Ron Whitten Talks Architecture with Charlie Rose
Ron Whitten explains the 2013-14 ranking of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses to Charlie Rose.
Released on 3/22/2013
Charlie Rose - Ron Whitten is here.
He is the architecture editor of Golf Digest,
which he joined almost a quarter century ago.
In that time he has written over 350 articles,
and several books on golf architecture firmly
establishing himself as the subject's leading authority.
Every two years he oversees the oldest and,
by far, the most influential ranking in golf,
Golf Digest's list of America's 100 greatest courses.
What make a great golf course?
Ron - It has to start with the land or
at least it used to.
A great golf course always was always put on
a great piece of rolling property.
It gave you enough variety so that you had
uphill, downhill shots.
You could make some long holes,
and some short holes.
You wanted to have your par threes running
four different directions to play different
angles with the wind.
Now days there are some architects that can take
a dead fat piece of ground and shape it around
and create that topography.
So, the answer these days is less about the land
and more about the budget.
Charlie - And how much money the architect has to create
Ron - That's right
Charlie - his own golf course.
I also know other golf architects who come to the land
and say speak to me land.
I want to build what's here.
Ron - There are two schools of thought on that.
There is one called the minimalism.
Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw
Charlie - Exactly.
That's who I was thinking of.
Ron - They believe in either using what mother nature
gave them or if they have to create it,
moving enough land that looks like mother nature
provided it and they didn't have anything to
do with it.
Charlie - Is Shadow Creek an example of a manufactured
golf course because of the terrain?
Ron - Shadow Creek is probably the outstanding example
of an engineered golf course.
From dead flat to magnificence.
They've dug down 60 feet,
piled up 60 feet,
have a 120 elevation change.
Charlie - They planted a gazillion trees.
Ron - They planted a million trees
with drip irrigation.
So, they created Vermont in Las Vegas.
Charlie - One of the things you suggested is like
a blind hole.
You cannot see the green.
What else are the sort of imponderables that
golf architects choose to play with?
Ron - You like to play with lines and angles.
You try to build your hazards diagonally so that
you bite off as much as you feel,
as you dare, as you feel comfortable trying to carry.
It's the easiest thing in the world to build a
really hard golf course.
It's much harder to build a course that is strategic.
That some people will play in certain areas and
other people will be bolder and play a little
more risk for the reward.
That's what every architect tries to do.
It's just how they,
they have a million different ways of doing it.
Charlie - Are all new golf courses longer?
Ron - Not all of them.
A majority are because most architects these days feel
that equipment has gotten out of hand.
Personally, I disagree.
I think that's part of the evolution of the game.
If you read 100 years ago,
architects back then thought when they went from
hickory shaft to the steel shaft that it was ruining
the game because the ball was going too far.
But, yes, the course is getting longer and,
again, that means more land.
It's it's more expense.
Charlie - Where's Pinehurst number two think of my home
Ron - Pinehurst is in the top 30 now.
It was restored by Coore Crenshaw recently,
adding those bands of exposed sand instead of ruff.
Reestablishing some of the angles that we talked about.
It takes time though for our panelist to get out
and play and evaluate the course.
So, it hasn't moved up yet but I expect that over the
next ranking or two it will move back up.
It used to be, of course, in the top ten.
Charlie - Right.
What's the best new course?
Ron - Gosh.
You put me on the spot here because I,
there aren't that many courses being built.
I just came from Stream Song in Florida where
Coore Crenshaw and Tom Doak did side by side
courses on an old sand quarry or phosphate
And did very, very unusual links style courses
which are very unusual for Florida.
Charlie - But, I read about a lot of new
courses in Oregon.
Ron - Obviously, the five courses now at Bandon
Dunes Resort are all,
four of them are on our 100 greatest public,
three of them,
four of them are on our 100 greatest public
and they have a new one,
a fifth course which is a 13 hole, par three.
That's probably the best par three course you are
going to see in a long time.
Charlie - Is there reigning golf architect champion?
Ron - That's very subjective.
Obviously, Doak and Coore Crenshaw,
as we have discussed here today,
are the hot names right now.
Charlie - Fazio is still building.
Ron - Fazio still probably number one in terms of
budgets and clients and prestige.
He has the most courses of active architects on
the 100 greatest.
Gil Hance is doing the Rio 2016 course for
That's certainly high visibility.
Martin Howtree just did Trump International
in Scotland and has just announced that he is
doing a second course there.
Charlie - Players who become golf course architects.
Tiger Woods designs courses and designed one in
North Carolina, I know.
Obviously, Jack has been famous for it.
Arnold has been famous for it.
Ron - Crenshaw, Norman
Charlie - Crenshaw, Norman
Ron - Tom Watson.
You can go on and on.
Some of them it's simply another way to supplement
their income but there are some that are very dedicated.
Charlie - to the game
Ron - Tom Weiskopf basically gave up competitive
golf to become a golf architect and he is a very
talented architect who has done a lot of
Charlie - Because he just loved it
Ron - He loved it.
It was more creative and he found that,
as he told me, when he was playing the tour he had
He only focused on what he was trying to do.
He played all these great courses and has no
recollection of them because he was so focused.
Now he's, he feels much more creative then he ever
did as a player.
Ben Crenshaw, of course, isn't setting the world on fire
in the senior tour these days or the champion's tour
but he is, with Bill Coore, doing some of the best
courses out there.
Charlie - But then that's because they take the
land as it is.
Ron - But, he also takes the time to study.
He studied other courses.
He is one of the few pros that I know that would play
other courses simply for the curiosity instead of
being paid to play there.
He has studied it all his life.
That's not to say anything negative about Palmer or
Nicklaus, who have developed real careers,
second careers as architects especially with
residential development courses and they have hired a
lot of associates who have done of great projects.
Tiger Woods is still struggling to get that first
course finished and open
Charlie - This is the North Carolina course
Ron - Well and they just announced one in Mexico too
and it's a tough business right now because there is
not much of a market for golf courses and there is not
much activity going on right now.
Charlie - Links courses are on the rise?
Ron - I would say links courses are on the rise because
sustainability is on the rise.
We're going to face over the next 20, 25 years
water shortages and golf courses are going to suffer.
You are not gonna have the green lush conditions that
we've had in America for the last 50 years.
We're going to have to be a little more rugged,
little more dry around the edges.
Charlie - How else are they changing?
I mean, how is the game changing the course?
Ron - Well, there are certain architects who are
trying to bring the game back down to earth and
that has to do with that dry firm conditions and
we at Golf Digest redefined our conditioning category
to talk about how firm fast rolling our fairways,
how firm yet receptive are the greens.
Dudn't have anything to do with the color of the grass.
And yet manufactures are building clubs and balls
designed to get the ball in the air and stay in the
air for as long as you can.
Charlie - Yeah.
Ron - So it there is sort of a tug of war as to
which will win out.
Now, that's not to say that they are totally
incompatible but it's a different sort of business
now trying to design a course when you have such a
disparity in the distance that golfers hit.
I mean, I'm a 100 yards or more behind Tiger Woods
so that means 90 or 100 yards difference
Charlie - So, what he's at 350 you're at 250
Ron - No, he's at more like 300 and I'm at 200.
[Laughing] Charlie - [Laughing]
Ron - That means tee boxes have to be 90 yards apart
to get us in the same position in the fairway.
Charlie - Saw Augusta National,
they changed the course.
Ron - Augusta National has changed the course since
the very beginning.
Charlie - Every year they
Ron - Every year they make improvements.
Charlie - Improvements?
Ron - Impprovements.
Charlie - So they'll be looking at what happened at
in losing the ranking to Pine Val and saying
we got to make this
Ron - Oh, I don't know.
Augusta National is Augusta National.
I don't know that they,
I'm sure they take pride in the fact that they
were number one and they are a little
frustrated that they're number two
but when you see the course
Charlie - Did you hear from them?
Ron - Not yet.
I doubt that we will but when you see the scores
they are dead even with Pine Valley.
It's, as I wrote, I had the feeling that one
panelist sneezed as he was typing in his
scores and that's the result.
That's the difference.
It's, you know, I think over the next,
we do this every two years,
I think over the next decade it'll be a
battle every time.
Which is number one?
Pine Valley or Augusta National?
Charlie - One more time,
Pine Valley is number one because?
Ron - Because it had point zero zero three
better score than Augusta National.
Charlie - It took four decimal points to
declare Pine Valley the number one over
Ron - That's right.
Charlie - Ron Whitten, thank you.
Ron - Thank you, Charlie.
Charlie - Great to have you, pleasure.
Ron - Good to meet you.
Charlie - Thank you for joining us.
See you next time.