“I asked myself, What makes these old courses hold up today? They’re not just museum pieces. They’re still fun and exciting to play, a lot more fun and exciting than most modern courses.” — Mike Keiser
The mindset of the man who wrote those words is worlds away from the mindset of, for instance, Robert Trent Jones, who famously summed up his philosophy as “hard par, easy bogey.” Thomas was identifying with the average golfer, considering the intangible and emotional appeal of the game; Jones seemed to regard the individual golfer as a hopeless hacker whose main interest was in the number on the scorecard. Thomas wanted to create a playing environment that invited a golfer to respond with his inmost golfing self — a self made up of imagination, judgment, emotion, fantasy, and of course frustration.
Jones wanted to create a playing field that was exacting in its demands, requiring a player to execute certain shots — or else.
Jones, of course, designed for the pros. He was known as the Open Doctor, and his son Rees — who has inherited that title — has reminisced about his early experience measuring the drives of the professionals. This was information his father used to place the fairway bunkers, pinching in the landing areas where a good drive would finish. Jones also liked elevated greens, requiring high, fast-stopping approach shots. These and other features of his design seem to intended to “defend par” –a vaild concept, I guess, for a club hosting the U. S. Open.
But it seems as though this idea of “defending par” influenced not only the courses that Jones designed, or re-designed, for major tournaments but seeped into nearly all his work. I think it defines the work of many of his contemporaries and successors, which is to say most of the golf architects of the modern era. Just think about it: Defend Par. That’s the mindset, excuse me, of the prim spinster who has decided that her mission is to defend her . . . you know.
In any case, it’s a long way from the mindset of a designer like George Thomas . . or Bill Coore or Tom Doak or David Kidd. These are the designers whom Mike Keiser hired to build the “throwback” courses at Bandon Dune. From the jump, he made it clear that he wanted the courses to appeal to the “retail golfer,” his term for the average golfer who would pay to play. He had no interest in a building a course that would attract a professional event. When interviewed, he had no hesitation in declaring his opinion that too many courses were built for the top 1% of golfers, and they weren’t much fun for the other 99%. Mike wanted courses that offered a player like him (his handicap hovers around 10) fun and excitement.