March 6, 2009
When reviewing a golf course architecture book appropriate for a coffee table, one doesn’t normally see too many references to the Cape Region’s golf courses.
It’s not because there’s anything inherently shabby or uninteresting about the local layouts. It’s just that there are thousands of courses throughout the world. The golf course designers and those who write about golf tend to look elsewhere when discussing this particular branch of landscape artistry.
It was all the more pleasant, therefore, to see at least a few passing references to Cape Region golf courses in a new book, Secrets of the Great Golf Course Architects (Skyhorse Publishing; $40 SRP).
Michael Patrick Shiels wrote the book in collaboration with the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Judging from the unusual format, Shiels obtained a short essay or anecdote from almost 120 designers about some aspect of their past experience in creating golf’s playgrounds all around the world.
Each contributor was given their own mini-chapter, usually accompanied by a photograph from one of their courses, or a snippet of a design drawing or two, to help the reader understand and appreciate the many factors that go into this particular creative process.
Those who enjoy looking at technical drawings, whether by an architect or engineer’s hand, will appreciate the dozens of these illustrations throughout the book.
The chapters also include short biographies of the architects, including their education, golfing background, and a sample or two of the courses they’ve designed during their careers.
Those mini-resumes are where the Cape Region references appeared, although unfortunately without any photographs or design sheets to help others appreciate how nice we have it here.
John Cope’s page, for example, notes that he worked on The Peninsula golf course, near Millsboro, as part of the Nicklaus design team responsible for that gem. Bryan Ault’s extensive body of work throughout the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere is summarized by only three layouts. Rehoboth Beach Country Club is one of them.
Rick Jacobson’s biographical section lists several more courses in his career summary, and the third one noted in his collection is the Bear Trap Dunes Course in Ocean View.
The only Delaware course to merit a photograph appears with David Whelchel’s chapter, a beautiful portrayal of the twelfth hole at Fieldstone Golf Club near Wilmington. There are a few other references to upstate courses, such as the DuPont Country Club, but otherwise that’s about it for the local angle.
On the other hand, considering what the architects often wrote about, perhaps that’s a good thing. Many of these designers developed a keen and memorable aversion to poisonous snakes, a deadly hazard in other parts of the world, but a complete non-factor around here.
After only a few of these anecdotes, the reader can certainly appreciate the need for the designers to put their boots on the ground as part of the initial stages of the design, as well as during course construction. I just don’t think we needed to hear so many stories of essentially the same kind.
The architects also touched on other themes common to their varied experiences, such as how often a promising project will be dropped, or the need to teach owners or developers some of the fundamentals of golf course creation. On the other hand, very few of these designers describe any significant details about how they go about meeting golfers’ needs for a challenging 18-hole layout.
Gary Panks’ chapter, “How to Spot Good Golf Course Design,” is a welcome exception. Panks explains why and how he comes up with a variety of lengths for his collections of par 3s, 4s, and 5s, and describes how the prevailing winds for a given property are worked into the design. For those whose previous interest in golf course architecture is nearly non-existent, this short essay is a very useful primer.
Although the book suffers a bit from the repetition, it should help golfers better appreciate all the work that goes into making their sport’s playing facilities so frequently challenging and enjoyable.