Feature Interview with Mark Rowlinson & Daniel Wexler
Questions & Answers with Mark Rowlinson:
What were the factors in deciding it was time to update and revise The World Atlas of Golf?
I think it was generally agreed that the old book was creaking a bit, particularly with regard to the main artworks. The book had passed from Mitchell Beazley (its original publishers) to Hamlyn some time around 1990. Although they are both part of the Octopus group, somewhere along the line the original artworks were mislaid, so they could not be updated. The amount of change since that first edition of 1976 has been enormous, from modest changes to the bunkering to very severe rebuilding. So you can imagine my reaction when Trevor Davies of Hamlyn rang me to say that there would be a completely new World Atlas with digitally generated artworks. Not only would these be up to date but also they could be updated in the future. The other really positive element to Trevor’s conversation was that he was fully committed to the architectural thrust of the book, that he would fully support the choice of courses made by the panel of writers and that there would be no pressure on authors to include any course at the expense of any other. So there is no compromise.
What was your role and why did you accept it? After all, doing a follow-on book to a cult classic like the original 1976 edition with such venerable observers of the game as Herbert Ward Wind, Pat Ward-Thomas, Charles Price et al seems like a losing proposition.
It didn’t seem like a losing proposition to me â€œ nor did it to those I approached as potential authors. My role was to Ëœhead up’ the team of writers and to give Trevor a single point of contact. Initially that role entailed approaching certain writers. We originally thought of using four writers. One of those dropped out, others couldn’t undertake to write all we needed to write, and occasionally someone popped his head over the parapet and was immediately recognized as the right person to do that particular course, so we ended up with an extensive panel of writers. But it was essentially the original panel who fought it out to arrive at the consensus of courses we now have. Otherwise, my job was mainly an editorial one which, given the quality of material submitted by the authors, was far from onerous.
How was it determined what courses would be included in the new edition?
The panel argued the toss, a little bit driven by me because I had to see that the overall balance of the book was about right with regard to geography, old and new etc. Course architecture was the principal criterion. And, of course, each author concerned had to believe wholly in the value of his allocation of courses.
Some championship courses like Firestone and Baltusrol didn’t make the cut. Instead, we see courses like St. Germain and Pacific Dunes that measure 500 plus yards shorter than these tournament-ready courses. Indeed, the average length of the courses in the 2008 version may well be shorter than the 1976 one â€œ what should we make out of this fact?
This question is really a part of the previous question in that we thought about the architecture first. Whether or not umpteen championships or professional tournaments had been played on a particular course was of no concern. One of my reasons for approaching certain people to write was that their judgment would not be affected by reputation. They would write about what they could see with their own eyes. I haven’t averaged the course lengths in this book or the 1976 edition, and I’m not sure what I would make of it if your postulation turned out to be the case. After all, Merion is still considered worthy of hosting the US Open.
There are always challenges in publishing any book, especially one whose subject matter spans the globe. What was one such particularly (amusing!) hurdle?
You always hope that you have got the right courses. After all, golf in Asia is huge and expanding rapidly, yet there are fewer Asian courses this time than last. Spain and Portugal are high on the agenda of northern European golfers, but only one course each makes it this time. No doubt GCAers will cast their critical eyes over the inclusions and ask, legitimately perhaps, ËœWhy is X in and Y not?’ One of the toughest hurdles occurred near the end when photographs for potential use in regional introductions were sent to me. It seems that golf photographers, or those responsible for handling their photos, are not always 100% accurate in their labeling. Suddenly I would see a photograph and an alarm bell would ring. ËœI don’t think that is the 4th hole,’ or, ËœI don’t even think that is the right course.’ That’s when you spend an eternity looking on club websites, Google Earth overheads etc trying to verify that hole x actually does have four bunkers on the left side. I hope I’ve not committed too many howlers of that sort, and I’m sure GCA regulars will not be slow to tell me if I have.
You were called into action to write several course profiles. In fact, after returning from Hamburg, you were glowing in your praise of Falkenstein. What impressed you so much?
I so liked the routing and the way the course made maximum use of the topography. And then there is the abundant heather. The course has not been lengthened in recent times â€œ it can’t be because it already occupies the whole of the site. There are many charming shorter two-shot holes where you drive downhill to be followed by a delightful approach uphill to a wonderfully-sited green. Then there are the several holes which strike out towards a distant ridge and what happens beyond you can only guess at until you get to that ridge and find that it has been used in a different way each time. I don’t think that all the Limburger changes are successful (the 15th and 16th are somewhat out of character) and on the 18th his green-front bunkering precludes the running approach shot, but I do like his par-5 2nd and long, par-3 3rd. I found the club manager and his beautiful assistant most welcoming, providing me with plentiful background material.
What did you learn from your involvement with publishing this edition?
To trust your authors and let them have enough rope to hang themselves if so they want. It is their enthusiasm which is so essential for the writing. I knew the work of most of those I approached, but not necessarily their speed of work or how touchy they might be about having their texts changed. There were a few minor skirmishes but nothing too serious. One author whose written work I didn’t previously know was Iain Carter. I knew him as a commentator, for he is the BBC’s Radio 5 Live golf correspondent. I am happy to say that he is a fluent, stylish writer and I greatly enjoyed his observations. It was also interesting to see his reaction to old-fashioned courses he didn’t know. After all, he covers all the major tournaments of the golfing world and to witness his enthusiasm for Golden Age courses was reassuring and exciting.
How will the new 2008 edition of The World Atlas of Golf be added to/modified in the future?
We hope we can expand to 100 courses and we hope that we can modify any artworks which need it.
Since our last Feature Interview with you in June, 2003 (click here to read), you have been involved in several other book projects. Please bring us up-to-date.
Mostly they’ve been centenary books â€œ Alwoodley, Stockport and Hartlepool. I’m currently mixed up in centenary books for Sandy Lodge, Ringway and Delamere Forest and a 75th for Mere. There was also a book for Conran, one of Hamlyn’s partners in Octopus, A Place to Golf, which was published under a different title in the USA. I’m also presently co-writing a wine book.
Questions & Answers with Dan Wexler:
How different was it writing the new edition as opposed to restoring/re-writing the previous revised version?
They were two totally different experiences. On the final edition of the previous book, Mark asked me to restore as much of the original 1976 text as possible, making the obvious updates that were required where courses had been changed, additional Major championships played, and the like. It was actually kind of a neat thing â€œ something I Ëœd never tried before â€œ to take, say, 1,500 of Charles Price’s original words, retain all the ones that were still relevant, delete everything outdated, then fill in new/updated text in all the gaps. It was sort of like putting together a puzzle, while also trying to make my additions at least reasonably consistent with Price’s writing style. All told, a great writing experience.
This time it was a simpler assignment: write entirely new entries for, in my case, 34 courses, nearly all in North America. There were the usual questions of finding the ideal balance of history, architecture and hole-by-hole descriptions, but Mark and the publishers were great in allowing me to write essentially what I wanted. In the end, it was mostly just a matter of word count. The rest, essentially, was easy.
How do you like the book’s new format relative to the long-running old one?
To be truthful, when the new format was first suggested, I was something of a dissenter. I thought the old style was better because the large Gazetteer section that closed the book allowed the inclusion of many more courses â€œ although I’d long preferred that it also include more accurate mapping. But in the end, I must admit that Mark and the publishers were right; the new format, which relies heavily on regional overviews to cover many relevant courses, reads well, looks great, and gives the volume a sort of narrative flow that was missing before. In this sense, it makes for a much better â€œ and far more comprehensive â€œ read than existed in any of the previous editions.
How much research time was required per entry?
I was pretty fortunate in this regard. Having already researched the histories and architectural evolutions of nearly all of America’s great Golden Age courses for previous projects, I was able to get around to the writing pretty quickly. However, as Mark stressed making this volume as up to date as humanly possible, a bit of digging was frequently necessary in order to cover recent renovations, lengthenings and the like. And naturally, in the internet age, whatever research or inquiries were required didn’t take especially long. For me, the toughest entries were the handful of newer courses that were included â€œ places I had generally seen, but paid less attention to historically. Spyglass Hill, for example, where I’ve been several times, required a much more serious examination than I’d ever chosen to give it before.
How big a concern is the potentially varying styles of the different writers in producing a smooth, consistent product?
For me personally, it wasn’t too big simply because by originally writing 34 of North America and the Caribbean’s 41 entries, my own style was obviously going to be the dominant one in the region. For the overall book, I wasn’t too concerned initially because the original plan was to follow the lead of the 1976 edition, wherein each writer essentially covered their own region â€œ so stylistic differences essentially became regionalized, which I personally felt added to the book’s literary charm. But as logistical issues began to mandate bringing in extra writers to handle one or two faraway courses, that unification of regional style ran the risk of becoming a bit frayed. So at that point, I focused my own efforts strictly on North America, and rested easy in the knowledge that Mark’s considerable editing skills would guarantee a strong unification of styles. Though I haven’t yet had time to read all of the overseas entries, what feedback I’ve initially gotten suggests they turned out relatively seemless.
How difficult was it writing the Durban Country Club entry from halfway around the world?
Thank god for modern technology. I inherited Durban â€œ my one entry outside of my home hemisphere â€œ when it sort of fell through the cracks during the course assignment process. Originally, I’d anticipated Mike Clayton doing it, because I assumed that he’d played there at least once or twice during his E Tour days. But when it turned out that he hadn’t â€œ that, in fact, none of us had ever seen it â€œ I shrewdly traded something I was utterly unqualified for (the South American overview â€œ sorry Mark!) for something I was at least vaguely qualified for, and took Durban on. But honestly, it wasn’t too difficult to do. I’d seen numerous televised events there over the years, and possessed all manner of written and graphic material on the course, its history and evolution. Actually, it did turn out to be challenging in one context: for most entries, my knowledge was strong enough that I formulated my storyline, then just started writing, filling in details from outside sources as needed. With Durban, I gathered all my materials first, reviewed everything, then started writing â€œ and in the process, ended up with something way too long, which ultimately required significant pairing down.
Do you have a favorite entry among those you wrote?
I would have a hard time singling out one, but perhaps four ¦
First, The National Golf Links of America, which is probably the most remarkable golf course I’ve ever seen. I’ve always admired the 1976 edition’s inclusion of The National (because it operated far outside of the limelight in those days) but also felt strongly that its unique place in history merited a much deeper discussion. That much, I think, we’ve accomplished here. Second, Winged Foot, partially because it’s in my hometown (I was fortunate enough to play high school golf matches there) and partially because we did a sidebar on the East course, perhaps the most underrated golf course of my acquaintance. Third, Augusta National, simply because we created what I would consider to be an even-handed profile; it celebrates the greatness of the golf course (even in its altered state) but also questions what Bobby Jones and Dr. MacKenzie might think of their once-unique creation today. And fourth Seminole, a personal favorite and one of the very few layout’s whose 1976 profile I personally felt didn’t measure up.
Among those you didn’t?
On that score, I mostly look at a number of courses that I really hoped would be added to this edition, such as Prestwick, North Berwick, Alwoodley and Kingston Heath â€œ really exceptional layouts which, for whatever reason, were never featured in previous editions. Now, Ran will probably try to delete the rest of my response, but ¦I personally favor all of the entries penned by both he and Mike Clayton. In Ran’s case, he brings to the mix as good an eye for the salient points of great design as anyone I know. And Mike, a former world-class player and now one of the game’s truly elite designers, offers as knowledgeable and enlightened a perspective as anyone in golf. Part of my excitement at doing the New World Atlas was the opportunity to work with both of them, so I’m particularly partial to their work.
Which of your deleted entries do you most look forward to seeing in subsequent editions?
I suppose Yale University, one of the grandest, most awe-inspiring layouts in the American game, and a course which has seldom been given its due in this sort of enterprise. But I personally look forward to future editions when my remaining deletions â€œ Garden City, Eastward Ho!, Crystal Downs and the San Francisco Golf Club â€œ will all make their debuts.
As the author The Golfer’s Library, where do you think The New World Atlas will rate among contemporary golf volumes?
It’s probably too early to answer that question definitively, because at a certain level audience reaction does play some role in defining what is or isn’t ultimately judged as a classic. That said, the original 1976 edition became a golf literature standard for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its groundbreaking nature â€œ and you can’t really break the same ground twice. But the original was also very well thought of because of the scope of its graphics, and I think we’ve reached a similar artistic standard this time around. Further, I strongly believe that the collection of courses profiled here is by far the best ever assembled in this sort of volume; I would be absolutely amazed if 20 years from now, people are questioning too many of our choices in the manner in which some original selections such as Firestone, Champions or, say, Royal Montreal ultimately came to be viewed. Now on the question of writing, well, who are we to try to stand ourselves up against Pat Ward-Thomas, Herbert Warren Wind, Charles Price, Donald Steel and Peter Thomson? But I will say this: I consider Tom Doak’s extensive introduction to be every bit the equal (if not more) of Steel and Ward-Thomas’s opening to the first edition, and with absolute respect to Peter Thomson’s five Open Championships, Mike Clayton’s credentials as both a writer and course designer would make him my choice to cover Australasia. As for the rest of us, whose North American and European coverage might be compared with that of Ward-Thomas and Price, well, it’s always good to be reminded of the constant need to improve.
So in theend, time will tell if this edition is considered as important as the 1976 debut. But if you remove the original’s status as a groundbreaker from the equation (because again, that novelty value only applies once) I’m confident that in the end, this edition will come to be viewed in a comparably favorable light.