Golf Course Design

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With the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament in full swing, we take a look at the art of golf course design with Forrest Richardson, a golf course architect.

Ted Simons: With the waste management Phoenix open underway we revisit a conversation with golf course architect Forrest Richardson about the art of golf course design. Good to see you and thanks for joining us. We talk about the art of golf, and there is an art involved, isn't there?

Forrest Richardson: There is, there is art and science, and there is also the game. So, it's really three elements, but the art is an important part of it.

Ted Simons: And I know you described it as golf, it's a sculpture, like a massive sculpture.

Forrest Richardson: It is. And most people see one hole at a time, in an airplane, you can be 30,00 feet 20,000, feet and you could see the course but most people don't appreciate it that way, what I do, I have to look at it that way and the individual whole.

Ted Simons: How do you do that? Let's say you have a plot of land, I want a bunker here. How do you do that?

Forrest Richardson: I wish it were that easy, and it can be sometimes if you have the right site but, it all begins with the land. And appreciating what the land has to offer. Many of our modern golf courses didn't have, you know, they were not built on the beautiful, you know, fields of Scotland so we have had to create in the last, you know, generation of golf courses, the interest so the TPC course is an example of a completely man made environment, but, nonetheless, one that's very beautiful and has a lot of, has, you know, spectator opportunity.

Ted Simons: Sure. And so, when you, when you design it, you can see from the ground, you could see the fairway from -- you could see, you could see from the ground, you can kind of see overhead how it looks? Can you get that in your mind? Do you have to draw it out? How does it work?

Forrest Richardson: We spend a lot of time on the land. We spend time with the mapping, the top graphical maps and the aerial photos, and so it is a combination of things, but, in the end, it's all about trying to make it fit the, not only the land, but also, fit the region and the culture, so a golf course, for instance, in Phoenix is a lot different, as most people know, from a golf course in Minnesota, or one in Mexico or in Europe.

Ted Simons: And also, fit, fits the ability of, I would think, your average golfer, because for a time, they were building courses that were ridiculously difficult.

Forrest Richardson: The game is supposed to be fun. And this is something that, that we say all the time and that probably has turned people away from golf, the fact that we made courses too hard. So the best thing is to come out of it with a golf course that challenges the best players, but is really enjoyable for the casual golfer.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the history of golf, and we have photos here, including the first one which shows what the first golf course design architect looked at.

Forrest Richardson: That's in Scotland, and that is a golf course that, in the last few years, has been rediscovered, it was closed during World War II, and it is just a beautiful course that, that literally were, was reminiscent of the way that, golf courses would have been in the 1600, you know, the s and whatever.

Ted Simons: And now we have St. Andrews is next, the old course.

Forrest Richardson: Yes.

Ted Simons: And that's what people think of.

Forrest Richardson: And that's really where the first seed of golf course design was born in the late 1700s, they decided to change the old course from holes 22 to 18. And no one knows why. It could have been slow play or the town was growing, but that was the time when all of a sudden, the hand print of man was, was, was brought to golf courses.

Ted Simons: And you talk about the hand print, the next photo shows the golf courses in some respects were close to buildings and towns and roads and the whole nine yards.

Forrest Richardson: They were like the greatest ski lodge and resort you could imagine, you finished golf and you were right there at the pub and the restaurant and where you spent your time. But, what happened is when golf came to the United States, in America, in the late 1800s, we did not really know what they were supposed to look like. So, the, my predecessors, the people that started designing courses would create these manufactured looks, so Oakmont in Pennsylvania is an example of an archaic looking golf course, not a lot natural about it. A lot of man made features.

Ted Simons: Yeah, that does not look normal.

Forrest Richardson: Those are the famous church pew bunkers.

Ted Simons: The next one is Robert Trent Jones? He's known, he's the Forrest Richardson of golf course design.

Forrest Richardson: Mr. Jones, Trent as we called him, he has two sons that now carried on his work, Reese and Bobby, but, the Wigwams, which is this picture, very typical of the post-world War II golf being built everywhere in the United States. Firestone. The Wigwam, and the 60s and 70s were rich with build more, build more.

Ted Simons: And signature courses meaning people know by certain details who --

Forrest Richardson: Mr. Jones coined the phrase of a signature golf course, and he said, hard parse, easy bogeys, so that's another one.

Ted Simons: Yeah, right. And we have a, a picture here of the seventh hole at stone harbor, and this looks like another signature Par 3 hole.

Forrest Richardson: Desmond was one of the truly right brain out there thinking gentlemen in golf course design, and in the 80s, Desmond created these really wild symbolistic courses, and he did a lot of them in Indonesia and Japan, but a few in the United States, and unfortunately, stone harbor doesn't survive all of the work that he did there, has been tamed down, but nonetheless, it was a time in golf course design when, when the art was really brought to a completely different level.

Ted Simons: And when you see the sod grass, that's the one that --

Forrest Richardson: Pete and Alice Dye and that's what really was the, the precursor to the TPC course in Scottsdale where we were creating courses for spectators.

Ted Simons: Let's look at some of your courses starting with the Arizona Grand. Now, when you designed this course, you got -- you got such a beautiful scenery to work with. How -- first of all, what do you try to emphasize on a course like this, and secondly, how do you keep it from standing out like a sore thumb in the beautiful desert environment?

Forrest Richardson: Well, it was a tough assignment. It was very controversial because we were using land that was adjoining and in the Phoenix mountain preserve, but, it turned out to be a win-win because we created a new habitat for the parks, so the exchange of land brought more land to the park, but, it's really all about integrating it with the land, and taking advantage of the great views and taking advantage of the terrain and, and making it feel like it's been there for 100 years.

Ted Simons: Got the hideout in Utah, same thing, only, the high country here. Is it easier?

Forrest Richardson: It is more difficult because you have a shorter growing season and other constraints. Again, the idea is to really fit the land to the golf and have the golfer feel they are in an environment like when people see pebble beach on TV, where they see any famous golf course, it's all about the land.

Ted Simons: And Las Palomos, you have the wind down there, and this is like a links' course down there.

Forrest Richardson: It's a links' course, and that particular hole, there was virtually nothing done to it, so it wasn't so much about designing, but going back to the very first slide, where the -- where the golf course was found and discovered, as opposed to being created.

Ted Simons: Last, we have a minute here, critics say golf courses, they say golf courses waste water, there is too many of them out there, they are a poor use of land, leave things in the natural state, what do you say?

Forrest Richardson: To some degree those are fair comments. However, most golf courses, not all of them, but most use reclaimed water, in Hawaii when we build them, they want us to -- they put more turf in because the land is so porous that having the reclaimed water filtered by the plant is a positive thing, and then most golf courses, anywhere, are serving a purpose of open space. They are serving for drainage, and, you know, a golf course has enough oxygen produced to maintain a city of about 100,000 people. So, golf courses are sustainable open space, and if they are designed properly and built properly, they can be terrific neighbors to a community.

Ted Simons: All right, very good. Forrest, thanks for joining us.

Forrest Richardson: Thanks for having me.

Forrest Richardson:Architect;

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