Ben Crenshaw Interview on Augusta National, the 1999 Ryder Cup, golf-course design and his favorite courses

Ben Crenshaw
AP
Ben Crenshaw and Guan Tianlang at the 2013 Masters.
Let's play word association. Charles Blair Macdonald.

Thank goodness for Charlie Macdonald. After all that he learned at St. Andrews, he spent the rest of his life trying to bring the game he knew and loved back to America.

Alister MacKenzie.

Artist.

Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Solid.

Augusta National.

Unique. Spectacular. One of the most emotional courses you could ever play.

Especially in 1995.

[Laughs] Well, the small area between triumph and disaster.

You played your 42nd Masters this year. How many more starts do you have left in the tank?

[Laughs] I've thought about this for the last five years. I tell myself, "This is crazy. What are you doing? Just sit back and watch." But I can't get it out of my system, not necessarily to [be competitive] on the course, but to just keep playing and experiencing it. It's so much fun for me and my family. But there will be a time—it's way beyond my capabilities, I can tell you that.

You played with Guan Tianlang this year, the 14-year-old whiz kid from China. Is he for real?

That kid amazed me. He did not change at all over 36 holes. He had so much discipline. He has a big, long swing and a gorgeous short game. Gosh, his short game is beautiful. You would think he would lose his balance and swing out of his shoes once or twice. He kept his left heel on the ground. It'll be interesting to see how much he grows. What a confident, quiet mind.

Tom Doak built the Blue course at Streamsong at the same time that you built the Red course. Deep down, did you want your course to turn out just a little bit better?

We compete with nature. We're constantly in a match, I suppose, with her. You make a wrong move and it doesn't look natural. That's when you have to tone it down and do something different. I love [working on] courses that look like they were set in nature, and being able to bring the geographical features out. Perry Maxwell said, "A golf course must be there, not brought there." I love that.

But didn't you want your course to be better than Doak's?

We had fun working with each other. All our workers would gather at lunch and throw around ideas and talk about the business. We were peering over the hill to see what they were doing, and they were looking at what we were doing. It was fun. We share a philosophy with them. It was slightly a contest, but we were trying to put the two pieces of ground together in the best way we could. It was a unique situation with undulating land in Florida, beautiful sand, vegetation, and some beautiful water that was man-made.

Which course that you've designed is the most overlooked?

Hidden Creek in New Jersey, outside Atlantic City, is a neat course. We're proud of it. And a lot of people haven't seen Old Sandwich up in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Which of your designs do you get back to the most, and why?

"I do think it's time we [rolled back the ball]. Go back over the last 20 years—how many billions of dollars have been spent on the acquisition of land, retrofitting courses, trying to protect scores?"

Obviously, this one [Austin Golf Club]. We get to Sand Hills as much as we can. Julie [Crenshaw's wife] and I go to Long Island every year, so we'll get to see East Hampton Golf Club and Friar's Head. We have friends up there, and Julie enjoys going up there very much.

What three courses would you be happy playing every day?

St. Andrews, Royal Melbourne, and probably Cypress Point.

Harvey Penick was instrumental in your playing career. Did he also influence your design career?

Harvey knew Perry Maxwell and drove him around Austin to see a suitable site [for the new Austin Country Club, where Crenshaw and Tom Kite learned the game from Penick]. They picked a spot east of town that had sandy soil and close proximity to a water source, which was Lake Austin and the Colorado River. Harvey had a little bit of a hand in helping Perry with where the site was. He built it in '49. It was one of his last projects. But Harvey -- I can't say we talked specifically about golf architecture so much, but he knew I was interested in it.

In 20 years, will there be more golf courses or fewer?

Boy, that's a good question. I'm hopeful there'll be more. All of us want participation. That's the goal. In the real scheme of things, it's like Harvey—he wanted to introduce the game to people and he wanted to keep them there. He knew how good the game was for people. There's something about a golf course; you go out there, there's no buildings—it's so peaceful.

What kind of feedback have you received about your restoration of Pinehurst No.2, next year's U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open venue?

It's been very good. It's a high, high honor to be involved in that, very sentimental for Bill, and equally enthralling for me because they've got such a great set of archives. The Tufts Library is incredible. It was a lot of fun, but daunting at first because the course was so different.

 

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