its underground, the theater its absurd and art its pop. Today it is In to be
far out, to such a degree, in fact, that even the traditional art of
golf-course architecture is getting with it.
One of the men
most responsible for the new-wavemaking is Desmond Muirhead, a breezy Briton
who sees nothing sacred in the standard rules of golf-course design and who
already has demonstrated his resolve to break as many of them as possible.
"Golf-course architects have not had a new thought in 100 years," he
says. "Most courses being built today are nothing but imitations of
imitations of imitations."
Muirhead has begun
his fight against conformity by attacking what is perhaps the most cherished
part of the modern golf course, the straight tee. To make a course interesting
for golfers of varying strengths and skills, the current fashion is to build
tees as long and straight as airport runways. This, in Muirhead"s view, is
as ineffective as it is unattractive. A hole that plays well for a short hitter
at 350 yards is not automatically just as fair and intriguing to the long
hitter from another 100 yards farther back. Or vice versa. What Muirhead does
is build the world's longest tees, but not in a straight line. Instead he makes
them wind like a country road around terrain features, thus providing golfers
with genuine variety. For example, Muirhead's tee for the 15th hole of the
municipal course he is remodeling for the city of Alameda, Calif, measures 300
yards from end to end, but it curves so sharply that it almost completely
surrounds a long, narrow pond. The result is an imaginative par-3 hole that can
be anything from a wedge shot over fairway to a 210-yard wood over water.
At his Soboba
Springs course in California, Muirhead has built a par-3 around a pond for
which the tee is shaped like a boomerang (below). The 14th hole of his Overtake
Golf and Country Club course in Seattle has a long, angular pond that flanks
the fairway on the left and a tee that sprouts arms in several directions,
creating a par-4 that can be played eight different ways.
other distinctive features for his courses as well. He likes to include
numerous free-form lakes, and bunkers with curves that echo the turns of water
hazards and woods as they slash in strange patterns across and beside fairways.
His intention is to achieve an artistic sense of variety, one that applies not
just from hole to hole, but on each hole from day to day.
Muirhead, who is
43, officially joined the small world of golf architecture only four years ago.
Born in England and educated at Cambridge, the University of British Columbia
and the University of Oregon, he was first a civil engineer, city planner and
In 1962 he was
invited by Paul Loughridge to build Capistrano Saddle Club, a real-estate
development in California. In connection with that project he was asked to
design the development's main feature, a golf course. Though an expert on
community planning and landscaping, he had qualms about building a golf
scared," he confesses, "but I had had a little experience, and decided
to try it anyway. I began by making an inspection tour of many of the
outstanding courses in the U.S. and Great Britain, hoping to find that they all
had some sort of mystique in common that would help me. Instead I discovered
that they had no mystique whatsoever. So I began to evolve some ideas of my
problem is that golf courses are not yet being treated as art forms. But they
should be. Too often they are just accidents. That is what comes of letting
ex-greenkeepers and ex-golfers do the design. If they get a good man to do the
bulldozing they usually get a good golf course. If they don't, they don't. It
is that simple. The current architects are all trying to imitate Robert Trent
Jones and the late Dick Wilson. Fine men, of course, but imitators themselves.
Lots of people in the business don't know where they are or what they are
doing. Most of the old, once-great courses are out of date, yet architects go
right on copying them anyway. But we don't need to copy our fathers. Blazes!
We're big boys now."
An important part
of Muirhead's philosophy of design is that a golf course must merge gracefully
with its surroundings. "The experience of seeing the course, as well as
playing it, is tangible," he says. "Therefore it should have a
character, a distinction, of its own. Every site has this special sense that
must be captured. Regardless of where the course is—in the mountains, by the
ocean, in the desert—designers seem to put in the same sort of greens and the
same sort of traps. But why? I think this is a fundamental mistake. It shows
lack of imagination."