Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Year That Was, december 30, 2012

Stories of the Year  

Good as Gold. Fending off competition from a parade of household names, Gil Hanse won the year’s most coveted design commission: the $300,000 contract to design the golf course for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. His selection wasn’t merely a blow to the egos of the high-priced celebrity and “signature” architects who were left empty-handed -- the group included Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and Greg Norman -- but arguably a watershed moment in the history of golf design, for it signaled the official changing of the guard. The Olympics’ message was clear: The future of golf design has been turned over to a new generation.

The Great Scot. Even if it’s not “the world’s greatest golf course,” as it was so often promised to be, by all accounts Donald Trump’s long-awaited layout on Scotland’s fabulously wrinkled northeastern coast is destination worthy. Trump may be a blowhard and a publicity hound, but let’s call his success in Scotland what it is: A personal and professional triumph that cements his golf bona fides. Kisses should also be blown to architect Martin Hawtree, who stood up to Trump’s world-class pressure and produced a track worthy of hosting golf’s grandest professional tournaments. My question: Will Trump be awarded a big-time event in Scotland before he gets one in the United States?

What Becomes a Legend Most? Without question, the hottest controversy of 2012 was sparked by proposed “alterations” to the revered Old Course at St. Andrews. The design changes, which have been sanctioned by the Royal & Ancient to protect par at the Open Championship in 2015, elicited loud protests from Tom Doak, Ian Andrew, and other admirers of classic golf architecture, who claimed an injustice was being committed. Unfortunately, the protesters found few supporters among their peers. The R&A stood its ground, groups representing architects on both sides of the Atlantic boldly refused to voice an opinion, and the storm blew over in less than two weeks. In the end, the debate proved to be exactly what golf’s most powerful interests hoped it would be: Much ado about nothing.

Reason To Believe. This year, all the needles and gauges that measure the temperature of the U.S. golf business pointed up. Bloomberg concluded that our industry is “growing for the first time in five years,” the president of Nike’s golf division stated that 2012 “will probably be the strongest year since the recession,” and the National Golf Foundation predicted that we’ll end the year with “the largest single-year jump” in rounds played “since the turn of the century.” No doubt, many dark clouds continue to loom over golf’s horizons. Still, tomorrow night I’m popping a cork.

Ladies' Day. Golf will forever be a man’s world, but as time goes by, binders full of women may very well remember 2012 as the year when Augusta National Golf Club finally admitted female members. Yes, the club’s decision to welcome Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore was long overdue, and no, I don’t expect other men-only clubs to change their policies as a result of it. But barrels of ink were spilled covering this happy occasion, and that’s good for golf. In our business, progress is measured incrementally.

People of the Year

It was a busy and very productive year for Donald Trump. When he wasn’t pretending to run for president, the golf mogul and reality TV star opened his celebrated links in Scotland and gave the proverbial green light to the property’s second Martin Hawtree-designed track. In addition, Trump added (or agreed to add) three U.S. golf properties to his ever-growing portfolio: the world-famous Doral resort in Miami, Florida, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa in Jupiter, Florida, and Point Lake & Golf Club in Mooresville, North Carolina. Finally, Trump agreed to operate New York City’s forthcoming Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx. If he didn’t so often succumb to his buffoonish inclinations, Trump’s reputation in the golf business would be golden. That being said, people who don’t take him seriously do so at their own peril. He’s arguably the major player in our business.

If you’ve ever considered taking a golf vacation in Tasmania, the credit should probably go to Greg Ramsay. The island’s busiest, youngest, and most dedicated golf developer conceived and helped to build Barnbougle Dunes and has since then evangelized tirelessly for uncompromising seaside courses that exemplify Golden Age values. This year Ramsay unveiled a plan to build another destination-worthy course, this one along the island’s southern coast, and got involved in a venture to revive Solis, a dormant golf community on the island’s eastern coast. He’s also working with Bicheno Golf Club to add nine holes to its existing nine, and he’s signed on as a consultant to Claremont Golf Club, which will soon undergo a massive redesign. If he keeps up like this, it’s going to be impossible for devotees of links golf to keep Tasmania off their bucket lists.

Gary Player likes to brag that he’s the world’s most traveled athlete -- 15 million air miles and counting -- and these days, at the age of 77, he doesn’t appear to be cutting back on his travels. He has courses under construction in South Carolina, in India, and in Honduras, and he expects to soon break ground on others in India, Italy, Morocco, Montenegro, and Gabon. Such work loads are, of course, typical for “signature” designers, at least in good times. What makes Player unique -- and increasingly relevant to our age -- is his advocacy for environmentally sensible design and his outspoken commitment to responsible development practices. Few other architects have a corporate philosophy that goes like this: “We will not knowingly accept projects that are environmentally irresponsible, damage ecosystems without remediation, illegally displace people from their homes, follow unethical methods to gain project approvals, exercise unfair, unsafe, or discriminatory labor practices, or generally infringe on basic human rights.” If you’ve ever wondered why Player doesn’t win more commissions, maybe now you know why.

The Debuts: Minimalist Maximus

This was a year minimalists have been dreaming about, because three of 2012’s most anticipated new golf venues -- I’m not including Trump’s aforementioned track in Scotland -- were designed by people with dirt on their hands and mud on their boots. In fact, you could call 2012 an all-star year for the Golf Club Atlas all-stars, in particular the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The Texas-based duo produced one of the two 18-hole, links-like layouts at the Streamsong resort in Florida (Tom Doak designed the other) and one called Shanqin Bay on Hainan Island that Darius Oliver of Australian Golf Digest says is “the best golf course in China right now.” Rod Whitman got a major career boost when Cabot Links, along the coast of Nova Scotia, was acclaimed as Canada’s course of the year, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that Coore & Crenshaw have been tapped to design the second course at Cabot Links.

Good Deed of the Year

When Oakhurst Links was desperately searching for a white knight, Jim Justice drew his sword. The billionaire farmer and coal mogul wrote a check that saved the 128-year-old course in West Virginia from almost certain extinction, preserving an important piece golf’s history when others would not. Not to be trite about it, but Justice was done. The purchase was further proof that, sartorially speaking, nothing wears as well as a financial suit of armor.

May They Rest in Peace

The design wing of our business lost five members in 2012. The grand old men of the group were Geoffrey Cornish and K. D. Bagga, both of whom truly “grew the game” and left important legacies. Cornish made an enduring contribution as the co-author (with Ron Whitten) of two invaluable reference books on design, The Golf Course and The Architects of Golf. Bagga, an Indian architect, had dedicated the final 20 or so years of his life to the mostly thankless task of designing and building what he called “affordable, easily sustainable, and more accessible golf courses for the masses.” Our business also lost John Harbottle, one of the best-known architects in the Pacific Northwest, who aimed to create what he once described as “natural-looking golf courses with a links touch”; Alan Blalock, an architect from Alabama who collaborated with Glen Day and Hubert Green; and Robin Nelson, who lived in California but worked mostly in Hawaii and Asia. I encourage you to learn more about all of them and to celebrate their lives.

1 comment:

  1. I have fallen in love with Golf and Skopje Macedonia and do not have the money to start golf but certainly believe there is someone that would like to be the person who has their name in history as the founder of golf in macedonia. There is none at the present time and its been 20 years plus since they became a seperate state as FYROM. Help this country get the game started for everybodies sake, especially the young who are not even being taught in the schools at all up to now. The state is not reconizing golf without outside intervention and help. Thank You Vernon Fisher and american with a wife who is Macedonian but have to drive to another country to play a round of golf now for 15 years already.