Q & A: Golf Course Architect Arthur Hills

By Mike BaileySeptember 9, 2013, 6:31 pm

PETOSKEY, Mich. -- Arthur Hills has designed dozens of courses across the world in a career that spans more than four decades. Currently, his company, Hills & Forrest International Golf Course Architects, has stayed busy with remodeling work in the United States and several new courses abroad, including projects in China, Russia, Morocco and Sweden.

Hills, a former captain on his college golf team at Michigan State, has created such courses the renowned Bay Harbor in Northern Michigan as well as the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay in California and Longaberger Golf Club near Columbus, Ohio, to name a few. The 83-year-old's designs represents modern architecture – lots of target golf and risk-reward opportunities. I sat down with Hills to discuss design elements and the state of the game.

GC: What did you study in college to prepare you for your career?

Hills: I studied agriculture and agronomy. I was going to go into the family agriculture business, so I went into the landscape contracting business. Then I wanted to know more so I commuted up to the University of Michigan and I did get a degree in landscape architecture. Those two major areas of studies were really good tools for me.

GC: Do you have a favorite classic architect?

Hills: I like the designs that Donald Ross has done. His courses were playable for everybody because most of the holes he designed were open in front. I think that's good because that means everybody – the 15- or 18-handicapper – can play them. And the good player's still got to hit the ball near the cup.

GC: Who do you like among your contemporaries?

Hills: Pete Dye. I think he designs every hole and every shot with strategy in mind. And I like the aesthetics on most of his courses. I think he knows the game very well.

GC: What do you try to accomplish in your designs?

Hills: (Like Dye,) I try to make them strategic.  I like to do risk-reward on every shot. On the tee shot, we're always trying to get it so if the player hits in the ideal shot, he's going to have the best access and angle into the green. On the second shot, it has a lot to do with cup placement and the players' judgment of their ability to play. I mean if you've got a cup that's off to the right or left, is the guy going to go for the cup or the middle of the green, 15 feet to the right or left of the cup?

I'm also trying to make the course attractive by taking advantage of existing features if there are some on the site. I try to make it so people will enjoy and tell their friends and come back basically.

GC: Do you have philosophy on bunkering?

Hills: I like to use fewer bunkers rather than more bunkers – maybe 40 to 50. I like every one of them to be strategic. I feel it's redundant to use three or four where you could use one or two. 

GC: What about movement on greens?

Hills: It can vary, but I think you want to create cup placement areas 30 to 40 feet in diameter. Then there can be movement between those cupping areas. Within the cupping areas, I like to keep the contours very simple, maybe 2 percent plus or minus a little bit. Not too tricky. I don't know; I watched the PGA last weekend and there's ample difficulty to make an 8-10 footer under pressure, and those are the best players in the world vs. all of us weekend players who not as skilled.

GC: What are your thoughts on minimalist designs?

Hills: I don't know how to measure that. I don't know the definition of that word exactly or how that's interpreted on the ground.

GC: Among the courses you designed, what are your favorites?

Hills: That's hard question to answer. I usually say, do you have any children? Tell me your favorite child.

But I like Bay Harbor a lot. I think that turned out quite well. I like the course we did up at Boyne Highlands (the Hills Course) is pretty good, too. We just had a course rated in the top 100 in the world by Golf Magazine, which kind of surprised me. It's in Portugal. It has views of the Atlantic Ocean that maybe contributed (Oitavas Dunes, just outside of Lisbon).

Boyne Highlands

The Hills Course at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. 

GC: How important is it to have a great setting?

Hills: It helps a lot. I did a course called The Dunes, north of Tampa, and it was an absolutely beautiful hilly sand dune piece of property. But we have done courses on properties flat as a tomato field, too.

GC: What are your thoughts on the trend of lengthening courses?

Hills: I read an article just yesterday once again approaching the idea of making the ball so it wouldn't go so far. And I think that's a lot better solution because 95 percent of the golfers – maybe more than that – are never going to go to the back tees on a 7,400-yard golf course. On the other hand, you can have a 500-yard par 4, and the tour guys are going to hit a driver, 5-iron or something. So to answer your question, I think it would good to cut the ball flight back so courses didn't need to be as long.

GC: Do you like shorter courses?

Hills: I grew up playing golf on a 5,500-yard course, Ottawa Park, owned by the city of Toledo (Ohio). I started playing when I was 8 or 9. I didn't know it was a short course. It was fun and still very popular. When we started playing, in 1942 or '43, it cost 25 cents to play before noon for a kid, 50 cents after lunch.

GC: Is cost to play one of golf's biggest issues?

Hills: It costs a lot of money for a person who's starting to play golf. Sure, fees can be as little as $25, but for a kid, that's a heck of a lot more money than 25 cents. I think if they could make it so kids could play golf for a dollar or two, they'd get a lot more people playing. It's just incidental to their life. They don't get hooked for a while. 

GC: What are you favorite courses?

Hills: I think St. Andrews is my favorite. I also like Merion a lot and Oakmont, and I like San Francisco Golf Club a lot. With St. Andrews I just like the way it flows and its openness. Of course they've got gorse. I just like it. It's a neat place to play golf. Merion, I like all the greens complexes. You've have to hit some really precise shots around that course. Oakmont, I feel the same way. The Individual holes are very, very attractive to my eye. San Francisco Golf Club – I just thought it was very pretty -- the terrain, the cypress trees, the bunkering; I think is very beautiful.

GC: Do you still play much?

Hills: I play all the time (Hills' handicap is currently 17).

GC: What was it when it was its lowest?

Hills: One. I played in college on my golf team (Michigan State). You didn't have to be very good back then to play on the golf team. But I played for three years and had a lot of fun doing it.

Getty Images

Kisner (66) leads Open by 1, Woods 5 back

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

The course was playing firm and the winds never truly gusted, but it was still quite a mixed bag for some of the world's best during the first round of The Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things stand as Kevin Kisner moved into the lead in search of his first career major:

Leaderboard: Kevin Kisner (-5), Erik Van Rooyen (-4), Tony FInau (-4), Zander Lombard (-4), Brandon Stone (-3), Brendan Steele (-3), Ryan Moore (-3)

What it means: Van Rooyen took the early lead in one of the first groups of the morning, and he remained near the top despite a bogey on the final hole. But that left a small opening for Kisner to eke past him, as the American put together a round with as many bogeys as eagles (one apiece). Already with two wins on the PGA Tour and having challenged at the PGA Championship in August, Kisner tops a crowded leaderboard despite never finishing better than T-54 in three prior Open appearances.

Round of the day: Kisner started slowly, as a bogey on No. 5 dropped him to 1 over on the round. But that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day, and he quickly rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth. Kisner added four birdies over his final 11 holes, including three in a row from Nos. 13-15, and successfully navigated the difficult closing stretch to post the only 66 of the day on the par-71 layout.

Best of the rest: Van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Open two weeks ago, but he fell apart at Ballyliffin as Russell Knox rallied for victory. He's off to another surprisingly strong start after a 4-under 67 that included only one bogey on No. 18. Van Rooyen has never won on the European Tour, let alone contend in a major, but he's now in the thick of it after five birdies over his first 15 holes.

Biggest disappointment: Two major champs were among the short list of pre-tournament contenders, but both Patrick Reed (+4) and Dustin Johnson (+5) appear to already be out of the mix. Reed has finished T-4 or better each of the last three majors but made only one birdie in his opener, while Johnson was the consensus betting favorite but played his last three holes in 4 over including a triple bogey on No. 18.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Kisner is no stranger to the top of the standings, but keep an eye on the chase pack a few shots back. The group at 2 under includes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, while Tiger Woods is just five shots off the pace after an even-par 71 that featured three birdies and three bogeys as Woods made his return to The Open for the first time since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015.

Shot of the day: Stone put his head on his hands after pulling his approach from the rough on No. 18, but his prayers were answered when his ball rattled off a fence, bounced back in bounds and rolled to the front of the green. One week after winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 60, Stone turned a likely double into a par to close out his 68.

Quote of the day: "I've been taped up and bandaged up, just that you were able to see this one. It's no big deal." - Woods, who had KT tape visible on both sides of his neck after a bad night of sleep.

Getty Images

Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

Getty Images

Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

Getty Images

'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.

The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.

In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.