This discussion group is best enjoyed using Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari.


The impact of the Heathland courses
« on: March 25, 2003, 08:53:46 AM »
I’ve been wondering lately about the impact that the Heathland courses in England have had on the design of courses here in the US.  Very few, if any, designers/developers make reference to these courses, but they sometimes go out of there way to draw comparison to links style courses.  But people like George Crump seemed to really like the design and it is obvious when looking at those early photos of Pine Valley.  Today, the Sand Belt courses in Australia seem to be more attractive to these developers/designers as a source of comparison, not that those are a bad example to follow.  They just seem to be more attractive and I don’t know if that is because of the appeal of something that seems so exotic to the American golfer or what.  I’ve got several questions that I think I know what I think, but what do you think about them?  

What appeals to us, if they still do, about the Heathland course?

What impact do these courses have on design thought today?

Are they merely relics from an age gone by or do they still have a place in the world of golf?

Why don’t they get more recognition to the world at large if they are so important to the history and development of design?

What facets of these course should be more used in today’s golf designs?

Have any solid heathland courses been built in the last 50 years?

Lastly, is the lack of recognition of Heathland courses what keeps Harry Colt from possibly being recognized as one of the top 2 or 3 architects in history?  Or is there something else?
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


Re: The impact of the Heathland courses
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2003, 10:04:15 AM »

I've been fortunate enough to play both heathland and sandbelt golf over the last few years.  While you can't beat the lifestyle and nirvana that is Australian Golf, my heart still resides on the heath.  A walk on the heath especially at a venue like Swinley Forest is still a magical experience (even more so when the rhododendrons are blooming).  There is an inexplicable wonderful factor in the journey one takes on a heathland golf course.  The fauna and flora are lovely.  The smell of pine, the beauty of birch trees as you walk down the fairway, purple heather the colour of eye candy hiding you from its spurious nature.  The sound of warblers as you address your ball, hawks flying overhead looking for food and the firm feeling of the turf below you all provide a constant feeling of joy.  All of this masks the big problem facing heathland golf, the loss of the heath itself.  The heath is fragile and endangered.  

Many courses have lost a lot of there heather (see Wentworth) and other indigenous plants like gorse and bracken.  The heath is in fact shrinking and untold hectares
have been lost and preservation is needed.  Many courses are being encroached by trees etc and are turning into woodlands which changes the soil composure and the playability of the courses.  I think this is one reason why new courses are not being built there. Although David Kidd just built Queenswood and that looks interesting in spots. Not true "heath" from the pix I have seen.

The strategic merits of heathland golf has been spelled out by several famous architects and one only needs to look at Tom Simpson and HN Wethered's musings in the Architectual Side of Golf where they pick  many heathland courses as
models for strategic holes.  Heathland holes often have strategically placed hazards,  have lots of variety along the journey, show off the merits of the property and its
beauty and provide interest for both the scratch and bogey golfer alike.

For example, architects of today like Tom Doak have been moved by what John Low and Stuart Paton did at Woking with the strategic placing of bunkers etc.  Doak used some of these effects at Pac Dunes.  I also see a lot of heathland
strategic design in C&C's work.  While I have never played Hidden Creek in New Jersey the style and strategy all skips to the same beat as golf out on the heath.  
Another "architect" who does realize the beauty of heathland golf and its inspirations is Nick Faldo who actively plays the local venues as I've been told when he is home.

One of the problems heathland golf has at the moment is of publicity.  Sure the pros go to Wentworth twice a year to play but that course the Burma Road has lost a fair
bit of its indigenous vegetation etc to really qualify it as a heath gem (I know since Russell Talley and I spent a morning walking and driving around the course).  While
Sunningdale has hosted a Ladies British Open and numerous other tournaments in the past, it reserves itself as a stately and classy Surrey institution.  Many people
don't even know of the joys of places like Woking, the Berkshire or Swinley Forest.  When you add in hidden gems like New Zealand and the Addington the heath is just not publicized especially on our side of the Atlantic.

I hope Paul Turner will talk about your Harry Colt question.  He definitely has to be on the short list of any top golf designers for the volume of quality he left on the
heath and the modesty in which he created his masterpieces (Swinley, Sunningdale, St. Georges Hill).

As for what facets of  heathland golf is needed more in today's game I would humbly submit one of the keys  is the maintenance meld.  Heathland courses usually
play firm and fast during the spring to fall months.  The link to the ground game is a vestige of heathland golf's origin which of course was links golf.  What this does for
me is make a walk on the heath an exercise in playing golf on a cunning and crafty basis.  Combined with the attributes I mentioned above, there is no finer inland golf experience. I wish I could hop a plane to London to play there tommorrow.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:03 PM by -1 »

Brian Phillips

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: The impact of the Heathland courses
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2003, 10:47:12 AM »
It is strange that you should ask this question today.  We (as the GCA students at Edinburgh Uni)  have just spent a week touring the heathlands.  We walked Swinley Forest with the course manager on Monday and then played New Zealand, Woking, Berkshire Red, Hankley Common and Worplesdon.

Swinley Forest had a huge impression on me.  The tranquility of the place was very moving.  I enjoyed the routing but wonder about the changes being put in place by the course manager.  A two tiered green has been put in place on the 4th as well as the 16th.

New Zealand was the greatest surprise to me.  I thought it was a boring course but with potential.  There are only a couple of interesting greens the 17th and 18th are those that stick in my memory.

Woking and Berkshire were my favourites of the week.  The width of the fairways on both these courses especially Woking created so much strategy off the tee as well as the greenside bunkering.  The greens were very undulated and fun to play.  the course was quirky in areas which is one thing I love about old designs - they don't always make sense!!

The Berkshire was just a roller coaster of fun.  The mix of six par 3's, six par 5's and six par 4's created a mix that never let the mind rest.  The Par 3's are great, I especially loved the 2nd hole which many would call a reverse redan.  The holes were really fun and the players in my fourball always thought of different routes and plans to get the ball in the hole.

Hankley Common is probably the truest heathland course of all. This course is relatively flat and is just surrounded by heather. Hardly any trees are in play and the course often remineded me of the old pictures of Sunningdale and PV.  The course itself was a bit boring with the last few holes probably being the best especially the last.

Worplesdon is the probably the least heathland of them all and to me played much like a basic parkland course.  It is not far from a busy road which must be crossed twice which detracts from the beautiful surroundings.  Many of the drives are blind and there isn't much strategy needed in reaching the greens.  

I have also played Sunningdale Old which I think is still fantastic.

I still have ambitions to visit St. Georges Hill to complete my tour but that will have to be another year.

My rankings and scores would be:

Berkshire Red 8/10
Sunningdale Old 8/10
Swinley Forest 8/10 *did not play
Woking 7/10
Worplesdon 6/10
Hankley Commom 6/10
New Zealand 5.5/10

The bunkering is what struck me on some of the courses. There is real strategy involved in approaching the greens on many of these courses especially Woking, Berkshire and Sunningdale.  Now, how much of this is recent I do not know but it did have an impression on me.

Those that know me, know how much I adore Colt.  In my opinion he is the most underated architect EVER.  I don't want to say too much now but buy Paul Daley's vol 2 book and an essay in there might be of interest...  ;D

I walked Hidden Creek last year and I can see the heathland inluence on C & C as well as Roger Hansen who made a tour of the heathlands with his wife before work started on the course.  I only with that the course managers in Britain were as good as Jeff Riggs at understanding how things can be kept.


ps I haven't forgotten your photos and can even send them by e-mail as I have broadband..let me know.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:03 PM by -1 »
Bunkers, if they be good bunkers, and bunkers of strong character, refuse to be disregarded, and insist on asserting themselves; they do not mind being avoided, but they decline to be ignored - John Low Concerning Golf


Re: The impact of the Heathland courses
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2003, 03:50:18 AM »

First off I think Paul Turner can back me up in saying Harry Colt designed-redesigned more courses not deemed to be in true heathland specific "microclimate" with the intimately attendent heathland specific "soil profile complexes".  His CV ranged farther than these superbe heathland classics mentioned.  For me I'd put him right up in the top-3, at least for my specific likes.

Why there hasn't been more heathland courses in the past 50 years?  Again one must realize that true "heathland" environments enveloping both the weather microclimate and heathland soil profile are found in a relatively small areas in the world, namely S, SW, W outside greater London (pockets of North London) which includes Surrey and Berkshire Counties, some areas in western Holland, etc.  These are areas that can support the growth of heathland specific species of plants like heather (Erica spp.) in conjunction with the fine fescues-red bents for the golf course.  Its a very specific beast, the "heathland" course, which can not be copied, synthesized in any old place. So this would limit the amount of courses to develope, not to mention the ever protective nature of local councils, national organizations, scientific organizations, special interest groups, who are looking to the conservation aspect to not build anything on them.  In the last 50 years they have also become a favorite of U.K. Min. of Defense to set up large military training camps (ex. Frimley, in the Greater Swinley Forest).

The dynamic of the heath has changed over the last 100 years too.  Once used by the peasant class in the past to utilize for sources of firewood, places to let cattle graze, these allowed the open nature of the heaths to exist for which we have seen numerous old photos.  Now these groups of people have been relegated, namley since post WW II, in consolidated council housing which uses all the modern conveniences of heating, so the "natural" culling of trees in the heath has been stopped essentially, which has allowed various advantageous species like Scoth Pine and White Birch to proliferate at the expense of the heather.  There is also some debate that sulfurous emmissions from cars on nearby motorways (M3, M25) also enhance Scoth Pines and White Birch development.

« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


Re: The impact of the Heathland courses
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2003, 04:34:30 AM »
"What appeals to us, if they still do, about the Heathland course?"

Some of the Heathland courses of the so-called "Heathland Era" were the first of what was considered quality golf courses anywhere other than the linksland. As such they should logically interest us as this was the time and place when good golf courses were produced elsewhere. That time and place was also probably the first time when "professional architects" began to ply their trade away from the links type course and the Heathlands was were they began that. Architects such as Abercromby, Alison, Colt, Fowler, Park, MacKenzie.

"What impact do these courses have on design thought today?"

Don't know that they do other than their early and important influence in the evolution of architecture--certainly in America. Pine Valley being one of the first (1913) of true quality American architecture was heavily influenced by the Heathland style. Certainly one of the reasons was the sites and soil make-up are remarkably similar but Crump, afterall spent a good deal of time in the Heathlands studying architecture in 1910. It would make sense that people like Crump and Wilson would have spent a good deal of time in the Heathlands in 1910. Afterall, again, the Heathlands was the only place, certainly the most prevalent place outside the linkland where quality architecture existed and was being done in that early period.

Since the Heathlands was basically the only place or certainly the most prevalent place where most of the most up to date and sophisticated architectural thinking of that time was taking place it's influence on some architecture to come is obvious. So it's only natural that those early architects would travel to the Heathlands to study the latest in architecture and architectural thinking. If those early American architects such as Crump, Wilson, Tillinghast et al were planning on building courses on the coast lands somewhat akin to the linkland they might have more naturally gravitated to the linkland to study architectural concept. But they weren't doing that--they were planning on building courses inland and when the soil conditons matched the Heathlands, which of course Pine Valley's did, so much the better.

Even when the sites and soils didn't really match the Heathland that was still the place to look for the latest and most sophisticated in architectural concept and thinking. Certainly history tells us even the thinking on how to apply "strategy" to golf design better was really only happening in the Heathlands at that time instead of with the prevalent "penal" architecture that was extant everywhere else outside the linksland and the Heathlands.

Good questions, Chris! I'll try some of the others another time. But for now, I think the best way to understand these things is just to understand as well as possible the "evolution" of golf architecture. It's kind of hard today to look at differences in architecture just in and of themselves. A better way is to see exactly how one evolved to another and influenced it and why.

« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:03 PM by -1 »


Re: The impact of the Heathland courses
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2003, 08:52:16 AM »
I don't think you can follow the development of modern golf architecture without tracing it all back to London....thats where it all started.

I believe Colt's lack of recognition is only temporary. A few decades ago very little was known about Ross, MacKenzie and Tillinghast. The interest in these men is a relatively recent phenomenon. The interest in golf architecture/architects doesn't appear to be quite as developed in the UK - a major factor - but that seems to be changing with the advent of the Colt Society and a new book on the man (I believe).

I am excited to hear Paul Turner has written an essay on Colt for Daley's Vol.2 - I know of no one with a more comprehensive knowledge of Colt and his work.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


Re: The impact of the Heathland courses
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2003, 09:11:45 AM »
Interesting stuff.

I think Noel pretty much covered why heath golf is so naturally appealing.  These courses seem to have an effortless grace to them.

The courses and consequently Colt et al,  aren't so famous because they're near to London and touring golfers/touritsts generally aren't interested in playing golf there.  Too many other distractions and things to do.  

Also, the heatland architects, apart from Park, designed only a small amount of work in the USA where architects are generally MUCH more high profile than in GB+Ir. (Not sure how much Alison was involved with the famous heath courses)

There aren't many true lowland heath courses, far fewer than even links (about 150).  And there aren't going to be any more built as far as I can see- not in Britain/Europe at least.  The land was once regarded as worthless (like links) but now it's like gold dust.

Also it has to be said, that eventhough they are different from parkland golf, they aren't as different as links are, from golf in the park.  The sanbelt courses are a good comparison with heath courses; and sandbelt courses might be having more influence now (Steve Smyers at Royce Brook...) because they are so visually stimulating with those bunkers.  Plus as RT points out, you can't just grow heather anywhere, you need centuries of the right conditions to get the right soil.

I can't think of any heath courses from the last 50 years (other than redesign).  But I have found a few, little known, short and quirky heath courses that could be interesting.


Is the 4th green really 2 tiered now?  Didn't they just soften the back right portion (ramp) a bit, to stop balls hooking round off the ramp into the front left bunker?  The 16th green has been like that for a while, it certainly was when I played there about 5+ years ago.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »


An Error Has Occurred!

Call to undefined function theme_linktree()