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Sam Dunning: A Man So Full of “Content,” It Wouldn’t Fit in One Cover Story

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I wrote the August 2018 cover story entitled “Hunting for Unicorns” for Golf Course Industry Magazine (GCI) about one of the rarest creatures of all: the disappearing Pro/Super.  One of the Pro/Supers still working today who was kind enough to sit down and be interviewed is Sam Dunning.  Sam has been the Golf Professional and the Superintendent at Cleveland (MS) Country Club for more than 4 decades—yes, you read that right: he’s been the Pro/Super for 41 years!  Sam is a colorful and engaging guy (you’d have to be to stay at one club for that long without getting fired) and notes from his interview spanned pages!  There was simply too much information and not enough room in the magazine for all of his insight, humor, and stories from his time at the helm.  So now that the August issue of GCI Magazine is available online and the printed version is headed to mailboxes as we speak, I present to you my unedited notes from the interview with Sam Dunning.

Enjoy the following and let me know what you think on Twitter by tweeting me @lipouts.

All the best,

Nathan


When did you start at Cleveland CC?  July 11, 1977. I was 25 years old and they said here it is. I came for interview in June. They had over seeded greens and they kept them watered for an event in June and they were immaculate.  I took the job and started in July. I got there and the rye grass had died and there was hardly any grass on the Bermuda greens.  Holy cow! That was my first experience with grass. Unfortunately that was the beginning for me to start learning.

Were you hired to be the pro/super from the start or hired as one or the other and then given the other responsibilities?  I was hired as pro/ superintendent. Cleveland CC was a 9 hole course and actually very few golfers. So, at that time of my career, I spent lot more time on course. We had one other employee and quick couplers for water. Heck we were glad just to have water. We built another 9 holes in 1995 and also an automated irrigation system. I used to go out and push buttons and water whether it needed it or not just because I was so happy that it was automated. Whew, what a pretty sight after moving sprinklers and hoses every hour for 20 years! Now 18 holes and 400 members and I’m finding myself spending most of my time in the pro shop, preparing and running events, lessons, teaching juniors, and more of a consultant on the golf course. Of course when something goes wrong on the course, it’s still Sam’s fault [laughs].  Also, through the years I have found out when the course is perfect, it is because of rain and good weather.  When it’s not as good, it is always the fault of Sam and Avent–our head golf course supervisor and the real worker on the course.

Are/were you a member of both the PGA and the GCSAA? I have been a Class A PGA member of the Gulf States Section [PGA Hall of Fame 2008] for past 41 years.  I’m also a member Mississippi Turfgrass Association.

Why do you think there are so few Pro/Supers and why do you think young people are not choosing to go that route? Actually now, the demands and expectations for each position is overwhelming at times. To meet the expectations of most members at most clubs, you have to specialize in only one area. It is not appealing to youngsters because of the training process and education that is involved in each career. I also think the financial return is probably not very attractive as some other jobs they could pursue. Plus working weekends and holidays can turn people away.  I was so fortunate to learn turf, even though I am still learning, growing up at Canton CC in Canton, Mississippi.  I worked for a legend pro/super, Robbie Webb, during summers and weekends while in high school, and college at Mississippi State. I also worked for Mr. Webb as a PGA assistant professional at Canton CC for the last 3 years before coming to Cleveland CC. I worked on the golf course, in the pro shop, and anywhere else he told me to go. I also learned to cook great hamburgers and mix some really strong drinks working in the clubhouse. The hours were extremely long, but as I look back, it was a great learning experience. Plus I always had someone I could call or rely on when things might get a little shaky.

Biggest challenges of being a Pro/Super today?  Time!!!  Finding the 8th day of the week to catch up. But heck I have been trying to catch up for 41 years. It is very easy to cut yourself too thin and find yourself not doing a good job efficiently at either job. Obviously, I have been truly fortunate to have great staff on board. Avent Payne is phenomenal on the golf course. Also, a very supportive manager, Aaron Lasker, and board of directors, and fantastic membership seem to go a long way in making positive things happen. The time away from family life is a huge challenge. Being at work every weekend and on holidays goes unnoticed at work, but your family sure notices you are never home. Every day I go to work feels like my first day on the job 41 years ago. Those 19 greens are like children. I feed and water them and also many times seem to be punishing them with aerification and verticutting. There is always something to do; but you have to realize that doesn’t mean I always do it.

Biggest advantages/rewards of being a Pro/Super today? Biggest advantage is first, both of us seem to get along okay and we work great together when it’s time to coordinate events with course work. [laughs]  We are always trying to peak course for every event. But seriously, to see the golf course look so awesome and peak for an event, knowing how much work Avent Payne, my chief boss man for 24 years, Willie Scott, who has been with us 19 years, and his crew have done to make it happen. Also, for me to get outside on the course and take notes and push water buttons, just to get away sometimes from problems that occur inside. I could never be an inside man permanently. Way too many phone calls and issues to deal with that occur inside.  It’s good to get out on the course and clear my head.

Do you think the golf industry could be helped if there were more Pro/Supers? Definitely depends on the club situation. Possibly a smaller 18 hole club or definitely a nine hole club could benefit tremendously. But it can be overwhelming at a bigger club and would take a very special person to be able to handle both positions. He or she must have their heart in the job to make things look good. It is not a 40 hour a week job and you have to know what’s going on everywhere. I went to a nice club a couple of months ago and asked the professional what kind of greens they had, meaning which variety of bermuda (Champion, TifEagle, etc.)? He said “I think some kind of bermuda, but I’m not sure.”  That really woke me up.

If we could train young people to be Pro/Supers, which would be easier:  turning a young super into a Pro/Super or turning a young pro into a Pro/Super?  Why?

I definitely think turning a pro into a superintendent would be easier route to go. I’m sure there are cases where superintendent could become pro, but I haven’t heard of that situation. Both require extensive training. To become a PGA professional is a 3 ½ to 5 year process. Plus you must pass a playing ability test. I know there a lot of superintendents who can play well, but I don’t think most of them would want to go through the PGA process. Most supers aren’t trained to teach and most don’t really want to tackle that avenue.

On the other hand, most PGA pros have grown up playing quite well, and some have also worked on the course when they were younger.  It is easier to go through playing requirements early in career when you still have time to play, before the time of not having much opportunity to play once you start taking care of a course. But most pros also don’t have the technical training to do what an agronomist does.  That’s a tough question.

But I also absolutely believe a super should play as much as possible. You can tell so much more how a course is playing than just looking at it every day.  Oh and never get cocky about grass when it’s looking good.  It will turn around and bite you when you get a sense of complacency.

Share with me any stories or anecdotes about your time at Cleveland CC that you think the readers would find interesting. 

Oh my, where would I begin after 41 years?

I do remember in 2006 when we renovated our greens with Champion ultra-dwarf bermuda, I had a member after several days when the sprigs looked somewhat brown (but the roots were green), say to me “Any fool can tell these greens are dead already!” Miraculously, those dead sprigs have grown into fabulous greens.

Back in 1984, we were sprigging some tees and fringes and I had members tell me those upside down sprigs will not grow.  Amazing how those fringes and tees turned out so awesome.

I had been here 8 years and I had a ruling during our club championship that was not favorable to one of my favorite members and he said “Don’t you think you been pro here long enough?”  Then he just walked off.

Also, during a club championship, I had a member whose ball was clearly out of bounds between two stakes that were about 10 yards apart. He said he should be in bounds because if I had painted a line between the stakes to define out of bounds, I usually make the line more toward the houses and therefore he would be in bounds. He argued for a year.  An entire year!  Wow!!

A few years ago, I had a member kept telling me the holes weren’t set properly. He was lipping out every putt. I finally told him, do you realize how much you are raising the edges and also damaging the hole every time to get your ball out of the cup with you putter head instead of your hand? He said “Oh no, I don’t damage hole at all. I’m careful and press the hole with my foot when I finish every time.”

I remember one Christmas, I got a call about 9:00 a.m. “Sam, could you come mow the greens? My family can’t celebrate Christmas in Christmas Day this year and a couple of us would like to play.” The greens didn’t get cut that day.

This would be a very typical day:  I will have three members come in who just played together. One will say “These greens are slow as molasses!”  The very next guy will say “These greens are too fast! Did you spray bikini wax on them?”  The next guy in the group says “These are absolutely the best greens I have ever putted in my life! Good as Augusta National!” Guess who won all the money that day?

As I look back to the early and mid-nineties, my job as Pro/Superintendent, Delta State University Head Golf Coach, the building of an additional 9 holes at Cleveland CC, serving as Gulf States Section PGA President, those days were the most fun, educational, and learning experiences of my life.  And most importantly, I married my beautiful wife Mary Louise then too.

Anything to add?

In closing, after all the bumps in the road and headaches for the last 41 years, the biggest surprise of all came August 18, 2017 at the grand opening of our fabulous and amazing new pro shop.  The club president surprised me by announcing they were naming the golf course at Cleveland Country Club the ‘Samuel T Dunning Golf Course.’  I thought they were crazy, but what a great honor!  And I’m not even dead yet!

[END]

Be sure to check out 8 years worth of humorous stories from the world of golf in my archives at www.lipouts.com and buy my book “LIPOUTS: The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” on sale now!  The eBook is only $1.99 and the paperback is on sale for $8.00, but only through Moonbay Media using this link >> BUY THE BOOK

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The Lost Art of the Thank You Note

Playing in the annual MidSouth Fourball this past weekend at Hattiesburg (Miss) CC–a course I could play everyday–I had an interesting conversation with my playing partner (some ASGCA members may know him as “The Wizard”) regarding the lost art of hand writing thank you notes. Emails and texts are much easier, but there’s a certain feeling you get when someone takes the time to write a hand written thank you note. That reminded me of the following article I wrote in 2008 for an online golf publication based out of South Africa (the name of the publication escapes me now) and later updated in 2013 as part of a promotion for my book “LIPOUTS, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years.”  

The basis of the story still holds true today, so I thought I’d post it once again here. Let me know if you agree (or if you don’t)…

“The Lost Art of the Thank You Note”

We live in an electronic age and there’s no doubting that fact. If you live within a driver and a 5-iron of any degree of civilization on this planet, chances are that you can find at least one person with a cell phone and a TV. And the more plugged in you become, the more wired you feel. We have become so acclimated to instantaneous information on demand that we become addicted to our gadgets. From those addicted to multitasking by updating their Facebook status as they upload photos to Instagram (while driving to work) to the millions of Tweets flying through the air above your head through the ether as you read this (didn’t think about that did you?), how much is too much and at what cost to normalcy? Imagine what the air above your head would look like if you could actually see the millions of pieces of digital data flying back and forth around you! Okay, so technically you wouldn’t be able to actually read it if you could see it because it’s moving too fast. It would probably appear more like a band of blurry code comprised of 1’s and 0’s circulating in the lower atmosphere than actual words and sentences, but what if you could? Is the constant barrage of digital this-and-that cluttering the world like unseen pollution? Probably not, but is has cluttered our lives.

The act of taking one’s cell phone onto a golf course has actually been banned by some clubs, but in reality there are too many business deals made on golf courses for them to be kept off every course. I must admit that I take mine with me too—but I do turn the ringer off to keep from disturbing other golfers. Why do we feel the need to be connected at all times in all places? You know that feeling you get if you arrive at the office only to realize that your cell phone is at home? That feeling like you are naked in a public place or that some part of you is missing? To quote Any Rooney, “Why is that?” And of all places to NOT have a cell phone, it seems that a few hours enjoying the great outdoors on a golf course would be the ideal place. Unplug and unwind, relax and enjoy.

But are cell phones on golf courses and electronic gizmos intertwined in our everyday lives really the problem or more a symptom of a more problematic epidemic sweeping the civilized world? Remember life without a microwave? How about caller ID? Most of us don’t even remember life without some form of television. My children don’t know what a vinyl record is and they’ve never seen a television with knobs on it! What kinds of stories will I tell them when I’m old? “Why I can remember when I was a little boy we’d have to get up and walk all the way across the living room to change the channel! Two, three feet of snow! We’d have to go all the way around the coffee table and turn the knob. And then your grandmother would yell at me for turning the UHF knob too fast between channels.” And then we got cable television and you no longer had to wait for the news. There was a 24 hour news channel with nothing but news all day long. It didn’t matter that it was the same news (more or less) all day long because it was the news and you could watch whenever you wanted—so long as you knew how to flip the switch and work the buttons on the converter box that had to be patched into the TV and sat on top like some electronic deity doling out entertainment manna to the lowly masses below. But now you can get movies on demand, weather at your finger tips, and more news than you can shake a “botoxed” news anchor at without leaving the comfort of your sofa! It’s all about now, right now, and how much faster can I get it then instead of now. Eventually, you’ll be watching the news BEFORE it happens so you’ll have time to check your email, IM your BFF, update your Twitter timeline, and nuke a meal in the microwave without missing any of the day’s events.

I know in writing this I sound at least 2.5 times my real age. The point is that as I write this, Y2K (that was when a bunch of bad stuff was supposed to happen in the year 2000, for those of you too young to remember) is further and further in the rearview mirror (that was also the name of a song by Pearl Jam about that same time) (oh, and Pearl Jam was a band that was popular in the 1990’s). Yet it feels at times like the things that were invented to bring us closer together are actually isolating us even more. How many times have you been typing on your computer while someone in the same room was talking to you and you responded “Huh?” when they stopped talking? You don’t know what they were saying, but you can sense that they are done because that constant white noise of conversation has ceased. So rather than be rude by not responding at all, a guttural grunt seems to suffice. Granted, men have perfected this into an art form over the past million or so years with the obligatory “Yeah, sure” “She said what?” and “Whatever you think, honey” while we watch football, basketball, or—back in the day—mastodon races. It requires no in depth involvement to keep the conversation going, just a simple amoebic awareness that there is some type of communication going on that we are involved with and it has ceased—and thus we need a cover. And though married men everywhere have effortlessly adapted to this form of spousal communication throughout history handed down like a worn pocket knife from generation to generation, other timeless forms of communication have slipped by the wayside and may never be seen or heard from again. One in particular is the thank you note.

There’s something about a thank you note that makes the recipient feel special. Not a text message, an email, a word-processed note, or even one typed by your secretary that you scribble your name onto…but a REAL thank you note. The fact that someone actually cared enough to take the time to sit down and handwrite a note to you is a feeling that cannot be replicated by any machine. No text message, email, or voice mail can take the place of a thank you note. When was the last time you received a personal thank you note? I received one a while back from a client following the re-opening of the golf course we renovated. I remember thinking “Wow, what a nice gesture.” So much so, that I went out and bought a frame for it and it now sits in my office as a reminder that perhaps personal communication is not dead. For the longest time, I thought I was the only person who still sent handwritten thank you notes—though I admit I too have fallen out of practice lately. When I was younger and working as an assistant golf professional, I worked for a pro who insisted that his staff write a personal thank you note to the professional of any course gracious enough to extend to us the courtesy of playing their course at no charge. I think it was partly because he wanted us to begin networking with other professionals, but also because he did not want his young assistants to feel entitled to a free round—or anything else for that matter—simply because we were in the business. He was keeping us humble…and it worked.  

My staff likes to kid me because I end most conversations with clients and others on the phone with “Thanks” instead of “Good Bye”—even when the conversation does not warrant it. It may seem strange to others and I don’t know how it became such a subconscious habit. I do know that years ago it occurred to me that people don’t say thanks enough and that it would be nice to thank more people, whether they necessarily deserved it or not, and that’s when I started thanking people more. If someone does something for you like holding open a door or picking up change you dropped while waiting in line, they deserve a thank you. But don’t you think more people would be thankful if they heard it more often? Much like holding doors for ladies and removing your hat indoors, the thank you note itself is a holdover from a time when people took the time to ask about other people and made an effort to remember the details. One of my favorite “life” stories (whether it is actually true or not) is of a young Arnold Palmer who had just burst onto the professional scene as a young superstar and one of the elder members of the professional tour had taken him under his wing to show him the ropes. They arrived at the site of a Tour event for a practice round on a Monday and the older pro asked of the golf shop staff what the course record was and who held it. After leaving the clubhouse, Palmer stated he knew why he would ask the course record, but wondered why they should care who holds it? The pro looked at his young protégé and said “If the club pro holds the record, I don’t want to break it in a practice round because this is his club and he works here all year long. We’re only here for a few days and his record means more to him than breaking it means to me.”

My wife insists that we address our family Christmas cards by hand. I used to think it was a waste of time, but as I get older I actually look forward to it each year. Much like the thank you note, a hand-addressed Christmas card or wedding invitation just seems more personal than one with a label slapped on it. So try this exercise and see how you fare. Go to the stationers or an office supply store and buy two or three boxes of Thank You notes with envelopes—they usually come 20 or 25 to a box. See how long it takes you to use them all. Hopefully not very long. And it doesn’t have to be because you closed a big deal or signed a big contract. Thank someone for lunch. That means more than thanking someone for a big contract because it is unexpected. I guarantee that most of the people you send one too will be pleasantly surprised by the fact that you sent a handwritten thank you note the old fashioned way. And let me know your opinion on the lost art of thank you notes. But you don’t have to send me a hand-written note, just let me know on Twitter @lipouts. Oh, and one last thing…Thank You!

Copyright 2013 Nathan Crace. Nathan Crace (on Twitter @lipouts) is an award-winning golf course architect and member of the American Society of Golf Course  Architects (ASGCA), a published author, and a member of the Golf Writers Association of America. You can purchase his book “Lipouts, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” from Moonbay Media on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in the iTunes Bookstore. 

 
 

Designs on Improving the Future of Your Course…and Your Career

The following article was written by Nathan Crace, ASGCA Assoc., at the request of the Mississippi Turfgrass Association for the May 2016 edition of MTA Magazine.  Visitors and subscribers to this blog can read it here before the magazine is published in May.

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Hard to believe, but 2015 is officially in the rearview mirror.  As we pass the off ramp to New Year’s and the College Bowl Season, the exit to The Masters is only a mile away; and with the superhighway to 2016 squarely ahead of us, more news outlets are reporting that the economy is turning around and things are getting better every day.  Depending on your choice of twenty-four hour cable news coverage (and the point in the news cycle when you choose to check-in), America’s economy is either roaring back and poised to be the driving force behind a global recovery or we are hopelessly lost in a death spiral of joblessness, natural disasters, unsustainable national debt, and a staggering increase in the number of reality shows on television.  So which is it?  Are we continuing to dive headlong into the Mariana Trench of a deepening global economic abyss or have we rebounded and are now headed back toward the surface, poised to breach stronger than ever and sail on happily toward the future?  Like most stories in life, perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

There is another option that I keep hearing muttered about on the nightly news: maybe we have found a “new normal” where malaise and stagnant wages are fine for the majority of people, so long as they can still hammer a check every two weeks.  Call me optimistic, but I think the fall stopped a while back and we are starting to rebound, ever so slightly—and not as quickly as those in Washington might want us to believe.  But a steady improvement is better than a slingshot rebound.  Of course, it might just be the new-found optimism that we see every election cycle, but things feel to have bottomed-out and are now poised to come roaring back.  Don’t misunderstand: the rocket has not left the launch pad yet, but maybe we’re almost done fueling it and the engines are warming up.  From a personal perspective, phone calls and emails to our office are ticking up with inquiries about renovations, practice facilities, and—dare I say it—new course design.  Most encouragingly, these calls are not only from existing clients who tabled their projects years ago when the economy ground to a standstill, but also new clients looking toward the future.

It’s no surprise to anyone in the golf industry that things have been slow for the past eight years.  The term “slow” might be too nice when one looks into the golf course construction industry since 2006.  According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), 2013 marked the eighth straight year that more courses in the United States closed than opened—by a long margin.  In 2013, the NGF reports that only 14 new courses opened for play (actually up from 13.5 in 2012), but the total number that closed was 157.5.  We’ll be generous and call it a market correction of the glut of courses built in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but that is still a large disparity.  Before you panic and start filling up the prepper pantry in your bomb shelter, there is good news.  Golfdom Magazine’s recently released annual “Golfdom Report” (January 2016) of industry insiders, golf course managers, and superintendents reveals some cautiously optimistic findings. This is important because these are the players on the inside of the industry—not just golfers, professional economists, and the news networks’ talking heads.
Of those surveyed about their expectations for the golf economy for 2016, 65% were either very optimistic or cautiously optimistic, while 23% were neutral, and 11% were slightly pessimistic.  Only 1% of respondents reported being very pessimistic about the state of the industry for 2016.  Digging deeper into the statistics, there were some reassuring stories from across the country regarding rounds of play increasing in 2015 over 2014 with expectations for that increase to continue into 2016.  Then again, the giant gorilla standing quietly in the dark corner of the room is the new Waters Of The United State (WOTUS) overreach by the EPA…but I digress.  WOTUS is a story for another time when I’m not limited to three or four pages.  That being said, the “Golfdom Report” found that WOTUS may be part of the cause for some of the pessimism in the industry as it rambles its way through the court system with the final outcome as yet unknown.  The 2016 election was also on most course managers’ minds, but respondents were evenly split on how it would impact the golf industry.

Taken as a whole (and forgetting about WOTUS for the time being), the good news is that optimism is up and pessimism is down.  What does that mean for you and your club or course?  As my college economics professor was fond of saying, “It depends.”  What it does mean, however, is that maybe it’s finally time to pull those projects you metaphorically shelved years ago from the back of the bottom drawer and dust them off.  It means it’s time to start planning for the future again and not simply maintaining the status quo.  Optimism is afoot and you don’t want to be caught watching as the aforementioned economic rocket leaves the launch pad because you didn’t take the time to pick up your spacesuit from the cleaners.

Remember those ideas you had a few years ago to re-build a green or upgrade irrigation or renovate tees or re-build bunkers because the additional maintenance was taking your staff away from other areas of the course?  It’s time to re-visit those ideas.  There may be no better time in the last seven years than now to tackle that course-wide bunker renovation program or re-build those problematic greens that you’ve been fighting for years now.  With market prices falling, golf course contractors are still looking for work for their crews and you can still lock-in significant discounts on construction compared to the pre-slowdown era.   However, as the economic engine begins to warm up and interest begins to pick up in renovations, so do the laws of supply and demand.  As the contractors find their demand and their prospects increasing, so too does their price.

Just like it’s time to reconsider those bunker, tee, green, drainage, and irrigation renovations, it’s also time to think outside the box about things you can do to improve your facility that will attract new golfers.  Over the past six years, I have designed and built seven practice facilities—including full ranges, practice greens, and (my favorite) full and comprehensive short game facilities.  It’s an odd niche that I stumbled into seemingly by mistake at first, before the epiphany that I had—in fact—come full circle.  When I was a student in Mississippi State’s Professional Golf Management (PGM) program, part of my experience and training on my cooperative internships was teaching the game to golfers and helping them improve their game and subsequent enjoyment of playing.  I naturally gravitated toward teaching the short game.

Why naturally, you ask?  Because as a child growing up in Southern Indiana, no one in my family played golf; but my parents had enough land behind their house for me to fashion a short three-hole par-3 course.  Granted, I was only 11 years old or so; but if I was going to learn how to play, it was my only real option.  So I mowed out “fairways” and “greens” with our riding lawnmower, borrowed an old 7-iron and some even older balls from a neighbor who hadn’t played in years, and began to teach myself how to play by watching Jack Nicklaus for a few hours on television each weekend.  In later years, I even added sand bunkers to my course.  Because of the short length of the course, I quickly found myself hitting more old pitching wedges and less old 7-irons.  Soon, my school-day afternoons and entire summer days consisted of shagging hundreds of balls with an old pitching wedge.  When that became boring, I started opening the face and trying to hit flop shots over trees, sheds, and neighborhood children who were brave enough to stand still for long enough.  I was first exposed to playing the game by necessity—forcing me to become creative with my short game out of boredom.  There were no 60 degree lob wedges in that day.  When I finally saved up enough money to buy a 56 degree sand wedge at K-Mart, I remember that it had a dot-punched face—not grooves.  But it was on sale and in my leaf-raking-for-income budget.  So now, some 30+ years later, I have come full circle because I have been unknowingly using those life experiences from teaching myself to hit those shots and my expertise later in life from teaching others how to hit those shots to design what I feel are the best short game practice facilities for players of all abilities and imaginations.

Practice facilities (and particularly short game facilities) are important to growing the game for a number of reasons.  Flash forward to the recent economic slowdown and more courses are looking for ways to attract new players and retain existing ones without the expense of renovating the entire course.  Likewise, golfers are looking for ways to work on their games and/or spend time with their families without having to spend four or five hours on the golf course to do it.  These higher quality practice facilities fit the bill for both golf course and golfer.  With a smaller capital investment by the course and a smaller investment in time by the golfer, an added amenity can be created that differentiates your course from the one down the street and sets you apart in a tightened marketplace.

Three such facilities (one at Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Mississippi, one at Tupelo Country Club in Tupelo, Mississippi, and one at Hattiesburg CC in Hattiesburg, Mississippi) are among the best for private clubs in the Magnolia State while Hattiesburg CC and two other facilities (at Ole Miss GC and at Mississippi State University GC) are among some of the top collegiate facilities—the short game facility at Hattiesburg CC was built in cooperation with the University of Southern Mississippi for the men’s and women’s golf teams as well as the membership.  I know what you’re thinking, and before you say “Adding areas for me to maintain won’t help my bottom line,” consider this:  a better practice facility will attract new golfers.  New golfers bring added play and revenue.  Added play and revenue necessitate a better budget.  And a better budget helps your bottom line.  The cause and effect may not be as direct as you want, but there is a real connection.  Just as there is a direct two-prong correlation between bunker renovations and cost savings/increased rounds, so too is there a relationship between better practice facilities and increased play/overall facility revenue.

Case in point is the aforementioned Tupelo Country Club.  In 2010, I was commissioned to develop a master plan for the entire golf course and existing practice facility (which at the time consisted of an undersized practice tee, a never-used chipping green, and a putting green).  During the planning and budgeting process, it was decided that the practice area would become Phase I and the golf course itself would be Phase II and completed at a later date.

IMG_4274Tupelo Country Club’s new chipping green is part of an award-winning practice facility.

Working with the club and course superintendent Jim Kwasinski, CGCS, we developed a plan to revitalize the driving range that included a practice tee large enough to accommodate the membership.  A new tee measuring 100’ by 285’ with internal drainage and a sand base now provides ample tee space that’s playable even immediately after a rain event with multiple target greens shaped to replicate actual greens as targets.  Additionally, a 6,500 sq ft short game green with bunkers and chipping areas and a new putting green give ample opportunity for members to work on their short games without being crowded.  But the most talked about feature of the new practice facility is by far the “Short Course” behind the driving range.  While on a site visit during master planning, Jim and I stood on the back tee of the 7th hole looking out over an expanse of scrub and small trees behind the driving range.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: That’s a lot of wasted space.

Jim: Yep, the club almost sold it about ten years ago to a developer to make condos.

Me: It would be the perfect place for a par-3 course.

Jim: Yes it would.

[Both turn slowly to look at the other as the epiphany hits both of us simultaneously]

Jim: Why not?

Me: I need to find a piece of paper.

Soon, I was sketching out what would become unique in its simplicity of operation and complexity of design—a large expanse of fairway with two double greens and a triple green spaced within it and a handful of bunkers strategically dotted throughout.  The only things missing were tee boxes—intentionally.  I didn’t want Jim’s staff to have to stop and mow tees and move markers and I didn’t want members to feel forced to play certain holes in a certain order.  It was designed to be freeform with “the only limitation being the golfers’ imaginations” [Note to self: Write that down—I need to trademark that saying].  Want to play nine par-3 holes with your kids? Perfect.  Want to stay in one spot and work on greenside bunker shots then turn the other way and practice fairway bunker shots? Perfect.  Have an extra hour of time and you want to work on a number of short shots and wedge shots? Again, perfect.  The short course facility worked so well that it has been written about in numerous industry publications around the world and (I’ve been told) even copied by other courses after they visited Tupelo CC (I won’t name names).  At the end of the day, Jim’s staff has a few extra greens to mow and a few more acres of fairway to cut.  However, the impact on the club has been a renewed interest among golfers and a way to differentiate the club from the competition.  It’s also a great way to advertise how nice the course itself will be once Phase II is completed.

Likewise, the short game facility at Annandale GC has been a boost to the club by providing a much-needed amenity to a membership with an above-average skill set.  We transformed the old bentgrass nursery area into a spectacular facility with two chipping greens that offer varying lies, elevations, bunker shots, chipping areas, and yardages.  Additionally, one of the green contains a “putting lobe” that is adjacent to the new teaching studio where members can have a private putting lesson.  The short game facility is adjacent to the driving range, so players can practice short to long irons as well as greenside and fairway bunker shots.  Again, Annandale superintendent Al Osteen, CGCS, has two extra greens to mow and a little more fairway area to maintain, but for a relatively small investment, the club has a facility that is used daily by the membership and sets it apart from other clubs in the area.   Another important thing to note:  Al built his facility with in-house labor and one golf course shaper.  Jim’s facility was put out to bid and built by a golf course contractor—proving there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.

IMG_3197.JPGThe tri-lobed pitching green at Annandale in the distance and the chipping green in the foreground.

The short game facility at Hattiesburg CC is big enough to hit wedge shots from 120 yards away to an elongated green that measure more than 9,000 square feet with a separate putting green tucked away into a private corner.  Immediately adjacent to the driving range, it is not only easy to use, but beautifies the drive into the club.

If the economy is in fact about to take off and the future finally looks bright once again for the golf industry, you must be prepared and you must be ready to go when you get the call.  There’s no excuse for not doing your homework and being prepared if and when things begin to improve.  There’s practically no cost in getting prepared, but there could be huge opportunity costs in not being prepared.  Be smart, be prudent, and be ready.  Worst case scenario: the economy stays flat for another year and you have a fine-tuned set of goals and a revitalized plan to make them a reality.  With that in mind, here are three simple keys to being ready when the economic uptick finally becomes a financial jumpstart:

STAY TUNED IN/GET TUNED IN:

Stay current on current events.  This means more than reading just sports scores and keeping up with the Kardashians (you know who you are).  Take time every day to catch up on the news and know how it might impact you.  If listening to who got shot on your local news every night is more than you care to sit through during dinner, opt for a business news network.  Fox Business or CNBC, for example.  Do you know what’s going on in the petroleum markets lately?  Surely you’ve seen the difference at the pump when you go to fill up.  So you must assume that you’re not the only one to feel that rush of dopamine to your brain when a full tank now costs you $30 instead of $75.  That extra money in the collective pocket of the population translates into an increase in disposable income, including recreational spending.  Is your course ready to take advantage of that?  How about that irrigation project you’ve been putting off?  A drop in petroleum markets typically translates into a drop in the price of plastic products—like PVC pipe and drainage pipe—not only because of raw materials costs, but also transportation and shipping.  Do you have asphalt cart paths at your course?  Petroleum is a key ingredient in asphalt.  Might be time to look at replacing some of those paths your members have been complaining about.  We’ve all seen the stories of crystal meth addicts stealing copper wiring from commercial air conditioning units and trying to cash it in because the price of copper has increased so dramatically.  Did you know that innovations in irrigation like Rain Bird’s IC system drastically reduce the expense of copper wiring, not to mention the elimination of above-ground satellite controllers?  Maybe it’s time to start looking at those projects again.

More than just watching the news, ask yourself how involved you are in making news.  Are you on social media?  If you are, great!  If not, you need to be (and while you’re there, follow me @lipouts on Twitter. Trust me, it’s worth it).  That said, you need to plan ahead for how you will use your social media sounding board.  If you want to let people know what’s going on at your course and/or in your career, remember to KEEP IT PROFESSIONAL.  If you like to sound off on politics, your favorite sports team, or you can’t help but re-tweet those off-color jokes you see from your college buddies, you really need two separate accounts: one personal and one professional.  And since not many things in this day and age will sink a career quicker than a series of ill-conceived (or late-night drunken) tweets, do yourself a favor and use TWO DIFFERENT APPS on your phone to differentiate between accounts and help avoid the potentially career-ending accidental tweet.  Don’t add yourself to the list of teachers, small business owners, and US Congressmen who have found themselves suddenly unemployed because they sent a tweet using the wrong account or sent a tweet for public consumption that they mistakenly thought was a direct message.

And while we’re at it, if you don’t know what a tweet is or if you’re confused by the previous sentence’s mention of the terms “tweet” and “direct message,” stay off of Twitter until you have a chance to study up.   Better yet, find the nearest 14 to 22 year-old and ask him or her to explain it to you in layman’s terms.  Your son/daughter and/or grandson/granddaughter and/or his/her friends should suffice.  The same goes for Facebook, blogs, and other forms of social media.  Just like other advances in technology during the course of your career, don’t be left behind just because the changes don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy.  But remember, unlike the upgrade from hydraulic to electric irrigation, what you do on social media can potentially haunt you for the rest of your career if you’re not careful.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK:

You know your bunkers are in awful shape.  You know they have long surpassed the average useful life of sand bunkers (5 to 7 years for the sand, 5 to 10 years for the drainage, and 7 to 15 years for the bunkers themselves, depending on your climate and soil types) and you know you could actually save money on labor and materials by renovating the bunkers and better using the time you spend after every rain (pushing sand back up onto the faces and cleaning out the sediment that washes down and contaminates the sand) for other projects.  So start doing your homework now and research what options are best for you.  The same goes for irrigation, drainage, tees, greens renovations, etc.  When the time comes and the General Manager or the President of the Board stops you at work to ask you about capital projects, think of the satisfaction you’ll have from responding “Actually, I just updated a spreadsheet with some comparisons of cost benefit analysis and the savings from the renovations we need. I’ll email it to you before lunch.”  And think about the missed opportunity if your answer to “What do we need to do on the golf course?” is “Hmmm, I haven’t thought about it in a while.  Things have been pretty slow.  Let me think about it and get back to you” or “We need to renovate the greens, but I have no idea how much it would actually cost.”

PLAN AHEAD:

It’s never too early to start planning.  Just as you plan your budget, plan your family vacation, plan your retirement, or plan your fantasy football league, start by writing things down.  Multiple studies have shown that the success rates of individuals who write down goals and re-visit them are exponentially higher than individuals who only think about their goals.  And seek out advice from those professionals who can help you the most.  As a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), I spend a lot of time fielding calls with potential clients and answering their questions regarding which direction they should be headed.  Part of my job is helping superintendents prioritize improvements to their courses and package them into a well thought-out and organized proposal with real world numbers and time lines.  Most ASGCA members (myself included) will make a site visit and spend some time helping you prepare this information with very little initial cost to help you get the ball rolling.  We know that with the right data and information at your disposal, your chances of successfully navigating the politics involved within your club are greatly increased.  Again, we do this for the growth of the game and because the industry is strongest when we are able to work together to advance the success and sustainability of the game. So pick up that phone or click that mouse or swing by PetSmart and pick up that new carrier pigeon you’ve had your eye on, and reach out to us so we can help you get the thought process started.  A wise man once said “It’s never too early to start planning, but it might be too late to catch up.”  In the interest of full disclosure, no one told me that—I just made it up [Note to self: Write that one down too and trademark it with the “limitation/imagination” one from earlier].

———————–

Nathan Crace, ASGCA Assoc., is an associate member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA).  He is also a member of the Golf Writers’ Association of America and a published author.  You can follow Nathan’s insight into golf and other topics on Twiiter @lipouts.  For more information on Nathan, visit www.nathancrace.com or www.watermarkgolf.com/design and for more information on the ASGCA, visit www.asgca.org  

 

 

 
 

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Unlike Fowler, the “Death” of Golf is Overrated

The impact of Fowler’s win today at The Players on the future of the game via Jr Golf cannot be overstated. Kids love him, they dress like him, and they’re involved in golf because of him. 

I volunteered at a recent Jr Golf Open House and the kids were all wearing bright colors and talking about Rickie and Rory and Jordan. Oddly, to these kids, Tiger is old news. And although that made me feel really old, it makes me feel good about the future of the game–especially after Rickie’s win today. 

Just another reason for me to believe that–unlike Fowler’s game–the news of the “death” of golf is greatly overrated
  

 
 

What Can Brown Do For You? An Examination of what the US Open at Restored Pinehurst #2 Does (and Does Not) Mean for Your Course.

If you were one of the millions of people watching the US Open from Pinehurst #2 this year, you surely noticed that the course did not look like the typical US Open venue we have grown so accustomed to over the past, oh, 114 years. And if you didn’t notice the change, then the on-air talent, analysts, USGA staff, and producers from the Golf Channel, ESPN, and NBC were sure to remind you—over and over and over again.  Don’t misunderstand.  I’m all for restoring classic courses, growing the game of golf, and finding more sustainable ways to design and operate golf courses.  That being said, some of the media hyperbole surrounding the exemplary work that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw did to Donald Ross’s seminal piece of work bordered on the absurd. In my humble opinion, some people marginalized the goals that Coore, Crenshaw, and the staff at Pinehurst accomplished by focusing too much on the browned-out condition of the turf and how “wonderful” it looked on the small screen in our living rooms…ad nauseum.

Don’t take my word for it.  The people I saw on my television were practically giddy about how bad the course looked and on Sunday afternoon, the onslaught of “brown is beautiful” erupted into a good ol’ fashioned Twitter back-and-forth between Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella and no less than Donald Trump himself.  The Donald said he would not let the USGA do to his course what they had done to Pinehurst #2 and that the course looked horrible on TV.  He went on to name a number of his own courses that he claimed were better than the “new” Pinehurst #2.  To his credit, Ginella tried to diplomatically sort out the top-ranked courses and keep the hashtag discussion civil, but a good number of other people on Twitter jumped at the opportunity to pile-on Trump, while still others sided with him and his opinion.

If you missed the spin, the talking points heard on-air can be summed up in a nutshell herewith: a browned-out burned-up course with single row irrigation, no “rough,” 50 acres of waste areas, and playing 7,500 yards from the tips with turtleback greens that won’t hold a wedge shot from the world’s best players is the future of the game.  You say you didn’t know that?  Me either.  For those who spoke as though there is no middle ground between the cathedral of American golf that is Augusta National and what we saw at Pinehurst over the weekend is at best naïve and at worst disingenuous.  Let’s look at just a few of the key points we heard from Pinehurst:

  1. “The new single row irrigation system at Pinehurst #2 cut the watering requirements in half and saved 40 million gallons of water each year.”  Single row irrigation is nothing new and many of you may play on older courses with single row irrigation still today.  As I noted on Twitter during the #USOpen, we were installing single row systems just 15 years ago in designs in Mississippi and Louisiana—not to save on water, but because we were building entire golf courses for roughly $1 million.  That being said, it’s not the most desirable means of irrigating a golf course—unless you want unhealthy turf everywhere except a roughly 85’ radius around each of the heads in the middle of the fairway.  Try driving up and down those struggling fairways with 50 to 80 golf carts a day in the middle of summer and the “awesome natural look” of the brown turf will quickly become the “awful natural look” of brown dirt.  Turf on golf courses needs water for the same reason you and I need water—to survive.  There are more sensible solutions for your course than starving half of it from irrigation, such as single row irrigation from the tees to the landing areas, then double row irrigation to the green.  That sensible approach, coupled with an irrigation audit and smarter irrigation programming, can cut water usage dramatically without burning up your course. Yes it can. I’ve seen it done many times over.  One one-air personality at the US Open went so far as to say that the water savings in the first year at Pinehurst paid for the entire cost of the renovations! I’d like some confirmation of that statement because I find it hard to believe—unless the Pinehurst Resort was actually buying water from the Village of Pinehurst’s municipal water supply to irrigate the course before the restoration. Of course, I could be wrong…
  2. “Brown is beautiful.” No it’s not. Not in America. At least not turf burned brown to the precipice of turf loss.  This statement is not good, bad or indifferent.  It’s just the way things are in America. Tan, however, is a very attractive look that contrasts nicely with green and looks both natural and healthy.  British Open venues that are more tan than green look great! Partly because that’s what we’ve come to expect from them.  They also have different soils and turf types that the vast majority of courses on this side of the pond do not enjoy and many below the Mason-Dixon line cannot have and/or afford to maintain (see “Conversion of Bentgrass Putting Greens to Ultradwarf Bermuda” for more information).  But generally speaking, Americans like their courses more green than brown and I doubt the “look” that Pinehurst #2 had from overhead on TV will be what the majority of American golfers want in my lifetime.  I’m not advocating spending millions of dollars on extravagant irrigation systems that water every nook and cranny of a golf course—quite the opposite actually.  But if the goal is to “grow the game,” I don’t see how starving a course of water to the point of near turf loss from desiccation coupled with greens that won’t hold an approach shot from the world’s best players is going to accomplish it.  Let us not forget the Law of Unintended Consequences.  I’m sure that Alexander Graham Bell never thought you could accidently call someone by sitting on his invention (the telephone for those of you who didn’t know).  Likewise, I’m fairly sure that turning people off to the game by advocating that courses cut water back to the point that fairways are dirt and greens are so hard to hold that the best in world can’t do itis not what the USGA is hoping for by hyping less conditioning.
  3. “It looks great because there’s no rough anymore!”  It may not have been “rough” in the traditional sense of a US Open, but the huge swaths of waste areas and native sandy scrub looked pretty rough to me.  Sure you don’t have to water it like turf, but it’s also not a one-size-fits-all solution for every course in America.  There also appeared to be as many broadleaf weeds as there were wiregrass plants in the newly reclaimed native areas that I saw.  Also consider that the native sandy well-drained soils in and around the region of Pinehurst, North Carolina work great for that natural look.  But try pulling that off in heavy clay or poorly-drained soils in other areas of the country, and you’ll have a hodge-podge of every weed known to man in less than a year.  That’s because every agronomist knows that the best defense against weeds is a thick canopy of healthy turf that helps keep sunlight away from the weed seeds that are waiting to germinate.  Again, I personally like the new look of the natural areas at Pinehurst and I’m a big advocate for reducing bunkers on golf courses because they are so expensive to maintain.  In fact, I once completed a bunker renovation for a course in Arkansas that cut the overall square feet of bunkers by nearly 50% without changing the playability or challenge of the course.  It takes time to study it and some common sense, but it can be done and it’s a great way to save on your maintenance budget.  That being said, I like the theory of the waste areas along the edges of the fairways at Pinehurst #2 because they do not have to be maintained like bunkers.  But again, it won’t work for everyone and some maintenance is still needed in those areas.  It’s less maintenance, not maintenance-free—a fact seemingly lost on some of the on-air talent. 
  4. “This will help grow the game because it’s less expensive to maintain and will therefore make golf more accessible due to lower green fees.”  The argument sounds like a sensible one and from a strictly ECON 101 point of view seems like it would work.  But for all the talk of how much water Pinehurst #2 was saving after the restoration, what I didn’t hear was how much the maintenance budget had been reduced.  I would like to know because any superintendent will tell you that the most expensive line item in the golf course maintenance budget is the same as any other business—labor.  And I would suspect that even if there was a savings in overall costs, the maintenance budget at  post-renovation Pinehurst #2 would still make many of the Greens Committee members of America’s others courses from coast to coast choke on their member assessments—notwithstanding preparations for the US Open.  To prove my point, look no further than the cost to play Pinehurst #2: a paltry $420 (no that’s not a typo).  Before I get emails trying to explain supply and demand economics to me, save your time.  I understand it.  It’s just tough to square the argument being made that the new look of Pinehurst will make golf more affordable—everywhere except Pinehurst, that is.

To sum up, I love what Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw did at Pinehurst #2.  As a rule, I typically don’t like when fellow golf architects channel dead architects from beyond the grave, but Coore and Crenshaw didn’t do that.  They used old photos and research to restore the 40+ acres of native sand scrub that had been filled in with turf over the latter half of the last century.  No Ouija Boards, just research and a lot of time studying history. Granted, a full-on restoration to the “original” Pinehurst would have seen flat oiled-sand greens like the ones in place from 1907 to 1934, but that would’ve just been silly…or would it?  The restoration cut back on water usage and that’s great.  They gave the course back what it once had by turning back the clock 100 years ago and that’s great too.  In fact, I can’t wait to see the course in person again. And if the coverage of the US Open helped further awareness of the need to make golf more sustainable and more affordable, then that’s great too.

What bothered me about the coverage was the extent to which everyone from the USGA to the folks from the television networks tried to force-feed the American golfer how beautiful a burned up course really is and hint that if your course doesn’t look like Pinehurst #2, you are doing something wrong.  That undermines the great work done by Coore and Crenshaw.  It’s one of the best restoration projects I’ve ever seen and it’s a shame for others to politicize it.  That being said, if we really want to grow the game and make courses sustainable, we have to find a common middle ground somewhere in the middle of perfectly pristine and burned to a crisp.  In an extremely unscientific poll I conducted among golfers in the 19th hole at the course I play, all except one said if given a choice they would rather play a course that looked like Augusta National than a course that looked like Pinehurst #2. Again, unscientific, but it’s an interesting point.

To quote a famous frog, “It ain’t easy being green.”  But in America, for now at least, the browned-out look of Pinehurst is still seen as more the novelty and Augusta National as the shining city on a hill. Can everyone be Augusta? Of course not. In fact, no one can. Can everyone be Pinehurst #2. Of course not. Not everyone wants or needs to be.  But the way to grow the game is somewhere in the middle (if admittedly more toward the Pinehurst end of the spectrum than the Augusta end).  New strains of turf take decades to fine tune for golf, but people are working all the time on turf that requires less water without sacrificing quality.  What we need in the meantime are more courses built with sensible budgets that reduce maintained turf in a practical way and can conserve water—not starve the turf of it—while creating playable holes with receptive greens and fewer oversized and out of control bunkers.  It’s the same philosophy I’ve been preaching for 20 years now and can be summed up with this: to be successful, courses need to be aesthetically pleasing, less expensive to maintain, and—most importantly—fun to play!  But only you can decide if that means that brown is beautiful to you.  Not someone on television. Or even someone writing a column in a golf magazine. Or a blog…

 
 

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“Bunkered: Much Ado About Something”

Here’s the digital version of my latest column for the November 2014 issue of BackSpin Magazine, in case you have trouble sleeping tonight:

http://t.co/YTX1gnecrS

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Resurrecting Donald Ross…again

“Resurrecting Donald Ross”

By: Nathan Crace    Date: August 28, 2007/August 28, 2013

The following is a re-print of my original column with the same title that was published exactly six years ago today, with some revised content for today’s reader:

It’s no secret to those who read this column on a regular basis that I am of that group of individuals who believe the unbridled advances in golf technology in the past 15+ years (specifically the ball, the driver, and the newer wedges) have damaged the game of golf and endangered the classic courses of the past by rendering them defenseless against the long ball and the “bomb and gouge” approach.  But recently, I have also been watching more and more of the classic courses working to “restore” themselves to their former glory.  And as with any other niche industry, there are a number of smart golf course architects making a name for themselves by channeling the deceased architects of the glory days while they restore these courses.

I’m the last person to second-guess another architect because (by the very nature of what we do) there is no one right way to renovate or design a golf course.  It’s their project, let them do as they wish and leave the second-guessing to the pundits.  But I do wonder why there is such a rabid fervor by some club members and owners to put courses exactly back to the way they originally were.  While in my opinion, a properly designed/built/managed golf course is a work of art, is it not Michelangelo’s Statue of David or a Van Gogh painting.  Those can be restored.  Golf courses are organic living things that change and adapt over the years.  One of the reasons the game itself is so unique is that each course is unique and that creates diversity.  So why do we want to keep courses the way they were or spend millions in a futile attempt to turn back time?  Is it for the nostalgia? For the history? For the assumed wishes of the original architect? 

Enter the “ghost whisperers.”  Most will use old sketches or photos of the course in question or maybe even the original construction drawings that were found in the footlocker of the original club president when his great grandson was cleaning out the old family stable.  They spend a lot of time to painstakingly recreate what used to be there and resurrect the designs of Donald Ross, Tillinghast, MacDonald, MacKenzie, Colt….the list goes on and on.  To their credit, most do an excellent job of re-creating the features to the way they used to be and should be commended for their ability to do so.  But my question is this: Is that really the best thing to do in every situation for every old course?  Would is really be what they want?  And by “they,” I mean the original architects.  One of my favorite lines I keep hearing repeated is: “I’ve renovated so many [insert dead architect’s name here] courses, I know what he was thinking.”  Really?

I must profess that I am a student of the history of the game and love the rich history of the architects of the past 100 years and I am awed by what they achieved with limited resources.  That being said, my job is to respect the past while looking toward the future—not looking over my shoulder to appease the dead.  Not to sound aloof, but the client hires me to renovate a golf course and make it aesthetically pleasing, easier to maintain, and fun to play again.  Things have changed in the past 30, 50, 100 years since the course was originally built and for many courses, there can be room for debate regarding whether or not the dead architect credited with a certain design did more than make a site visit once—if at all.  One architect in particular, whose pinnacle was after the Great Depression, is credited with nearly 300 designs! In an age without jet travel, staffs of design associates, or bulldozers—and considering he passed away in his 60’s (early by today’s standards)—that would be an incredibly grueling work load.  But I digress.  Not only have changes in golf equipment changed the game, but improvements in agronomics have also made drastic changes to the older courses by improving the quality of turf. 

Which brings us to the core point of my theory:  The men who designed the courses so famous from the past “glory days” of golf course architecture were obviously intelligent men who understood the game and how to fit a course to the land they had at their disposal.  They were not stupid people.  Therefore, I have to believe that if we could magically resurrect these great architects and show them the way the game and the industry has evolved, they would not want to “restore” their courses to the way they were.  They would want to help them evolve and adapt.  Enlarge the greens, perhaps soften some contours and change bunker styling, add and expand tees, etc.  Pinehurst’s greens were originally sand, not grass.  And the courses with turf for putting surfaces most certainly were not running 9 to 12 feet on a Stimpmeter—which was invented in 1935 because Edward Stimpson thought the greens at the US Open that year at Oakmont were unfairly fast!  Most greens in those days (the US Open notwithstanding) were more akin to the fairways of some of the better courses of today.  Who do you know that would settle for putting on the fairway at your course?  Greens in their day had to be humpbacked to assist in drainage and subsequently were not receptive to approach shots.  If you were to reconstruct a green from the 1930’s and mow it to stimp at 13, it would be so small and fast that you would never be able to keep a ball on the green. 

So the next time you see where an architect has been hired to return an old Donald Ross course to “exactly the way it was in the original photos,” ask yourself what Mr. Ross would think given today’s game of golf.  There’s a difference between respecting some of the original design elements in the context of today’s game and trying to create an exact replica of what once was, but restoring the course of yesterday may actually do a disservice to the game and is shortsighted given the advances in technology.  History is to be appreciated and I hate more than anyone when a classic course is forced to change by adding hundreds of yards or dozens of bunkers simply to defend against technology.  Evolution of a golf course is a natural progression that should be embraced and properly planned—not retroactively regenerated.  That is unless we will all be playing these “new” old courses with hickory-shafted niblicks and gutta-percha golf balls.  There are, of course, exceptions to my theory as there are with other theories, and the recent Coore-Crenshaw renovation of Pinehurst #2 is an example of restoring certain facets of the original course while respecting both the original design and the needs of the future—including the removal of acres of grown-over turf, replacing it instead with the native sandy soil and wiregrass for rough.  But notice they still have turf on the greens instead of a sand surface, internal drainage in the greens, and an automated irrigation system.  Yet something tells me Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore understood what the course needed for the future without dismissing the past.  And they didn’t walk the course consulting a Ouija board to make it happen…

Copyright 2007/Revised 2013 Nathan Crace.  Nathan Crace (on Twitter @lipouts) is an award-winning golf course architect, published author, and member of the Golf Writers Association of America.  You can purchase his book “Lipouts, The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” from Moonbay Media on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in the iTunes Bookstore. 

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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