The A List: Course Architect Tom Doak Joins Writers at The A Position in Scaring Up Golf’s Tricks and Treats

Forget the M&Ms and Mars Bars. For golfers at Halloween—or any time of year—it’s the game itself that provides a well-stuffed pillowcase of treats, and more than a few tricks.

What are the supersized candy bars and poison apples that make golf both the sweetest and most disappointing of activities? According to this month’s A List, complied in the spirit of the spooky season by the members of The A Position, the game is a mixed goodie bag of highs and lows, thrills and threats, pleasures and complaints.

Adding his own tasty morsel to the list is golf course architect Tom Doak (right), whose top creations include Pacific Dunes (below), Cape Kidnappers, and Ballyneal, plus dozens of other outstanding design treats. Doak conjures both fun and fury in how courses maintain the areas around their greens, regions that often prove ultra-scary for even expert golfers.

The A is a network of websites featuring the world’s best golf and travel writers. The term “The A Position” refers to the best place a golfer can land his tee shot. On the web, it refers to the site readers will want to land on for great golf and travel journalism.

My favorite treat is where golf courses maintain a lot of short grass around the greens instead of growing the grass to rough height. It doesn’t work in every situation, but where it does it adds great variety to the short game. You have to be more careful that your approach shot doesn’t get away from you, but you’ll have the option to pitch, chip, or putt back if it does. My exception is that I hate it when tournament courses mow short grass down off a green so a ball can roll into a water hazard. Augusta National started this “trick” years ago at the front of the 12th and 15th greens, but now you see it a lot, even off the back of the green. It’s dangerous for the maintenance crew, and there’s often no good place to legally take a drop; in short, it’s a gimmick we could do without.

—Tom Doak

The trick for me in golf is that it is a game of opposites. The harder you try, typically the worse you do. You have to swing out to the right to get the ball to curve to the left. You hit down on the ball to make it go up. And beware the sick golfer for he is likely to play all too well. You swing easy and slower to hit longer. And short putts can be harder on the psyche than long ones. Like life, you often have to give up control to gain control. The treats come from recognizing these opposites, when you finally let go of your controlling thoughts and allow the game to come to you and you finally connect. That said, golf is just one trick after another with just enough treats to keep me coming back!

—Bob Fagan,

I’ve never lost my Halloween sweet tooth, but Hershey’s has yet to concoct anything that compares with the treat we golf writers enjoy each spring inside the hallowed gates of Augusta National. For one thing, the media center at Augusta is the Godiva of media centers. Walking the course every year (and yes, it is hillier than it appears on TV) with a pimento-cheese sandwich in hand is heavenly. But what really makes our annual pilgrimage to Augusta such a rush is the people. Under the towering oak tree behind the clubhouse, the entire world of golf assembles year after year after year—like swallows returning to Capistrano. You name ‘em, they’re there: players, writers, swing gurus, clubmakers, legends. The collective knowledge under those spreading branches would keep Wikipedia scribes busy for eons. For a golf writer, life just doesn’t get any sweeter.

—David DeSmith,

A personal invitation to the Ted Lindsay Foundation Celebrity Golf Outing in Detroit is akin to scoring top-notch Halloween treats, Mom’s Thanksgiving feast, and Christmas dinner all rolled into one. As the only woman “celebrity” invited to play, the legendary Hockey Hall-of-Famer and wife Joann personally greet me at the Wabeek CC circular drive. Each year, a framed and numbered portrait of hockey history—autographed by all the parties involved—is loaded into my car.  Then, a stop at registration yields other treats: a custom Carhartt coat, hand-crafted wines in collectible bottles signed by Gordie Howe and Ted, autographed professional golf bag, Maui Jim sunglasses, plus team pictures with the Stanley Cup. One year there were seven prize packages to choose from, including a women’s package solely for me. After years of settling for XL men’s shirts in other outings, Terrible Ted’s graciousness and special attention to detail are rare treats, indeed.

—Janina Jacobs,

In the late 1980s, I checked into Marriott’s Desert Springs in Palm Desert, California, to check out its pair of Ted Robinson-designed courses. With 884 guest rooms, it was a huge factory of a hotel with a soaring atrium lobby geared to business groups and conventions, not individual travelers. But the staff was friendly, the room was fine, and the restaurants were good. I don’t remember much about the Palm and Valley courses except that their waterfalls and flowers far exceeded their strategic value. Short, sporty, and lush, they were perfect for the conventioneers who played twice a year and who were there on “corporate plastic.” Which perhaps explains the $10 per night “golf bag storage fee” I was assessed. In truth, I wasn’t paying. But I had a fit at the front desk. This was gouging at its most egregious, a sneaky little fee designed to fleece the resort’s unwitting patrons. Storage fees and their ugly cousin, “resort fees,” are the dirtiest tricks in the hospitality industry.

—Brian McCallen,

Since we are all supposed to wear hats when we play golf anyway, here’s a tricky maneuver that will eventually save you from a penalty. When a fellow competitor asks you to move your ball marker out of the line of his intended play, move the mark and then turn your hat backwards. You would never putt with your hat on backwards, thus you automatically know to replace your ball in its original position prior to taking your next stroke and returning your hat to the correct position. It’s easy to say you’ll never forget yet I saw Tim Hogarth forget to replace his marker in the 1996 US Mid-Amateur final. Instead of winning the hole, he lost the hole. It didn’t cost him the match, but it very well could have. Don’t let it cost you a hole or penalty strokes. Flip the cap for safety.

— Casey Alexander,

For me, ranking right up there with the all-too-rare treat of a tap-in birdie is the sausage sandwich waiting after the 10th hole on the Old Course at England’s Sunningdale Golf Club. The 1901 Willie Park design routed through gorgeous heathland helps you work up an appetite, especially on a crisp fall day. Darren Clarke is rumored to have managed an eight at the halfway house here—eight sandwiches, that is. Clarke supposedly defended his record by saying, “Those sandwiches are great for a hangover and I think I was particularly hung-over that morning.” For desert, why not also play Sunningdale’s New Course, designed by Harry Colt in the ‘20s?
—Jeff Wallach,

How about a trick and a treat to improve your golf swing? What’s tricky about hitting it better is finding the optimal swing motion for you. Not some Tour player, not the golfing buddy who’s better than you, not your local club pro. Although biomechanically speaking all efficient swings have common denominators and “movement patterns,” each human must abide by his own unique set of gifts and restrictions. Strength, range of motion/mobility, grip position, and even eye preference are but a few to consider. That’s why Jim Furyk’s golf swing is every bit as proficient as Ernie Els’ even though esthetically the two are worlds apart. Discover that optimum motion for you—by consulting a competent coach or instructor—and you’ll be in for a real treat: better ball-striking.

—Chris Smith,

No other game amplifies sense of place the way golf does. Sure, there’s Wrigley Field, Boston Gardens, Old Trafford—iconic presences in their sports but nowhere nearly as entwined in the experience of them. And if you’re as lucky as this reporter’s been, occasionally you’re treated to landforms unlike anything you’ve seen before. The dunes at Enniscrone, the volcanoes overlooking Mauna Kea, the Bay of Islands off Kauri Cliffs (above). It’s a finite list, but not one likely to be exhausted by most mortals. In a previous career, I wrote almost exclusively about architecture and engineering. It’s still a subject of considerable interest and, often, a reason to marvel at our ingenuity. Compared to the consciousness-expanding drama of the exotic landforms we witness through golf, though, it’s a distant second. Enough to find your religion, really.

—Tom Harack,

What’s better than a massage? I’m like the Will Rogers of massages: Having been through a worldwide menu of spa treatments, I’ve never met one I didn’t like. I should start ranking them like golf courses. For me the Pine Valley of massages was one I had a few years back at the CordeValle Resort in California—before it starting raining hot dogs out on the golf course. It’s still on the Sense Spa menu, the two-hour Rain Room Rejuvenation. What was essentially a steam bath followed by a horizontal shower—as close as one can come to being in a human car wash—was followed by an exfoliating scrub and deep-tissue massage. I’m not sure if it was more rejuvenating or stupefying, but I’m still looking for the treatment to top it.

—Tom Bedell,

For me, the trick to this ghoulish game is somehow figuring out how to convince that single-digit handicapper from the driving range to join me on the golf course. I can spend hours hitting bucket after bucket of practice balls and feel like a touring pro living in the zone, but once game time rolls around the sensation simply does not translate. The focused golfer who perfectly meshes unimpaired concentration with a relaxed, carefree attitude—and could not miss a target if he tried—suddenly is transformed into a tensed-up, vein-popping poster boy for Attention Deficit Disorder who couldn’t hit sand if he fell off a camel. If someone could sweet-talk that evil goblin into remaining locked away up in the attic where he belongs, that would really be a treat.

—Brad King,

During the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach that Tiger won by 15 shots, I was treated to a round at Cypress Point. A stranger of about 80 had wandered up to me at Pebble and asked if I wanted to play with him and a couple of buddies, so I figured it would be a bunch of old guys and me. On the first tee I didn’t catch the names of the two other guys but I sure caught their games: David Abel (Nick Price’s manager) and former US Amateur champ Vinny Giles. They both shot 63. It was the worst and most humiliating round of golf I ever played. I made 17 Xs and one par, that on the famous 16th hole. I hit driver to 30 feet and barely shook in the second putt for par. I fist-pumped like I’d won the Open.

—Peter Kessler,

Western golf course architects have been knocking on the door of China’s golf industry lately with hopes of getting a treat. But a moratorium on new golf development, announced in 2004 but not enforced until this summer, has course designers wishing it were only a trick. Alas, the moratorium seems all too real.  China’s version of Halloween is called Teng Chieh, also known both as the Feast of the Hungry Ghosts and the lantern festival. Families offer food and drinks to photos of deceased relatives. They also feed the spirits of departed souls who didn’t receive a proper burial. The ailing golf design business has already sent a few ghosts into purgatory, as companies shrink or close altogether. China is still the best hope for golf’s future, but the world’s leading golf course architects are standing on China’s front porch hoping for something more palatable than a poison apple.

—John Strawn,

Golf writers are given lots of items while on organized trips from vendors hoping for a glowing, 1,500-word feature about a product that deserves a sentence or two at best. While a few are decided treats, tricks are definitely found in those bags left in hotel rooms. For every dozen brand-new balls there’s also something like a pair of Crocs with spikes, guaranteed to earn ridicule back at the club and perhaps a letter of reprimand from the general manager. Then there’s the martini-glass shaped tee, which if you tilt it forward allegedly adds yards to a drive. Wind-shirts too colorful for Ricky Fowler are a tricky staple. Every golf-ball-shaped key chain filled with sunscreen is given with the sincere hope it will be praised as a worthy treat.

—Jay Stuller,

2 Responses to “The A List: Course Architect Tom Doak Joins Writers at The A Position in Scaring Up Golf’s Tricks and Treats”

  1. Tony

    Some wise and amusing entries here – very enjoyable. My treat is still being able to play the game thanks to carts without which I might get a hole in tops because of my poor, aching back. The biggest trick in the game that I can think of, the worst abomination, the most contemptible, loathsome, scandalous, treacherous, duplicitous, damaging blight is…carts.

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