Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Week That Was, december 2, 2012

       The biggest, hottest controversy of the year -- one that involves an iconic golf course and an architect who’s spent his career studiously trying to avoid making waves -- erupted in figurative flames last week. I’m talking, of course, about the Old Course at St. Andrews and Martin Hawtree. The former is getting a facelift courtesy of the latter, an act that’s been compared to the Louvre drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. It’s not actually an apt comparison, but it suggests the heat of the passions that have been stirred. I’m not going to spell out the nitty-gritty of the makeover, as the changes have been well documented, but I do wish to note that the Royal & Ancient, the group that effectively controls the Old Course, didn’t announce the proposed overhaul until it was practically underway. A cynical observer would conclude that the group wanted to make the changes in secret, without interference from golf’s many stakeholders.
       The loudest protests against the R&A’s actions have come from the Golf Club Atlas wing of the design business, a group that treasures classic British links and minimalist design philosophies. Tom Doak, a regular contributor to the website’s free-ranging discussions, claimed to be “horrified” when he heard about Hawtree’s proposed modifications, and he’s gone public with his complaints. “I have felt for many years that the Old Course was sacred ground to golf architects,” he wrote in a letter to golf’s architectural societies. “It has been untouched architecturally since 1920, and I believe that it should remain so.”
       The R&A, a decaying institution if there ever was one, seems intent on fixing what isn’t broken and ignoring the true cause of what ails the Old Course. The tees and greens at today’s golf courses remain pretty much the way they’ve been for centuries. What’s changed is the amount of space between them and the equipment we use to get from the one to the other. The R&A seems to believe that we should continue to make the distances longer and allow for adjustments in the contours of greens and the placement of bunkers. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply tone down the equipment? “If the mandate of the game’s guardians is to act today with an eye toward the future,” Karen Crouse of the New York Times asks, “why aren’t they worried about the viability of courses that eclipse airfields in acreage to accommodate the new generation of golfers and golf technology?”
       It hardly needs to be said, but traditions are what we make of them. If the R&A wants to make changes at the Old Course to protect par at the Open Championship in 2015, it should outline its plans months in advance and let the debate begin. May the best arguments win. But the current debate will eventually pass, and for me a larger question remains: Is the R&A still an effective keeper of golf’s most venerable traditions? Because it’s hard to profess your love for golf’s history when you’re so callously willing to compromise it.

For the third time this year, the golf design business has lost a member. Robin Nelson has died due to complications related to ALS -- Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Nelson got started as an architect in the 1970s,

apprenticing with Robert Muir Graves and Ron Fream, and he eventually established his own firm with Neil Haworth. His work isn’t especially well-known on the U.S. mainland, mostly because he marketed his services primarily to clients in Hawaii and Asia. Darius Oliver of Golf Digest Australia identifies Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China as his best course, but Nelson also produced notable layouts in Bali, Guam, and the Philippines. He was 61.

The countdown has begun: The Streamsong resort in Fort Meade, Florida opens on December 21. This is the debut U.S. minimalists have been dreaming about, for Streamsong features a pair of 18-hole courses, one created by Tom Doak and the other by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It’s Bandon Dunes Southeast, or Cabot Links South. “At last,” writes a reviewer for the Golf Channel, “one of the country’s most golf-saturated states has a 36-hole facility suitable to the new era of throwback golf course architecture.” The courses have been laid out on property that may remind some of coastal Ireland, but the site is actually a happy accident created by phosphate miners commanding heavy equipment and dumping soil here, there, and everywhere. It makes you believe that a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years really could write the Great American Novel.

A rezoning application by Revelstoke Mountain Resort suggests that a planned golf course won’t be built anytime soon, if at all. The original master plan for the financially troubled mountain community, in one of the snowiest places in British Columbia, called for a Nick Faldo “signature” course that was to be co-designed by Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley. Faldo, who was to receive $1.2 million in design fees, sued the developers in 2010.

PGM Holdings is looking to create Japan’s biggest golf management company the old-fashioned way: By buying its main competitor. PGM, which operates 124 golf properties through its Pacific Golf Management subsidiary, appears to be closing in on the purchase of a controlling interest in Accordia Golf Company, which operates 132 properties. Neither company has commented for the record, but rumors of the takeover have boosted the value of Accordia’s stock to a 22-month high.

Progress continues on a long-discussed golf course in Buffalo, New York. Last week, an economic development group coughed up $290,000 for a feasibility study that will likely determine the course’s fate. “There are many nuances to consider,” an economic development official told Buffalo Business First. “This is not a black-and-white, build-it-or-not issue.” The course, presuming it pencils out, will be built on parts of two remediated landfills in the southern part of the city. If and when it opens, the city plans to close its long-suffering, nine-hole South Buffalo Golf Course.

The city of San Diego has approved a business plan that promises to ensure the financial future of its three golf courses. The new plan maintains current greens fees until July 2013, puts a cap on future price increases, and spells out renovations that will be made to the properties, notably to the North course at Torrey Pines.

In a magazine story about the predicted tourism boom in Nicaragua, the New York Times honed in on Carlos Pellas, who’s built a David McLay Kidd-designed golf course at his Guacalito de la Isla resort community. The upscale spread aims to put a new face on Nicaragua, which has an image problem stemming from its war-torn past and its impoverished present. “For me, it’s very difficult to see a country become a tourist destination without having a world-class resort,” Pellas told the newspaper. Kidd’s course, his first in Latin America, officially opens in February.

Pity those who achieve fame, for they are required to answer stupid questions. A case in point: Gil Hanse, the winner of the competition to design the golf course for Brazil’s Olympic Games, who’s now compelled to tell starry-eyed reporters the names of his favorite cities, his favorite bars, his favorite restaurants, his favorite hotels, his favorite things to do in Philadelphia, and his favorite ways to skin a cat. (Okay, I made up the one about the cats. But not the others.) There’s not much worth reading in Hanse’s recent interview with a Forbes-affiliated website, except maybe for this comment about the design of the golf course in Rio de Janeiro: “It’s probably going to be a combination of a links course -- very open, sandy, Scottish -- and then melding that with the Sand Belt landscape around Melbourne.”

1 comment:

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