Feature Interview with Wayne Morrison & Tom Paul
April, 2011

1.       Why did you elect to publish The Nature Faker – William S. Flynn, Golf Course Architect in the CD format?  Will there be a hard copy version available?

The book is very long, it would be a bit unwieldy as a hard copy book.  We do plan on producing a very limited production of hard back books with quality binding and heavyweight paper.  A 4-volume set might cost as much as $1000 each to produce.  So this format gets it out to a larger audience (if there is one) at a reasonable price.  Being published in pdf format makes it very easy to search for particular subjects, enables viewing larger images of architectural plans and photographs on a computer screen rather than condensed onto a book page.  And of course the document can be upgraded as new information is obtained.  Anyone that purchases a book will get rights to updated versions for a small fee.  The downside is that the formatting of the pages doesn’t come out too well, but it is meant to be more of a resource than a display.

2.      How long is the book?

2260 pages. Wow! Why so long? At the beginning we were wondering if we would have enough information to write a pamphlet.  So little was known or available about Flynn in 1999 or 2000.  Over time, researching a lot of resources (libraries, historical societies, golf associations and most importantly the clubs themselves) and then locating and have available to us the astounding collection of original architectural plans preserved by Flynn’s family and in the care of the Gordon family for so long and now safeguarded in Michael Hurdzan’s offices gave us an unprecedented amount of information.  Expanding digitized resources (USGA, newspapers, LA84, etc.) enabled us to dig deeper and the information just flowed. When did you begin the project and how did you finally decide you were finished?! Wayne started the project in late 1999 or early 2000 and Tom Paul joined the effort in 2001.  Our mentor, Jim Finegan, Sr. told us early on that you have to be careful or one could keep writing the book indefinitely.  He told us at some point we have to decide to stop.

Once access to new digital files was made available, we decided to explore those sources and hold off on stopping till we mined these databases.  After a time, we just knew when to stop.  The golf book publishing business changed a lot since we had our initial contract with Sleeping Bear Press and the market a bit saturated. However, for good or bad, nothing like our book has ever been done – probably because the audience is so small.  However, the way we are going about disseminating the book on CD and possibly online takes the risk out of the opportunity.

3.      Please describe the processes you employed in researching and writing the book.

Our first step was to visit with Jim Finegan, Sr. to find out how he researched and wrote his books, especially his comprehensive history of the Golf Association of Philadelphia and his club histories.  Jim is very interested in William Flynn having played a William Flynn golf course at least 10,000 times in his life.  We decided very early on to engage the clubs Flynn was involved with to develop close relationships with club managers, superintendents, professionals, members and especially club historians where they existed.  Clubs were happy to share their assets with us because of their pride in their course (many were thrilled someone had an interest in the history of their club/course) and their desire to have someone help in formulating historical evolution reports of the golf courses.  Interestingly, we found the most prestigious clubs, while they didn’t always have their assets organized the best, were most willing to share their assets.  We made use of vital internal documents and also visited a lot of libraries, museums, historical societies, Old Guard members of clubs and digital resources where available.  We also determined early on to collaborate with fellow researchers such as Craig Disher, whose aerial photography research and data base proved invaluable and local resources in the geographic areas of Flynn’s work.  Later on, Joe Bausch was instrumental in providing access to his fabulous collection of early newspaper articles.  Wayne did a lot of digital research on his own as archivist and golf architecture historian at Merion Golf Club.  Wayne has assembled a digital collection of more than 58,000 files related to Merion, golf in Philadelphia and significant US and world golf courses.  We interviewed a number of people including Flynn’s daughter on numerous occasions, David Gordon, son of William Gordon, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw, architects such as Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, Ron Forse, Ron Prichard, Mike Young and others.   We interviewed numerous superintendents to get insights into Flynn’s extraordinary agronomic research and practice.  Richie Valentine, Matt Shaffer, Mark Michaud, Bill Salinetti, Joe Pantoleo and others.  We bounced ideas of of each other looking for connections and we talked to a lot of other researchers/writers and historians like Dan Wexler and Geoff Shackelford to test ideas and refine our writing.


4.      In what ways did the early Philadelphia designs like Merion East, Pine Valley, and Cobb’s Creek influence Flynn?

It is always going to be difficult to find direct influences, though some go to great lengths to insist they exist.  However, it is clear that some of  Flynn’s earliest practical lessons were learned at Merion East and West, let’s not forget that little gem—which may have had a lot more Flynn work than is normally considered.


Merion East 9th, 1912



Early on, the new Merion course in Ardmore appeared to be a transition course.  It had one foot firmly planted in traditional designs and aesthetics and one foot moving forward towards a uniquely American design.  Flynn and Wilson worked together, from the moment the course opened, to revise and refine the course toward a more natural looking design mimicking nature.  They relied more on the natural features of the site to determine the architecture rather than the architecture dictating the site.

Merion East 9th, 1918

At first there were few bunkers and the course was readily accepted by the membership.  It was when the USGA awarded the 1916 Amateur to Merion that it was decided to toughen up the course.  They did so with added bunkers and revised greens.  And what a job they began.  The same bunkers have been in place for the last 75 years, many for longer than that.  Granted, they are mostly deeper today than they ever were, but the positioning is the same.  Next time your readers visit Merion East, they should consider the ways in which the bunkering remains in play today.  It is a fascinating study.  How many old courses have we all played where much of the bunkering is irrelevant today?  Not so with Merion.  We can talk about this at a later date.  I’d like to hear what some of your readers think are some of the factors which sustain Merion’s challenge today.

In utilizing the natural features as much as possible, the uniqueness of each site is translated into a unique and different experience.  One of the surest lessons Flynn learned, for he practiced it often, was to carefully tie in the man-made features to the surrounds in such a way as to make the intervention seem natural.  Flynn believed that the added cost to tie in features would be offset and more over time because natural lines and angles (e.g. critical angle of repose based on various materials) needed less maintenance over time.  So this was viewed by Flynn as a matter integrating form and function.  Naturalism allows variety and that is why Flynn was able to create a spectrum of designs with commonalities calling for strategic play but with differences that are not obvious and cause a long learning curve unlike template designs.

What could Flynn learn from Merion in terms of routing?  That’s hard to say since it is on a site with dimensions directing the routing more than most sites.  Pine Valley and Cobb’s Creek show an architect how to route boldly and take on demanding topographies and still be able to pull off memorable and enjoyably challenging holes.

It is difficult to say with whom the influence originated, but Merion’s iconic bunkering is found on every Flynn golf course.  Not every bunker on every course, but certainly every Flynn course has sand flashed high on a face on the majority of bunkers.  We sometimes see today where sand is flashed high all around some bunker redesigns.  That doesn’t seem to be a natural consequence and so it looks out of place.  Flynn made everything look natural.  The effect of wind and water erosion can be seen in the look of Flynn’s man-made features.  These features look better to the eye yet are placed and oriented in ways to intimidate and miscalculate.

The diagonals at Merion and Pine Valley used on bunkers, fairways and greens confound golfers. Flynn seemed to grasp the concepts of perception and perceptual miscues to challenge golfers.  Diagonals were made to look perpendicular.  Carries on one side of a bunker or green may appear to be even but there might be as much as a 20-yard carry differential.  It is hard to say if this was evident at Cobb’s Creek since so much was changed over time.

Flynn was part of a collaborative effort at Merion, Pine Valley and Cobb’s Creek.  Except for some input by Hugh Wilson at Kittansett (along with Fred Hood) and at Marble Hall (now Green Valley CC), there is no evidence that Flynn collaborated with anyone on his other design efforts.  They were solo designs.

5.  Merion East will be the site for the 2013 US Open.  While contention remains regarding the earliest history of the course design, what architectural contributions have you determined to be Flynn’s?

The exact details of who did what architecturally are elusive for the vast majority of courses in that particular era and for that matter most other eras.  We do know some facts.  All hole drawings available from a few years prior to the 1916 Amateur and in 1916, 1924, 1930 and 1934 were drawn by William Flynn.  All drawings from 1924 through 1934 were drawn on paper with the heading or footing “William S. Flynn Golf Course Architect.”   There were numerous changes made to the golf course from the very beginning and continuing on over the next 22 years.  Hugh Wilson was very sick the last few years of his life, finally passing away in early 1925, just a few months after the 1924 Amateur at Merion.  I think it is safe to say that Wilson and his committee worked together with Flynn on all the changes to the course after the West Course construction was completed in 1913.  It is impossible to say who was more involved in the architectural changes since neither Wilson nor Flynn ever wrote specific attributions.

After the East Course opened, changes began almost immediately.  While Hugh Wilson was alive, the bunkering was revised with nearly every hole having bunkers added with the more natural aesthetic and flashed sand faces.  A partial list of other changes include moving the 8th green with a revised design, expanding the 9th green with the addition of a back left lobe, removing the artificial mounding and adding bunkers, moving and redesigning holes 10 through 13 and redesigning the 15th green.

Philip Staples, the Chairman of the Greens Committee at Merion wrote to the chief engineer for the Rockefeller family in response to a 1934 request for a recommendation for Flynn.  Staples wrote about the Toomey and Flynn firm,

“…is very well and favorably known in this section.  It has done very effective work at Merion and is, I think it fair to say, progressive in its methods and moderate in its charges.  Those previous chairmen had, I know, much to say about the general outline of the courses when they were constructed, and it may be debatable as to whether they or Toomey and Flynn had the principle say in the determination of such design.  However, Toomey and Flynn have been consulted at all stages, have had in charge  the construction work proper, and are in my opinion, entirely capable of taking on major projects.

Now we do know that William Flynn was alone responsible for all design output from his firm.  Toomey was involved in construction and business matters only.  Red Lawrence, William Gordon,  and Dick Wilson worked for Toomey and Flynn, the construction firm.  Flynn alone worked at the William S. Flynn Golf Architecture firm.  One example which corroborates this structure is a letter from Clarence Geist also to the Rockefeller family’s chief engineer,

“In regard to Toomey and Flynn as Golf Architects, I wish to say that I have had them build three golf courses for me.  Mr. Toomey died last Fall and Mr. Flynn is carrying on the business.  Mr. Flynn has always been the Golf Architect for the firm.  He is a splendid Architect and a very nice man to work with.  I will add that if I were to build another golf course, William Flynn would be the only Architect I would consider.”

Merion East 1st, 1933

The significant changes made to the East Course prior to the 1930 Amateur and 1934 US Open were exclusively done by Flynn with approvals from the Green Committee.  These changes include an all new 1st hole, 2nd green with lengthening at the green end, a new 14th green along with new tees, added and revised bunkers throughout the course.

6.      Discuss Flynn’s views on what should be asked of the golfer over a course of eighteen holes. For instance, he certainly wasn’t shy about asking the golfer to hit a driver to a par three green nor of requiring the occasional three wood into long par fours.

Flynn wrote in 1923,

“An architect should never lose sight of his responsibility as an educa­tional factor in the game.  Nothing will tend more surely to develop the right spirit of the game than an insistence upon the high ideals that should inspire sound golf architecture.  Every course needs not be a Pine Valley or a National, but every course should be so constructed as to afford incentive to and provide a reward for high-class play; and by high-class play is meant, simply the best of which each individual is himself capable.

In 1927, Flynn wrote,

“The principal thought in designing a course is to produce 18 interesting holes with variety of play.  A course which has variety of play and character in its natural state can readily be made even more interesting by the installation of a limited number of man-made hazards.

… It should be the aim of the architect to lay out his course in such a way as to get the proper length holes at the proper places.

Actual yardage, however, is not the determining factor in this or that type of hole for a 430 yards hole down hill may very easily be a drive and mashie niblic while a hole reversed on similar ground might be two full wood shots.

Again the question of the ball has a great bearing a what type a certain length hole will be.  Time was, and not so many years ago, when a hole 400 yards long on average ground was a good two-shot hole for the star players; now, the same hole is perhaps a drive and spade for the better class golfers.

In view of this the architect of today plans his full two-shot holes from 440-500 yards, depending on the character of the land and if the distance to be obtained with the ball continues to increase it will be necessary to increase the length of all holes on golf courses accordingly if the same standards of play are to be maintained.

All architects will be a lot more comfortable when the powers that be in golf finally solve the ball problem.  A great deal of experimentation is now going on and it is to be hope that before long a solution will be found to control the distance of the elusive pill.

If, as in the past, the distance to be gotten with the ball continues to increase, it will be necessary to go to 7500 and even 8000 yard courses and more yards mean more acres to buy, more course to construct, warfare way to maintain and more money for the golfer to fork out.

Flynn wrote about a way in which maintenance practices can be used to somewhat nullify the increased distances he saw and warned of in the future.  Flynn suggested one way to maintain approach shot demands would be to water the landing areas so there would be less bounce and roll, leaving approach distances similar to the past.  This may have been done during the 1930 Amateur when Joe Dey wrote in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin,

Joe Dey wrote an article for the April 16, 1932 edition of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin regarding the changes made to the second hole,

“…The second at Merion used to be one of the pet holes of Bobby Jones.  In the 1924 national amateur championship Jones had nothing but birdie 4’s there.  In 1930, however, it defied all his efforts to surpass par, conditions having been slower due to more intensive watering.”

Some additional writings by Flynn on his bunkering philosophy, hole lengths and thoughts on distance:

Most courses have entirely too many traps badly placed and poorly constructed; that cost too much to maintain; and whose removal would help the average player, improve appearances, reduce upkeep, and practically leave the star player unaffected.

The principal consideration of the architect is to design his course in such a way as to hold the interest of the player from the first tee to the last green and to present the problems of the various holes in such a way that they register in the player’s mind as he stands on the tee or on the fairway for the shot to the green.

Placing a premium on accuracy with due consideration for length should be the aim of all men who design golf courses, for accuracy in the play signifies skill and skill is generally the master of brute force.”

For the average good course of 6200 to 6600 yards, Flynn suggested the following general diversity of golf holes:

Dividing this up into holes there would be say four short holes ranging from the mashie to the full wood shot.

One real three-shotter not merely a hole somewhere over 500 yards.

Two drive and full wood shot holes, one with a big carry on the drive as the premium with an easy entrance to the green, the other with accuracy on the drive but with the premium on a big carry for the second shot.

One drive and high spoon shot, accuracy off tee and carry to the green.

One drive and full shot to narrow entrance and slightly ter¬raced green.

One drive and high midiron carry to green.

Two drive and full midiron run to green with narrow entrance.

One drive and high mashie iron carry to green.

One drive and mashie to narrow entrance.

One drive and mashie all carry to green.

One drive and mashie niblic to island green.

One drive and run up on narrow terraced green straight way.

One drive and elbow or cape type with premium on length of drive.

The above list is not at all arbitrary but covers generally the possibilities in an eighteen-hole layout.

With the exception of the short holes, assuming four to the layout, a golf course consists of 14 drives plus the par second and third shots and the object should be to provide holes of proper length to accommodate the more important clubs after the drive has been made.

It naturally follows if this play is carried out that holes of char¬acter and variety can be had.

The problems which should be developed on the various holes in the order of their importance are first-accuracy; second-carry; third-length, which includes carry and roll.

The premium on accuracy should carry the greatest reward for this is the essence of any game.

Carry while slightly less valuable than accuracy is important in that it promotes boldness.

Length may be considered least important but this becomes quite a factor when a player is able to mould all three tests together.

In applying these problems or tests to the layout through the medium of bunkers the architect has a great opportunity to display versatility. On one hole he may have a big diagonal bunker off the tee where the player takes as much risk as he feels capable of carry-ing and is rewarded in his shot to the green commensurably with his first effort.

He may have a comparatively easy drive off another tee, and yet, if the ball strays slightly from the center of the fairway, his second shot to the green becomes increasingly hard.

By arranging the green bunkers in such a way as to invite play in from one side or the other he can also put a premium on placing the tee shot-on the proper side of the fairway. When a test of length off the tee is presented the best type is the cape or elbow where it takes a really big tee shot past a corner to permit reaching the green in par.

The problems may be diversified using one test off the tee on one hole, the same on the second shot of another hole; sometimes two of the same kind on the first and second shots of a hole; perhaps all tests, accuracy, carry and length on another but always juggling so as not to get sameness on succeeding holes.

While bunkers are thought by many to be put in as penalizers they are primarily installed to present a problem or a mode of play. If bunkers were used merely to punish bad shots there would have to be a complete revision of them on most courses.

The worst shots in golf are generally bad tops and wide hooks or slices and the player generally has sufficient penalty in these weaknesses, particularly when greens are properly protected.

7.      Architecturally, the short par four is the current darling of television. What are three of Flynn’s best?

Flynn created a wonderful portfolio of short par 4 holes.  It certainly is difficult to narrow it down to three.  Many of your members may be familiar with past conversations about the 17th at The Country Club, Pepper Pike, so while it deserves to be on a short list of Flynn’s great short par 4s, I’ll leave it off this one.  I will take the liberty of illustrating a fourth example if you don’t mind.

Philadelphia CC 1st, 2010

Philadelphia CC 1st, as seen from left rough

The 1st at Philadelphia Country Club was originally played as the 16th hole prior to the relocation of the clubhouse in the 1960s.  While it is a relatively easy opening tee shot, in the modern era it provides temptation to try and drive the green for the longer hitters or a placement shot to the right side of the fairway for those that don’t want to or cannot take on the risk.  The approach shot is to a narrow green which fools many golfers, even after multiple attempts.  Flynn clearly understood perception and put it to good use on a number of occasions to keep golfers off balance.  Behind the green, there is a significant drop toward the 2nd tee.  Flynn knew that the mind perceived changes in slopes in interesting ways.  Even though the green slopes front to back, it does so at a far less acute angle than the surrounding grade.  The result is that the green appears to slope back to front.  Putts typically race toward the back of the green as golfers think they are putting uphill.  Likewise, putts from back to front generally come up well short.  This causes a seed of doubt in the golfer’s mind making putting a challenge throughout the remaining round.

Indian Creek Country Club 13th

Indian Creek CC 13th Approach

Indian Creek CC has a fascinating golf course which every student of architecture should try to study at length.  It is full of great fairway and green diagonals affecting both tee and approach shots.  Flynn made use of perceptual miscues which abound at Indian Creek.  The 13th hole is a fine example of Flynn’s use of diagonals and fall-offs to intensify the shot demand on the golfer.  Given the windy conditions on Biscayne Bay, the golfer must control the shape and trajectory of their shot.  Playing the tee shot to the left side of the fairway, taking on as much of the diagonal water carry as one feels capable of leaves the player with an approach to a perched green site fronted by water and bunkers with a steep fall-off behind the green.  Playing down the right fairway line brings fairway bunkers into play leaving the ideal angle in to the green.  The golfer is then faced with an approach with water and a steep fall off behind the green.  Which difficult approach angle should the golfer take?  I elect to play along the water and play my approach so that I will not go long and if I end up in one of the fronting bunkers, at least a double bogey or worse can be avoided.  This is a very short par 4 with a very large scoring spectrum.

The Country Club, Brookline 4th

Flynn altered the existing 4th hole, Hospital, in his 1926-1927 redesign and design work for The Country Club in Brookline, MA.  The original hole played straight away toward a hospital adjacent to The Country Club property.  Flynn turned the hole to the left around a hillside where the three left fairway bunkers are in the photograph above.  This forced the golfer to play along the right side of the fairway far enough down the line of play to have an open look to the green.  Short hitters or those that pulled or pushed the shot to the left would have a blind shot to the green over a hill.  Flynn also moved the tee back and up a small natural mound and to the left of the original tee so play would not be from a gully near the bridge on the left of the photograph.

Rolling Green Country Club 15th

The fourth hole, the 15th at Rolling Green is a beautiful example of a reverse camber dogleg with a lot of bunkers at the green end and only topography and a stream along the right side of the fairway affecting play on the tee shot.  The green has two tiers with a rather steep slope between the tiers.

8.      Please discuss how Flynn routed courses on windy sites.  As you have often noted, Shinnecock Hills is but one such sterling example and let’s drill down on its routing in detail.


With the advent of two nines both returning to the clubhouse, architects abandoned the traditional out and back routing found on narrow links land in the Old World.   The loops created by the returning nines allowed golf architects to vary the direction of wind on play.  When one carefully considers the prevailing winds when studying Flynn’s routings, it is evident he crafted his hole designs and lengths with the wind in mind.  On the same course, holes of equal length might have two different par values depending upon topography and prevailing winds.  On routing maps, Flynn drew the center line of play indicating the landing areas with a circle.  The location varied depending upon wind and terrain.

When Lucien Tyng purchased additional land for the golf course of the Shinneock Hills Golf Club, Flynn was able to route the golf course in a more sophisticated manner than found at its next door neighbor, The National Golf Links of America.  Either because the routing was dictated by Macdonald’s desire to place conceptual remakes of famous holes from abroad or Macdonald was so committed to the style of the Old World, his routings offered very little in the way of variety of wind effects.  Consider the way Flynn used triangulation at his complete redesign of Shinnecock Hills (except for the right hand tee on the 3rd and the current 7th tee):

Flynn utilized triangulation on ten holes in three separate sets at Shinnecock Hills.  The Macdonald design did not route the course in a fashion utilizing the prevailing wind and so his design lacked the presentation of a variety of wind directions throughout the hole progression.  Flynn was a master at routing his designs in the ideal manner in which to use the natural features, on the ground, and in the case of windy sites, the prevailing winds.  A lack of triangulation on some of the Macdonald routing may have been forced by the constraints of the land available for the southern holes, where the Macdonald holes five, six, seven and eight all played east to west. Holes nine and ten (and four) played west to east.  Holes eleven, twelve and thirteen played south to north.  Holes fourteen and fifteen played north to south.  Holes one, two, sixteen, seventeen and eighteen all paralleled one another alternating in opposite directions.  There was no triangulation at all and so the varieties of wind were minimal and predictable.

The holes which today play as numbers five, six and seven form the legs of the first triangle.

SHINNECOCK HILLS HOLES 5-7 TRIANGLE  –  The holes which today play as numbers ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen form the legs of a second triangle.

SHINNECOCK HILLS HOLES 10-13 TRIANGLE – The next three holes, fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, form the legs of another triangle.


The summer prevailing wind on Long Island is out of the southwest; the winter prevailing wind is out of the northwest and during spring and fall it is equally from the two directions.  The holes which play with the wind in the summer include three of the longer par four holes (three, twelve and fourteen) as does the fifteenth; one of the two par five holes (five) and three of the par three holes including the long second and the shorter eleventh and seventeenth.  The holes playing into the wind include some of the shorter par four holes such as the eighth and thirteenth as well as the par four fourth hole; the par three seventh; and the par five sixteenth.  The remaining five holes feature prevailing summer winds from the right on three holes (nine, ten and eighteen) and two from the left (one and six).  While unseen, the impact of wind heightens the playability of the course, especially when conditions allow for firm and fast turf through the green given the canted fairways and offsets of fairways and greens

Flynn’s design differed from the previous Macdonald version in other interesting ways such as the use of doglegs.  While the Macdonald routing had very slight doglegs on one, four, five, twelve and thirteen, none involved challenging carries or angles on the tee shot.  Only the Cape hole, the sixteenth, offered a reward for a bold line off the tee.  Flynn’s plan called for more movement on his dogleg holes such as today’s first, fourth, sixth, eighth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and eighteenth.  The tee shots on these holes all have angles to consider off the tee which reward a bold shot, usually over hazards.  Not only is the front angle of the fairway of concern but also the far line of the fairway, such as on the superb first hole.  The correct line and distance must be considered so as to avoid the tee shot ending through the fairway or short of the fairway.  Holes which play straight away do not offer the strategic intent of offset fairways and greens.


Flynn moved the tee north of the Macdonald tee so as to create a sharper dogleg which brings into play the lines of the right and left edges of the fairway.   Like many Flynn dogleg holes, the risks were usually along the line of instinct; that is along the direct line from the tee to the green.  The better approach to the greens, based upon green slopes and greenside bunkering is from the outside of the dogleg.  This design approach identifies the stronger strategic player that recognizes cutting the corner is not the ideal shot and that the risk-reward equation dictates the longer route so that the hole plays longer than the scorecard length.   Play along the outside of the doglegs is dictated on holes eight, thirteen, fourteen and eighteen.  The tee shot on the first hole is best played along the right side of the fairway.

There were two greens on the Macdonald plan which were offset to the line of play, These holes are Macdonald’s concept versions of the Redan (based upon North Berwick’s fifteenth), hole fourteen and The Road Hole (based upon the seventeenth on The Old Course in St. Andrews), hole seventeen.  Flynn offset a number of greens creating more demanding angles of play.  These offset greens include holes seven, Flynn’s own version of a Redan, eight, nine, ten, thirteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and eighteen.

Flynn has both elevated and low lying tees.  The elevated tees are on par four holes one, three, ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.  Level or low tee sites are found on par three holes two, seven, eleven and seventeen; on par fours holes four, six, eight, nine and eighteen; and on the par five fifth and sixteenth holes.

9.   Please discuss Flynn’s bunker design styles.  We know he liked to flash the sand up high on the faces of bunkers and he often had rather simple outlines. Beyond that, how diverse was his range of styles? Please provide examples, either drawings or photographs.

It seemed as though Flynn altered the look of his bunkers, particularly when one compares and contrasts the bunkering on his inland courses and those on his seaside courses.  In the early part of Flynn’s career, he built simple outlines to his bunkers on inland courses.  When he had the opportunity to revise courses, he made some substantial changes to the designs of his bunkering.  We can only hazard a guess as to why.  For a fine example, let’s take a look at the current 1st hole at Philadelphia Country Club as it was designed in 1925 and as it was redesigned in 1939 for the US Open.

Merion may be the first American example of inland (heavy soil) bunkers with sand flashed high on the face of raised bunkers.  The vast majority of Flynn’s bunkers had raised sand flashed faces for intimidation and to obscure the landing areas beyond the bunkers.

Indian Creek CC 6th tee

The right greenside bunker Hugh Wilson and William Flynn created on the 15th at Merion East is a classic example of manipulating the top line of the bunker in a way that makes it seem perpendicular to the line of play when in actuality the large bunker is on a clever diagonal requiring an additional 1 or 2 clubs more to carry the right side of the bunker relative to the left.

Philadelphia CC Current 1st, 1939

The 8th hole at Shinnecock Hills is an example of a reverse dogleg, where the typical dogleg design provides a bunker on the inside corner of the turn which can be challenged and carried for a better approach angle to the green.  Flynn liked to confound golfers with a twist and set up the green opening and bunkering for the ideal approach angle from the outside of the dogleg, the opposite of what most architects try to achieve with the dogleg design.  In this particular example, Flynn provided a large bunker field on a diagonal where the longer carry sets up the ideal angle.  Tom Paul and I worked with the club to expand the fairway back to the left and return the intended risk reward.

Some seaside bunkers:

Boca Raton South 14th

Indian Creek CC 12th

Shinnecock Hills GC 6th

Shinnecock Hills GC 11th

Shinnecock Hills 10th – Notice the old SHGC course with grass faced bunker and flat bottom of sand to the right

Kittansett Club 13th

Some inland bunkers:

Philadelphia CC 3rd

Lancaster CC 3rd

Huntingdon Valley 9th

Rolling Green GC 10th

TCC, Pepper Pike 15th – An example where Flynn used grass faces on these fairway bunkers


10.  Even more important than style is bunker placement. What are five examples of some of the most confounding bunkers that he ever placed?

Probably as important as the placement of bunkers, though harder to discern is the restraint in using bunkers.  When there was sufficient natural topography, Flynn would allow the terrain to dictate strategies and employee less of a bunker plan.  Tom Paul refers to this as gravity golf.  On some particularly interesting sites, Flynn only used twenty or so bunkers on the entire course.  But as the question asks for examples of confounding bunkers, here are some to consider.

The entire set of bunkers on Indian Creek CC 6th hole as has been documented on this site.  The way Flynn made the sets of fairway bunkers appear to be one large bunker field hiding the landing area is one of the most brilliant deceptions I’ve ever seen on a golf course.

Indian Creek CC 6th tee

The right greenside bunker Hugh Wilson and William Flynn created on the 15th at Merion East is a classic example of manipulating the top line of the bunker in a way that makes it seem perpendicular to the line of play when in actuality the large bunker is on a clever diagonal requiring an additional 1 or 2 clubs more to carry the right side of the bunker relative to the left.

Merion East 15th, 2010

The 8th hole at Shinnecock Hills is an example of a reverse dogleg, where the typical dogleg design provides a bunker on the inside corner of the turn which can be challenged and carried for a better approach angle to the green.  Flynn liked to confound golfers with a twist and set up the green opening and bunkering for the ideal approach angle from the outside of the dogleg, the opposite of what most architects try to achieve with the dogleg design.  In this particular example, Flynn provided a large bunker field on a diagonal where the longer carry sets up the ideal angle.  Tom Paul and I worked with the club to expand the fairway back to the left and return the intended risk reward.

Shinnecock Hills 8th, Flynn Plan (colorized)

The 16th hole at Philadelphia Country Club is one of the most fun holes in golf.  After a blind tee shot, the golfer is often left with a downhill lie to a very small crescent shaped green.  In the fairway is a bunker where the approach needs to just carry the bunker and land short to feed onto the green.  It is a tricky shot that if missed requires a deft recovery shot from a variety of lies.

Philadelphia CC 16th in background

Philadelphia CC 16th aerial

The 10th hole at Lehigh Country Club is one of many examples where Flynn raised the top line of the bunker above surrounding grade and flashed the sand up high on the face.  Not only is this sort of bunker an intimidating visual, but the raised top line hides the area beyond the bunker and foreshortens the apparent distance to the green.

Lehigh CC 10th hole, 2009

11.  As opposed to some architects who preferred building wild interior contours, is it fair to say that Flynn preferred using broad slopes to lend his greens much of their playing interest?

Oh, Absolutely, Ran.   Flynn utilized broad slopes on his greens the majority of the time.  He used tiers on occasion but relied on subtle cues for line and speed.  Where is the interest in template greens when you know what to expect rather than unique greens based upon the natural sites?  The added interest of long interplays of slopes on greens rather than overt contours works especially well for private clubs.  When combined with a mottled look from multiple strains of grasses, it results in a long learning curve.  Those unfamiliar with the greens find it difficult to read the line of putts.  Whether intended or not, the psychological impact of having greens that look a lot easier than they play is an interesting feature in all Flynn courses.  While some modern architects design their courses to look hard and play easy for a more enjoyable experience, the opposite holds true for most Flynn course designs.

Rolling Green 2nd

12.  The Cascades Course looks to lie peacefully upon the ground yet in fact, it was quite a construction achievement. What are several examples there of Flynn moving quite a bit of rock and dirt with the outcome being that it looks like nature was barely touched? In many ways, is the Cascades course a microcosm of his design beliefs and why you titled your book as you did?

Swift Run, the stream which courses through the Cascades site, was moved the entire length of the course westward to the foot of Little Mountain in order to provide space for golf holes and to control flooding.  The sixth fairway had to be bridged over a tributary of Swift Run.  To do this, Flynn had workmen build stone abutments with a span of about 40 feet over which he had crews lay locust logs.  The logs were covered with topsoil and seeded in a way so as to completely hide the bridged fairway.  The twelfth and thirteenth fairways were crossed by a large limestone ridge which had to be blasted away.  Large boulders were strewn throughout the property and where they interfered with growing turf, soil was laid over the boulders with the turf grass allowed to develop.

Preconstruction photograph of Cascades property

13.  What sort of architectural features did Flynn use that were unique or relatively little used?

As far as bunkers are concerned, Flynn was one of the first American architects to use sand flashed high on bunker faces.  Flynn manipulated the toplines of bunkers to fool golfers into misreading diagonals.  He used the toplines of bukers more often than many architects to hide the landing areas beyond the bunkers and to foreshorten the apparent distances.  Flynn overwhelmingly chose to use undulating floors on his bunkers.  He seemed to abhor the level bunkers found on the majority of courses being built during the classic era of golf course design in America.

Merion East 18th, 1971

Flynn seemed to understand and use perspective to fool golfers into errors related to apparent distance and angles.  Flynn liked to site a green on a ridge which gave him opportunities to devise very tricky greens with trouble all around.  When Flynn would site a downhill green, especially with the downslope continuing beyond the green, he knew that altering the slope of the green created an appearance that the green slopes back to front when in fact it slopes front to back only to a lesser degree than the surrounds.

Cascades 4th

We already mentioned Flynn’s use of long interplays of slopes on greens

14.  What design differences exist between his estate courses, private clubs and public facilities?  Did Flynn design differently for courses which had strong players and limited play versus those with weak players with a lot of play?

On limited play private courses, Flynn was able to crossover holes and provide multiple holes with fewer greens.  Flynn used double greens as well in order to provide more hole combinations on less acreage.   Public courses were geared toward a wide range of abilities, the majority of which were inexperienced players.  For his public courses, one of which he was an owner, his holes had fewer bunkers, wide fairways and usually lacked crossing water features.  Flynn’s championship courses were much longer, more heavily bunkered and usually provided specific shot testing throughout the round.

15.  Relative to the output of such peers as Donald Ross and A.W. Tillinghast, Flynn’s name is ‘only’ associated with forty-some courses. What benefits do you discern from the fact that he concentrated his efforts?

Flynn wrote that a golf course architect could not mass produce quality golf designs.  He believed the best and most cost-effective method was to spend a lot of time on site developing multiple iterations before coming up with a final set of plans.  He was able to maximize the potential of a site because of the amount of time spent on site.  A golf architect on site can see the nearby and distant features and tie them into the golf architecture so that the course fits naturally on the land.  As far as we know, there isn’t a golf design in the Flynn portfolio where Flynn did not spend a significant amount of time on site.

16.  Flynn loomed large as a key figure during the Golden Age of golf design. What architects did he influence? Who best carried on from the examples that he set?

Flynn’s influence is hard to determine.  Flynn was relatively inactive for a long period of time before his death in 1945.  Between the Depression and WWII, there wasn’t a lot of golf design work to influence the next generation of architects.  Given that Red Lawrence, William Gordon and Dick Wilson were all pretty successful architects, especially Wilson, I guess they learned something about golf design.  None of the men were designing anything for Flynn, he was the sole designer for the firm.  All three men were employees of Toomey and Flynn, Contracting Engineers.  They built courses to Flynn’s specific instructions.  More than likely, Flynn’s influence was on how to build a course properly and on budget.

I’ve never played or studied a Lawrence course, so I cannot say anything about a direct influence there.  I don’t see much about the Gordon work I’ve seen that reminds me of Flynn.  As for Wilson, his green construction may have some commonalities with Flynn though they tend to be a lot bigger with more contouring.

17.  In regards to top 100 courses in the United States, his work at Shinnecock Hills, The Cascades, Cherry Hills and Lancaster are all regularly featured. Other courses like The Country Club, Indian Creek, Huntingdon Valley, and Rolling Green should be. How do you think Boca Raton and Mill Farm would fare on such lists if they were still in existence?

Boca Raton and Mill Road Farm were considered by many outstanding players to be one of the top courses in the country.  They were designed to be championship courses providing enjoyable difficulty with a variety of shot testing, not repetitive challenges.  They were either very long or played very long in their day and I agree with Dan Wexler, they likely would have stood the test of time far better than other highly regarded courses of their day.  I’ve never been a rater of courses, but I am pretty certain they would be very highly regarded and near the top of every top 100 rating in America.

18.  Essentially, then, that means that Flynn would be responsible for ~ 10% of the course’s best courses. Yet, he doesn’t seem to garner such credit nor is he spoken of in the same reverential tones as Ross, MacKenzie, and Thomas. Why is that?

That is a very good question, Ran.  Some of the lack of recognition can be attributed to the geographical concentrations of Flynn’s courses.  While he usually designed the courses for the elite clubs in any particular district, he certainly didn’t have the geographical coverage that Ross, Tillinghast, MacKenzie, Colt and others had.  Considering his batting average of top 100 courses given such a limited portfolio of work, it is safe to say that Flynn would be considered a home run hitter who also hit for average.

Yet Flynn separates himself from the other architects of his era (and maybe any era) in that during his career, not only was he one of the most outstanding architects, he was also one of the most talented agronomists, builders and superintendents of his era.  I don’t think another man was as accomplished as Flynn in all the disciplines involved in golf design, building, turfing and maintenance.

In my mind, these courses (designs and significant redesigns) all merit or would merit consideration in a modern list of top 100 American courses”

Boca Raton South (NLE)
The Country Club, Brookline
The Country Club, Pepper Pike
Huntingdon Valley
Indian Creek
Lancaster CC
Merion East
Mill Road Farm (NLE)
Opa-Locka (NLE)
Philadelphia Country Club
Rolling Green
Shinnecock Hills

Even disregarding the NLEs, it still leaves about 10% of a top 100 list.  Given that Flynn only designed and built about 50 courses, that’s a fine batting average.

19.  Did Flynn write anything about his views on template holes and copying green designs?  How about straight lines on a golf course?

Flynn wrote about both subjects in 1927.

“There has been in the past considerable copying in the designs of greens. The custom has been to select so-called famous holes from abroad and attempt to adapt them to a particular hole. While it is a simple matter to copy a design it is almost impossible to turn out a green that resembles the original. This is not due to any technical reason but is on account of the surroundings being different from the original.

Copying greens in detail is not generally a good plan but there should be no hesitation about copying the principal connected with any green particularly when it is good.

It has often been said that architects have designs for 18 greens and that the same ones are used over and over again on the various layouts.

A successful architect of today does not follow that system.  His greens are born on the ground and made to fit each particular hole.

In constantly designing greens it is very easy for an architect to acquire a pet type and to apply this frequently, thus creating greens of great similarity. A tremendous amount of study must be given each site on the ground and also on paper so as to get distinctive types, thus avoiding sameness.”

As to straight lines, particularly fairway lines, Flynn wrote,

“The topography of the ground should have a bearing in the outlining of the fairways, they being designed with the idea of producing character rather than the commonplace straight line effect of a decade ago. A curving line whether it be a road or the outline of a fairway is much more attractive than the straight line.”

The End