(above) Scarboro’s No. 2 with trees removed, and bunkers restored
Last week I took the opportunity to wander around Scarboro Golf & CC, where Ian Andrew and Gil Hanse are in the midst of implementing a significant restorative plan on the AW Tillinghast design.
It hasn’t been without its detractors. Members have told me there was a real split among the club’s membership as to whether a restoration should be undertaken, or whether the club should continue with designer Graham Cooke, who appeared to have little sensitivity to the history of the design. In the end, Hanse and Andrew won out (their first collaboration) and began a program to reconfigure the bunkers in a grassed down style often used by Tillinghast, as well as removing trees, regrassing fairway lines and generally trying to embrace a style that more closely resembles the course 90 years ago.
The bunkers, as mentioned are probably the most extreme change, with banks made steeper, in turn making the bunkers look deeper. It is a bold change since many would have used the bunker style employed by Tillinghast at places like Winged Foot, where giant flashes of sand create a dramatic look. But that’s not what was at Scarboro, so the designers aimed to recreate the initial aesthetic look.
The work is intriguing. The first hole now has a “grass” Sahara, a feature often used on Tillinghast courses, and with fairway bunkers established and the Sahara shaped, a mundane opener has certainly been reworked into a hole that offers more visual appeal and challenge. I don’t know about the Sahara concept yet — it wasn’t grassed when I was there, and still strikes me as odd looking. It is a completely manufactured element, but one common to Tillinghast’s work, though there’s no suggestion it was on the course previously.
The second hole’s bunkers (see first photo) have been reworked and several trees on the right side that grew out of the ravine have been removed, significantly opening up the hole and bringing back original shot values. It is a huge improvement. Grassing lines and bunkering has changed on #3, though it would be even better if someone would take an axe to the tree in the middle of the fairway.
(above) Scarboro’s No. 3 hole, with changes to fairway grassing, bunkers
There are elements I’m not sure of — like the Sahara. Additionally the fairway bunker just short of the #5 green strikes me as unnecessary on a hole that was already difficult, and my understanding is there is no evidence to suggest a bunker was there.
In the end, is Scarboro a restoration? Sort of. It certainly follows the evidence as far as bunker look and bunker lines. However, certain liberties have been taken, though they are done in the style of Tillinghast. This is not a pure restoration. It uses a restorative style, but adds features that have been created to continue the Tillinghast look. It is a huge improvement for the course, however, and one of the few jobs in Canada where a true restorative approach has been taken.
Why haven’t we seen this more often? Hard to say. In Canada, we appear to want to modernize, not restore. In some instances (Mississaugua G&CC, Rosedale), there’s been such a mess left by a handful of consulting designers that an architect has been brought in to finally make it all cohesive. But I wouldn’t call either John Fought’s job at Rosedale, or Doug Carrick’s work at Mississaugua “restoration.” They are both based on historical conjecture, that in some instances ignores the history of the course altogether.
Is restoring courses the best approach? I don’t think that’s always the case. But more often than not, tinkering by modern architects has hurt more than its helped.