Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Builder

"I generally talk about how many courses we have built, not how many I have designed." -- Tom Doak

Charles Blair Macdonald called himself a "golf architect" (he was the first to use the term).

A. W. Tillinghast advertised himself as "the Creator" of Baltusrol.

Tom Doak prefers to think of himself as a builder. He suggested to Mike Keiser that Old Macdonald could be presented as "a Macdonald design built by Jim (Urbina) and myself. Not codesigned, but built, which I still think of as a noble title."

The emphasis on building makes sense for a man who earned his stripes by working in the field. On nearly all his courses, Tom has spent at least some time aboard a machine, doing the actual shaping; and he's always expected his design associates to know the trade from the ground up. At Old Macdonald, he figured that he and Jim had a "much more experienced and polished construction team than Macdonald ever had and . . . we should not not give up everything we had learned about natural-looking construction over the past one hundred years."

Old Macdonald does appear to be far more natural-looking than the Macdonald courses I've seen. When I mentioned to Tom that many of Macdonald's greens seemed to have geometric shapes, unlike those at Old Macdonald, he pointed out what I had missed: "Many of the greens at Old Mac are geometric, but instead of reinforcing the square corners we tried ery hard to blur the edges and lines so that you don't notice it too much. Most of them are big, blocky greens where you have a hard time finding the corners."

I hope the photos are good enough to show the difference between a Macdonald hole and the Old Macdonald version. The upper photo is of the No. 9 at Yale, perhaps the most famous Biarritz hole that Macdoanld built; note the clean oval shape of the green, with the trough in the middle more or less bisecting the green.

Now look at the shot of No. 8 at Old Macdonald, a very different version of the Biarritz. The huge green seems to be a rectangle, though the edges are hard to find. And the trough sort of meanders like a creek across the green, shallower in some places than in others, its course anything but direct. This shot is taken from the back of the green.

Here the difference between the original hole and the Old Mac version speaks volumes about the spirit of this "tribute" course.

And while I'm thinking about Biarritz greens, I can't resist adding a photo of the other green at Bandon Dunes that -- to my mind -- qualifies as a Biarritz green. This is No. 5 at Bandon Trails, a deadly little beauty that usually requires no more than a wedge. But you'd better put it on the right level of this astounding green.

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