Course Evolutions Histories

“Few people who golf over finely-turfed courses give a thought cozncerning the original condition of the land or the patient labor (often hardships) which went hand in hand with the reclaiming of 
the jungle, swamp forest or rocky glade.” 
A.W. Tillinghast, 1924

Golf architecture is the most misunderstood aspect of the game. The vast majority of players, including many who are accomplished in their skills, if they toured a course with the original designer, would not be able to understand and explain why he chose to build what he envisioned when he first looked on the barren property. The course challenges, its risks vs. rewards, routing, hazard locations, green shapes, or other specific design features were seen and planned for by the architect, yet without either a strong background in course design or a long-time study of the discipline or architect, most could only appreciate these from the aspect of how they play the game. Still, the longer a golf course has been evolving, many changes are often initiated, from mild to severe, that change the nature of specific features or holes directly away from
Golf Course Evolution Histories
Why do an evolution history of your golf course?

      As the times have changed, so has the game of golf and with it the courses upon which it is played. When one considers the technological advances made in the equipment now used, the average player being in better physical condition and staying that way longer during his or her life and that they also take the game up and receive individualized instruction in it at a much earlier age than those in the past, it should come as no surprise to learn that golf is played in a much different manner now.
      How does this affect the evolution of a golf course? A 325-yard hole on a course designed in 1900 would have been considered one of medium length requiring two well-struck shots to find the putting surface. Today, if not a single change had been made to it during the intervening years, that same hole is now considered drivable by most accomplished players. 
      Since time and technology change the way a course is played, it naturally means that the course no longer plays as it was originally designed to do by the architect. Why does this matter? Let me illustrate with a painting.
      Imagine if you had bought a painting by a famous artist, say DaVinci. Through the years you’ve enjoyed it a great deal but now you notice that it has gotten dirty and dingy; in other words it needs a restoration. Don’t you think it would be important that you trust the work to someone who is deeply familiar with his work and understands how DaVinci used his brushes and blended his colors? When it comes to a golf course then, you want anyone who works on it to be intimately familiar with both the design philosophies of the original architect, and most important of all, with the how’s and why’s he put these into practice in the specific design of your course. Unless there is a specific record of exactly what work and changes were made to the course through the years, it makes the likelihood that a restoration of or renovations to the course will reflect the original architect’s vision. That is why so many clubs spend far more than they ever planned to in the year’s following the work that was done because so many are dissatisfies with the results. Some courses actually end up redoing the work several times at the cost of many millions of dollars. So much of that could have been avoided if serious research was conducted and a true course evolution history of the golf course was created.

What Information Should Be in a Course Evolution History?

      It is our opinion that there are a number of different aspects that make for a complete and properly detailed course evolution history report. These are:

1.	A timeline beginning with when the course was originally designed. This timeline should include every aspect of change to the course. This is more than just what architects did work and how tees, hazards and greens changed. For example, were a number of trees donated by a well-meaning member or guest? Not only does the planting of trees affect the long-term health of the turf on the course, they also change the nature of how the individual holes play as they grow in height and breadth. It should also include any changes in maintenance practices that would impact that would change the way the course plays. For example, what if the original architect designed his greens with bunkers tightly “tucked into” the putting surfaces. By changing mowing patterns, the edge of the green might unknowingly “shrink” away from where it was intended to be. This effects the hole by reducing the number of viable hole locations and creating more internal wear on them. It also changes where the optimal approach shot play locations are out in the fairway. Even a simple thing such as deciding to save on maintenance costs by no longer cutting the grass in front of bunkers at fairway height changes how one plays the hole. So this timeline needs to be complete both in architectural history but also maintenance as well.

2.	A short but detailed history of each architect who worked on the course and what changes were specifically made through the years. This should include as much information as to the WHY’S that the changes were made as possible. For example, having a hole lengthened by 40 yards is one thing, but pointing out that the new tee box was placed 15 yards to the right of the line to where the old tee box was originally located. When it is understood that the reason for making this change was to bring back into play certain bunkers or accentuate a dog-leg long-ago impacted by tree growth, it provides a better understanding on how to maintain it into the future.

3.	A separate timeline for each individual hole of the work done to them. This may seem redundant, but it allows easy access for Board members, Green Committee members and especially for your Course Superintendent, when specific questions are asked and answers needed. 

4.	A section containing as many photographs, even those that are little more than snapshots taken by members for themselves as can be found. It surprises most clubs when a decision is made to do restoration or renovation work to their course how having period photographs that trace a hole’s evolution through the years makes the details of the work that needs to be done almost painfully obvious. It also allows for better working relationships between Board’s, course Superintendents, Architects and the Contractors actually doing the work. This, in turn, can save the Club a good deal of money that would otherwise be spent on the project.

      There are a number of other details and suggestion that we at Golden Age Research are pleased to make. To help you, we’ve prepared a booklet titled, “What Makes a Good Course Evolution History?” If you would like a copy please make a request for one through our contact page. We’d be pleased to send you one.

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