Taking AIM With Brad Klein

AIMDarwin.jpgGolfweek Architecture Editor Bradley Klein  joins us for the third installment of Taking AIM, this site's occasional instant message chat with someone in golf proficient in IM chat.  Klein not only runs Golfweek's annual "America's Best" list of State-by-State, Classic and Modern Top 100's, but also covers an array of subjects for the Orlando-based trade publication, including an online exclusive about distance measuring devices and state golf associations who ban them.

He currently has re-issued his entertaining anthology of writing, Rough Meditations (Amazon link in left column), and is working on an much anticipated book about the Jack Nicklaus-Tom Doak design pairing at Sebonack. He is also the author of two classics in their genres, a history of Desert Forest Golf Club and Discovering Donald Ross.

GeoffShac:    so tell us, did you really get on the phone and call of those state golf associations about rangefinders?
GeoffShac:    impressive stuff

IGOLFBadly:    emailed 125 state and regional associations, got 80 responses, called all of the remaining state ones myself. In no case did I rely upon Website info or second-hand reports.

IGOLFBadly:    that would be a "yes"

IGOLFBadly:    I'm a researcher by training, as you might recall

GeoffShac:    oh right, the professor act
GeoffShac:    so my question was, they the devices seem to be pretty much dead as far as big time golf goes

IGOLFBadly:    I don't think they are "dead." They are a back-up plan for caddies, however. The real issue is that they are of value to an extremely small percentage of all golfers, and they are expensive and don't always travel well, depending upon the device and the course set up

GeoffShac:    as a former caddy, do you think they can speed up play or are necessarily more accurate

IGOLFBadly:    No to both.

GeoffShac:    I've heard some great horror stories from college coaches already, so the speed of play thing seems to be a myth

IGOLFBadly:    They might speed up play for golfers in the rough, but not for those in the fairway, where it seems to slow players down, as they are simply double-checking what's available.

GeoffShac:    speaking of myths...your take on the USGA's distance myths

IGOLFBadly:    I have not yet studied them carefully, but on the surface they seem very strained. It's one of those cases where if the distance issue were really a myth, they wouldn't have to strain to explain it away.

IGOLFBadly:    Obviously, ground contour is more decisive than distance in terms of scoring difficulty. But if you ask any architect today, they all tell you they have no idea where to place strategic bunkers in a meaningful way for Tour-quality players

GeoffShac:    there you go again on that strategy stuff!
GeoffShac:    so Rough Meditations is back, 10 years later?

IGOLFBadly:    "Rough Meditations" is back, nine years after the hardcover, this time in expanded, paperback version, with about 25 extra new pages of material

GeoffShac:    it's aged remarkably well
GeoffShac:    it's also stunning to think how much has changed in those years

IGOLFBadly:    I wrote it to be part of a certain classical tradition, joining hands with old-fart writers like Bernard Darwin, Herbert Warren Wind, and Pat Ward-Thomas, and so they were my inspiration and always are

IGOLFBadly:    But the game has changed dramatically in the last decade - except for the USGA disclaimer (see above)

IGOLFBadly:    Golf is also so much more business-oriented, at least in my world, than it was (or I was) when I wrote the bulk of "Rough Meditations"

GeoffShac:    beyond technology, what's the biggest change in the design world in that time...or is it technology's impact?

IGOLFBadly:    Technology is part of it. Also, course exposure through photography, promotions, Website, CDs, pre-opening hype and story-boarding of courses

GeoffShac:    remember the good ole days on AOL's ichat when Butch Harmon would join in for your weekly live chats
GeoffShac:    now look at him!

IGOLFBadly:    Yes, that's a good example - also Gary McCord, wasn't he part of the iGOLF team early on?

GeoffShac:    I can't remember what I had for breakfast, but that sounds right :)

IGOLFBadly:    Once you reach a certain age (I have, you haven't) it's much easier to recall 25 years ago than 25 minutes ago

GeoffShac:    oh something to look forward too
GeoffShac:    the internet is great for golf though, for the most part, wouldn't you say?

IGOLFBadly:    Not really. It's great for people who want to find out about golf tournaments, courses, travel, the latest news. For that it's great. But it promotes expectations that are excessive, it leads people away from reading about golf, it creates a kind of dynamic and rapidity of curiosity that is not consistent with golf's sensibility

IGOLFBadly:    Website/Internet is "fast world." Golf is "slow world."

GeoffShac:    literally...does architecture deserve some blame for slow play these days, or is it technology and setup and money?

IGOLFBadly:    Architecture is not the main issue - maybe a secondary one. It's the tees people play, their ego, their conviction that given technology and their newly purchased driver, they can actually play well and hit the ball 250 yards steadily

IGOLFBadly:    There are a lot of hard courses by Bob Cupp, Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus out there, but even when they have multiple tees, or when more forgiving designers lay out multiple options, far too many golfers play the wrong set of tees. I am amazed how, in most foursomes, with two hacks and two fine golfers, they insist on playing the same markers. Ridiculous. People should learn to play from where they have a chance to score within 5 shots of their index if they play decently.

GeoffShac:    so about Augusta
GeoffShac:    first, uh, you were there this year to collect your first place prize in the writing contest

IGOLFBadly:    Accepting an award after 20 years of submission to the annual golf writing contest was the big change at Augusta for me!

GeoffShac:    I hope you milked the opportunity
GeoffShac:    with a nice long speech
GeoffShac:    or did the GWAA police have an orchestra there ala the Oscars to keep long winded writers from thanking their distant cousins?

IGOLFBadly:    My acceptance speech lasted exactly 90 seconds, and that was perfect for the occasion.

As for the golf course, I'll condense here what I wrote in Golfweek. The added distance made some sense, or at least was excusable and explainable. But the narrowing of fairways and the strangling of fairway landing areas with trees was absurd and indefensible

GeoffShac:    I was at an event recently where a good golfer started telling me that he liked the trees because he didn't care for the tree removal movement in golf

IGOLFBadly:    Not only did you lose strategic width and angles, but spectators couldn't see a thing, and the golf course from the tees where the members (remember them?) play was squeezed beyond recognition. ANGC is the only major golf course in the last five years to be relying on trees to toughen its holes. Hootie Johnson always invokes Bobby Jones to justify whatever he's doing. Interestingly, he never invokes Alistair MacKenzie

GeoffShac:    well they've treated MacKenzie so well there over the years

IGOLFBadly:    They still haven't paid his design bill, have they?

GeoffShac:    no
GeoffShac:    I wonder what the tally is with interest

IGOLFBadly:    Maybe there's a still a builder's lien on the golf course!GeoffShac:    will Augusta start a trend back to a tree planting future?

IGOLFBadly:    I'd recommend buying trees in spades if you want to speculate on future ANGC endeavors

GeoffShac:    wow, even more to come eh?
GeoffShac:    have you been to Winged Foot lately?

IGOLFBadly:    Played Winged Foot two weeks ago in anticipation of my review article for the U.S. Open

GeoffShac:    what'd you think of those 21-yard wide landing areas?

IGOLFBadly:    They were 26-27 yards wide in the main landing area and 21-22 in the second-shots on par-5s.

GeoffShac:    oh come on! some of those par-4s get pretty tight

IGOLFBadly:    Course is 250 yards longer, a foot faster on the greens, and 7-yards narrower in the fairways than in 1997. Oh, I forget, the USGA says distance doesn't matter.

GeoffShac:    they can't let it get too firm at these widths can they?

IGOLFBadly:    They can dry it out - removal of about 500 conifers helped a lot

GeoffShac:    well I hope they do, so we can get a good feel for how that tapered rough works

IGOLFBadly:    New irrigation system will give them a lot of control. Fairways will be hard to locate, esp. if dry

GeoffShac:    fun
GeoffShac:    should be riveting

IGOLFBadly:    The proportional height thing has not been carefully delineated yet. Too early in growing season to know what they can achieve.

GeoffShac:    will the tapered rough idea only be at the Open, or is it going to become every superintendent's worst nightmare?

IGOLFBadly:    I asked about that. They think they can limit the proportional rough heights (not really tapered) to just the U.S. Open, but some shmuck green chairman whose course already posts Stimpmeter speeds of the greens and fairways will try it, I'm sure. It'll be a nightmare for green keepers, mechanics and crew at those "high-end" national golf clubs (need I be more specific?)

GeoffShac:    yeah, I forgot about the mechanics who have to try and change the heights and then deal with some turd who's out measuring rough heights
GeoffShac:    well, I like what Mike Davis is thinking about in trying not to penalize the just-missed drives, it shows some compassion from the USGA side of things

IGOLFBadly:    Mower manufacturers will love it; you'll need a second or third rough unit, or at last more calibration down time to get the heights right. I can't wait to attend that green committee meeting.

GeoffShac:    so you have a Sebonack book coming out soon?

IGOLFBadly:    Book just shipped off to the printer, should be out Aug. 30 or so.

IGOLFBadly:    I did it with Carol Haralson, a Sedona-Az. book designer and researcher with whom I had previously done the book on Desert Forest GC in Az.

GeoffShac:    do we get to read about any cat fights out there or did you keep it neat and tidy?

IGOLFBadly:    Cat fights are there, not that they were bloody. But I get the real story, in earthy tones and language, plus how Doak and Nicklaus learned to work with and around each other. All mocking aside, it was a genuine collaboration, with Doak's routing obviously being central, and Jack playing a major role in strategy and greens.

GeoffShac:    well if the book is even half as beautifully produced as the Desert Forest book, it'll be a winner

IGOLFBadly:    I've been asked how do you do a book on a golf course that has barely been played. The answer is that you start with glaciers and moraines and natural sand deposition, include the social history of golf on Eastern Long Island, and focus on the three main characters -- Michael Pascucci (owner) and Nicklaus & Doak.

GeoffShac:    oh, between those three I'm sure there was plenty of material! :)

IGOLFBadly:    It's a bigger book, more imagery, much more diverse material than even the Desert Forest book.

IGOLFBadly:    Thanks. It's a good story about a good site.

GeoffShac:    and is the club publishing it?

IGOLFBadly:    They were three strong characters, and very much a pleasure to write about and very accessible.

GeoffShac:    lol
GeoffShac:    well, I'm sure we'll all buy it, and then buy the 2014 edition of Rough Meditations when you tell us about the "making of" the Sebonack book :)
GeoffShac:    one last question

IGOLFBadly:    I await

GeoffShac:    how is it that courses like Augusta and Medinah are constantly under construction
GeoffShac:    and yet they hardly move in the Golfweek Top 100 list?!?!?
GeoffShac:    (I save the softball, non-answerable questions for last)

IGOLFBadly:    Time lag and accumulated votes from previous visits create a kind of slowing effect, but there's movement, and might well be more in the future, for all I know

GeoffShac:    ah spoken like a man who has answered many phone calls to complain about the rankings! :)

IGOLFBadly:    Those courses often exist on their reputations, which, like passenger ships, are slow to turn around

IGOLFBadly:    gigantic cruise liners, I mean

GeoffShac:    hey, thanks for your time and good luck with the books

IGOLFBadly:    thanks, and good luck with your Website/blog.