Are golf courses high art? Yes, according to author Steve Sailer, in an article published five years ago in The American Conservative. The article, From Bauhaus to Golf Course: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of the Art of Golf Course Architecture was for me a fascinating read, and you can get a sense of where Sailer is heading from the opening paragraphs:
Golf course architecture is one of the world’s most expansive but least recognized art forms. Yet this curiously obscure profession can help shed light on mainstream art, sociology, and even human nature itself, since the golf designer, more than any other artist, tries to reproduce the primeval human vision of an earthly paradise.
Yet even this most unfashionable of arts was swept in the middle of the last century by the same Bauhaus-derived tastes that made post-WWII modernist buildings so tedious. Only recently has golf course architecture begun to revive the styles and values of its golden age in the 1920s.
One interesting observation Sailer makes is that studies have shown that—even across cultures—the “preferred” landscape is one that combines open grassy areas, interspersed with stands of trees. It’s perhaps a genetic memory of the African savannah, but it may explain why golf course landscapes have such human appeal.
Following golf history through art history, Sailer writes of golf architecture’s utilitarian, boring Bauhaus movement after World War II—as epitomized by Trent Jones—and then of the postmodern era brought in by Pete Dye. In recent years, Sailer says, golf as art has headed back to its roots with a traditionalist approach. Here’s another great observation from Sailer, comparing modern art and course architecture:
Prosperity and technology have made anything possible in design, whether Frank Gehry’s titanium UFO-crash of a Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, or Dye’s 1999 Whistling Straits golf course, where faucet king Herb Kohler gave him an unlimited budget. Dye famously exceeded it reproducing on a flat Wisconsin shoreline the fifty-foot tall sand dunes of the wild Irish links. While Whistling Straits and its 500 or so sand traps was much admired at last year’s PGA Championship, critics might be overreacting against the stripped-down Modern style by judging any degree of elaboration an asset. If tastes shift back toward simplicity, the next generation might label Whistling Straits a labyrinthine monstrosity. But, at least for now, its convolutedness appeals.
Sailer finishes with an observation about the current state of golf architecture as art, and its possible future:
Today, the great controversy is between the established Fazio, the maestro of aesthetics who recently revamped Augusta, and challengers like the team of Ben Crenshaw – Bill Coore and the sharp-tongued Doak, the expert on angles who crafted on the remote Oregon coast the gnarled and byzantine Pacific Dunes links in the Scottish tradition. Fazio frames his holes so that first-time players can instantly see the proper line, while Doak’s baffling holes defy golfers to figure out which direction will work best.
Golf architecture is a young art, and just as Tiger Woods showed that the best was yet to come among players, it’sPacific Dunes 13, par 4, Oregon, designed by Tom Doak forgivable to hope that we will someday see a design prodigy who can fully merge beauty and guile.
Read the entire article. Its long and a bit convoluted, but I found it fascinating.