Monday, April 16, 2012

The Week That Was, april 15, 2012

talking points The Coore of the Argument

The best golf courses, Bill Coore believes, bear a resemblance to the best songs, in that they reveal more of their complexity and depth during repeated play.

“It's like a really good essay or poem,” the Texas-based golf architect told the Wall Street Journal in a story published last week. “If you get all nuances the first time through, well, then it wasn’t very good.”

I’m not sure Coore would describe himself as a “minimalist,” but that’s what the Journal called him: a designer who believes that a golf course should, as the paper’s John Paul Newport puts it, “flow directly from the particular features of the landscape upon which it is built.”

Years ago -- back when Coore and his design partner, Ben Crenshaw, designed their celebrated course at Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska -- such back-to-nature attitudes seemed quaint and naive, applicable only at faultless sites where dirt hardly needs to be moved. But today, with money and water in short supply, Coore’s approach has become the prevailing style in golf design. Heck, these days Coore & Crenshaw -- along with Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, and other so-called minimalists -- are about the only golf architects who continue to work regularly.

I’m not one of those metaphysical people who rhapsodize about artists who can find bears hidden in blocks of wood or pieces of sandstone, and I always bristle when I hear a designer suggest that God surely must have laid out a landscape with golf in mind. (As Arnold Palmer once said about Tralee Golf Club in Ireland, “I designed the first nine, but surely God designed the back nine.”) If there really is a God, wouldn’t he (or she) find such conceits insulting?

That being said, it seems obvious to me that architects like Coore, who are determined to preserve the uniqueness of the properties they’ve been given, can potentially offer more to golf than architects who believe a site is merely raw material. If land really does tell a story or sing a song, a golf course should let us hear it. Wouldn’t it be nice if every golf course in the world expressed a distinctive sense of place?

“The human capability for imagination is vast,” Coore told the Journal, “but it’s nowhere near as vast as nature’s in terms of variety, randomness, and surprise.”

I can’t say why, exactly, but for some reason that sentence got me to thinking about Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio.

If we wanted to, we could literally build Wynn’s Shadow Creek Golf Club anywhere we’d like to, seeing as how it’s a completely artificial creation that bears only a passing relationship to the land upon which it was built. It’s the hand of man improving on the hand of God, who obviously didn’t intend for Wynn’s particular expanse of Las Vegas desert to become a golf course.

The question is, is Sand Hills inherently better than Shadow Creek?

I’m not talking about the quality of the golf experience. I’m talking about the process of its creation.

I once drove Robert Trent Jones, Jr. from downtown Washington, DC to Dulles airport, in the suburbs of northern Virginia. We talked about his work the whole way. At one point on the Dulles Toll Road, we passed a road construction site -- flattened, featureless property almost completely devoid of organic material. Jones quipped, “I’d design a golf course right here if somebody wanted me to.”

Of course he would, and I don’t begrudge his willingness to do so. Greatness comes in many shapes and styles, and it can be found in unexpected places. Sand Hills and Shadow Creek both have their admirers. When a golfer wants to have a good time, does he care if he’s been serviced by a “minimalist” or a “maximalist”?

Generally speaking, I prefer “natural” to “artificial.” But every golf course is a little of both, is it not?

italy KPMG’s Showtime in September

KPMG’s annual industry get-together is usually a springtime affair, but the ninth annual Golf Business Forum has been pushed back to the fall. The three-day event begins on September 17, 2012, at the Il Ciocco Tuscany Resort in Barga, Italy.

Why Italy? Well, KPMG believes that the Mediterranean region in general is ripe for golf development and that Italy in particular has undeniable upside.

But that being said, Andrea Sartori, the head of the firm’s golf advisory practice, clearly has mixed feelings about Italy’s potential. On the one hand, he says, “There is no doubt that Italy possesses all the key ingredients for the successful development of golf resorts and communities as well as stand-alone facilities.” On the other, “Obstacles have to be eliminated to encourage new golf and real estate projects.”

Sartori’s bottom line: “It is now a question of domestic and international economic recovery and the return of confidence of buyers and developers. I am fairly sure this will happen, but I cannot say when.”

My bottom line: At best, KPMG is offering a tepid endorsement of Italy’s golf-development prospects.

Lest I forget, the winner of this year’s lifetime achievement award is Dana Garmany, the CEO of Troon Golf. He’ll be on hand at the forum, presumably to talk about the future of golf in the Mediterranean.

. . . wild card clicks Love means never having to say you're sorry.