Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sense of Place: Houston Lake

The early morning photo above is the par-four 18th hole at Houston Lake Country Club. It is considered one of Georgia's finest holes of golf. The first shot, the drive, has to cross a part of the lake. The tee is visible at the upper left. The second shot must cross water again, unless you lay it up, lying somewhere at the right in the photo. The green is in the foreground.

Houston Lake is generously endowed with traits that make up a sense of place. It's remarkable in that the naturally occuring factors seem to weigh about equally with the supporting, intentional ones.

Spanish moss, mature oaks and pines of this traditionally forested area line the fairways and ring the lake. Numerous bird species are always present, and signs warning of alligators greet anyone crossing the club's cart bridges. Squirrels are everywhere, and an occasional rabbit peers out from the edge of a bramble.

Front entrance to club dining room. Part of the experience of place here is knowing that fine dining is available. Along with excellent day-to-day menus, the Seafood Buffet, a monthly event, is a highlight.

Path to the first tee.

Apart from the clubhouse area with its terrace and views of the lake, playing the course offers its own complementary sense of place. There is significant variation in the terrain, with the land rising from lake level and falling toward creeks that run into the lake. This steady change in height adds a quiet drama to movement along the fairways, with sometimes long views alternating with a sense of forested enclosure. Frequent encounters with wildlife punctuate your way through the course as well.

A pair of Canadian geese on 18.

An accomplished group of golfers at the terrace's fire pit after a round. Current senior champion Tommy Toombs, facing the camera, is in the red sweater. He shot his age at 65.

Clubhouse porch over the lake.

Sunset over the 10th hole, from the porch.

All preceding photos this post by club owner Chris Murman.

Sense of place can exist on any physical scale. It can be seen as a room, a house and yard, a country club like this one, a state, region or country; the planet or the universe. The particular scale most commonly in mind when the term "sense of place" is employed is that which is perceptible to the senses at one's immediate physical location.

At Houston Lake, sense of place is experienced in sequences. If one only goes for dinner, the passage through the gateway from the road, into the parking area, and through the front door to the dining room and the view onto the lake makes up the sequence. For golf, the sequence from the parking area is to the right of the building, into the pro shop, then down the path to the first tee, through the course. The round is usually followed by a drink and a visit with playing partners and whoever is encountered inside the grille or on the terrace.

To me, the sine qua non of experiencing this place is sitting on the terrace during fine weather, late in the day as the sun sets over the lake. There is a palpable sense of enclosure and shelter with large trees about you and and the clubhouse's porch and interior spaces of the building at your back. A small shift of the breeze brings cooking smells from the kitchen. A peaceful and spectacular vista of water, sky and forest hangs before you. The Spanish moss, light wind off the lake and the coming and going of friends from the 18th and the clubhouse caps a memorable and complete experience of a unique and deeply comfortable place.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and architect Robert Campbell, FAIA, wrote an interesting article expressing his take on the subject of golf courses.

The following photos are my own, taken while playing the course. For some, the wildlife is a pleasant part of the background. For others it's a prominent and welcome part of experiencing the course.

Adding meaning to the term "water hazard," and expanding its area. He knows that any ball hit within 30 yards of his front teeth belongs to him.

A goosling settles in.

Squirrel getting ready for winter.

Great Blue Heron taking flight.

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