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

Sand Hills
John and Jeaniine Henebry
Sand Hills in Mullen, Neb.,is the undisputed masterwork of Ben Crenshaw and design partner Bill Coore.
The USGA is getting a lot more proactive. Do you think the ball needs to be rolled back?

I do. Jack [Nicklaus] has been unequivocal about this for a long time. I think he's right. It's time to really look at it. I mean, you 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?

Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong century?

I do. [Laughs] I sometimes think, you know, that era would have been fun.

What course is highly rated that you just can't seem to appreciate?

I don't know. Charlie Macdonald, in Scotland's Gift: Golf, said, "Criticism of a golf course is like going into a man's family." That book is one of my favorites; it has long passages on how the USGA was formed, what fights they had, and [sections] on architecture, as well. What I'm saying is, I don't want to be critical.

Switching topics, since your team won the Ryder Cup in 1999, there have been few highlights. Last year, Davis Love's squad couldn't close the deal after leading 10-6 entering Sunday singles, the same deficit that your guys overcame in Brookline. Was it karma?

That was so hard to watch. I really felt for Davis. I congratulated José María Olazábal and he said, "You showed us how to do it," and, you know, he's right. It's ironic how things work out, because he was the man who Justin Leonard made that putt against [in 1999]. José did exactly what we did with the margin and the points.

How often do you get out and play with your friend George W. Bush?

I played with him last month. I went to see him play at Brook Hollow, a beautiful Tillinghast course [in Dallas]. He was coming off a back procedure that kept him off the course for a while. He said, "I was miserable. I wanted to get out and play." He loves it. He's painting now, too. He's taken up oil painting.

You won two Masters, but you also had three runner-up finishes at other majors. Do any of your near-misses keep you up at night?

[Laughs] I was proud that I had some realistic chances to win three or four more majors, but I get down on my knees every day about the two I did win. I'm so thankful. I do wish I could have won one playoff, because I'm zero and eight in playoffs. Maybe I could have pulled off just one playoff.

What about on the architecture front? Would you like any do-overs?

Our Coore/Crenshaw course at Barton Creek [outside of Austin], which was one of our first courses. We were instructed to do a conference-center course. They said, "Build a course people can get around." There are some greens that maybe have a bit too much slope. The dimensions here and there are just a touch wide. A couple of greens are maybe too large or slightly uninteresting to our eye now.

Your design for Sand Hills is frequently cited as the best course built in the past 50 years. Do you feel a burden to try to duplicate it?

We could never emulate or duplicate some of the things that we did there because it is so entirely natural. The setting and the environs there are so unusual in this country, and in a lot of respects it was our most fortunate situation to work with. The thing that we're probably proudest about is that it gave people a notion that you could build successful golf courses in remote places.

Developers hire Coore/Crenshaw with the hopes of getting a Top 100 course. Do you feel pressure to deliver?

Rankings can only be justified over a long period of time. People have to play it and see it and experience it. A simplistic answer is that we're confident in our ability to present an interesting course that people will enjoy. If we have a good piece of ground, we can build a good course.

The Hit List

Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World and U.S. rankings include seven Coore/Crenshaw designs, from Long Island [New York] to Hainan Island [China]

Sand Hills, Mullen, Neb. (1994): No. 9 (U.S.)/No.12 (World)

Friar's Head, Riverhead, N.Y. (2003): No. 20 (U.S.)/No. 32 (World)

Old Sandwich, Plymouth, Mass. (2004): No. 46 (U.S.)/No. 90 (World)

Bandon Trails, Bandon, Ore. (2005): No. 49 (U.S.)

Streamsong (Red), Streamsong, Fla. (2012): No. 52 (U.S.)

Barnbougle Lost Farm, Bridport, Tasmania, Australia (2010): No. 72 (World)

Shanqin Bay, Bo'ao, Hainan Island, China (2012): No. 78 (World)

 

This article appeared in the September issue of Golf Magazine, available free to subscribers in tablet form at Golf.com/allaccess.

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