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Tony Ristola Typical
LEADERSHIP DRIVEN GOLF COURSE ARCHITECTURE
FOLLOWING HISTORY’S CLEAR LEAD
Understanding Der Golf Club’s D e s i g n , C o n s tr uc t i o n a n d M a i n t e n a n c e
By Tony Ristola www.agolfarchitect.com
SEVENTY-FIVE OF THE 100 GREATEST COURSES IN THE WORLD, the cream of the cream, were constructed before 1 9 3 5 . Of these courses, the majority were constructed between 1900 and 1935, a period recognized as The Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture. The Golden Age is marked by the game moving inland, away from its roots along the windswept sand dunes and sea (the Links), and in the process, creating a new profession: golf course architecture. These pioneer architects, influenced by what they learned from the Links courses, interpreted and adapted these core ideas to their inland canvases. The result is a collection of memorable holes and courses due to the wide variety of landscapes developed. It is these inland Golden Age courses, built before the era of heavy earthmoving equipment capable of radically altering landscapes, which serve as the model for Der Golf Club.
We have tagged along behind the techniques of earth moving to the point where there is a danger of imposing a standard concept on every site by sheer technical skill. F R E D H A W T R E E , T HE G OL F C OU R S E , 1981
Today, with the ability of architects to move small mountains, one would assume modern golf course architecture offers more variety than Golden Age courses, but the opposite seems true. Machines have been used to make courses more similar, not more distinct! Instead of standardizing their designs, the Golden Age architects fashioned what was at their disposal into the best collection of holes possible. They were forced to produce land driven design solutions because there were no bulldozers, excavators or scrapers to reconfigure the land on a massive scale. The result is a legacy of courses as unique as their individual properties or region. The individuality of the great courses reveals they do not conform to any “standard”. They are distinct. Unique. They set new standards. To summarize, the architects of old were: 1. Forced to use the land pretty much as they found it (and make the project affordable). 2. Able to create more intricate detail because the construction equipment was smaller and more versatile and work was done at ground level (horse or mule drawn scoops and man power.) Shovels, carts and small horse drawn scoops, vs. the 3 meter wide bulldozer blade with the operator high above the ground. 3. Able to fine tune the design as they were being built because the construction process was slow and the architects construction efforts were usually limited to building greens, tees, and bunkers. By comparison, today’s construction is lightening fast, and architects often reshape and engineer entire properties, not just greens tees and hazards. To compound today’s challenges, most modern architects visit any given project a mere handful of times during construction; the most critical and expensive phase of development and design. Clearly, the modern method of development is filled with risk due to limited communication and construction oversight. Many architects “solve” these problems by standardizing their designs, and using a limited group of builders. The result is fast food like golf course architecture (McGolf), which is falsely labeled it as “style”.
Many modern architects, with their busy schedules, don’t want to spend time on such details. T O M D O AK O F A G O L F C OU R S E , 1992
T H E A N AT OM Y
ON EXCEPTIONAL PROPERTIES BUNKERS SERVE TO FURTHER h i g h l i g h t and dramatize the landscape, but on uninspiring properties, well crafted bunkers can be the solitary element which provides visual definition and character for the holes and course. When well accomplished, the bunkers often help the recollection of specific courses, holes or shots weeks, months or years after visiting.
The 7 at Der Golf Club
Bunkers at Der Golf Club may be unusual to Germany, unique in continental Europe, and different from thousands of modern courses with lifeless, machine polished forms, but as you will discover, these “raw and ragged” bunkers are deeply rooted in Golden Age tradition.
Sand Hills GC, Nebraska, USA. Constructed in 1995 using Golden Age principles. The architects merely found the best holes in the landscape 1 and carefully scraped out some raw, dramatic bunkering to that which already existed.
The origins of the “wild and rugged” bunker style stems from Golden Age architects studying the finest natural courses that existed in Scotland and England; The Links. Today, Links courses are often associated with steep and deep sod-faced and grass faced bunkers, but one-hundred years ago scores of these bunkers looked like or actually were blown out dunes or sandy hollows. Many were so unstable they were shored up with railroad ties or inartistically with boards.
Sand Hills GC is rated in the Top 20 in America, was constructed for less than 1 million Euros, killing the myth that large construction budgets are required for excellence or even greatness to occur. It would shock many to discover Augusta National, home of The Masters was constructed in 1932 for $100,000 (one-hundred thousand).
The famous 15 (Redan) at North Berwick, Scotland 100 Years ago. Three elements are visible in this bunker. They didn’t have the tools (irrigation and fertilizer) to grow grass banks on pure sand, so they stabilized such bunkers with boards (front) or stacked sod (left). The back of this bunker is left in its natural, ragged state.
The famous 15 (Redan) at North Berwick today. 100 years later the unstable sand banks have been secured and formalized with grass.
The par-3, 6 at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles. Riviera was built in 1926, has hosted the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, and is the long time home of the Los Angeles Open on the PGA Tour. The architect team of George Thomas Jr. and Billy Bell, two Master architects, provided California with a selection of courses with great holes and original, intricate, natural looking bunkers with a dunes like interpretation. Such bunker detail cannot be drawn on the drafting table or on a computer. It can only be achieved in the field with supervision.
One reason bunkers like Der Golf Club’s are not seen more often is the time required to construct them. Such craftsmanship requires hundreds of hours of hand work with picks and shovels, constant refinement as they are being sculpted; this demands tremendous involvement by the architect. Modern bunkers, with their plain, repetitive forms are much easier for the constructors to formalize, and demand virtually no participation on the part of the architect during their detailing.
The 9 green at Der Golf Club.
Bunkers as Hazards
Fairway bunkers are now commonly staggered, though all too often flat and far too easy to escape from. DONALD STEEL THE WORLD ATLAS OF GOLF, 1976.
T H E G R A S S I S L A N D S A N D M O T I O N W I T H I N T H E B U N K E R S at Der Golf Club serve three functions: 1. They help naturalize the bunkers. 2. They assist with creating variety and character. 3. They prevent the hazards from becoming predictable. When hazards are hazards, they present not only a physical but a psychological impact which influences the player’s thought, line of play and sometimes their physical execution. That is as it should be, because the best golf courses and hazards do not provide mere tests of physical skill; they influence and examine the golfer’s mental abilities too!
Play this course often enough and you will eventually be faced with a recovery shot which is out of the ordinary. That is the opportunity to turn the shot into a memorable experience. If the bunkers were sanitized so every lie and shot were easy or similar, the course would be less unique, and the shots all too conventional. The best courses make you invent shots now and again, and the most respected hazards do not always allow you to go straight for the hole. Sometimes just escaping the hazard is a good recovery.
Hell Bunker, 14 Hole, Par-5, Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland Hell is a 3 meter deep sand pit directly on the line to the hole. There are no standard recovery shots to escape from “Hell”, and being against the wall of the bunker may require a sideways or backwards recovery.
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 , 1903.
NOT ONLY ARE DER GOLF CLUB’S BUNKERS DISTINCTIVE, b u t the philosophy behind their placement differs significantly from most modern golf courses too. Der Golf Club’s bunkers often eat into the fairways directly on the ideal line to the hole, rather than alongside the fairway to catch “bad shots.” Such placement is designed to influence the line of play and give the golfer something to accomplish, beyond mindlessly slogging the ball up the fairway, or having the bunkers catch only “bad” shots. We not only want the golfer to think, we want to provide opportunities to hit exciting, risky shots, and allow the golfer to test the limits of their game.
I try not to make the course any harder, but to make it more interesting, never forgetting that 80 percent of the members of any golf club cannot on average drive more than 175 yards, so I always study to give them their way out …by taking a course much as a yachtsman does against an adverse wind, by tacking. CHARLES BLAIR MACDONALD MASTER ARCHITECT (1855-1939)
Even though the bunkers often intrude the ideal line to the hole, golfers have the option to play a safer, longer route. Steering wide of the hazards is not only longer but often offers the least advantageous angle of attack for the next shot. Yet, those who challenge a hazard and fail will be at a disadvantage to those who have taken the longer, safer route. Of course, an excellent recovery can change all that. Positioning the bunkers across the ideal line to the hole2, combined with our wide fairways, is the definition of Strategic Design.
One Golden Age architect, Max Behr, stated the direct line to the hole is, “the line of instinct”, and to make the hole interesting we must break up that that line to create “the line of charm”.
A look at Der Golf Club’s 2 green from the fairway bunker cut directly on the line to the hole. Play wide of this bunker and the left greenside bunker must be negotiated.
Aside from placing the bunkers to influence the line of play to the hole, bunkers were placed in natural locations, the crests of hills, slopes, or higher ground to highlight and dramatize the landscape whenever possible. This is another hallmark of Golden Age architecture. The result is a collection of bunkers set at a vast range of distances, placed seemingly at random, much like snow patches look in the transition from winter to springtime. This helps the bunkering look in harmony with the landscape. As conditions change due to wind and weather, some bunkers will come into play, while others will be out of play, thereby altering the strategies and decision making, keeping the course forever interesting, and not just for the expert golfers, but all golfers.
Australian Influenced Bunker Maintenance
AGE, RAKING BUNKERS TO P E R F E C T I O N W A S U N C O M M O N . They were hazards with another level of ferocity. Some Golden Age architects decried the use of rakes in bunkers, and some clubs, namely Oakmont Country Club, raked them with deep furrows to guarantee bad lies. Other clubs were known for their poor quality of sand and the difficulty it created in recovering from their bunkers. Today’s bunker maintenance is a phenomenon brought about by professional tournament golf. Fortunately, not all great golf courses have followed this negative lead and undermined the fierceness of their hazards.
No rakes and no whining! Long before the creation of the sand wedge, decent golf balls, or clubs, bunkers were true hazards, and golfers were subject to some extremely challenging shots. Even with the poor quality of this print, you can see how popular the bunker was due to all the footprints!
From the planning stages, our model for Der Golf Club was the common sense method of bunker maintenance found in Australia. Ideally the banks of the bunkers are left unraked so the sand becomes hard and compact. This assists the golfer because it prevents having to play “fried egg” lies from the bunker face; the hard packed sand ensures a ball hit into the face of the bunker will release to the bottom. As a byproduct, it saves precious hours in bunker maintenance, as only the bottoms of the bunkers need be raked, a classic win-win situation.
The 8 at Victoria GC, Melbourne, Australia One of Australia’s finest courses, and an example of common sense maintenance practices. Only the sole of the bunker is raked regularly. By not raking the banks of the bunker, they remain hard, allowing the ball to hit, release and roll to the bottom.
“Definition & Mounding”
…everyone’s designs are beginning to look alike, with excessive mounding... JEFF BRAUER GOLF COURSE NEWS
N O M O U N D S W E R E C O N S T R U C T E D A T D E R G O L F C L U B , except for those which we set bunkers into. The sweep and scale of the property was too beautiful and grand to trivialize with such artificiality, and would have killed any chance of the course being as original as the property itself.
Fairway bunker on Der Golf Club’s 9th.
Earth moved building Golden Age golf courses was primarily to create features like greens, tees and bunkers; elements which came into play. There was virtually no earth moved for “framing” or “definition” in the form of mounds which flank entire fairways; earth that is moved today at great expense, causes engineering challenges, makes maintenance more difficult, usually kills the connection of the golf course with its natural surroundings and normally does not even come into play! All the mammary mounded golf courses built during the past 20 years tend to look similar to one another instead of unique; it doesn’t much matter if you’re in Berlin or Bangkok. Definition in the Golden Age, and at Der Golf Club comes from sharp slopes, the differing heights, colors and textures of grasses, existing trees, bushes or native vegetation, bunkers or greens set against the horizon, or bunkers set in the fairway, between the fairway and rough, or against a green. Not every hole and shot needs definition, another belief of Golden Age architects, and it was common for architects from this era to intentionally leave targets without definition in an attempt to confuse or deceive the golfer.
Greens & Surrounds
Design on land, not on paper. D ON A LD R OS S M A S T E R A R CH IT E C T (1872-1948) H A S N E VE R F A I LE D M E , 1996
WITHOUT GREAT GREENS THERE CAN BE NO GREAT GOLF course. In fact, greens and their surrounds alone can drive the strategy for the hole if contoured cleverly, and this is how the design and construction was approached at Der Golf Club. Plans were drawn to estimate the quantity of materials and work to be done, but these plans served merely as a guide, and not set-in-stone document for what was to finally appear. Like each bunker, every green was sculpted under the direct supervision of this architect as construction progressed. Though nice for marketing the golf course, pretty plans do not mean quality will emerge when the course is eventually built. Plans are rigid, restrictive documents, express wishes, and do not contain every detail. What really counts is execution in the field during construction…the most costly, critical and final phase of design. That’s why architects leading construction has historically produced the greatest courses.
Plans are merely the starting point. B UR Y
ME IN A
PETE DYE P O T B UN K E R 1995
Field Plan Used During Construction for the 3rd at Der Golf Club. Subtle modifications were made to the original concepts as construction progressed. The most obvious being the bunkers moved, resized or eliminated. This illustrates why it is highly unlikely any great green was the product of detailed plans alone.
Der Golf Club, Hole Nr. 3. The finished product. Forward tee in the lower left. Notice the gap between the bunkers to allow the ball to be bounced in from the Forward tee?
The grass areas surrounding the greens were designed to allow for the entire palette of recovery options. Ideally, the slopes around most greens should have the firmness of and be cut almost to putting green height so that a golfer: 1. …must consider that his approach shots might slip off the green and slide away from the hole. Though the greens are mediumlarge, this feature makes them play smaller. 2. …must decide whether to chip, pitch or putt. More options around the green allows for greater flexibility and enjoyment for all players. Instead of making it easier for the better player, it actually makes it more difficult because it tempts the expert to try more imaginative, inviting or obvious shots for the situation. Shots which he may not have practiced extensively or has not mastered.
Narrow fairways bordered by long grass make bad golfers. D R . A L IS T E R M A CK E N Z I E THE SPIRIT OF ST. ANDREWS 1934
FIFTY METER WIDE FAIRWAYS WERE COMMON DURING THE Golden Age of golf course architecture. Today, irrigation systems have narrowed the fairways on many courses significantly, and with it holes and entire courses have lost their flexibility and strategic nature. Narrow fairways only allow for one option…hit the fairway or else. There are no such problems Der Golf Club. Our fairways are wide, and this allowed the bunkers to be placed into or to eat generously into the fairways along the optimal line to the hole. Wide fairways are the essence of strategic design as it allows hazards to be challenged or steered wide of. In short, wide fairways provide options, and the ability to choose multiple routes makes the course manageable for golfers of all levels. If you do not have room for golfers to take alternate routes, you do not have strategic design. Wide fairways are also good at hiding the ideal line to the hole. Often with an expansive target, golfers get lazy, let their guard down or are overambitious; either way they create their own problems.
Der Golf Club’s 8 fairway from the Forward tee. A wide fairway with bunkers cut directly on the best line to the hole. There are many angles of attack.
We are able to have wide fairways because we are not limited by a fairway irrigation system. This course does not require one, would be a tremendous waste of money, as anyone who visited the course during the record heat wave of 2003 would attest. Many marveled at the condition of the fairways and the fact they remained a light shade of green while other courses lost entire fairways. With such conditions during extreme heat and stress for the grass, one would think the fairways would be wet and sloppy during periods of heavy rain, but that would be a thoroughly false assumption. After the heaviest thundershowers, you can play a round and your feet will remain perfectly dry. In times of heavy rain, the gravel soils behave like sand, or a well constructed putting green, allowing excess water to drain off quickly. In times of extreme drought, the layer of gravel and clay beneath the gravelly topsoil stores moisture and releases it upwards, not only keeping the root system alive, but the leaf too! This is truly remarkable, as the summer drought of 2003 illustrated. These soils are simply ideal for golf. In fact they are almost unbeatable.
THE TEES ARE DESIGNED TO BLEND SEAMLESSLY AND BE hidden in the landscape when ever possible. Only a few tees were elevated noticeably to improve visibility, the remainder are raised only enough (20cm) to prevent water from draining across them. Their rectangular forms and low profile design are consistent with Golden Age designs. Earth was moved with tremendous effort during the Golden Age, and low, tees reduced earth moving and their rectangular shape maximized every square inch of the formalized tee pad.
Many green committees ruin one’s handiwork by planting trees like rows of soldiers along the borders of fairways. D R . A L IS T E R M A CK E N Z I E THE SPIRIT OF ST. ANDREWS 1934
T H E 6 0 Y E A R O L D F O R E S T S F R A M I N G M A N Y O F T H E H O L E S at Der Golf Club assisted us greatly with our goal to produce a golf course with different looks and one which appears as if it were designed 70 or 80 years ago and was recently restored to its original glory. Nothing would defeat this objective, and spoil the golf course faster than planting a bunch of young trees on the property. The negative effect would last for decades and would add nothing to the golf!
Trees are a fluky and obnoxious form of hazard…. S OM E E S S AY S
H AR R Y C O LT G O L F C O UR S E A R C HI T E CT U R E 1920
Most Golden Age architects were not enthusiastic about trees, as they were not present on the earliest golf courses; the Links. Like the Golden Age architects, we place greater value in panoramic views of the town, its lake, the Alps, the sweep and scale of the property, following play across some of the course and allowing the full effect of wind, than in trees.
The 4 at Der Golf Club.
Holes 1, 8 and 9 at Der Golf Club are treeless, and offer a visual contrast to the other holes. They will remain free of trees, with the exception of one sentinel tree between holes 8 and 9. Currently there are several trees, but this is only in an effort to discover the most vigorous of the lot. In the coming years, only one tree will remain. In America, many great courses have been over-planted by well intentioned but misguided golf course committees. Today some clubs are removing thousands of trees in an effort to restore their golf course architecture, improve agronomy, the effect of wind, all which planting programs have obstructed and smothered.
Routing the Golf Course
FINDING THE HOLES AND SEQUENCE
It costs no more to follow nature than to ignore her… A.W. T IL L IN G H A S T (1874-1942)
THIS MAY BE THE FINAL TOPIC, BUT ROUTING THE GOLF
COURSE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT BUT LEAST SEXY ASPECT OF ANY GOLF COURSE DESIGN.
Routing is the task of finding holes in the landscape and putting them in sequence. Long before a machine ever gets to the property, the architect’s routing will have greatly determined the course’s potential. You could say the routing is the backbone of the golf course and if defective, the golf course will be too, even if all the other aspects of the design and maintenance are excellent. Fixing poor routings is like fixing a deformed limb. It may be possible, but it is a costly, time consuming and painful proposition. To come to the best selection of holes, 15 routings were made for Der Golf Club’s first phase of development. In the end, no fairways required grading. This, and the fact that the cuts and fills to create the raw forms for the tees, greens and bunkers, the core elements, were made close by and required virtually no transport of material helped make construction cost effective. Golden Age architects spoke frequently of excellence and economy when developing golf courses; two words which are rarely seen together today, as a grand myth has been perpetuated on today’s golfers: That excellence
requires massive budgets. I would state the opposite. If a golf course requires a huge investment, the property must have been poor. Excellent properties can save millions in investment.3 Golden Age architects spent considerable time and “mental labour” achieving their routings because they had to follow Nature’s lead and find their design solutions in the land. The construction power of the day: horses, mules and man, did not allow the architect to force his ideas onto the landscape. As a result, these architects produced more sporty holes, a wider variety of holes, and more natural looking holes and features than today! The architects, and golfers were not limited to a set of “design principles”, and the loose guidelines which did exist, existed to be broken. The architects had a full palette of colors, and used them to maximum effect. Today, many are afraid to break away from standard situations, and bulldoze away features which could be the making of a unique and sporty hole. It seems contrary, but the dependence on Mr. Caterpillar, Dr. Komatsu and Herr Liebherr in modern times has produced less variety in features, golf holes, and courses. In addition, modern courses too often have a surgical cleanliness to them which defies nature.
Links Golf? Scottish Golf?
DER GOLF CLUB IS NOT MEANT TO BE A LINKS TYPE COURSE. To call it one would be a severe misrepresentation of fact, as most courses marketed as Links-type are. Der Golf Club is designed in the spirit of those timeless inland designs from the Golden Age commonly found in America, Canada, England and Australia. Like the Golden Age designs and architects, we adapted some elements and ideas of Scottish Golf; the heart and soul, but not the cosmetics. The ideas I stole from Links golf are: 1. Wide fairways. This allows all classes of golfer to enjoy the game, and if the course is hard, fast and windy, the most interesting conditions to play golf in, there is room to play. 2. Random, natural bunkering. Placing bunkers for the “better players” looks artificial, is a modern occurrence and sucks the fun and interest out of the game for many. 3. Interesting greens and surrounds. In fact a couple greens at Der Golf Club are very loosely modeled after famous greens in Scotland. The short game is over 65% of golf. A short
Hamburger Golf Club Falkenstein, built during the Golden Age and designed by Master Architect Harry Colt is Germany’s finest golf course. The site is sandy and rolling and I firmly believe that if the course were built today, it would cost no more than 1.7 million Euros, and at best it might cost half that amount!
accurate hitter with an excellent short game can beat a long hitter with a poor short game at Der Golf Club. 4. Hard and fast conditions are a hallmark of Links golf. By good fortune, the fairways at Der Golf Club remain firm and fast virtually all year. 5. Greensites which allow bounced in approaches. Our firm fairways allow for this. 6. Economical golf course construction by following Nature’s lead. We did not destroy Mother Nature’s gifts creating Der Golf Club. 7. Affordable maintenance practices. True Links courses are cost effective to maintain. I hope this information helps you better understand the thought behind this golf course, and golf course architecture in general.
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Hirono GC, Kobe, Japan. Constructed in 1931. “…a real setting for an ideal golf course, all arranged by Nature, only awaiting to be touched by an architect and artist like Mr. Charles Alison...”
There really is no substitute… for the architect staying on the job himself… (achieving) the tiny touches that make exceptional holes exceptional. H E R B E R T W AR R E N W I N D T H E W OR LD A T L A S OF G O L F 1976
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