November 28, 2012

Golf course architecture as the WASP art form

Click picture to see more of the Pacific
While the world of architecture increasingly evolves toward in-your-face buildings designed by starchitects like Thom Mayne, the high end of the world of golf course architecture has been evolving in the opposite direction, toward WASP understatement. The most prestigious new golf course of the 2010s, for example, is Old Macdonald, the fourth course at Bandon Dunes on the coast of southern Oregon. It's a tribute by golf designers Tom Doak and Jim Urbina to the first great American golf architect, Charles Blair Macdonald, who built the National Golf Links of America in the Hamptons a century ago.

I haven't played Old Macdonald (although I have played the NGLA four times).  I have to admit to being fairly baffled by pictures of this new course, which looks at first glance more like a rumpled sheep ranch that a $275 per round (high season) resort golf course. (Here's an in-depth guide to the course.)
In contrast, here's the 17th, the Garden of Eden hole, at Shadow Creek outside Las Vegas, which may have been the high point of trends in golf architecture 20-25 years ago. At Shadow Creek, you can see where you are supposed to hit the ball at a glance, in contrast to Old Macdonald which (like St. Andrews) seems featureless at first glance and extraordinarily complex upon careful study.

Shadow Creek was designed by Tom Fazio, one of the first golf architects whose names end in a vowel, with a lot of good advice from casino magnate Steve Wynn, whose expertise in showmanship and pacing was a revelation for golf course architects. They dug a 60 foot deep hole in the desert of more than half a square mile, then reproduced a fantasy  version of the the Sand Hills of North Carolina. Today, in contrast, the emphasis is on finding the perfect piece of golf land (i.e., sand dunes), no matter how remote, and then routing upon it a course that looks like no dirt was moved in creating it.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's landscaping, not architecture.

Anonymous said...

baseball and cricket field too?

Anonymous said...

grass and few trees. yuck.

Anonymous said...

hobbity

Anonymous said...

all that space for guys chasing ball around. what a waste.

Anonymous said...

Being the downer I am, let me make a prediction. Within 25 years, Asians will also be well represented in this field. Golf and architecture are both popular with Asians and as increasing number of Asian collegiate players fail to make it into the PGA, some will undoubtedly pursue landscape architecture as a career.

Anonymous said...

http://www.businessweek.com/printer/articles/83558-damien-hirst-jumping-the-shark

dumping the shark

Aaron Gross said...

Question from a non-golfer to golfers: What are some of the most tasteless golf courses? (Taste is different from beauty; a work of art might be beautiful but tasteless.) Actually, are there any tasteless golf courses?

Steve Sailer said...

First hole at Trump National Los Angeles has a giant artificial waterfall constructed behind the green that you have to drive behind (like on the Jungleland Cruise at Disneyland) to get to the second tee:

http://www.linksmagazine.com/images/531.jpg

Anonymous said...

Speaking of WASPs (and I agree with you Steve, golf is perhaps the leading WASP art form for poor WASPs who can no longer participate in the true leading WASP sport, the hunt, and probably don't even have Horn Rooms or bird dogs).... leading to speaking of Europeans... oh, too much of a stretch, off-topic but interesting:

http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/28/15518402-study-shows-surge-of-bad-disease-genes-in-europeans?lite

"A scan of all the mutations in the human gene map shows something surprising – people of European descent are evolving fast, and not for the better.

The study finds that in the past 5,000 years, European-Americans have developed a huge batch of potentially harmful genetic mutations – many more than African-Americans."

Anonymous said...

OT:

"NFL player Brandon Marshall says athletes are using Viagra ... ON THE FIELD"

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2239986/Brandon-Marshal-NFL-player-says-athletes-using-Viagra---ON-THE-FIELD.html

"Football players may have found a use for Viagra outside of the bedroom, according to Chicago Bears' wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Marshall said he's heard of some players using the sexual stimulant to improve their performance on the field.

'I know guys, it is such a competitive league, guys try anything just to get that edge,' Marshall said during his weekly press conference."

"'But some guys, they’ll do whatever they can to get an edge. I’ve heard of some crazy stories. I’ve heard guys using like Viagra, seriously. Because the blood is supposedly thin, some crazy stuff. So, you know, it’s kind of scary with some of these chemicals that are in some of these things so you have to be careful.'

Marshall made the comments as NFL players come under increased scrutiny for using the performance-enhancing drug Adderall, which is prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

Adderall is the latest in a long list of performance-enhancing drugs that professional athletes have been busted for abusing over the last couple decades.

Viagra usage hasn't been a major concern in the NFL, but it might now get a second look after Marshall's comment."

Steve Sailer said...

Bad taste golf courses include Desmond Muirhead's Stone Harbor, and the mounding on a couple of 1980s Nicklaus courses in Florida: Loxahatchie and Grand Cypress. But, I think all three have been plowed under and made less absurd looking.

Anonymous said...

Some miniature golf places are really impressive too.

Anonymous said...

This amateur better hurry to enjoy a last round on the green.

wanderling said...

I was sure this post was going to be about this course, even your picture had me fooled, before I realised dinosaurs were absent...http://www.on-par.com/blog/index.php/2012/11/14/jurassic-golf-palmer-to-turn-coolum-resort-into-a-dinosaur-park/

and with bandages...http://resources3.news.com.au/images/2012/11/21/1226521/385767-palmer-dinosaur.jpg

Steve Sailer said...

"That's landscaping, not architecture."

It's called landscape architecture. You can study it at Harvard. Landscape architecture has a history hundred of years old (e.g., Capability Brown, who designed the grounds of Blenheim Palace in the 1700s). Changes in fashion in landscape architecture after Waterloo are a major subject of Stoppard's "Arcadia." Golf course architecture as a conscious activity traces back at least 170 years to Allan Robertson's construction of the famous 17th green at St. Andrews.

DaveinHackensack said...

"That's landscaping, not architecture."

It's landscape architecture. That was a major at my school. The LA majors (that's what they called themselves) learned to print in a comic book style font, and would drink beer while drafting their landscapes out by hand. Only about 20 years ago, and I don't remember them doing this stuff by computer. Maybe they did part of it via computer and finished it by hand, I don't know. I just remember them drinking beer at their drafting tables, and it seemed like a pretty relaxed major.

TontoBubbaGoldstein said...

Country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wasters of prime real estate! Dead people? They don't need buried nowadays. Ecology, right? Ask Wang. He'll tell you. We just bought property behind the Great Wall. On the good side.

-- Al Czervik

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Steve: I'd like to see you sketch out a brief contrast of tennis and golf since WW2. For a time in the 70's, every condo, apartment, public park, even some office parks would have tennis courts built here in Atlanta. My impression is tennis court construction has cratered since then. I guess it was a young Boomer phenomenon.

I know 10+ times as many golfers as tennis players. Physically active businessmen are more likely to play basketball than tennis.

Golf requires serious effort to structure your time and finances around the necessary play and range time. I had to give it up even though I'd finally gotten the mechanics of the swing down. I miss it, but other priorities got in the way.

FWG said...

Some would say the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is tasteless.

Steve Sailer said...

Yeah, I think Pete Dye is going out of fashion. He revived the sharp-edged style of Macdonald and Raynor, but now the revival of Macdonald himself has hurt Dye.

Kylie said...

"all that space for guys chasing ball around. what a waste."

That's part of the point of the exercise.

Kylie said...

"all that space for guys chasing ball around. what a waste."

That's part of the point of the exercise.

pat said...

I'm surprised that you haven't mentioned glaciation. Golf courses look the way they do because they were originally found in Scotland and other high latitudes that had been glaciated.

Whites come from these same areas. It's not race it's ice.

Albertosaurus

Aaron Gross said...

Thanks, sort of, for the link to that picture from Trump National whatever. I should have guessed that Donald Trump would have a golf course.

And is it just me, or is the waterfall pouring straight down over the front of that sand-colored rock thing supposed to be an abstract representation of Donald Trump's hair?

Anonymous said...

Course knowledge, or a good caddie, is essential for those visually messy courses.

For us hackers the flag hunting laser (legal for amateurs at least in my part of the world) is indispensable.

Gilbert P

Anonymous said...

Why don't you participate on gca.com Steve? We could use you in the treehouse

x said...

in the part of australia i'm from, it is not that uncommon for golf courses to have no grass at all and consist entirely of dirt. at one course, you carry around a strip of astro turf to put the ball on as you hit it around.

many greens here are made of oiled sand.