January Mailbag – Part 1

Answers to your most pressing questions from architecture to worse for the wear.


Here’s part I of our January Mailbag. I will be doing these more often in 2019. If you have a question, send it in via our social channels or here. I will try to get to as many questions as possible.

I would take a par-3, 4 and 5 for my backyard course. I am a big believer in what George Thomas said – “variety is the spice of life”. For my par-5, I would go with the 13th at Lawsonia Links. This hole is one of finest par-5s in the country. It is intimidating, strategic and fun. Off the tee the key is avoiding the deep fairway bunkers up the left. What Langford and Moreau did with the second is splendid. The best three shot par-5s force players into a difficult situation on their second shots. At Lawsonia, the course’s most interesting feature is a deep valley that runs through the fairway right where you want to hit your second shot. Hitting it down into the valley leaves a blind wedge shot from an uneven lie to a severely elevated green (not good). Thus, the decision becomes, lay back short of the valley, which leaves over 150 yards or attempt to carry the valley. To do the latter, it requires two perfectly struck shots. It’s a brilliant hole on a brilliant course.

My par-4 would be the 14th at Alister MacKenzie‘s Pasatiempo. The attention often goes to Pasatiempo’s 16th, but I believe that the 14th is one of the greatest par-4s in American golf. Much like the 13th at Lawsonia, the key ingredient to the 14th is a natural contour that runs through the fairway. The further left you play your tee shot the longer the carry is over fairway dip, while the safer play right leaves a longer approach from a disadvantaged angle. I did a writeup on this hole, here and also made a video you can see below.

My par-3 would be the 5th at Diamond Springs Golf Course in Hamilton, Michigan. This green is one of the most amazing greens I have ever seen. It is a reverse-redan in the front which then morphs into a biarritz. The putting surface is 50 yards long which allows the hole to play a wide variety of yardages, and allows for run up shots and aerial approaches. It’s a fascinating green that would be a joy to hit shots on for hours.

I know that I would need a massive back yard to hold these three holes, but we’re dreaming here, right?

This is an extremely difficult question. I lean towards saying professional golf because of the effect that we have seen Augusta National have on the game. The immaculate conditioning at Augusta has set a poor example for many public facilities which strive for aesthetics rather than providing a good playing surface. But Augusta also offers incredible architecture which is rarely mimicked at the local level. So due to that, I am going to say that it’s more important for great architecture at a local level. The more sound architecture that we have available to the public the better. Courses that have width and playability are paramount to making the game more approachable for beginners. Add in great greens and a few well placed bunkers and you have a course that should be compelling for scratch players. One of the biggest misconceptions in golf is that interesting architecture costs more money to build and maintain.

What public accessible course(s) in the world excite you the most to go play and why?
– @shop1gallery

There are too many to list. The specific course I am most excited to play in 2019 is Cape Arundel, and more generally speaking, I’m excited to explore the work of Walter Travis.

I love this as an idea for a community but architecture gets in trouble when they follow an exact template. This is a great solution for some facilities, but not all facilities. Something I think about all the time is restaurants. If I were going to open up a restaurant, I wouldn’t go check out the restaurants in the neighborhood and copy my favorite one. I would create one that filled a void in the market. Where municipal and public golf often fails in my opinion is they look at what other communities around them have done and say “if it’s good enough for that town, it’s good enough for us.” Any smart entrepreneur would look at the courses around and come up with a concept that differentiated themselves from that. What golf at the public level needs is far more variety and decision makers who think outside of the box. 9 holes and a stellar range + short course is a great idea for some outdated facilities, but the next wave of golf development should embrace variety while refusing to settle for substandard design.

This all depends on what qualifies? Does NYC get Long Island? Does SF get Monterey? If the answer is no to both those questions, the London Heathlands is tough to beat. If the answer is yes, no one beats NYC.

Without question a firm course. In our recent podcast with Geoff Ogilvy he talks about TPC Potomac and superintendent Stephen Britton at length (minute 34:30). It’s far from an inspiring design but the firm and fast conditioning in 2017 made the tournament a joy to watch. When a course is soft, great play isn’t rewarded as much. I want to see the best players in a given week have the ability to separate themselves from the pack. A firm golf course helps any course achieve this because the thoughtful and precise player is rewarded.

In today’s era I think this idea would be very difficult to pull off. The common thread among the great collaborative projects of the golden age – Merion, Pine Valley and Oakmont – is that the architects were amateurs. As soon as architecture became a serious profession, the collaboration between architects diminished. I think it would require a very special project with an owner such as Mike Keiser in order to ever see a Coore & Crenshaw, Tom Doak/Renaissance Golf, Gil Hanse Design, DMK Design collaboration.

That being said, today’s architecture landscape has armed the aforementioned firms with more talent than ever. These firms’ associates are the unsung stars of the golf industry. To my knowledge all of the teams work in an extremely collaborative manner that is similar to the way Tillinghast, Flynn and Thomas helped Hugh Wilson with his design of Merion.

No, by and large, the greatest golf courses in the world are on great land. These are just rare examples of public golf courses being built by artisans. I think the common ingredient to great courses on bland land is unique and interesting green complexes. These greens can sometimes be criticized by the “fair police” but they are the secret sauce. Give these same artisans a great piece of land and the results would be even better.

You must have missed Aaron Wise’s victory interview!

I don’t know if expectations are high for Bubba Watson in 2019 but given his three wins in 2018, I foresee a regression this year. Bubba finished 55th in Strokes Gained: Total, sandwiched between Brian Gay and J.B. Holmes. Bubba is a favorite at a few courses every year but I don’t foresee multiple wins out of the quirky lefty.

I am going with Brooks Koepka. He hasn’t missed a cut in a major since 2013 (his first Open Championship) and he is an elite driver and putter of the golf ball. Those skills translate well at any course setup. I also love his competitive nature, which seems to be intensified by his ability to consistently have a chip on his shoulder. It’s a bit alarming that Rory hasn’t won a major in four years and if Spieth’s putting doesn’t return to an elite level, he won’t be one of the game’s 10 best players.

Lots of time, practice and a few crashes – RIP Egg Force 1 and 2. I think the most important aspect is putting yourself in position to succeed which means getting up early to get the morning light and staying late for the golden hour. A few tips I would give: I shoot photos in raw which gives you more room for error; if you have a drone, get UV filters, they make a big difference; when shooting video, fly low so the contours show, one of my pet peeves is when drone footage flattens all the interesting features; experiment with angles, often times the best shots are the ones that are from obscure positions.

I haven’t played much there, which will be remedied in 2019. Of the courses I have played it would be Yale. Despite it being a shell of what it could be, it’s one of the most exhilarating golf experiences in the country. The other course I played Marion, is super cool too and costs $12. Thankfully, Jason Way has played a ton of golf in Massachusetts and put together this list of affordable courses.

The vast majority of golfers put too much emphasis on conditioning. Most of the time it’s because they are looking for an excuse for their poor round. Slower and bumpier greens favor better putters and playing on them will make you a better putter. One of the courses I enjoyed the most this year was Diamond Springs which employs a single height of cut from tee to green. It’s not tight and fast but it’s easy to maintain which helps keep their greens fees affordable (under $40).  Slower green speeds also allow for more interesting green complexes and pins.

One thing I think about a great deal when playing a course is how players who are different than me would experience it and how the design impacts them. It’s quite easy to understand how it impacts your game but to understand how a low-trajectory player, a high handicap who sprays the ball or a pro would play it requires you to remove your individual perspective. One of my pet peeves is listening to players judge a course based on how they play it. The best class I took in college was a small six person urban planning course that was all discussion-based. The professor Ken Salo, emphasized removing your own personal views when evaluating situations. It’s easy to understand how you play a course, it’s more important to think about how others will and how the architect’s features will affect them.

A big goal of 2019 is spending far less time worse for the wear.

Check back for part two of the mailbag later this week and if you have questions, feel free to submit them here.