Golf Course Architecture - Issue 61, July 2020

51 Photo: Askernish Golf Club to me. Even when getting deeper into my architectural education and reading books by Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, and others, I still wondered what the heck they were really talking about when they discussed creating artificial features that appeared natural. Bunkers to me were always ‘constructed’. Greens were always constructed. Everything was constructed. My experience and travels since then have allowed me to see how golf truly was once natural. Nowhere was this more acute than at Askernish. Seeing golf like this in its most raw (and frankly, delightful) form then raises the question about how far golf has come and where it may be going. Progress is generally considered to be better not just in golf but in all of society. In golf’s case though, it makes you wonder if we have gone a bit too far. Are all these advances in construction and maintenance technology worth the hefty price tag and complexity associated with them? Do we need such a high level of artificiality in the way a course is landscaped, constructed, or maintained? I am by no means saying that golf courses all over the world can be built and maintained in the exact way as at Askernish. That is a specific type of ground in a specific type of climate that lends itself to such a natural and minimal approach. What golf courses all over the world can do though is ask themselves the same questions that Askernish did and does. Do we need to disturb and move this ground during construction? Do we create a new landscape when the natural one will do? Do we try and force a certain maintenance aesthetic as opposed to working more in tune with natural climate and soil conditions? Or do we work more closely with the existing land and select grasses that will be naturally hardier and require fewer artificial inputs? Adhering to that last question could be the way of golf’s future, especially in the post-Covid world. Perhaps to some, this simplification may seem like a way of dumbing things down, going backwards, or being forced to change for the worse. This version of golf though is better for the environment (both locally and globally), more affordable, and truer to one of the main reasons we get out and play – experiencing nature. As Askernish also proves, the golf itself can still be compelling and enjoyable. Good golf design does not necessarily cost more, and when you have a great piece of land like at Askernish or, for a more modern-day example, Sand Hills, it can actually cost you less. Simple moves – like adding one tiny central bunker at Woking – and simple ground – like the at-grade tilting greens at Garden City – can be highly effective and interesting while costing less and disturbing little of the native ground, maintaining a better sense of place and connection to the landscape. Maybe sometimes you do need to do a little more shaping to add interest, or maybe going through the trouble of a variable depth USGA green is the most sensible thing for long-term maintenance intensity. The most important thing though is to evaluate every situation and ask ourselves: do we really need this? The beautiful simplicity and wild fun of the Askernish experience leads me to think that, more often than not, we probably do not. GCA Brett Hochstein is a California- based golf architect and shaper. Read more about his time at Askernish at Askernish enables golfers to experience a truly natural form of the game Photos: Brett Hochstein