The following article appeared in the British Association of Golf
Course Architects Newsletter, No. 6, 1985. It is reproduced here
with permission of the author.
One of the flaws in golf course architecture is that, once the
architect has signed the final certificate of the contractor and
perhaps, if he is lucky, been invited to the opening of the
course, he ceases to have any influence in the way his course is
maintained and cared for. He has no wish to interfere with the
important and separate job of the greenkeeper, but condition does
have a direct bearing on whether the strategic elements of the
architect's plans are being fully observed.
In too many cases the greenkeeper himself may be overruled by the
majority vote of a green committee that is invariably made up of
poor and inexperienced players who see golf only through their
own eyes. Their inability to play properly has led them to use
their position in office to ensure that courses are prepared with
them in mind. Their motto is that there is no point in hitting a
good shot when a poor one will do just as well. In order to
accommodate them, they have been guilty of gross overwatering and
overfeeding of greens and invariably of fairways as well.
They like to see grass sprouting everywhere, oblivious of the
fact that grassy fairways make it far harder to hit proper golf
shots and oblivious of the neat definition of Peter Thomson, who
believes the art of greenkeeping is not in getting grass to grow
but in how to keep it down.
Thomson was the master of British conditions, showing by his
approach and skill that golf is a game of maneuverability and
control, not of raw muscle. In many ways golf has a lot in common
with billiards, where the key lies in playing every shot with the
next one in mind. With the proper control of the cue ball, the
next shot is that much easier, but at golf it is a weapon that is
blunted when greens are so soft that they will hold shots from
neighboring fairways or pitches that may be skimmed.
The billiards analogy can be taken a step further. Billiards is
only half a game on a slow table with dead cushions, and golf is
the same without true, fast greens. Much thought goes into an
architect's green designs - the shaping, the angling, the
contouring, and the bunkering. On plain ground it can be the main
way of providing challenge. The best holes are those where there
is a definite side of the fairway that opens the best line to the
Not that green committees are the only people who like to twist
the arm of the greenkeeper. Professionals are not slow in
speaking up if they find conditions that do not suit them,
although some of them are also inclined to believe every shot to
a green should stop where it pitches.
MY ANSWER is to do away with green committees as outmoded as the
penny farthing, a view echoed by Bill Campbell, a former
President of the United States Golf Association, in an address to
the Golf Course Superintendents, in 1983. "Communication is
important in any endeavor, but it is crucial for golfers to
develop a close relationship with their golf course
superintendents," Campbell said.
"Under the ideal situation, there would be a key person, and
only one person who would represent all golfers at a club and
communicate with the superintendent. The key person should be
respected by his fellow members and should be knowledgeable
enough to understand what a superintendent may explain."
"The key person ought to be honest in his dealings with the
superintendent, meet frequently with him, and be practical in his
suggestions. At a private club, the key person will be the
Chairman of the Green Committee, but frequently the chairmanship
changes every year. If the club has a green committee chairman
who is really effective, really trusted, and works well with the
superintendent, the club ought to keep him in that position for
as long as it can."
I have sat through enough green committee meetings to know the
futility of them. There is no sense having an expert agronomist
to advise if a green committee is going to start questioning
every point of policy they put forward. Far better for all
concerned to let them get on with it, give them all the
encouragement possible, and allow their policies to be judged
over three or four years.
Golf courses in Britain have to be made as playable as possible
12 months a year. What you do, or do not do, in June will
influence the condition of a course in December. It is not too
difficult to get good greens for two or three months in summer;
the secret lies in having them good all year round - those
forever on temporary greens in winter, please note.
MEMBERS ALLOW their clubs to be run on the lines that they would
never allow for their businesses, but Tom Simpson, a late
lamented golf course architect and great character, was fond of
quoting Disraeli on the subject: "It is much easier to be
critical than to be correct"; or the words of Napoleon to
his brother, "It is the greatest of all immoralities to
engage in a profession of which one is ignorant."
The outspokeness of Simpson, who designed many masterpieces in
Ireland and on the Continent, was legendary. Indeed, it set the
tone of an obituary which the British journalist Henry Longhurst
wrote before Simpson's death, because Simpson complained once
that he would never see what Longhurst said about him. Given
guaranteed immunity from legal actions, Longhurst immediately
stressed Simpson's love of the unconventional, which made him
the bane of so many golf club committees.
"His life has been one of unwavering hostility to government
by committees in any shape or form and of ceaseless endeavor to
get one-up on them. His first move when invited to design or
alter a course was to win the first hole by turning up in a Rolls
Royce, it thus being tacitly understood from the start that, if
they did not like the result of his labors, they could do the
Not many in any walk of life can afford to adopt such a
belligerent stance, but why, when they are quite happy to take a
doctor's, lawyer's, or stockbroker's word on things,
do golfers always think they know better than greenkeepers or
golf course architects?