Golf Course Architecture - Issue 70, October 2022

WELCOME 1 ADAM LAWRENCE Herb Kohler, who died recently, made a massive contribution to golf through the courses he built and owned. Kohler was the first key mover in the development of his home state of Wisconsin into one of America’s best golf destinations, and, along with Pete Dye, created four highly respected golf courses. It is interesting to ponder what might have been, especially in the case of the flagship course, Whistling Straits. Kohler famously told Dye that he wanted the derelict airfield along Lake Michigan to look as though it was in Ireland. No-one can question the success of the course, which has played host to three majors and a Ryder Cup. But here’s the rub: it doesn’t look Irish. Irish links courses are principally fescue. Whistling Straits’s fairways were originally grassed with fescue, but the area’s hot summers and the consequent need to irrigate the course mean that they are now mostly a mix of bents, rye and poa. They don’t bounce and roll like an Irish links. And, most obviously, Dye’s design – with allegedly over a thousand bunkers – does not look like an Irish links. Dye was an architectural genius. But the essence of his genius was his grasp of strategy. It has long been noted in golf design circles that the great architects who got their start working with Dye – most obviously Bill Coore and Tom Doak – did not take their sense of aesthetics from their mentor. And the simple fact is that golf design and construction teams are a lot better at building courses that look like links now that they were 25 years ago. Only a few years after Whistling Straits opened, the Kyle Phillips-designed Kingsbarns raised the bar for what totally constructed golf courses could look like. Kingsbarns developer Mark Parsinen’s later Castle Stuart course, done with architect Gil Hanse, is another obvious example, as is the more recent Dumbarnie course in Fife. Rolf-Stephan Hansen’s Budersand in Germany was similarly a ‘former links’ – like Whistling Straits an ex-airbase, but in this case surrounded by natural dunes. We should perhaps note that all four of these courses were built on sandy ground, which Whistling Straits was not. Perhaps in the end, that is the key lesson. No matter how much sand you truck to the site, you can’t defeat nature. Kohler’s legacy