Five Questions with Punch Bowl Golf

Another good golf blog, Punch Bowl Golf, has hit the web, this one by Will Smith and Colin Sheehan, both actively interested and involved in golf design. They are spending a fair bit of time investigating some of the world’s best courses, both in text and pictures and in video. Well worth checking out.

In the meantime, we caught  up with Will Smith and asked him about the world of Punch Bowl Golf, whether he likes Old MacDonald, and who is the stronger architect — Tom Doak or Gil Hanse.

How the hell are you?

I am doing great. Since we launched the website a few weeks back, I have been in touch with a lot of people, both new acquaintances, and old friends who I had not heard from in a long time. The feedback has been wonderful and made us feel that we are really adding something to the discussion about golf course design, construction, and maintenance.

What should we know about Punch Bowl Golf?

 Well the website has been set up to allow Colin and me to share some of our experiences and insights. We have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, visit a lot of great courses, and meet a ton of fascinating people. Recently, we have been videoing some of our travels and editing them into short movies that we think will be interesting to the greater golfing public. We also hope to find other people’s videos from around the web and gather them onto our site, so that other people can access them easily without spending a lot of time surfing the net.
The website is a side project. Colin is the coach of the Yale golf team, while I have a background in golf course design and construction. I spent last summer working for Tom Lehman and Chris Brands building their course at the Prairie Club in Nebraska. Colin and I have also formed Punchbowl Golf Design, a full service design firm from which we hope to be able to create special, and unique golf courses.


You toured Old MacDonald a couple of months ago. A home run or a ground rule double?

Thats a tough question. First off, I am huge fan of C.B. Macdonald and the National Golf Links of America. I really developed my interest in golf architecture playing the Yale course during my undergraduate years and was blown away by NGLA (still my favorite course in the world). Having worked for many years with Tom Doak and Jim Urbina, and knowing how they respect the work of Macdonald, I was really excited to see Old Mac. After touring the course, I can definitively say that it is going to be a blast to play. In that regard, they capture the essence of the National, which always leaves you with a grin on your face.
    The large and wild greens at Old Mac are something to behold and rival some of the wilder stuff found at Yale and NGLA. I was a little concerned about the fact that there were few if any of the calm greens that Macdoanld in his writings claimed were essential to offset some of the crazier greens. I am going to have a great time chipping and putting around them and I hope the massive contour and breaks do not frustrate Mike Keisers retail golfer.
    The bunkers run the gamut of styles, from flat bottomed, to scrapes, to revetment. I saw them in February, at their most sterile and after the grasses grow up around them and the wind continues to work on them, they will appear more natural.
    While I was there the Renaissance team was finishing up the final few holes and if I had to make an assessment of whether its a ground rule double or a home run, I would say that Ricky Henderson is rounding third and is trying to leg out an inside the parker. Never bet against Ricky, because Ricky be Ricky.

Youve worked with the team from both Gil Hanses office and Tom Doaks office. Compare and contrast their respective abilities.

I have spent a lot more time with Renaissance Golf than with Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, so I dont have the same knowledge base for a true comparison. What I will say is that both groups really excel because of their attention to detail. At Old Macdonald in February, I walked a few holes with Tom and Jim, and it amazed me what Tom was noticing and remembering from his last trip there. For Tom and Gil, its not just about getting a tee or bunker in the right place, but rather the height and positioning of  a small bump in the approach that might propel or repel a run up shot. Its been a great experience to be able to spend time with both groups.
As for differences, I think Gil and Jim are more willing to take big gambles. This might be because they are often working on inferior sites and the big, bold feature is the solution they think will work best. I loved Boston Golf Club and think it is vastly underrated. I cant wait to get to Castle Stuart, having spent time with some of the Scottish crew that worked there this past summer in Valentine. The pictures are just stunning.

Whats the future hold for Punch Bowl Golf?

We will continue to produce and post videos on the website as our schedules allow. If anyone has videos that they think golfers would enjoy please contact us and we would love to host them. We also hope to feature some photos and written works by some of our friends in the golf business.
Now might be the worst time ever to start a golf course design firm, but that is exactly what we have done. We are not waiting around for our phones to ring but are out aggressively hunting for potential projects. Golf is not going anywhere and we hope to be there when things turnaround, building affordable, fun golf courses.
In the meantime, I am hoping to gain more experience this summer shaping or project managing, potentially overseas.

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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.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • and i should add… based on the tone of your 3rd Question, and your previous “review” of Old Mac, it sounds like you’re leaning more towards a double with a close play at second.. maybe even a long single?

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