Saturday, October 30, 2004

Mark Parsinen to build in Inverness, Scotland

Mark Parsinen, the creator of Kingsbarns, the great links near St. Andrews, is poised to do it again, this time near Inverness. The site is to be called Castle Stuart and sounds like a pretty cool project. No word on when they'll actually break ground on this or when it will be open, but rumours have it in 2006.
With Nairn nearby and Royal Dornoch less than an hour away, this could be a home run. We'll see....

Friday, October 29, 2004

Muirfield -- Scotland's best?

An interesting article from the Scotsman on Muirfield and the amoung of income generated by golf tourism in Scotland:

Friday, October 22, 2004

Kohler buys Old Course Hotel

Found this in the Scotsman -- interesting, given Kohler's home run at Whistling Straits.

New owner's plans for Duke's Course

HERB Kohler, the owner of Whistling Straits, the links-style course in Wisconsin where Vijay Singh won the US PGA Championship in August, yesterday promised to oversee far-reaching changes to the Duke’s Course over the next three years after completing the purchase of the Old Course hotel in St Andrews.

Although the American businessman would not disclose the fee paid for the hotel and nearby golf course, the price is thought to be about £35million.

Kohler intends to spend the next three years assessing and improving both the hotel and course, designed by former Open champion Peter Thomson.

The man behind the most spectacular new course in America told Scottish golf writers that he liked six of the holes on the Duke’s but felt the other 12 need to be "tweaked".

He plans to give Thomson the first refusal to implement any changes. The American has long been friendly with Pete Dye, the architect who designed Whistling Straits.

"We only found out the hotel was available five days after the PGA," said Kohler. "I’ve been to St Andrews seven or eight times and love the place. I particularly like the Old Course hotel.

"When I heard of the opportunity, I jumped. The Duke’s needs to be tweaked and once that’s happened we’d love to have a big event there."

Contrary to earlier reports, which suggested the purchase was made in partnership with Swilken Holdings, Kohler revealed he’d bought the Old Course hotel on his own.

Canada's 25 Best

I've been working on a list of the Top 25 courses in Canada alongside my Golf Club Atlas compatriots, Ben Cowan-Dewar, Ian Andrew and Jeff Mingay. We'll eventually post a full-on piece on GCA, but in the meantime, I've spent some time working through my top 25 list. It is interesting -- there's very little that I consider strong that doesn't make the list. Some new stuff, like Tom McBroom's Wildfire, Doug Carrick's Angus Glen South and his wasteland course at Osprey Valley narrowly don't make the list. Ron Joyce's Fox Harb'r also misses.
Of course, the much-vaunted Magna Golf Club, which is a great place to have lunch and a fun place to play, also misses the list, even if David Kaufman, the club's executive director, thinks it is the best golf course in Canada.
There's a chance this list will change, but here it is, for the time being.

1. St. George's
Clearly Canada's best and most consistent course and one of only two in the Top 100 in the world. The new bunkers, inserted in 2003, have added the detail that makes this course fabulous to look at and fun to play.
Strategy also abounds and the course has kept up pretty well to the changes in length without forcing changes in tees. The best (the par four #2, #13, #14) offer rewards for the brave and outs for the safer player. The finishing stretch -- 17 and 18 -- are as good as anything in Canada.
There are weak holes here (#3 needs its green to be blown up, while #15's green is in a strange spot, having been moved by Robbie Robinson), but the greatness far outweighs any shortcomings.

2. Hamilton

Some, including Score Magazine, have offered this as the best course in Canada. It is pretty close. Built over a dramatic routing that runs through wooded valleys and featuring frequent shifts in elevation, Hamilton only misses on the details. Why not take the bunkers back to the Colt style?

3. Highlands Links

Though there are concerns about the conditioning of this gem, it is clearly one of the world's great routings. The opening hole is meek enough, but the beastly second hole gives golfers a pretty good taste of what's in store for them the rest of the way. Great rolling fairways, created by nature, mean level lies are few and far between. The isolation of this course, with its classic hotel, make Highlands Links one of the great golf experiences in the world. Let's hope it stays that way.

4. Jasper

Some think Banff is Stanley Thompson's best mountain course -- but I disagree. Largely untouched since Thompson built it, Jasper offers the elevation shifts one expects from a course built four hours into the Rocky Mountains. While its fine finishing hole may not offer the punch it once did, Jasper has character and challenge in one of the most remarkable settings in Canada. It doesn't hurt that the restoration work that's been done at the course was done in house and with great respect to Thompson's work.

5. National

One of Tom Fazio's earliest works, built alongside his uncle, George, still remains one of the best modern golf courses in Canada. It is also extremely tough and has held up nicely over the nearly three decades it has been in existence. The routing is terrific and several of the holes (#7, #9) are just great golf -- interesting greens, tremendous tee shots. The National has sort of fallen out of fashion, but it's strengths and design mean it will always reside among Canada's best courses.

6. Capilano

Arguably Canada's most beautiful golf site, Capilano offers a mix of pretty holes with others that offer a lot of bite. The only issue with Capilano is its par fives (the first, third, ninth) are actually par fours these days. But the finishing stretch, the long par four 15th, the tough, long par three 16th (a necessity on a Thompson course), the grand 17th and the fascinating uphill finisher, make for one of the toughest closing stretches.

7. Devil's Paintbrush

Dana Fry's great faux links built on a rolling stretch of farmland. It offers the punch of a great golf course, despite being less than 6,800 yards long, with the quirk expected from some of the best in Scotland and Ireland. I don't care for the pond on 15, but there are few things to gripe with other than that issue. The wall that runs through the course suits it perfectly -- and the understated setting only adds to the fun.

8. Eagles Nest

Doug Carrick's latest creation could arguably be the best modern course in Canada. Its massive fake dunes make the course look imposing, but there's lots of strategy to the cross bunkers on holes like 12, and the bunkering on 18 makes for a great finishing shot. While not quite Kingsbarns, it is a pretty remarkable accomplishment on a good, but not great, site. The bowl holes (#3 thru #7) are exceptional.

9. Bigwin Island

Featuring the best finishing hole in Canada, the strategy at Bigwin largely involves inner-angle bunkering. Wide fairways allow players to avoid these bunkers, but players are there forced with longer approach shots to greens that are fair, but tricky. Many will be awed by the drops in elevation on #6, #9 and #18, but the real teeth of the course is its rock-solid par fours.

10. Toronto

Harry Colts' gem has rarely been touched since it was created at the turn of the last century. Despite an average start, the fifth and ninth, two terrific par fours, offer drama and force the player to hit long, straight tee shots in order to even attempt to make the greens. The greens are also a great part of Toronto -- sometimes subtle, like the opening hole, often wild, like the Redan on #4.

11. Banff

Its too bad the detail work at Banff -- mainly bunkers -- has been so botched over the past two decades. Banff has largely been considered Thompson's best mountain course, but there is an increasing number of people who think it has been eclipsed by Jasper, which has been altered far less.
Still, there is greatness here, including the tee shot on the old opening hole, and the bunker work on the old 18th. Don't let anyone convince you the course has been destroyed by the alterations -- it is still fun to play and the views, especially along the Spray River, are amazing.

12. Westmount

Too bad this course, another Thompson work, has seen its trees encroach on its fairways so much. The land is great -- especially after you get by the first three opening holes. A weak finisher, where trees force players to consider hitting an iron, hurts the course -- but the ninth, a much better finishing hole, has the wild fairway contours one expects from Thompson.

13. Shaughnessy

A.V. Macan's course is subtle and interesting, featuring interesting greens and shot values, even if the land is not overly dramatic.

14. Osprey Valley Heathlands

A great example of a golf course built on unexceptional land. Built in a heathlands style, the rustic nature of Osprey Valley, including the lack of a clubhouse, is part of its charm. While not as openly quirky as the nearby Devil's Paintbrush (that would be against Doug Carrick's nature -- he likes things all out in front), Osprey Valley has some great green sites.

15. Redtail

Canada's best example of minimalist golf is probably more fun than it is great. The experience is amazing, but it is the holes like #3 and #13 that make Redtail exceptional. The third is my favourite, with its right to left green and interesting green site -- located just over a small chasm. Some of it doesn't work (the 9th and the 18th are a bit of a letdown), but by and large Redtail is fun and charming.

16. Scaboro

One of the most overlooked golf courses in Canada, this is Tillinghast's only creation in Canada. While some of the bunkering has been grassed over, there are great examples of strong architecture throughout. Take the par three fourth, with its green site perched next to a small creek, or the series of fascinating short fours. The best of the bunch, like the 7th, offer a risk/reward rarely seen in modern golf. Its elevated green makes an iron your best bet off the tee -- but its short length (270 yards) means more people will go for the green and make bogey on its difficult green. The following hole is reminiscent of the great links of Scotland, with a fairway that falls 40 feet and a blind tee shot. Playing at Scarboro feels like the real thing.

17. Blackhawk

Rod Whitman, who has worked with Coore and Crenshaw, created this course outside of Edmonton. It looks akin to Thompson's work -- from the rugged bunker work to the lumpy fairways with their interesting contours. There's lots here to interest all level of players -- and the back nine, with fairways that run alongside a nice river valley backdrop, are terrific.

18. Mount Bruno

Subtle is the word at Bruno. Like Scarboro, it feels like old world golf. Time made alterations at Bruno -- trees grew wildly at one point -- but Tom McBroom's restoration was nicely done with a strong understanding of what the course represents. The best holes -- the uphill par four ninth and the par five 12th -- offer interesting bunkers and great green sites. Bruno could be the most underappreciated course in Canada, largely because so few ever see it.

19. Cataraqui

In the triumvirate of Thompson courses, including Brantford and St. Thomas, Cataraqui stands out, largely do to the strengths of its par threes. The best are long and tough (#2, #15). The finishing hole, with its green set in a stadium type setting with interesting surrounds, is fun and worth another look.

20. Crowbush Cove

Some think this is Canada's best modern course. They are wrong -- but there is lots to like at Crowbush. The best holes are in the dunes, at the end of the opening nine and in the middle of the back nine. However, there's lots of ordinary, McBroom style holes here, which are underwhelming for a course some hold in such esteem.

21. St. Thomas

A Thompson course that has been significantly reworked by Robbie Robinson, St. Thomas is built on great land. The greens are a bit extreme in spots, but the best holes, like the 14th and 18th, are examples where little land was moved in creating great golf holes.

22. Brantford

While its opening holes are dull, there are some exceptional holes here, including the par three third, the 9th, with its perched green, and the 15th, with its quarry like setting. Probably over-rated by many, Brantford is a great members course with a few interest

23. Lookout Point

Walter Travis created this quirky course, full of small greens and strange, but often wonderful, golf holes. The first and the 9th rival the fabled 11th at Glen Abbey and the 18th, with its green set beneath the clubhouse, is terrific. In between there's some interesting stuff going on, including extreme greens, like the second hole, a tough par three.

24. Dundarave

Another Hurdzan/Fry course -- this one situated on a picturesque river valley in Prince Edward Island. Massive bunkers and wide fairways are the rule of the day here. The finishing hole, with its 20-foot deep bunker, presents a great risk/reward scenario for the big hitter.

25. London Highlands

With a bunker restoration finished, Highlands may be one of Thompson's most overlooked and underappreciated courses. There is a lot of great holes here -- the short, par four ninth with its severe green is clearly among them. The finishing stretch -- the 230-yard par three 15th, the 16th with its strange fairway and the final holes, both strong fours -- ranks among the best in Canada.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Hamilton Golf and Country Club

Some argue that Hamilton Golf is the country's best golf course. That was the take of Score (, the golf magazine which recently put the course ahead of the likes of St. George's and the National.
To be clear, I'm on the Score panel and I've played pretty much every golf course in Canada that has even a passing opportunity at ranking No. 1.
Hamilton is good -- very good. I'd clearly rank it among the top courses in Canada -- and feel it likely deserves a spot on Golf's Top 100 in the world.
But, as my friend Ben Cowan-Dewar (who runs a neat site called says, there are still problems with Hamilton. The course, a fine Harry Colt design, is missing the detail work which would put it comfortably in the Top 100 in the world. The bunker work, done by the American firm of Ault, Clark and Associates, is haphazzard. It simply doesn't look like the work Colt did at some of his other high profile courses, like Muirfield in Scotland. It isn't even as interesting as Toronto, another Colt design.
However, I doubt Hamilton will do anything about it -- the course and its members are still basking in the glow of the gushing reviews they received for the 2003 Canadian Open and probably are happy enough with the Score ranking. Why, if you're already regarded as the best course in Canada, would a course make more alterations?
Well, take a look at St. George's -- where Ian Andrew reworked all of the bunkers in the style Stanley Thompson envisioned. It makes the course more dramatic -- and quite clearly the best in Canada. If Hamilton considered a similar bunker job, the course would certainly rival St. George's.
It all comes down to detail work, something most courses overlook and occasionally just ignore.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Top courses in the world...

With a baby in the house, I realize there is little chance I'll play anything further in Golf magazine's top 100 in the world. But it has been a good year nonetheless.... There had been talk of getting to Pinehurst No. 2 this year, though it didn't happen. Next year I am very keen on trying to get to California -- where the seaside delights await.

Played to date:

1) Pine Valley
3) Muirfield
6) The Old Course
14) Merion
16) Royal Dornoch
17) Turnberry
19) Pacific Dunes
22) Seminole
25) Oakland Hills
26) Carnoustie
57) TPC at Sawgrass
64) Highlands Links
65) Kingsbarns
74) Bandon Dunes
76) Cruden Bay
83) World Woods Pine Barrens
95) St. George's

Bandon Dunes

A column I wrote on Bandon Dunes.... quite an amazing experience.

NORTH BEND, OREGON - Ten hours by car from Vancouver, set
along the Pacific Coast, sits *Bandon* *Dunes*, the world's hottest --
and perhaps best -- golf resort.

It would have been impossible to foresee all the accolades which
would be gushed upon this remarkable spot in the five years it has
been open, especially given its remote location, which requires
either a lengthy drive from Portland to the Pacific coast or a
45-minute flight.

In only a half decade, the resort has come to rival such
world-famous golf retreats as Turnberry in Scotland and Pinehurst in
North Carolina.

But don't expect the decadence and golf carts you'd see at Pebble
Beach or other palatial resorts that dot the U.S. West Coast.
Rather, *Bandon* *Dunes* is a pure golf experience.

Never in his wildest dreams did Mike Keiser, the greeting card
mogul who created *Bandon* *Dunes*, expect the success he's having with
the two courses.

The first, which shares its name with the resort, was designed by
the young Scottish architect David McLay Kidd. When it opened no one
thought more than a few thousand people would venture to this
out-of-the-way spot to play golf. They were wrong.

The courses are always full, and finding a room for consecutive
nights at the resort has been next to impossible for several months
now. With a third course, built by the famed team of Ben Crenshaw
and Bill Coore, expected to open early next year, the hype around
the resort will likely continue to grow.

While accommodation at the resort is tip top, the real draw is the
golf. The two current courses -- *Bandon* *Dunes* and Pacific Dunes --
rank among Golf Magazine's Top 100 golf courses in the world.

Pacific Dunes, designed by golf's renaissance man, Michigan
architect Tom Doak, currently rests in the top 20 courses on the
list -- a remarkable achievement for two courses that have been
around for less than five years.

The slogan of the resort is "golf as it should be." That means you
won't find golf carts littering the fairways of either course.
Instead, the resort expects players to carry their own bags or
employ a local caddie to loop them around. It also means your golf
bag will be waiting for you on the practice range at your specified
time. Shuttles constantly rush around the site moving golfers from
one spot to another.

*Bandon* *Dunes*, the first of the two courses to open, set the tone.
Mr. Kidd, largely untested as a golf architect, crafted a course
that wouldn't be out of place in his home of Scotland. The course
starts off benignly enough, but on the fourth hole it turns to the
sea, offering players one of the most breathtaking views in golf.

By the time players reach Bandon's finishing holes -- especially
the dramatic 16th that plays alongside 30-metre cliffs overlooking
the ocean -- it is clear Mr. Kidd has created a course filled with
strategy, style and excitement. Too bad the 17th and 18th holes
leave this remarkable setting and march back inland to the

Mr. Doak's Pacific Dunes has no such problem, being situated a
kilometre and a half from the clubhouse. Like Bandon, it starts out
easily enough, with a short par four, before heading toward the
ocean and the cliffs on the third hole, a relatively short par five
with an interesting green site perched above a sandy outcropping.

The brilliance of the course comes through Mr. Doak's decision to
ignore convention and build a track most suited for the land. That
means quirks abound -- not unlike what you'd find at the Old Course
at St. Andrews or the northern Scottish hideway that is Royal

You'll get a hole with two greens (the ninth), followed by two of
the best par threes in the world, before Mr. Doak hits back with
longer seaside holes. Like Bandon, Pacific is rustic golf, with wild
blowout bunkers and lots of gorse, a spiky plant not usually seen in
North America. Pacific Dunes provides a rollercoaster ride of
excitement, guaranteeing players will want to grab their clubs and
hit the first tee again right after the monster 591-yard finisher.

Neither course is long by modern standards (both play around 6,700
yards), but with wind capable of kicking up along the coast, both
tracks can turn into monsters quickly. Thankfully, both Mr. Kidd and
Mr. Doak designed wide fairways, although that may not be enough to
protect balls from skidding into oblivion.

The resort also offers a British-style pub that serves standard bar
fare while guests sip scotch. There is also the upscale Gallery
Restaurant located in the clubhouse. Golfers can stay at one of the
rooms in the clubhouse if they book far enough in advance.

Next year the third course at *Bandon* *Dunes* will open, but there is
already talk that Mr. Keiser isn't finished and will attempt to
build at least one more great golf facility.

Even if he doesn't, *Bandon* *Dunes* will continue to attract golfers
nostalgic for the game's golden era.


- *Bandon* *Dunes* Resort: Reservations 541-347-4380,

- Room rates are between US$160 and US$900

- Greens fees range from US$160 to US$200 in peak season for both
courses. Caddies, which are not mandatory, cost US$50.

- Flights: Horizon Air/Alaska Air offer flights to Portland and
South Bend, Oregon from most Western Canadian cities.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Oviinbyrd and Devil's Paintbrush

Had the opportunity to set foot on Oviinbyrd, the new, super-private course developed in Muskoka, Ont.
Created by Tom McBroom, owner Peter Schwartz has developed the best course in Muskoka, with wide fairways, strategy and lots and lots of drama. I'm sure Peter wants this kept as quiet as possible, but this will be a course that attracts its share of attention, even if he doesn't want it.

The interesting point about Oviinbyrd is that McBroom has created a version of a Doug Carrick course. What I mean is that Oviinbyrd is a course of strategic angles, often bunkered on the inside of the angle. That allows players to challenge the bunkers in order to play for the best position, or play it safe and have a longer approach.

The opening hole is straight-ahead, but offers a good presentation of what is to come -- holes wandering between large trees with subtle use of rock.

The standout holes on the golf course were largely on the back nine -- specifically the stretch from 12 through 17. The finishing hole, 18, is a reachable par five, but I found the water to the left of the green to be a bit formulamatic. After all, how many finishing holes use water next to the green as the hazard? Too many, in my estimation, though McBroom hasn't done it all that often.

I'll do a full review when I head back up to play Oviinbyrd in June (NOTE: The full review can be found here.) It is certain to be one of the most exclusive courses in Canada, with 3,000 rounds a year.

The other track I saw recently, for a third time, was Devil's Paintbrush, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Frye, which first opened in the early 1990s. Designed as a modern heathland course, the Paintbrush's reputation continues to grow each year. The best on the course, like the 17th with its strange green or the 11th with a tree in the middle of the green, use quirkiness to great effect. A remarkable course.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

RCGA to hire Davis Love?

From the Post this week....

RCGA no help to Canadian architects: National body developing
habit of not supporting local course designers
National Post
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Robert Thompson On Golf
National Post

It is time that the Royal Canadian Golf Association stood up
for those directly involved with the game in this country -- and
realize that it is a group that includes more than just golfers.

The latest unusual action undertaken by the RCGA, the game's
governing body, is apparently giving its blessing to hiring PGA Tour
pro Davis Love III to rework *Angus* *Glen* North, the Markham course
that is set to host the Canadian Open in 2007.

Apparently the RCGA and *Angus* *Glen* owner Gordon Stollery invited
Love to check out the North course, with its ultra-wide fairways, on
the second day of the Canadian Open.

"I didn't play it, but I drove around it. They've got to do a few
things [for 2007], but I don't think too many. They're talking to me
about doing it," Love said.

The criticism of *Angus* *Glen* North is that while its wide fairways
work well for corporate tournaments, it could get eaten alive by the
PGA Tour's best, or at least those pros who show up for the
occasionally anemic fields that make up the Canadian Open.

While Love has a golf design business, none of his courses, built
with assistance from golf architects who do most of the actual
design, have been created in Canada.

Having Love renovate a course in Canada isn't an issue.

The problem is that no one at the RCGA bothered to tell Doug
Carrick, the well-regarded Canadian architect who co-created the
course with Jay Morrish, that his work was about to be overhauled by
a tour pro.

"I didn't know anything about it," said Carrick, who had last
spoken with Stollery and the RCGA over a year ago when he completed
a plan to add bunkers and narrow fairways in preparation for the

Carrick is still hoping to be involved in reworking the course
alongside Love.

Stephen Ross, the RCGA's executive director, would only say the
organization was looking to make alterations to *Angus* *Glen* North,
but the decision on who would make those changes was up to Stollery,
the course's owner.

"Ultimately it is his golf course," Ross said. "The owner is
responsible. Do we have influence? I would say yes."

When asked if Love had been retained to do the work, Ross said he
"couldn't contribute anything on that."

As part of the RCGA's plan to manage its money following the
$40-million sale of Glen Abbey in 1998, it has sought partners to
help finance development of new golf courses.

Its major partner in the venture has been Stollery, an oil
entrepreneur based in Toronto and Calgary. Stollery's South course
at *Angus* *Glen* hosted the 2002 event and he is in the middle of
partnering with the RCGA to build a course in Montreal that is being
prepared for the 2006 Canadian Open.

One would think the RCGA would stick up for Canadians in the golf
course business. With architects such as Carrick, Tom McBroom,
Graham Cooke and Darrell Huxham regularly creating outstanding
courses, there is clearly enough talent in this country to develop a
new Canadian Open venue or renovate an existing one.

But when it comes to Canadian architects, the RCGA hasn't been
particularly supportive.

After all, the regular home of the Canadian Open since 1977 has
been Glen Abbey, designed by Jack Nicklaus. The 2006 course is being
designed by top American architect Tom Fazio.

McBroom, the Toronto-based architect behind such courses as Rocky
Crest Golf Club and Prince Edward Island's Crowbush Cove, says
hiring Love to make changes to an architect's work is just another
example of the RCGA not supporting its own.

Last year, McBroom was critical of the golf organization for
endorsing the hiring of Fazio to build the Montreal course.

"I'm kind of shocked that [the RCGA] would hire someone without
talking to Doug," said McBroom, one of Carrick's rivals in the
lucrative golf architecture business. "But the RCGA never has
supported Canadian architects and I'm not sure why."

Monday, October 04, 2004

Norm Hitzroth leaves the National. Rees Jones course in Niagara complete.

Apparently Norm Hitzroth, the pro at Woodbridge, Ont.'s National Golf Club, has been let go by the club. Checking in to his replacement.

In other Ontario golf news, apparently Rees Jones' course (the imaginatively named "River Course") in Niagara Falls is complete and will open next year.

Irene Khattar leaves the golf business

Irene Khattar, who until recently was running Highlands Links in Cape Breton, has announced her departure from the golf business. It is a big loss, considering Irene essentially helped put Highlands back on the world map after it all but disappeared in a haze of government mismanagement.
Irene was great at getting journalists out to see the course, which should never have been a problem in the first place, considering it is among the best in Canada and ranks on Golf Magazine's Top 100 in the world.
Without Irene promoting it and with the government's numerous failures regarding the course, I think the future of Highlands is, maybe for the first time in 60 years, in question.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Another article from the Voices series, this one on the talented architect Mike Strantz. I've heard from his office that he is doing better and his work in California is very highly regarded by everyone who has seen it.

Mike Strantz has seen more than his share of highs and lows this year.

The 49-year-old golf course architect recently completed a spectacular renovation of Monterey Peninsula Country Club, utilizing his artistic touch to create a course full of drama on a majestic ocean setting.

At the same time, Strantz has been fighting a battle against a particularly nasty cancer that crept into his jaw and tongue. It was an unusual type of cancer for a man who never smoked regularly and didn't chew tobacco.

The situation was so bad that cancer specialists suggested removing much of Strantz's tongue and jaw to save his life, surgery the golf designer initially turned down.

All the while Strantz continued to work on Monterey, even while taking chemotherapy.

To those who haven't tackled one of his courses, like True Blue and Caledonia in Myrtle Beach, Strantz is perhaps the most inventive -- and often controversial -- architect currently working in the business. His ability to draw his vision on paper and then convert the images to reality is among the best. He's a maverick, and seems to have fun with that notion, giving his design company that moniker.

While working for Tom Fazio, Strantz oversaw such courses as Pine Barrens in Florida, arguably Fazio's best work.

Strantz has a unique take on golf courses that falls outside the norm, and after leaving Fazio, he developed tracks like Tobacco Road in North Carolina that feature unusual blind shots, fascinating bunker work and difficult greens. While Tobacco Road, like much of Strantz's work, has both its proponents and detractors, everyone who has teed it up at a Strantz course remembers it. His controversial work garnered the attention of his peers, and Golf World named him architect of the year in 1998.

Though Strantz fought the cancer for the past two years, he eventually had to make a decision on whether to follow his doctor's advice and go ahead with surgery that was both invasive and life altering.

"Mike changed his mind," says his wife, Heidi. "He knew he would have to have the surgery to survive, but he tried to fight against it. It was a huge decision for him."

The surgery was remarkable and horrifying. Doctors would remove 90% of his tongue and a significant portion of his jaw. It would leave Strantz unable to eat solid food for the rest of his life and regaining his speech would not be guaranteed. With significant questions about his quality of life following the surgery, it is easy to see why the architect reluctantly proceeded.

As part of the surgery, doctors would construct a flap of muscle from his shoulder to function as a tongue and would reconstruct his jaw. Strantz underwent the procedure in early March.

The doctors declared the surgery a success on all fronts, removing all of the cancer and reconstructing much of Strantz's mouth. He fought hard to return to something as near to normal as he could in as short a period of time as possible, typical of Strantz, a man who is at home on a bulldozer and manages the construction of the courses he designs.

"He was so determined to get better and not to lose any of his strength," says Heidi. "He's light years ahead of where anyone expected him to be."

Speaking is still difficult for Strantz, Heidi admits, but the designer is insistent on making himself understood, refusing to use pen and paper to communicate.

Strantz had intended to take the rest of the year off to recover from the surgery, but his associates, including former PGA TOUR veterean Forrest Fezler, have already been searching for new projects. In a tight market, new course work is hard to come by, but Heidi says she won't be surprised to see her husband back at work far sooner than anticipated.

"He is a man who likes to dream big and then construct those dreams," Strantz's wife says. "He's just been so remarkable through all of this."

Voices on Golf

In 2003, Bill Walker, a former editor of the Toronto Star, was appointed as managing editor of Later that year he conceived of a series of stories written by golf writers about whatever interested them. The series would be called "Voices."
It started in January, but right out of the gate there were problems. The series was never explained and not promoted. I have little sense of who actually read these stories -- though since has a massive readership, I assume at least a few people managed to find them.
Anyway, at least a couple of them are favourties of mine -- and will be found here.

Finding Golfing Nirvana in Scotland

Another of my lost "Voices on golf" columns which were intially published on

Finding golfing Nirvana in Scotland March 4, 2004

Many spend their entire life trying to find golfing Nirvana.

Some find it when a chance invite takes them to one of the world's most exclusive and great golf courses, places with names like Augusta, Pine Valley, Cypress or Seminole. Others find it when they hit the approach over the beach to the eighth green at Pebble Beach. Some encounter golfing perfection when playing with a father or son at their home course, often a local muni where they've teed it up for years.

For me, it came on in the early evening in Scotland, but it didn't involve anything at St. Andrews, Turnberry, Dornoch or any of the other famed venues in the home of golf. Rather, I found perfection on a course that cost me a total of $10 in a place whose name you've sure to have never have heard.

The whole experience began innocently enough on a trip nearly a year ago with my long-suffering wife, Jennifer, who often finds herself widowed by my need to hit a little white ball. In this case, after a long day's drive to a bed and breakfast near the small town of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, Jennifer needed to finish writing a story for a Canadian newspaper. That, of course, gave me the needed excuse to grab my clubs and jump in our rental car. Destination: unknown.

Armed with a map that highlighted some of the area's golf courses, I set out down a one-lane road in search of a course designed by famed British Open champ Willie Park. Half an hour of driving later, I seemed utterly lost and no nearer the Park-designed track I was seeking. It was nearing 7 p.m. and daylight would be fading within a couple of hours. Thinking my quest was in vain, I prepared to turn the car around and head back to the B&B.

That's when I saw the sign. It read "Golf" with an arrow pointing down a road seemingly more narrow than the one I had been driving on. My map didn't show a golf course anywhere in the vicinity, but like Alice following the white rabbit, I decided to let the sign guide me.

Fifteen minutes later, after a series of hair-raising turns and one near encounter with a large piece of farm machinery, another sign appeared, this one directing me to a small lane that led up a hill. The lane swerved through a series of large pines whereupon my car emerged in a makeshift gravel parking lot. In front of me lay a golf course, though unlike anything with which most North Americans are accustomed.

For starters, it appeared the course was empty, without a soul in sight. All the things most golfers in North America are used to -- a lush pro shop full of $5 golf balls and logoed shirts -- were missing.

In place of an opulent clubhouse was a small shack. A small box was erected on the side of the shack with instructions as to the terms of payment. I'd read of such things, but had never actually experienced an "honor box." After flipping four coins into the box and slipping a score card into the pocket of my jacket, I grabbed my bag and walked to the first tee box.

I'd be lying if I said the course was of a remarkable caliber. With the exception of some tee boxes and roughed out bunkers, it appeared the owners of Lilliesleaf did not move any land in creating their course. Like many great golf courses, the course simply followed the land, but the piece of property did not appear to possess any spectacular features.

That all changed when I reached the fifth hole, which appeared to be an innocuous, 180-yard par 3 on my scorecard entitled "Burn." The reality was much different.

The tee box was perched at the edge of the property and aimed toward a small green. On one side of the green was a large hill, while the other side of the green was protected by a slight wandering creek. Sheep bounded around the hole, though it wasn't until I went to putt out that I found the green was surrounded by a wire designed to give a jolt to any animal trying to intrude.

With a tough downhill tee shot to a lumpy green cut closely over a creek, the hole was beautiful and treacherous at the same time. I'd found it -- hidden greatness. The hole was perfect.

I hit ball after ball at the unassuming green for 10 minutes, trying to gauge the appropriate way to deal with the whipping wind which pushed balls dangerously near the creek. It was fascinating and remarkable.

I imagined this was how the game was played in Scotland, before televised championships with $1 million purses altered everything.

All of this left me feeling a bit like Michael Bamberger, the noted Sport Illustrated author who had a similar experience when he was asked to venture onto a course hidden in a sheep pasture near Crieff. Bamberger chronicled it in his great book, To the Linksland. The rest of my round at Lilliesleaf flew by as I hit my final shots thinking more about the course's one remarkable hole than my game.

I'm heading to Scotland again in another month to tackle some more of the country's famed links. Though most of the courses I'm planning to play this time have names like North Berwick and Muirfield, who knows -- perhaps a little sign hidden on a small country road will lead me on another golfing adventure.

The Links Revolution

Voices of Golf: Desire for old-style links sparks revolution -- written sfor

By Robert Thompson
There's a quiet revolution happening in the golf course business.
But this one isn't being led by Tiger Woods and doesn't have anything to do with TaylorMade, Callaway or Titleist. Jack Nicklaus is nowhere to be found in this battle against progress.
The names leading this charge are largely known only to a handful of armchair golf course architects: Mark Parsinen, Mike Keiser and Julian Robertson.
Don't recognize the names?
Keiser made his fortune in greeting cards, while Robertson continues to take home bundles of cash as a Wall Street hedgefund baron.
Greeting card king Keiser led this revolution when he hired unknown Scottish golf course architect David McLay Kidd to create Bandon Dunes in an area of Oregon that no one had previously considered for golf course development. That was followed by his development on the site of a second course, Tom Doak's Pacific Dunes, which immediately vaulted into the ranks of the elite.
More recently, Robertson developed Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand and then hired Michigan-based Doak to build Cape Kidnappers on cliffs overlooking the ocean in that country. Both are remarkable links experiences fashioned along the lines of classic courses with names like Royal Dornoch, National Golf Links or Royal County Down.
But neither Robertson nor Keiser have been as outspoken about their projects as Parsinen, the creator of Kingsbarns, the course which opened in 2000 just down the road from the home of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Why are these three successful businessmen building 'old world' golf courses? Why not follow recent trends and simply build courses surrounded by high-priced real estate?
Parsinen says it is based on two factors. First, it is a love of the courses on which the game of golf developed, untouched by commercial concerns. But on top of that, he says that all three owners have tapped into a changing golf zeitgeist. These course builders understood there is demand from golfers for courses that offer the look and feel of true links. If you build it, he says, they might come. But if you make it great, golfers will come from all over the world to seek it out.
For Parsinen's part, the former computer executive spent months prior to starting Kingsbarns asking golfers what made certain courses great. Why was Cypress Point so good? What made the Old Course so discussed? He found people had a hard time communicating the factors that made some courses so much better than others.
"People spoke a sort of code language to explain what was code," he says. "But it didn't help me when I stood on a piece of property that I was going to transform into a golf course."
After asking golfers even more questions, Parsinen found most people wanted authenticity, shot options and an experience that was entirely encompassing.
"They wanted to be totally absorbed by the experience," he says. "They wanted to be completely absorbed between shots and be able to recover if they made errors. I found those factors were represented in a lot of older courses and links courses, which offered broader latitude if you made a mistake."
Following his epiphany, Parsinen had to find a way to turn a relatively flat field that ran alongside the ocean into a work that would rival the best links courses in the world.
He went to extremes to convince people that Kingsbarns had been there for decades, studying dune structure and the great courses of Scotland. He would spend days wandering around some of Scotland's great golf courses, trying to get a sense of the look of the towering sand dunes that surround clubs like Cruden Bay, the famed course located north of Aberdeen, Scotland.
"I thought if I really had a sense of what I'd seen, I should be able to recreate it in my sandbox. If I couldn't, I'd go out and look again," he said. "All of a sudden I realized why dunes look the way they do. You understand why the dunes at Cruden Bay are different from the dunes at Turnberry."
To make sure his vision of Kingsbarns as a modern day Dornoch was followed, Parsinen managed the construction of the project himself and even partnered with architect Kyle Phillips in creating the course.
In 2000, Kingsbarns came right out the gate, becoming an unqualified success. After all, how many courses can say they entered the Top 100 in the world, as ranked by Golf magazine, at 46, and be a financial success, as Parsinen claims?
It is made all the more fascinating when you realize Parsinen's grand design didn't cost a fortune.
The Kingsbarns owner will openly boast about the fact that his course, only a few miles from the Old Course, was constructed for $7 million, a small budget for a project with such huge ambitions. Even in the tourism downturn following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Kingsbarns has prospered, Parsinen says.
Keiser's Bandon Dunes also has performed exceptionally well, both in the balance sheet (peak season tee times are now tough to find), and with critics, who ranked Pacific as No. 19 in the world in Golf magazine, and placed Bandon at No. 74.
So if this is truly a "links revolution," and an affront to most modern golf courses, what's next?
Keiser is once again working with Doak to create Barnbougle Dunes in a remote are of Tasmania, Australia. Parsinen is in the midst of finalizing a project on land near Inverness, Scotland, which could see Doak or Gil Hanse develop the next great links gem. He said the land for his new course, which will be located near the Moray Firth, is significantly better than the property he had for Kingsbarns.
Anything short of greatness will be a disappointment.
Cape Kidnappers has only recently opened and few have played it. Robertson seems intent on building more, hedging his bets on surging tourist interest in New Zealand.
If past courses are an indicator, spectacular, breathtaking and beautiful results can be expected.
The golfing world waits with bated breath.

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