During my rounds of golf, I’ve noticed that I am usually the only one in my group that is more focused on the golf
course we are playing than the match that is being played. You see, my passion is for golf courses and golf
course architecture more so than trying to beat someone in a match. However, almost everyone else is focused
on winning the match. When bad breaks occur and/or bad bounces take place I hear my playing partners
announce, “That was unfair!” To which I always respond with the famous Pete Dye quote, “Golf isn’t a fair game.
Why build a fair golf course?”
But somewhere in the back of my mind, I always thought there had to be others like me; there had to be a big
group of people that understood the value of the random bounce, the odd kick, and the magic of finding the
subtle nuances in a golf course. Alas, the happenings of the last few days have formally shattered my hopes for
mass enlightenment regarding the love and understanding of golf course architecture.
It was announced just a few days ago that the R&A and The Links Trust are moving forward with changes to The
Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. The famous Eden green’s contours are being flattened to create more
pinnable areas, because the degree of slope in that green creates an area that is “unfair” to pin. For the last
600 years, the green was perfectly acceptable. But now, the Stewards of the most iconic golf course in the world
think this green and its contours need to be changed. There are numerous other changes taking place on The
Old Course as well, including The Road Hole bunker being “improved”.
To be frank, this makes me sick and angry. But when I step back from the emotion and frustration, I see the
facts. The majority of golfers in the world don’t value the same things that I value. In fact, there was an argument
that took place in the late 1920 and early 1930’s between world renowned golf architect, Alister Mackenzie, and
golfer/critic, Joshua Crane. The gist of the argument was about golf courses and how they should be built and
maintained. Crane’s main argument was that golf courses should be “fair and equitable”, while Mackenzie
argued that golf courses should embrace the spirit of adventure that true sportsmen can appreciate. Studying
the world’s most highly regarded golf courses shows, without a doubt, that Alister Mackenzie was/is correct, as
many of his golf courses are considered the very best in the world. These highly regarded courses include;
Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne.
Taking this a step further, what course did Alister Mackenzie adore? The Old Course at St. Andrews. What
course was the focus of Dr. Mackenzie book? The Old Course at St. Andrews. What course is rated at the very
tipity-top of the “World’s Greatest Courses” and has been since these types of lists were created? The Old
Course at St. Andrews. And, appropriately enough, what course scored the lowest on Joshua Crane’s “Fair and
Equitable” list? The Old Course at St. Andrews.
So, why in the world would anyone want to make changes to the golf course? The only answer can be that the
same flawed mentality that overcame Joshua Crane is/has taken over the current Stewards of our great game.
Perhaps the historical precedent of The Old Course as a tournament venue for The Open Championship is
driving them to flatten many of the amazing contours and undulations to appease the players and managers of
the PGA Tour in an effort to ensure they will still use the course for that purpose. If that is the case, which I
suspect it is, I am even more disappointed with the Stewards of the professional game of golf, the R&A and the
USGA, for not controlling the rapid and absurd pace of technological change in the equipment that the golfers
are allowed to use. You see, it is these Rocketballz-type drivers and 3 woods and the ultra-scientifically
engineered ProV1-type of golf balls that have forced many of the classic golf courses to lengthen their courses
and alter their hazards to still host the pros at their courses. And now with the “improvements” in maintenance
standards that allow greens to be stimped at ludicrous speeds, the contours on the greens at some of the world’s
greatest classic courses are having to be dumbed down because at such high speeds they are no longer “fair.”
With the marketing dollars behind the professional tours, they are able to advertise heavily and brainwash the
golfing masses into supporting their style of game, which is synonymous with the game Joshua Crane supported.
And now I realize, I cannot fight this and in the end I will lose this War. And over time many of the once great
courses will fall victim to the mass marketing and brainwashing of the powers that be and, in turn, they will alter
their course’s design in order to continually host the pros.
Nevertheless, there still are a few bastions of sanity within the golfing world. They are the golf courses that have
rejected the idea of hosting the top professionals and elected instead to serve solely their members. By doing
so, they’ve been able to have their golf courses remain free from the “fair and equitable” non-sense that Crane
espoused and, instead, they can focus on the adventurous spirit of the game that the great Alister Mackenzie so
dearly loved. And these are the golf courses I will seek out to play as they understand what the true nature of
Golf is all about.
Perhaps these few remaining unadulterated courses and newer adventurous gems can serve as a reminder of
what once was until sanity is restored and the game returns to it true roots and sporting spirit.
The Golf Club
The National Golf Links of America
It may be sad that some of our gems are disappearing, but we need to enjoy and appreciate what is still left and
what good new stuff is being built. As it certainly appears, it is just a matter of time until they all vanish.