Feature Interview with Richard Mandell No. 2
Richard Mandell, a golf course architect in Pinehurst, North Carolina, has been working on a book tentatively called Golf Courses Of The Sandhills: Their History and Evolution for the past two years. The book will be a complete history of all the golf courses in the sandhills with insight into the development of the Pinehurst courses and the relationships among the Tufts family and Donald Ross.
Mandell,now aveteran architectwith fifteen years in the business, currently has six projects in five states. Among his current work are a Tillinghast renovation in Erie, Pennsylvania (Erie Golf Club), Army-Navy Country Club, a new practice facility for the Country Club of North Carolina, and Raleigh Country Club, Donald Ross’s last golf course design. Raleigh Country Club is Richard’s second Ross restoration. He completed a bunker renovation at Monroe Country Club outside Charlotte, North Carolina during the summer of 2003.
Excerpts fromMandell’s upcoming book Golf Courses of The Sandhills: Their History and Evolution are scattered throughout this Feature Interview and are highlighted in bold blue print.
1. What drove you to undertake this project?
One day I was looking through The Course Beautiful, the first Tillinghast book done by Wolffe, Trebus, and Wolffe. Toward the back was an old overhead shot of Pinehurst. Being a resident, I recognized the shot. It was an aerial of highway five and of the holes that front both sides of the road. One hole was going in the opposite direction of how it plays today and it got me thinking about the evolution of the golf courses in Pinehurst.
I then started to think of the influence of sandy soils on Pinehurst and a thesis of how sandy soils may have influenced the development of golf in the sandhills came into my head. Being a golf architecture history buff, I decided to write a detailed history of the development of the golf courses in the sandhills. Nothing has ever been written about Pinehurst and the sandhills to the level of detail I was planning, purely focusing on the golf architecture. Aside from The Scottish Invasion by Richard Tufts and Lee Pace’s book and subsequent revisions, there was nothing written about Pinehurst at all.
One specific area is known as the Carolina Sandhills, a forty mile wide area of almost pure sandy soils, a perfect drainage medium for golf. Donald Ross reflects on the advantages of building golf courses in the Sandhills of North Carolina, ‘The Pinehurst conditions offer a really exceptional opportunity. Only in a sandy soil will the drainage problem permit construction of the rolling contours and hollows natural to the scotch seaside courses where golf was born. This contouring around a green makes possible an infinite variety in the requirements for short shots that no other form of hazard can call for.’ The Sandhills of the Carolinas seemed ideally suited to capturing the flavor of the game and certainly contributed to early success. But was it truly the sandy soils and links features that make the Pinehurst area the iconic home of American golf today?
2. What has been your primary source of information?
The Tufts Archives has been the main source of my information in addition to numerous interviews. The Archives is a great gift to the world of golf and golf architecture. Great foresight has to be credited to the Tufts family for preserving documentation of almost everything that was ever recorded on paper throughout the development of the Village. I had at my fingertips every newspaper account of every event that has ever occurred in the sandhills, from the Pinehurst Outlook to The Sandhill Citizen to today’s Pilot. In the early days (and pretty much still today) there wasn’t too much to record so there was great detail given to the design of the golf courses.
Most of the Tufts’ family personal correspondence can be found in the depths of the Archives. This information really gave me a ‘fly on the wall’ opportunity to experience their thought process in developing and maintaining the resort and village. This is also true of Donald Ross’s correspondence which has allowed me to understand, truly from a first person account, what Ross’ thought processes were and how outside influences (the Tufts family) affected these processes.
The Archives has great bonus items as well, including old programs and golf magazines. The best thing I found there has to be original sketches by Donald Ross for George Thomas’s Golf Architecture in America. These were the ORIGINAL sketches that Thomas returned to Ross after the book was completed. To me, that is about the closest thing to Golf Architecture Gold as one can get.
The only disappointment is the lack of drawings of the Pinehurst courses still in existence today. The foresight in as-built drawings was not as strong as in correspondence. There is a major gap in any Pinehurst drawings from 1923 until 1962, with the exception of layouts for #2 for the 1936 PGA Championship and the 1951 Ryder Cup. These were not architectural drawings as much as they were drawings for the programs. After 1962, there are no drawings at all of each course until sometime in the 1970’s when Diamondhead produced a map of the courses for marketing purposes.
There are some rare drawings that few people have seen yet will be part of the book. There is a layout of Number Two from 1907 that is probably the earliest eighteen hole version. There is also a partial layout of the entire complex from the early fifties that was more of a sketch. It is unauthored and my guess is Richard Tufts and Henson Maples were the contributors. It helped me decipher the evolution of courses three, four, and five. It also showed potential holes that were never built. The ‘rarest’ find are undated renovation sketches of the first two holes of Number Two by Donald Ross.
In addition to the Archives, I have pursued some great first person accounts through interviews. Some of these interviews are from people who knew Donald Ross personally. Peggy Kirk Bell spent some time with Ross. I also interviewed Peter Tufts. He is Richard Tufts’ son and Donald Ross’s Godson. Peter Tufts watched Ross oversee construction of a variety of tasks on Number Two, including the major greens renovation of 1935-1936 when the greens went from sand to grass. Part of the book will include detailed description of how Ross conducted business in the field (i.e. directing the shaping of greens, etc.). I also interviewed Rod Innes, whose Father worked with Ross in Dornoch. Rod himself worked in the pro shop at Pinehurst under Donald Ross and contributed some great first person accounts of Ross and his character. One thing that will separate my book from previous works concerning Ross is that I will have documentation about Ross, his philosophies, and work habits from people who actually knew and worked with him.
3. What drove the growth of golf in Pinehurst?
Clearly the growth of golf at Pinehurst in the Tufts family era was driven by the Tufts. James, Leonard, and Richard (three generations) all built additional golf courses long before there was any apparent need. Starting with the first nine holes in 1897, James Tufts knew nothing about the game but saw that with minimal investment, he could add to the list of recreational activities he could offer to his guests. From then on it was mostly a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. My guess is that a lot of the expansion was an effort to keep Pinehurst in the forefront of the public mind regarding publicity. Whenever things got slow, they decided to give a bang with more golf. That is not documented anywhere, it is just my deduction from the newspaper accounts and correspondence.
Growth of golf in Pinehurst after the Tufts sold the village and resort (1970) was clearly not in the name of golf, but in order to create a market for residential development. There is a parallel between this moment and the struggle of golf courses in the Sandhills from that point on. Early on golf drove golf and the result was great golf. Later on home sales drove golf and the result was less than great golf.
The anomaly known as the North Carolina Sandhills has given birth to one of the most prolific golfing preserves in the world. The village of Pinehurst and the towns of Southern Pines and Aberdeen comprise the populous concentration of Moore County and helps form the cultural center of the sandhills. The northern two-fifths of Moore County lies within the Piedmont Plateau , locally referred to as clay country, whereas the southern three-fifths of the county is in the Sandhills subdivision of the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Just as people cherish the distinctive pottery of Moore County’s clay country all over the world, it is in the southern section of Moore County where over fifty golf courses spread east, west, north, and south, calling to golfers across the globe. The ‘Golf Capital of The World’ is an oasis among depressed farmland and less than spectacular natural features. From near desolation, the golfing sandhills has become synonymous with easy living, verdant landscapes, and great golf thanks to a mild climate, amenable soils, and fresh air.
4. What are some of the myths surrounding Pinehurst and Donald Ross?
The biggest myths about Donald Ross and Pinehurst Number Two concern Ross’s greens complexes, bunkering, and course setup.
Many theories of how much the greens on Pinehurst Number Two have risen in elevation over the years have been brought forward that just aren’t true. The theory that top-dressing over the years has made the greens so much more crowned than Ross originally intended in 1935 is wrong. There was about a twenty-five year period when the greens were top-dressed before aeration. The top-dressing was primarily organic fertilizers dominated by cow manure. Organic fertilizers eventually decompose. Once they started aerifying, they did so in conjunction with top-dressing. The simple top-dressing procedure occurs after the greens are aerated and all that sand gets brushed across the putting surface and much of it goes into the holes from the aeration process. I am sure that some top-dressing has added inches to the putting surfaces over the years, but not to the extent that the process created the severity of the contours that exists today.
The fact of the matter is that Ross did put lots of roll into these greens when he converted them to grass in 1935. Photographs from a booklet for members upon completion of the work show a good amount of elevation and rolls, the same contouring that I pretty much see today (give or take a few spots). Many early photos show dramatically raised greens. Those greens were your standard plateaux created by scooping up the surrounds and dumping that material on the putting surface. If you walk Number Two and visualize this process you can quickly discern the fact that the material balances on each hole. If the greens rose due to top-dressing over the years, then where is the material that was cored out from the bunkers, hollows, and swales, surrounding the greens? I am not saying that these greens today are exactly as they were in 1936, but a lot closer than most people think.
The renovation drawings of #2 were from 1937 and Ross specifies a four foot deep bunker as well as 1.5 foot of elevation change from the back to the center of the first green. That would translate into roughly a 3-4% slope, which you can’t do today with the green speeds of #2. On flat land, a four foot deep bunker means a green surface is at least three feet higher than the surrounds. Think about the resultant slopes from tying those features together with the flat ground. Ross is even quoted as saying that the swales and hollows he created in 1935-36 were specifically to catch balls that roll off the putting surface. Following are from his own narrative for the 1936 PGA Championship (followed be a quote from the Pinehurst Outlook):
‘The curl of the green to the left will, however, certainly bring him to grief unless he places his shot with fine accuracy or unless he plays with a slight fade to the right.’
‘I am sure that as you watch the play, you will be interested to see how many times competitors whose second shots have wandered a bit will be disturbed by these innocent appealing slopes.’
‘Contours and slopes have consequently been used to break up the greens which are so designed as to always give the player near the cup an opportunity for one putt but have minimized the opportunity to get down in less than the regulation number for the golfer whose play to the green has been less accurate. The sixteenth hole is a fine example of what I have in mind. Here the slope rises gently on the front part of the green and falls slightly away at the rear. Regardless of where the pin may be placed, a player whose approach is either short or strong will be faced with the problem of putting across the ridge formed by this change in slope.’
‘Few complaints on the part of the visitors as to the way the surfaces putted and the only criticism later, was that the undulations of the greens were too severe in relation to the length and hazards of the course’ (Outlook, 4/18/36)
I have also heard people recall how the ball never landed on the green and then rolled of the edges like they do today. They attribute that to the increase in contour. The clear reason there is GREEN SPEED. Ross never intended for those greens to roll a nine, ten, eleven. Those contours were intended for much slower green speeds. End of Story.
Another myth about Ross and Number Two is his bunker style. Many look to Number Two for information on how Ross did things and pigeon-hole Ross into that look. Regarding his bunkering, Ross did all sorts of things. One common thread throughout is the ‘form follows function’ concept. That is, the form of his bunkering took on the function each bunker would serve. This was applicable in building a specific form of bunker to match the landform in which it sits. Another application is in making the sand visible from where the golfer will be playing the next shot, which required a certain amount of flashing where many Ross restorations fall short. Look at Pine Needles. Almost every bunker there has flat sand with grass faces going to the floor. No sand is visible from where the golfer stands. The only hint of sand is the transition from Bermuda to Zoysia along the outer edges and faces. Ross never had the luxury of contrasting grasses. He probably thought Zoysia was some dancer on Broadway.
The fact that the bunker faces are all grass on Number Two with minimal flashing is that Henson Maples changed the bunker faces in the forties and fifties to save on maintenance when times were tough. That comes directly from the Maples family. His Nephew Dan was told that by Henson and his Father, Ellis. If you were to look at the bunkers from Ross’s renovation from 1935-36, you would see some very interesting flashing that resemble Stanley Thompson. It is very dramatic in places (especially #17), but is just enough so that a golfer can see sand where appropriate. Today’s bunkers are not nearly as impressive.
The final myth is that Ross demanded shaved down green complexes from the putting surfaces all the way through all the features. Ross did incorporate mounds, swales, and hollows to introduce a new dimension to the short game that previously wasn’t possible. The old sand greens were mostly flat and not conducive to interesting surrounds. Once Ross and Frank Maples could create grass putting surfaces, they were free to create greens with contouring and the swales, hollows, and mounds previously mentioned. When I interviewed Peter Tufts, he said that Ross intended for these features to be negotiated with a chipping stroke and not a putter. He also said Ross would stop the fairway mowing at the green edges. There was no deep rough from there on, but it wasn’t cut down like a collar either. Ross himself declared ‘contouring around a green makes possible an infinite variety in the requirements for short shots that no other form of hazard can call for. I am sure that as you watch the play (1936 PGA Championship), you will be interested to see how many times competitors whose second shots have wandered a bit will be disturbed by these innocent appealing slopes.’
5. How has your research on Ross affected your work at Raleigh Country Club?
The information I have dug up on Ross has mostly given me a perspective that most Architects may not possess in the sense that I really got an up close and personal frame of reference of Ross’s whole design career and could track his evolution as a designer. Understanding why an Architect does something goes a great way to you putting yourself in that Architect’s shoes. Watching how his decisions evolved and the Pinehurst courses evolved was very interesting. The research on Ross has given me confidence in my interpretation of his design ideas from the basis that he really was a ‘form follows function’ kind of guy. The knowledge I got from working for someone like Dan Maples, although his work is nothing like Ross, certainly was confirmed through my research for this book. That is a perspective that few architects can possess.
The pictures that I found have really helped confirm what I am doing at Raleigh regarding the bunkers. There are some great bunker shots from 1935 that show just enough flashing to let someone know there is sand. The only thing I will rely on when doing a restoration is either the original architects own words or photographs of original work. I try to stay away from other people’s opinions or photos of restored work for guidance. Researching this book has really helped shed light on Ross’ work in these areas and have been helpful at Raleigh as well as future Ross work.
When golfers travel to the North Carolina Sandhills a simplicity takes over the landscape upon arrival. The red clay disappears and in its place a cream-white sand emerges. Slopes along the highways reveal the most interesting rills and ridges, formed by centuries of natural erosion and towering pine trees stand as sentinels along the horizon. The closer one gets, green brush strokes intermingle with sienna-toned pine needles covering the ground like a carpet. A golfer’s senses heighten as the green swaths slowly reveal themselves as golf holes. The peaceful village of Pinehurst, a New England town designed by the landscape architectural firm Olmsted Brothers of Boston, awaits golfers upon their arrival. The village is surrounded by emerald fairways and greens, sprinkled with bursts of bright and colorful Dogwoods, Azaleas, Red Bud, and Camellia.
6. What is the makeup of your upcoming book?
Golf Courses Of The Sandhills: Their History and Evolution shall be a story of the history of golf course design and the evolution of the golf courses of the Sandhills area of North Carolina. This area primarily includes the villages of Pinehurst, Southern Pines, and Aberdeen. The book will chronologically review the history of golf course development in the Sandhills and how it mirrored the growth, and often directed the evolution, of golf architecture and development in the United States. It can best be summed up as a complete understanding of the Sandhills from the ice age to the 2005 U. S. Open. The book will be chronological in telling the complete story and then will also have individual chapters on the golf courses that warrant chapters (i.e. enough to fill a page or more).
My story will reveal design, construction, and maintenance trends throughout the history of golf development. The book will provide insight into the ingenuity and creativity of design and construction techniques of the past and how they relate to decisions made today. Articles from newspapers of the times will reveal the public’s exposure to trends of the design industry whose details are not explored in most books written about golf architecture today. Reprinted letters from the major players (Donald Ross, Albert Tillinghast, Tufts family members, Herb Graffis, etc)in the area will give the reader a ‘fly on the wall’ understanding of day to day operations and similar challenges found in the present day golf industry.
Golf Courses Of The Sandhills: Their History and Evolution will also include overlays of all the Pinehurst courses over the years on top of a 2003 aerial photo. This way, one will be able to locate exactly where the first hole of course Number One was in relation to today’s layouts. You can see the evolution of each course much more clearly this way.
7. Ross played in several U.S. Opens. How would he feel about the presentation of Pinehurst #2 in 2005?
I’m not sure I should even begin to say what he would think, just like it is hard to say what he would do in renovating a course today, of his or anyone else’s. I think he would approve of the lengthening of the layout to combat the long ball and equipment. He did the same for the 1936 PGA Championship. He also would be understanding of the narrowing of the fairways as well. He may not be happy, but he would understand. Again, he made similar concessions in 1936.
Regarding the shaving down of the greens complexes to such a fine degree, I don’t think he would be completely supportive. As Peter Tufts shared with me, Ross never intended to allow for the use of the putter around these greens. On the flip side, he did want the golfer to make choices and the pros certainly will.
I would guess Ross would disapprove of the manicured look of the golf course. I bet he never imagined the degree of maintenance that most courses require in this day. Take his bunkers for example. If you look at the details he drew of his bunker types and tried to replicate them today, you could not maintain the faces as they are 2:1 slopes in many cases. That is another reason why ‘pure’ restoration is impossible to achieve with today’s maintenance demands. He never intended for manicured grass to be maintained on his bunker faces. So in regards to the perfect conditions, he would be disappointed and yearn for more of a rub of the green attitude.
This, of course, has nothing to do with the way the course setup for Number Two will be for the Open. By today’s standards and what is commonly accepted, there won’t be a better job done by anyone compared to Paul Jett and his team.
John Tyrant Patrick was a man of vision. His vision was to transform a piece of land with nothing going for it, not even location, into a health resort that would help mend a country shattered by a debilitating civil war. As one of the country’s first true developers, Patrick’s plan was to create a destination where the sick could heal their weary bodies from tuberculosis and other ailments. Initially to be known as Vineland, he soon renamed his resort ‘Southern Pines’. He decided Southern Pines would more appropriately attract the clientele John Patrick sought, much like the quaint village he hoped it would one day emulate. Patrick’s village was to be modeled after the premier resort in the Sandhills of the day. His prototype was a refuge for northerners to escape cold winters and relax among the tall bristling pines. It was a place where visitors embraced an irresistible small town atmosphere. It was a resort with unparalled service and recreational opportunity. Of course, that resort could only be one place in the South. Patrick’s true inspiration for his resort was the famed Jackson Springs, North Carolina.
8. Did Ross have free reign at Pinehurst?
Ross had free reign as long as the money was available. There is some great correspondence that will be in the book between Ross and the Tufts where they are either approving or denying some of Ross’s ideas. Many of the big projects we attribute to Ross are actually just as much the Tufts’ ideas as anyone. They always had final say on what to do or not to do. For example, Leonard and Richard Tufts were both very much involved in the new golf holes from the old nine hole employee’s course which would eventually become four and five on Number Two. Their main motivation was developing residential homesites along Midland Road as well as fronting the fourth fairway. Homesites are just as much a reason why those holes were built as any other motivation.
There is some great begging by Leonard Tufts to both Ross and Frank Maples clearly stating that no money should be spent in certain years. The tone in the letters are more of ‘stop your playing around this year, we can’t afford it’. I think the Tufts had lots more reign over the big picture in Ross’s era than most people want to admit.
9. What is the greatest wasted opportunity in Moore County?
That is a tough question. To me it is amazing that no one has really built another golf course like the old Pinehurst layouts, Mid Pines, or Pine Needles in the last fifteen years. You know, a true minimal golf course with little earthwork and simple design features. That is what this market needs, mostly from a public golf perspective. To me, that is a wasted opportunity where I know I am the minority and the golf industry is the majority. The bottom line is that a layout like Mid-Pines does not sell real estate and that has been the primary motivation for golf course development here the past forty years. When real estate drives the bus, all the kids have to sit a certain way and look straight ahead. They also have to look their best when people drive by.
Another wasted opportunity is Southern Pines Country Club (aka, the Elks course). It probably sits on the best piece of land any golf course in the sandhills sits on and has great potential. It wouldn’t take much for someone with the right vision to come in and restore that course. With very little money (in relative terms) we could restore the greens complexes and bunkers, update the irrigation, and do some massive clearing. We would expose all of those great ridges with the sandy vegetation that once dominated the landscape and still keep greens fees fairly priced. It could be a one of a kind facility that would make a killing. The Elks is an example where less than $1.5 million could do the trick.
I know many may think that number is unrealistic, but the bottom line is way too much money has gone into golf course development and renovation in the past two decades. It just doesn’t cost that much, regardless of what people want you to believe. Irrigation just doesn’t need to be as expensive as everyone makes it out to be. Not every course needs the most advanced technology or triple-head fairways. We all could settle for less across the board and the business would be much healthier. Really.
Highway robbery? Highway robbery by whom? The salesman or the purchaser? Local Neil Shaw was convinced the seller inflated the asking price by twenty-five percent. But as we look back on this particular transaction, we may very well consider the buyer as the culprit. This miscreant was the new owner of more than five-thousand barren acres of sand. So barren that when it rained an attentive listener could detect a sizzle as the rain must have clearly struck the depths of hell. So barren that crows would find their own food before flying over this wasteland. The land was so devoid of life that the buyer’s son thought it only existed to bind the rest of the world together.
10. How did Pinehurst get its start as a golf resort?
Pinehurst was originally a health resort for consumptives (those with Tuberculosis). Unfortunately it took a few years for someone to tip James Tufts off that consumption was highly contagious and maybe it wouldn’t be too good for business. Tufts then decided to focus on a recreational aspect with tennis as the primary sport. Other diversions were horseback riding, archery, bowling, hunting, and trapshooting.
Most of us have heard the story about a few resort guests hitting balls in a cow field which is accurate. From that event, James Tufts enlisted a local doctor to lay out nine holes in a peach orchard and that was how it started. It blossomed quickly more so through Tufts’ push for more golf holes in one of the greatest ‘buzz’ campaigns ever. Before one realized, guests were coming for the golf and the golf was the reason for the success of Pinehurst. He built it, and built more, and they came. He then marketed the blazes out of it by starting the North and South and soliciting famous golfer appearances. Harry Vardon gave an exhibition in 1900 that got great nationwide publicity. He also hired summer managers from clubs up north to manage the resort during the high season winter and their influence brought many northerners to Pinehurst. It just kept growing from that momentum.
11. What are the desired outcomes for this book?
Number one is to actually finish the book. I came up with the idea about one year too early. The time I have to work is limited from week to week and the most production I have is when I’m on an airplane. I typically get about five hours a week in when I am home. Business has taken off in the past year that I have to choose my tasks carefully. Right now I have six renovations in five states and that will take priority. The book, though, is a lot of fun to write and that keeps me going.
Because my time is so limited, I haven’t really pursued a publisher yet. I have had talks with a few and one says they will do it in 2006, but I am afraid to sign a deal right now because that will mean a deadline that may cause problems elsewhere. What I will not let happen is a rush on completing this thing, by me or anyone else, because it is too important of a subject to give a rush job. My attitude is, ‘lets just write it the way I envision it and the publishers will find me when the time is right’. When I am ready for a publisher, I don’t think I will have a problem signing a deal. Again, nothing of this magnitude has ever been written about Pinehurst and the sandhills. As of this interview, I have completed nine chapters totaling one-hundred and forty pages and really haven’t gotten much past 1910, with the exception of the course history of Number Two. I have two years in at this point and am going to do it right.
The other main goal with this book is for someone to buy it. Any golfer with a general interest in golf course architecture will find this book a must read. The Sandhills area is one of the top resort golf destinations in the world and many prospective readers will have their own memories to draw upon when reading this book. They will have a personal connection to the subject and want to take a copy home with them. This includes all the locals as well. I think the book will also be attractive for the golfer thinking of a golf vacation to the area. The reader will learn about each golf course’s design in preparation for an upcoming Sandhills golf trip. Of course the 5,000 golf architecture nuts will want this book as well.
The birth of golf in Pinehurst follows a similar path to the earliest American courses. In 1896, there were only eighty golf courses in the United States. The Pinehurst Outlook reported that by the fall of 1897, people were seen disturbing the cows on the dairy fields by chasing a little white ball around. Golf was about to explode on the American scene and James Tufts saw an opportunity to put Pinehurst on the map. His timing was dead on. By 1900, there were nine-hundred and eighty-two courses over forty-five states, including one in Pinehurst.
12. Comment on the recent renovations at Pine Needles.
I think that they did a good job with the overall design concept. Changing the fourteenth to a four and fifteen to a five as they were at one point were smart changes. One can’t argue with their choice of lengthening holes to re-establish Ross’s intended landing areas on saddles and high points.
It is very difficult to pull off a genuine restoration of anybody’s golf course, especially a Ross course. There are so many variations and subtleties to a Ross course that are hard to capture when reviewing old finished-product photographs or even construction photographs. When you take into account Ross’s lengthy career and the fact that his style dramatically evolved over fifty years, a Ross restoration can take on many different looks.
For instance, one of the biggest question marks are Ross’s sand bunkers and the details that distinguish his bunkers from someone like Tillinghast. These guys shared the same construction superintendents at different points, which further clouds the situation. Most people have seen the Ross details of ‘various types of bunkers and mounds’ and three of the five bunker details show concave bottoms. Now that isn’t to say that sixty percent of all his bunkers are concave and the rest flat, but the majority being flat I am not too sure about.
It is very hard to see flat bottoms in an old construction photo, but when you look at photos of old Ross bunkers, especially around Pinehurst, a good number have concave bottoms and many are flashed. From the old photos I have seen of Ross’s sandhills courses in the twenties, he flashed enough sand in places that a golfer could see sand from the approach. The modern game and maintenance technology allow other techniques to let the golfer know the location of a sand bunker, such as a change in grass type surrounding a bunker complex. I don’t think many people would be that receptive to a genuine restoration.
13. What is Ross’s legacy in Moore County?
Ross’s legacy in Moore County is one of reverence with the locals. Unfortunately his legacy should also be how one can design and build a great golf course for little cost today with the end product a timeless golf course that keeps golfers returning. The emphasis on the lay of the land and strategy are the things that golfers love about Ross courses and are the things that could keep golf affordable.
The problem with that attitude today is that it doesn’t sell homes or look good in magazines. The perception is that the modern golfer wants the bells and whistles with five-star service. The golf architecture isn’t as important as aesthetics and spring water. There is no reason why one can’t create the same type of golf course as Ross’s work in Pinehurst and Southern Pines today. I don’t know why it isn’t accomplished. The problem with architecture today is that designers over think design. They can’t capture the simplicity of design like the old masters. Although our predecessors may very well have just simply been tied by technology back then, the record speaks for itself when you look at the most popular courses in the Sandhills. They aren’t the ones with the rock walls and elaborate waste areas.
In the spring of 1899, James Tufts consulted Mr. Allen T. Treadway, associate manager of the Holly Inn, regarding the feasibility of building a second nine holes. Mr. Treadway advised Tufts that in his opinion, golf was a fad which would not last. Nine more holes would be a waste of money. Cherishing Mr. Treadway’s sage advice, James Tufts began construction of the second nine holes at Pinehurst.
14. Why do you think several high-profile residential golf course developments in Moore County have gone through bankruptcy?
Up until a few years ago, they just couldn’t compete with Pinehurst. When we first moved back to Pinehurst in 2000, if you bought a home with an attached membership to the Club all you paid was a $4,500 transfer fee and had $200 monthly dues. So for that money you could play six golf courses including Number Two. Other clubs had a $15,000 initiation and $300 or more monthly dues. With that you could only play one, maybe two courses. To me, that is it in a nutshell. Now in the past few years the transfer fees and monthly dues have risen dramatically at Pinehurst and that will help narrow the gap. Plus the fact that enough people are finally moving here that the demand is slowly growing.
Some clubs had such difficulty surviving over the years primarily because the cost of construction was so high that the numbers couldn’t ever work and the developers over-extended themselves. When home sales became flat, there was no chance of survival. That scenario started a string of sales and failures that only now are getting to the point that new ownership is getting in at the right price point that they can make the numbers work.
Not every development followed that model. Country Club of North Carolina was successful because they were the first to market a gated community and went after the most affluent in the State and across the country back in the sixties. They also kept it simple back then. Forest Creek has had success with a similar formula. Other clubs have been mired in this sale-bankruptcy loop forever. Whispering Pines, Foxfire, Woodlake all have fought for their lives since their inception. I think part of it is there was too much product available and they all brought each other down. The other element to that is that the area is remote as it is and these developments are on the fringe of the area which probably made them less attractive than Pinehurst or CCNC. Although the layouts at these developments are solid routings and player-friendly, I think it really came down to supply and demand issues that have yet to really resolve themselves. Although the gap is narrowing, the anti-growth sentiment in the sandhills will probably keep some of these developments from ever becoming secure. Of course the whole country could use some serious contraction of golf courses in many markets.
15. Who has picked up in Pinehurst where Ross left off?
That’s a tough question. Frank Maples passed away a year after Ross and his son Henson Maples took over as superintendent at Pinehurst. At that time, Richard Tufts was running the club. Ross’s assistants pretty much went their separate ways with the exception of Ellis Maples who was project manager for Raleigh Country Club and then stayed on as professional. He soon returned to the Pinehurst area and picked up the design torch at that point. His work in Pinehurst and elsewhere took on a different look than Ross’s yet the process was the same so in some ways he did pick up where Ross left.
One of the first projects Ellis undertook when he returned in 1953 was the new Pinehurst Number Five. He worked in conjunction with Richard Tufts and provided the construction crews to get the course built. He actually took some holes from Number Three and Number Four and added new holes to make Number Five work.
Like Ross, Ellis Maples’ strong suit was in his routings and he produced some great layouts in the area. The courses at Whispering Pines are great routings. Unlike Ross, Ellis remained a regional architect and so his legacy would never get to the level of Donald Ross. Beyond that, no one has really taken over from Ross with a similar attitude. I think that is mostly the result of the changing requirements of the business the past thirty years. The emphasis went away from simply great design and more towards residential development, which has damaged golf in the sandhills. It is just not possible to build a great residential golf course compared to a free-standing one, especially when you compare the residential layouts to Pinehurst Number Two, Mid-Pines, and Pine Needles.
By the way, both Pine Needles and Mid-Pines were originally to be part of a 5,000 acre residential community called Knollwood. The Tufts family originally developed that property. Although Mid-Pines remained a core course, Pine Needles does meander through a residential development. The difference between Pine Needles and the newer golf course developments was that the landscape architect for the residential development, Warren Manning, worked with Ross in finding big chunks of land for the golf course and didn’t maximize golf course frontage. The advantages to that are huge from the golf side. One, there is enough of a core feeling throughout the layout that one doesn’t cross roads as much as in a modern development. Secondly, the lots are so big and have such a mature feel to them that golfers don’t feel like trespassers.
The last reason no one has really picked up where Ross left is that the demands for golf slowly changed, unfortunately for the worse. The business went from an emphasis on design to using famous names to sell real estate or doing something completely different than your neighbor, such as the Pit or Tobacco Road. Then the supply issue arose. Back when Ross was at his height and Pinehurst was at its peak, architecturally speaking there was a unifying presence of the Tufts family that extended along Midland Road. Then others came in and did things their own way to establish a presence. When control of such a large operation has one strong mission statement and then it becomes shared by others, the overall picture suffers. Of course that is just progress and you can’t control it. Today, though, there is just too much golf.
The USGA’s opinion that the new course was easier than Pinehurst #1 was based upon Number Two’s length. The trend in golf design of length being a deciding factor in popularity or difficulty has been one that has plagued the game ever since. Even in 1903, when club manufacturing wasn’t the economic juggernaut it is today, people’s perceptions were based upon yardage. A 1905 issue of the Outlook defends this view: ‘The smaller nine hole course which was lengthened last season, is now in excellent condition and will prove most attractive for many who do not desire as strenuous a game as the championship course (#1) provides.’
16. Has relocating your golf course architecture firm to Pinehurst gone according to plan?
Yes. The thought process behind moving back to Pinehurst was predicated on the desire for a more central home base and Pinehurst has certainly fit the bill. I can’t say that any of the success I’ve had (Ross work or otherwise) has been a result of being here in Pinehurst. In fact, it really hasn’t. But the relocation from Atlanta in ’96 and then Durham in 2000 has definitely given me the ability to cover a lot of ground in all directions. Being in Pinehurst has given me great opportunity to write this book. I can research any course at any time and there are so many people that I have regular access to that it has been very convenient. Being five minutes from the Archives has also helped. If I run across a question and I need an answer, I can get there any time.
Being in Pinehurst has certainly been an inspiration for my architecture career the past five years. Access to some of the best courses has been great. Access to some of the lesser golf courses has also been beneficial. The sandhills are partially a microcosm of the golf business and exposure to so many different ways to run these businesses. From Clubcorp to an operation like the Bells have to the individually-owned courses and all the different markets they try to serve helps me provide a perspective to clients elsewhere that other architects may not possess. Sometimes we, as architects, get so caught up in just our projects that we miss out on the big picture and who the ‘golfer’ really is. Here in Pinehurst, I get to see all types of golfers.
17. Where do you see Pinehurst standing in the galaxy of golf destinations?
On reputation alone, Pinehurst is right there at the top, behind St. Andrews. On pure golf it is pretty high as well. Number Two, Pine Needles, Mid-Pines are so strong that it is hard to beat. The other Pinehurst Resort courses are so diverse that a golfer can certainly find something unique to play. The courses outside of Pinehurst only add to that variety. The growth here has always been minimized to keep it from growing into another Myrtle Beach and that has helped keep the area preserved as such a special place.
Architecturally speaking, I think there are few great golf courses in the sandhills. This is purely due to the fact that most courses after 1950 were built with some kind of residential development in mind. That will always hurt. As part of my book will reflect, the architectural evolution of the sandhills mirrors the history of golf architecture throughout America. This is in terms of technology, equipment, design trends, and golfer demands as well as societal demands (selling homes with golf course frontage). Just like the rest of America, Pinehurst suffers from a glut of residentially-driven golf courses that would never have made it if they were stand-alone courses.
Even though it is in Lee County, I think Tobacco Road may be the course that most captures the sandhills flavor of the past than anything else built since the fifties. Unlike The Pit or the new Forest Creek eighteen, Tobacco Road is not inhibited by existing or future real estate. Tobacco Road has that rough-edged appearance with many sandy waste areas and dunes that characterized Pinehurst back in 1895. Unfortunately all that was created and not part of the original topography. Yet there are still sites in Moore County someone can pull that off with less earthmoving, out Linden Road toward Foxfire or toward Seagrove.
Early judgements on Ross’s first significant renovation of Number Two revealed a more penal look to the changes. Even Ross declared that for the average golfer with a slight tendency to slice or pull, the course is four or five strokes more difficult than before renovations. The changes of 1915-16 meant that green approaches were narrowed, sand bunkers pulled in closer to the line of play, and the surroundings more rolling and dangerous. Ross started to dig his bunkers deeper so a golfer can’t just chip out. In Ross’s own words, ‘A bunker must be a real hazard, not an apparent one.’ To the unsophisticated, deepening bunkers could easily be construed as more penal, even by today’s standards. Yet Ross countered the development of more difficult hazards by creating alternative routes around these hazards with the goal of using one’s brain more than one’s brawn. He also eliminated such fundamental routing deficiencies as blind shots in improvements to both fifteen and sixteen.
18. As an architect, what would you do differently to enhancePinehurst’s reputation?
I am not sure an Architect can wield that much influence to enhance its reputation. The industry is moving away from the mistakes of the past thirty years and toward a true golfer-friendly trade. As long as golf courses are built with the primary goal of providing golf and not using it as an amenity for a development and as long as golfers learn to accept reasonable playing conditions, golf can return to what we all loved about the game in the first place. I also believe golfers are not as enamored of the name of the designer and are more interested in the opportunity to have fun and be fairly challenged.
As an Architect, I can continue to promote the basic tenets of great golf course design: creating strategy derived from the site and moving as little earth as possible by developing the proper golf course routing, not relying on machinery to achieve a look that doesn’t exist. Why alter one piece of land that looks like no other in the world just to make it look like a golf hole you’ve created elsewhere?
The best way I can add to the sandhills legacy is find the right opportunity to show the world one can still create a great sandhills golf course in the true spirit of Ross and the Tufts for less than $3 million. It may not enhance the area’s reputation, but it could be another wake-up call that modern golf needs to go backwards to survive. This course can truly demonstrate to the industry the difference between needs, wants, and desires. Not only would very little dirt be moved but modern ‘standards’ such as irrigation and cart paths would be cut back severely. The resulting throwback would still accomplish the basic tenets of the game of golf: strategy and fun. Single-row irrigation would re-introduce the natural edges of the old sandhills course as well as the rough bunker faces that Ross embraced in his Pinehurst work. No cart paths would mean a return to a caddy program and putting surfaces would have undulations Ross introduced in the 1930’s and are still evident on Pinehurst Number Two today. The difference is that the surfaces would play a lot slower than the 9.5 – 11 that most courses promote, matching the proper contours to a manageable green speed.
I truly believe that the sandhills could use a true minimalist golf course for a fraction of the cost of most recent projects in the area and be a tremendous moneymaker. Pinehurst #9 could also be the first Pinehurst golf course in over fifty years to be designed by a local architect. Not only would Pinehurst reap the benefits of a financially responsible design but once again Pinehurst could show everyone how it is still on the leading edge of the golf world after all these years.
When do you want me to start?!