Setting the course for golf design

Architect: With his Compass Pointe recently completed, Lindsay Bruce Ervin reflects on the state of golfing and golf course design today.

Arundel At Play

Recreation and sports in Anne Arundel County

August 10, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Active Maryland golfers are likely to be familiar with the name of Lindsay Bruce Ervin.

The Crofton golf course architect's credits include some of the state's most celebrated courses: Hog Neck in Easton, Queenstowne Harbor on the Eastern Shore, the Woodlands in Baltimore County, and, most recently, the 36-hole Compass Pointe layout in Pasadena owned by the Anne Arundel County government.

Since Ervin started his own business in 1979, he and his staff have been involved in about 75 golf course projects, including the design of a dozen 18-hole courses, a number of nine-hole courses and the remodeling of several others.

The longtime golfer, who once sported a 2 handicap that he says has slipped to about a 12, has a favorite course, one of the nation's oldest.

It's Pine Valley Golf Club, which opened in 1914 in a pine forest near Trenton, N.J. That course is still celebrated because of how it works within its natural setting.

We asked Ervin, who witnessed the dedication of Compass Pointe's final nine holes last week, to share his thoughts on trends in golf today:

Lengthening of golf courses to counter vastly improved club and ball technology that enables players to hit farther is both a hot topic and thriving business. Your thoughts, as they relate to the pros, as well as everyday golfers?

I work with the American Society of Golf Course Architects with Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and others. This has been a concern there for a while.

Jack Nicklaus thinks ... there should be a sort of a standard golf ball used on the professional tour so pro golfers couldn't hit it so far.

For pro players, that would put them more on an equal playing table, because they would start hitting the ball about the same distance [instead of the disparity seen today].

I don't know about the general public.

It's a concern of all architects. ... But courses will be lengthened just to keep up with the old design standards. [To illustrate why,] if a person can play well and hit the ball well, that's [good].

But if you have par-5 [a long hole theoretically playable with three shots and two putts] that can be reached with a driver [the most powerful club] and an 8-iron [a club average players typically hit about 120 yards], then that's not a par-5 [by golf's longtime standards].

In terms of course design, how much have things other than length changed in recent years?

I don't think they've changed too much. My first course was Hog Neck in Easton. That was billed as a championship golf course. The courses I design today aren't much different.

I try to make the golf course a challenge, make it beautiful, make it fair, make it environmentally sensitive and make it fun. Golf courses make their money on number of rounds played and what's sold at the clubhouse.

What do you think golfers are looking for the most when playing on any course?

Golfers want a challenge and to be rewarded for a good shot. If it's a course where you hit a driver and 9-iron [a short-distance club] and wedge [for even shorter distances] all the way around, it gets kind of boring.

A good golf course is going to have variety, in that each of the holes is going to be different. The courses that are considered the best are ones that have that different personality, that different look to them. Visually, they're appealing.

There's drama in the shot, like at No. 7 at Pebble Beach [a par-3 hole on the famed course on California's Monterey Peninsula]. It's a short hole [106 yards], but it's so dramatic. You have the elevated tee, and you're looking down on the hole [with Monterey Bay as a backdrop].

Nature is so beautiful ... and the more natural you can keep the area you put a golf hole, the prettier it's going to be.

What's the best way to draw up a course that's fair for all golfers?

You have to design courses for all golfers. For the poorer golfers, I try to keep the trouble farther away for them, so they can hit a pretty bad shot and still not get shafted.

But you can't make it ridiculous, so that they can hit terrible shots. They have to have some sort of punishment [for a poor shot] or they'll never improve. The better golfer - just because of his skills, not necessarily his strength - can hit the ball straighter and farther, and therefore the landing area can and will become more constricted with [sand or water] hazards.

Have you yet designed the "perfect" golf course?

I don't think I'll ever design my perfect golf course. I guess you keep looking for that. You might not even know you've designed [a perfect course] until it's done and it's open and people are playing it. I'm happy that my older courses are still popular.

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