October 25th, 2010
I am very happy to report that a leader in environmental golf course design and the designer of the Militia Hill Golf Course, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, has submitted a foreword to be included in the second edition of the Philadelphia Cricket Club Book, to be released soon! Dr. Hurdzan's foreword addresses the fact that the Philadelphia Cricket Club opened three gold courses in three centuries and puts the three courses in perspective by providing insights into the distinct eras when the courses were designed and constructed.
FOREWORD - Philadelphia Cricket Club
The Philadelphia Cricket Club has one of the longest histories in American golf, and it is rich in tradition, events and personalities. It is a fortuitous blending of people, places and things that were brought together by the marvelous and diverse quality of golf as each of its three distinctive golf courses opened over the past 100 years. Moreover, Philly Cricket, as it is affectionately known, has earned its reputation of being first among equals, because of the spirit and passion of the members and staff for protecting and celebrating that heritage.
Hurdzan/Fry Environmental Golf Course Design was privileged to have been selected to design their Militia Hill course, but that commission wasn't just given to us. We worked hard to earn that job at Philly Cricket, for we were competing against the biggest names in our profession because everyone wanted to add their name to the club's history and lore. To place our work immediately adjacent to the famed A. W. Tillinghast course called Wissahickon was both a motivation, albeit intimidating, and a challenge. We wanted to compliment not compete with Tillinghast's work, so we spent a fair amount of time reviewing and studying that timeless golf course before we began our work for Militia Hill.
Similarly we became fascinated by the St. Martin's course in Chestnut Hill that opened in 1898, and hosted the US Open in 1907 and 1910. Designed by Willie Tucker, a young English golf professional and a protégé of Willie Dunn, Tucker also laid out several well-known golf courses of that period namely St. Andrews in Yonkers, New York and Philadelphia Country Club. His work at St. Martins has now been reduced to nine holes, but many of the architectural characteristics of the original design still remain.
Duncan Pearson's work with aerial photography is "function art" for anyone who is fascinated or studies golf course design. The clarity of the wide angle, two page photographs puts each golf hole in context with everything around it so one can sense the entire landscape and how golf features fit into it. It is said that "a picture is worth a thousand words," but I think Duncan's pictures are worth far more than that. To a golfer familiar with the golf courses his photographs will evoke and reveal the spirit and character of the golf course in a personal and unique way.
Duncan asked if I would share my thoughts on architectural comparisons of the three golf courses of Philly Cricket Club; St. Martins (1898), Wissahickon (1922) and Militia Hill (2002) from the viewpoint as both a golf course designer and historian. Philly Cricket Club is one of a rare breed that can claim to still operate each of its golf courses that opened in three different centuries.
The three golf courses occupy similar rolling terrain with relatively similar soils, two of the most determining or limiting site factors in developing a golf course. So differences in design between the three courses is more of a reflection of the golf equipment, prevailing attitude about playing strategy, as well as construction budgets and equipment available during each time period.
St. Martins was opened when the penal theory of design was promoted by golf professionals that believed all imperfect shots should be penalized. Since there was no fairway irrigation back then, the fairways could become hard and dry, and a "topped" shot could roll a long ways on the ground, perhaps even further than a "proper shot" played up in the air which was also subject to the vagaries of the wind. To counter the topped shot, designers like Tucker would place numerous or massive hazards or bunkers directly in the line of play, allowing the golfer no alternative except to either layup or attempt to carry over the hazard. These bunkers were usually dug by hand so the soil from the pit to be filled by sand was mounded up directly in front of the sand forming rather crude but effective landforms. Greens and tees during the late nineteenth century were built with nearby native soils with simple shapes such as circles or squares. They were small because few people played golf so wear and tear was minimal and usually quite flat but sloped to surface drain water. Greens might be severely sloped by today's standards from back to front because the grass on greens was mowed at ¼" high or so compared to today at 1/8" to 1/10", and this back to front slope would hold approach shots that had little backspin. The golf equipment at that time was also crude by today's standards and there was little knowledge about how to create backspin on a golf ball, so a good drive might only fly 160 - 170 yards or so.
So, Willie Tucker designed basically straight holes with small tees and greens, greens had lots of back to front slope, and he placed lots of hazards in the direct line from tee to green. These golf features were built by hand or horses, with little or no drainage or irrigation, and the grasses were lawn varieties, mostly fine fescues.
A. W. Tillinghast designed Wissahickon in the early 1920s at a time when Tucker's penal golf philosophy was being replaced by more strategic thinking of offering multiple ways to play a hole, with few forced carries.
Golf equipment was still mostly wood shaft, but steel shaft clubs were becoming popular as well as technologically advanced golf balls that could fly farther and yet be made to spin to stop them.
Also during this period there was combustion engine powered equipment to supplement the horses and men used in golf course construction, so more earth could be moved and shaped by Tillinghast than was possible by Tucker.
Irrigation of tees, greens and fairways was also becoming in vogue, new golf specific grasses were available, and surface and subsurface drainage were used.
More people were playing golf requiring larger tees and greens, and turf maintenance was becoming more sophisticated and complex.
Greens became the central focus of strategy and Tillinghast was a master at defining various size target areas within putting surfaces and so his greens had more movement than Tucker's.
Sand bunkers had become more numerous and larger because they were easier to build, maintain, and more natural looking than those features of St. Martins.
Putting surfaces were also much faster and more uniform so putters had less loft, and putts were stroked not "banged" as in Tucker's day.
Militia Hill was designed at a time when the strategic concepts pioneered by Tillinghast and his contemporaries were being refined within the context of game improvement golf equipment that was computer designed and constructed with space age materials to make the golf ball go further, with more margin for swing error.
The modern paradigm of a 21st century golf course was lots of tees set at various angles and distances, greens that varied in shapes and sizes with many subtly defined target areas that could be mowed so short to be as fast as glass.
Greens were flatter than in Tilly's and Tucker's day, built to USGA recommendations, planted with grasses bred to be for putting greens only, and maintained by a crew of specialists.
Earthmoving equipment was enormously powerful but the trend to more environmental golf courses tried to minimize earthmoving where possible yet create superior surface drainage.
As different as these three golf courses are physically, they were all designed and constructed to bring the golfer of that particular era the maximum enjoyment, challenge and pleasure possible. Today members of Philadelphia Cricket Club can sample and enjoy golf courses from three centuries and the then prevailing styles of design. This is why Philadelphia Cricket Club will always be one of America's most revered golf courses, and there is no better way to see, appreciate and study those differences than from Duncan Pearson's book of aerial photography.
Michael J. Hurdzan, Ph.D., ASGCA
Hurdzan/Fry Environmental Golf Course Design