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.
Morning 9: Solheim Cup finish for the ages | Credit where it’s due | Will Tiger pick Tiger? continued
September 16, 2019
Good Monday morning, golf fans.
1. For the ages!
Ron Sirak for LPGA.com says this year’s Solheim Cup was one of the best ever (and he’s not wrong!)…”Rarely in sports does reality match expectation. More often than not, the happening falls short of the hype. But the 14½-13½ Solheim Cup victory by Europe over the United States on Sunday at Gleneagles was better than advertised – almost better than imaginable.”
2. Credit where it’s due
Golf Digest’s Keely Levins says that while Pettersen will rightfully get the headlines, don’t forget the work of Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall at Gleneagles.
3. Bright spots for the U.S.
Golfweek’s Roxanna Scott on the shining stars for the Stars & Stripes…”Rookie Nelly Korda joined her older sister Jessica as the leading players for the U.S., with both earning 3½ of four points. Friday they played together in morning foursomes, making history as the first sisters to be paired in a Solheim Cup match. It was also the first time their parents, Petr and Regina, watched their daughters play together. The sisters won their opening match 6 and 4, and went on to dominate Carlota Ciganda and Bronte Law 6 and 5 in Saturday’s foursomes.”
4. A late bid to flip his 2019 script
A year notable more for destroying courses in a literal sense sees Garcia get the better of a track…
SkySports report…”Sergio Garcia has won the KLM Open by one shot from Nicolai Hojgaard after finishing 18 under in Amsterdam to claim his 16th European Tour title.”
5. Niemann breaks through
The first victory by a Chilean on the PGA Tour will no doubt be the first of many for Mr. Niemann.
6. 2 months, 2 Champions Tour wins
AP report…”Jerry Kelly played bogey-free Sunday at Warwick Hills and closed with a 4-under 68 for a two-shot victory in the Ally Challenge, his second victory this year on the PGA Tour Champions.”
7. Tour pulls back curtain on POY voting process, says integrity is “not up for debate”
Golf.com’s Josh Berhow got in touch with the PGA Tour to discuss the…much remarked upon…2019 PGA Tour Player of the Year award given to Rory McIlroy…
8. Will Tiger pick Tiger, continued
Woods filed a captain’s blog for PGATour.com as he ponders his captains picks…
9. Niemann on Presidents Cup squad?
From a piece by PGATour.com’s Helen Ross…
Els, who will announce his picks in early November along with U.S. Captain Tiger Woods, was well aware of what Niemann had done. The Chilean finished the automatic qualification period ranked 28th.
Tour Rundown: Incredible Solheim Cup | Niemann, Garcia, Kelly
In the northeast USA, where I live, the leaves are poised to change colors. There was a generational change in this week’s Solheim Cup where a young European team showed it could win at singles. There was a generational change in West Virginia, site of the first event of the 2019-20 PGA Tour. It wasn’t quite the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but the second weekend of September gave us a glimpse of the exciting, young talent that inhabits all the world’s tours. And so, we are more than happy to offer a Tour Rundown for Monday, September 16th, 2019.
Solheim Cup won on home soil by Europe
Last weekend, a young USA team of amateurs left British soil with the Walker Cup, thanks to a singles-day rally. Team Europe made certain that the history did not repeat itself so promptly, albeit with a similar comeback of its own. The young European team was championed by Suzanne Pettersen but made a name for itself, Young promise in the guise of Georgia Hall, Bronte Law, Carlota Ciganda and Celine Boutier earned Sunday wins for the Blue team. Their efforts were supported by stalwarts like Pettersen and Nordqvist. The latter smoked Morgan Pressel in the day’s final match, ending it early at 4 & 3, giving Team Europe a boost in the day’s closing moments.
It was left to Pettersen, on the cusp of retirement, to knock down a 10-feet birdie putt on the final hole, outlasting the USA’s Marina Alex by 1-up and securing a Solheim Cup in her farewell appearance. Team golf isn’t always brilliant, but the Presidents Cup in December, and the Ryders and Curtises of 2020 would do well to emulate the spirit of Solheim Cup Gleneagles.
Niemann fulfills promise with first Tour title
The thing with prodigies is, they feel like they’ve been here forever. The trouble with golf prodigies is, if they don’t win enough, they never win enough as professionals. Joaquin Niemann won the 2018 Latin America Championship. That’s a big event, as it earned him invitations to the Masters, U.S. and Open championships of that year. He was the No. 1-ranked golfer as an amateur, but that was the only big win he ever had. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t an NCAA title, nor a USGA Junior, nor an Amateur championship from the isles nor the USA. Niemann looked good and played well, but he never threatened to win anything else, until Sunday.
Niemann turned pro after that 2018 Masters, giving up the chance to play in the twin Open championships. This week, he worked his way around the Greenbrier Resort’s Old White course like the conductor of a train, or a symphony. The young Chilean held a towo-shot advantage with 18 holes to play, but ceded the top spot to Tom Hoge after front-nine struggles. On the inward half, he was the Niemann of old (or should that be, of young?), posting six birdies for 31 and 64 on the day.
Hoge could not keep pace, and settled for second spot at 15 under, six shots behind the winner. Early in the week, the news belonged to Kevin Chappell, who posted 59 in round two. Curiously, the Californian never visited the 60s all week, with three rounds in the 70s, and a place in the middle of the pack. From on high, looking down, stood a young golfer, beginning to fulfill his promise.
Kelly locks up midwest for locals in Michigan
There have been a few events of note in the upper midwest of the USA on this season’s PGA Tour Champions. Jerry Kelly won the AFI in Wisconsin in June, and was followed by friendly rival Steve Stricker at the Senior Open in Indiana. In sort of a rubber match resolution, Kelly came back this week to claim the Ally Challenge in Michigan, posting a two-stroke victory over Woody Austin. Even if Stricker had entered this week, he would have been pressed to keep up with his fellow cheesehead.
Kelly was that little-bit better than everyone else during every round, this week. Beginning round three a shot off the pace, Scott McCarron inexplicably faded again, adding wood to the suggestion that he will never become the clutch player that his physical talents deserve. His 75 dropped him to a tie for 15th. Kelly never wavered, posting four birdies on the day for 68. His only bogey of the week came on Thursday’s ninth hole, and it was more than offset by a run of five consecutive birdies, mid-day Friday. With the victory, his second of the year, Kelly jumped into second spot on the season-long Schwab Cup list, just behind McCarron.
Garcia rehearses alphabet in march to KLM win
In the late 2000s, the Spanish Royal Academy eliminated the LL from its alphabet. That news was lost on golfers, until this week’s KLM Open in Holland. Sergio Garcia, clearly not worried about a KLLLM disparity, won by one slim stroke over Nicolai Hojgaard.
Absent this week from the Spaniard’s performance were the phlegm-filled, earthworm-seeking histrionics that have spotted an otherwise-memorable career. Garcia’s game was on, with birdies at 15 and 16 affording a cushion for a 17th-hole bogey. In fact, Garcia made seven birdies on the day, most of any, on the week, for the Iberian. The unheralded Hojgaar, hailing from Denmark, was in control most of the day. His late bogey, at the 16th, brought him to 4 over on the week for the antipenultimate hole. If he looks back with any regret on the week, it would certainly focus on the wee par 4.
Fishburn secures elevation at Canada Life Championship
At week’s opening, Patrick Fishburn held a tenuous grasp of the fifth and final hockey sweater, symbolic of a Korn Ferry Tour card for 2020. By Sunday evening, the young man from the USA had secured not only a promotion to the next level of tour success but all the confidence that comes with a clutch victory. On Fishburn’s heels in the Order of Merit, just $1,000 back, was Hayden Buckley. Just outside but with some hope, was David Pastore. Buckley faded this week, finishing mid-pack, but Pastore was electric. He posted constantly-improving scores of 68-66-65-63, concluding the week a solid 18 under par. He beat everyone in the field … everyone but Fishburn.
The young alum from BYU never strayed from the mid-60s, posting a pair of 64 over the weekend to outdistance the field with a 21-under par for a total. The title was Fishburn’s first of the year, and certainly must have provided the sort of assurance that beating the field brings. With the victory, Fishburn, Lorens Chan and Jake Knapp of the USA joined Canada’s Taylor Pendrith and France’s Paul Barjon in the elite group of five to receive life-altering tour sweaters and membership in the penultimate stage of tour success.
Morning 9: First first-round leader of 2019-20 PGA Tour | Real star of the KLM Open | $30K golf cart theft
September 13, 2019
Good Friday morning, golf fans.
1. First first-round leader of the 2019-2020 PGA Tour season
AP report…”Shelton made eight starts on tour as a non-member in 2016-17. He has his TOUR card for the first time after winning two Korn Ferry events in May.”
BBC report…”England’s Callum Shinkwin, 446th in the world rankings, is the surprise leader after the first round of the KLM Open.”
3. Ready for battle
A look at the morning Solheim Cup matches (where soul-taking Danielle Kang will sit)…
Golf Channel’s Randall Mell…
Match 1, 3:10AM ET: Morgan Pressel and Marina Alex (USA) vs. Carlota Ciganda and Bronte Law (EUR)
Match 2, 3:22AM ET: Lexi Thompson and Brittany Altomare (USA) vs. Georgia Hall and Celine Boutier (EUR)
Match 3, 3:34AM ET: Jessica Korda and Nelly Korda (USA) vs. Caroline Masson and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (EUR)
Match 4, 3:46AM ET: Megan Khang and Annie Park (USA) vs. Charley Hull and Azahara Munoz (EUR)
4. Stealing the show at the KLM Open
Todd Kelly at Golfweek…”one golfer in particular stole the show on Thursday.”
5. Myrtle Beach rebounds
6. An all-out assault on Leishman’s back
Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski reports on the rough stuff in the dorsal region of Marc Leishman this week…
7. JT’s melanoma square
Golfweek staff…”Justin Thomas revealed Thursday he had a recent scare with melanoma that was discovered when he had a mole on his left leg checked out.”
8. $30K golf cart theft
Dennis Hoey at the Portland Press Herald…“York police arrested the director of golf at the Cape Neddick Country Club and charged him with stealing a golf cart designed for golfers with disabilities.”
9. A perspective on Abaco
Our Michael Williams reflects on his experience at the resort last year…and the recent devastation.
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