The Anarchist's Guide to Golf Course Architecture is the Design Philosophy of Armen Suny. Suny is a partner in Suny Zokol Golf Design. Suny, in a career of over 30 years at the greatest golf courses in the United States, has come to believe that golf course architecture has strayed from its basic tenet, nature. Suny believes that modern golf course design has become formulaic and that the study of golf course architecture should be based first and foremost on nature, natural forms, and elements and secondarily on the work of man and his creation of golf courses. This site is Suny's attempt to change the tides of modern golf course architecture. Suny's blog
Suny spent his formative years traipsing around the woods and streams of southeastern Pennsylvania. The countryside is much like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life. As a child he was outdoors playing most of the time and absorbing all that he saw. His father, a golfer, would take him along on some Saturday morning golf games to Cobbs Creek Golf Club and later on to Paxon Hollow Golf Club. Suny has been around great golf courses and nature all of his life.
Suny had the great fortune of working at Merion Golf Club as the Assistant Superintendent for Richie Valentine. Valentine was the third Superintendent at Merion and son of Joe Valentine, who was the construction foreman at Merion Golf Club East and West and was the Club's second Superintendent. William Flynn was the club's construction Superintendent (under the direction of Hugh Wilson) and first Head Greenkeeper before going on to a storied career as one of the great Golf Course Architects. The Valentines had a special relationship with Flynn and later on Dick Wilson. Suny arrived at Merion in the spring of 1980 one year prior to the US Open. That fall, Suny, under Valentine's direction supervised the renovation of the bunkers at Merion. He readily admits that he knew very little and that the staff, a mixture of Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants, knew exactly what Valentine wanted and how to accomplish it. Incidentally, this is the same crew that would make and refurbish the wickers. The bunkers were rebuilt entirely by hand utilizing Italian Grape Hoes and chunks of vegetation from the West Course. It was explained that all of the bunkers had originally been built in this fashion. Valentine did the design work just like he always had over the years. He hadn't heard about Master-Plans and after all who better than one who learned from the masters. In the fall of 1981, Suny was with Valentine when he redesigned the 13th hole at the West Course at Merion. Valentine would tell stories of his father's men holding up canvas sheets as Joe Valentine and Hugh Wilson added and relocated bunkers. Wilson wanted to see the "White Faces" of Merion.
Valentine was a master at expressing himself and convincing others that his ideas were the right ideas. With that being said he was completely open minded and always sought the opinions of those that he respected. One of those was Bill Kittleman, the Golf Professional at Merion. Suny would listen to them as they would discuss bunker changes and design changes. Valentine once told Suny the Kittleman really got it. Rumor has it that Kittleman designed Merion's famous logo. Kittleman upon retiring from Merion became a Design Partner with Gil Hanse.
Valentine would take Suny to Pine Valley to see the golf course and to visit with Eb Steineger. Eb was at Pine Valley from the late 20s until the early 80s. He told stories of hauling seaweed up from the Jersey shore to put on the fairways and about the planting of Jersey Scrub Pines and Scotch Broom. Many of tree plantings he stated that he wished he had never planted as shade and poor air circulation had caused difficult growing conditions in some areas.
One of the more interesting statements that Richie Valentine ever made to Suny was when he said that Flynn never really got bunkers. The inference here was that Flynn did not have a feel for building bunkers and that Joe Valentine and some of Flynn's construction crew were much more adept at building bunkers.Valentine was great friends with Dick Wilson and there was a time when he spent quite a bit of time in the winters with Dick in Florida.
Armen Suny, a partner in Suny Zokol Golf Course Design, is the Anarchist of Golf Course Architecture and the author of The Anarchist's Guide to Golf Course Architecture. Suny, grew up in Philadelphia has worked at 5 of the Top 100 clubs in the US as a Golf Course Superintendent, PGA Tour Tournament Director, and General Manager. He has hosted a PGA Championship and many PGA Tour events. He was one of the first modern day Superintendents to provide firm and fast golf course conditions. Suny is the only person to have been a Superintendent and General Manager at different Top 100 Clubs.