent work.
PSS - I read that Oakmont is up next for GH. I didn't realize there was anything still left to restore there.

« Last Edit: June 23, 2022, 09:45:22 PM by PPallotta »

Michael Chadwick

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2022, 10:37:13 PM »

It's only a nostalgic age for those who don't think the golden age architects were right.

The irony isn't lost on me when RTJ Jr. is talking about erasing the past of his father who deliberately erased the past of original architects' work.


RTJ Sr. and Gil Hanse are polar opposites. Their commonality isn't inherent to their work, only the fact that they've both become, in their respective eras, the favored hire of the USGA. That commonality attests to the changing of tastes more broadly, not to the two men. One believed in completely transforming a course, without any respect or consideration for the original architect, into a layout that increased challenge and resistance to scoring. The other has been directly quoted as saying (I'm paraphrasing here) that maybe all along we should've trusted that the original architects were right.


Yes, Gil makes concessions on where bunkers are placed in order to accommodate current-day length, but his approach (and Tom's, and Bill and Ben's) when it comes to restoration is unequivocally considerate of what the original architect first did. That can never be said of RTJ Sr., Jr, or Rees' work.


Perhaps a more telling line from the podcasts is that when Tillinghast was brought in to Oakland before RTJ Sr., he couldn't find a fault with Ross's course. 
Instagram: mj_c_golf

Chris Mavros

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2022, 10:40:29 PM »
I think Bobby was mainly focused on the work to the greens.  Neither his father or brother touched them and he seemed to feel that the installation of the PrecisionAire system and re-shaping of the greens was erasing history instead of what could be considered restoration. 
So in effect, Gil is mowing down the Ross greens and replacing with his interpretation of them, based on photos from a golf program. At least that's what I took away from Bobby's statements.  I suppose he feels work to the greens is different than work to bunkers, fairway width, mowing lines and tees. 


Do renovations erase history?  Yes.  Flynn erased history when he renovated Macdonald's Shinnecock, Ross erased history when he renovated Essex County, Tilly erased history when he renovated Baltusrol, and so on.  It's a different course after the work, some times it ends up better afterwards. 


Renovations have been going on since the dawn of time yet what seems to change is the stated purpose behind them.  Up until recently, it was ok to renovate for the sole purpose of making the course better, without much regard for what existed before.  The last few decades, however, have moved to something else.  A course undergoing work is returning to something in the past more often than not.  It's still a renovation and it's still erasing history, but it's under the guise of erasing a more recent iteration of the course to return to an earlier one.  Sure there's nostalgia built into it but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing to some degree.  I'm also not sure whether a second Golden Age and Nostalgic Age have to be mutually exclusive.


Gil did say about his work at Oakland Hills that I think relevant here and I wonder whether Bobby had read or heard, “we’re undertaking a restoration of the South Course at Oakland Hills. Donald Ross did the original, of course, and it was Robert Trent Jones who did the renovation that created “The Monster” Ben Hogan conquered in winning the 1951 U.S. Open. Rees Jones later revised his father’s work. The plan is to restore kind of a hybrid of the Ross and Jones designs, the best elements of each. The course will be closed for nearly two years beginning in 2019, but when we’re finished, without a doubt it will be a Monster again, albeit one a little different than the one Hogan brought to its knees.”   


I played Oakland Hills South last month and while I was not able to play the course before Gil's work, I was taken aback by how good it was.  Whatever you want to call the work and to whatever extent history was erased, they have a remarkable course currently.

PPallotta

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2022, 11:30:49 PM »
Just to say, in the name of trying to be fair minded, that asking RTJ in 1951 to have our kind of reverence/nostalgia for Oakland Hills is a bit like asking a top modern day architect to have reverence /nostalgia for a course built in the mid 1980s, by one of their contemporaries or immediate predecessors. With a course like Peachtree to his name, is it really so surprising -- especially given his USGA remit in this case -- that RTJ didn't honour a recent predecessor's work as much as we do nowadays? Note: I'm not saying RTJ was 'right' (or 'wrong') to alter Ross' original design, only that such judgements are well above my station, and that I think we can make them too easily and automatically. Had history even become 'History' at that point, and had Ross already become the towering figure of the (yet to be named) Golden Age, or are we instead projecting backwards a latterly developed value system and significance? And I mean, re: the question of 'erasing history', will GH's current work on Oakland Hills itself be considered 'historical' and sacrosanct when the course hosts the 2051 US Open and protected against erasure?
At any rate, I guess I'm just uncomfortable whenever we fall into our shooting fish in a barrel mode, eg with Nicklaus, or Fazio's renovations, or RTJ Jr's dissing of Gil Hanse on a Fried Egg podcast etc. I start feeling a little sorry for the fish.



« Last Edit: June 24, 2022, 12:46:44 AM by PPallotta »

Tim_Weiman

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #10 on: June 23, 2022, 11:37:42 PM »

It's only a nostalgic age for those who don't think the golden age architects were right.

The irony isn't lost on me when RTJ Jr. is talking about erasing the past of his father who deliberately erased the past of original architects' work.


RTJ Sr. and Gil Hanse are polar opposites. Their commonality isn't inherent to their work, only the fact that they've both become, in their respective eras, the favored hire of the USGA. That commonality attests to the changing of tastes more broadly, not to the two men. One believed in completely transforming a course, without any respect or consideration for the original architect, into a layout that increased challenge and resistance to scoring. The other has been directly quoted as saying (I'm paraphrasing here) that maybe all along we should've trusted that the original architects were right.


Yes, Gil makes concessions on where bunkers are placed in order to accommodate current-day length, but his approach (and Tom's, and Bill and Ben's) when it comes to restoration is unequivocally considerate of what the original architect first did. That can never be said of RTJ Sr., Jr, or Rees' work.


Perhaps a more telling line from the podcasts is that when Tillinghast was brought in to Oakland before RTJ Sr., he couldn't find a fault with Ross's course.
Thanks for sharing the story about Tillinghast. Never heard that before.
Tim Weiman

Brent Carlson

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2022, 12:07:39 AM »
The weather was just slightly less than ideal on my visit to Oakland Hills South a little over a month ago.  But I still put together a fairly comprehensive hole-by-hole tour of the layout, complete with the Hanse hole drawings.


Go here:


http://www80.homepage.villanova.edu/joseph.bausch/images/albums/OaklandHillsSouth/index.html


And, as always, enjoy!


Excellent photo tour Joe.  Looks like the newly installed drainage got a workout.

The other thing to remember is by the time RTJ got to Oakland Hills many of the original Ross bunkers had been filled in for various reasons - cost saving in the depression, obsolescence.  It would have been surprising if he had "restored" the course in 1950 to the 1918 version.

1949 aerial:

http://golfcoursehistories.com/OaklandHills.html
« Last Edit: June 24, 2022, 12:17:34 AM by Brent Carlson »

Ally Mcintosh

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2022, 03:29:35 AM »
I’m sure Tom is right: He is being a little salty to protect a legacy that is getting quite butchered in recent years.


But thank you to Peter and Chris for their posts that give a more balanced view without rose-tinted glasses.

Niall C

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #13 on: June 24, 2022, 03:42:36 AM »
If the course had been a Jones original and hadn't dated back to the days of Ross, and Gil Hanse was asked to look at working his magic on it, I wonder what approach he would have taken ?


Niall

Ben Hollerbach

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #14 on: June 24, 2022, 06:12:21 AM »
The nostalgia era may not be all that incorrect. Just look at what happens to Congressional. The blue course was predominantly RTJ, but rather restore the course back to what RTJ created 60 years ago they redesigned the course base on what Emmet “may” have done 100 years ago.


Tom_Doak

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #15 on: June 24, 2022, 08:22:10 AM »
The nostalgia era may not be all that incorrect. Just look at what happens to Congressional. The blue course was predominantly RTJ, but rather restore the course back to what RTJ created 60 years ago they redesigned the course base on what Emmet “may” have done 100 years ago.


Yes, but the stated goal of the project at Congressional was to blow the course up and make something better.


It's only telling that the solution they accepted was a new design that pretends to look old. 


[NOTE:  I've not seen the course since the renovation, but that certainly seems to be the way it's being portrayed.]

Tim Martin

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #16 on: June 24, 2022, 08:53:34 AM »
How many examples are there of restoration/renovation/restovation jobs by Doak, C&C or Hanse where the work was panned compared to what was there prior? In every case I can think of they improved the playing experience.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2022, 08:55:35 AM by Tim Martin »

Kyle Harris

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #17 on: June 24, 2022, 09:34:02 AM »
Man, what a slippery slope. Every famous touring professional in every era described almost every golf course they played in that light.


Polite, cocktail architecture, at its finest.


All we need is someone with the wit of Jimmy Demaret to make a similar quip about the current work to cement its current legacy.


“Just played a course you’d love, Gil, on the first tee you drop from your knee.” 
http://kylewharris.com

Constantly blamed by 8-handicaps for their 7 missed 12-footers each round.

Jeff_Brauer

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #18 on: June 24, 2022, 09:36:28 AM »
RTJ II was protecting his father's legacy a bit, as he should.  The POV isn't all that different from other courses.  Did Merion restore to 1909 origins or it's highlight 1930 presentation for the Open?


I think OH seminal moment as a course was that 1951 open, and surely there is room in the big world of golf to restore the course to that era.  It is certainly one of the courses that got RTJ going in the style he later became famous for.


If you tell the story of Tillie visiting OH and saying there was nothing wrong with the course, you should probably also tell the story about Ross preparing a plan for OH to host the open that looked remarkably like what Jones ended up doing, i.e., Jones was following the Ross vision, i.e., the 1947, I was hired by the USGA to toughen up one of my original designs, vision.


I have told the story before, but I used to fly to see my mother near Detroit, took a flyer and stopped by the super's office to see if I could get a tour.  No one was in the office, but the original Ross plan was laid out on a table.  It was as close as goody two shoes me was ever tempted to steal something. :-[  Of course, I would have taken it to Fed Ex Kinko's, color copied it (the Ross changes were in red pen over an old blueline print) and snuck it back in.
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Ben Hollerbach

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #19 on: June 24, 2022, 10:54:08 AM »
I think OH seminal moment as a course was that 1951 open, and surely there is room in the big world of golf to restore the course to that era.  It is certainly one of the courses that got RTJ going in the style he later became famous for.


If you tell the story of Tillie visiting OH and saying there was nothing wrong with the course, you should probably also tell the story about Ross preparing a plan for OH to host the open that looked remarkably like what Jones ended up doing, i.e., Jones was following the Ross vision, i.e., the 1947, I was hired by the USGA to toughen up one of my original designs, vision.



Jeff,


This comment reminds me of something I once heard about car collectors. There are two types: one who covets examples of cars from their release year as it is the best representation of the designers true vision; and the other covets cars from the final year of a cars generation as it reflects the engineers pursuit of refinement, have had time to improve and perfect the car.


As it would appear, golf courses could be viewed in the same light. They’re constantly evolving nature means while the opening version may best reflect the architects vision, the evolution of the course may produce the best playable condition.


Augusta National may be the best example of this notion. If the course was restored to how it looked and played back in 1934 it may be more visually attractive but it may also be a worse venue for play. So what level of benefit would there be in making that decision?


Similarly Aronimink went through 2 restorations in a short period of time. One based on Ross’s vision and the current based on what was built. If the vision was the correct approach, then the second was not necessary. One of them had to have been performed as an exercise in vanity, even if not known at the time.

MCirba

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #20 on: June 24, 2022, 11:07:14 AM »
My understanding is that the greens were extensively laser measured and original footprints found through drilling prior to any work done on them...not merely interpretations from photographs.
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Jeff_Brauer

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #21 on: June 24, 2022, 11:25:59 AM »
IIRC, RTJ didn't take away the Ross greens, he merely added wings to existing greens to implement his philosophy of six pin positions and larger greens with rolls subdividing those greens.  I suppose some of those drills would get you pretty close to the truth of the original design. 


And, while I have seen that Ross plan for the Open (done just before his death in 1947) frankly, I don't recall there being a lot of red marks on the greens, just bunkers to reposition.  So, it is possible, based on my faulty memory (a great source, eh?) that Ross didn't think it was required to change the greens for the 1951 US Open.


So, like anything else in restoration/renovation,  I guess there is room for interpretation when doing the work, and as always, lots of room on the internet for post renovation reinterpretation.....
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Jeff_Brauer

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #22 on: June 24, 2022, 11:35:02 AM »
I think OH seminal moment as a course was that 1951 open, and surely there is room in the big world of golf to restore the course to that era.  It is certainly one of the courses that got RTJ going in the style he later became famous for.


If you tell the story of Tillie visiting OH and saying there was nothing wrong with the course, you should probably also tell the story about Ross preparing a plan for OH to host the open that looked remarkably like what Jones ended up doing, i.e., Jones was following the Ross vision, i.e., the 1947, I was hired by the USGA to toughen up one of my original designs, vision.



Jeff,


This comment reminds me of something I once heard about car collectors. There are two types: one who covets examples of cars from their release year as it is the best representation of the designers true vision; and the other covets cars from the final year of a cars generation as it reflects the engineers pursuit of refinement, have had time to improve and perfect the car.


As it would appear, golf courses could be viewed in the same light. They’re constantly evolving nature means while the opening version may best reflect the architects vision, the evolution of the course may produce the best playable condition.


Augusta National may be the best example of this notion. If the course was restored to how it looked and played back in 1934 it may be more visually attractive but it may also be a worse venue for play. So what level of benefit would there be in making that decision?


Similarly Aronimink went through 2 restorations in a short period of time. One based on Ross’s vision and the current based on what was built. If the vision was the correct approach, then the second was not necessary. One of them had to have been performed as an exercise in vanity, even if not known at the time.


I'm not a car guy, but I understand the collector's differing points of view.  But, as Steve Jobs (and others) have said, design isn't just about how it looks, it is about how it functions. In car collecting, you can set either criterion.


For Open courses, the Masters, etc., there is no doubt that previous generations have decided that how it plays for tournaments trumps what it used to look like as the main design criteria, and sometimes, those criteria just cannot be reconciled, i.e., you can't restore a course to 1922 AND make it play well for modern tournament golf.


Even in golf restoration, I tend to believe that if old courses were renovated based on playing experience being less than stellar, shouldn't each hole be restored to (if applicable) a consensus of how it played best? 


If something has changed over time, i.e. a course being asked to hold a tourney or more common, a private course being turned into a public golf course, why should original design intent be so important?  And, I really doubt it is to this group, i.e., if we think we might know what Ross did in 1921, redo it.  If we know what RTJ did, forget it, we don't care about his original intent because we have decided we don't like it.  That isn't supporting original design intent, that is pushing your own vision, which is exactly what many here trash those in the 1950-90's for, no?
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

V. Kmetz

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #23 on: June 24, 2022, 04:51:45 PM »
Just to say, in the name of trying to be fair minded, that asking RTJ in 1951 to have our kind of reverence/nostalgia for Oakland Hills is a bit like asking a top modern day architect to have reverence /nostalgia for a course built in the mid 1980s, by one of their contemporaries or immediate predecessors. With a course like Peachtree to his name, is it really so surprising -- especially given his USGA remit in this case -- that RTJ didn't honour a recent predecessor's work as much as we do nowadays? Note: I'm not saying RTJ was 'right' (or 'wrong') to alter Ross' original design, only that such judgements are well above my station, and that I think we can make them too easily and automatically. Had history even become 'History' at that point, and had Ross already become the towering figure of the (yet to be named) Golden Age, or are we instead projecting backwards a latterly developed value system and significance? And I mean, re: the question of 'erasing history', will GH's current work on Oakland Hills itself be considered 'historical' and sacrosanct when the course hosts the 2051 US Open and protected against erasure?
At any rate, I guess I'm just uncomfortable whenever we fall into our shooting fish in a barrel mode, eg with Nicklaus, or Fazio's renovations, or RTJ Jr's dissing of Gil Hanse on a Fried Egg podcast etc. I start feeling a little sorry for the fish.


I think this is insightful take on the restoration/renovation exchanges we observe...golf courses cant be inviolable, some of their noted architectural voices have proclaimed that they are bound to change, and cultivate over time... and more to Peter's point, isn't the gasping reverence for ODG's a product of THIS era, which itself will change, and whose architecture will need addressing at some point?
"The tee shot must first be hit straight and long between a vast bunker on the left which whispers 'slice' in the player's ear, and a wilderness on the right which induces a hurried hook." -

Don Mahaffey

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Re: RTJ Jr. on Nostalgia, Oakland Hills
« Reply #24 on: June 24, 2022, 05:01:21 PM »
My quick take is it might be wise to at least consider his POV.  I realize in this era of untouchable brands that makes you a contrarian. 
I really like Kye Goalby. Mostly because he’s just a good guy but also because he’s been around and isn’t afraid to tell the young know it alls that it is possible to learn from people that have been part of creating golf for many years, even if they weren’t doing with the cool brands. 


Golf architecture has never been so close minded as it is today.

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