A Casual 9, Episode 12: Garrett Morrison

It is with great pleasure that I introduce a rapidly growing stud in the golf writing and golf architecture space, Garrett Morrison. Garrett has been a teacher for ten years and started writing about golf as a hobby in his spare time. Some of his recent pieces on his blog, such as A 2019 Viewer’s Guide to Architecturally Intriguing Tournament Golf Venues, and his three-part series, Reading St. Andrews, in addition to his part-time contributions to The Fried Egg, have put him on the map of most golf and golf architecture enthusiasts. He recently announced that he is quitting his career as a teacher and making the leap to be a full-time writer and editor at The Fried Egg, which is good news for anyone who loves good golf content. Most regulars on Twitter may also recognize him as Garrett Ford (his middle name, so his students could not easily find him on social media), and us really dedicated fans may also remember him as his original handle, “Public Golfer”. Garrett is a superb writer and thoughtful cat, please enjoy.


1. As is customary on A Casual 9, tell us a bit more about your background and how you were introduced to the game of golf.

GM: I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and my dad was a golf nut, so he taught me the game early. I was more committed to other sports, but when I was 12, my parents signed me up for what is still known as the Santa Barbara Junior Golf Tour. I’m not sure I ever became a good golfer, but being on the “Tour” introduced me to a lot of friends as well as a new set of courses.

For about two years, I was more or less obsessed with the game, much as I am now. But when I was 14, I hurt my back in the middle of a round. Major glute deactivation. My serious competitive sports at the time were swimming and water polo, and I remember the bemusement of my coaches when I told them I would have to take two weeks off for an injury that I incurred playing golf. That was basically it. I never competed in a golf tournament again, and when I started high school, I became busy with all sorts of other stuff.

I did retain one link to the game, though: for a couple of summers in high school and college, I worked as a cart boy / range picker / general flunky at La Cumbre Country Club, an old George Thomas course that, unfortunately, doesn’t have much Thomas left on it. Every evening, after the last members came in and we locked up the cart barn, my distinguished colleagues and I would have an hour or two of fading daylight to play speed golf and bet with our tip money. Those were good times.

Garrett Ford Morrison Old MacDonald
Garrett and his caddy at Old MacDonald (photo courtesy of Garrett Morrison)

2. At what point did you become enthralled with golf course architecture and what motivated you to start writing about it?  

GM: When I was 10 or 11, my parents came home from a trip to Arizona with a copy of Pat Ward-Thomas’s World Atlas of Golf. It may be my favorite golf book to this day. It has an introduction to the history and philosophy of golf architecture, and—most important to my younger self—a series of course profiles that included gorgeous, diorama-like routing maps. This was before the internet made information about classic courses instantaneously available, so these maps were food for my imagination, and they provided my first virtual experiences of The Old Course, Sunningdale, Merion, and Hirono.

Soon I started drawing my own fantasy golf courses on a large sketchpad. My designs were implausibly difficult and had ridiculous names like “Raspberry Pines” and “The Devil’s Cauldron.” My parents encouraged my interest, and we started to compile a small collection of golf architecture books, which were not easy to track down at the time. As soon as Alister MacKenzie’s Spirit of St. Andrews came out in 1995, my dad bought me a copy. That book has been the gravitational center of my thinking about golf ever since.

Around the same time, I got to play two Alister MacKenzie courses: the Valley Club of Montecito (as a stop on the Santa Barbara Junior Golf Tour) and Pasatiempo (during a road trip my dad and I took). Seeing those courses in person brought it all together for me—the way a good routing revealed and used the best features of a property, the way a good hole tempted you to try things you probably shouldn’t.

I began to blog about golf architecture a couple of years ago because I was thinking a lot about the subject, and Twitter allows for only 280 characters at a time. The response to my posts, both positive and negative, has inspired me to keep at it. So has the sterling work of other internet-savvy, architecture-obsessed writers like Tony Dear, Derek Duncan, Andy Johnson, Kevin Moore, Rod Morri, “One Bearded Golfer,” Jay Revell, Jason Way, and of course you, Josh!

Garrett Morrison Bandon Trails
Garrett and his Dad at Bandon Trails (photo courtesy of Garrett Morrison)

3. Everyone who has read your stuff already knows your writing is on point, but I’m curious, how’s your golf game these days?

GM: notgreatbob.gif  

4. Leaving a career as a teacher to become a full-time golf writer and editor for The Fried Egg is a huge life change. How difficult was it to make the decision to change careers and what are you looking forward to the most about the opportunity?

GM: It’s scary, but the decision to take the leap was not difficult. The kind of opportunity that Andy offered me doesn’t come around very often. If I hadn’t seized the moment, I would have always regretted it.

Still, even if the decision itself wasn’t hard, the consequences of it, both emotional and practical, won’t be easy. My teaching job is at a boarding school in Pebble Beach, and I live in a house on campus, free of rent. I teach English, a subject I have studied every day for 15 years, and I coach swimming, a sport I love. I’m married, and we have two beautiful children, ages one and four. When I resign, all of us will have to move to a new place and adjust to a new community. That makes me wonder if I’m being selfish. But my wife, the best human I know, supports the change completely. She has reminded me that living without regret will help me be a better husband and father—and a better role model to my son and daughter.

I shouldn’t say too much about what we’re planning at The Fried Egg, but suffice it to say that I’m stoked about EVERY. SINGLE. PART OF IT.

Pacific Grove 11th hole Garrett Morrison
Garrett heading down the 11th fairway at Pacific Grove (photo courtesy of Garrett Morrison)

5. What do you think have been some of the most over-utilized and under-utilized features in golf course architecture over time?

GM:

Overused: Bunkers short left and short right of a green. That pattern is ubiquitous—including on certain well-known courses owned by the Pebble Beach Company—and it’s the type of design tendency that makes the game harder for low-speed, low-trajectory players while offering little challenge to skilled golfers.

Underused: Ground contour. Not every site is blessed with undulating terrain, but there are usually at least a few interesting landforms, and my favorite courses are the rare ones that zero in on these features, no matter how subtle they are, and maximize their strategic and aesthetic potential.

6. I’ve heard someone say before that golf is mental. I asked a similar question to Jeff Mingay, but I’m curious what your thoughts are. How much do you think golf course architecture is an exercise in psychology?

GM: Psychology is crucial. As MacKenzie puts it, “We all know that there is nothing so fatal in playing golf as to have a vivid imagination, but this and a sufficient knowledge of psychology to enable one to determine what is likely to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number, are eminently desirable in a golf architect.”

But golf architecture is also an exercise in agronomy, engineering, landscaping, map-reading, mapmaking, sculpture, bureaucracy, politics, persuasion, storytelling, and sometimes heavy-equipment operation. The array of skills that a person needs in order to practice the discipline effectively is what makes the greatest golf architects such fascinating people.

Psychology comes up a lot in armchair discussions of golf architecture because it’s so critical to the strategy of a hole, and strategy is a fun topic to bat around on Twitter. The ways in which an architect can toy with and test a player’s ego, expectations, nerves, tolerance for risk, understanding of angles and shot types, and susceptibility to visual deception provide seemingly endless fodder for discussion.

7. I know you loathe the ‘golf course architecture snobbery’ topic, so I’m going to be a menace and ask. Why do you think some people view golf course architecture enthusiasts/experts as snobs, and why do you think that viewpoint is or isn’t fair?  

GM: Oh, I don’t loathe the topic. I’m curious enough about it to have commented on it frequently. I just get tired of debates about golf course design devolving into slap fights about some supposedly condescending word or phrase that someone used in a tweet.

Golf architecture enthusiasts get called snobs because, hey, they often look, swim, and quack like snobs. They can seem stubborn about their beliefs, unwilling to listen, and dismissive of different perspectives. I’ll cop to coming off this way in my less prudent moments.

I’ve been accused of snobbery primarily when criticizing courses that others like. While I have no qualms about holding strong opinions and expressing them in blunt language, I realize that others may interpret my critique of a certain design or architect or era as an implicit attack on them and their tastes. It’s not intended as such, but I understand why they feel that way.

Still, I have a few pet peeves about certain motifs in the backlash against golf course architecture “snobs”:

  • The claim that they are, to borrow a phrase from this article by Travelin’ Joe Passov, “convinced that there’s just one right way in golf course design.” That’s a straw man. If there’s one thing that architecture enthusiasts agree on, it’s that variety is king.
  • The tendency to police tone instead of simply making a counterargument. If I were to say on Twitter that Torrey Pines South stinks, the ensuing thread would probably be about my usage of the word “stinks,” not about the merits of the Farmers Insurance Open host.
  • The notion that championing the varieties of affordable and architecturally compelling golf that can be found in the British Isles and at Rustic Canyon, Northwood, Lawsonia, Sweetens Cove, and Winter Park has become more a marker of snobbery than buttering up Tom Fazio’s latest upscale daily-fee course. Welcome to 2019.

8. What are a few of your favorite courses you’ve played to date, and which courses currently sit atop your bucket list?  

GM: Apologies in advance for the West Coast bias…

Pasatiempo is the home of my golfing soul, the first course that I both loved and understood.

For four years, I was lucky enough to pay the undergraduate rate at the Course at Yale, a C.B. Macdonald-Seth Raynor creation of remarkable scale and eccentricity.

The back nine at Pacific Grove got me back into golf. At sunrise and sunset, there’s no better place.

Pacific Grove golf links photo by Garrett Morrison
The back nine at Pacific Grove might be too good (photo by Garrett Morrison)

Pacific Dunes may be the best all-around golf course I’ve played. It’s as brilliant and cerebral as the man who designed it.

Cal Club could serve as a model for how to capture the look, feel, and playability of a Golden Age course through renovation rather than pure restoration.

Cal Club 16th hole photo by Garrett Morrison
The 16th hole at California Golf Club (photo by Garrett Morrison)

Soule Park in Ojai, California, is the course that most inspires me to shout its name from the rooftops. Since its redesign by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in the mid-aughts, it has been one of the finest public courses in the state. And it costs $25 to play. And hardly anyone outside of Southern California seems to know about it.

Soule Park 7th hole photo by Garrett Morrison
The 7th at Soule Park in Ojai, California (photo by Garrett Morrison)

As for my bucket list, I actually posted one on Twitter last year, but I’ve since realized that I’m not much of a bucket-list guy. That was a big takeaway from my pilgrimage to Bandon Dunes last year. Don’t get me wrong—it was an amazing experience, and I hope to remember it in detail for the rest of my life. But I had just as much fun, perhaps more, discovering the underrated municipal gems of Ventura County on a trip with my dad later that summer. Ultimately I’m less interested in knocking off top-100 masterpieces than in finding quirky, sneaky-good courses, meeting the people behind them, and telling their stories.

That said, I’ve never been to Scotland. I realize that this fact de-legitimizes all of my golf opinions. My dad and I plan to go in the summer of 2020, and I’m most excited about The Old Course and North Berwick.

9. What do you consider the ‘spirit of the game’ to be?

GM: Companionship, light exercise, and fair play practiced in a natural setting on interesting terrain.

Garrett Morrison Northwood Golf Club
Garrett at Northwood Golf Club in Monte Rio, California (photo courtesy of Garrett Morrison)

Thanks to Garrett for his thoughtful insights, and best of luck to him in his new career as a full-time golf writer and editor at The Fried Egg. I’m excited to see what’s in store!

If you don’t already, be sure to give Garrett a follow on social media:

On Twitter: @gfordgolf

On Instagram: @gfordgolf 

And check out his work at The Fried Egg as well.


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