Feature Interview with Keith Cutten pg ii

11. From all your research, what is an underappreciated fact of golf course design from the 19th century? 20th century? 21st century?

19th century – Just how prevalent Victorian golf course design principles were in the world of golf course architecture.  Further, this design methodology was not simply contained within Britain.  In fact, Donald Ross’s early work at Pinehurst involved chocolate drops, forced carries over penal hazards, and square greens.  While evidence of this is presented in Bradley Klein’s wonderful book Discovering Donald Ross, which also shows similar ideology in his work at Oakley Country Club (plan on page 46), common thinking describes Donald Ross as the bringer of change.  By this, I mean that he removed the Victorian elements for strategic ones based on his time at Dornoch and mentorship by Old Tom Morris.  However, as seen in the following 1910 plan of Pinehurst No. 2, the layout still shows many Victorian features including square greens and forced carries over fields of chocolate drops.  Indeed, Ross underwent his own evolution as a designer in North America, slowly becoming the incredible architect we know today.

Pinehurst routing plan – 1910.

20th century – The overwhelming influence that Modernism had on all facets of life following WWII.  Today people frequently blame advancements in construction equipment or residential development for altering the traditional values of golf course architecture.  However, prior to the Great Depression heavy equipment was being used in the construction of golf courses.  Projects like the Lido set new standards for what was achievable given modern advancements.  In fact, even Augusta National was originally shaped with more efficient tractors/bulldozers.

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However, the products were still based on classic design principles, implemented by designers who were present during the construction process (or utilized skilled construction foreman).  Furthermore, numerous Golden Age projects were devised as part of a larger residential communities – Fisher’s Island, Capilano, and Garden City, for example.

Olmsted plan for Fisher’s Island.

The sweeping changes following WWII were driven by a social desire to look forward.  Following the fifteen year period which included the Great Depression and WWII, a war which was much closer to home for most than WWI, people began to focus on the future.  Although WWII concluded in 1945, its effects shaped the global ethos for decades.

In America, much of the pre-war immigrant diversity began to dissolve, arising from the standardisation of tastes and language infiltrating the American mainstream.  Whereas first- and second-generation immigrants accounted for roughly one-third of the American population between 1900 and 1935, this number steadily decreased following the war years; culminating, in 1965, in an all-time low of eighteen per cent.  As families began moving from farms and cities into new suburbs, American culture underwent a major transformation and homogenisation.  Longer distances between home and work sparked a highway and housing construction boom.  Race and class dynamics began to shift, as older community institutions began to disappear and be replaced with images of the American family.  The baby boom was just one result of a new movement that had much of the Western world looking forward.  Innovation, not tradition, became the predominant social ethos.

21st century – Recently, experts have acknowledged that we are likely experiencing some form of Renaissance, or a Second Golden Age of Golf Course Design (also dubbed Neo-Classical).  However, what we have failed to recognised is the reasons why.  Again, it comes down to external influences directing the profession of golf course architecture.

By the end of the 2000s, world trade had quadrupled since the early 1980s.  Although the world remained as interconnected as ever—through telecommunications, the arts, culture and (most importantly) the Internet—the Great Recession caused massive changes in social perceptions.  In the decades prior, the Western world had seen the exportation of its manufacturing sectors, in favour of a more services based economy.  Globalisation allowed for an unprecedented worldwide mobility to goods, services, investment and labour.  Hence, countries relied more heavily on each other; a condition not supported by the bursting of a global economic bubble.

Western governments, through bailout initiatives and growing nationalisation, began to exert profound new influence over banks and international corporations.  This placed a spotlight on the effects of globalisation of the world economy.  The new message being delivered was that there was ‘no place like home’ for job creation and investment.

In North America, these global patterns resulted in an anti-big box consumerism craze, which has been dubbed the Shop Local Movement.  Similar to the social shifts resulting from the Industrial Revolution in Britain prior to the First World War, ongoing deglobalisation has spurred public interest in handmade, high quality, and locally sourced products.  Markets include food and produce, art and furniture, and even golf course architecture.  The emergence of income generated by Xennials and Millennials (Generation Y) into the global markets has revealed a willingness to pay more and travel further for authenticity and quality.  We see this directly in the visionary work of the Keiser family.

The developer-driven model was failing; however, the minimalist movement, which was founded on the design-build method, continued to persevere.  This movement was only strengthened by the global economic instabilities, as the surfacing craft-styled approach (design-build method) is capable of surviving on an annual output of just one or two projects.  The reason is simple enough: a deeper involvement of the designer.  This approach is in stark contrast to the architect-contractor model, which had permeated the profession during the modern era of design.

12. Moving on to Part Two, you profile architects, authors and visionaries. The architect section is the most voluminous with well over 40 people profiled, followed by 12 authors and 5 visionaries. The architects and authors are scattered across the globe, but the visionaries are all from the United States. What macro-factors contributed to that being an all-American section?

Funnily enough, my research has actually revealed that much of the modern interpretations regarding the history of golf course architecture have been largely American-centric.  As such, it was my goal to diversify the profiles to correct this misrepresentation.  However, when it comes to those on the developer or member side who affected the history of golf course design, the resulting list of names is comprised of purely Americans.  The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly, land rights in Britain, where the game originated, are vastly different than in North America.  Less than a century and a half ago, all land in Britain was owned by 4.5 per cent of the population.  The rest owned nothing at all.  Today, 70 per cent of the population has a stake in land, and collectively owns most of the 5 per cent of the UK that is urban.  However, this is a mere 3 million out of 60 million acres.

Back in 1870s, when Britain’s population was approximately 28 million, there were just over 3.84 million dwellings, of which 703,000 were privately owned.  Between 1873 and 2010, the population multiplied by 2.2, but the number of houses jumped more than sevenfold.  The number of privately owned houses increased to 18.6 million, a 26-fold increase, as the majority of the population moved from landless to landowning, and from a waged working class to an asset-owning democracy.  Historically, this meant that individuals with the power to enact change were few and far between.  Moreover, their interest in golf was, at most, a minor curiosity.  As a result, many of Britain’s clubs were the result of the efforts of a group of founding members who would hire an expert.  It was this expert who then developed a career and may be profiled in my book.

However, this history does not tell the full story.  Part two of this equation is the external economic and social changes which shifted the hub of the golf architecture world from Britain to America following WWI.  Significantly, this is still where it remains. In America, the land of opportunity, the ownership and availability of land was completely different.  A person with a dream could more easily craft their future.  It is the efforts of these Americans which have been profiled as ‘visionaries’, specifically because of their impact on the rest of the golfing world.

13. Rod Whitman is a hero of both of ours. What have you learned working with him and how do you think that shaped the content of the book?

I have been very lucky to call Rod Whitman a friend and mentor for the past 12 years.  His dedication to this craft is second to none.  In fact, my first lesson came on my very first day at Sagebrush, back in 2007.

Hired as a labourer, I spent most of that summer toiling in the bunkers, trying to contribute where I could to the design.  On that first day, I watched from the massive, left-side fairway bunker as Rod spent 2 hours working to create the first green.  When he was done, he walked his dozer back to the approach and stared at his creation for 20 to 30 minutes.

During that time, our bunker crew studied the contours of the green with great interest.  We all agreed it was a work of art.  Rod then climbed into his dozer, walked his machine back over to the green, and proceeded to destroy his creation.  As inexperienced as I was then, I couldn’t begin to comprehend what I was seeing – the destruction of greatness.  However, 1.5 hours later Rod had again finished.  The completed green complex was even better and more interesting than the first rendition.

Then, again, Rod went back to the approach and began to study his work.  Not only did he further rework parts of the green, but this process went on for an additional 3 or 4 hours.  When all was said and done, the completed green had reached its ideal form.  I knew right then and there that I had found the right guy to show me how to build golf courses.  Furthermore, it would be this attention to detail which would rub off on me, aiding me greatly in the realisation of my own creative projects.

Rod’s loyalty and mentorship is something he takes very seriously.  Rod pushes me daily to be better.  Our relationship in the field is one that has evolved to have complimenting skillsets.  I believe this shows in our work.

Rod’s second biggest impact on the book was in helping me to better understand the mentor-protégée relationship.  Rod started his career in golf course architecture in 1980 after securing the position of construction foreman with Pete Dye at the Austin Country Club.  However, this job offer came to be because of a recommendation by Bill Coore.  Rod had been working on the grounds crew at the nearby Waterwood National Golf Club, under the management of course superintendent Bill Coore.

Rod has spent a career shaping his own projects, as well as working to better the projects of bigger names like Pete Dye and Bill Coore.  However, it was the mentorship (and friendship) he gained through these associations which made him a better designer.  While I am of course proud to be included in this ‘Dye family tree’, one which is currently restoring the fundamentals of great golf course design, it was the understanding of this history which prompted me to look for other such relationships.  My findings really help to define the history of golf course architecture and, I believe, should be a model for the profession moving forward.

14. Is it safe to assume that your knowledge and appreciation of history increased during this immense undertaking?! If so, how will that increase in knowledge drive your work in the field on a go-forward basis?

Indeed it has.  I have always loved the elegance of MacKenzie’s writings on the subject of golf course design.  He often sighted the need for the designer to use their brains as their most valuable tool, saving a project both time and money.  However, he also related this analogy to the site itself, and a designer’s ability to work with the land.

I think the same can be said for a historic golf course.  Too often, owners or committees rush to start construction once a designer has been selected (often based on a great sales pitch).  I feel it is the job of the golf course architect to use their intellect to represent their client’s needs.  This process will involve acting as the historian, archeologist, environmental planner, engineer, hydrologist, superintendent, owner, club member and mediator.  Information is power, and the more a designer has, the better his/her design decisions will be.  I feel that my book, coupled to my education and professional experience, has given me the necessary skillset to assess these various needs.

15. The chapter on the decade 2020 has yet to be written! Please take your best stab as to what a) will emerge and b) what you hope will emerge.

As you can probably tell by my answers so far, I am a firm believer that efforts within the golf industry are directly affected by external influences.  Currently, our world is very much in turmoil.  Tensions in the United States, Britain and Europe threaten to destabilise both political and economic balances.  The growing influence of Russia and China can no longer be ignored.  After all, golf is a leisure activity, one which has typically thrived during periods of stability.  In essence, investment in the game becomes much easier when prospects are high, so we best hope for a more stable future!

That said, there are many young, talented and passionate shapers/architects waiting eagerly in the wings.  I believe the recent ‘thinning of the herd’ caused the Great Recession has put the golf industry in a prime position moving forward.  When the market inevitably turns, I believe we will see those emerge who will continue to push the boundaries of strategy and aesthetic execution.  Most importantly, I think there will be a strong push for local and urban golf, where accessibility to great golf will help to foster the game.

16. How did you determine the structure of the book?

The structure of the book came quite naturally due to the research methods used.  Generally, the profiles were created first, as the influences of each person needed to be clearly understood before proceeding.  Then, I created detailed timelines revealing patterns for the many external influences (economy, war, technology, allied art forms, etc.).

Typically, the text books I was using to define these trends grouped eras and movements by decade.  This was especially prevalent with the study of world economies.  As such, it only made sense to convey my own research in this manner.  Further, I believe this decade-by-decade structure is much easier for most people to comprehend (versus unstructured timeframes).

The profiles at the back of the book are there for your average club member (or specific architect lover) who desires to know more about a specific practitioner.  Further, the profiles allowed me to dive deeper into the background of these key influencers, revealing more detail regarding why they did what they did during their careers.

17. Did any awkward moments arise in the process of compiling the material?

Of course!  Most interesting to me was the fact that those on the design-build side of the industry were much more accommodating to my research than those who practiced the traditional architect-contractor model.  While this trend did have some notable outliers, my ability to contact those with big practices was made much more difficult due to their ‘gatekeepers’.  I had to be much more persistent to obtain a response.  This reality becomes more interesting due to the fact that because of ethics issues at the University of Guelph, I could not use my associations or background in golf to sway favour.  Indeed, it was the architects themselves who chose whether to offer some transparency when it came to their design influences and philosophies.

18. Who would comprise your ideal foursome whereby you could pick their brains on architecture? Also, which course (!) would you elect to play with your dream foursome?!

To observe Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie, John Low and Horace Hutchinson play a match at The Old Course would be the thing of dreams.  I would be a fly on the wall as they debated all the changes which had been allowed to occur to that sacred ground.  Further, I would make it a 54-hole match with part two played at Sand Hills and part three held at Cabot Links. To watch them play the poster child for minimalism – Sand Hills – would be a real treat.  I would delight in the opportunity to pick their brains as to the intricacies of the design.  I would also listen intently as they played Cabot Links.  Imagine the wisdom I could gain having those brains analyze a project on which I contributed.

19. Who influenced you and gave you the courage to pursue going down the hard cover publication route?

My family has always been hugely supportive.  I am lucky to have the family that I do, and a wife who sacrifices much to allow me to chase my dreams.

While I’ve always had the necessary support at home, Paul Daley was the one who held my hand through the publication process.  His knowledge and skills in the literary fray went far in easing the stresses of this young writer.

20. As I scanned the index, one name stood out from all the titans: George Cumming. Tell us how he made it in while someone like Charles Banks hit the edit room floor.

Inclusion in the profiles was based on two factors: space and overall influence on the profession of golf course architecture.  In the case of Charles Banks, his methods were simply an extension of those developed by his mentors – Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.  As such, and with a career which largely saw him complete the work of Raynor following his death, Banks’ portfolio didn’t move the needle the way the efforts of others did.  Again, as I say in my book, this is not meant to detract from the quality of his work, it merely signifies that the work of those summarised in the profiles reveal a deeper appraisal of the evolution of golf course design.

For instance, George Cumming helped to pioneer golf course architecture in Canada.  Born in Scotland, near Glasgow, Cumming immigrated to Canada in 1900.  At the Toronto Golf Club, Cumming served the dual role as the club’s head golf profession and greenkeeper.  In 1910, when the club decided to relocate properties, Cumming was tasked with sourcing the new site.  While it is unknown the extent to which he contributed to the construction of the new Toronto Golf Club, a Harry Colt design, Cumming did take advantage of the other sites which he had found (which had not been used) to solicit his first design work.

Immediately after WWI, Cumming partnered his protégés: the brothers Nicol and Stanley Thompson.  The firm was named Thompson, Cumming & Thompson, and it operated initially as a side business for the trio.  Cumming still held the position of head professional at Toronto Golf Club, while Nicol served as the head professional at Hamilton Golf and Country Club (the other Colt course).  Cumming’s mentorship of the Thompson brothers would set the framework for Stanley Thompson’s future successes.

21. Max Behr was quite cerebral, and his best designs were feature rich. As an architect, does it give you pause when you see such designs routinely fail to stand the test of time while ho-hum ones fare better?

Very much so.

For ages, people have debated the value of art.  Should creativity be a vehicle for commerce, or something completely divorced from the marketplace?  After all, doesn’t art need an audience?  Is the perfection of one’s craft a noble pursuit, or an exercise in vanity?  The truth is a little more complicated.  While I have always agreed with MacKenzie’s notion that the best work is polarizing, in the end a client’s success is linked to the design decisions made by the architect.  Yet, the more distinctive and creative the effort, the more likely it will captivate and demand an audience.

In his book How Buildings Learn, published in 1994, Stewart Brand explains how buildings adapt and evolve over time. Brand identifies three factors which often force buildings to change, they are: 1) technology; 2) money; and, 3) fashion.  He claims that more than any other human artifact, buildings improve with time, if allowed to. He then asks the question, “how do buildings come to be loved?” He concludes that the simplest answer is age.  However, to achieve a longstanding age, a design must survive.  Brand proposes that in order to survive, the design must be able to adapt.

Brand stresses the value of an organic kind of design, which can be altered and expanded easily to evolve into a building’s ideal form. While looking back through architectural history, Brand found a point when architects began considering themselves artists causing a steady decline within the profession. What he dubbed “Magazine Architecture” resulted from this progression, as owners and designers cared more about the appearance and “wow factor” than the final purpose and function of the building itself. The long-term function and maintenance of the products of the design process are not the focus of the magazines and, as a result, are given a lower priority.  Clearly, many similar relationships can be found within the evolution of golf course architecture.

Sadly, Behr’s work fell victim to change on two fronts: money and fashion.  In California, the fifteen year period between the start of the Great Depression and the end of WWII would have resulted in immense changes to his courses, given the climate.  Additionally, new ideas pertaining to golf course architecture, ones derived from both Modernism and a more economic conscience, would have precluded his courses from the restorations they deserved.  Behr passed away in 1955, leaving only his writings to defend his work.  Sadly, I believe we have analysed his words more in the past 15 years then the 50 years prior.

22. You write, “In 1898, Horace Hutchison helped to form the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society (OCGS) and served as the Society’s first president. Joining Hutchison, an impressive line-up was assembled: John Low (captain); Arthur Croome (secretary); and Harry Colt (committee member). Bernard Darwin took part in the first match.” Talk about a gathering of heavyweights! Did a more collaborative spirit exist back then among architects and authors than perhaps what does today? If so, I wonder the ramifications?

I do believe it did.  However, I believe this collaborative spirit existed out of necessity.  Whereas golf course architecture is viewed today as a noble profession (by some at least!), at that time golf architecture was simply a side venture for most professionals who sought to expand their equipment businesses.  As educated men moved into golf course architecture, there grew a desire to mimic the prestige of their former professional careers.  Indeed, partnering with like-minded people and working to expand the knowledge of your growing profession, most importantly under the public spotlight to generate interest, was the recipe for success.

Today, I believe this spirit is not lost, just reborn.  It is alive and well in the current design-build methodology.  Protégée architects advance to competent designers, creating teams where the sharing of ideas is helping to elevate projects to greater heights.

THE END