Green Keeper:Bill Jones
Howman interacts with nature is at the heart of golf course architecture.
Max Behr spoke of courses ‘uncontaminated by the hand of man’ and of natural courses that possess ‘a certain charm wholly lacking upon a palpable man-made golf course.’ C.B. Macdonald wrote in Scotland’s Gift that ‘When playing, you want to be alone with Nature. Glaring artificiality of any kind detracts from the fascination of the game.’ Later in the 1920s, hewrotewith regard to National Golf LInks of America that ‘the only thing that I do now is to endeavor to make the hazards as natural as possible.’
Thoughtheir wordscontain timeless truths, their message was lostduring the lastseveral decades of the 20th century.With bothequipment and money plentiful, courses became more and more landscaped. Man’s hand upon the property became heavyto the point where it wastooevident.
During the late 1980s and 1990s,there were afew architectsbucking the trend. Rather than over-stylizinga site, they were intent on following nature’slead and incorporating nature’s subtleties into their designs. The architect firm of Coore & Crenshaw was one such firm and as a result,time has proven them to be particularly successful in building courses that are reflective of their surrounds.
Of course, crucial to an architect that wishes to make the most ofthe land is a good piece of property.The opportunity to build a course from scratch in the desert replete with waterfalls, rolling hills, and imported mature evergreens is of minimal interest as they realize any suchattempt to replicate nature will yield a product that is adistant second to the real thing. Far preferable is a varied piece of property full of natural hazards. As Coore remembers thinking when he first got in the industry in the early 1970s, ‘in this business, you can’t ask for any more than a decent piece of property with some naturalfeatures and a principal who allows us to work.’
In theearly springof 1997, just such an opportunity presented itself when Ken Bakst invited Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to tour a 350 acre block of land outside of Riverhead onLong Island. In hindsight, it would prove to beCoore & Crenshaw’smost exciting piece of property since Sand Hills.
Initially, Bakst drove Coore and Crenshawonto the propertyvia an oldservice road. The first bit was through trees butthen they came to aclearing, alandscape with wide expanses of 60 foot sand dunes dotted with natural vegetation. Yes, indeed, this property mightwell be different from most(!), thought Coore.
The three men tromped around 125 acres ofmassive wooded rolling dunes for most of the day. To thenorth, the dunes gave way to150 to 200foot bluffsoverlookingLong Island Sound.To the south was farmland, which uponcloser study,possessed natural depressions and featureson a human scale. Coore & Crenshaw were sure holes of interest could be found and/or createdon the farmland portion of the property; the challenge was to find naturalholes with golf quality in the dunes without doingany major alterations and to have those holes link to the onesin the field.
For the rest of 1997, and with no signed contract, Coore made several sitevisits to study the complex dunes portion of the property. The 15th hole wasan easy findwith a tee high on a duneand its fairwaytumbling througha natural valley toward Long Island Sound. Coore could also see the short one shot 17th hole and eventually came to see the 18th hole as well. However, Coore & Crenshawresist signingany contract until theyfindaroutingthat is pleasing to all parties and in this regard,finding a satisfactory way to get from the 15th green to the 17th teeremained a missing piece to the puzzle.
Coore kept walking through the sand dunesuntil late thatfall. On the one hand, the scale and size of the dunes was so severe as to make one wonder if there was a good golf hole in there. On the other hand,the dunes were toobeautifulto want to ‘fix’them for golf. As winter set in, Coore didn’t have an answerand he returned home.
InMarch 1998, Coore returned to the siteandhis break came when he stumbled upon the shoulder of a sand dune that was completely masked under years of organic matter and debris. He thoughtit would make for a handsome feature within a hole and workingoff it, he soon found an ideal spot for the 16th tee going 230 yards back from this dune shoulder as well as for the green complex some 150 yards ahead of it. Withthe 16th foundand an appealing routing now in place, Coore & Crenshaw signed the contract in August,1998,more thansixteen months after they first walked the property.
When permits were received in February, 2000, Coore & Crenshaw’s team was busyfinishing the Chechessee Creek Club in South Carolinaand the Austin Golf Club in Texas. Fortunately, Coore’s long time friend and work colleague Rod Whitman was immediately available to assist at Friar’s Head. (please note: Whitmanhas built first rate courses onhis own as has Dave Axland who ranthe Friar’s Headproject for Coore & Crenshaw).
With the general routing known, the challenge was now tying in the dramatic contrast between the dunes and the field, especiallygiven thatthe tree line abruptly stopped at the base of the dunes. As Coore puts it, they needed ‘to balancethe visuals without overpowering the substance of the golf.’ The team started on the initial clearing in February and didn’t finish for five months. Great care was taken in creating wide corridors to transition the golfer from dunes to field and vice versa.
Not until the clearing was completed was any dirt moved, and by this time it was July, 2000. With the exception of James Duncan who was overseeing the construction of the delightful Hidden Creek Golf Club in New Jersey, Coore & Crenshaw’sentireteamwould at one time or another work on Friar’s Headover the next2 1/2 years.What transpired during that timewas an evolutionary process, with talented professionals slowly uncovering the site’s finest natural attributes and incorporating them into a golf course.
Examples of the evolutionary process areseen in the Holes to Note section below.
Holes to Note
(Note: all yardages are estimates on the part of the author as the score card contains noyardage information).
1st hole, 380 yards; The course commences in the dunes portion of the property and from the start, Coore wanted the 1st fairway to be where it is today asitoccupies the only flat part within the dunes and he wanted the golfer to get into his game before going up and down in the dunes. Originally, the green was staked at the base ofthe hillupon whichtoday’s green sits atopwith the hole beinga short opener in the 330 yard range.However, nagging doubts persisted as after putting out, the golfer would have to climb 35-40 feet to get to the 2nd tee. Instead of benching the green 10 feet up the hill, perhaps they could do 15 or 20 feet? Finally,the suggestionthat perhaps the green should go atop the hill was thrown out.Would the uphillshotbe too much forthe first approach shot of the day?Coore asked Bakstthat very questionand thereply was an unhesitating ‘no’. Thus the trees were cleared atop the hill (though the rest of the hole had been cleared weeks prior),and so sits today’s green. As Coore says, ‘this is a prime example of letting the process evolve in the field and of avoiding a regrettable situation.’
2nd hole, 580 yards; The first transition hole, as the golfer starts high on a dune and endsat a green that was once in the middle of a potato farm. The all important question was how to gracefully transition the golfer from one extreme to the other.Coore & Crenshaw felt that these transitions were the single mostcrucial design aspect to the course’s overall success. After speaking with Coore, Whitmanwent to work in hisD-6 and shaped thedirtintorandom movements which start out bigger and more pronounced at the base of the sand dune and then gradually taper outat the green complex.Where man’s hand starts and nature ends is undetectable, the true sign of a job well done.
3rd hole, 480 yards; With every other two and three shotter on the course containingplentyof movement from tee to green, Coore & Crenshaw let thisfairway stand as they found it, which is to say essentially flat.In that manner, the hole is reflective of its surroundswhile at the same timestretching the variety ofthe course. Of course, there are subtletiesin theapproach with a slight rise at the front left corner of the green nudgingballs into the awaiting left greenside bunker. On a recent visit, the mowing lines were being adjusted to ensure that only short grass was between the green and that leftbunker.
4th hole, 230 yards; This long one shotter is at a right angle to the 3rd hole. To break any hint of monotony that can come in a flat field, Coore & Crenshaw placed a series of diagonal bunkers across the tee and ranthem 160yards to theleft of the green. Thus, the tendency off the tee is to steer the ball a bit to the right, away fromthis obvioushazard. The problem arises as the green slopes from right to left, making a recovery from the right problematical.