Feature Interview with Tom Paul

Part Two – May 2012

Where were you September 11th, 2001? Describe the events.

I was at Royal County Down G.C. in Newcastle, Northern Ireland with a group of eight players from my club, GMGC. We were in the midst of a one week span of team matches against a few clubs in Northern Ireland.

On September 10th we drove down from Royal Portrush to Newcastle and to that marvelous Slieve Donard Hotel almost on the grounds of RCD. I was so into seeing and doing architecture then and I had time left in the day to walk the course and take it all in. My first and lasting impression of RCD’s architecture was it was moderately rolling and choppy in places and that it all flowed together so well; and it was the king of really cool blindness and frankly I love really cool blindness in golf architecture. After walking some of the course I went into the clubhouse and into its office and introduced myself to the approximately five secretaries in there. It was friendship at first sight. They were Irish fun and funny and we had a lot of laughs which was interesting as I was a total stranger to them.

September 11th, 2001 began normally enough for Northern Ireland—it was rain going sideways in a gale of wind. I was rooming with a wonderful friend, Dr. Tom Frazier.* I snore like a jet-engine and when Tom takes out his hearing aids he’s virtually stone deaf. Tom is one of the most ebullient and optimistic guys I’ve ever known (and we would surely need his attitude and spirit in the days that followed) and being a doctor he was up early. He threw open the curtains to find the wind and rain crashing against the windows. He stepped back from the window and in a mock Rocky-pose, shouted at the wind and rain, “Give me your best shot Royal County Down—–I’m coming after you today!” I particularly mention the rain as I’ve always told my traveling companions through the years that if they want to play in the sunshine to take me with them because the sun tends to follow me everywhere.

In the clubhouse with the RCD team we were playing against we had one of those wonderful formal golf lunches with great food, drink and speeches, the passing around of favors and memorabilia etc. As desert came, my team reminded me it was still raining but I reminded them we had not yet teed it up. As we all left the dinning-room to go out to play the sun came out!

There were a group of Americans in front of us (I was in a group that included a former Captain of the R&A). Those Americans in front of us who I recall were from Las Vegas were frankly embarrassing and obnoxious to me in the way they dressed and in their general demeanor and attitude. At one point, we asked if we could go through them and they refused us.

As we came off the 18th green and rounded the pro shop the American in the group ahead of us who had been the most obnoxious came running out of the clubhouse screaming at the top of his lungs; ‘Those {Bleeping} Arab terrorists have attacked the United States.’ I told him to at least lower his voice and dispense with the profanity. At that point, I had no idea what was going on but a few of us went into the pro shop and we watched in real time on a TV high on a corner of the wall of the pro shop as one of the Trade Towers collapsed. Two of our group from GMGC had sons who worked in the Trade Towers and when they realized what was happening they naturally got pretty hysterical and ran into the office in the clubhouse to make phone calls. Those wonderful secretaries I’d met the day before spontaneously told the two men, “You can call anywhere in the world, and as long and as many times as you need to, and it’s all on us.”

With a certain amount of retrospection I would have to say that day was the most upsetting and confusing of my life, at least as it related to my feelings about my own country, my countrymen, our families and such (on that particular day I thought the plane that I found out later went down in western Pa, when some passengers went after the terrorists (United flight 93), might hit Pittsburgh and kill my stepdaughter).

Eventually, in the mental fog that followed, I wandered off alone out onto that boulevard of Newcastle in front of the entrance to Royal County Down. There was almost no traffic, and as I was walking along alone with a jumble of unorganized thoughts, one of those little Morris Minor trade trucks went by me; I watched it do a U-turn and go by me the other way. A few seconds later it came up beside me and the elderly driver rolled down his window and said; “You’re an American, aren’t you?” I think I said; “Yes, I am, is it obvious?” He just said; “God love you lad—we are all with you and your countrymen,” and then on he went.

With all that happened then and has happened since from that extraordinary day of 9/11, 2001, I tend to remember most of all those two remarkable, unsolicited and spontaneous acts of human kindness of those people mentioned above (the secretaries and the trade truck driver). In retroflection I am also struck by the fact that day was couched in golf, a thing that has certainly been important in my family’s life, and in mine.

Another observation I would like to make of that panic stricken and confusing day in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, is the majesty of the Mountains of Mourne that looked down upon us. It was as if the permanency of Nature herself was watching over us and the helter-skelter of Man. Even the implication of the name of those mountains struck me so.

We were stranded in Ireland for 3-4 days beyond our scheduled return home when planes all over the world were grounded. We were one of the first planes out of Belfast (generally considered to be one of the most secure airports in the world). I have flown back and forth across the Atlantic many times in my life but this flight was unusual in that no one seemed to speak or to move the whole way across, not even the crew. It was just the continuous jet-drone of the engines until we felt the plane begin to descend and then bank left and there underneath us just to the west was New York City with that gaping, smoking hole in its lower end. From that massive scar an enormous sharply defined plume of smoke hung above and stretched as far as the eye could see down the coast to the south. Behind it, and lighting it in magnificent colors was the setting western sun; it was both incredibly beautiful and overpoweringly eerie, but we were home and our world had changed.

Finally, I can never speak about that time in Ireland without mentioning the Pirates of Malone (Malone GC, Belfast, Northern Ireland) and how important they were to me and my American team from GMGC. We played matches against 3-4 clubs on that trip but the organization of that week revolved around Malone GC and their traveling team—The Pirates of Malone (the organizer from GMGC, Ben Spillard, is English/Irish; he lived over there for some years and has known those men and their families for many years). The way in which they took us in and counseled and comforted us in those days that followed 9/11 was an exercise and example of what perfect human relations can and should be. They explained to us in such a kind and interesting way the realities of living with the prospect of terrorism on a day to day basis (something they certainly know a lot about, and we Americans had not known much of anything about theretofore). This paragraph on the Pirates of Malone is a late entry into this essay and I mention it because coincidentally, just this morning (4/23/2012), I got an email from the aforementioned Dr. Tom Frazier, to our GMGC team from that time that the Pirates of Malone are coming to America on 9/7/2012 to play a match at GMGC against our team. We have done it before at GMGC since 9/11/2001 and we will compete again for our team match trophy known as “The Shabby Jacket.” Our bond that began at that time 9/11/2001 with those men and their families is ineffable and it will last forever!

*Tom is married to A.K. Frazier, a lady from my club who is a wonderful golfer and she reminds me of the “Energizer Bunny” and sometimes I call her that. She has won our club championship something like eighteen times in the last nineteen years. She has been our green chairman and she has been on our board. She has been right there most years in GAP and PA State championships but she never quite got it to Victory Lane. She’d never really made it up the leader board on the National level (kind of reminds me the way Philly’s Buddy Marucci once was until that incredible US Amateur in 1995 at the US Amateur centennial at Newport against Tiger Woods in the finals) but I think it was 2010 she got into the US Senior Woman’s Amateur. She was the last to qualify in a multi-competitor play-off and was seeded No. 64. She took out the medalist in the first round and just kept punching away round after round. Even though I had roomed with Tom Frazier in the Lesley Cup at Brookline the weekend before the Women’s Senior Amateur in Florida where he caddied for her before having to go back to work, I forgot to follow her results. When she made it to the quarter-finals the cell phones of members started buzzing. She got into the semis and won. Now she was in the finals of a USGA championship, something she had never come close to before. I was in Florida and I followed her finals match in real time on a computer. She didn’t make it to Victory Lane but since I’ve had her cell phone number for years I called her right after it was over. I knew how competitive she and her family are (her father and uncle were incredible sportsmen and nationally successful in other sports like the Bostwick brothers of New York were). I felt she might be really down after getting that far and losing so when I called her, I said: “A.K., I hope you’re not too disappointed because I know how competitive you are.” Here’s what she said: “Tommy, this has been a week that is sort of over the moon for me. When I got here this week nobody knew who I was. There are all these ladies who have played professional golf and most everyone here had never heard of me, but now they all know who I am. Sure, I wanted to win as always, but frankly, this morning something made me wonder if I really was a national amateur champion, but I just kept plugging away and took it the distance. It also occurred to me through this tournament that I really know match play golf; Boy, do I know how to play match play golf. I’m not disappointed at all right now; this has been the best week of my life in golf.” She also said that since she never made it that far in a national championship she was shocked to hear from the USGA officials on the first tee how many exemptions she got for getting to a USGA championship final. She also said it was maybe a bit too obvious that the USGA was pulling for her in the finals because if she won she would’ve been the first competitor in any USGA championship in the history of all the USGA championships to make it from the 64th seed all the way to Victory Lane. Now, like most all those ladies on that circuit, I call her what they call her—-“64!”

Famously you once hit your approach shots to within ten feet on the first two holes at Garden City. Then you decided to stop playing so that you could soak in the architecture as you walked around the course. How do you prefer to study a course – with or without clubs in hand? What are the benefits of each?

I am not very good at playing and trying to study golf architecture at the same time. I suppose that has something to do with my former tournament results fixation. In those days I didn’t want to look around because I thought it was distracting.
These days if I want to carefully study architecture I’m not that familiar with and I have plenty of time I prefer to walk the course alone first. That first step is important to me because it gives me the opportunity to try to analyze everything about the course spatially—-for instance, where my shots might go or should go on a course with which I’m unfamiliar. Then I like to play the course alone to see how much different my spatial sense of the course was compared to where the ball actually does go. If you think about this it is a very interesting approach because it allows you to begin to analyze the various reasons distances can be deceptive to the instincts or to the eye. After that I prefer to walk the course with a group of players who basically span the spectrum of player levels. This helps me understand how the various decisions and results of a spectrum of players are affected by the various aspects of the architecture.

Pat Mucci was with us that day at GCGC and he has great knowledge of the history of the architecture of course so for me watching Pat and you play was a good way to gauge how I might play the course. I know how far I hit the ball with any club so I could just judge my own game off of the two of you.

To me GCGC and its architecture is in the category of Myopia, NGLA and Oakmont for uniqueness. I think the essential ingredient of the architectural uniqueness of GCGC, Myopia and to some extent Oakmont is in the fact that they have so many really cool looking natural grade or natural landform architectural features, certainly including many of their greens and tees. I suppose a lot of that has to do with the fact they are all so old.

BEEP—something just reminded me of an old GCGC related story. Pat hosted us that day at GCGC and it felt to me like the first time I’d been there, but it wasn’t. When I first began playing a lot of golf in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I pretty much learned the game from my father and then a loose group of really good players. Down at Gulf Stream in the winter it was the Gulf Stream pro Johnny Rock and many time Kentucky amateur champion Billy Musselman. In Long Island there were the Bostwick brothers and others like them who were friends of my father and a GCGC pro I ran into in Delray with Musselman and Rock by the name of Mike Long. Long was just incredible. He had one of the best swings I’d ever seen and he could do almost anything with the ball. Long’s first time at Gulf Stream with us he shot a 65 and actually drove the 15th green which was truly remarkable in those days; and when we came north he had me over to GCGC for a few rounds and a lesson or two. He was a wonderful teacher but unfortunately I think Mike Long was crazy; and I mean certifiably. I mention this story about Long because of the last time I saw him. I was hitting balls at Piping Rock one evening and I was way over on the right about 200 yards from where the practice tees were. There was only one person left at the practice tees and I could see the guy had a beautiful swing. I was just standing there watching him about 220 yards away and with his last swing he turned in my direction. It was too much in the gloaming to see a ball but he swung and a few seconds later a ball whizzed so close to my ear I could hear and feel the wind. And then he turned and walked off the range. I was so shocked I jumped in my car and raced around to the pro shop to see if I could find out who it was. I think it was Tom Nieporte who told me it was Mike Long and he was acting so weird he apparently had to be admitted not long after that. Strange stuff happens in golf if you’re around it long enough.

Both Pine Valley and Merion are cornerstone designs of the Golden Age of Architecture yet both are predominately aerial golf courses featuring only several approach shots where the ground game is likely to be the preferred choice. In your mind, does this place any limitation on how these designs should be perceived?

There’s no question both have been considered cornerstone designs during the so-called Golden Age and ever since. They were famous then in the age of hickory golf and they’re just as famous with today’s equipment. It is also true to say both are heavily aerial in shot requirement, particularly for the time they were designed and built. Both courses have approximately eight holes that require some type or length of an aerial approach shot to reach the green surface. And Pine Valley is distinct from Merion East in that it also has a majority of holes that require an aerial shot of sometimes considerable distance over far more than just rough grass to reach fairways from the tees, and in some cases even the next section of fairway off a good drive.

In my mind, this does not place a limitation on how their designs should be perceived. However, I am certainly aware that some subscribe to the architectural philosophy that all golf courses and all golf architecture should provide a ground game option throughout.  This of course was articulated by many prominent people in architecture in the old days and is still articulated by some of the luminaries in the profession today. An interesting description of that philosophy is that any golfer should be allowed to actually putt his ball around a golf course if he so chooses. Some even called this an ideal. That is not a philosophy I subscribe to at all.  I do not say a golf course and its architecture could not be superlative if it offered that option throughout but I do not believe that should be a requirement for great architecture or an ideal course. On the question of “ideal,” I feel that subject should always include the question of—–ideal for what or ideal for whom?

Pine Valley was definitely not conceived and created to accommodate other than quite good players and I do not believe that fact should limit the perception of its quality at all. To me this simply involves the adage of “different strokes for different folks” and my theory of the spectrum of architecture I call “The Big World Theory.” I coined this term about a dozen years ago. What it means to me is since golf architecture is in ways an art form there should necessarily be a wide spectrum of types and styles of golf architecture out there at any time and certainly if there are enough people who like all those different types and styles and are willing to support their existence. It is a term and a philosophy that I developed through conversations with Bill Coore on the subject of golf courses as art forms and the idea of the importance of difference in an art form. Unfortunately, the one thing that is not possible under the “Big World Theory” is to be able to incorporate all the differences in types and styles into any single golf course! And that is why there needs to be many different types and styles of golf courses out there.

I have little doubt that George Crump of Pine Valley and Hugh Wilson of Merion had read plenty about that particular “ideal” of architecturally accommodating any and all levels of players but I have even less doubt that is not at all what they set out to do or wanted to do with Pine Valley and Merion East. But if they did not want to do that with those two courses, it certainly is a legitimate question to ask why not?

Obviously, they were far more interested in designs that conformed to what was referred to even back then as “championship”—–e.g. a design and its shot requirements for a much higher caliber of golfer who could get the ball in the air on demand for a prescribed distance with some regularity. Many of that time and era used the term “shot testing.” What did that mean? To me, and I think to them, it meant about the same thing as the term we use today—-“to require every shot in the bag.” The idea was to test the shot making ability of a golfer across a wider range of shot requirements including aerial on demand.

I don’t necessarily have a preference between a course and architecture that can be played totally along the ground and one that requires a considerable amount of aerial shots. I think golf and golf architecture should have both (again—e.g. the ”Big World Theory”).

Share with us your thoughts on the ‘amateur/sportsman architect.’

The prior question centered around Merion and Pine Valley, but for some years I have included these two highly significant courses in a group that includes Myopia, GCGC, Oakmont, and to some extent NGLA. That latter group is also considered to be highly significant architecture. I have written a series of articles on all of them together in a number of periodicals that include the GAP (Golf Association of Philadelphia) magazine, the 2005 US Amateur program at Merion and the 2009 Walker Cup program at Merion. The essential theme of those articles was those courses were designed by what I refer to as “amateur/sportsmen” architects. A number of those significant and respected courses were also their “amateur/sportsman” architect’s most significant project as well as their initial project, and in one case (George Crump) his only project.

Ran, obviously you know as well as anyone that the architectural credit and attribution of Crump at Pine Valley and particularly Hugh Wilson at Merion has been questioned, discussed and debated endlessly on GOLFCLUBATLAS.com. The threads questioning and debating Merion’s architectural attribution have without doubt been the most numerous and certainly the longest GOLFCLUBATLAS has ever had. What is the nature of those questions and who have been the primary questioners?

The leading questioners on GOLFCLUBATLAS.com of Crump’s part in the routing and design of Pine Valley have been Tom MacWood and Paul Turner (a man I enjoy debating immensely because of his nature and intelligent approach). The leading questioners of Wilson’s part in Merion East’s routing and design have been David Moriarty and Tom MacWood. The nature of their questions and their suggestions has been that particularly Wilson, and to some extent Crump, were not as responsible for the routing and design of those courses as history has generally recorded and given them credit for. With Pine Valley it has generally been their contention and suggestion (or at least MacWood’s) that Harry Colt did more than he has ever been given credit for or even more than Crump did. With Merion East, David Moriarty contended that C.B. Macdonald and his son-in-law H.J. Whigam routed and designed the holes of Merion East* (he changed that contention from his essay to his posts on your Discussion Group somewhat to describe Macdonald/Whigam as being the ‘driving force’ behind the routing and design of Merion East) and that Wilson simply constructed it to their plan. MacWood suggested that HH Barker was responsible for the routing of Merion East. They have offered all kinds of complicated and involved reasons why they believe this to be the case but one common and consistent reason offered by both Moriarty and MacWood on the routing and design attribution of Merion East, which they have stated numerous times in threads and posts on GOLFCLUBATLAS over the years, is that particularly Wilson (with his five man “amateur/sportsman” member committee) was too much the novice to have been CAPABLE of routing and designing the holes of Merion East. Therefore, at least a part of their logic from which they apparently formed their suggestions, their premises, and contentions, is that someone else MUST HAVE done it for him (or them—e.g. Wilson (and committee) and Crump).

I strenuously resist that logic (suggestion and contention) and just as strenuously completely disagree with it, and all those who have tried to follow those endless threads over the years know I always have. My primary reasoning has long been it does not logically follow in golf architecture or in the history of golf architecture that simply because someone has never been involved in the creation of a golf course and in a golf architectural project before that they are INCAPABLE of creating a routing and design, and even a great one!

There is no question that in most of the last three quarters of the 20th century the instances of “amateur/sportsmen” architects such as Wilson, Crump, Fownes, Leeds or even C.B. Macdonald and H.J. Whigam getting involved in those kinds of special projects have been rare but there is a very good historical reason for that and it is not difficult to identify.



*With Merion East the primary source of this contention is David Moriarty’s 2008 In My Opinion article on GOLFCLUBATLAS entitled “The Missing Faces of Merion, A Reexamination of the Origins of Merion East (1909-1912) Part I.” The threads and posts on GOLFLCLUBATLAS in which Moriarty and MacWood both make this contention are numerous and can all be found on the multiple Merion threads over the years in the Discussion Group.