Art & Aesthetics of the Black
by Samuel Ingwersen,
Of all the fine golf courses that
the architect genius A.W. Tillinghast designed; Bethpage Black
is one of his greatest. Tilly considered great golf courses as
those that possessed both qualities of challenge and beauty.
Tilly in his essay, The Course Beautiful, wrote: “he who
plans any hole for golf, should have two aims: first to produce
something that will provide a true test of the game, and then
consider every conceivable way to make it as beautiful as
possible.” Rees Jones has embraced Tilly’s ideas in his
masterful restoration of the Black in preparation for the 2002
and 2009 US Open Tournaments.
Tilly had no crutch of scenic seaside
features; he exploited the natural features of giant whims, chasms,
wastes of trees, swamps and native grasses where he constructed his
golf courses. Upon this less desirable land, he elevated bunkering
to a powerful new art form. His bunkering was not a cult; in fact he
considered their prolific use as poor design. He used bunkers
sparingly. Cross bunkers indiscriminately plopped on to fairways, as
was common, received his disdain. Tilly’s oblique bunkers were
innovative. Examples of Tilly’s oblique bunkers are shown in the
paintings of holes Nos. 4, 5, and 7 below. Tilly was impressed with
the powerful presence of the seaside, never ending, and expanses of
natural sand dunes and cops of grass on the Scottish links when he
first saw them, prior to his career as an architect. These sand
dunes as bunkers influenced his style. Tilly spoke often to his
friend of his passion for these vast sand bunkers; to this his
friend replied: you will find enough bunkers for a thousand courses
out toward Montauk Point.
No. 4 No. 5
No.4 is an exceptional creation of
Tilly’s great course the Black, and, as it has been refined by Rees
Jones. The bunkering dominates this scene in reality and in the
artist’s paintings; and gets your attention; first for the sight of
it, second, for its challenge as a golf hole, never the other way
around. Rip out your brains and let your eyes see, said Picasso.
Look at this scene and what do you see? Bunkers. Not a busy
panoramic landscape of competing elements, but bunkers from one end
to the other. The view is framed in white to concentrate the focus.
The No.4 center set of bunkers is built into a hillside which makes
them visibly more prominent than if built on flat ground where the
view of them would be foreshortened. The bunkers are not ordinary,
they are a huge dominate presence; their essence is a stunning
rhythmic, repeating pattern of the sculps, all similar in form,
repeated in each group.The artist proclaims
No. 7 the Black No.4, unaided
by dramatic, scenic elements, but
a very bold, simple statement of
functional, eye pleasing shapes, to be the greatest golf hole. The
artist has enhanced the real view of No. 4 by making slight,
exacting changes in composition, color, and shadows and understating
other elements such as the sky grasses and woodlands. They are
elements, simply painted, serene, plain passages of pigment, that
enhance the dominate element, the bunkers, by their contrast.
Nos. 10 & 11
St. Andrews has names for many of their bunkers. No need
here. They are known as brutes. The fairway bunkers at Nos. 10 & 11 especially.
The bunkers shown on the left, in the painting titled Nos. 10 & 11 had been
abandoned and were completely rebuilt by Rees. Here again the bunkers dominate
the view, but are of a different shape than the bunkers of No. 4. This shape is
repeated consistently and conveys a simple, bold theme. The No. 11 above left is
a whimsical impression of “Tilly The Terror” guarding his bunkers with a
menacing gaze, thru a parting of the cloud, directed toward a transgressor doing
his time in Tilly’s bunker.
No.17 has a bunker pattern much the same as No. 4. The
bunkers compel your attention with their consistent
shapes and forms. The No. 17
painting to the right expresses the theme of a repetition of unbroken curved,
and sculpted lines. If one, standing on the tee, observes closely, the actual
view from the No.17 tee reveals the bunker edge lines as broken, distracting
from the aesthetics. The view point of No.17 painting is closer to the green
where the surface of the green is seen, but more important, the lines of the
bunkers are seen as continuous, unbroken, and rhythmic curved sculpts.
“Few build material monuments during their lifetime… providing enjoyment for
those that follow after them.” In this excerpt from a eulogy by a friend of A.W.
Tillinghast, must have had in mind Tilly’s Black course at Bethpage State Park.