Grounds for Golf

This is more than a book about golf architecture, it’s a book about golf in general. Early on, Shackelford captures a trait of the game that is very important to me – the artistry and beauty involved in the field of play. Playing the game allows for a deeper understanding of the artistry because you can actually touch, hear, smell, and experience the work.

Here is how Shackelford puts it:

When you visit a museum and study a Claude Monet painting, it is just you and a security guard and fifteen other tourists trying to enjoy the painting. But say you get that rare moment alone with a masterpiece and you understand what the artist was trying to portray, there is still something that you are unable to experience. You cannot step into the garden that Monet used for his paintings and smell the flowers.

With a golf course you can enjoy the garden from afar and recount memories of playing the course years after you’ve left the grounds, because you were able to step into the landscape and experience it’s architecture.

Shackelford reeled me in and now I’m even a devotee of his blog at He gets it as far as I’m concerned. They guy posts golf news about four or five times a day on his site.

He goes through all aspects of golf course design in this book and he does it in a very conversational, non-technical, and relaxed style. He breaks it up into 18 manageable holes (chapters), let me talk about a couple.

The Third – Schools of Design

He groups designers into the following categories:

  • The Natural School
  • The Penal School
  • The Strategic School (MacKenzie, Ross, Tillinghast)
  • The Heroic School (Robert Trent Jones)
  • The Freeway School
  • The Framing School

It’s interesting to hear him compare and contrast these design schools. He talks a lot about Pete Dye but never actually classifies Pete in any school. It’s as if Mr. Dye is beyond classification.

The Seventh – The Classic Holes

He goes into four great holes in detail:

  • The Thirteenth at Augusta National
  • The Tenth at Riviera
  • The Road Hole at St. Andrews
  • The Sixteenth at Cypress Point

With each he goes through the strategy, the green complex, the naturalness and artistry of construction, and the playability. I loved the discussion on the Thirteenth at Augusta. That is such an awesome hole and I can’t wait until the 2008 Masters.

It’s a lot of great stuff and if you’re a fan of the game, you should read this book. I haven’t played golf in a few weeks and I won’t play for about another five months, but I can’t wait to put my new eye for design to work.

I do have an issue with Shackelford’s steadfast adoration for all things classic. He’s one of those guys who respects designers that don’t move any dirt. He speaks highly of the classic designers like Ross, MacKenzie, and Tillinghast and also respects current guys like Pete Dye, Tom Doak, and Crenshaw/Coore. He doesn’t speak very highly of Tom Fazio or Rees Jones. His distaste for Tom Fazio is so extensive that he names Fazio’s renovations of Inverness, Merion, and Oak Hill as the Worst Tournament-Influenced Renovations to Great Courses That Should Have Been Left Alone.

Enough already. This love of all things old-school gets tired after awhile. I get sick of hearing how earth moving equipment and club technology are ruining the game. It reminds of baseball fans who complain about the wild card, tennis fans who complain about the lack of serve-and-volley play, or basketball fans who think current players don’t work the ball around. Things change, deal with it.

Hear are some ideas if you don’t like how easy your 6,300 yard Donald Ross course is now that you have a Taylor Made R7 Quad, a hybrid club, perimeter weighted irons, a lob wedge, and a Scotty Cameron putter. Try one of these:

  • Sell your clubs and go back to persimmon woods and blades.
  • Quit the club and join a nice new Nicklaus design with a second tee that runs about 6,600 yards.

Continuing to beat up the old course with all of the new technology while complaining about the state of the game is NOT an option.

Okay, sorry about the rant. I’m still reading your blog Geoff, you go. Great book. I strongly suggest it for avid golfers.