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Architects need to be face-to-face with nature

The process that leads to the creation of a golf course is shaped by culture. Creating a golf course entails engineering (computer technology), making (construction), packaging and marketing (mass appeal), comparing and rating (mass media) and the people (fame and notoriety).

This is what it takes today to be a designer -- not just to envision but to create something that will resonate with various audiences - whether golfers, fellow architects or even the media. For a moment, it might be instructive to play the role of a visionary, only to do so retrospectively. Look back at a time before the present culture overtook the past, when nature was a refuge, when art was influenced by ideas of nature, when natural artists defined culture by showing links between human and natural worlds.

For our use in creating a course, modern culture has equipped us with computer software, large earthmoving equipment and the opinions of golfers and writers. Yet, the past resource - nature - has been redefined by packaging and marketing and replaced by the term "environmentally friendly", a description with mass appeal that downplays how we imposed our will on the land.

The creative process employed in course design should begin with a face-to-face encounter with land and nature. In this way, the architect is more willing to cooperate with nature, not impose a will to make it conform. This is a land-based architect. Every project seems vast or difficult in the beginning. Technology makes almost anything possible; problems can be solved on paper and with money.

Hard work on the land and confronting the realities of these difficult problems are not necessary because the architect can work a solution on paper without leaving the office, and technology and money can implement the solution. This can make the land-based architect anxious when confronted with difficult problems caused by wetlands, steep slopes, contiguous forests and awkward parcels caused by property lines.

Given these difficult constraints, can we find a course on this land, or must we leave it to the big machines to rearrange the land to make a course? Why try too hard to work with nature if we have the modern technology and wealth to impose the kind of beauty that has mass appeal?

Land-based design requires a specific engagement with nature. This engagement is a satisfying creative process. All of the cultural pressures - technology, marketing, mass media, public expectations - are suspended when the land-based architect straps on boots and goes on the land to become immersed in discovery and curiosity.

The persistent, land-based architect walks the land repeatedly. The feeling of anxiety is replaced by exhilaration that comes from the awareness of the land's subtle qualities.

Through a slow process - slow when comparing three days walking the land with four hours in the office scratching on a base map - the land-based architect discovers how the course strategy connects with nature - the terrain, plants, soil, drainage, wind and light.

By trusting discovery, the period of walking the land looking for the natural golf hold becomes humbling and gratifying. Will this approach yield a good course? Where's the give? Where's the take? Is this approach relevant to the game? With a kind of blind faith, the land-based architect ventures out to find the energy in the land. Egotism, arrogance and the desire for recognition give way to a wild delight in the beauty and infinite space of the landscape. Routing begins to emerge from the land rather than being forced upon it, as happens so often when working on paper or computer screen.

When returning to the office or home, anxiety sometimes creeps back. Have I missed opportunities? Am i going to get the most out of the natural features? Am I going to create a seamless experience that captures the best of the land's natural features into the strategy of the course? Again, these doubts usually are erased with the next visit to the land.

Land-based design embodies the course with a majestic decorum that we never tire of seeing. Land-based design reinstalls reason and faith into the creative design process.

Mr. Kelly Blake Moran

Golf Architect


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