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Stanford Golf Course Aerials - 1930 and 2003

Overview Hole 1 Hole 2 Hole 5 Hole 6 Hole 7 Hole 8
Hole 9 Holes 10, 11 Holes 12, 13, 14 Hole 15 Hole 16 Hole 17 Hole 18

Overview for Stanford Golf Course Advisory Committee
September 10, 2007

1930 Hole-by-hole Review
George Thomas Design Guidelines
Photos from Thomas-designed Riviera

"Golf architecture can rightly be referred to as one of the higher art forms man has attempted to undertake. Consider the scale of its very proportions, its lasting contributions on such vast canvasses, and what it has meant to the lives of so many. As in any review of art, there are some examples which are timeless and are considered "classical". Captain Georce C. Thomas, Jr.'s works are among these masterpieces, and as such, are certain to live on and on."

Thomas's views and opinions are always at the forefront of my mind as well as my architecture partner Bill Coore's whenever we are lucky enough to be involved in any phase of golf architecture. Simply put, the message is sound and it will last." Ben Crenshaw 1996 from The Captain, by Geoff Shackelford about George Thomas.

Aerials of our golf course, designed by George Thomas and Billy Bell in the late 1920s, taken in 1930 and 2003 were used to create these hole by hole comparisons (click on holes above). In reviewing these aerials as we consider possible changes to strengthen and restore the golf course, some questions and considerations come to mind.

First is the impact of technology on the golf course. Stanford was a very long course in 1930 and is now considered average in length at best. It is estimated that in the 1930s after the course was built that top players could carry the ball about 210 yards and with the harder fairways in those days you'd expect the ball to roll to about 250 yards. Today, top male players can easily carry the ball 280 yards resulting with roll in a 310 yard drive. It's useful to note that top women players today will carry the ball 230 with roll to 270. These yardages for men are marked on the aerials for all par 4s and 5s.

Second is the advisory committee's strong belief that the original Thomas-Bell design approach should be retained when considering future changes and that the course be always playable by the average golfer. Among the finest golf architects in the world, Thomas-Bell designs have stood the test of time, including their highly acclaimed works at Riviera, Bel-Air, LA CC North and Stanford. Above all, Thomas-Bell courses were known for their shot-making values, their unique bunkering and for the variation in their greens. The side-by-side aerials show where changes have taken place from the original to today.

Noted below are some preliminary observations from these aerials:
  1. Fairway bunkering on 1, 2 (black tee only), 5, 9, 10, 13 and 16 are now not in play as originally designed.
  2. A careful analysis of how the course plays now for women needs to be made in light of technology changes and our various tee boxes.
  3. While many of the holes have become easier for the low handicapper, technology has toughened a number of holes for the average golfer, bringing more bunkers into play.
  4. A number of green-side bunkers have been either added or deleted (2, 8, 12, 16 and 17).
  5. A number of green-side bunkers have moved further from the greens (1, 2, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13).
  6. The new championship tee boxes on 2 and 7 have clearly helped address the length issue.
  7. Strategic trees at greens have been lost on holes 6, 7, 9 and 18.
  8. A redo of 16 seems clearly in need e.g. replacing the creek and considering removing right trees 100-120 yards from the green.
  9. Considerations might be made to add new tees, or move greens on holes 1 (green), 10 (tee), 16 (tee), 17 (tee) and 18 (tee).
  10. In some cases our greens have enlarged, especially in the fronts of some greens. With some of the shorter holes (e.g. 8, 11, 15), the large greens have lessened strategic shot-making values.
  11. Technology likely has improved the strategic shot-making values for our short par 4 holes 11 and 15. The longest hitters now have many tee shot choices to make including trying to drive the greens.

Bob Stevens
Stanford golf member. Send questions or comments to Bob Stevens at

George Thomas Quotes

click to enlarge

"The strategy of the golf course is the soul of the game. The spirit of golf is to dare a hazard, and by negotiating it reap a reward, while he who fears or declines the issue of carry, has a longer or harder shot for his second, or his second or third on long holes; yet the player who avoids the unwise effort gains advantage over one who tries for more than in him lies, or fails under the test." George Thomas from his classic Golf Architecture in America written in 1927. In the photo from the left: Billy Bell, George Thomas & Alister MacKenzie from The Captain

"The rebuilding of courses is often criticized, and in many cases such censure is deserved; but it is well to remember that the gradual and continued improvement of golf courses has been brought about not only by the natural betterment of golf construction, but because of the increased efficiency of the golf ball, the playing value of which is more perfect, particularly with regard to distance." George Thomas

click to enlarge

"In the forming of greens, beautiful modeling must conform to what a ball will do when it lands on a green from certain distances, and knowledge of what shot is necessary to reach it from strategic points, decides the contours of that green ... The green ought to be the proper size for the shot. Its opening for a long shot must have correct width. For short pitches a green need have no opening for the running shot ... Greens may be long and narrow, wide and shallow, in fact of every shape ..." George Thomas Photo of the 166 yard 6th hole at Riviera.

"Do not strive for length where you sacrifice character. Your yardage is the less valuable of the two considerations; but sufficient length, which type and strategy, is the ultimate. The course which demands the greatest number of placements from the tee, and the most diversity of shots, both from tee and to green, is the best test." George Thomas

"... Trees and shrubbery beautify the course, and natural growth should never be cut down if it is possible to save it; but he who insists on preserving a tree where it spoils a shot should have nothing to say about golf course construction." George Thomas

"... diversity, and yet again, variety, is the spice of a golf course." George Thomas