Interview With Golf Course Architect Ian Andrew
Ian Andrew is a Toronto-based golf course architect with an extensive knowledge of classic golf course architecture. He regularly laces up his skates with the youngsters in the winter, then tees it up with them in the summer. Ian took some flight time to review and answer our questions on his place in the game.
1. How did Ian Andrew get involved in/interested in golf?
I’m that odd duck that was drawn to golf architecture long before I fell for the game. I used to watch the PGA Tour every week with my dad and it was The Pebble Beach Pro-Am that particularly captivated me. I started drawing each hole, but eventually started to create changes, my own versions of holes and finally a new routing for the same site. At 13 asked my Dad if there were people actually designing these courses. He answered yes and I matter-of-factly replied that was what I was going to design golf courses for a living. He said it made him smile at that time because it was an unusual choice but he did get me The World Atlas of Golf to read that week. After two months and five books he began to wonder if this was more than a passing fancy.
It was at that point that Dad suggested I needed to not only learn about design, but I needed to play. He gave me the basics including a very detailed etiquette lesson. I had to play a proper round with him where I observed all golf etiquette from ball and divot repairs to basic rules before he let me go play on my own. I carded 180 rounds in the first three years and practiced all the time. I loved the game immediately, still do really, but it just doesn’t love me back near as much as it used to…
After a couple of years where my passion was still growing, my father decided I needed to see the great courses of golf. We would visit England, Scotland, Monterey, Westchester and Pinehurst over the next five years. I had a great foundation before I began working as an architect.
2. Was it golf course design first? If not, how did you segue from playing golf to designing golf courses?
The focus was always on golf design. I called the ASGCA for advice around 14 and took Landscape Architecture because they recommended I should. Dad found a copy of Golf Course Architecture in America to read and I began to purchase golf books on my own. I also travelled every week to see all the courses around Ontario and played in events, not to compete, but to see the private clubs of Toronto. There was little in Southern Ontario that I had not seen by the age of 19.
I guess people saw my passion. I was invited to put together my first Master Plan at 18 for a public course called Carrying Place and built my first green there at 19. I even produced a routing plan for a new course in Peterborough at 20 but financing killed the project as it got going.
3. What are your favorite course/holes and why?
Anything course full of choices stands out in my mind. St. Andrew’s remains the best example of what “most” golf courses “should” be like. The architecture is flexible. If you want to limit the damage you can tack your way around all the trouble, but if you want to shoot a score you must bring the hazards and complications into play to do so. The lower you try and go the more difficulty you will have to overcome. That is the ideal for “most” golf courses. The best examples of this type are St. Andrew’s, The National Golf Links of America and Royal Melbourne West.
I also admire courses like Pine Valley and Shinnecock Hills as the very best the game has to offer. Those two courses still possess the fairway width that allows players to try and play for a favourable angle or position. They are tough as nails in places but eminently. Where I struggle are courses like Merion, Bethpage Black and The Olympic Club where a great layout has been narrowed to a point where the brilliant strategies are lost in deep rough and the game is a one dimensional test of execution.
Many of my favourite holes are the ones where the architect has created something brilliant from a featureless piece of ground like the 10th at Riviera. That was a wide featureless floodplain and yet it now contains one of the greatest holes in the game. The bunkering deceives a player into the worst line and a poor strategic decision. The clever green cant tells you to be as wide left as you can but the hole taunts you into playing at the green. A masterpiece!
The other type is where an architect has the gumption to select the least obvious answer. The 13th at Cape Breton Highlands features a very prominent fifteen foot high roll right in front of the green. Most architects would have placed the green on top as a plateau, others might have gone to the valley on the right with the hillside behind, but only Stanley Thompson would dare put the green right behind on a long four so that the long approach must be played onto and over the roll. The hole is so much fun to play.
Other great holes you must play to understand more about architecture: 6th at The Creek Club, 13th at Pine Valley and 5th at Merion. The common thread is the greens fall away from you in each case!
4. You see courses with an insider’s eye? What elements of golf course design do amateurs typically misunderstand or completely miss, that would help them play better?
If you want to understand any golf course, walk it backwards. Every pin has an ideal line of approach. In many cases the position of the approach is more important than distance of the shot. Once you identify where you need to be, often you discover automatically reaching for the driver is a fool’s game.
A good architect uses the golfer’s ego to help them destroy themselves. The 10th at Riviera requires a lay-up to the far left to find an angle where the slope of the green receives the ball. But the hole is reachable and the bunkering all points you towards the hardest and least successful line. As well-known member Norm Klopardra says, “I’ve played here for 40 years and make a solid par from the left almost every time, yet I hit the driver once a month and make mostly bogies for being that stupid.
Great players understand the value of position over power.
5. You worked with Doug Carrick before embarking on a solo career/partnership with Mike Weir. What did you learn from Mr. Carrick that advanced your work in the field of golf course architecture and construction?
He was obviously an initial influence on me because I was pretty young and inexperienced when I joined him. What I did gravitate was his love of carry angles from the tees. His technique was very similar to William Flynn and influenced by a trip to Shinnecock Hills.
But the reality is we grew apart quickly as architects. I continued to study and read other architects books. I also traveled extensively. I quickly found there were ideas by other architects that I liked better than his. We survived for the long haul because I stepped away from new construction early on to build and run the renovation side of the business. That arrangement worked well for both of us until the new work ran out.
My early influences were definitely MacKenzie and Colt (like most architects), but working with so many great Stanley Thompson courses played an enormous role in my desire to build fun courses to play. Over time I discovered a passion for Seth Raynor (interesting adaptions and improvements on great concepts) and Perry Maxwell (incorporation of native areas and brilliant internal green contouring) and found them to be enormous influences. Finally I found a few modern designers including Tom Doak and Bill Coore where I appreciated their views on ground options, finishing and grassing lines.
To be frank, I’ll steal a great idea from anyone. The more options I have with a piece of land, the more I am to offer up something innovative and interesting to play.
6. You completed a restoration/renovation project at Park Country Club in Williamsville. Whose original design is it, what did you and your team restore and what did you renovate? Is the project truly done?
The Park Country Club was designed by Charles Alison. Harry Colt’s final visit to North America was in 1915 and because of that Alison completed all the work done after that time in Canada and the United States. He is a far better architect than he gets credit for because he’s overshadowed by Colt and to a lesser extent MacKenzie. I believe if Timber Point were still in existence we would have a completely different conversation about his stature.
At the Park Country Club the prime focus has been on returning the original design of Alison. We have expanded all the greens and returned the short grass around the perimeters to return the ground game options and complications of missing a green. We have also undertaken extensive tree removal to bring back the playing corridors, views and wind. We also added lots of tees to add some needed length on the long holes, but left every short three, four and five alone to maintain the variety in yardages. There is some bunker restoration and renovation left, but that’s really about it.
Superintendent Scott Dodson and I regularly tinker with the grassing lines adding more short grass around the greens, running the fairway right into the bunkers and improving the fairway lines for additional options. This is probably the part of the work that has really captivated the membership the most.
7. What other work of yours might western New York golfers know?
A full restoration of Onondaga Golf & Country Club in Syracuse, some renovation and grassing work at Stafford Country Club, Batavia, the restoration of the short 16th at Orchard Park Country Club and restoration of Raynor’s 3rd hole and 16th hole at Knollwood Country Club in Westchester, New York
I also made the major changes to Niagara Frontier that added the three holes around the lake and rebuilt another three more holes to create a practice facility and gain some additional yardage.
8. You have done work in a number of environments (mountain, desert, coastal, plains.) Discuss the different challenge of each type of topograhy.
Actually I would say a vast majority of my work is clay and shale. It must be my bad luck, but I would say at least 95% of the courses I work on are built on clay. Because of this I’ve have to spend far more time on fully understanding drainage and soil structure than most. Everything else I work on is far easier.
It doesn’t matter what the site is, each type of soil or setting requires a very specific set of construction details to ensure there are no future problems with the work or growing turf on the course. Architecture is in the details as much as it is in the design.
9. If you can change any aspect of golf what would it be?
I would roll back the ball by 15 – 20%. It would take the emphasis of power and return the value of shot-making and working the ball. This would return some of the skill and finesse to the game because the longest players would be brought back to the field.
The reduction in length would stop the wholesale carnage that has taken place on many of the greatest layouts in the game where new tees or worse major renovations have been made to some of the game’s greatest holes ruining them in order to keep up with technology.
A shorter ball would make the game cheaper. We would need smaller land envelopes for new courses, less maintained area on our courses and less expense to operate. This would also help alleviate the safety issues that are killing urban courses caused by the distance the ball travels – off line.
The Ball is killing the game. The game will have trouble growing again unless we reduce the costs of the game. The ball is the quickest, easiest and most impactful way we can turn around the future.