With his references to inner meaning and fundamental principles, it is easy to forget, misunderstand or even dismiss entirely Behr’s contributions to the field of golf course design; but Aldous Huxley would likely have enjoyed long and fruitful discussions with him.  Despite Behr’s determined tendency to explain himself in the most mysterious ways, Huxley would not have denied his basic contention that architecture could have meaning and significance, and that its practitioners — the best among them, if they chose to — could serve as channels for a more-than-ordinary spirit to manifest itself in their work, bringing beauty and truth and thus a measure of healing to the world.

Today Aldous Huxley might best be remembered for his early experiments with psychedelic drugs, described in his book “The Doors of Perception”.  (The title of the book and the name of the 1960s rock band led by Jim Morrison came from the same source, i.e. William Blake’s poem “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, famous for the line: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is — infinite”.)  Huxley passed away of cancer on the
same day in November 1963 as John F. Kennedy and C.S. Lewis, some say after having ingested then then-largest single dose of mescalin ever recorded.

Less is remembered now of Huxley’s nearly life-long study of history’s great spiritual giants, those rare men and women who had made themselves fit to experience the presence of God, fit to participate in — to use theologian Paul Tillich’s phrase — the Ground of All Being.

In his pursuit to understand (and to live) this truly experiential religion, Huxley had been shaped by William James’ 1902 work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”.  Coming at the end of the Victorian Era, this ground-breaking analysis of spirituality identified and gave voice to the ethos and value system of a brand new age, one that was willing to reject tradition and embrace change — and the very concept of change — as never before.

First presented as a lecture series at the University of Edinburgh in 1901, the work of this American psychologist (and pragmatic philosopher) startled the world with its focus not on doctrine and dogma but on personal religious experience, on the experiences — inside their own heads, as it were — of men and women who found purpose, meaning and fulfillment in their own spiritual feelings, insights and ideas, regardless of whether or not those experiences had ever
been codified in the foundational texts of the world’s religions.

Writing not as a theologian but as a psychologist, James argued that human beings seemed to be manifestly religious animals — that a desire to re-link to the Basic Fact and Source of Life seemed to be lodged deep in the human psyche, independent of any official religious upbringing or affiliation.  It is as if James had said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

With this endorsement of personal religious experience, James opened the door wide to emerging concepts about spiritual worship in daily life.  In a sense, he gave a whole generation of religious seekers permission to abandon traditional places of worship — the churches, temples and synagogues — and to instead worship and seek spiritual nourishment wherever and in whatever way suited them best.  Not surprisingly, many in the newly-minted Edwardian Age found that it was in Nature and the natural world, so free from actual or perceived Victorian restraints, where they could most easily and directly experience the Basic Fact of existence — where they felt most free to participate in the Real.  Lying with a lover on the banks of the Thames listening to the wind could be as deeply spiritual as a stern Sunday sermon inside St. Paul’s Cathedral; and so too might a solitary round of golf played in the misty silence as a steady rain fell from low grey clouds hanging over a sea-side links in Scotland.

In terms of golf course architecture, it is difficult to determine how much of this same spirit of the age influenced that group of young men in the United Kingdom and America who became architects and went on to play a role in golf’s first Golden Age — although presumably, none of a certain class or educational background could be wholly immune from so dominant a social, cultural, and philosophical shift.

(Men like John Low, Tom Simpson, Hugh Wilson, Charles Alison and Alastair Mackenzie come immediately to mind.  Herbert Fowler, though older, began his architectural career around the turn of the century, and was capable of spiritualizing the craft: “God builds golf links; the less man meddles, the better for all concerned”.  And C.B. Macdonald, while also older and more inclined than Fowler “to meddle”, did invest heart and soul into the pursuit of the Ideal
golf course, and articulated and popularized a notion of fundamental principles that until then few would have ever thought to relate to as prosaic/secular an undertaking as golf architecture.)On the other hand, it is plausible to suggest that Arnold Haultain’s romantic and poetic “The Mystery of Golf”, first published in 1904, had indeed been influenced by the same ethos and value-system William James had given voice to; and that Haultain’s work would in turn influence Max Behr, he of the inner meaning of golf architecture and of the fundamental principles of Nature.  It is certainly clear that the spiritualizing of golf and nature made another
significant appearance in Michael Murphy’s “Golf in the Kingdom” — and that Murphy’s Esalen Institute, with its initial interests in Eastern mysticism and mind-altering substances, linked back to ideas that Aldous Huxley had first popularized.  (In passing, it is interesting to note that the roots of this sub-genre of golf writing — as exemplified by Haultain, Behr and Murphy — might stretch down past even William James himself.  James, after all, was the
godson of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the father of American Transcendentalism; and, as Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote in expressing a typical sentiment: “Nature is full of genius, full of the Divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.”  Nor a golf course either, some might argue.)

And it is here, at the confluence of spiritual sentiment, golf, nature and the art of seeing that Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy” again comes to mind.  In that book — an anthology of spiritual texts from the world over — Huxley includes a story by ancient philosopher Chuang Tzu:

“Ch’ing, the chief carpenter, was carving wood into a stand for musical instruments, and when finished his work appeared so perfect as to be of supernatural execution. And so the Prince asked him: What mystery is there in your art? And Ch’ing replied: No mystery, Your Highness. When I am about to make a stand, I guard against any diminution of my essential powers. I first bring my mind into a state of absolute quiet. After 3 days in this state I become oblivious to any possible reward or gain. After 5 days, I become oblivious to any fame I might achieve. After 7 days, I become unconscious of my limbs and physical frame.

Only then, when there is no thought of you or the Court in my mind, the skills I have become concentrated and all disturbing elements from without are gone.  And only then do I enter some mountain forest, and I begin my search for a suitable tree.  That tree already contains within it the form required, which I afterwards elaborate. I see the musical stand in my mind’s eye, and then set to work.  Beyond that there is nothing: I simply bring my own native capacity
into relationship with that of the wood.  What is suspected to be of supernatural execution in my work is due solely to this.”

The description is clear, as is the parallel to an architect’s ability to see/find a golf course inherent in the land, waiting to be unveiled.  (To put it too bluntly: Ch’ing is an architect like Bill Coore, wandering long and patiently through the Sand Hills of Nebraska in search of a golf course, and then finding one; and he is also Michelangelo, seeking the heart-wrenching “Pieta” in a slab of plain white marble; and he is Handel, scrambling to notate “The Hallelujah Chorus” as the music poured into his soul from a source seemingly outside of himself.)

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