The Loop

Brian Silva on Fairness

Unfair. It's an American term. It's modern. It's not a proper term to attach to a golf course. Brian Silva Well, I heard a most interesting talk on fairness in golf course design by architect Brian Silva over the weekend. Silva, whose Red Tail Golf club in Massachussets was recently chosen to host the 2009 Women's Amateur Public Links,  is not a fan of fair. He was speaking to a meeting of Golf Digest panelists, the raters who help us create the America's 100 Greatest list, in Chicago. Here's what he said about fairness in golf course design. "It's an American term. It's modern. But it's not supposed to be's not a proper term to attach to a golf course. When I hear it, my eyes glaze over. This is not bowling!" Silva is a fan of Pete Dye. He's also a fan of the quirkiness and unpredictability in golf course design that characterizes the work of masters like Seth Raynor and C.B. Macdonald, emulated these days by "minimalists" like Tom Doak and the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Mostly, he's a fan of choice, risks that offer reward but also the chance of recovery in shotmaking. He's evangelical about it. Golf course design shouldn't be standardized. It should be an art form. You hear someone say it's a great course, everything is out in front of you. That's terrible. We don't need to do that. There's already a game that does that. Bowling. Our efforts to be equitable, says Silva, have brought us bowling-lane fairways lined by trees with bunkers stationed at predictable distances to catch the big hitters. (If a bunker doesn't come into play for the good player, and it's hard to maintain, remove it.) Golfers were offered few choices. If they erred, they were punished.  Let the punishment fit the crime. Silva is an evangelist for a kind of architecture that almost died in the 70's and 80's at the hands of this  philosophy. Let there by no more recoveries from the wrong fairway. Tree-planting of the kind that Oakmont has finally reversed eliminated options, narrowed choices, erased angles. It was, says Silva,  the "McDonaldization" of golf. Big Mac tastes the same in Chicago as it does in San Francisco. It's all been standardized. We've done just that on golf courses. Silva's transformation from an architect who, frankly, participated in some of that standardization to one who now believes in the Macdonaldization of design (that's C.B. Macdonald) came when he looked at gatefold of the fifth hole Pete Dye's PGA West. He had an epiphany. He told Jay Flemma of the golfspace: __I began to think that golf holes were becoming too narrow, including my own,” he said. “Target style golf limited playing options and had resulted in cookie cutter, predictable courses. It’s easy to defend par by simply making a hole narrow and trouble-lined on both sides. But it also takes strategic options out of the player’s arsenal. __ Offer players options and the game becomes more fun for all players, accomplished or not. The best will be tested by the best this week at the players. It's all about angles. And I don't know anyone who does angles and orientation better than Pete. Pete's my hero. Silva's now on a mission to eliminate "dummied down" designs that create punishment and predictability, but not so much fun. We can do better and we would do better if we look back int he history of golf course design....I'm a bit of a southern preacher. I think it's my job to show the average golfer features they won't otherwise see. It's a sermon one enjoys hearing. —Bob Carney