Golf by Design: Frankenstein

It had been a while since I visited, the [photopress:frankenstein_1.jpg,full,alignright]site of the new Boris Danoff design near Carlisle, Ontario. I first read about this in an article by Garry McKay, the able golf writer at the Hamilton Spectator. The concept was straight forward — when a developer can’t figure out what the golfing public wants, they turn to the Internet and ask a bunch of people for their opinions. By and large these opinions are like an appendix — nearly everyone has one and they aren’t worth a damn.
Anyway, the site now has a “survey” questioning golfers on what they want to see on their new course when it opens. This is interesting because the site already says a great deal about the course:

Course Design
The course will be a traditional style course built in the Stanley Thompson¬Ě style. There will be minimal movement of dirt as we will try to use the natural lay of the land as much as possible.
The course will be a full championship course that will stretch to over 7,200 yards from the tips. All fairways and greens will be bent grass with blue grass rough. There will be four sets of tees blocks to cater to all levels of golfers. State of the art computerized irrigation systems will maintain the course to the high expectation of a world class championship course. All cart paths will be paved and all bunkers will have the finest quality sand.
The overall concept of the course is to be enjoyable to all levels of golfers.

Strangley, the architect chosen to fulfill this Stanley Thompson dream? Boris Danoff, the man behind the much maligned Thundering Waters in Niagara Falls and the equally awful Royal Ontario near Milton. These are courses without a distinct character — unless you consider mirrored par fives (9 and 18) on Royal Ontario character. And what do they mean by “Stanley Thompson style” anyway? There’s no indication the architect they’ve selected for the job can pull off anything like a Thompson routing. Rod Whitman, maybe. Danoff? I can’t see it happening.

Anyway, the survey slayed me. Here are the highlights one can chose from in the survey:

I like a lot of bunkers
Some bunkers are okay
I hate bunkers

“I hate bunkers?” What does that even mean? Isn’t there room for an option which says judicious use of strategic bunkers might be a good idea? But the good questions keep coming:

Bunkers should be designed so that they are easy to play out of
Bunkers should entail moderate difficulty to get out of
Bunkers should be like jail – you must pay your stroke penalty to get out

What about the notion that bunkers should be varied — some deep and strategic, some simply there to catch wayward shots. That’s a notion deeply routed in Stanley Thompson’s philosophy on some courses. At Thornhill, for example, Thompson used waste bunkers on some holes to keep balls from rolling into a wooded valley. But on other spots the bunkers are deep and nasty. There’s no single option here.
This one kills me as well:

I love island greens
I hate island greens

Where is the course that Stanley Thompson built an island green? And considering there’s already a routing posted on the website, there’s not a single island green to be found. What a shame. Why not hire Ian Andrew — he won’t build you an island green or a double green. Prejudiced against defenseless island greens. What a bastard.
Oh, and then there’s this:

The golf course should be 7,200 yards plus
Between 6,900 and 7,100 yards is fine for me
I seldom play tees over 6,500 yards

That, despite the fact under “site design” on the website it says this:
The course will be a full championship course that will stretch to over 7,200 yards from the tips.
At its worst, a golfer could create a pretty strange golf course from the list of questions. My picks, for example, would have created a 7,200 yard plus course, with blue grass fairways, no bunkers (I chose the “I hate bunkers,” option and am having t-shirts made with the slogan), but the bunkers that are there should have bad sand. There should be numerous island greens with flat putting surfaces; hard par threes and a lot of long par fours, and no reachable fives unless “your name is Tiger.” On the administration side I don’t want to see a single marshal, I embrace slow rounds and ghastly large clubhouse facilities, but I don’t ever want to get bumped by a tournament. Oh, and I’ll be accepting of bad food as part of a facility, but I’m not down with those damned kids, can’t use a computer and think this Internet thing is a fad. Like The Beatles, it’ll surely disappear.
Sounding attractive yet? If you input the right answers, you too can create the Frankenstein of golf. Now I want to see Danoff create a course with those design factors. I double dog dare him.
In the end, I think the exercise is an intriguing democratic idea. But like many democratic ideas, it is deeply, deeply flawed to the point of not being practical or functional. I’d put money on it that not one element of these surveys is used by Danoff in construction of his course. This is a marketing exercise — plain and simple. It is too bad the developer behind the project, Bryan DeChunha, hasn’t come to the realization that great golf comes from having a singular vision of what makes a great golf course. I’ll give the owner credit for having the energy and imagination to try something different — too bad that energy wasn’t put into hiring an interesting designer who could develop his own concept of intriguing golf. Not everyone can be the late Mike Strantz, but there are others in the mould.
On the other hand, marginal, middle-on-the-road golf comes from Internet surveys.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • this is my favourite part, from the “Ask the EXPERT” section:

    Will there be a lot of fescue on the course?

    We plan to have little or no fescue grasses on the course. In our experience fescue is asthetically pleasing but is one of the major causes of slow play.

  • GD: No issue with bluegrass — it was just one of the silly questions (bent or blue?). I was just stringing things together to demonstrate who ridiculous the concept is.
    The Raven at Lora Bay used blue grass and I found it quite appealing actually…

  • They must have used a similar survey when they were designing the Lionhead Legends course- i just don’t recall any back to back island par 3s though.

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