This interview is with Keith Cutten, author of “The Evolution of Golf Course Design,” which is a new book he is releasing to the public. This is an unbelievably well-researched and all-encompassing look at golf course architecture, how it has changed throughout history, and all of the variables in play that have shaped it over the course of time.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. What’s your personal background? How did you get into all of this?
Well, my passion for golf architecture started back in high school. I took a drafting and design curriculum all through high school, which was hugely beneficial. I was getting into golf around 15-16 years old and I lost my grandfather, who was the primary golf influence in my life. When he died, he left me his golf clubs, and I missed him so much I just dove completely head first into golf.
When I finished high school, I sat down with my dad to try to hash out a game plan to get into the golf industry. My dad was an environmental scientist for 40 years with the Ministry of Environment in Ontario, so he helped me a great deal in understanding the policy system here in Canada. I started by getting my bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo in Planning and Environmental Design. In my last coop term, I went for broke and I reached out to Rod Whitman in Canada, who invited me to do a 5-month coop with him during the construction of Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club in British Columbia. The pay was paltry and I ran a shovel and a rake for most of the summer, but I fell in love with it instantly.
I later went back for my master’s in Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph, which I finished in 2016. The culmination of that was my thesis, which has now become this book. Nowadays, I have my own company, Cutten Golf, Inc., which allows me to partner with people like Rod and Dave Axland, who has been Coore and Crenshaw’s chief project manager for 30 years. I couldn’t have walked into a better situation as a young, aspiring architect. To have the opportunity to work with these guys is incredible.
Having had the opportunity to peek at an advanced copy, I can say the book is completely fascinating. Talk a little bit about what compelled you to devote so much of yourself to this pursuit in the first place.
I’m the type of person that needs to answer my own questions to be satisfied. I’m not comfortable with just accepting things as fact without knowing the story behind them. I was sitting in one of my first master’s classes, which was basically a history of the landscape architecture profession. I’m learning how everything is influenced by society and wars and economy and I thought, “This has to be true for golf, but no one’s ever talked about it.”
At the time, I was also batting around ideas for my thesis. I was thinking a lot about the renovations that had recently been done to Pinehurst No. 2 and I was particularly curious about how Donald Ross’s original design was so much more environmentally sound than what it had been allowed to become over the course of time.
One of the key quotes that I got from Bill [Coore] about that project was that they were not trying to be “environmental crusaders” so much as they were just trying to put the course back to the way Donald Ross had originally intended it. So the question I kept asking in my head was, “How did this happen?” I sort of went on a fact finding mission to uncover how golf course architecture changed and it kept snowballing. I just kept following leads in different directions that began to connect all the dots for me. I went a little deeper down the rabbit hole every day, and ended up with a 600+ page thesis to turn in.
Just to paint a quick picture for the readers as to what’s going on in the book, there’s two main sections to it. The first section is going through history decade by decade starting with the early origins of golf, then 1830s, 1840s, and so on. I don’t want you to give too much of your book away, but give people a taste for what’s going on there.
Essentially, there’s a lot of short little blurbs about historical context that I try to quickly tie into golf. I suppose you’d have to start with the Victorian era, which was the first attempt at going away from the “links” style of architecture. When people from urban areas (say London) found golf and wanted to play it, they wanted to create their own courses so they wouldn’t have to travel over to St Andrews. So, the professional golfers of the time built what they could. The only people that were doing construction of the landscape at that time were the crews that were building state homes for the ultra-wealthy in the Victorian style. So they wound up with golf courses that were built much the same way with features that were geometric and square. They looked nothing like the links courses of Scotland.
After that, there was then a shift into what’s called the Arts and Crafts movement that takes you into the 1910’s. WWI had a huge impact at that time. Britain was basically devastated after WWI, so a lot of architects fled to the US, the land of opportunity, which led to what we now call the Golden Age of golf course architecture.
Shortly after that period, you have the Great Depression and WWII, where all of this knowledge that had been built really just comes to a halt. After going through the Great Depression and WWII, society really didn’t want to think about the past. There was no fondness for what had been done, so modernism became the way of life for basically everyone at that point, including golf course architecture.
Most of the big name architects (Ross, Mackenzie, etc) started their careers back in England before WWI, so when you get to WWII, those guys are all either dead or retired. It was a perfect storm which basically took golf in a completely different direction.
The second part of the book is profiles on golf course architects, authors, and visionaries. So you go from Old Tom Morris to Geoff Shackelford and everywhere in between. Given how much time you’ve invested in this, I’m curious to know who you would put on the Mount Rushmore of architects and why?
I’m going to flavor this with my own personal bias, but for me number one has to be Harry Colt. He’s so brushed over in North America it’s crazy. He pioneered what golf course architecture is, which is combining strategy and naturalness. Colt’s influence can be seen in work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie (Australia and America), Hugh Alison (Japan), Stanley Thompson (Canada) and Donald Ross (America). His influence just can’t be overstated in my opinion.
Stanley Thompson would have to be my next choice. Especially since I’m Canadian. His projects have defined great golf here, and his influence on me was immense.
Third would be Bill Coore. Without Sand Hills, I don’t think we are where we are today when it comes to golf course architecture. I don’t think anyone is reading my book and I doubt I’m even writing if it wasn’t for Bill. I think he’s the Alister Mackenzie of our time.
Last would be Rod Whitman. He just doesn’t get the notoriety or the acclaim that he deserves in my opinion. Bill Coore sings Rod’s praises all the time. He even gives Rod credit for figuring out how to make his routing work at Friar’s Head. I’ve learned so much from Rod and a lot of my passion for architecture comes from him.
If you had the opportunity to sit down with one of these people (dead or alive) you profiled over dinner, who would it be and what questions would you ask them?
I think it’d have to be Stanley Thompson. He was the type of guy that was notoriously larger than life. It’s rumored that he made and spent multiple fortunes in his lifetime according to his biography. He’s the type of guy that could sell the Canadian rail lines on the idea that they should build a golf course up here in the middle of nowhere because it’d be good for their business. I just think if he’s anything at all like what those stories would lead you to believe, that’d be a hell of a dinner.
I do want to ask about one specific aspect if you don’t mind because I personally find it super interesting and I think our readership would as well. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between golf course equipment and architecture? Let’s kind of go down that rabbit hole for a minute.
I think the biggest misconception is that Golden Age architects never saw these kinds of advances in equipment coming. They did. They experienced their own advancements with equipment. The Golden Age didn’t start in the US in the 20s and 30s. Those same guys were designing courses in England in 1910 and prior to that, so they had already seen advancements of their own. They did react to them very differently than what has been done up until the last 10 years, however. They used the contour of the ground and width and angles in such a way that if you didn’t play to the right area of the fairway, you didn’t have a shot. The way they combated length is to put an emphasis on placing your shot in the right location instead of just pounding it down there as far as you can.
Even back then, there were some instances where people could hit 300-yard drives because you have to remember this was before irrigation. This brought the ground game into play. It wasn’t lawn darts where you hit every shot a certain distance and stopped it on a dime. Even though a long hitter might be able to get a drive out there 300 yards, that shot likely wound up in a pot bunker if you weren’t super precise with it. Back then, it was so much more a three dimensional game where you had to think about all the little humps and bumps and what they might do to the golf ball after it landed. The Golden Age architects were already thinking about this stuff when they designed their courses.
For a long time, we basically forgot our own history. Everyone after WWII just tried to reinvent the wheel by pinching landing areas and growing the rough taller, which was terrible for golf. We’re relearning, though, that combating length isn’t done by making courses longer and narrower; it’s done by making them shorter and wider. I think we need to start showing a bigger variety of golf courses on television. I think the tour is doing that with places like Trinity Forest, but they need to stop listening to the whining of players. That cannot be our measuring stick for whether or not a course is good.
Right or wrong, what gets shown on TV is what gets exported everywhere. One of the messages with my book is that that has to stop. Every course should not aim to be Augusta. They should aim to be what they are, and that requires completely understanding and committing to what that is.
Lastly, give us a call to action. Tell us how to get in touch with you and learn more.
Sure! To learn more about me, my business, or my book, the best way to do that is to visit my website www.cuttengolf.com. @cuttengolf is my handle for both twitter and Instagram.
Mizuno MP-20 SEL: Leftys rejoice!
Hey you southpaws, I promise I didn’t just flip an image of an MP-20 to wind you up… This is a real deal!
Say hello to the Mizuno MP-20 SEL (Special Edition Lefty) made just for you.
So what makes these SEL’s special? You may remember from the MP-20 piece I referenced the “MP-20 family” and how Mizuno spent a lot of time analyzing set makeup data to fine-tune each club in each model to maximize performance from both an individual set perspective, and to combo. They took all of that data and flipped it on its head, or at least hand, to create a set combining the most requested clubs just for left-handed players.
The MP20 SEL is a combination of 5-PW MP20 (blades) with HMB 3, and 4-irons. All the flow, copper and tech from the right-handed models combined into one. Without getting too far into the logistic of this, it has to be said that unless you’re a maple-syrup drinking, hockey-playing Canuck (don’t worry its not an offensive term) where around 25 percent of golfers play left-handed the global golf population that plays left-handed is still below 10 percent. Mizuno wants to do everything they can to offer an MP design for lefties, and as the data demonstrated, this was the best option to fit the most players.
For more information on the entire MP20 line up check out the full piece here: ( INSERT MP20 LINK )
Morning 9: Nothing runs like a Frittelli | Royal Portrush takes center stage
July 15, 2019
Good Monday morning, golf fans.
1 Scottish Open: Wiesberger nabs second W of 2019
(Image above via Wiesberger on Instagram) EuropeanTour.com report…”Bernd Wiesberger…beat Benjamin Hebert in a twilight play-off at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.”
2. Nothing runs like a Frittelli
AP report…”While the rest of the leaders faltered, Dylan Frittelli surged to his first PGA Tour title.”
3. Goose is loose at Senior Players
AP report on Goosen’s win at one of the low-key best venues for watching professional golf…”Retief Goosen birdied the final two holes to win the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship on Sunday at Firestone Country Club for his first PGA Tour Champions title.”
4. Kim outduels Thompson
AP report…”I’m very happy to win, especially this tournament, because Marathon has a lot of history,” Kim said.
5. If only Tony Romo played playoff football as well as he does the American Century Championship…
(Kidding, Cowboys fans)
Golf Channel’s Adam Woodard…”Tony Romo is the man to beat in Lake Tahoe.”
6. *Points to Collin Morikawa* You get a tour card!
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”A week after Matthew Wolff earned his PGA Tour card by winning the 3M Open, Collin Morikawa locked up membership for next season.”
“The 22-year-old Cal product, in just his fifth pro start, tied for fourth Sunday at the John Deere Classic to collect 122.5 non-member FedExCup points and run his season total to 456.5. With just three weeks left in the regular season, that number, which currently would slot Morikawa at 88th, will assuredly be more than No. 125 in the final standings, meaning Morikawa can count on earning his card for the 2019-20 season.”
7. Portrush to center stage
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Much has changed since The Open last visited the coastal links of Royal Portrush. It’s been 68 years, in fact, since Max Faulkner scooped 300 pounds for winning the tournament despite never breaking 70. But that remains the only time the oldest major in golf was held somewhere other than England or Scotland.”
8. In a similar vein…
James Corrigan at The Telegraph files his look ahead…
9. Fun yields win for Frittelli
Good bit from Cameron Morfit going a level beyond the game story for PGATour.com…”It was mentality clarity,” Frittelli said, when asked to explain the difference at the Deere.
Tour Rundown runs toward Open with Frittelli, Kim, Goosen victories
Something quite brilliant was in the air this week on the world’s golf tours. A new course debuted in Scotland, South Africa stood tall with two champions, and the world anticipated a return to a legendary, northern course that has not seen an Open Championship since 1951. The American tours are drawing to a close, and plans for 2019-2020 are firming up. Five events caught our attention this week, from Gullane to Toledo, from Iowa to Colorado. Plug in your charger and settle in for a nice read of this week’s Tour Rundown.
Scottish Open chalice rests in Wiesberger’s hands
Interesting stories envelope the Austrian golfer, Bernd Wiesberger. After a many-month layoff to rehab a wrist injury this season, 2 victories have come his way, including last week’s Scottish Open. The first 3 playoffs of his European Tour career all ended in defeat. In 2011, 2014 and 2015, he lost in extra holes at the Johnnie Walker, the Lyoness, and the Irish Open. Since then, he’s 2-0 in extra time. During the days leading into the 2016 and 2018 Ryder Cups, the 6-time Euro champ always seemed on the edge of breaking through to the European squad, but tailed off in the stretch run. On Sunday, under great pressure, he broke through for his finest triumph to date.
Soft ground and zero wind made The Renaissance Club an easy target during its championship debut. Wiesberger took advantage in round two, posting a course-record 61 to seize the lead. He held the top spot after 54 holes, placing all pressure squarely on his shoulders as round 4 began. It didn’t help that England’s Andrew Johnston had signed for a 62 before the Austrian pegged his opening tee shot. It also didn’t help that Benjamin Hebert of France was in the midst of his own 62, climbing the leaderboard. Ultimately, the duo of Wiesberger and Hebert would trade counters through the closing holes. After the Austrian holed a gutty, 7-feet effort at the last for a spot in the playoff, Hebert’s sound game betrayed him. He bogeyed the 2nd playoff hole, when par would have won, then 3-putted the 3rd go-round to finish 2nd.
As consolation, Hebert, Johnston and Italy’s Nino Bertasio earned the final 3 spots in this week’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
That putt has sealed it!
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 14, 2019
John Deere Classic is Frittelli’s 1st PGA Tour victory
The 3rd weekend of July redefined the careers of its tournament winners. Dylan Frtitelli has long been a quality golfer, since before his days at the University of Texas. Frittelli found himself uncertain of his status for the 2019-2020 campaign. His major-tour memberships were at risk, and a return to the triple-A tours was not his number-one comfort blanket. Everything changed on Sunday, in the middle of the American continent, when Frittelli surged past 3rd-round leader Andrew Landry with 64. As Landry fell to 3rd spot, Frittelli reached 21-under par. His work wasn’t finished, however. After a 4-under opening nine in round 4, the kind that gets you into the top 10, Russell Henley continued to make birdies. He made 6 more coming home, including a marvelous one at the final hole. Henley reached 19-under, claiming 2nd spot for himself. Frittelli didn’t falter. He made 4 at the par-5 17th, one of the few holes Henley failed to birdie in his march to the green. Ultimately, the win was vindication, security, and an unexpected trip to Royal Portrush for this week’s Open Championship. Breathe easy, Dylan.
A victorious Sunday for @Dylan_Frittelli. ????
His 93.75% (15 of 16) Scrambling performance this week was the best of any PGA TOUR winner this season. pic.twitter.com/iF2morLs57
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 15, 2019
Sei Young Kim takes 2nd win of LPGA season at Marathon Classic
Sei Young Kim offered an LPGA marketing tutorial on how to pronounce her name (So Young!) a season or two ago. On Sunday, the 26-year old Korean golfer earned her 9th LPGA title by 2 strokes, over Lexi Thompson of the USA. Kim made 7 birdies over her first 15 holes, establishing a healthy lead as the tournament headed for home. Bogey at the 16th reduced her margin of victory to 2, but also served to secure trivia on the week: Kim’s scorecard’s were 64, 65, 66 and 67. A hand that would do some damage at the card table, also worked well at the Toledo LPGA stop. Thompson nor anyone else ever threatened the front-runner on day four. Thompson had too many bogies (2) and not enough birdies (also 2) on the outward nine, to mount an early challenge. 3 more birdies plus 1 additional bogey through the 16th, brought her even with Stacy Lewis for 2nd spot. Thompson closed fiercely, with birdie at 17 and eagle at the last. Her torrid finish made the final score appear closer than actuality. In truth, it was the Sei Young show all day long, a fitting tribute to a stellar performance.
HIGHLIGHTS ?? pic.twitter.com/CkxxJKd5fM
— LPGA (@LPGA) July 15, 2019
Colorado Championship earns Ledesma a ticket to the show in 2019-2020
Argentina’s Nelson Ledesma had won on this level before. He triumphed at the LECOM in 2019, but that victory was not enough to propel him to the PGA Tour. In a campaign highlighted by higher, more consistent finishes, Ledesma’s victory on Sunday was enough to earn him a card on the golf world’s grandest dance stage. The walk home wasn’t easy on Sunday. Ledesma dueled with fellow southern-hemisphere golfer Brett Coletta the entire round. Ledesma went -1 on each of his 9s, but they could have differed more. On the outward half, the Platense was all over the place: 4 birdies, 1 bogey, 1 double. On the inward half, all pars until the last. Coletta might look back on Sunday and wonder, what went wrong on the par 5 holes. He doubled the first, bogeyed the 5th, and failed to birdie the 13th and 15th. A late birdie at 17 tied him with Ledesma, setting the stage for the 20-feet birdie putt that would settle the matter and send the champion to new heights.
— Korn Ferry Tour (@kornferrytour) July 15, 2019
Senior Players Championship is Goosen’s 1st on senior circuit
There was a time, in the early 2000s, when a lead in Goosen’s hands was nearly as secure as a Tiger one. Then came the US Open of 2005, when his final-round lead simply went far, far away. Since those days, family, injuries and new challengers brought him back to the pack. Goosen won 4 more events on the European tour, never again on the US side of the water, until Sunday. Having followed Friday’s 62 with a Saturday 75, the South African found himself in 2nd spot, behind the 2019 story of the year, Scott Parel. This time, it was Goosen who hung on and the leader, that faltered.
Parel came out of the gate limping. He was plus-two through 14 holes in round four. Needing to make something happen to put pressure on his playing partner, Parel birdied the 14th and 17th holes. Unfortunately for him, sandwiched in between were another bogey and a double. He fell to a tie for 4th spot, 4 behind Goosen. In other groupings, Tim Petrovic and Jay Haas were making noise. Each closed to within 2 of Goosen, but neither had the firepower to gain any more ground. The pair tied for 2nd at 4-under par. As for Goosen, it was anything but steady or consistent. He had an eagle and 4 birdies on the day, including chirps at the final two holes, to seal the deal. He also had 2 bogies, along with a double at the 11th. It seems that excitement and thrills are part of the new normal for the formerly-unwavering champion. As long as the recipe results in victories, he’ll certainly cook something up.
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) July 15, 2019
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