It all began with an apparently innocent request – for the members of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects (SAGCA) to contribute to an Australian Golf Digest article by scoring (anonymously) our finest courses. The idea was to produce a collaborative Top 20 list, in order to see which courses the Architects felt were under or over appreciated by our regular ranking panel.
While some thick-skinned soles gave the request thoughtful consideration and sent in their scores, a vocal group within the SAGCA decided that the request was unreasonable and, therefore, should be ignored. The primary reason being that apparently members are required to respect others in the association, and that even if they had seen poor work, they were duty bound to remain silent. In other words, in the forum of golf course architecture they should have no voice.
What’s odd, apart from course creators feeling that they shouldn’t be able to comment on course creation, is that several architects have been on competing ranking panels for years. There were three designers on the Golf Australia panel in 2010, with Ross Watson, Ross Perrett and Neil Crafter all part of the previous panel in 2008. What we offered was an opportunity for all within the association to participate in the sort of independent process that passionate golf people would ordinarily embrace. The refusal raises several interesting and alarming questions.
The most obvious one relates to accountability. For years I contend that Australia’s golf architects have been largely given a free pass in the media. Most course reviews here have been warm and flowery, the golfing public (and future clients) left with no real understanding of whether a layout is any good, or whether a course architect might have been able to extract more from the particular piece of land.
What the ranking debacle uncovered was a simmering resentment among some in the group toward those of us who believe that golf courses aren’t perfect, and that proper analysis should look at both the positive and negative aspects of a design. Apparently some Australian architects only want (or can only hear) the positive. One prominent member of the society, who refused to participate in our ranking article because he felt that architects shouldn’t judge competitors work, recently used as a basis for argument the fact that a large group of course architects had played one of his famous tournament re-designs, and none had criticized it. This was meant to highlight how out of place some mildly critical remarks about his course were.
Whether a golf architect or a course columnist, to write intelligently about the subject of design you need to have studied and experienced a range of quality golf courses across the world. You also need to be passionate about the game of golf and the craft of course design. Despite perceptions to the contrary, the truth is that many members of the SAGCA lack creativity and treat the art of golf design in a completely rational, dispassionate manner. They tend to measure outcomes more on relationships with clients than on the quality of their finished holes. Studying their work, it’s clear that many also struggle to comprehend the really crucial elements of strategic design and focus more on what looks good than what’s fun to play. As a result, most Australian architects build inoffensive, but unremarkable, golf courses.
Thankfully the really talented and passionate guys stand out, and part of my role as a design columnist and consultant is to help make sure that these skilled designers are kept busy. As for the rest, they are worried that this very web site could affect their prospects for future work, and are in the midst of a campaign to both discredit my writings and also censor my architecture columns. The lack of a credible independent media in Australia was part of the problem in the 1980s and 90s when mediocre golf was the norm. With a golf recession biting and the marketplace more competitive than ever before, the fear from some, I suppose, is that exposing mediocrity will reduce the chances of repeat business.
This is a completely independent project, however, and we will continue to recommend architects that do good work. As a result we fully expect resentment from less talented designers to continue unabated – that is until they realise the best way to silence your critics is not by condemning them but by improving your design work.
This is an opinion piece – if you have a contrary view please leave your comments below.