Feature Interview
Samuel Ingwersen, AIA
November, 2017
Part Three

The Influence of Landscape Effect Upon the Future of Golf
Samuel Ingwersen, AIA, Artist/Author, Michael Hurdzan, PhD, ASGCA, Contributing Author

What took you down the path that ultimately led you to conclude that the landscape effect had corrupted the game?

Thanks Ran, the two subjects, landscape effect and its influence upon the game of golf, are the foundation of the book’s thesis: “The beauty of golf course landscape effect is corrupting the game.

What makes your question difficult is that there is no precedent in literature that addresses these subjects and their correlations. Many have written about the on-site beauty of a hole, strategy and design, difficulties, fairness of play and hazards but none have identified landscape effect and its impact upon the range of human experiences, from optimal joy, boredom, and anxiety to frustration that may be experienced in play of the game of golf.

What drew me on the path toward my conclusion was my quest to determine that Hawtree’s idea, “landscape effect,” had validity. Landscape effect is defined as a golf course landscape component or a composition of components designed or contrived for their look.  Is landscape effect an illusion or is it real? To that end, my answer to your question goes into a great detail of historical background about the aesthetic and cultural forces that brought about and encouraged creative, unique and individualistic works of golf course architectural landscape design. As we shall see, these aesthetic and cultural forces have been largely responsible for today’s present state of golf course design ideology.

My conclusion was not yet whole until I looked deeper into a subject unknown to golf, namely the theory of games. My conclusion became clear after I found correlations to the game of golf in the works of social scientists Roger Caillois, sociologist, in the areas of game categories, qualities of games and why they become popular or corrupted and Mike Csikszentmihalyi and Susan Jackson, psychologists, whose works were in the areas of game experiences of state of flow and challenge/skill balance.

These scientists are recognized world-wide for their contributions to games and leisure theory. A big part of life is enjoyment of recreations and games and the things that make people feel good in these pursuits. Their work explains why people are attracted to games, enjoy them and have fun.  A variation of their Experience Sampling Methods (ESM) has the ability to quantify and measure the human experiences in play of the game of golf. Within the framework of an ESM, landscape effects may be compared to designs of course components that may make it more likely for enjoyment and fun to occur and less likely for anxiety and frustration to occur in play of the game.

Let’s relate your premise to the evolution of golf course architecture. 

We should keep in mind that the art of golf course architecture is barely 100 years old. As an emerging formative art of the Victorian Era (1837-1901), guided by a mixture of ideas of the decorative, fine and applied arts, orchestrated by aesthetes and driven by artisans and emerging designers that plied them in making the market, the new art of building golf courses would find its identity. Not surprisingly, the men in addition to their architectural talents, that most influenced, wrote and published material about the developing new art were artists. These men were Hutchinson, trained in the arts and sculpture and a member of the progressive artists group the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood; Simpson, an artist with noteworthy exhibits of his art work exhibited in London, H.N. Wethered, a professional artist and author and MacKenzie, an author, trained in the art of landscape camouflage.

Hawtree discovered the phenomena of contrived aesthetic landscape effects of course design but drew no conclusions. The idea that landscape effect had validity eventually became apparent and that subjective, human experiences subject to influences of landscape effect upon the game of golf could be quantified and measured by a golf orientated ESM.  Useful information would require an ESM that would generate big data. The golf ESM would take into account many variables; course structure, golfers’ experiences and time spent on activities across various skill levels of players.

After extensive research into these two unfamiliar subjects of landscape effect and games, my premise became evident. I was convinced that my insight into probably the most serious problem in golf’s 500 years of existence, the cause of the game’s decline, should be expressed in the most able of terms.  The authors determined that the most positive way to capture readers’ interests in a rather uninspiring but crucial subject, the future of the game, was enjoyment of 150 interesting watercolor paintings of beautiful golf courses with provocative narratives and research supporting the book’s conclusions.

Talk about the Victorian era in England and what shaped tastes then.

Artistic ideas come from nature and the works of others. The works of others may be objects of art or philosophical dissertations. The 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), considered by some to be the greatest philosopher since the Greeks, has dominated philosophy for the last several centuries including philosophy of aesthetics. Kant’s theories were embraced by contemporary aestheticians, artists and philosophers of the Victorian Era which exerted a consistent influence over much of the thinking within the various movements and styles of the Victorian Era. This included the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movements. Kant’s theory of aesthetics in general is that a work of fine art is unique (different, like no other), representative of no law (proportions, scale, light and color differentiations, etc.), formula or precedent, only the artists’ genius and his individuality. (20)

The new concept of genius, put forth by Kant’s Critique of Judgment, 1790 would have a profound effect upon attitudes toward ornament.  The widely accepted Kantian theory compelled artistic individuality. Genius as used by Kant and other theorists meant “natural endowment,” not today’s common usage connoting superior special skills. A contemporary example of Kant’s affirmation of genius is in the bunker banks at Calusa Pines, Fl. The bunkers have sand flashes up to 20 foot high because of the designer’s compulsion to create something special and be different. The designer exclaimed of his bunker design: “Sometimes, to create something special you must take a chance and be different. (21)

The most convincing material that gives validity to Hawtree’s idea, “landscape effect,” is the genesis of its idea, the original thinking and the concept behind the idea. An artist’s achievements would evolve from the artist’s individually endowed spirit; their genius. For the first time in the history of Western art, genius had become the quintessential characteristic of the artist. And originality was its most important characteristic. The artist’s genius, “propelled their freedom of artistic self-expression from worldly constraints of conformance to religious, state and noblemen clients dictates, into a realm of intellect from which they were to instruct–rather than pander to conventional taste.” (22) As golf course design evolved from a craft to a profession, ornamental landscape effects consisting of pleasing forms and variety of compositions of landscape components would soon be manifest in golf course landscapes. And the race was on by designers to express their genius while establishing their reputations and meeting the imperatives of society’s ideas of pleasant scenery and beauty.

The philosophical and aesthetic ideas that were getting a great deal of play in Victorian England particularly in the latter years of that era were a driving force that helped shape artists’ motivations in all the various arts which by the early 20th century included course designers’ ideas of course landscape scenery. In addition to the aforementioned philosophical and aesthetic ideas were the influences of three major British cultural interests that would contribute to the ideas of beauty and variety of course landscapes. These were: 1) The world leading art of British landscape gardening, 2) the National Arts movement to improve the nation’s aesthetic tastes and 3) the beginning of the art of golf course architecture, first referred to as “linkscape gardening” and the scenic movement of 1890 started by Horace Hutchinson, author and golf’s most prominent course design theorist, to improve the scenery of golf courses.

Those are three really interesting points to drill down on, so let’s! First, British landscape gardening.

From our modern perspective it may be difficult to comprehend how British landscape gardening and the National arts movement of the 19th century would influence golf course design philosophy and construction in the 20th century. Origin of many course landscape ideas accrued from several centuries of British experiences in aesthetics, science and the art of landscape gardening. The established art of landscape gardening would facilitate solutions to both scenic and scientific problems that dealt with soils, grass, plantings and landscape needs of golf courses. The artistic touch was promoted by aesthetes like Hutchinson. Although he encouraged adaptations of advanced landscape technology applied to course design he was also ever mindful of the importance of including aesthetics; he wrote: “…as we become more scientific we may fall into a worse pit of becoming altogether undramatic … but unless that dramatic interest is kept before the eye of the linkscape gardener he may turn out a good, but deadly dull job.”  (23)

The art of landscape gardening in England was the Western world’s leader in landscape gardening during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1900s the art was readily serving the needs of golf courses experiencing explosive growth in the latter decades of the 19th century in Great Britain. Almost every inland community was building a course, many of which were criticized by writers, esthetes and elite designers as dismal and dull, representative of the “Dark Ages” of golf in Great Britain. The art of landscape gardening was a source of national pride. It also served as an inspiration to artistic minded commentators such as Hutchinson, Tom Simpson and H. N. Wethered  who would write: “There is the artistic side. No reason exists why a golf course should not decorate a landscape rather than disfigure it.” (24)

The Sutton and Carter companies were English seed merchants, supplying demand for grass seed and assisting in building courses for UK and US golf clubs well into the first several decades of the 20th century. Not only were their grass seeds sought, but also their expertise on all subjects related to grass which consisted of soil, drainage, grass slopes, preparatory work, weed seeds in soil, enriching the soil, surface preparation, selection of seeds, sowing, bird scares, worm casts, watering, mowing, rolling, destruction of weeds, top dressing, moss, fungoid diseases and even construction plans for putting greens.

An outstanding representation of landscape gardening of its time was depicted in the book The Art of Landscape Gardening (1797) by Humphry Repton (1752-1818). The book discussed the visual pleasures (the term pleasure is synonymous with sense of beauty) that could be experienced or denied by the positioning of landscape elements or components in delightful compositions. This included water bodies, building or removing hills and land forms or groups of trees that either hid or exposed a contained or borrowed scene. Other subjects included mythological structures and hydraulics. Repton persistently implored his clients he would double their pleasure if they permitted him to include a reflective water pool or pond in his landscape designs.

Humphrey Repton’s work would contribute to philosophy of course design. C. B. Macdonald (1856-1939) advised: “every aspirant who wishes to excel in golf architecture should learn by heart and absorb the spirit of … quotations from the landscape book by Humphry Repton; The Art of Landscape Architecture” [sic]. (25) Macdonald substituted the word “Architecture” for “Gardening” in his incorrect referrence of Repton’s book ostensibly to make Repton relevant to ideas of 20th century course design. The large body of knowledge of English landscape gardening arts and sciences and the work of English nurserymen would benefit golf courses. As it would so happen, American course designers would eventually make a few peculiar adaptations of their own.

Second, The National Arts Movement.

Great Britain was one of the major leaders of the Industrial Revolution.  However, advanced as the country was in the manufacturing arts, many critical observers were concerned about the British people’s lagging sense of taste when it came to design of their industrial products. An exception of course was advancements in landscape gardening design. Prince Albert (1819-1861), Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) Consort was the benefactor of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Its centerpiece, the Crystal Palace designed by a landscape gardener, is shown below.

The Great Exhibition, 1851, The Crystal Palace

Although The Exhibition was a success much of the English displays of goods were criticized for their inferior taste in design compared to other countries. One English critic stated: “Although the objective was to advance our national taste…  Nothing was comparable to British hardware or gratings … There was, however a decided inferiority in national taste when it came to ornamental design; the way in which these useful, well-crafted objects were made beautiful through decoration.” (26)  The superior, more graceful and elegant products of competing nations that were on display concerned the country’s leaders.

Ironically, The Great Exhibition of 1851 and the reactions of critics would provide long lasting benefits to the country’s sense of aesthetics and art appreciation. Soon thereafter Parliament established laws for the Provincial Schools of Art. By 1864 there were 70,000 poor (children of the working class) being educated in the “principles of art to improve the nation’s sense of taste and to better compete in international markets for sale of products…” (27) Tens of thousands of more art scholars would follow.

The most significant aspect of the National Arts Movement relative to golf was that within the next several decades a burgeoning group of art scholars and mature graduates of the Provincial Schools of Art, would become supporters for improvement of the looks of inartistic inland courses. If not pliant supporters, at least they did not oppose the ideas of scenic beauty as suggested by golf critics and commentators like Hutchinson, Simpson, Colt, MacKenzie and Wethered. By the early 1900’s the scenic course movement would advance without benefit of debate or constructive criticism. The aesthetic consciousness of the nation had been raised. There were apparently no opponents to the pleasing scenic movement or advanced thinking of the turn it would take with its future form of beauty.

And your third point, the Emerging Art of Linkscape Gardening and the Scenic Movement.  

We have touched upon the arts, artists, and the influence of Kantian theory embraced by artists during the Victorian Era. These interests were a precursor to what was taking place in the new art looking for an identity. The term “linkscape gardening” conjures thoughts of beautifully landscaped golf courses. The term and the idea behind it was conceived by the same man most responsible for the golf course scenic movement. Inexorably, Kant’s philosophy (unique, like no other, different, individualistic, genius) about artists roles in creative aesthetic endeavors would become embodied in the future creative, artistic and aesthetic expressions of golf course architecture.

In the year 1890 Horace Hutchinson, (1859-1932) champion golfer, influential author and designer, the world’s preeminent golf architectural theorist would write:  “Scenery is not of course, golf; but golf is a pleasanter recreation when played in the midst of pleasant scenery,” (28) an idea that would soon revolutionize golf.

Horace Hutchinson – Portrait by John Singer Sargent

After the turn of the century Hutchinson was writing, extoling the virtues of pleasant scenery but lamenting the shortcomings of  “…linkscape (sic) gardeners who lacked an artistic eye in pursuing their new craft of links gardening.” (29) The pursuit to improve scenery of the course gained remarkable support in the beginning decades of the 20th century. The most notable English magazines and newspapers that covered the subject of course design, Country Life, The London Times and Golf Illustrated were the leaders. They employed the best writers, who in turn invited leading course designers to contribute articles on new design ideas. Hutchinson and Country Life provided forums within which they would commend the new work, courses and ideas of the guest contributors, supplying praise and criticism from time to time.

Hutchinson’s idea of pleasant scenery, in his 1906 book, was complemented by two famous course designers, Herbert Fowler and James Braid who took to his ideas. They contributed aesthetic experiences to his golf book related to their experiences with bunkers at Walton Heath. They stated that the looks of symmetrically placed greenside bunkers could be improved by devising alterations. Fowler said of their visual aspects: “…it does not “look” so formal if one bunker is some little distance in front of the green, and another starts ….” Braid made the following statement: “…raise bunker banks to make them “look” as natural as possible.” Hawtree concluded: “Landscape effect has crept into the (designer’s) vocabulary for the first time.” (30) Hawtree’s insight into landscape effect and its contrived use to achieve pleasant looks of course design was prescient of something amiss, but exactly what it meant for the game and golf’s future was only a guess.

Hutchinson trained for the bar and later studied in London to be a sculptor and an artist. While in pursuit of his artistic interests, he became influenced by the original Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, (PRB), founded 1848, and its second generation movement and their principals of art. The most famous art critic, author, and lecturer of the Victorian Era, John Ruskin, (1819-1900), was also involved with the PRB and actively supported the second generation PRB artists with his influential writings and lectures. In his book, Seven Lamps of Architecture 1849, Ruskin declared that the aesthetic was the overriding significance: “A building is not truly a work of architecture… unless it is in some way adorned.” Hutchinson’s ideas of enjoyment of scenic, artistic adornment of a golf course neatly conformed to his early PRB art instruction and the influential Ruskin’s architectural adornment principals.

The prospect of undramatic course scenery by linkscape gardeners without an artistic eye, as lamented by Hutchinson, would soon be allayed, resulting in courses with pleasant scenery. An account of British cultural pride in Britain’s art of landscape gardening (even the most modest of cottages throughout all of England cultivated dooryard gardens) and the National Art Movement gives one a good understanding of the immensity of these cultural forces and how they conditioned every community’s pliant support of golf’s scenic beautification movement. It is easy to speculate, that if there had been one dissenting critique (Thomas MacWood’s comment) of the scenic movement perhaps golf’s present preoccupation with the look and its attendant problems of decline as a player participant game would have taken a different turn.

Other writers, designers and critics would become involved in the same mission as Hutchinson. The artist and author H. N. Wethered and the artist, author, and course designer Tom Simpson would write in their book The Architectural Side of Golf 1929: “For the first time, at the start of the 20th century, golf architecture … was recognized as belonging to the art of the game … In a sense it represented a revolt against a style of course construction that was unimaginative and untrue to tradition, characterized by a fondness for gun-platform tees, monotonous cross-bunkering and inartistic hazards (rifle butts as sand bunkers)—a kind of design for which the brothers Dunn (Tom 1849-1902, Willie 1869-1952) and Old Tom Morris of St. Andrews were mainly responsible.” (31)

For the next 100 years, consistently as years passed, the philosophical statements about purpose of design and the looks of a course by scores of designers and writers from Darwin in 1909 to Doak in 2010 began to change. The emphasis of beauty implacably shifted from beauty of the game to beauty of the course.  “The look” of scenery that Hutchinson declared as not golf, had become golf

Architects, landscape architects and artisans have adorned their products from the beginning of time in order to achieve pleasing looks. This is no different from golf courses today that are adorned with ornamental landscape effects. The argument that an ornamental landscape effect is justified for strategic purposes does not hold water when it is outside the boundaries of possible “state of flow” and challenge/skill balances. It then becomes an obstacle to enjoyment by 95% of golfers.

Art historian Brent Brolin observed: “…ornament has been part of virtually all cultures gracing almost every appurtenance of life … Perhaps ornament has been such a consistent part of human history because it has satisfied a need for beauty that all people share. With rare exception, when ornament could be used it was, and in most cases, in proportion to wealth.” (32)

The foregoing explains how the fatal beauty of landscape effect has innocently evolved to become a driving force in golf course design.

Who are some of your favorite ‘voices’ back in the day that helped to alter/elevate golf course architecture?

The answer to this question depends upon where your interests lie. On the one hand are the players, especially that group of 95% of all players that cannot break 80. On the other hand are the non-players associated with the game whose interests and motivations are different than the players. Thus the two groups have different levels of appreciation for golf course architecture.

My interest is with the players, therefore my favorite voices, although small in numbers, from back in the formative days that have brought a certain awareness to course design today are men such as Bernard Darwin, Tom Morris, C.B. Macdonald, Walter Travis and Alister MacKenzie. They spoke about the mental and emotional attractions and beauties of the game, not of memorable visual experiences of beautiful course scenery. There is one exception, Tom Morris had no voice however there is an eloquence to the fact that of the 500 members of the Old Course of which only a handful could break 100, Tom in his several decades of stewardship was able to keep his members happy. His practical design ideas are worth listening to.

Also F.W. Hawtree, a lonely voice, spoke of the use of landscape effects in pursuit of beautiful scenery. He would later write; “Golf course architecture has become an exercise in pure landscaping.” (33)   Hawtree’s  statement would brand him as a heretic today if it were not for the fact that the typical landscaping costs for state-of-the-art golf courses in the USA had, on average, from the 1960’s into the 1990’s increased in cost from $7,500 to $1,050,000 per course. (34)

There were other voices, dominant, popular, voices imbued with the great message of the beautiful scenic movement, but they were leading course design in a dubious direction.  Tom Simpson, one of England’s notable course designers, artist, and author was the most caustic in his criticism of dismal course design. He christened the years from 1885 to 1900 the Dark Ages of Golf Architecture: “Most of their courses would best be termed dismal.” (35)  In a collaborative book co-authored by Joyce and Roger Wethered, Darwin, and Hutchinson, Simpson described the work of the Dark Ages designers “so deplorable and misguided that, so far as the golf architect and the client were concerned, it was a case of the blind leading the blind.”  MacKenzie also remarked: “The beauty of golf courses in the past has suffered from the creations of ugly and unimaginative design.” (36) Hutchinson, Simpson, Wethered, Colt, Hunter, and their followers, some less indulgent and some more, appeared to ignore any benefits of all the trial and error work that had preceded their stance only to be seduced by Dame Beauty.