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: Inside a life-changing PGA Tour finish | The LPGA’s struggle
By Ben Alberstadt (firstname.lastname@example.org)
June 25, 2019
Good Tuesday morning, golf fans.
1. Inside a life-changing finish
PGATour.com’s Jim McCabe with more on Zack Sucher…
2. Return of the Phrankenwood
Golf Digest’s E. Michael Johnson…
“Phil Mickelson always delivers-at least as it relates to interesting equipment stories. After recently employing a two-driver strategy, Lefty hauled out his old Callaway X Hot 3Deep fairway wood that he used to win the 2013 Open Championship with. Earlier that year Mickelson asked Callaway for a 3-wood he could hit both off the tee and off the turf. The result was a 43.25-inch 3-wood (with a finished loft slightly stronger than its listed 13 degrees). The club also had a face height 10 percent larger than the company’s X Hot Pro, thus raising the center of gravity more in line with Mickelson’s impact spot. After working with the club at Doral that year, Mickelson’s caddie at the time, Jim Mackay, called it, “The most meaningful club Phil has ever put in the bag in my 20 years caddieing for him.”
3. Woods name dropped from wrongful death suit
ESPN’s Bob Harig...”A wrongful death lawsuit no longer names Tiger Woods in a claim against a South Florida restaurant that carries the golfer’s name.”
4. A strike at Detroit Golf Club?
Greg Levinsky of the Detroit Free Press (syndicated in Golfweek)…”The employees who are making Detroit Golf Club a playable PGA Tour-caliber golf course this week are calling for the end of negotiations and a new contract. If it doesn’t happen by the time the Rocket Mortgage Classic tees off on Thursday, then the union says it’s willing to strike.”
5. Golf course dispute leads to fatal shooting, fire
AP report on an insane golf-related multiple homicide…
6. LPGA’s struggle
The New York Times’ Karen Crouse on the plight of the LPGA Tour…
7. Team Baby Mommas
Golf Channel’s Randall Mell…
8. Getting off the ground…
Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski on the effort to establish new PGA Tour events…
We’ve been highlighting the timepieces worn by PGA Tour winners as they hoist their trophies…
Here’s a bit on Chez Reavie’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust II Fluted Black Roman
“Rolex was founded in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf as a London timepiece distributor but always dreamed of making a precise wristwatch. In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chonometric Precision. In 1919 Rolex moved to Geneva and continued making precision timepieces. The Rolex Datejust II is a larger version of the Datejust (41mm vs 36mm) and was introduced in 2009. The movement in the Datejust II is a self-winding Calibre 3136 that is certified by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC).”
Tiger Woods’ name dropped from wrongful death lawsuit
One month after being named in a wrongful death lawsuit involving a former employee from The Woods Jupiter restaurant, Tiger Woods is now no longer a defendant.
On Monday, Woods’ attorneys announced that the 43-year-old’s name had been dropped from the amended case, but the lawsuit filed last month by the parents of Nicholas Immesberger, who died in a drink-driving accident in 2018, is ongoing against both The Woods Jupiter and Woods’ girlfriend – Erica Herman, who is the general manager of the restaurant.
Per a report from ESPN’S Bob Harig – speaking on the decision to drop his clients’ name from the case, Woods’ attorney, Barry Postman, stated
“The decision was clearly appropriate and reflected the fact that Mr. Woods should not have been included in the lawsuit in the first place because he had nothing to do with Mr. Immesberger’s death.
“While the situation was tragic, the facts will ultimately show that the cause of Mr. Immesberger’s car accident were the many decisions made by Mr. Immesberger on the night of his passing.”
The lawsuit filed in May alleges that Immesberger was served excessive amounts of alcohol before his fatal crash on Dec. 10 and that employees, managers and owners let Immesberger, who was not wearing a seat belt before the accident, drive home despite their knowledge that he was over the limit.
Speaking on the incident at the PGA Championship in May, Woods said
“We’re all very sad that Nick passed away. It was a terrible night, a terrible ending, and just—we feel bad for him and his entire family. It’s very sad.”
Detroit Golf City
Woodward Avenue is a major thoroughfare in downtown Detroit. From it, you can see two very unique golf courses, close in proximity but miles apart in every other way.
The first course, the Detroit Golf Club, is a lush 36-hole Donald Ross design. Privately owned and operated, DGC is set to host the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic this week. This will be the PGA Tour’s first regular event in Michigan since the Buick Open ended in 2009 and the first regular tour event ever for the city of Detroit.
The second course, Palmer Park, is city owned and currently closed. The grass is overgrown, but you can see the bones of a once proud 18-hole municipal track, winding through the 296 acres of the larger public park space of the same name. Originally opened in 1927, the Palmer Park golf course has always been a piece of inner-city Detroit’s fabric. But now it sits empty.
Niall Hay, the Chairman of the First Tee of Greater Detroit, is working hard for these two courses to help each other, and at the same time, help thousands of underprivileged kids in Detroit learn the great game of golf and all the positive things it can bring to their lives.
The First Tee of Greater Detroit was one of the program’s very first chapters. It began in 1997 as a partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, PGA Tour and the USGA with a simple goal to get more kids playing golf. It started as a way to bring affordable golf to communities that needed it. Detroit was an obvious choice, but eventually, like so many other things in Detroit, the economic recession caught up to it.
“During the economic meltdown, the chapter just went away for a variety of reasons. Mostly funding,” said Hay.
But in 2012, Hay, a former member of the Ohio State golf team, decided to look into exactly what went wrong with the First Tee program in Detroit. First, he met with past chairmen and former board members. They all gave the same story. The program just died a slow death as the funding dried up. Members of the board moved on to different things. But they all said it was a great organization and one of them suggested that Hay start it back up. “I was looking to potentially join a board, not found one,” Hay said with a chuckle. But it was him or no one. So he did it.
A small group in the city of Ann Arbor was already working with the First Tee on getting a chapter started for Washtenaw County, but funding was proving, yet again, to be an issue. So Hay and others had to wait for that to be resolved before they could obtain a letter of intent for a chapter in Detroit from The First Tee. But he was certain that his community needed the program in place.
“If we were going to do this,” Hay said, “we need to do it in the city of Detroit, in the inner city and impacting underprivileged kids in the city and not in suburbs or other areas. We wanted to stay in downtown Detroit where there is the most need.”
The first steps were to form a foundation, gain 401(c)(3) non-profit tax status from the IRS and then form a diverse and talented board. This took some time. Then, they needed to find the money to fund it. This took more time. But Detroit is a strong community and several local businesses were willing to partner to get things back up and running. And in June of 2015, the First Tee of Greater Detroit began with its first green grass program.
Today, the program is as strong as ever, with over 500 students in the spring, summer and fall programs, which all act like a sort of camp for youth development and some golf. Additionally, the First Tee of Greater Detroit partners with local public schools to train its PE teachers to teach First Tee curriculum, the nine core values and related golf activities. Over 13,000 additional kids are reached in the National School Program.
For the first three years of The First Tee Detroit’s rebirth, the green grass program took place at Palmer Park.
“Back then, Palmer Park was a really rundown course. We focused our programming on the front nine, and some of the drier areas on the back,” Hay said. The course had issues with flooding and wasn’t in the best condition, but it was home. A place to play and practice regularly. But after a few years, the city put out a request for proposal, seeking additional management help for its public golf courses. “The First Tee was hoping to pull Palmer Park from the RFP and have the First Tee chapter raise money to make it a high quality 9 hole golf course,” Hay said. “It got pulled from the RFP, they signed with Signet, who put their money into the other three city courses and the Palmer Park course never reopened.”
“So now, the children of First Tee Greater Detroit are spread around a bit. They practice and play some at Rackham, one of the other public courses in Detroit. Some at Maple Lane. There are classes and clinics all around the city. “We do not have a home course or facility now but we have more traction with people. The more the First Tee gets bigger and bigger, the more we would love a home base.”
And with the PGA Tour’s new four-year deal with sponsor Quicken Loans and the Detroit Golf Club, golf interest in Detroit is getting a shot in the arm. More and more kids are signing up with the First Tee Program. And this is just the beginning. PGA Tour events across the tournament schedule are associated with their local First Tee Chapter. Most sites have youth experience areas where the First Tee Experience is promoted and encourages. The core values of the program are on display at tour events and children and their parents alike are exposed to a way to get involved with youth golf. The First Tee of Greater Detroit will have a tent at the Rocket Mortgage Classic adjacent to the Kids Zone.
And just as important, the PGA Tour events donate a percentage of their revenue with the First Tee Chapters. Detroit will be no different in that regard. And some chapters make hundreds of thousands of dollars from these tournaments. “We are one of the primary beneficiaries of the tournament,” Hay said. “The tournament itself will share some of the revenue with local charities. The First Tee of Detroit is one of the charities that will thankfully receive funding from the Rocket Mortgage Giving Fund.”
“It’s a game changer for us,” Hay said about the PGA Tour’s newest stop in Detroit. “It could take us to the next level. Our Board has never been more engaged. We have already seen a huge spike in interest. We have seen 40 to 50 percent more inquiries and kids signing up. Kids want to play and more volunteers are signing up to teach.” In fact, Summer and Fall registration is going on right now and the excitement continues to build.
The First Tee of Greater Detroit has experienced a rebirth. The City of Detroit has experienced a rebirth. And now, as thousands of golf fans drive down Woodward Avenue to watch the best players on the planet compete in the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, they might also look towards Palmer Park and see the spirit of golf sitting idly by, waiting for someone to give it a chance.
Funding, of course, is yet again the issue. But with the right investor(s), Palmer Park could experience a rebirth of its own. And that would not only help reinvigorate the heart of the city, but also the hundreds and soon to be thousands of kids who are discovering the game of golf with the First Tee Greater Detroit. The Rocket Mortgage event is a great start. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for Detroit golf.
“We’ve got hundreds of acres in the middle of the city where you could put in a really cool nine-hole course and short game area. It would be a great story for Detroit. And it would be great for our community and for these kids.”
If you are interested in helping by giving a donation, you can participate by doing so here.
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