For society, 2016 will likely go down in infamy. We all felt the impact of horrible and senseless acts of terror, a growing distrust toward our law enforcement, the most controversial and polarizing election of our time, and an incredible loss of talent and influence, including Muhammed Ali, Prince, Gordie Howe, and our Game's own chief ambassador, Arnold Palmer. It is an important time to reflect and realize that no matter how frustrating certain things can be out on a project or while searching for new work, we as golf architects and builders are incredibly lucky to be safe and do what we do for a living. With that said, let's take a look and celebrate the highlights of 2016 as experienced by Hochstein Design.
This is what it's really all about--building and working on golf courses to make them more fun and interesting for all who play them. This year involved 4 locations/projects, two of which are familiar to last year, Hardelot (Les Pins) and Orinda. Hardelot was a continuation of the winter work program, which for us involved tweaking greens tie-ins and bunker edges. Orinda was simply some bonus work this fall, building a new alternate tee on 14 that straightens out the dogleg and gives a teasing view of the flagstick.
The big project of the year though was down in Southern California at Santa Ana CC, where fellow Bay Area architect Jay Blasi set about completely re-envisioning the golf course with an entirely new routing, new greens and bunkers, new practice facility, and new feel. With an incredibly tight project schedule for the scope of work, my job was largely to keep the excavator moving and work in the bunkers and dry washes. In the effort to return the course to a more dry look that typifies the natural state of Southern California, there were plenty of bunkers and washes in which to keep busy. It was a fun experience to do something new like the washes, and I am looking forward to seeing how the "natural" elements of the course evolve.
The fourth project was the beginning of a long term restoration/renovation at the Alister MacKenzie designed Redlands CC led by architect Todd Eckenrode. We began with a first phase consisting of work to the greens and bunkers on the adjoining 1st and 4th holes. Bunkers were rebuilt, moved, or added, and the greens were extended and reworked in critical spots, adding more hole locations and interest. It was a nice beginning to some pretty fun work. How could it not be fun when you get to try and emulate Dr. MacKenzie?
Here are some of the year's highlights from doing what I love:
Favorite features worked on
1. The sandy waste on the par 3 17th at Hardelot (Les Pins) I've always loved playing in the sand, and Hardelot has it absolutely everywhere when you scrape away the organic layer. This area between the tee and green was exposed by architects Frank Pont and Patrice Boissonnas in their recent restoration work a few years ago. With it was left a big sort of eroded face at the edge where the turf for the approach area meets the sand. This edge and look would be lost in our work though as we expanded and softened the approach area. So, why not kill two birds with one stone and use the chunked-out scrap turf from the approach to build up something new in the foreground that may reclaim that look? That's just what happened, and now a pseudo-bunker sits well in view in the foreground, ready to evolve, grow, and erode over time.
2. The created dry washes on the 2nd/7th/8th Holes at Santa Ana CC This was my first time building a feature like this, and it seemed like a fun challenge despite only having limited observations of the Southwestern landscape. Kye Goalby did a great job setting up the first parts of both washes, using the bulldozer to make hard smooth cuts that mimicked rushing water blasting through the landforms. I too used the dozer to set up the unworked parts on hole 8, but most of the work was excavator detailing. Edges were left deep and steep to mimic a big water cut, and loose material was used to mimic the walls crumbling and collapsing over time. With plant growth and sporadic rain water events, these features should evolve nicely and look like something that was naturally created.
3. The bunker arrangement on the 1st Hole at Redlands CC The arrangement architect Todd Eckenrode and I decided upon focused on the green's angle that runs right to left. The front left bunker was the first one to be re-worked. A back bunker was then added to profile against the front one, and it was built up in the back to shed away water and help stop any trickling balls from the 4th hole. A fairway bunker out on the right was added to guard the ideal approach angle into the green, and a smaller bunker further down and left in the fairway was put in to make longer hitters a little more careful with their tee shots. Best of all, this is a MacKenzie course, so we were free to emulate his artistic California style of bunkering.
4. Hole 17 bunkers, Santa Ana CC The shortest hole on the course is a sideways, slightly angled double plateau. With a propped up right plateau angling slightly at the tee, this seemed like an opportunity to create a wraparound bunker and really set off the plateau. A center bunker to the left of it rises up and obscures a part of the trough and further adds discomfort to the tee shot. A back bunker makes going long a bad idea while rising up to connect to a screening berm. And finally, a left bunker trails out to the left to both hide 18 tees and balance out the whole composition.
5. Hole 11 bunkers and dry wash, Santa Ana CC Sometimes, bunkers just come together and interact with each other nicely. That was the case on the second half of the par 5 11th at Santa Ana, which finishes alongside the large restored sandy wash on the east side of the property. The bunkers all seem to zig-zag off of each other when looked at down the fairway. That view is not the only one that mattered, though, because with tree removal, all eyes tend to funnel down to this part of the property and the distant Saddleback Mountain in the backdrop. Making sure the bunkers looked right was important from distances and angles as far away as the clubhouse. One way to do this and get the scale right was to add an extra little bunker next to the right fairway bunker that wasn't visible on 11 but was from everywhere else. To tie the bunkers into the wash better and stand less alone as bunkers, I chose this one (and another on 15) to have a missing bottom lip and bleed sand out into the wash. Hopefully the effect works as the wash matures and evolves.
6. Hole 6 bunkers, Santa Ana CC This short par 4 to an uphill green called for heavy fortification with a big rear bunker, a left bunker, a front right bunker, and two diagonal bunkers shorter in the approach. Following a grade set by the next tee and the overall arrangement of the bunkers, the idea became to lead the eye from left to right by making the whole arrangement seem to come to a point at the shallow right side of the green, which is blind from the right landing area. The set works nicely together while also messing with a golfer's depth perception and comfort level.
7. Green surrounds and approach area, Hole 17 Hardelot (Les Pins) The 17th hole is one of my favorite spots on the course. With the aforementioned sand-scape, vista across the back nine, and isolation from surrounding housing, it is a most pleasant spot to play and work. The work we did to the right side and front approach area was all meant to add turf and playability both for recovery shots and running tee shots onto the green, which is still very hard to do but is now much more doable and forgiving.
8. Green Extension on the 4th Hole at Redlands This green sits at the terminus of a long spine with big fall-offs to both sides. It was already terrifying for the approach shot, but with tree removal and green extension, it is more exposed and frightening. Really though, it is more playable as a kicker slope on the left has been reduced, the green has gotten bigger, and bunkers right and left have been expanded to help catch shots just off line.
9. Bunker doctoring, Hardelot (Les Pins) With some bonus time I had left during my stint at Hardelot, my assignment shifted to editing a few bunkers that seemed like outliers to the rest of the course's style, particularly the ones where edges were revetted with sods as opposed to cut out of native ground. A couple like the 1st hole approach bunker and the set of foreground bunkers on 12 required some excavator cutting, but a majority of the edits required a good ole rake and shovel. I would be pretty sore doing this type of work full time, but I love to do it every so often, especially on a great piece of ground with Tom Simpson bunkers.
10. New alternate tee, Hole 14 Orinda CC It's always nice to work close to home, and it is even nicer to work at a place with familiar friendly faces. It is even nicer yet to work on a spot where you can also look out over a hole you helped redesign and rebuild the previous year and see if people are playing it the intended way. The new alternate tee on the 14th at Orinda sits higher up the hill and way left of the original tee. It is now an enticing, nearly-straight shot to the green with the left fairway bunker much more in vision and in play. I would imagine more people will try going for the narrow little green now, but I personally wouldn't recommend it myself!
1. Everything, Santa Ana CC This whole list could be the changes that happened at Santa Ana, since it is an entirely different course in a number of ways. The routing is better with more variety, O.B. shifted to the left side, and space enough for a full driving range. Tree removal has opened up a lot of views, including the iconic view of Saddleback Mountain in the distance. The greens and bunkers are entirely new and offer a lot more strategic and visual interest in comparison to the previous Ted Robinson versions. The amount of artificial water has been reduced and replaced with dry washes, including a part of one that once dominated the middle of the property. It's hard to pin down a favorite transformation that Hochstein Design worked on since so much happened among many different moving parts. If I had to choose a favorite though, it would probably be the elimination of a raised concrete pond in the southern corner of the property (holes 2, 7, 8) and the creation of a long, large dry wash in its place.
2. Hole 1, Redlands CC See above
3. Hole 4, Redlands CC See above
4. Reworked approach and green surrounds, Hole 17 Hardelot (Les Pins) See above
5. De-cluttered horizon, 9th hole at Hardelot (Les Pins) This one was simple. Get rid of a berm built behind the saddled 9th green that was meant to block light traffic on a neighborhood street. Now that it is gone, the landforms around Simpson's wonderfully placed green really show.
1. Opening the front window of the cab as the heat dies down at the end of the day at Redlands and working in peace with the golden hour sun glowing over the back nine and distant San Bernardino Valley and Mountains.
2. Finishing the project-long sprint at Santa Ana, taking a nap, then spending the next day out on Huntington Beach.
3. Discovering the 99% Invisible podcast after a Twitter recommendation from superintendent/historian/architecture fan Sean Tully and promptly binge-ing through most of the episodes while working in France at Hardelot.
4. Building a new tee on the 14th hole at Orinda and being able to watch how golfers play the newly redesigned 13th green down below.
5. The peaceful walks over the beautiful inland linksland to and from my daily work zone at Hardelot.
It was a great year for visiting new courses in a number of different regions. A solo work trip to France afforded the ability to visit some of the best courses around Paris as well as Le Touquet and a few English links' across the Channel. A planned trip to see family in Michigan was built in with some time to get around to a few Detroit area tracks I had neglected to visit in my earlier years. It also allowed for time to play a belated Father's Day round up at Black Forest as well as squeak in a round with Mr. Doak at Crystal Downs. As things finished up in Santa Ana, I got in victory rounds at Valley Club and Rustic Canyon, and thanks to a few generous dual-members, we were able to get in a round at elusive LACC, which did not disappoint at all but due to a few great other courses seen, was actually not the runaway top new course seen this year. Like I said, it was a pretty great year for architectural study.
Best New-to-me Golf Courses Seen in 2016
This year I am adding my own "Doak Scale" rating, which can be seen at the end in brackets [ ]. Let the debating begin...
1a. Rye GC, Rye, England. Various architects, incl. H.S. Colt, Douglas Rolland, Tom Simpson, Sir Guy Campbell, and Major H.C. Tippet* 
1b. Los Angeles CC (North). George Thomas, recently restored by Gil Hanse. 
1c. Morfontaine, Morfontaine, France. Tom Simpson 
4. Chantilly, Vineuil-Saint-Firmin, France. Tom Simpson; 3 new holes by Donald Steele 
5. Saint Germain, Saint Germain-en-Laye, France. Harry Colt 
6. Le Touquet, Le Touquet, France. Harry Colt, recent restoration work by Frank Pont and Patrice Boissonnas [7.5]
7. Forest Dunes (The Loop), Roscommon, MI. Tom Doak 
8. Valley Club of Montecito, Montecito, CA. Alister MacKenzie 
9. Morfontaine (Valliere), Morfontaine, France. Tom Simpson 
10. Stoatin Brae, Augusta, MI. Eric Iverson, Don Placek, Brian Schnieder, Brian Slawnik 
H.M. Bloomfield Hills CC, Harry Colt; Black Forest, Tom Doak; Littlestone, W. Laidlaw Purves with later revisions by James Braid and Alister MacKenzie*; Orchard Lake CC, C.H. Alison; Birmingham CC, Wilfred Reid from William Connellan and Tom Bendelow nines, with Recent Restoration by Bruce Hepner*; CC of Detroit, Colt and Alison; Santa Ana CC, Jay Blasi
*Architects cited from The Confidential Guide: Volumes 1 + 3; Tom Doak, Ran Morrissett, Masa Nishijima, and Darius Oliver.
Best New Holes Seen
1. The Loop (Black) 4th
2. Rye 4th
3. Morfontaine Valliere 5th
4. Rye 5th
5. Rye 13th
6. LACC North 6th
7. Saint Germain 15th
8. LACC North 15th
9. Saint Germain 5th
10. Le Touquet 13th
H.M. Littlestone 8th, LACC North 8th, Morfontaine Valliere 4th, Morfontaine 8th, Saint Germain 17th
Best Greens: Design, Interest, and Sensibility
1. Morfontaine (Valliere)
3. Black Forest
6. St Germain
7. Le Touquet
8. The Loop
9. Birmingham CC
10. Stoatin Brae
H.M. Rye, Littlestone, Valley Club
Best Bunkers: Playing Importance, Aesthetics, and Context
4. Saint Germain
5. Santa Ana
H.M. Orchard Lake, Stoatin Brae, CC of Detroit
Champions of Fast and Firm--Best Turf + Conditions
1. Rye Playing at the end of a wet weekend in the middle of a wet winter, the course still had good bounce and roll. Ran Morrissett of golfclubatlas.com argues the course is a better winter course with the ground a bit softer and slower, and with some of the convex slopes present throughout the routing, I could see that point. As it was on this day, it worked very well.
2. Le Touquet Frank Pont and Patrice Boissonnas have done a nice job rebuilding greens and surrounds, creating natural and interesting, linksy contours on the old Colt course. What they have also done a nice job of is replacing the turf with all fine fescue sods, restoring the sandiness in the soil profile, and eliminating tree overgrowth to restore links playing conditions. I did not play the course, but I brought a ball while on my walk and had a great time tossing it around.
3. Valley Club Want to see the ideal future of golf course maintenance in California? Look to the Valley Club, who replaced their energy intensive turf a few years ago with bent greens+surrounds and Santa Ana bermuda through the green. The result of this change in combination with sensible management from superintendent Roger Robarge is the bounce and roll that would compete with Cal Club and Rustic Canyon for the best in the State, and all at a maintenance meld as 1/4th or 1/5th as energy, water, and nutrient intense as the other top clubs in Southern California. That is a win-win that golf in the West can go forward with.
4. Chantilly A caveat has to apply here I think. I saw the course in the winter, when the rough was low and playable and the fairways fast but not overwhelmingly so. That said though, Chantilly's subtle architectural design is reliant upon a maintenance meld that maximizes the impact of said subtlety. I consistently came up to holes and greens wondering if there was all that much going on, and there would always be a little ridge or a gentle falloff or surprise back bunker that, with fast conditions, are very impactful upon play. Rolling balls on the quick surfaces (in the middle of a wet winter) showed that there was much more architectural interest than first meets the eye. Serious credit to Directeur Remy Dorbeau and staff for recognizing those qualities and emphasizing them through maintenance.
5. Morfontaine and Valliere As mentioned before, the course is in very good shape with Jonathan White, a younger Englishman who spent his youth on the great heathland courses of London. He is doing a great job of keeping the turf lean, expanding greens, and keeping up the course's unique natural aesthetic.
6. LACC North The new bermuda surfaces are great with a good amount of bounce and roll, and the firm and fast greens enhance Thomas's incredibly strategic design. Furthermore, the natural aesthetic found in the natives and washes is outstanding; hopefully Santa Ana will end up looking close to something like that.
7. Saint Germain This was tough to judge as it was a soaking wet day, but the fairways and greens had the look of a course that plays firm and lean. The fact that I could even play at all with the heavy rain is another indicator.
8. The Loop This should really get an incomplete, as I believe the fairways and approaches are going to be able to be leaned out more and soon match up better with the slick rock hard greens. Brian Moore has all the right ideas and attitude, and if he can continue to push forward, this ranking could jump right up around the top.
9. Littlestone The wet theme continues with the Europe courses. Littlestone is a lower lying course with slightly heavier soil than most links, and when I played the water table was actually above the surface in a few places. Nonetheless it is still a links, and there were fun, bouncing shots to be had here and there despite a downpour that morning.
10. Santa Ana Get it while it's hard! The seeded kikuyu is just growing in, and without any thatch buildup, is playing far better than any kikuyu I've ever experienced. Hopefully our friend Matt Marsh can keep it that way with sand and a low-input maintenance program. The bentgrass greens and surrounds are also off to a good start.
Best Playing Experiences
1. The Renaissance Cup at The Loop--making it to the semifinals with Jay Blasi, interacting with many great old friends in design and construction, and meeting some new ones. Personal bonus points for irrational Michigan pride and having a new course(s) and concept worthy of said pride.
2. Having Rye all to myself on a Sunday afternoon after a damp morning kept away the membership from afternoon play. It might have been the slowest round ever played at the historically quick-playing club, as I took my time to soak in the course and look at things from all angles.
3. Playing Crystal Downs with my former boss Tom Doak. I almost forgot just how great that course is. Almost.
4. Playing Valley Club on a quiet Monday evening on my way back up North after finishing at Santa Ana. There is nothing quite like the golden hour on those last four holes set between the mountains and ocean.
5. First rounds out on the new work at Orinda. There's nothing much more fun than seeing field concepts come to life and function as intended. Big credit goes to Josh Smith for encouraging more short grass, firmer surfaces, and a more natural aesthetic.
6. LACC. A true architectural treat and exceptional example of the capabilities of a proper restoration. Too bad my golf game and stiff 'shaper's swing' had to get in the way ;)
7. Playing the back nine of Morfontaine with course manager (superintendent) Jonathan White after walking the front nine and Valliere with him. It was inspiring to see the energy and care he is putting into the property to maximize the course's architecture and aesthetics.
8. Belated Father's Day round with my dad and brother on Black Forest. The course has been struggling in a number of ways, but there are still great holes and greens out there.
9. Grand re-opening round at Santa Ana CC with the new turf playing fun and bouncy.
10. A peaceful nine hole round at my favorite little public course in Southeast Michigan, Hickory Hill.
Cool Curiosities, Awesome Oddities: The Most Enjoyable Unusual Features
This is a new feature where I have the freedom to highlight the wonderfully strange, almost humorous things you sometimes find in golf and just about never find in anything built over the last 40 years.
1. Amphibious rock in 14th fairway at Morfontaine
3. Most Greens on Valliere Course
4. The bonus old 17th postage stamp green at LACC North.
5. Blind shots over the dune ridges at Rye
6. The closeness of the clubhouse to the outside of the dogleg on the 18th at Rye
7. Cross bunkering just off the tee on the 6th at Saint Germain that creates a ton of visual interest to an otherwise benign tee shot
8. The "clamshell" greens at Birmingham CC.
9. Crooked Scotch Pine in middle of par 3 13th at Morfontaine
10. The crazy sharp and large drop off to the road behind the 2nd green at Chantilly
Best Restoration Opportunities
Because I can never just relax and play golf...
1. Re-assign the original Simpson holes of the Longeres course at Chantilly back to the main Vineuil course, or at least rebuild the 3 new holes to something more closely matching the other original Simpson Holes. Also, restore 14th green.
2. Re-do the 10th and 11th holes at Rye and make them fit better with the high quality of the rest of the course. Because of the flatter ground and a manmade lake that, if I recall being told correctly, cannot be altered, this work is probably easier said than done.
3. Bring Black Forest's conditioning back up to a reasonable standard, which does not necessarily mean green grass. Also, thin back encroaching trees and restore green edges.
4. Expand the green surface all the way to the front of the pad on the 14th hole at Saint Germain. I haven't gotten confirmation that it was originally out that far, but why else would that little ledge and pad exist?
5. A number of the bunkers at St Germain could use a little more lip depth or slight changes to their lines to match the better bunkers on the course. Overall, it is a very cool and unique set of bunkers, but there is a little room to make them that much better.
Travel is a side benefit of this business, especially if you don't overdo it. Seeing the world opens you up to new things in all senses--sights, sounds, tastes--and the people you get to meet make it even more worthwhile. Here are some of our favorite things experienced in 2016.
1. Rye, England
2. Senlis, France
3. Chantilly, France
4. Huntington Beach, CA
5. Redlands, CA
Favorite food by Place
France - Rognons de Veau (Veal Kidney)
Huntington Beach - Normita's Fish Tacos
Redlands - Southwest Chicken Wrap from the club snackshop. Hard not to order it every day for lunch.
Favorite Sites Seen
1. All of the old 'Cinque Port' town of Rye, England
2. All of small, medieval Senlis, France
3. Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave and Colorado Deserts, CA
4. Chantilly Chateau, Landscape Gardens, Stables and Race Course, France
5. Crystal Cove State Beach, CA
Anyone in this business who spends a lot of time in a machine out in the field knows how valuable a companion the art of music is. It is easy as well to draw parallels between the two, a great golf course acting as a great album with the component pieces, the holes and songs, standing individually while contributing to the work as a whole. Here are some of my favorites while making it all happen from in the seat or behind a rake.
1. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
2. Being There - Wilco
3. 1999 - Prince
4. Delusions of Grand Fur - Rogue Wave
5. Anthology - The Beatles
6. I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler - YACHT
7. Junk - M83
8. Pennied Days - Night Moves
9. Shangri-La - YACHT
10. Creatures of an Hour - Still Corners
H.M. Truckdriver Gladiator Mule - Neko Case, Summer Teeth - Wilco, Light Upon the Lake - Whitney, Every Now & Then - Jagwar Ma
1. "Real Love" - The Beatles
2. "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" - Wilco
3. "Nobody's Empire" - Belle and Sebastian
4. "Lucky Numbers" - Generationals
5. "Cuckoo" - Still Corners
6. "Shangri-La" - YACHT
7. "Misunderstood" - Wilco
8. "Endless Supply" - Rogue Wave
9. "Do It, Try It" - M83
10. "Wednesday Night Melody" - Bleached
11. "Red Eyed and Blue" - Wilco
12. "Hung Upside Down" - Buffalo Springfield
13. "FloriDada" - Animal Collective
14. "Miles and Miles" - YACHT
15. "Controversy" - Prince
H.M. "Eyes of the Muse" - King Tuff, "Choices (Yup) - Golden State Warriors Remix" - E-40, "Detroit" - Spring King, , "Pistol Made of Bones" - The Arcs
Bonus Newly Discovered Podcasts Section
1. 99% Invisible
2. Drew and Mike Podcast
3. Love and Radio
4. The Michigan Insider
5. Song Exploder
A Word of Thanks, and On to 2017...
Thanks to all the great architects that have brought me in to work with them and subsequently trusted me not to mess it all up, including Frank Pont, Patrice Boissonnas, Jay Blasi, and Todd Eckenrode. Thanks also goes to the hard working people who maintain our work, including G.M. Ken Strachan and team at Hardelot, Matt Marsh at Santa Ana, Rich Ray at Redlands, and Josh Smith at Orinda. And finally, the biggest thanks go out to everyone who supports me in this unusual career, especially my wife, who works a remote job (and is very good at it, I might add) and comes along on the adventures whenever the opportunity is right.
Our plans for 2017 are not set, but there are some exciting possibilities on the horizon. I'm also looking to attend the Golf Industry Show for the first time and hope to meet more great new people from all across the golf business. Be sure to follow me on twitter and instagram (@hochsteindesign for both) for the latest news and project progress, and always feel free to reach out if ever in the Bay Area or near one of our projects.