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June 14, 2005

Steve on Golf Courses

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I have a pretty broad conception of what "art" and "culture" can mean: ads, TV, and magazine design as well as concert music and museum art. I like to think that I'm more about what culture is than what it ought to be.

Even so, I was taken up short when I first read Steve Sailer's American Conservative article on golf-course-architecture as art. Silly me, I'd never given the topic a moment's thought. Yet there it is: landscape architecture, full of aesthetic qualities, there all around us, and in popular use. I'll take an eye-opener like Steve's piece over yet another run-through of conventional "what is art?" aesthetic theory any day.

Steve has now put the piece online, and has dolled it up with lots of helpful photos and links. It can be read here.



posted by Michael at June 14, 2005


Dang, that's a good piece.

It wasn't entirely clear from the article, however, which style of golf course delineated by Mr. Sailer corresponds most closely with the African savanna prototype that he posits as the Platonic Ideal of golf courses. Can an argument be made, based on either aesthetics or on function, that one style of course is superior to another?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 14, 2005 7:22 PM

The website Steve Sailor referred to in his piece - - is a great place to learn about golf course architecture. The people who run the site and comment on it tend to be traditionalist architecture fans who favor a functional, naturalist style of golf course architecture.

A quote from the author of the site, "The five classic elements required for an ideal course: wind, sand based property with rolling topography, well conceived holes of strategic interest, a predominately treeless environment and uniformly firm playing conditions."

Thast sums up much of the design philosophy of the site.

An interesting albeit long article that attempts to link the "Golden Age" of golf course architecture (roughly 1900-1937) with the Arts and Crafts movement can be found here:

Posted by: grandcosmo on June 14, 2005 10:53 PM

The University of Guelph, Ontario offers (or at least used to) a very interesting correspondence course on golf course architecture. It's a "lab course" in which the student designs a course. Very enjoyable.

Posted by: David Sucher on June 14, 2005 11:26 PM

Dear Friedrich:

Good question. What seems to be going on is that the treeless Scottish-style course is considered superior by cognoscenti who value the strategy inherent in the Scottish game where the wind is a major factor.

On the other hand, the tree-lined American-style course seems to be preferred by people who aren't as refined in their tastes because it offers what people like: grasslands _and_ trees. I've often thought that people don't really like forests. What they like is the edge of a forest. In 1975, geographer Jay Appleton advanced the theory that humans like landscapes that combine "refuge" with "prospect" -- in other words, forests to hide in when you're being chased, and grasslands to chase game in when you're hungry. That makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on June 15, 2005 3:17 AM

FWIW, I remember reading some evo-bio-aesthetics stuff dicussing architecture and urbanism. I think the writer was attacking chic-modernism's preference for openness and glassiness whenever possible. He/she made the point that what people seem to prefer is a place that's both protected and open -- like a wolf lying in a cave, snug and protected above and behind, but able to look out and check the world out. The writer also made the connection between that situation and the situation of living or hanging out on the edge of the forest. There you are with stuff above and behind you, but able to look out at the savanna and watch what's happening. As far as anyone can tell, it seems to be a situation that suits us.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 15, 2005 11:59 AM

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