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Mark Parsinen: A friend’s tribute to a lesser known genius

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Golf has always elevated course architects to exalted status. From Mackenzie, Ross and Tillinghast to Fazio, Jones (Robert Jr. and Rees), Hanse and Coore-Crenshaw, golf’s version of rock stars make their name in the dirt and are lauded by writers and players worldwide.

Similarly, patrons of the game like Johnny Morris have ascended in the industry as they have translated their financial fortunes and love of golf to facilitate the creation of destinations like Big Cedar Lodge; they are the Medicis of golf’s new Golden Age. But I can only think of only a few who combine the skill and sensibility of a great designer with the vision and passion of a great patron. One who is well-known is Mike Keiser. Although lesser-known, Mark Parsinen was another.

I was introduced to Mark Parsinen by another good friend, Robert Trent Jones Jr. Bobby had worked with Mark at Granite Bay; he knew that Mark was in Washington, DC for a family event and thought that we should meet. I met Mark in the lobby of his hotel along with his wife Dede, his daughter Jenny and a bunch of their friends, including the actor Taye Diggs. Someone wanted to get a picture of the family and I moved over to the side to make way. As they were forming up, Mark called to me, “Hey Michael, come join the picture!”

I had known him for all of five minutes and he insisted that I be a part of a shared memory. That was our friendship. That was Mark Parsinen.

Mark grew up in Minnesota, the son of Finnish immigrants. He liked to joke that while there were many Nordic immigrants in Minnesota, the Finns were the lowest in the pecking order. He maintained a sense of humility from his parents’ immigrant roots, but he also inherited a work ethic that would enable him to accomplish things that others could or would not. Work was not work for Mark; he liked the idea of every moment being spent purposefully. If something took fifteen minutes to do properly, so be it. If it was fifteen hours, fine. His gift was the ability to envision an outcome and progress towards it with a combination of stamina and joy.

He went to the London School of Economics and went on to become a partner in the Boston Group, one of the nation’s leading consulting firms. In his role with the Boston Group he had a hand in guiding a wide range of companies and products to success. A little-known fact I that he was instrumental in the creation of light beer; he laughed when I told him that was nothing to be happy about.

An accomplished player, Mark was self-trained in course design. He moved to the West Coast and wanted to join a club but couldn’t get a spot in any club that he liked so he built his own, Granite Bay Golf Club near Sacramento, California. It was his first golf course project, a collaboration with Jones, Jr.  Said Bobby, “[Mark] didn’t know much about golf course design when we started working together, but I knew what he liked and wanted. The expertise came later.” Granite Bay won praise immediately and Mark was off and running.

Kingsbarns Golf Links

He is best known for his courses in Scotland, Kingsbarns (2000 with Kyle Phillips) and Castle Stuart (2009 with Gil Hanse). Both courses were heralded as among the world’s best courses virtually from the moment of their opening. After playing Castle Stuart, Phil Mickelson was so impressed that he said that it should be studied by anyone who is planning to build a golf course before they turned a shovel of earth.

Castle Stuart Golf Links

Mark’s genius was the ability to work with the best golf architects in the world and challenge them to greatness. He taught himself to be able to read topographical maps and to understand soil samples (skills he encouraged me to acquire). He came to master the art, science, logistics and the operations of a golf course; of course, he had quality people around him who specialized in their expertise, but Mark had a knack for taking something known, tilting it and saying “Could it be better this way?”. To Mark, the world was a big kaleidoscope, and he was fascinated by how you could make something beautiful just by looking at it differently.

His legacy, along with his family, will certainly be or the golf courses that he built. They are treasures that will only grow in stature very time. But what I know from the hours we spent talking about golf and golf courses is that he loved golfers even more than he loved golf courses. His primary influence for golf course design was the Old Course at St. Andrews, a course that he and played over 200 times in his life. He wrote eloquently about the Old Course:

“I have become a devotee of the Old Course where I’ve come to see the golf experience there as definitely not a sequence of tests, but rather a sequence of opportunities to decide whether or not to take risk to gain an advantage with a subsequent shot or to defer the risk by playing a safe shot thereby taking on a greater risk and challenge with a subsequent shot – AND at the same time, the Old Course seems to allow players the freedom to find their own path to the green to suit their own game and their own propensities.  I’ve come to cherish this type of experience in contrast with having to face a sequence of pre-determined tests where one’s game may or may not be suited to the challenge that must be confronted with little or no option or likelihood of success. Being the prisoner of a narrowly defined path can often feel quite oppressive compared with the freedom of a more open playing field with many avenues to the green available for evaluation and selection.”

The Old Course at St. Andrews

Mark wanted golf to be a challenge, not a double-dog dare. His courses represent his reverence for the principles of the Old Course and a genuine affection for the golfer and the quality of their experience. We had much fun one day with his theory that there were Catholic courses and Protestant courses. Catholic courses were like St. Andrews, where you could make huge mistakes but there was almost always a chance for redemption. Carnoustie was a Protestant course, where the path to success was straight and narrow, and mistakes were severely punished. It was the kind of intellectual exercise that Mark loved because there was no right or wrong, just a liberating exchange of ideas and information.

The last time I saw Mark was when I visited him at his home in Inverness on the 14th hole at Castle Stuart. We spent the final day of the trip surveying the work that was being done on the new 9-hole course at Castle Stuart, which had not yet been completed. We sifted through handfuls of sand to determine their density; like any good golf course designer, Mark loved dirt. He explained the dozens of flags that were placed in the ground to guide the bulldozers and shapers.

At one point, he was explaining the shape of the surrounds of a green when he turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” I was reluctant at first to give voice to a thought lest it be rejected or even ridiculed. After some prompting, I gave him my thoughts on the severity of slope on one side of a green. He looked at the green, then looked at me and smiled broadly. “You are right…that makes sense.” He flagged down one of the lads on a shaper and shared my thoughts. “Michael, we’ll have to get you on a tractor when we do the next eighteen.” I couldn’t have been prouder if I had won the Open Championship.

Construction on the 9-hole course at Castle Stuart

Mark was surrounded in his life by people who were devoted to him. Our final night in Scotland we made dinner at home and drank local gin (me) and red wine (him) along with Elspeth, the Food and beverage Manager at Castle Stuart who has become as essential to the course as the tee markers and flagsticks. We talked about everything from our favorite golf courses to the people that had shaped our lives. We laughed until the wee hours and next day, Mark and I made our way back to the States. We talked many times after that; just last week he had invited me to come spend time with him and the family at their vacation home in Nevada. “Dede and everyone would love to see you,” he said, “and we can go play some golf and talk about what we can do together.” We did have plans; for books, for films, for new courses. So many plans…

His study in Inverness

Mark was 70 years old and a very accomplished man, but he was in many ways just getting started. He built Granite Bay, Kingsbarns, and Castle Stuart. He was an intellectual, a visionary and a raging success at everything he did. He loved golf, but more importantly he loved golfers and did everything he could to make sure that his properties were fun on the course and off. He was a devoted husband to his beloved wife Dede and exemplary father to his children. He leaves behind a host of people in the golf industry who admired and respected him. He was my mentor and my friend. We saw golf and life in very much the same way. I am heartbroken. I will miss him so very much.

 

 

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Mike DiCarlo

    Jun 10, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Michael,
    Great story about a terrific man. I can’t say that we are friends though it felt that way. For a six month period, we talked 3-4 times a week and those conversations usually lasted 90+ minutes. I looked forward to those conversations because they were always about golf but at the same time about life. He will be greatly missed. My best to his wife and children.

  2. BJ

    Jun 9, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Granite Bay is great. If your a club corp member its a must play

  3. Sam

    Jun 7, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    Two great and fun filled Scottish courses. Nothing better after a round at Kingsbarns than sitting outside with a beer betting on whether a golfer playing the last would clear the burn. Sadly now pretty much out of our price range but it is now firmly on the tourists circuit, so fair enough. He always gave the impression of being a genuine person. Thanks

  4. Jaime

    Jun 7, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    What’s Kyle Phillips going to do now?

  5. Dave

    Jun 6, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Great read and tribute! I’ll be more aware when I play Granite Bay in 11 days…

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On Spec

On Spec: Interview with GOLFTEC VP of Instruction Nick Clearwater

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In this episode of On Spec brought to you by Golf Pride Grips, Ryan talks with GOLFTEC’s Vice President of Instruction Nick Clearwater about his history with golf, teaching, and how he and his team at GolfTec help golfers play better.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

From the GolfWRX Vault: The day I met Ben Hogan

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In addition to continuing to look forward to new content that will serve and engage our readership, we also want to showcase standout pieces that remain relevant from years past. In particular, articles with a club building or instruction focus continue to deliver value and convey useful information well after their publish dates.

We want to make sure that once an article falls off the front page as new content is covered it isn’t relegated to the back pages of our website.

We hope that you’ll appreciate and find value in this effort.

Industry veteran (and one heckuva writer) Tom Stites, who served as the Director of Product Development at Nike’s Oven, tells the story of how he landed a job as an engineer at the Ben Hogan Company and what his first meeting with Mr. Hogan was like.

Get a taste for Stites’ excellent piece from 2015 below.

Getting near my boy was the real reason I wanted to get to Texas, but the golf was a sweet attraction, too. With a perfect touch and timing, the Good Lord prompted the Hogan Company to advertise for a new product development engineer. On just the right day, I was changing flights at DFW and bought a copy of the Fort Worth paper. In the want ads I saw something like, ”Ben Hogan will pay you cash money to engineer and work on golf clubs.” So I applied.

My product development experience at Kohler got me the interview, but the Good Lord got me the job. It was truly a real miracle, because in 1986 I knew zero about club design and manufacturing. I was quickly made the boss of the model shop, and was to manage the master club maker Gene Sheeley and his incredible team of long-time club artisans.

Me as their boss? That was a joke.

I knew a few things about physics at that time, but these guys were the real deal in club design. I knew immediately that I was in over my head, so I went to Gene and professed my ignorance. I pleaded with him to teach me how to do the job right. At that, I guess he considered me harmless and over the next number of years he became my Yoda. His voice was even a bit like Yoda.

Read the full piece here.

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Opinion & Analysis

Why do Tour players prefer fades over draws from the tee box?

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There is a growing trend on the PGA Tour and other professional golf tours where some of the game’s best players favor a fade from the tee box. Amateur golfers often struggle with golf shots that slice away from their target. These shots can lead them out of play and have them eagerly chasing a more neutral or drawing shot shapes. Additionally, a large fraction of low handicap and professional golfers play a golf shot that draws repeatedly onto their target. These thoughts can leave you wondering why anyone would choose to play a fade rather than a draw with their driver.

The debate over whether players should fade or draw their golf shots has been intensely lobbied on either side. While this is highly player specific, each particular shot shape comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. In order to discuss why elite golfers are choosing to play a fade and why you might as well, we must first explore how each shot shape is created and the unintended effects within each delivery combination. This article explores the ideas that lead some of the most outstanding players in the world to choose a fade as their go-to shot shape for their driver.

Before examining what makes each shot unique, golfers should be familiar with some common club fitting and golf swing terminology. Club path, clubface angle, impact location, spin-axis or axis tilt, and spin loft are all detailed below.

The curvature of a golf ball through the air is dependent on the backspin and sidespin of each shot. These spin rates are directly linked with each players golf swing and delivery characteristics. During every shot, each golfer will deliver the golf club back to the golf ball in a specific orientation. The relationship between the golf club face and the path of that club will determine much of how the golf ball will travel. A golf clubface that is closed to a club path will result in golf shots that either draw or hook. A clubface more open to the club’s path with create a shot that fades or slices. It is important that face angle measurements are taken in reference to the club path as terms like “out-to-in” or “in-to-out” can results in either of these two curvatures depending on face angle and impact location measurements.

Impact location should not be overlooked during this exchange and is a vital component of creating predictable golf shots that find the fairway and reach their maximum distances. As strikes move across the clubface of a driver gear effect begins to influence how the golf ball travels. In its simplest form, gear effect will help turn the golf ball back to the center of the golf club head. Impact locations in the heel will curve towards the middle and lead to golf shots with a more pronounced fading shape. Toe strikes lead to the opposite reaction and produce more draw or hook spin. Striking a golf ball from the upper half of the driver clubface produce higher launches and less spin, while strikes from the bottom create lower launches with higher backspin rates.

Spin-axis tilt or simply axis tilt is a result of the amalgamation of face angle, club path and strike locations. A golf shot will curve in the direction that its axis tilts during flight. Golfers familiar with launch monitors like Trackman and GCQuad, can reference axis tilt and spin-axis tilt measures for this measurement. Shots that curve to the left will have a leftward tilted axis, and shots to the right a rightward axis tilt. Golf shots tilting to the left and to the right are given names depending on which hand is dominant for that golfer. A draw or hook is a golf shot that curves in the air away from the golfers dominate hand. Right-handed players will see a golf ball hit with a draw spin from right to left in the air. Left-handed golfers see their draw shots spin from left to right. Fades and slices have the opposite shapes.

Spin loft is another critical component of creating and maintaining the flight of a golf ball. In concert with the spin-axis tilt of the golf ball, the spin loft influences the amount of backspin a golf ball possesses and will determine much of how stable that golf ball’s flight becomes. Golf shots hit with more backspin curve less violently than golf shots hit with too little spin especially in the wind. Spin loft is exemplified as golfers find themselves much more accurate with their wedges than their driver. More spin equals more stability, and this leads us to why professional players opt for their fade.

Modern drivers can be built to maximize the performance of each golfer on their best swings, but what about their misses? Golfers often lose confidence standing over their golf shots if they see the ball overdrawing or hooking too often. Overdraws and hooks create golf ball flight conditions that are unpredictable and lead to directional and distance detriments that can cause dropped shots and penalties. Because of this, elite right-handed players do not often like to see the golf ball going left from the tee box. By reducing their chances of hitting hooking tee shots, golfers often feel more freedom to swing the golf club freely and make smooth, powerful motions. This is never more evident than when watching Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit their drivers. While both players hit the golf ball both ways, their go-to shot from the tee is a left-to-right curving fade.

But wait, doesn’t a draw go further than a fade? While it is not inevitable that a draw will fly further or roll out more than a fade, the clubface and club path conditions needed at impact to produce each shape often lead to differences in spin rates and launch angles that affect distance. Less dynamic loft created by a closed clubface can lead to lower launch, less spin, and more distance. The drawback of these conditions is the reduced spin loft and decreased stability. So how much distance is worth losing to find more fairways? As we continue to see some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour win tournaments and major championships distance is the premium.

Luckily, modern drivers and club fitting techniques have given players a perfect blend of distance and accuracy. By manipulating the center of gravity of each driver, golfers can create longer shots from their best strikes without giving up protection from their mishits. Pushing the weights more near the clubface of drivers has given players the ability to present more loft at impact without increasing backspin. The ability to swing freely and know that if you miss your intended strike pattern your shot will lose distance but not end up in the most dangerous hazards have given players better, more repeatable results.

While it can be advantageous for casual golfers and weekend players to chase as many yards as possible, players that routinely hit the golf ball beyond 300 yards can afford their misses to fall back if they will remain in play and give them a chance to find the green in two shots. More stability when things do not go as planned thanks to increased spin lofts and less violent curvature has allowed elite level golfers to perform consistently even under the most demanding situations and it is why we continue to see a growing number of players favor a fade from their tee shots.

 

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