Shameless self-promotion time. Last week, we had a fascinating discussion on the Good-Good Golf Podcast about the notions of ‘Big’ and ‘Small’ golf.
Guest Colin Criss had written a thought-provoking essay on the subject the week prior comparing modern course design (Big Golf) with simpler notions of golf all but untouched by human hand (Small Golf).
There is much to consider from the chat but one of the concepts discussed was – somewhat controversially – on full display this past week at the WGC event in Florida.
The Concession Club was co-designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin as a celebration of the Golden Bear’s famed conceded putt to the Englishman in the final match of the 1969 Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale.
(Having made his own par putt to ensure a half point and a retained trophy for the Americans, Nicklaus picked up Jacklin’s marker so he could not miss his two-footer and lose the match and the cup.)
The concession became legend as an act of sportsmanship, so much so that by 2006 a group of investors got together to commission both men to collaborate on a golf course to memorialise the moment. (And sell real estate, but that’s another story).
And so was born The Concession Club or, as it is apparently nicknamed by its members, ‘The Concussion Club.’
The course Nicklaus and Jacklin built is notorious for its difficulty around the greens and the field at the WGC event certainly found that to be the case.
All of which raised an interesting point about the difference – perceived or real – between ‘natural’ features (as predominantly found on the links of the UK) and contrived ‘man-made’ features found in many more modern courses.
The conundrum was neatly summed up by the parody Twitter account called @wokekenzie where the owner spends the majority of time deriding ‘woke golf’, including those who revere Golden Age course architecture.
GCA criticism such a double standard. Re the 13th at Concession:— Alister WokeKenzie- #1 Ranked GCA Burner Account (@wokekenzie) February 27, 2021
Woke Golf: “Ew, typical unfair Nicklaus trash”
Woke Golf if 13th was on a Golden Age Course: “This hole is brilliant, transcendent really. Holds the player’s interest and provides many options. Such genius.”
“GCA criticism such a double standard,” they wrote during the third round. “Re the 13th at Concession: Woke Golf: “Ew, typical unfair Nicklaus trash” Woke Golf if 13th was on a Golden Age Course: “This hole is brilliant, transcendent really. Holds the player’s interest and provides many options. Such genius.”
It’s an interesting point to consider. If an architect were to build the 13th hole at North Berwick in the modern era, they would likely be derided. However, the hole is one of the world’s most loved.
As is the case with the other group Wokekenzie likes to poke fun at (‘woke’ golfers taking photos of their single strap bags and trestle sticks at courses like Pinehurst and Sweetens Cove) the answer lies in contrivance.
The 13th hole at North Berwick is organic, evolving in its place as it existed before golf was there. The 13th at The Concession Club is a contrivance, trying hard to imitate something that didn’t previously exist there.
The same is true of those golfers taking selfies with old fashioned bags. It’s contrived, and hence smacks of a lack of authenticity.
The ‘Big Golf/Small Golf’ discussion is a thought-provoking one and plugs into many facets of the game.
From course architecture and how we think about design to the role of public golf, water use, golf as part of wider communities and even to the very core questions of why we play the game.
In an era where public golf is under threat and the resources required for golf are becoming more scarce, it’s important all golfers give at least some though to how we want the game to look, and play, in the future.