June Mailbag

The team answers your questions on Tobacco Road, city golf, bunker design, and more


Welcome to a Fried Egg mailbag like you’ve never seen before. Professional golf is back, it’s summer time, and the people demand content. This month, Andy Johnson, Garrett Morrison, and Will Knights have teamed up to answer your serious (and not-so-serious) questions below. Read on for takes on potential tournament venues, Tobacco Road, the best city for public golf, bunker design, amateur “majors,” and the Johnsons’ very silly dog.

What do you believe will be considered success for the professional tours as they return? –@DeportesMan85

With pro golf back during a global pandemic, I think there are only two criteria we can use to judge success: health and safety. If the PGA Tour can navigate its return without a slew of infections among players, tournament staff, and volunteers, that has to be called a huge win. –Andy

You’re tasked with creating a new annual PGA Tour event. You have to find a venue with a sponsor willing to hold an event for the next 10 years. What’s the course? Who is the sponsor? And when is the event held? –@deep_fried_egg 

With the elimination of the event at the Greenbrier, there’s a prime spot at the beginning of the fall schedule. Given that we already have stops in Napa and Las Vegas, it would make sense to add another West Coast tournament.

So how about Chambers Bay? It’s a two-hour flight from Napa, the course is great (no matter what Gary Player says), and September is as dry a month as you’ll get in the Seattle area. I’m sure Howard Shultz could pony up a few dollars for a sponsorship. Who wouldn’t play in the Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino Open or the Pikes Place Championship? –Will

What course would you like to see host an event that hasn’t yet? –martin3ag 

What kind of event are we talking about? Because I’d rather the PGA Tour stay away from my favorite courses. I don’t want Slugger White showing up at Old Town Club and running his mouth about adding tees and narrowing fairways and growing rough.

An LPGA event would be a different story, though. For the past two years, the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open at Wilshire Country Club has proven how well the combination of an urban setting, a well-designed course, and a field of the best female golfers can work.

So I’d love to see the LPGA Tour go to a well-maintained city course like George Wright near Boston. You’d get good architecture, the buzz of an urban crowd, and the freedom to let the course just be what it is. For a more radical option, how about Audubon Park, the outstanding (yet somehow endangered) executive course in New Orleans? As far as I know, there’s no rule that a pro tournament venue must have a par of 70 or above. –Garrett

The 17th green at George Wright Golf Course. Photo credit: Ross Mungeam

Overrated/underrated—Tobacco Road –tcaskill

Overrated. But don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy Tobacco Road. We even chose it as one of our “Must-Sees of Public Golf Architecture in America.” It’s filled with daring shots and exhilarating moments, and offers unique and interesting design at an affordable rate. All great things.

Having said that, it has benefited tremendously—maybe more than any other course—from the rise of digital photography and social media. Mike Strantz was an artist and knew how to turn golf courses into eye candy. His manufactured sandscapes are mesmerizing and pleasantly disorienting. But at Tobacco Road, there are some flaws in the bones of the architecture. The first is a clunky routing that renders the course very difficult to walk. Also, while I’m a huge fan of blind shots, Tobacco Road gets a bit repetitive with its blindness. Finally—and this is admittedly a critique that most golfers won’t care much about—I have an issue with the catch basins. Rather than using surface drainage, Stantz tended to build drainage basins to move water off the golf course. Now, before you roll your eyes, this does have an impact on play at Tobacco Road, especially around the greens. Approaches that miss often funnel into predictable spots in these basins.

Again, I like Tobacco Road. You should definitely go see it. Personally, though, I’m not dying to return. The course’s jaw dropping scale and artistic beauty come with drawbacks that limit my desire to play it again and again. In that respect, Tobacco Road falls short of some of its neighbors. If I were making a Carolina Sandhills itinerary, I’d start with Mid Pines and Pinehurst No. 2, then slot in Tobacco Road alongside No. 4, Pine Needles, Dormie Club, and the great value of Southern Pines. –Andy

What is the best city in the United States for publicly accessible golf? –evanlroosevelt

Bandon, Oregon!

Just kidding. I’ll take “city” to mean a sizable urban area and “publicly accessible” to mean non-resort and affordable.

There are a few contenders. Recently, we profiled the Grand Rapids area, which is a showcase for what smart modern architecture can deliver on a limited budget. If San Francisco ever gets its act together (doubtful), its lineup of municipal courses would be tough to beat. And Philadelphia, with its array of ex-country clubs and storied munis, might actually be the correct answer to this question.

But today I’m giving the edge to Dallas-Fort Worth. (Technically two cities. Is that cheating? Whatever.) DFW takes its golf seriously, and its public courses are first-rate. The local firm Colligan Golf Design, consisting of principal John Colligan and on-site architect Trey Kemp, has done fine renovations at Stevens Park in Dallas, Rockwood Park in Fort Worth, and Squaw Creek in Willow Park. CGD’s new build at Texas Rangers in Arlington opened last year, and it looks fun. Given all of this momentum, maybe Cedar Crest (A.W. Tillinghast) and the Golf Club of Dallas (late-period Perry and Press Maxwell) will get the restorations they deserve. If they do, DFW would be the undisputed champ of urban public golf in America. –Garrett

If you have a tattoo and you clone yourself, would the clone also have the tattoo? –jay_brockhoff

Oh Jay, cloning uses DNA, so clearly the clone would not have the tattoo. Unless we’re cloning a clone trooper. Then things get interesting. –Will

In bunker design, is there a specific strategy behind their shapes or is it the architect creating something that fits with the curvature of the land? –jddroske

In many cases, the land can dictate the size and location of bunkers. A larger landform will allow a larger bunker to fit seamlessly. But on flatter sites, lacking features that naturally accommodate bunkers, hazards have to be created.

As for the style, it can—and, in my opinion, should—vary according to factors such as soil type, aesthetics, and maintenance considerations. Some architects have a certain style that they replicate from one project to another, but I prefer those who allow the site to inspire the bunker shapes. On a rugged, open sandscape, for instance, big bunkers with jagged edges can blend in well. Meanwhile, on a Midwestern clay-based property, that style would likely clash with the landscape and just look a bit silly.

Large-scale, sandy, exposed landforms on the 13th hole at Pacific Dunes. Photo credit: Garrett Morrison

Ever since Sand Hills and the first two Bandon Dunes courses, frilly-edged, exposed bunkers have come back into fashion. That’s great, but it becomes a problem when architects start putting them everywhere, with no regard for the site. Besides, there are so many other options available. At a recent renovation of Llanerch Country Club, for example, Brian Schneider—with the help of Blake Conant—gave the bunkers a striking trench style, with considerable above-ground features.

A particular pet peeve of mine is when architects use the same bunker aesthetic at every course they “restore.” Older courses, especially those built before the era of large-scale earthmoving, had a huge variety of bunker styles. Restoration architects should respect those, as bunker shaping is an important part of lending a golf course a unique identity and sense of history.

All in all, like everything with golf architecture, variety is king in bunker design. The best architects are the ones who can change it up from site to site. So to get back to the original question, bunker style should not be predetermined or thought of in the abstract. It should be dictated by each property’s soil, landforms, vegetation, and surrounding vistas. An architect who insists on a uniform aesthetic is probably too preoccupied with his “signature.” –Andy

What golf hole ought to become a template that currently has no or few current copies/tributes? –@DeportesMan85

George Thomas’s work in Southern California is a treasure trove of highly original yet rarely emulated hole designs. And I’m not just talking about a bunker in the middle of a green, though I’d love to see someone execute that concept as well as Thomas did on No. 6 at Riviera.

Renowned as it is, the 10th at Riviera has not, as far as I know, spawned a huge number of imitators. Its simple design could be replicated on many different types of land: a short par 4 with plenty of room to one side but a small, canted, heavily guarded green that accepts approaches only from the other side. Thomas used this basic idea on the old 13th hole at Ojai Valley as well. In the modern era, Tom Doak may have had the 10th at Riviera vaguely in mind when he conceived the 6th at Pacific Dunes, but I’d like to see more modern architects try their own renditions.

A less expected choice for a George Thomas-inspired “template” would be the 15th hole at Los Angeles Country Club. This semi-blind par 3 can play very short; one day at the 2017 Walker Cup, it was set up at 78 yards. But the long, narrow, comma-shaped green gave the Walker Cuppers all they could handle. When their flip wedges ended up on the wrong side of the “buried elephant” that bisects the putting surface, they were happy to walk away with par. Very happy. The 15th at LACC proves that a short par 3 doesn’t need to be a postage stamp in order to give good players fits. –Garrett

How many players will blame COVID-19 for their poor play? –lawsonklotz

I suspect that “my game is rusty” and “it takes some time to get back into the swing of things” will be common phrases used in press conferences over the next few weeks. Golfers (myself included) looooove to blame poor play on anything that isn’t themselves. –Will

I interpret this question as a personal attack, and I am offended. –Garrett

How much time, effort, and money goes into expanding a green? –@TopFrolf

There are a number of ways to expand a green—some cheap, others not so much. A lot depends on location and grasses, so you need to consult a superintendent or architect to find out the exact methods that would work best for your course.

One relatively simple way to do it is to scalp the desired areas, killing off unwanted grasses. From there, you can seed or sod with whichever green grass you want to take hold. A thrifty way to build a sod farm is to use aeration plugs from your greens to seed it. On the pricier end of the spectrum, you could just gas the greens and reseed them to scale.

When expanding greens, you should be aware that you may need to smooth out some contours. After years of topdressing, there will be some build-up, and a kind of mushroom top may have formed. So pushing out the edges of a putting surface could require more work than you expect, as the existing green will need to be smoothed out to match the newly expanded area.

Basically, each green-expansion project is different, and the costs, time, and effort depend on what grasses you have, how much you’re looking to expand, and how much topdressing build-up exists. –Andy

Thoughts on “chutes” as a design feature? A la 15 at Prairie Dunes or 18 at Augusta National. –ekyledavis 

Hey, you know what we always say about variety. A tree-lined chute, used sparingly, can be an exciting feature. Whenever the leaders arrive at the final tee on Masters Sunday, they face a clear-cut and dramatic test of accuracy. (Sometimes they fail!) At Prairie Dunes, the chute on the approach to No. 12 and the one off the tee on No. 15 are novelties on an otherwise open course. For the sake of variety and character, I wouldn’t want to lose either.

But chutes can get old really fast. Many courses have this “design feature” on almost every hole. (Looking at you, Club de Golf Chapultepec.) In those cases, the trees have usually been over-planted and under-tended, and they diminish one of the basic pleasures of the game: the freedom to choose how to work the ball. –Garrett

What are the majors of amateur golf? –pakaufmann1 

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll stick to U.S.-based events. There are a number of international tournaments (The Amateur Championship, Masters of the Amateurs, etc.) that belong in the conversation as well.

In the U.S., you have to start with The U.S. Amateur and the Western Amateur. From there, it gets a bit subjective if you maintain the tradition of four majors. You could include the Azalea Invitational, the Trans-Mississippi Amateur, the Southern Amateur, the Jones Cup, the Sunnehanna Amateur, the Magnolia Amateur, the Porter Cup, the Dogwood Invitational, or even the NCAA Championship.

For my money, I’m going with the Trans-Mississippi Am and the Southern Am as the third and fourth amateur majors. Still, you could argue that all of the events I listed above are more or less equally prestigious and deserving. –Will

Best modern golf course architect many have never heard about? –joshfillman

Let’s assume that most golfers haven’t heard about any modern golf architects aside from Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, the Jones family, Coore & Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, and David McLay Kidd. (Maybe not a bulletproof assumption, but I’m going with it.) So while he is well known to Michiganders and internet golf geeks, Mike DeVries would be my pick. He has built great courses on difficult sites, great courses on great sites, and great courses on minimal budgets. Now that DeVries has formed a golf architecture supergroup with Mike Clayton and Frank Pont, I expect to see more work from him in the near future—an exciting prospect.

Today’s bench of talented young architects is remarkably deep. Jay Blasi, Mike Cocking, Blake Conant, Colton Craig, Kyle Franz, Andrew Green, Brett Hochstein, Riley Johns, Clyde Johnson, King-Collins, Jaeger Kovich, Angela Moser, Tyler Rae, Keith Rhebb, and Andy Staples—among many others—deserve more and better jobs. I’m not sure the industry is equipped to provide those opportunities right now, but you can always hope. –Garrett

Who does Violet like more? Mrs. Fried Egg or Andy? –jrowell7

Depends on who played ball with her last. –Andy