Originally posted on 2/23/2011 at 1:28 am.
Many of the philosophies espoused by MacKenzie serve as the bedrock fundamentals incorporated by Strantz. Where Strantz seems to earn his “maverick” label is through his flair for creating dramatic holes & courses unlike those seen anywhere else. As an artist, Mike was able to create visually stunning “masterpieces,” the magnitude of which had not been experienced in the architectural arena.
Unfortunately, the dramatic visual appeal of his holes is often interpreted as a negative by some. Critics, especially those ingrained in “traditional” design, are quick to dismiss Strantz’ work as being “all show” with little regard for the strategic golf elements contained within. It is as if the magnitude of “visual awe” present in Strantz’ work leads these critics to conclude that artistic beauty and golf strategy are somehow mutually exclusive.
It is this type of thinking that results in unfair criticism of Strantz’ work. However, I believe such “mutually exclusive” perception is a criticism aimed at certain of Mike’s predecessors, rather than Strantz himself. There certainly have been courses created in the modern era worthy of such criticism, whereby overblown “artificial” holes have been created for “effect” with little regard for the principles of proper golf design. I suspect in these instances that the designer did not have a proper understanding of shot values and strategy, and felt that visual effects could make up for those shortcomings.
Such is not the case with Mike Strantz’ work. For all the efforts put into creating a beautiful, artistic design, there is just as much emphasis placed on striking the right balances of risk and reward inherent in any great design. In addition, great emphasis is placed on accommodating golfers of various skill levels. As I performed a subsequent review of the Tot Hill Farm and Tobacco Road yardage books, I realized how many different options were presented, many of which I had never considered during my initial trip.
My experience with THF & TR made me question the basis of these criticisms. Perhaps some critics don’t find it plausible that a designer can find time to give adequate consideration to both shot values and aesthetics. In recent years, Modern Golf Course Design has become a “volume” business, with an Architect juggling multiple sites and checking in occasionally to see how his “blue prints” are being executed by the earth movers.
But the solution to that is one of the great paradoxes of this supposed “revolutionary.” Strantz again harkened back to the “Old School” methods, working on one project at a time, living on-site until the end product was completed. This “hands on” approach allowed him to dedicate the energy necessary to create such “art”, without sacrificing the essential elements of golf strategy.
It is this dedication that again leads to simultaneous joy and sadness. Because of his dedication, we are left with courses which reflect the soul of an artist and leave lasting impressions on all who witness them. At the same time, his “one at a time” dedication means the Golf World was left with only 7 Mike Strantz creations before his much-too-early death.
As you can see, I like to call Strantz the “Old School” Maverick. This “revolutionary” is influenced most heavily by the principles espoused by the early classical architects, which seems to be a contradiction. However, this type of paradox is not unique to Strantz. In fact, his inspirational Dr. MacKenzie seemed to be hinting at the same paradox in The Spirit of St Andrews when he wrote:
“I am by nature a revolutionary, and only too apt to scoff at tradition. Before visiting St. Andrews I had what were considered revolutionary ideas regarding golf courses. To my astonishment, when I inspected the Old Course, I found my ideals in actual practice.”
If you love this game, you owe it to yourself to experience his creations at least once in your lifetime. Much like Golf is full of paradox, so too was Mike Strantz’ influence on me. Whether from appreciating his “Old School” revolutionary ideas or by experiencing the conflicting joy & sadness of his brief contributions to the Architectural World, Mike Strantz is a figure who any true Golf-lover should get to know.