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Friday, December 30, 2005

Interview with golf architect MIke Strantz (Part 2)

American Airlines misrouted my golf clubs. I'm in Vegas, the clubs arrive later...courtesy of Orlando. They blame TSA at LaGuardia. Right.

Meanwhile, here's more of the Strantz interview. Tune in later for "things to do in Vegas when the airlines screws up your golf clubs.

Jay: Tiger, Phil, Vijay and Ernie are finally fed up and decide they are going to chip in a $1 million dollars of their own money and play one hole of yours over and over again on TV, until someone gets a skin. Which one of your public golf holes are you going to take them to that the world can see it and that these guys can brag about taking 3 million from the other three?

Mike: (smiling and looking thoughtful) That is a tough one. I have a lot of public golf holes.

Heidi: That is a lot to think about, 18 x 6.


Jay: While you are chewing on it, do your daughters play golf?

Heidi: You know Mike has taken them out and they hit it hard and they hit it far but they never got into the other things. My oldest she is dating a guy who plays golf so I think she will get back into it…you know she can really go after the ball. That is kind of what the family activity ended up being. With our youngest, when Mike was at Tom Fazio’s…we would go out at 6 at night when all the golfers were gone and the oldest would pull the youngest in the wagon and Mike would carry a small bag and we would play four or five holes. The girls have been on quite a few golf courses.

Jay: Dana and Andrea right?

Heidi: Dana is the oldest and then Andrea. They both went to USC…the other USC, South Carolina and yes, they know how to construct a golf course!

Mike: (still thinking) I have too many golf holes I’d like to choose!


Mike: Accuracy for accuracy, OK…11at Tobacco Road to a far back right pin placement. It’s very deceiving distance-wise. You have that tough carry, not with regard to distance, but accuracy. To hit the far right pin, that would be a tough one.

Jay: That would be the green that is at the base of an enormous bunker?

Mike: 20 feet deep.

Jay: Boy it sure looked a lot deeper when I was there.

Mike: That’s the front pin!

Heidi: How’d you do on that one?

Jay: I did OK up until I got to 13. That is when I started running around trying to figure out where to go!

Heidi: Did you run out of fun?

Jay: No way. I never ran out of fun. I walked the course in 100 degree heat and still loved it. Everyone else was inside in the A/C. Fifteen and sixteen I had no idea where I was going was the only thing, but it’s so original, there is no way not to have fun there. Even when I chunked my drive in the evil bunker on 18, I never ran out of fun.

Mike: And what happened after the drive?

Jay: Not much that was good…

(more laughter)

Jay: Now tell me about that hole.

Mike: I love the finish at Merion and I wanted the course to have some flavor of that and like you said earlier, some of the flavor of older UK courses like Prestwick and Ballybunion. That hole it’s better to be a little right off the tee so you’re not blocked out on the approach. A fade off of the tee and a draw in to the green will work. There is a lot of airspace to the right to bring in your approach, not so much from the left.

Jay: Yeah, that’s what happened to me after the drive. I got out of the bunker and found myself blocked out!

Mike: And that’s another thing! When you look at the topo of a hole when you’re building it, you can try to visualize different kinds of shots that can be played. Pete Dye does that a lot. Here is one for public golfer’s I’d recommend, play anything by Pete Dye - anything he did In America. The angles and diagonals - I mean he does some things that are spectacular. If I learned anything from Pete, it’s the angles. Have lots of them. I try to do that with my holes, both ground space and airspace. You have to think and execute. Sometimes at eyelevel, my hole doesn’t look that wide…

Jay: Sure, especially at Tobacco Road. The ridges come in and make the shot blind, but then you get on to the fairway and say “wow there is a lot of room out here, it’s wide open.”

Mike: Especially at Tobacco Road. Take for example, number one. The notch in the ridge you have to hit over. Not a lot of ground room, but loads of space up in the air.

Jay: If you were an artist who would you be? Dali, Van Gogh or Picasso?

Heidi: People might think you’re Dali...

Mike: That’s possible, I approach it as an artist and it does have an edge to it. I have always liked him and Van Gogh and and Picasso and Monet too. I really love Van Gogh.

Jay: Could it be that because people are living vicariously through your golf course that they might transpose some of the things that they see in your design onto their impression of you as a person? For example, someone [Golf Writer Brian McCallen] once called Pete Dye a “Mad Scientist” because Sawgrass appears unusual to them. It is possible that some misconceptions comes from the fact that there are some things in your designs that appear unconventional, but only to an untrained eye or to an eye that hasn’t seen those elements before or seen them expressed in the way you express them.

Mike: Very accurate. I have felt that myself.

Jay: What might some of those been?

Mike: I made a list once. [Author’s Note: see his interview on golfclubatlas.com.] I try to be much more than just “a wild and crazy guy building wild and crazy courses.” If I am going to build something someone thinks is “too far over the edge,” there is actually a solid design concept behind it. I may be a little misunderstood. But that happens with all architects to some extent every architect has that problem. They would have to explain why and how holes are the way they are and it is not just some revolution.

Jay: For example maybe some people are not used to the scale to which you build your golf courses? I mean with the huge amphitheatre-like settings. Like 5 at Royal New Kent for example? And with your blind shots, too?

Mike: Definitely with the blind shots. People from across the pond have nothing negative to say about the blind shots, they love them. That is true that they are more accepting of them. I have had whole families who all play together over here and they love the blind shots and other things. It’s different for them. Golf is much more festive when you have a broader pallet.

Jay: Lets talk about Area 51 or Project X or Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch or whatever you want to call it - a whole peninsula on the Pacific Ocean with 13 greens and 9 tees and a slide rule for the scorecard. According to legend, whoever has got the honor picks what green you play to and you calculate how many yards it is to how much to a par it is going to be and you keep going around randomly. Also, at Tot Hill a flood caused a rerouting where they played one hole twice from two different greens and you ended on a par 7. What do you think about this and what will it take for people to get out of this “36-36, two par-5s and two par-3s per side?

Mike: I wish I had an answer for that. I love it personally. Too many courses are all the same. The more adventurous golf was played at a different time and offered different products. People did receive the rerouting very well at Tot Hill. They were even good humored about the closing par 7 and having to play the same green twice. I have not had personally any bad comments. They did that themselves out of necessity. The other option was close the whole course, a solution thwey avoided and they did something creative. I helped with the idea.

Heidi: Like women rearrange homes….Mike rearranges golf courses.

Mike: Exactly.

Jay: Mackenzie once said that he designed courses for people who would play them over and over again and that the course would reveal a secret. Tell us some of the secrets at Tobacco Road or Royal New Kent.

Mike: I always try to make the player play outside of your ability…there is a temptation to play outside your ability. Everything thinks “yeah, I can do that, even though they don’t have that shot they think they have it. Also, I want to create an unconventional way to play the whole. It all goes back to giving more options. I always try to build that in to every golf course…every hole…there has to be a way for the person who cannot clear the ball over the hazard. Also, it is very important that you play the right set of tees. Take the first hole at Tobacco Road. It’s not that bad when you get out there.


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