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It’s almost Masters time and my favorite used book store had an appropriate new arrival that I snagged for a few bucks: The Masters, Profile of a  Tournament by Dawson Taylor (1973).  The bulk of this book consists of a series of tournament summaries (one for every Masters from 1934 to 1972) but there are some gems in the introductory section as well.  It’s there that the author chose to reprint an article from the book Golf Is My Game by Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. (1959) which offers some great insight into Jones’ thought process at the time of Augusta National’s inception and his design collaboration with Dr. Alister Mackenzie.  What stuck with me was the emphasis on fun and variety shared by both Jones and Mackenzie and the desire to construct a course that could facilitate competitive golf at the highest level without losing sight of the needs of its everyday golfers.

In Gil Hanse’s recent Q&A with PGT friend Rod Morri, Hanse described a similar design philosophy and even quoted Mackenzie’s desire to achieve “the most enjoyment for the greatest number.”  Another interesting parallel was Jones’ proclamation that “no man learns to design a golf course simply by playing golf, no matter how well” – particularly fitting considering Hanse was up against Player, Nicklaus, and Thomson for the Rio Olympic design bid.  We can only hope that the choice of Hanse as Olympic architect, along with a growing awareness and respect for fellow “minimalists” Tom Doak and Bill Coore indicate the beginning of the end for penal, “Championship”  style layouts in which the course can become one dimensional and virtually unplayable under certain weather conditions.

Here’s a portion of the article, entitled: Jones on the Design of the Course


In this view, of course, the all-important thing was to be the golf course, I shall never forget my first visit to the property which is now the Augusta National. The long lane of magnolias through which we approached was beautiful.  The old manor house with its cupola and walls of masonry two feet thick was charming.  The rare trees and shrubs of the old nursery were enchanting.  But when I walked out on the grass terrace under the big trees behind the house and looked down over the property, the experience was unforgettable.  It seemed that this land had been lying here for years just waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it.  Indeed, it even looked as though it were already a golf course, and I am sure that one standing today where I stood on this first visit, on the terrace overlooking the practice putting green, sees the property almost exactly as I saw it then.  The grass of the fairways and greens is greener, of course, and some of the pines are a bit larger but the broad expanse of the main body of the property lay at my feet then just as it does now.

I still like to sit on this terrace, and can do so for hours at a time, enjoying the beauty of this panorama.

With this sort of land, of a soft, gentle rather than spectacular beauty, it was especially appropriate that we chose Dr. Alister Mackenzie to design our course.  For it was essential to our requirements that we build a course within the capacity of the average golfer to enjoy.  This did not mean that the design would be insipid, for our players were expected to be sophisticated.  The would demand interesting, lively golf, but would not endure a course which kept them constantly straining for distance and playing out of the sand.

There was much conversation at the time to the effect that Mackenzie and I expected to reproduce in their entirety holes of famous courses around the world where I had played in competitions.  This was, at best, a bit naive, because to do such a thing, we would have had literally to alter the face of the earth.  It was to be expected, of course, that the new layout would be strongly influcened by holes which either Mackenzie or I had admired, but it was only possible that we should have certain features of these holes in mind and attempt to adapt them to the terrain with which we were working.

I think Mackenzie and I managed to work as a completely sympathetic team.  Of course, there was never any question that he was the architect and I his adviser and consultant.  No man learns to design a golf course simply by playing golf, no matter how well.  But it happened that both of us were extravagant admirers of the Old Course at St. Andrews and we both desired as much as possible to simulate seaside conditions insofar as the differences in turf and terrain would allow.

Mackenzie was very fond of expressing his creed as a golf-course architect by saying that he tried to build courses for the “most enjoyment for the greatest number.”  This happened to coincide completely with my own view.  It had seemed to me that too many courses I had seen had been constructed with an eye to difficulty alone, and that in the effort to construct an exacting course which would thwart the expert, the average golfer who paid the bills was entirely overlooked.  Too often the worth of a layout seemed to be measured by how successfully it had withstood the efforts of professionals to better its par or to lower its record.

The first purpose of any golf course should be to give pleasure, and that to the greatest possible number of players, without respect to their capabilities.  As far as possible, there should be presented to each golfer an interesting problem which will test him without being so impossibly difficult that he will have little chance of success.  There must be something to do, but that something must always be within the realm of reasonable accomplishment.

From the standpoint of the inexpert player, there is nothing so disheartening as the appearance of a carry which is beyond his best effort and which offers no alternative route.  In such a situation, there is nothing for the golfer to do, for he is given no opportunity to overcome his deficiency in length either by accuracy or judgement.

With respect to the employment of hazards off the tee and through the green, the doctor and I agreed that two things were essential.  First, there must be a way for those unwilling to attempt the carry; and second, there must be a definite reward awaiting the man who makes it.  Without the alternative route the situation is unfair.  Without the reward it is meaningless.

There are two ways of widening the gap between a good tee shot and a bad one.  One is to inflict a severe and immediate punishment on a bad shot, to place it perpetrator in a bunker or in some other trouble which will demand the sacrifice of a s stroke in recovering.  The other is to reward the good shot by making the second shot simpler in proportion to the excellence of the first.  The reward may be of any nature, but it is more commonly one of four-a better view of the green, an easier angle from which to attack a slope, an open approach past guarding hazards, or even a better run to the tee shot itself.  But the elimination of purely punitive hazards provides an opportunity for the player to retrieve his situation by an exceptional second shot.

A course constructed with these principles in view must be interesting, because it will offer problems which a man may attempt according to his ability.  It will never become hopeless for the duffer, nor fail to concern and interest the expert.  And it will be found, like old St. Andrews, to become more delightful the more it is studied and played.


And the Hanse interview with Rod Morri and Geoff Shackelford:

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