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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Inside The Mind Of Golf Architect Jim Urbina

Paramount Country Club 18th Hole - photo by Larry Lambrecht
The restoration of Paramount Country Club's classic Tillinghast golf course enters its final phase this fall under the direction of Jim Urbina, named along with Tom Doak in 2010 as "Architect of the Year" by Golf Magazine. I wrote about the project earlier and Urbina reported on his progress at Paramount at a recent Metropolitan Golf Writers event.

When he first saw the course, Urbina said, he was struck by the views. "I went up to the highest points, over by the first green and second tee and over by the sixth green. It's somewhat masked by the growth of trees but you can tell it has a sense of scale." Many of the trees have been selectively thinned out during the renovation, restoring the vistas of High Tor and the Hudson Valley. Urbina's work has also revealed the scale of the property, giving the player a better feel for Tillinghast's concepts.

"Tillinghast had ideas that were very important to him," Urbina said. "For example, he writes about a true three-shot hole, and sure enough, Paramount has that." Even in 1920 when Tilly laid out the course for Adolph Zukor, the original owner of the property, he stretched the second hole to nearly 600 yards. "He talks about having a variety of par-threes so you should be able to hit every club, and sure enough, Paramount has that," Urbina pointed out.

"Paramount also has subtleties that we just don't do anymore in modern architecture," Urbina added. "It's the gradual slope of the greens and their locations, what's in the background. Or look at the routing. It's that up-and-down, up-and-down style of golf where some holes are a test and some are breathers." Urbina thinks Tillinghast had a message for the architects who followed him: "Don't get stuck on length. Make sure the hole still has character. Find out what's important. Make sure you're hitting every club."

Urbina and course superintendent Brian Chapin have accomplished much in the last eighteen months, but a few tweaks remain. "I'm putting back bunkers on the 250-yard par-three thirteenth hole," Urbina said. "When the hole was 240 yards, Tilly talked about a one-shot hole where you had to use a wood driver that required the player to execute a long shot. A hole with that length was unheard of then but Tillinghast knew the game was changing and even in that era, the ball was traveling farther."

The eleventh and fifteenth holes will also get a do-over, shifting the fairways a bit, adding some bunkering, and putting the greens back to their original size to give the player more choices, another mark of good design.

Urbina is known for this restoration of classic courses like the San Francisco Golf Club (Tillinghast), Pasatiempo (Alister MacKenzie), Yeamans Hall Club (Seth Raynor), and Garden City (Devereux Emmet and Walter Travis). His work at Paramount will stand up to the best of them.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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