Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Kingsley Club

I had the good fortune to visit the Kingsley Club in the summer of 2009 on a golf trip organized by golf course architect Mike DeVries, who designed the course which opened in 2001.  While most die-hard golf course architecture enthusiasts are familiar with the Kingsley Club, I'm positive the general golfing public is unaware of this modern masterpiece, tucked away a half-hour south of Traverse City, Michigan.

The Kingsley Club is a great example of a golf course being found rather than constructed.  The site has remarkable golf contours, although in some places, they are a little more severe than desired.  Mike DeVries negotiated the previously clear-cut land wonderfully, taking full advantage of the macro and micro undulations, offering boldly contoured greens, heaving fairways and rugged, strategically located bunkers that combine for a thrilling round.  The freely-draining soils and club policy have conspired to develop a successful maintenance regime of firm and fast conditions which further accentuates the contours of the land, amplifying both the good and bad bounces.  Finally, the Kingsley Club has room to play, offering plenty of width to provide golfers with strategic decisions and encourage quicker rounds.
The simple entry into Kingsley Club.
An inviting opening tee shot, with a big reward to those who execute and carry the central bunker complex.
The green at No. 1 illustrates the many humps and bumps to be encountered throughout the round. 
No. 2 is a short par-three that becomes more intimidating with each round, here seen from behind, the front lobe of the green in tightly guarded by deep grass depressions right & sand and waste left.
Sand and waste protect the left side of No. 2 green, yielding the potential for a card-wrecker early in the round.
No. 3 provides an example of the rolling nature of the fairways at Kingsley Club.

A healthy percentage of drives at No. 4 end-up in a depression on the right side of the fairway, leaving a blind approach into a double punchbowl green.

This receptive punchbowl green comes at the end of the 222-yard semi-blind par three 5th.  Recovery shots can use the surrounding slopes in a variety of ways to get the ball near the hole.

The severe right-to-left slope of the fairway ay No. 6 demands players challenge the visible fairway bunkers to end up in the fairway with a clear view of the green.
The tee at No. 7 offers plays to a severely pinched landing area.  From a more forward tee, the hill encroaching into the fairway right sets up a nice diagonal carry to the hidden fairway beyond.
The bunker complex set into the right side ridge at No. 8 hides a wide fairway that serves as the ideal angle of approach.  The central bunker bisecting the fairway means many players will throttle back from the tee.
The southern tee at No. 9 plays to a narrow plateau green set at a slight angle to the tee.  A delicate recovery shot awaits any missed green.
The west tee at No. 9 is 60 degrees of orientation removed from the south tee, providing a very different look and yardage. Here the target is much shallower, although a generous bank left can funnel balls onto the green.
No. 10 plays through a shallow valley.
The 11th green plays much smaller than its size, with a false right side that rejects balls easily and yields dicey chips and pitches, especially to pins located on the back shelf.
On a course with plentiful bunkers (140 in all), No. 12 playing from a high tee into a deep valley is the only hole without sand.
The drivable par four 13th demands accurate approach play to avoid a tricky two-putt as the green is broken up into numerous compartments by the deep swale exiting the back right of the putting surface.
Bunkers hide the right hand portion of the 80-yard wide fairway at No. 14, steering players further left from the tee and lengthening the hole.
No. 15 is a dogleg left playing to a reverse cambered fairway, the long approach is best missed short of the narrow plateau green.  Unlike the others, this green appears to have been built on a fill pad and not at grade.  

No. 16 is a redan with plenty of slope and short grass right of the green to utilize in running a tee shot onto the putting surface.

If successful, a drive could slip by the central bunkers on either fairway at No. 17 and receive a giant roll-out making the green easily accessible in one less than regulation. (The left hand fairway has since been abandoned) 
Taken from the crest of the hill in the 17th fairway, drives or second shots reaching the bottom of the hill face a steeply uphill approach to a green with a devilish false front. (A new back tee makes driving beyond this point much rarer)
The final fairway in undulating and wide, a necessity for some after taking a swig from the bottle of scotch hidden in the stone wall beside the tee.  The green is tucked away in a hollow, potentially blind from out-of-position.
Kingsley Club stretches out over a 400 acre parcel of land, however, the course maintains an intimate feel by locating a number of tees and greens in close proximity to one another.  This close relationship between greens and tees also helps make the golf course walkable, for at times, the topography can be more than a little steep and arduous. 
By clearing trees beyond the 15th green and creating the diagonal line of bunkers between the holes, the 16th hole merges seamlessly with the preceding hole.
The figure eight routing at the start of the front nine creates a tightly pack group of holes that help the course feel whole, and not a collection of eighteen individual holes.  Here, in only 7 acres Mike DeVries has managed to incorporate the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th greens as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th tees. (Photo: Google Earth)
Everything about the Kingsley Club feels right, even the small temporary clubhouse.  This is a golf course I could play everyday and never tire of it as their appear to be myriad means by which to successfully navigate the complex assortment of hazards and undulations.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

In Praise of Width

Golf course architects have more often than not, responded to the advances in equipment technology by building longer golf courses.  I detailed the negative consequences this knee-jerk reaction has had on the game of golf a few posts back.  In the last 20 years, a growing group of golf course architects (though still a minority) have taken a different path and built golf courses which are more pronounced for their width than length.  While their brawnier neighbours exasperate the cost, time and difficulty problems that hinder the growth of golf, wider playing corridors offer a bright light of hope that golf can confront and overcome the above-mentioned issues and provide a sustainable path forward for the sport.

Narrow fairways that are hemmed in by long rough and trees offer little in the way of strategic options.  Golfers are just happy to hit the fairway as the reward for playing safely to the edge of the fairway to improve the angle of approach are limited and not worth the risk.  Wide fairways allow for a greater array of approach angles, and thus, many more strategic options with greater rewards for success and higher degrees of difficulty for those approaching from the wrong side of the fairway.  Rewards and punishments are meted out incrementally as opposed to in lost balls, unplayable lies and chip-outs.
At under 30 yards in width, the difference between middle of the fairway and the ideal right hand side on the approach into No. 18 at Richmond Country Club is limited and not necessarily worth the risk of sand and trees.
Photo: Richmond CC in Richmond, British Columbia
Incorporating width into a design must have strategic merit, as width for the sake of width is as dull and wasteful as length for the sake of length.  Wider fairways, like longer golf courses require more irrigation heads and pipe, therefore the additional width best be a viable alternative for some players or it is not money well spent.
Too wide? At 125 yards from right edge of fairway to left, the 1st at Kingsley Club is inviting from the tee, but how many golfers opt the left hand side with fairway running away and trees blocking second shots?
Photo: Kingsley Club in Kingsley, Michigan
A wide fairway is inviting to all classes of golfer, however, in order to score, the actual target in the wide sea of short-grass is often much narrower.  Approach shots into the green should be progressively more challenging the safer the route chosen from the tee.
A 75 yard wide fairway awaits at the 15th tee at Barnbougle Dunes however, the further left one plays of the central fairway bunker (furthest right in the above picture), the more blind becomes the approach.
Photo: Barnbougle Dunes in Bridport, Tasmania, Australia
An aerial view illustrates the wide playing corridor of the 15th at Barnbougle Dunes, but those seeking the best angle of approach need to challenge the central bunker, bringing it and long marram grass right into play.
Photo: Barnbougle Dunes courtesy of Google Earth
Golf courses that provide wider fairways are successfully addressing the three major problems that currently stifle growth of the game, time, difficulty and cost.  Wider fairways set the stage for faster golf, as players are much less frequently suffering the irritation of searching for lost balls in long rough or trees due to the greater margin of error afforded by the design.  Players in the mid to high handicap range are also likely taking fewer strokes as more shots are played from the fairway, further reducing the time required to complete a round.  Combine wider fairways with a shorter overall course yardage (which most proponents of wider golf courses practice) and we can realize even greater time savings.

Ensuring that the width provided enhances the strategic element of the hole design, wider golf courses can present a challenging prospect for elite players and still make for a less daunting and more enjoyable experience for mid to high handicap players.  Golf is difficult, and wider golf courses are more user-friendly by offering an alternative route around the strategically placed hazards for those unwilling or unable to challenge them head-on at the cost of a stroke or two per hole.  Wide golf courses can lull the best players into a false sense of security, as anything in the fairway is usually good on most modern courses.  However, greater width means many more angles of approach, and in some instances, only a narrow strip of fairway providing an ideal line and stance.  Wider is easier for those who find golf too difficult by limiting big numbers or x's, and if designed appropriately, still challenges the most proficient players who can be bogied to death by constantly playing from out of position but in the fairway.  Additionally, wider golf courses are multi-dimensional, allowing players to choose the path to the hole that most suits their game, and therefore, many different means of achieving the same score.  Wider is simply more interesting.

The final obstacle to the health of the game is cost.  The green fee paid at public golf courses is tied to the initial expense of building the golf course.  While selecting an ideal site in terms of topography, soils and proximity to demand are the most important ingredients in providing affordable golf, all things being equal, wide fairways offset the savings generated by shorter holes, and increased fairway acreage is more costly in terms of annual maintenance.  However, the ability of wider golf courses to provide faster rounds that do not beat up the average player and provide a more enjoyable golf experience will be subject to increased rates of returning players, providing a steadier stream of revenue over the long term.  Further, faster play will enable more players to utilize a golf course each day, boosting revenues of daily fee facilities even higher.  

Monday, 19 November 2012

Mackenzie "Tongues"

In the last post on Pasatiempo Golf Club, I mentioned Dr. Alister Mackenzie's use of green extrusions that deviate from the general shape of the green.  These "tongues" are an excellent means by which shorter golf holes can ratchet up the difficulty (in conjunction with firm and fast conditions) by providing challenging hole locations that offer little margin for error for elite amateur or professional events.  Mackenzie "tongues" also amplify the strategic element of the game, by providing an incentive to those seeking birdies and approaching with short irons or wedges to place their drives on the proper side of the fairway to limit the potential risk on the approach shot.

A Mackenzie "tongue" creates a challenging front right hole location at Pasatiempo's 5th. (Photo: Google Earth)
Cypress Point's short 15th demands an extra dose of precision when playing to either Mackenzie "tongue" extending front left and right of the green. (Photo: Google Earth)
No. 2 at Augusta National is a three-shot par-5 for the members, whose second shot must take into consideration the hole location and play to the opposite side of the fairway to improve the angle of approach. (Photo: Google Earth)
The "tongues" that Mackenzie incorporated into his green designs promote strategic play, and provide a small target area.  Players approaching these difficult hole locations from out-of-position must execute a more exacting shot to lay close to the hole, or take their medicine and play to the fat of the green.  Those that attempt the heroic approach and fail are often faced with a difficult recovery to a shallow target.  
The left "tongue" at Augusta National's 3rd is a plateau only 35 feet deep with sharp fall-offs in front and behind making recovery shots extremely difficult. (Photo: Google Earth)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Pasatiempo Golf Club

My last blog entry dealt with the negative side effects of designing longer golf courses to keep up with the progress in equipment technology.  New golf courses throughout the 1990's and 2000's opened playing to previously unheard of lengths, pushing and then exceeding 7,500 yards in some instances.  This post will focus on the Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, California designed by Dr. Alister Mackenzie and opened in 1929.  The golf course is generally regarded as being a very difficult test.  Today, the golf course stretches to a maximum of 6,615 yards, however, during the 2012 Western Intercollegiate (NCAA) golf tournament, the field averaged 75.19 strokes on the par 70 course.

While down the coast visiting the Cypress Point Club under construction, Marion Hollins, who was impressed by what she saw, hired Dr. Alister Mackenzie to design a golf course for her Pasatiempo development.  Mackenzie spent more time on-site here than at his many other masterworks and lived in a house on the 6th fairway at Pasatiempo after the course was completed.  Mackenzie describes the back nine as the best he ever designed, and is an excellently routed set of holes with most requiring players to successfully negotiate the network of swales and barrancas that greatly influence strategy.  Another positive aspect of the routing is the use of uphill drives and/or tee shots landing into upslopes, both of which make the golf course play longer than that listed on the scorecard.  Elite players in the modern era can often carry these slopes, but they are kept in check by some of the most severe and cunningly contoured greens found anywhere on earth, with five greens featuring 7 feet of back to front fall.  Call them Augusta National on steroids!!  Add firm and fast conditions to these greens and we can understand the formula for making short courses relevant to the modern game without resorting to additional back tees and major architectural face-lifts.

The major drawback to the golf course is the encroachment of both trees and the adjacent residential development.  When the golf course opened there were very few trees on the front nine, but with the addition of a driving range which squeezed the course further, and increased traffic on the course, trees were planted along both sides of the fairways for safety.  This has limited some of the strategic elements Mackenzie incorporated into his design.  The residential component of the community is packed in close to the golf corridors, and in a few spots, golfers will be more concerned about breaking windows than challenging bunkers.  Finally, the only issue I had with the routing was that four of five par 3's play in the same direction rather than forcing golfers to contend with varying wind directions.  That being said, these golf holes are solid, and the overall narrowness of the property dictated this scenario to some degree. 

Recognizing the architectural significance of the golf course, the club underwent a comprehensive restoration between 1996-2007 under the guidance of Tom Doak.  These pictures were taken in April of 2003, before the bulk of the restoration was completed and do not do justice to what exists today.  Since my visit, many lost Mackenzie bunkers, and green shapes were added and restored respectively, while the remaining bunkers were re-built.  Thankfully, a few trees have come down while others have been trimmed back to limit their influence on the game, allowing the course to play more as Mackenzie intended.

The first tee provides a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance and the angled green asks that first stroke to play down the left side for a better angle of approach.

The approach into No. 2 can carry the greenside bunkers left or use the slopes to the right of the green to feed the ball onto the putting surface.

No. 3 is 217 yards and uphill, laying up is a viable option for securing a four.

The green at No. 4 is very deep, requiring an accurately judged approach.

No. 5 is a well-protected and uniquely shaped target.

One of several 'Mackenzie tongues' at Pasatiempo, here at the back of No. 6 green providing a difficult pin with little room for error.

The green at No. 7 gets progressively narrower at the back.

Selective tree clearing behind No. 8 provides a nice long view to the next hole and clubhouse.

The short par-5 9th provides an opportunity for a birdie, but out-of-bounds runs tightly down the left side and the approach is uphill.

No. 10 features a barranca as a beautiful natural hazard which is visually more intimidating than the actual 150-yard carry.
The downhill approach into No. 10 is dominated by a heavily bunkered swale.

No. 11 is a deceptively long 391 yards with both drive and approach playing steeply uphill, the latter crossing the barranca which separates the 11th and 12th holes.

The short approach into No. 12, another heavily contoured Mackenzie green.

No. 13 features a set of bunkers 40-50 yards short of the green, complicating long approach shots.  The green also has 'Mackenzie tongues' back left and right to stiffen the challenge when necessary.

Swales criss-cross in the fairway at No. 14, providing awkward lies.

At 141 yards, No. 15 offers one of the few scoring opportunities on the back nine.

The brilliant 16th is most likely less than driver from the tee and plays to a hog's back fairway whose slope can push misses right further off-line.

The green at No. 16 is a heavily contoured, three-tier affair placing a premium on distance control for the approach.

No. 17 illustrates a common theme at Pasatiempo, landing zones where the tee ball lands into an upslope, limiting roll and making the course play longer than the yardage listed on the scorecard.

The golf course finishes with a one-shotter at No. 18, playing from an elevated tee across a barranca.

While the Monterrey Peninsula beckons many golfers travelling to California, those that choose to skip Pasatiempo while driving from San Francisco to play Pebble Beach are missing out.  Thankfully, this architectural wonder is accessible to the public on a limited basis owing to the club's status as a semi-private golf club.  I can assure anybody heeding this recommendation that they will not be disappointed.  How good is it?  The great amateur Bobby Jones, playing in an exhibition match to officially open the course was so impressed, he commissioned Mackenzie shortly thereafter to design the Augusta National Club.