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Ted Sturges

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Course tinkering
« on: June 05, 2023, 09:22:35 AM »
Watching the golf at Muirfield Village GC this weekend reminded me about how much that golf course has changed over the years.  Mr. Nicklaus has "tinkered" with the golf course quite a bit over the last 30 years.  Is the course better today because of the tinkering?  In thinking about golf courses where the primary architect continued to tinker with the golf course over the years, can we make the case that any of those golf courses got better?  I'd like to say that Pinehurst No. 2 is better, but that would be impossible to say because none of us were around to see what it looked like before multiple iterations of Mr. Ross' changes.  Crooked Stick (where I am a member) is the most tinkered with Pete Dye golf course because he lived there.  It is better after all the changes?  Is Muirfield Village better today?  Are there any clear examples of golf courses that were constantly tinkered with improving?


TS

Ben Hollerbach

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2023, 10:53:59 AM »
One of my concerns around Jacks tinkering with Muirfield Village is who is the tinkering for? Has the course gotten better for PGA tour level play, at the potential cost of general membership play? Does Jack look to this course as his masterpiece and does it have to be "perfect" for him, even if its less than perfect for others?

Isn't it a commonly held belief that Ross living at both Essex & Pinehurst and MacKenzie living at Pasatiempo contributed greatly to those courses being improved through their tinkering?

I do wonder, as the focus and disconnect within a courses profile has seemingly shifted so greatly towards high level competitive prowess, was it easier for Ross & MacKenzie to tinker and improve the course for all, compared to today?



Mark_Fine

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2023, 01:34:40 PM »
Can anyone here name a change that was made to a golf course that was done because those who made it thought it would make the golf course worse?


This is the circle of life for golf courses.  They are constantly changing and being tinkered with (all with good intent).  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The same goes for changes on golf courses.  This is why all courses will constantly cycle through updates, improvements, modifications, tweaks, renovations, restorations, Ö call them what you want. 


So to answer your question, yes there are many examples and the last person to make the latest improvement will definitely agree with me  :)   I will throw out LACC.  That course changed significantly over the years (some by tinkering some by major amounts of work).  I wonder if Gil thinks he helped improve it  ;)
« Last Edit: June 05, 2023, 02:01:06 PM by Mark_Fine »

ward peyronnin

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2023, 01:59:58 PM »
Believe it or not Cruden Bay is an example where some tinkering has really paid off
The ninth hole begins at the highest poin on the property with stunning 360 degree view. It is a par four and previously travelled directly over the gentle crest of the dune upon which it rests and then gently down to a green perched on sheer back of this feature. A pleasant but not striking routing once the blue sky drive was launched because the seawrd side of the hole was dense tall gorse screening the view along that side of the hole.

The new tee has been moved closer to the seaward "corner" of this dominant feature which creates an angle of play in conjunction with some fairway bunkering rather than a straight up and over and down play and the shrubbery has been totally removed revealing a breathtaking continuous view of the North Sea. Some other small changes were also introduced and also helped elevate the experience. Well done IMO


"Golf is happiness. It's intoxication w/o the hangover; stimulation w/o the pills. It's price is high yet its rewards are richer. Some say its a boys pastime but it builds men. It cleanses the mind/rejuvenates the body. It is these things and many more for those of us who truly love it." M.Norman

Charlie Goerges

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2023, 02:25:37 PM »
Can anyone here name a change that was made to a golf course that was done because those who made it thought it would make the golf course worse?


I'll bet a lot of the dudes filling in/grassing over bunkers during the depression thought they were probably making the courses worse. It didn't matter, they were trying to save money. I realize that's not really what we are talking about here, but it's on a spectrum that we need to consider. Additionally, I'm not certain that even all of the much more intentional changes were meant to make courses better rather than harder. Making a course a "proper challenge" and other such ideas. I suppose in some sense those guys thought harder was better. I'm certain of nothing here.
Severally on the occasion of everything that thou doest, pause and ask thyself, if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives thee of this. - Marcus Aurelius

Mark_Fine

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2023, 02:38:03 PM »
Charlie,
You may be right but those guys filling in bunkers might have thought they were unnecessary or that that were doing good by saving the club extra maintenance expenses.  That is one of the reasons many greens/fairways were reduced in size (to save money which those doing it thought was good for the club).  But I think you get my point, most changes are done with good intent to try to improve the course/situation at hand. And yes some think harder is better  :(


Look at all the comments on the Oak Hill renovation.  Much of the change was clearly done to make it harder which those who authorized the work obviously thought made the course better.  They sure didnít spend all that money thinking they were making it worse.  What is an improvement is very subjective and always will be. 

Ted Sturges

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2023, 02:38:50 PM »
Can anyone here name a change that was made to a golf course that was done because those who made it thought it would make the golf course worse?


This is the circle of life for golf courses.  They are constantly changing and being tinkered with (all with good intent).  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The same goes for changes on golf courses.  This is why all courses will constantly cycle through updates, improvements, modifications, tweaks, renovations, restorations, Ö call them what you want. 


So to answer your question, yes there are many examples and the last person to make the latest improvement will definitely agree with me  :)   I will throw out LACC.  That course changed significantly over the years (some by tinkering some by major amounts of work).  I wonder if Gil thinks he helped improve it  ;)


Mark,   You kinda missed the point of my question.  I asked if there were examples of the "primary architect" improving a course through years of tinkering.  Under that definition/question, LACC would not qualify as an example.   -TS

ward peyronnin

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2023, 02:55:02 PM »
Ok Ted I also missed that fine point.

I think of Pine Valley but not sure a lot of the tinkering wasn't done after Crump moved on
"Golf is happiness. It's intoxication w/o the hangover; stimulation w/o the pills. It's price is high yet its rewards are richer. Some say its a boys pastime but it builds men. It cleanses the mind/rejuvenates the body. It is these things and many more for those of us who truly love it." M.Norman

Max Prokopy

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2023, 03:40:13 PM »
Essex County is one.  Myopia was certainly tinkered with, I think entirely for the better as I understand the holes' histories. 


Forgive my ignorance, but do St. Andrews and RCD count as being tinkered with?  They certainly seemed to have evolved over decades of paly in all conditions.


Michael Dugger

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2023, 05:26:43 PM »
The greens at MV played mighty firm this week, I must say I enjoyed watching the pros try to tackle them.


-7 was the winning score.  I'd say the course defended par quite well, yet appeared very fair. to boot.


I think the tweaking has kept the course a championship test.
What does it matter if the poor player can putt all the way from tee to green, provided that he has to zigzag so frequently that he takes six or seven putts to reach it?     --Alistair Mackenzie--

Tim Martin

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2023, 06:10:56 PM »
One of my concerns around Jacks tinkering with Muirfield Village is who is the tinkering for? Has the course gotten better for PGA tour level play, at the potential cost of general membership play? Does Jack look to this course as his masterpiece and does it have to be "perfect" for him, even if itís less than perfect for others?


The tinkering at Muirfield Village is wholly for the Memorial as I would think Jack feels that both the course and the tournament are a big part of his legacy. As the golf course continues to evolve and become more difficult it must have an inverse effect on the enjoyment level for many although it has to be tough for the membership to pursue a line of dialogue in this vein due to Jackís involvement. Finally not unlike Augusta National GC I donít think the membership has any input with the only option moving up to the member tees.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2023, 07:11:24 PM by Tim Martin »

Mark_Fine

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2023, 08:33:58 PM »
Ted,
I missed that point when you mentioned Pinehurst #2 as that course has had so many architects tinker with it since Ross passed away.  He would not recognize the greens. 


I would be willing to bet most architects would love to tweak their original designs as time goes on for a wide variety of reasons.  They would only be doing so if they felt they were making them better.  Take for example TPC at Sawgrass since you mentioned Pete Dye.  I played it very early in its existence and it is a different course today and I would say better.  I think Pete realized that more than just the pros would be playing there and he wanted average golfers to be able to finish their rounds.  Again, defining better is very subjective. 

Kalen Braley

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2023, 09:17:33 PM »
Just read this article on the 16th and I'm wondering if this is really necessary?

https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/golf/jack-nicklaus-likely-to-redesign-16th-hole-after-hearing-complaints-during-2023-memorial/ar-AA1c9fzp?ocid=hpmsn&cvid=fbcde136684144e8bb0a0f403da12ebe&ei=32

Seems like they just need to limit how long it plays, I'm guessing it would be a lot more manageable for the Pros from 150-160 even with left to right wind.

Jim Sherma

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2023, 09:28:19 PM »
Proportionally speaking - where do the the distance increases from the wound ball/persimmon era to the Pro-V/titanium era compare to the gutty to Haskell and hickory to steel conversions? Have the changes to Muirfield been any more drastic than what courses did through those previous convulsions? Likely, itís less dramatic.

Tommy Williamsen

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2023, 10:29:07 PM »
Just read this article on the 16th and I'm wondering if this is really necessary?

https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/golf/jack-nicklaus-likely-to-redesign-16th-hole-after-hearing-complaints-during-2023-memorial/ar-AA1c9fzp?ocid=hpmsn&cvid=fbcde136684144e8bb0a0f403da12ebe&ei=32

Seems like they just need to limit how long it plays, I'm guessing it would be a lot more manageable for the Pros from 150-160 even with left to right wind.


That's true, but then he would have two par threes on the back nine with similar distances.
Where there is no love, put love; there you will find love.
St. John of the Cross

"Deep within your soul-space is a magnificent cathedral where you are sweet beyond telling." Rumi

Ben Hollerbach

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #15 on: June 06, 2023, 04:05:08 PM »
Proportionally speaking - where do the the distance increases from the wound ball/persimmon era to the Pro-V/titanium era compare to the gutty to Haskell and hickory to steel conversions? Have the changes to Muirfield been any more drastic than what courses did through those previous convulsions? Likely, itís less dramatic.
It's sometimes hard to perfectly identify the transition from one period to another, especially when you're trying to correlate the influence of equipment on the game as a whole, But I'll try to put some logic behind the division of time.

Titanium/ Solid Core Ball
From 1998 up to today, the average major championship venue has been lengthened by 543 yards, or 21.72 yards per year.
  • The average in 1998 was 6,912. The average in 2023 is 7,454
  • The shortest major venue was 6,846 yards (Pebble Beach 2000)
  • The longest major venue was 7,876 (Kiawah 2021)
Steel/Persimmon
From 1935 through 1998, the average major championship venue was lengthened by 220 yards, or 3.49 yards per year.
  • The average in 1935 was 6,692, The average in 1998 was, 6,912
  • The shortest major venue was 6,354 yards (Pomonok 1939)
  • The longest major venue was 7,436, (Columbine 1967)

These next two periods begin to get a bit shake on course yardage, but...

Haskell/Hickory
From 1901 through 1935, the average major championship venue was lengthened by 562 yards, or 16.06 yards per year.
  • The Open Championship in 1901 was 6,130, The average in 1935 was 6,692
  • The shortest major venue was 6,003 yards (Prestwick 1903)
  • The longest major venue was 7,436, (Muirfield 1935)
Gutty/Feathery
From 1860 through 1901, the average major championship venue was lengthened by 2,331 yards and 6 holes. Or 10.27 yards per year.
  • The Open Championship in 1860 was 12 hole & 3,799 yards, The Open Championship in 1901 was 18 holes and 6,130 yards
« Last Edit: June 06, 2023, 09:24:53 PM by Ben Hollerbach »

Tom_Doak

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #16 on: June 06, 2023, 10:02:25 PM »

I would be willing to bet most architects would love to tweak their original designs as time goes on for a wide variety of reasons.  They would only be doing so if they felt they were making them better.  Take for example TPC at Sawgrass since you mentioned Pete Dye.  I played it very early in its existence and it is a different course today and I would say better.  I think Pete realized that more than just the pros would be playing there and he wanted average golfers to be able to finish their rounds.  Again, defining better is very subjective.


Pete Dye loved to tinker around with his own courses - Teeth of the Dog being the best example.


However, I drew up some of the early changes to the TPC at Sawgrass, after listening to Mr Dye and Commissioner Beman walk through them.  At no point was the playability for the average golfer a driving force for the changes, nor was it even discussed as far as I can recall.  Like Muirfield Village and Augusta National, changes to the TPC at Sawgrass are all about tournament play, though of course it was built to be playable for others, too. (Which was not your point, BTW.)

Mark_Fine

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #17 on: June 08, 2023, 07:48:28 AM »
Tom,
Maybe TPC Sawgrass was not the best example, but the result of the tinkering did make the course more playable for a wider range of golfers even though as you say the main intent was targeted at the pros. 


But even the pros donít like courses that are too crazy hard (or sad to say what they deem as unfair).  Pete also softened the difficulty of The Ocean Course (maybe this was done primarily for the pros) but maybe for the average resort player as well who couldnít break 100. 


A better example might be Heron Point in Hilton Head.  I played that course right after it opened and wrote a long letter to Cary Corbitt, who was the GM at Sea Pines and responsible for all the golf courses.  I knew Cary from years of having a place down there.  I told him that Heron Point was at least two shots harder than Harbour Town and some of the holes resort guests would struggle to even finish.  Cary said he wanted it different and he wanted it hard (but maybe not that hard) as Pete came back over the next several years and modified some of the difficulty.  It is now a better golf course and while still very challenging, is manageable for higher handicappers. 


The point is the changes by Pete and others were done to make it better not worse and I think they were successful. 
« Last Edit: June 08, 2023, 11:05:06 AM by Mark_Fine »

John Mayhugh

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2023, 07:28:04 AM »
Ted,
Your original question is a good one, as it refers to tinkering by the guy who designed the course. That's quite a bit different from changes made by others.

In theory, it seems like some tweaking would make sense. Perhaps a hole didn't play as intended or players didn't interact in the expected way. Those changes would be more likely to result in improvement than something reactive e.g. an Eisenhower tree (before anyone corrects me, that's an example of a type of change - I know that it wasn't done by MacKenzie).

My perception is that the tinkering at MV has been intended to make the course more challenging for tournament play. I doubt that has made the course better for members. For me, the motivation behind the changes is what's important. Someone earlier pointed out that courses will change over time and that's difficult to deny. Given that changes will occur, having the original designer making them is probably better than having people in house "fixing" things they don't like. Or calling in M&E to homogenize a course.

I've only played Crooked Stick a couple of times and don't have much knowledge of its changes over Dye's lifetime. At a macro level, what do you think of them? I'm a big fan of the course that's there now.

Tom_Doak

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #19 on: June 09, 2023, 07:48:18 AM »
My personal perspective is that I get to tinker with my designs while they are in the dirt, so I don't feel the need to do more once they have been grassed, unless a client has identified a clear problem [like the safety problem on the 17th/18th holes at The National we fixed this year - but that was the first time in my career I've had to do that].


I have now done two courses that host a tournament on a regular basis, and there seems to be an expectation that we will tinker with those ad infinitum -- I worked on a change to the 17th hole at Memorial Park just this past month.  Those changes are at the clients' request; I am not the driving force.  In fact, such work is very inefficient for my own time management -- it takes me 30-40 days on site to design and build a new course, but then 2-3 days [including travel] to make some tiny adjustment to one hole that might change the winning score by a fraction of a shot.  Generally, I'd rather not do something like that, unless a real problem has developed.


At Memorial Park, we are trying to get them to play the 17th as a drivable par-4 on the weekend, and the TOUR just wouldn't set it up that way on my original design when it was all carry onto the green.  So we have moved the green back and the tee forward to the point that everyone will be able to get over the pond if they go for it.  I would also note that the TOUR and the sponsor asked me to look at rebuilding the 9th and 15th greens to make the roll-off areas less severe, and instead of spending six figures to rebuild them, which was the default assumption, I suggested they bring in the collars about three feet so that more balls rolling off the green would stop at the top.  This suggestion was motivated in part by my not wanting to spend several more days trying to rebuild them when the success really depends on the set-up.

John Mayhugh

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #20 on: June 09, 2023, 10:23:56 AM »
Tom,
You're in a tough spot - if you don't make changes to the pro-hosting courses, someone else probably will. That mowing change at Memorial makes so much sense it probably got resistance....

Tim Martin

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #21 on: June 09, 2023, 11:12:26 AM »
Tom,
You're in a tough spot - if you don't make changes to the pro-hosting courses, someone else probably will. That mowing change at Memorial makes so much sense it probably got resistance....


This thread has made me think about the dividing line about architects who have both the will and established reputation to be able to say no to changes that they donít feel will benefit the design. Like any endeavor if there is a checkbook at the ready there will be someone willing to perform the work. It must present almost a Catch-22 for that person who desperately needs the work knowing that down the line he/she could be criticized for same and potentially lose future business because of it.

Ted Sturges

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #22 on: June 13, 2023, 02:07:34 PM »
Ted,
Your original question is a good one, as it refers to tinkering by the guy who designed the course. That's quite a bit different from changes made by others.



I've only played Crooked Stick a couple of times and don't have much knowledge of its changes over Dye's lifetime. At a macro level, what do you think of them? I'm a big fan of the course that's there now.




John,      It is certainly subjective, but I love the way Crooked Stick looked in the 70's and early 80's.  So, for me, the constant tinkering has not made the course better.  The history of Crooked Stick is that Mr. Dye built the back 9 at CS and then paused, went over to Columbus, OH, and built The Golf Club.  Once it was completed, he came back to Carmel and built the front 9 at CS.  I have always referred to CS and TGC as "sister courses".  Why has the Golf Club held onto its high golf industry acclaim while Crooked Stick has not?  Is  it because he did much less tinkering at TGC?  Was the 1964-1983 period of his career his strongest? There are things at CS (that are not at TGC) that are illustrative of Mr. Dye's post 2000 work (for example, bunkers that rise up out of the ground rather than being low profile).  To me, it doesn't look like the rest of the golf course and doesn't fit in.  Plus, the course in the 70's and early 80's had a very "rough hewn" look to it (the creek that crossed the 9th fairway used to be a rugged "ditch", and now looks like a lazy river at Disney World).  Today, it is very "green and clean".  In my humble opinion, it was better pre-1985. 


TS

John Mayhugh

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #23 on: June 14, 2023, 07:24:58 AM »
Ted,
Thanks. Wish I could have seen CS in its earlier days.

I may be completely wrong, but it seems like later in his career, Dye was more likely to be "in your face" with features. His courses always require thought and are fun to play, but appearances can sometimes be jarring.

Mike_Trenham

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Re: Course tinkering
« Reply #24 on: June 14, 2023, 10:12:44 AM »
I would guess that Lancaster Country Club has to be the course Flynn tinkered most with over the years.  It was driven mostly by land acquisitions and sales as the club evolved.
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