"If anything describes an architect or a designer, that’s it. They see it before it’s there." --Bob Cupp
Golf's Grand Design, a 60-minute HD documentary, examines the history and the role of American golf course architecture and explores the unique relationship between the people who play the game and the places where they play.
"A golf course to me is much more than just the playing of individual holes," says David McLay Kidd whose designs include the heralded Bandon Dunes on Oregon's rugged coast. "It's about the exploration of the landscape. From the moment I stepped out on these wild, wind-shaped dunes, I knew this would be the opportunity of a lifetime."
Golf is the only sport played on a field with no specifically designed dimensions. Instead, the playing fields are created by both natural features of the land and the imagination of the architect.
"Building greens and hazards around the green, that's really like sculpture to us." Golf course architect Tom Doak ponders, "What happens when the ball lands here and do I want it to bounce into that bunker, or do I not want it to? There's a lot going on in my head. In a way, it's an art form, but in a way it's kind of engineering too."
The program explores various eras and trends that impacted course design and the game itself which took hold in America in the later part of the nineteenth century. America's earliest golf course designers came from Scotland, the ancestral home of golf. The first American courses were rudimentary, but golf found a home in America and the game has forever been tied to the places where it is played. The period after World War I is often called The Golden Age of golf course architecture in America, a time when many famous courses were built.
As the nation's economy suffered, few new courses were built between the Great Depression and World War II. Robert Trent Jones, Sr. became the dominant influence in the post war period. By the 1960s, golf courses were associated with the building of residential housing communities, impacting the cost and style of courses. Then, with the economic boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, a period of extravagant design dominated courses before a return, in recent years, to a more minimalist approach.
Golf's Grand Design looks at the impact of historical figures such as C.B. Macdonald, Tom Bendelow, A.W. Tillinghast, and Alister MacKenzie. The program also examines the role of contemporary architects such as Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Ben Crenshaw, and Bill Coore.
"As I look back through forty years, the growth of golf . . . . in America seems incredible," wrote Charles Macdonald Blair in 1928--the man known as the father of golf course architecture. "There were no golf courses worthy of the name in 1890. All told (by 1927) there are 4,000 in the United States."
There are almost as many different styles of courses as there are architects. "I do believe that golf needs to be fun and enjoyable," says Tom Fazio, architect of the Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas, one of the most expensive courses ever built in the United States. "It needs to be spectacular. It needs to be grand. It needs to wow."
Others prefer a more natural design approach. "Golf in the earliest days was played over land that had been grazed by sheep, and that's where they played and how they played," says architect Bob Cupp. "That's when golf was absolutely pure."
Golfers aren't always aware of who designed the courses they play. For them it is all about the simple joy of playing. "I think it's all the variables of how beautiful the course is, breathing the air, the camaraderie, and fellowship of the game," says Paul Silva, head professional at Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course in the Bronx, the oldest course in America. "There is something magical about it."
"We're all I guess armchair architects," says championship golfer and course designer Ben Crenshaw. "A golf architect is born in us all when we play golf, because golf is so tied to its playing fields."