Feature Interview
with
Samuel Ingwersen, AIA
September, 2017
Part One

Trump Turnberry GC, No. 10
Aryshire, Scotland.

Before we get into details, please provide an overview of your book and why you wrote it.

First, I want to thank you for your work and its benefit to the game. I have read your GCA site for many years and consider it a significant contribution to the literature of golf. GCA’s course profiles and system of questions peel off layers of veneer and get to the essence of an issue. This makes for a source of in-depth knowledge and insights to the game that is rarely found in periodicals and books. Whether entertaining or not, it is beholden only to the best interests of the game. So, thank you.

As for an overview of my book with Michael Hurdzan, this book is about beauty. It consists of more than 150 of my watercolor paintings of golf course landscapes. The paintings and the narratives also address the beauty and attractions of the game that have been impacted by another type of beauty, an innocent, fatal type of beauty called landscape effect. The book’s main argument is this: “The beauty of golf course landscape effect is corrupting the game.”

To that end, I use my watercolors to reveal an interesting story about the decline of the game. For the fact that the industry has done no basic research seeking understanding of golf’s loss of almost 10 million players in the last 15 years, the book’s message is timely; an exposition worthy of discussion. The paintings and narratives tell the story of an innocent type of beauty that would drive the scenic movement that started in England shortly after 1890 to improve dull and dismal looking courses. By the year 2000, the movement to achieve pleasant scenery on courses had exceeded all expectations; and now the game is in decline.

Can you quantify the decline?

The declining numbers of players in the US is staggering and the underlying cause is baffling, as seen in following reports: Pellucid, a golf industry research service states: “The number of players plunged from a peak near 30 million in 2002 to 20.9 million in 2016. (1) The industry is starved for insight …and action to stabilize our industry and return it to growth… we keep doing these drive by shootings of programs…as part time jobs. It’s not cutting it.” The National Golf Foundation 2013 Report states: “Golf has been losing more players than it is gaining (loss numbers per year are similar to Pellucid’s). The downward trend in participation is more alarming. …two thirds of lapsed golfers weren’t having any fun.” And Links Magazine, Winter 2015 cover story offered: “American Golf In Crisis-Where Do We Go from Here?”

My friend Mike Hurdzan and I agree with the prevailing appraisal of the industry that the major problems that face the game today are: 1.Excessive costs, 2. Excessive time to play the game, 3. Its difficulty for the majority of players and 4. Its diminishing fun. However the artist/authors argue that these 4 major problems are only symptoms of the underlying cause of the decline of the game. The artist/authors have advanced a thesis that provides new insight into golf’s underlying cause of these symptomatic problems; it is “landscape effect” and its impact upon the qualities of the game of golf.

Essentially, you contend that the beautiful landscape effect is visually pleasing but bad for the game. Please explain this apparent paradox!

Many of the paintings of scenes in the book that depict examples of landscape effect, a landscape component contrived for an aesthetic look, are usually more visually beautiful than paintings with minimal or no landscape effects. Any combination of golf landscape components or artistic features of water, structure, bunker, foliage, fairway, margins, green and tree may be devised by a creative designer to look unique, different, memorable and beautiful.

Landscape effects have the facility of being easily defended as strategy by defensible ignorance. But strategy devised for who, that 5% of golfers that can break 80 or for the other golfers? The paradox is that what I have praised as visually beautiful, I have also scorned as landscape effects because they have, more often than not, created an obstacle to enjoyment of the game for 95% of players.

What is visually pleasing may not be a pleasing experience at playing golf.

The term ‘landscape effect’ is at the center of your premise. What does it mean precisely and what is its origin?

The meaning and explanation of the term “landscape effect” was first attributed to F.W. Hawtree (1916-2000), English course designer and golf historian. Although the term had been used in a general way, landscape effect as described by Hawtree specifically refers to a golf course landscape component that is contrived to achieve an aesthetic “look.” Hawtree’s realization of a landscape effect occurred when two English course designers, Herbert Fowler (1856-1941) and James Braid (1870-1950) champion golfer, were discussing visual aspects of bunkers at Walton Heath. The word component as used throughout the book means a distinct part of a landscape.

Hawtree quoted from Horace Hutchinson’s book, Golf Greens and Green-Keeping published in 1906. Fowler and Braid contributed material to the book, Fowler said: “…it does not “look” so formal if one bunker is some little distance in front of the green, and another starts….” Braid said: “…raise bunker banks to make them “look” as natural as possible.” Hawtree had done his research of this trend and concluded from Fowler’s writings: “Landscape effect has crept into the designer’s vocabulary for the first time.”

There is no contradiction, the book states that the beauty of many on-site landscape scenes made up of contrived landscape effects of golf course components and artistic features are more beautiful than scenes that are not contrived, simply because the designer has been more creative in achieving the objective of stunning, ornamental, individually unique “looks” with shapes, forms and colors of materials arranged in aesthetic patterns.

An example of a visually beautiful landscape effect was achieved at the 185 yard-par-3 third hole of The Golf Club, 3R view of which is shown below. The bunkers are as visually pleasing as any beautiful piece of abstract sculpture. It is also no fun where no backswing is permitted by the batters that line the edges. The illustration of landscape effect is shown below. It is typical of many paintings that will appear in the part 2 of this Feature Interview illustrating how the game has been corrupted by landscape effects.

The Golf Club, No. 3
New Albany, OH

Originally it had four bunkers that surrounded the open green. Pete Dye (b1925) had some doubt about the scene. When Pete asked Jack Nicklaus (b1941) for his opinion of his work in progress on hole No. 3 hole at The Golf Club, Jack told Pete that he felt that the hole was dull. Based upon Jack’s critique, Pete would say later about his No.3 hole: “I went back and built a gigantic three level bunker on the left hand side and used more than 450 railroad ties for bulk heading.” The moral of the story: “When in doubt, bunker.”

Unlike any other bunker scene on the course or any bunkers anywhere on any other course, the scenic statement is a delightful intertwining of forms and colors. The curving lines, colors and patterns of the rail ties, some bleached blue-grey to white, others reddish brown create a dramatic scene, but, they are obstacles. The irascible owner of the course, Fred Jones probably liked the creative stuff surrounding his other bunkers in spite of the fact that he was opposed to ostentation. For example, when questioned why he did not use white sand in his bunkers instead of gray sand he reproved his interrogator with the answer that white sand was for “show-offs.”

Nothing has changed. Imagine if you will, Dye and Nicklaus discussing the same subject Fowler and Braid had discussed in 1906 about “the look.” This time it was not two bunkers at Walton Heath relocated to a more interesting location but a three-level structure, a landscape effect, made of a curvilinear pattern of bunkers and 450 rail tie batters at The Golf Club that saved the hole from being dull.

As we shall see, Hawtree’s observation foretold a trend in the development of golf course architecture, known in its beginning as linkscape gardening, which would not bode well for the game’s future. He was a revered authority, so esteemed by his peers for his insightful research on golf that a contemporary designer/critic proclaimed, “Anyone who knew Fred Hawtree would be crazy to write an article on a subject he had researched.” Hawtree would later write; “Golf course architecture has become an exercise in pure landscaping.”

His insight into landscape effect of course design was prescient of something amiss, but at the time, exactly what it meant for golf’s future was only a guess. We shall see in the paintings in Part 2 of this Feature Interview a fraction of the possibilities of ornamental landscape effects that designers have had at their fingertips. The possibilities count into the millions of combinations counted by a factorial of 18 landscape components and artistic features.

The show must go on.

In addition to the landscape effect and its undesired consequences, you delve into another theme. Please elaborate.

In addition to discussion of beautiful golf course landscapes and the innocent, fatal beauty of landscape effect, the book addresses another theme, the beauties and attractions of the game of golf. What are those qualities of participant games that make them attractive and popular or unpopular in our society today? The book investigates these qualities that are found in the research of the relatively new social science of games and theories of state of flow, a state of fun and joy attained while engaged in games.

Experiences vary from frustration, anxiety, boredom, enjoyment, fun to optimal joy, influenced by state of flow and Challenge/Skill (C/S) balance. Too easy a task is conducive to boredom, too difficult leads to anxiety and frustration. The paintings and narratives illustrate the influences of landscape effect upon the game, which include C/S balance and other flow components. The subjects of the power of beauty and the landscape effect and their influence upon qualities of games have never before been written about or published in the literature of golf.

Let’s get to some examples. 

Below, I show several paintings that illustrate the use of landscape effect in the form of water compared to scenes with water that are not landscape effects. These paintings are typical of other golf course landscape components that are discussed in later parts of the interview. Many of the paintings are a delight to look at but illustrate the tyranny of design in pursuit of unique, different and memorable beauty that is imposed upon play of 95% of golfers, that group that cannot break 80. Ironically, many like Rory McElroy, in that group of the world’s professional tour players (.0001% of the world’s male golfers) also undeservedly suffer the same fate; when a slightly errant shot ends up in the water with no recovery play.

The Trump National GC, (TNGC) LA was formerly known as Ocean Trails in Rancho Palos Verdes. In 1999 the cost to build the golf course was reported to be $126 million, but closed before it opened. Part of it slipped into the Pacific Ocean. By the time the golf course opened it cost a reported total of $264 million. The new owner built an assortment of new inland lakes. Even here the sought after landscape effect came at a high cost. The costs are maintenance, stabilizing banks, keeping the water clean free from vegetation and debris, controlling the water level against leaks, evaporation and cost to acquire the water in some locations. It is not free, a point often lost to casual observers. What is also not so obvious is that endeavors to bring beauty “in your face” to the course may bring new obstacles and diminished enjoyment to the game.

The aesthetic beauty of water is powerful attraction and the compulsion to get beauty close to the player’s face often results in inferior functional solutions, contrary to the purpose; fun and pleasurable excitement of games.

Five examples of TNGC, LA lakes are shown in plan views below. Each hole may appear fair to rabbits with provision of short tees, colored yellow. However, locations of the water ponds hard to the edges of putting surfaces are a prescription for no recovery, no sense of progress and frustration. Water at greenside in each layout requires skill levels the same as required for professional golfers. Where is the break for the high handicapper or recovery option for a slightly miss-hit shot? There are none. The No.1 hole is a forced carry with a water moat, water falls and fountain surrounding the green. The beautiful water fountain cost $ 2.5 million and was being renovated in 2015. Sorry for Trump National, LA; golf is not a garden show, otherwise it would be in the finals.

No. 1 No. 8 No.9 No.16 No.17
Trump National GC, LA, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Plan Views of 5 Holes showing water landscape effect

As an accommodation of equity to players of various skill levels, each hole has 5 tees, each with shorter hole yardage. But it is no advantage to the high handicap player whose ball will often be in the greenside waters with no chance of recovery. Challenge is not a bad thing if recovery play is allowed for slightly miss-played approach shots. Typical of many modern courses is lack of creativity in balancing challenge expectations with skill expectations.

The Trump National Doral Blue Monster GC, Miami, FL has 14 holes that are adorned with water ponds. 318 balls were hit into the water by pros in a recent tournament, suggesting that the ponds may be too penal. The world’s No.1 player, Rory McElroy (b1989), was having so much fun that in his fit of frustration he threw his 3 iron in the water after the ball. For players and pros alike, this eliminates state of flow, agency, recovery play and simulation experiences. Research has shown that these qualities are essential to experiencing fun in games.

There are 4 courses at the Doral complex that have a total of 60 water ponds. Doral‘s sales of used golf balls should generate over $1 million a year based on calculations of frequency of the pros being in the water in the referred to recent tournament. Even though posted signs say that the course is difficult, there is too much water in play. Lack of design imagination is no excuse. If water must be used think first and then again about the purpose of the game, for example: Design water to enhance the game, position ponds in wind sheltered viewing areas that may reflect images filled with colors and light, out of the line of play. Study the St. Andrews Old Course and its beautiful little pieces of golfing ground that provide pleasurable excitement and interesting, challenging shots around greens, without the presence of water or bunkers.

Congressional CC, No. 11
Bethesda, MD

The present 11th hole formerly the 10th, shown above, as seen at this time of day with a late afternoon sun creates a delightful experience. A person walking past this point is stopped in their tracks; I was. I was attracted to reflections on the water and the backlit leafage.

Although the water provides a beautiful landscape effect, most any shot that misses slightly right of the green will end up in the water. For a slightly pushed or sliced shot this is a very harsh penalty, but most importantly there is no opportunity for recovery play, the soul of the game. The scene is absolutely beautiful, but consider another, more important form of beauty; the beauty of the game. Both forms of beauty could be vastly improved by inventing chipping challenges for all levels of skills.

An example of a delightful landscape scene that is dominated by water is the Trump Turnberry GC, No. 10, Aryshire, Scotland, which is the cover of my book (seen above). The water is not a contrived landscape effect. The water is not located in the line or adjacent to the line of play. However the delightful water in the cove may become a landscape effect as rumor has it that the new owner has plans to modify the routing of this hole. Whether the cove is moved into the line of play or the hole is moved close to the water it could easily become a landscape effect and another obstacle for long handicappers.

The following three paintings; Buck Hill GC White Course, No.9, Sea Island GC, Marshside, No. 4 and Paradise Valley CC, No. 16 display great variety with thoughtful use of water. They are not a forced carry and are far enough removed from play that they are not considered a landscape effect.

Buck Hill GC White Course, No.9
Buck Hill Falls, PA

Buck Hill GC White Course, No.9 is a short par 3 with the slow meandering brook in front of the tee. It is a delightful and thoughtful use of water, not a contrived landscape effect. What is your idea of a fun day? Nice weather, golf, a beautiful partner and lovely scenery? You can have the nice weather and the beautiful partner; I’ll take the golf at Buck Hill GC.

Sea Island GC, Marshside, No. 4
St. Simons Island, GA

Sea Island GC, Marshside, No. 4. The stream is a beautiful part of this hole. Reflections of a fusion of colors vary by the time of day. It is not a contrived landscape effect. The fairway is exceptionally wide. The water is a good distance to the right of the cart path and follows the route of the hole from the tee to the green.

Paradise Valley CC, No. 16
Scottsdale, AZ

Surely the golf industry recognizes its problems and is doing something to address them?

The book extends criticism to the $75.9 Billion GDP golf industry for its lack of initiatives to perform any basic scientific research in the attempt to understand the underlying cause of golf’s present decline. The non-players side of the game has done some applied research but none directed to the cause of the decline. The interests and motivations of the non-players side are different than the players’ side and it is prospering, doing quite well by all measurements.

Golf periodicals have an obligation to the game but as of late appear to have soft pedaled the issue of decline; who wants to hear of doom? Not readers and certainly not advertisers. The National Golf Foundation reported a loss of 38.3 million players with only a gain of 33.2 million in 9 years, 2005 through 2013 while 643 courses went out of business (2). The two largest Associations, the PGA Tour and the USGA with profitable entertainment businesses reported gains in net assets 2010 through 2012 of 25% to a total of $1.125 Billion in net assets (3).

The book concludes with a proposed Golf Logic Model as a first step to facilitate understanding of the underlying cause of golf’s problems to turn the decline around and adopt a process for continuous improvement of the game. For without understanding there can be no solution to the decline of the game and establishment of a process for stable growth.

So is that why you wrote the book?

I wrote this book for the purpose of forever extending the beauty of the game.

Originally this book contained paintings and descriptions of beautiful golf holes with biographies of these course designers. However in discussion with my advisers, two of the finest minds concerning history of the game and course design, they pointed out that the multitude of golf books with designer bios, hole descriptions, play strategy, instruction and stories of entertaining tournament competitions have beaten these subjects to death. They wisely persuaded me to change my focus and to write about what interested me as an artist, architect, and a golfer, in scenes that I painted.

My interest in painting a golf scene has always been the thrill of the creative experience. Painting is like golf, with a stroke of the brush or the club one may achieve a heightened sense of reality. When I am painting and become involved with some passages my feelings often attain a pleasurable high, a state of flow. I painted for the sake of beauty, exclusively for pleasure. Beauty has no conscience of right or wrong. Nor did I have any conscience or feeling of right or wrong of a visually beautiful golf landscape; its meaning or influence upon play of the game. The scenes I painted were interesting. My interest was a strong motivator, interest being a precursor to a subjective, pleasurable sensation of beauty.

I was not only interested, I was captivated by the beautiful Miscanthus grass in the paintings below at the side and front of No.11 tee at Hollywood GC. It is not a landscape effect. It is landscaping, out of play. Particularly impressive was the fact that the plantings were not spread over the entire course, not diluted, but concentrated only in the most effective places.

Hollywood GC, No. 10 with Miscanthus Screen at No.11 Tee

Hollywood GC, No. 11 Deal, NJ

As seen in the prior 5 images, water with interesting reflections and images with colorful grasses positioned sparingly in the most effective places, is all the beauty that is needed to achieve a memorable play experience. Contrived landscape components and expensive, over indulged foliage have taken another route to achieve beauty and memorability of a play experience. My advisor found an article on golf course landscaping written in 1952 by Hugh McRae, superintendent at Treagon GC, Baltimore, MD that suggests an inexpensive means to satisfy the need for visual beauty and the most important feature of color. “Color that can…last the whole season” Landscaping does not have to expensive and over indulged or be a contrived landscape effect justified as a challenging stratagem, only to become another obstacle to play. McRae posited: “ The average superintendent concentrates so much on his greens and fairways … but for a $200 investment and care of one acre of land of rooted material, enough can be planted to eventually take care of the whole course.”

>>>continued>>>

Footnotes:
1. Felsted, Andrea and He, Elaine, Bloomberg Gadfly, pg.1, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 25, 2017. Pellucid Corp, data source: The number of players in the US has plunged from a peak of just under 30 million in 2002 to 20.9 million in 2016, according to Pellucid Corp, an industry information provider.
2. Links Magazine, Winter 2015, with data source National Golf Foundation, pg 72.
3. Outside the Ropes, Pellucid Corp. Golf Industry Associations: A Tale of Two Cities, Vol 14, Number 2, pg 2.
4. Steinberg, Ted. American Green, W.W. Norton, 2006, page 94