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Michael Chadwick

  • Karma: +0/-0
After playing Gil Hanseís terrific restoration of Lake Merced Golf Club last week, there are a couple nuances to the project that I think warrant further discussion to better appreciate the scope of the work. For this projectóin my mindóshares more similarities with its close neighbor Cal Club than, say, Gilís work at Southern Hills or Oakland Hills South, and not just because of geographical proximity.

Like Cal, Lake Merced is a restoration of a version of the course that was not in itself the original design. Alister MacKenzie was hired by the club in 1928 to renovate the 1923 William Locke (or is it Lock? Iíve seen both spellings on GCA but LMGC uses the ďeĒ) design that featured a significant number of penal bunkers. From what I understand, MacKenzie made little (or no?) changes to Lockeís routing, but modified all greens, added length, reduced the number of bunkers, and incorporated his patently beautiful and strategically placed bunker shaping.

The restoration could never be identical, however, because the Locke/MacKenzie layout was impacted in the early 1960s by the construction of I-280, and eminent domain resulted in a loss of acreage taking away three holes. Despite the additional constraints of a repositioned clubhouse and driving range, Gil nevertheless managed to recreate holes in approximately 16 of the 18 preexisting Locke/MacKenzie corridors that Robert Muir Graves had rerouted in 1962. Only one hole, the par 3 16th, is a true Hanse original, and though there are a few others that do not replicate directionally or exactly what MacKenzie had once redesigned in the ground, they all seamlessly embody the same spirit. 

Like Cal, Lake Mercedís design appropriately feels like a well considered amalgamation. If todayís course doesnít strike you as an archetypal Alister MacKenzie design in the way Pasatiempo or Meadow might, thatís because it shouldnítóit was not his course, but he renovated it, like he did at Cal, into a layout that upholds the timeless tenets of strategic principles. Both clubs' complex design histories and acreage changes need not be detrimental to their legacies, for their challenges lent themselves to modern reinterpretations that have proven to be just as thrilling.
     
Bay Area parkland is a distinctive and beautiful environment for golf and Lake Mercedís tree removal has accentuated the landís movement and vistas to its namesake lake and neighboring Olympic Club. I was surprised and impressed by how much width was recaptured on most holes on a site Tiger Woods once said was the most claustrophobic course heíd ever played. Though I always fail to really see green contours on an initial round, I noted lovely rises on 1, a wicked front on 6, and wild rolls on 9 green guarded by a bunker reminiscent of a lionís mouth. There are a healthy dose of blind or semi-blind landing areas from tee shots, and approaches feature a number of bunkers exemplifying MacKenzieís talent for creating forced perspective on the golferóutilizing their shaping to appear closer or further from green pads than they really are. The cavemen did excellent work building bunkers that are characteristically MacKenzie in both aesthetic and function, but importantly none of them seem like reproductions from other coursesóthey seem suited only to Lake Merced, and rightfully so. 

On a different thread, Al Jamieson suggested that LMGC will be a new candidate for Top 100 lists, and I think ďcandidateĒ is the appropriate word instead of assumed entrant. From my point of view, the most crowded Doak Score echelon of renowned courses is a 7, and US Top 100 lists feature more 7ís than any other score, which inevitably also leaves out many other worthy 7ís. Lake Merced for me has risen from a 5 to a 7, which is an exceptional enhancement, and there still remains upside potential after further growing in and getting conditions as fiery as possible. A couple key walking bridges could mitigate some transitions, and a blind aiming pole behind 11 green for the tee shot could also bolster the personality of the playing experience. The membership should be proud for entrusting their course in Gilís hands, though I think Gilís decision to take on the project was far riskier on his end than the clubís. In an already crowded metropolitan market with multiple Top 100 entrants, Hanse was willing to put his name behind a club that previously was not considered in the same breath as Cal, SFGC, or Olympicís Lake. After his breathtaking work, the cityís three-ball has finally found its fourth, and determining who gives strokes to whom is up for debate! 


3


5


6


8 approach


From 10 green; 6 & 7


12 tee


12 approach


12 green


13


18 green from 14 green


16


18 approach
« Last Edit: May 08, 2023, 08:27:41 PM by Michael Chadwick »
Instagram: mj_c_golf

David_Tepper

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2023, 08:40:20 PM »
Michael -

Thanks for your comprehensive and informative commentary and for the pics.


I played LM many times before the Hanse renovation, but have only gotten to play the first 14 holes of the new version. It is quite a change for the better.

DT

Tom_Doak

  • Karma: +1/-1
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2023, 11:38:13 PM »
I will only argue with one point here.


The Rees Jones version of Lake Merced was terrible, so there was zero professional risk that a talented architect could make it way better.  The only question was whether any such talented architect wanted to devote that much of their time and effort to the endeavor.


I donít have a lot of time to go look at anyone elseís golf courses right now, but the photos of Lake Merced look terrific.  Even so, itís probably correct that a 7 was the upper bound for the course, and that doesnít guarantee it a spot in the top 100.  Is it better than Bel Air?  It hasnít made the top 100, either, and itís a much more interesting piece of ground.

Michael Chadwick

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2023, 12:38:51 AM »
I will only argue with one point here.


The Rees Jones version of Lake Merced was terrible, so there was zero professional risk that a talented architect could make it way better.  The only question was whether any such talented architect wanted to devote that much of their time and effort to the endeavor.


I donít have a lot of time to go look at anyone elseís golf courses right now, but the photos of Lake Merced look terrific.  Even so, itís probably correct that a 7 was the upper bound for the course, and that doesnít guarantee it a spot in the top 100.  Is it better than Bel Air?  It hasnít made the top 100, either, and itís a much more interesting piece of ground.


Tom, agreed--I was trying to imply that the risk didn't pertain to improving the Jones version, but whether the ceiling of the project would be high enough for Gil not only in comparison to neighboring SF clubs but other restoration clients he's had. The answer seems to be a resounding yes to me now, though I can imagine some may have had doubts initially.


As for Bel Air, I haven't played it yet. Trying to remedy that seeing as I live in Los Angeles! But for what it's worth (absolutely nothing), in terms of some courses I've seen, LMGC strikes me as being comparable to courses like Philly Cricket, Hollywood, and Ridgewood on the basis of both design quality and the accomplished level of restorative/presentation work.


On another note--just received in the mail your MacKenzie reprint, along with the surprise St Patrick's Stymie scorecard. Fortuitous timing because I have a 36 hole day at St Pat's in two weeks!     
Instagram: mj_c_golf

Peter Flory

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2023, 10:36:53 PM »
I've only had one day there, but I really thought that it was well done.  The course itself, ignoring the range, sits on only 113 acres... but it feels spacious somehow.  And that back corner is really an exciting piece of the property. 

Matt_Cohn

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2023, 12:38:17 AM »
I just wanted to add a few photos from today as the fescue is beginning to take on its summer color for the first time.












Cade Cutchen

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2023, 07:55:01 AM »
I just wanted to add a few photos from today as the fescue is beginning to take on its summer color for the first time.














Are you out for the Cal State Am?


Thanks for posting the updated photos. Itís still early in the summer but I donít think people fully realized what summer conditions can be at Lake Merced. Our shortgrass is incredibly tight, and when combined with dryness, leads to a fun surface. Fast and Firm is the goal.

Jerry Kluger

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2023, 06:23:26 PM »
It certainly looks like a course that would be fun to play however, I wonder how much staff it would take to maintain those bunkers.

David_Tepper

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2023, 08:30:10 PM »
If anyone in the Bay Area is looking for a chance to see and walk the course, the Cal State Am will continue thru Saturday. I am 99% sure spectators are welcome.

Here is the scoreboard for the 2 rounds of qualifying:

https://www.golfgenius.com/pages/9170834521065542509
 
Matchplay starts with the round of 32 tomorrow.

Matt_Cohn

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2023, 01:24:01 AM »
I just wanted to add a few photos from today as the fescue is beginning to take on its summer color for the first time.


Are you out for the Cal State Am?


Thanks for posting the updated photos. Itís still early in the summer but I donít think people fully realized what summer conditions can be at Lake Merced. Our shortgrass is incredibly tight, and when combined with dryness, leads to a fun surface. Fast and Firm is the goal.


Yes. It is fast and tight and it is FIRM. It is SO good right now.

David_Tepper

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2023, 08:49:39 AM »
Matt -

Good luck in the matchplay!

DT

Matt_Cohn

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Lake Merced: A Historically Inspired Restoration of a Renovation
« Reply #11 on: June 25, 2023, 04:51:06 PM »
Thanks. I fell in the first round to  a kid my size who outdrove me by 40 yards (nothing new there). The standard of play in match play was high. My guy birdied 5 of our last 7. One kid made an albatross on #9. The winner played the 15 afternoon holes of the final match in -7 (with a bogey on the easiest hole!). I could go on. The golf course was in absolutely perfect conditionófirm, firm, firm, with greens around 12 that allowed them to use interesting hole locations without things getting crazy.

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