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Opinion & Analysis

“A Little Madness”: Stanley Thompson’s 5 great courses

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In Ontario, golf course architects take respite from their regional work when the snow begins to dust the fairways. Mind you, they don’t go into hibernation. Some travel to warmer climates, where they work on projects with other designers.

Ian Andrew might be caught doing such a thing, but he is just as likely to lace up his skates and have a game with his countrymen, even if they are decades younger. When the state of world health took a hairpin turn for the worse this winter, Andrew took on the task of finishing a book that had seeded and watered but never tended to fruition.

Stanley Thompson was, before Rod Whitman and the humble Andrew, the single and great Canadian golf course architect. James Barclay published a tome on “The Toronto Terror,” as some referenced Thompson, in 2000. Two decades later, we are fortunate to have “In Every Genius There’s A Little Madness,” Ian Andrew’s assessment of Stanley Thompson’s five greatest commissions. They are, in order: Jasper Park, Banff Springs, Royal York/St. George’s, Capilano, and Highlands Links.

The words

Ian Andrew undertook exhaustive research (more on that later) on the way to publishing his hardcover volume. The research allowed him to cull the most appropriate quotes from Thompson’s career, along with supporting text from other sources. As a practicing architect and builder of courses, Ian Andrew knows his way around a topographical map and a variety of bulldozers. If Ben Hogan’s secret was in the dirt, the essence of In Every Genius is Ian Andrew’s familiarity with that very same dirt. Andrew’s writing is as much conversational as it is literary and historical. As one turns each page, the sense that that the author is along for the journey is evident. Andrew was the restoration architect at one of the five greatest commissions (we won’t tell you which one) and he also collaborated with Tom Doak on the restoration of another of the five (nope, you have to read the book!)

The images

Some of the images used for “In Every Genius…” come from a collection of photographs Ian Andrew and Robert Thompson purchased in 2008. Another bulk comes from the Olmsted Archives. The remainder were sourced from governmental archives, out-of-print magazines, and the golf clubs and courses themselves. Research that spans from the Atlantic maritime islands to British Columbia does not equate with one-stop shopping. Just as the author traces the development of  Thompson’s architectural style, so too, is the reader allowed to plot the steps required to aggregate this collection of imagery. It is in the balance of things that we find contentment, and Ian Andrew provides such calm, with text and visuals at equal weight, on both sides of the scale.

The research

As referenced above, Ian Andrew’s knowledge of the five courses is hermetic. In addition to the two tours of duty as a restorer, he has journeyed to the other three sites, and performed exhausting investigation on all five. A quick scan of the resources listed on pages 160 and 161 reveals a scholarly search for any and all references to Thompson and his work. As a practicing architect, Andrew was able to utilize connections across the industry to gather every necessary form of documentation to complete the book.

Summary

The book was borne of a desire to right a perceived wrong. Ian Andrew had read an interview with James Hansen, biographer of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. In the interview, Hansen claimed that Trent claimed that he, and not Thompson, had created the routing for one of the five greatest commissions. Always the historian, Andrew hoped to uncover the veracity or mendacity of the claim. He did but, once again, you should read the book to determine what he learned.

Ian Andrew took the unusual route of self-publishing his book on Blurb. This kept costs lower than those of a traditional publishing outfit. Each copy is published when ordered by the company. If you’re interested in the finer points of golf course architecture, especially those related to Canada’s five greatest, pre-2000 courses, this book will appeal to you and occupy a place of honor on your golf shelf. If you want to read more of his writing, visit his golf blog.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Greg V

    May 10, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Stanley Thompson did a lovely course, Whirlpool, outside of Niagara Falls, ONT. But of course, you know that.

    I have been fortunate enough to have played Banff, Jasper, and Ingonish.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Why wedge mastery is so elusive

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I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers over my 40-year golf industry career, because I have always believed that if you want to know what people are thinking, you simply have to ask them.

As a gearhead for wedges and a wedge designer over the past 30 years, most of my research and analysis is focused on these short-range scoring clubs and how golfers use them. What this research continually tells me is that most golfers—regardless of handicap–consider the wedges the hardest clubs in the bag to master. That’s because they are. I would even go so far as to say that the difficulty of attaining mastery even extends to the best players in the world.

Watching the Genesis Open this past weekend, for example, it seemed like these guys were hitting wedge approaches on nearly every hole. And while there were certainly many shots that covered the flag—like Max Homa’s approach on 18–there were also a great number that came up woefully short. Not what you would expect when a top-tier tour professional has a sand or gap wedge in their hands.

The simple fact is that wedges are the most difficult clubs in our bags with which to attain consistent shotmaking mastery, and that is because of the sheer design of the clubhead itself. For clarity of this article, I’m talking about those full- or near full-swing wedge shots, not the vast variety of short greenside shots we all face every round. To get mastery of those shots (like the tour pros exhibit every week), you simply have to spend lots of time hitting lots of shots, experimenting and exploring different techniques. There are no shortcuts to a deadly short game.

But today I’m talking about those prime opportunities to score, when you have a full- or near-full swing wedge into a par-five or short par four. We should live for those moments, but all too often we find ourselves disappointed in the outcome.

The good news is that’s not always all your fault.

First of all, you must understand that every wedge shot is, in effect, a glancing blow to the ball because of the loft involved. With 50 to 60 degrees of loft—or even 45 to 48 degrees with a pitching wedge—the loft of the club is such that the ball is given somewhat of a glancing blow. That demands a golf swing with a much higher degree of precision in the strike than say, an 8-iron shot.

I have always believed that most golfers can improve their wedge play by making a slower-paced swing than you might with a longer iron. This allows you to be more precise in making sure that your hands lead the clubhead through impact, which is a must when you have a wedge in your hands. Without getting into too much detail, the heavier, stiffer shaft in most wedges does not allow this club to load and unload in the downswing, so the most common error is for the clubhead to get ahead of the hands before impact, thereby adding loft and aggravating this glancing blow. I hope that makes sense.
The other aspect of wedge design that makes consistent wedge distance so elusive is the distribution of the mass around the clubhead. This illustration of a typical tour design wedge allows me to show you something I have seen time and again in robotic testing of various wedges.

Because all the mass is along the bottom of the clubhead, the ideal impact point is low in the face (A), so that most of the mass is behind the ball. Tour players are good at this, but most recreational golfers whose wedges I’ve examined have a wear pattern at least 2-4 grooves higher on the club than I see on tour players’ wedges.

So, why is this so important?

Understand that every golf club has a single “sweet spot”–that pinpoint place where the smash factor is optimized—where clubhead speed translates to ball speed at the highest efficiency. On almost all wedges, that spot is very low on the clubhead, as indicated by the “A” arrow here, and robotic testing reveals that smash factor to be in the range of 1.16-1.18, meaning the ball speed is 16-18% higher than the clubhead speed.

To put that in perspective, smash factor on drivers can be as high as 1.55 or even a bit more, and it’s barely below that in your modern game improvement 7-iron. The fact is—wedges are just not as efficient in this measure, primarily because of the glancing blow I mentioned earlier.

But–and here’s the kicker–if you move impact up the face of a wedge just half to five-eights of an inch from the typical recreational golfer’s impact point, as indicated by the “B” arrow, smash factor on ‘tour design’ wedges can be reduced to as low as 0.92 to 0.95. That costs you 40 to 60 feet on a 90-yard wedge shot . . . because you missed “perfect” by a half-inch or less!

So, that shot you know all too well—the ball sitting up and caught a bit high in the face—is going fall in the front bunker or worse. That result is not all your fault. The reduced distance is a function of the diminished smash factor of the wedge head itself.

That same half-inch miss with your driver or even your game-improvement 7-iron is hardly noticeable.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Breakthrough mental tools to play the golf of your dreams

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Incredibly important talk! A must listen to the words of Dr. Karl Morris, ham-and-egging with the golf imperfections trio. Like listening to top athletes around a campfire. This talk will helps all ages and skills in any sport.

 

 

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On Spec

On Spec: Homa Wins! And how to avoid “paralysis by analysis”!

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This week’s episode covers a wide array of topics from the world of golf including Max Homa’s win on the PGA Tour, golf course architecture, and how to avoid “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to your golf game.

This week’s show also covers the important topic of mental health, with the catalyst for the conversation being a recent interview published by PGA Tour with Bubba Watson and his struggles.

 

 

 

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