Featured Golf News
Young Designers Q&A
[Editor's Note: This is the second part of Tony Dear's feature on young up-and-coming golf course designers working around the world today. For the Part 1, visit http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/lollygaggers_need_not_apply.]
When did you become interested in golf course architecture?
I played a little golf as a kid and went to Iowa State where I studied landscape architecture. There, I got advice from Bob Lohmann and other architects about which classes to take, and some ideas on summer jobs.
In middle school. My class notes always had sketches of holes or complete, fictitious layouts on them. My dream wasn't to be a rock star or pro athlete. I knew I wanted to design golf courses. I thought you had to be a famous pro to be a designer, but when I learned that Pete Dye had been an insurance salesman I began to think it could be possible.
Growing up, a career in design seemed a natural direction. I enrolled in the architecture program at Cornell and it became obvious an organic edge was missing from my studies. So, I transferred to the landscape architecture program.
At the age of 15. I felt it was a good way to combine my interests in design, golf and being outdoors. And luckily perhaps, I didn't know anyone who did it, so had no one to put me off.
Very shortly after I started playing golf. I think what fascinated me was how different each golf course is. For some reason, I was just fascinated to discover this. Later on I would break down the components of each course to understand why it was good, bad or great.
I did some traveling and worked as a greenkeeper at a course called Cottesmore in Sussex, England, after finishing high school. I had a place to study engineering at Loughborough University, but decided I wanted to do something "different." After discovering my golf was not good enough to make a living as a playing pro, I set my heart on becoming a golf course architect, which I thought would be a perfect fit for my interests and academic strengths.
My dad was a big golfer. He was a member at Essex GCC in Windsor, Ontario, so I played there a lot. I read a lot of my dad's golf books by authors like CB Macdonald, and Alister Mackenzie and became fascinated by the design of Essex, a Donald Ross course. I quickly realized how great Essex was and how lucky I was to play it. My dad also took my brother and I on trips to places like Hilton Head. We played Harbour Town and I was just so moved at some of the features Pete Dye had created there, I got so distracted by the architecture I could barely play.
During high school when I became interested in landscape architecture and decided I wanted to combine that with my passion for golf. I specifically went to college to become a golf course architect, probably making me a bit of an anomaly as I knew what I wanted to do at an early age.
At age five or six I was drawing golf holes on placemats, and by the time I was at high school I knew I wanted to be a golf architect.
I was an avid golfer in my teens, but realized I wasn't going to play for a living. I read my school library's copy of the "World Atlas of Golf" and suddenly realized someone made conscious decisions about how courses were built. I knew it was for me. It was a real thunderbolt.
I played golf as a youngster, getting my first set of clubs at 15. But I never thought about the course's design. Years later, when I was in charge of building courses for other designers, I still didn't think about it. It was only when I started working with designers who visited the site regularly, and worked in the field, that I did become interested.
During my final year of architecture school at Virginia, I started looking for a way to parlay the degree into something I could use outside and landscape architecture didn't feel like it would offer much, if any, relief from a desk life. A golf friend said to me; "Someone has to design these things, right?" So I started looking into it.
I played golf as a kid with my grandfather on his brother's par-3 layout. I soon realized the course was the primary attraction, and the more courses I played the more fascinated I became in the diversity of landscapes. I realized I wanted to make it my career.
During my early university years in South Africa, when I got my handicap down to single digits. Later when I was working as an architectural project manager in London, I began to wonder how I could combine my love of golf with design and creativity. I soon discovered the EIGCA's post-grad course in golf course architecture and, thanks to a last-minute withdrawal, I got a place in the 2006 program.
What did you study and how did you get into the business?
I think, like many people, I sent my resume out to the different people and would visit as many offices as possible during college. During my senior year, I attended the Golf Industry Show and introduced myself to members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), many of whom took the time to talk. I ended up with two offers to work part-time at design firms, and one to work full-time in construction. I went to work for Jim Spear. That was great as I spent part of my time in the office learning the importance of a good set of plans, and part of the time on-site, digging ditches, building greens, etc.
Through a family friend I got to meet John Harbottle, who invited me to his office. I took some drawings hoping to impress him, and he spoke to me about what how he got into the profession and what I should do. I worked at a course near Seattle for eight years. I'd be there at 4 a.m. to mow greens and cut cups then practice and play 18 at the end of the shift. In the afternoon, I worked in the pro shop.
I then studied landscape architecture at Washington State. For my senior design project I wanted to design a course on some land an acquaintance owned and the faculty wanted to know a designer who could review my work. John Harbottle agreed, so I sent him my draft plans and a few days later received a FedEx tube with a redlined master plan he was working on asking me for a set of construction drawings. My career began at 1 a.m. that night. I didn't know if I'd get paid but I didn't care. I worked for John until 2006 when the opportunity to join DMK came up.
Much of the advice I received early on made it clear you need to know how to build a great golf course to design one. During college, I gained experience in construction along with working at Arthur Hills' office in Toledo. Late in 1997, I headed off to Britain on the Dreer Award, the same endowment Tom Doak and Gil Hanse received from Cornell to study architecture in Britain and Ireland. A year later I returned to the States where I found an opportunity to work for Gil Hanse in the field.
I studied horticulture and landscape architecture at university in N.Z. and the USA, did some work with the some small clubs in N.Z., but got my first big professional break when hired by Peter Thomson's firm TWP in Melbourne in 1997.
During the two-year EIGCA course in England, I had the good fortune to meet Ross Perrett from Peter Thomson's firm (Thomson, Perrett, Lobb) in Melbourne. I ended up interning for them in Melbourne, before relocating to London to work for their European Office, TPL. A couple of years later, I set up a design company with Michael VanderVaart, whom I had met at EIGCA.
I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with an M.A. (Hons) in landscape architecture in 1998. There were no jobs in golf course design though, so went into freelance landscaping. While on a job in Oxford, I met Tim Lobb at a friend's party and asked his advice on how to break into the industry. He put me in touch with his boss at European Golf Design, Jeremy Slessor, who invited me to observe at a few projects. Andy Haggar (now with Nick Faldo) was my 'mentor'. I was living in London but went home to Scotland for a friend's wedding and while there saw a listing for a golf course design job. I applied, and three interviews and six months later, was working for David Kidd.
I studied history and politics but knew I wanted to be a course designer. I kept hearing I should get a job in construction, so did a little of that before getting in touch with Rod Whitman, a Canadian architect who was starting a job at a course called Blackhawk in Edmonton. He invited me up and put me on a dozer right away. It was a great learning experience. And Rod was open to my design input, too. That was more than 10 years ago.
I followed three years of green-keeping with my undergrad degree in landscape architecture at Cornell. I chose Cornell because of all the great designers that came from there - Robert Trent Jones, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Tom Griswold, etc. During my senior year I worked on a six-credit design class with Tom Doak, and worked on a research project with several professors in the turf department. It focused on putting green construction and the fate of pesticides. That is when my interest in environmental design started and when I got to know Dr. Norm Hummel, who introduced me to Mike Hurdzan. During my senior year Norm Hummel and Mike Hurdzan began teaching their greens construction class. Mike suggested I work a few seasons in construction, so for two seasons I joined McDonald & Sons out of Jessup, Md. I also returned to Cornell to obtain a master's degree in agronomy, with a thesis on environmental golf course design. I got in touch again with Mike Hurdzan who was starting Widow's Walk GC in Scituate, Mass., which was the U.S.'s first environmental demonstration course. My thesis focused on planning that project.
At the University of Wisconsin (degree in landscape architecture), I did two year-long golf design projects. One of them was to design a second 18 holes at University Ridge (the University of Wisconsin course designed by RTJ II). The other was my senior thesis project, which was to design an expansion for the course where my high school team played. I started with RTJ II in September 2001, shortly after graduating. I've been here ever since.
At Cornell I secured the Dreer Award and traveled to Britain where I spent a year visiting all the great courses. The experience was invaluable and I returned to the U.S. knowing I wanted to build courses in the field. Bobby Weed was one of the designers I targeted. He was working on nine new holes in Northern Florida when I came down from Connecticut to meet him. It was like an extended audition; I spent time on the construction crew and in the office. The golf market was strong at the time, so Bobby had a sizeable workload and was able to hire me full-time.
I met David Kidd in 2007 after 10 years with Wadsworth, building courses. We just hit it off, and he hired me as a design associate.
On advice from Michael Hurdzen, I took the greenkeeping angle. I worked on the green staff at a course in Virginia, then Oakland Hills in Michigan. The superintendent there, Steve Glossinger, introduced me to the turf program at Michigan State. While there, Dr. Trey Rogers helped me land a summer internship with RGD, working at Beechtree in Maryland. I did a few other jobs with RGD (Riverfront, Apache Stronghold, Inwood) after finishing school in '98, and also picked up some valuable experience working for Chip MacDonald & Sons at Atlantic City CC, and Mike Devries at The Kingsley Club. My first full shaping gig for Renaissance was Pacific Dunes in '99-00. It was there that Tom realized he wasn't going to shake me, so he made me an associate.
At college, I had other careers in mind and left with a degree that didn't translate well to designing golf courses. I spoke with Tom Doak and Bill Coore, who advised I see as many courses as possible and analyze why some worked better than others. I did this by working on the green staff at a number of the country's best courses for the better part of four years. I spent three to six months at each. In 2001, I saw 100 courses in three months on a trip to Britain.
In 2002, I was working at Merion while RGD was beginning work at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa. I had pestered Tom for years and, because he was looking for a bit of help with construction, he gave me a shot. His associates, Don Placek and Bruce Hepner, guided me through the first few days and it turned out pretty well. Tom hired me full-time later that year.
I was introduced to my first and current employer, Thomson Perrett & Lobb (TPL), while studying with the EIGCA. I joined the firm about six months after graduating.
Do you remember your first job/commission?
It would have been a course with Jim Spear who I worked for 18 months before joining Stan Gentry and Hale Irwin and then Rees Jones in January 2000.
I haven't yet been personally commissioned to do a project. I am really happy to be working with David, and I am sure someday I'll get the opportunity, but I am in no hurry.
The first project I was directly responsible for the design of was Huntsman Springs. David had secured the project by proposing a fairly bold concept for the essentially flat site. From there it was up to me, under David's supervision, to figure out the details. We began construction three months after beginning design work and spent two years on-site. I was there virtually every day working side by side with the construction team. It was such a privilege to work on the course that David regards as one of his greatest architectural achievements.
Gil was building the second nine at South Fork Country Club on Long Island (a very cool routing, by the way) and I was there to finish bunkers. A few miles up the road, Coore & Crenshaw were building East Hampton Golf Club. I had also been in touch with Bill Coore as I prepared to return from Britain. Bill came down one evening to see Gil's project and found me covered in dust seeding the tenth fairway. I removed my sunglasses to reveal the only clean part of my body and it became obvious to Bill I must at least have a good work ethic. When the opportunity came, I found a place on a dozer creating a lot of the ridges, humps and bumps, along with the eighth green at Hidden Creek in New Jersey.
I started my own company in 2004 in the UK having been selected to design a new championship course at the Close House resort in Newcastle, UK. This project took some time to start, so I completed several projects in New Zealand with Greg Turner before Close House opened in May 2011. I am delighted that Lee Westwood is now attached to my new "Colt" course at Close House.
TPL's Carya Golf Club in Belek, Turkey, which went directly into Golf World's (UK) 2009 ranking of Europe's Top 100.
The first project I worked on for DMK was the West Course at Powerscourt, but I came to the job late so spent most of the time in the office. I had to learn quickly. Following that I was on-site full-time in Hawaii building Nanea, getting the bulk earthworks ready for the shapers and roughing in a few holes. While on-site I realized the proposed fifth really wasn't a good hole and that, on another hole, the green was sited too close to a Pu'u (a volcano vent) that was set on sacred ground. I was in that area one day and saw Roger Sheffield, one of the shapers, driving close to the clubhouse location. I pulled out my Nextel and "bleeped him." He had no idea where I was, but I got him to stop so I could "shoot" the yardage with my rangefinder. He was roughly 400 yards away, which was perfect. The new ninth was born.
I asked David how sold he was on the ninth and he said not at all if it fixed the other problems. By changing the ninth we could change five, six, seven, eight, too, and make some big improvements to the course and avoid the Pu'u. My proposal was taken forward and I gained a huge amount of confidence. But I didn't get the chance to see a project through from beginning to end until the Castle Course at St. Andrews.
Since setting up my own company we have designed a course in China and one in the UK. Both have yet to be built, so we are waiting to get the first one "in the ground."
With Rod, I worked at Blackhawk, Sagebrush, Cabot Links, Wascana CC and a few other projects, but my first official commissioned project with my own company - Mingay Golf Course Design Ltd., which I opened in 2009, was renovation work at Victoria Golf Club, in British Columbia. It's a very special course, 119 years old but modified quite extensively by A.V. Macan in the 1950s. We are approaching it bit by bit, certainly not rushing it. I'm very careful not to be too aggressive with alterations - golfers have been enjoying VGC too long for me to try to "reinvent the wheel" there.
Less than a year after completing my master's, Mike (Hurdzan) called and asked if I wanted to move back home to Ohio. I said yes, but had to convince my wife first.
Chambers Bay (I served as project architect).
Bobby and I work on everything together, but the first project I had any real influence on was StoneRidge GC, outside St. Paul, Minn., which we built in 1999. I handled the routing and spent three months on-site.
My design experience has all been as an employee of DMK Golf Design, and my first project where I was the senior guy was Tetherow in Bend, Ore.
After Stonewall, Tom (Doak) invited me to New Zealand to pitch in at Cape Kidnappers. I lived and worked there for eight months, then moved on to Tasmania to serve as lead associate at Barnbougle Dunes. Pretty cool way to start a career in the design business.
My first role with TPL has been to assist with the design of New Giza GC in Cairo, which will be a very spectacular course with views of the Great Pyramids.
How many projects have you worked on?
I have worked on 14 original designs and 18 remodel/renovations.
With John Harbottle, I worked on the design of two original projects and a number of renovations, but I wasn't really the guy in the field. I did work on the initial design of Palouse Ridge, which was special for me having graduated from WSU.
Right now I'm working in South Korea on my second project with David. It's a 27-hole course on a 600-acre island off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. The island is half a kilometer off the main shore in Yeosu City and 15 holes are one the ocean. I'm there three out of four weeks and am working with some of the same guys who did Huntsman Springs. This past year, David and I put together a long-range master plan for Awbrey Glen Golf Club in Bend, Ore.
Bill & Ben provided many opportunities, including: Hidden Creek in New Jersey (new), Lakewood CC in Dallas (renovation), Bandon Trails in Oregon (new), The Saguaro Course at We Ko Pa in Arizona (new), Colorado Golf Club (new), Sugarloaf Mountain near Orlando (new), Golf du Medoc near Bordeaux, France (renovation), Clear Creek Tahoe (new), Shanqin Bay on Hainan Island in China (new), and most recently, Bandon Preserve (new).
As for work on my own, fellow C&C Design Associate Jeff Bradley and I redesigned the bunkers for Weekapaug Golf Club, a nine-hole seaside venue in Rhode Island, with whom we continue to consult. We also put together a Master Plan for an architecture aficionado who has become a close friend in Idaho. Most recently, I am doing some preliminary work for a client here in Arizona.
I am just starting my 10th bespoke project since starting my own company, and have three in the pipeline. Most are renovations or redesigns, but I'm excited about a new course planned for Scotland.
Very difficult to say as I have been involved in the design of several courses but could never take sole credit for any one of them. Stippelberg is a great example. Michiel (VanderVaart) worked on the routing and contouring, while I focused on the greens and the overall landscape. But we also exchanged ideas all the time. Very much a team effort.
At DMK, I was on-site full time for four new builds and worked at various stages on a further six designs. We did one major remodel/renovation at Fancourt in South Africa. Currently I have five new courses at various stages of development and five remodel projects. We are also seeing a market for academies and practice facilities.
Since 2009, I've been involved with the design of two new courses in Saskatchewan and another in the Maritimes, in Canada. Unfortunately, construction has not begun at any of them yet because of the economy. Thankfully, there is enough renovation/restoration work to keep me busy. We're working at Victoria GC, Overlake GCC, and I have also recently completed redesign plans for a complete rebuild of the Derrick Club in Alberta, and a comprehensive restoration of Stanley Thompson's Brockville Country Club in Ontario. We start at the Oakville Golf Club, near Toronto, in spring, and I'm also working on a remodelling master plan of York Downs.
I have had my hand in perhaps 30 new designs over the last 17-plus years. I'd guess just as many renovations.
I have served as project architect working for RTJ II on three new projects: Chambers Bay, The Patriot and Stanford University (Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex). I have also served in that role for four small renovation/expansions.
I've had a hand in about six new golf courses and maybe twice as many significant renovation projects. You could probably double those numbers if you counted minor renovation projects and designs that never got built.
I laugh when I hear how many courses designers say they have designed. In the past five years, I have sat at a drafting table and "designed" dozens of courses. It is great practice, but doesn't mean much apart from my own enrichment. The real question is, "how many of your designs have actually been built?"
Like the rest of the guys and girls that work for Renaissance, I typically spend more time on-site either supervising construction or operating machinery than doing what most people might consider actual design. A lot of what we build evolves in the field rather than on paper, and I'm part of the team that physically transform Tom's ideas into a finished product.
I've worked on eight new courses, all in varying stages of design, development or construction; two full renovation projects, and another four smaller consults.
Which designers have influenced your philosophy and whose work, among your contemporaries, do you admire?
Everyone that I have worked with since I started has helped me. I admire a number of ASGCA members and many outside the society, too. From the past, I think Donald Ross, Seth Raynor and Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie, A.W. Tillinghast, and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. were special.
Bill Coore, Tom Doak, David Kidd and Gil Hanse have turned back the clock and are building wonderful, timeless stuff every time out. They will one day be regarded in the same light as Mackenzie, Ross, Braid, Colt, Wilson and Tillinghast. I'm also a fan of Pete Dye and Tom Fazio. Nothing they do is mediocre.
As for guys my age, I think my colleague Casey Krahenbuhl, Jay Blasi who I worked with at Chambers Bay, Brian Schneider and Brian Slawnik are the guys who have the most potential to be successful and influential.
I don't have a particular affinity for classic template holes, but CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor built them with remarkable skill. In doing so, they showed how important employing fundamental design strategies is to a good routing; as Bill Coore once said to me, "We are not trying to re-invent the wheel."
Alister Mackenzie had the ability to blend pure artistry with strategic drama. Having been a barrister, Harry Colt was somewhat reserved, but he had a classic style. Tom Simpson, on the other hand, was quite eccentric and while his designs reflected this he didn't brand the earth with an overbearing signature.
As for contemporaries, Coore & Crenshaw have made a great impression on me. Not only are they great designers but absolute gentlemen, too. They have taught me to go in with a good plan but have the patience to let the process play out and take advantage of what appears along the way.
Gil Hanse has a remarkable ability to conjure up unique golf holes and create drama in the details. Mike Devries has a big, bold Mackenzian flair and the ability to find fun golf. And while I have not worked for Tom Doak, he is obviously a very skilled designer who was wise enough to build a team capable of elaborating on his own sound ideas. I also respect his willingness to share his opinions about good and bad design.
The biggest influence has come from those that have employed me, none more so than Denis Griffiths. I enjoy the old essays by Simpson, Hunter, McDonald, Raynor and Colt particularly. I am also influenced by architects who combine the art and science of course design like Tom Doak.
When I lived in England, I became very fond of Harry Colt and Herbert Fowler's work. And, like most other golfers, I also like what Alister Mackenzie did. Among my contemporaries, I admire Tom Doak and Coore & Crenshaw because of their ability to blend golf and nature. Great architecture is about creating believable, authentic landscapes. On a personal level, I continue to follow the work of some of my EIGCA friends - Christian Althaus from Germany and Christian Lundin from Sweden.
Alister Mackenzie wasn't afraid to push the boundaries and he built such beautiful bunkers that mimicked nature. And he didn't build just a few good holes, but good courses. Cypress Point is still my favorite. Harry Colt built brilliant links, parkland and heathland courses and was probably the first to make sure his work blended into the environment. He built great par-3s. I admire a lot of James Braid's work, and Old Tom Morris built great courses without moving any dirt. It's amazing how his courses have stood the test of time.
Pete Dye also has to be admired for creating something so different at a time when courses were beginning to all look the same. I played Sand Hills with Ben Crenshaw, which was a thrill. He and Bill Coore are so knowledgeable and did such a brilliant job on that course without moving much dirt. Tom Doak has used his minimalist approach to great effect, and he is also a great writer on the subject of course design. He builds superb short par-4s. I can't wait to see his new holes at the Renaissance Club in Scotland. The biggest influence on my career though has to be David Kidd, from whom I learned most of what I know.
Having worked, traveled, golfed and drunk beer with him for 10 years, I have to say Rod Whitman, who taught me how to take design ideas and put them in the ground. As for greats from the past, I admire Ross, Mackenzie, Hunter, Simpson and even Macan's work. I'm unashamedly influenced by "Golden Age" architects and amazed 18 of Golf Magazine's top-20 in the world were built prior to World War II. Dave Axland, an associate with Coore & Crenshaw, has helped me immensely with construction, budgets, schedules and other aspects of the job. I admire Tom Doak's courses and those of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. Coore and Crenshaw rightly get a lot of acclaim but, from what I've seen, I'd say Hanse's attention to details may surpass that of C&C. Plus, Gil is a very interesting, thoughtful, polite, engaging and impressive guy.
I think certain courses have had more influence than a specific designer. I quite enjoy the randomness of links golf - Lahinch and Ballybunion. In the U.S., Shinnecock, Piping Rock and Oakmont are probably my favorites. So links and the template holes of CB Macdonald, Raynor and Banks all have their influence. As for contemporaries, I'd have to say Fazio - and Andy Banfield in particular. While some might criticize Fazio's work, it is hard to argue with his ability to create beautiful courses which are technically correct and a whole lot of fun to play for the average golfer.
My personal design philosophy (long flowing routings, many strategic options for play, very wide fairways, no rough, no artificial water hazards, a natural look, firm/fast conditions, contoured green complexes) has come from many places. MacKenzie is my favorite architect and I embrace many of his philosophies. As you might imagine, RTJ Jr. and Bruce Charlton have been the most influential as I have worked with them for 10 years. As for contemporaries, I appreciate courses that embrace width, options and a natural look, regardless of the designer.
Growing up, I caddied at the Country Club of Waterbury in Connecticut, a Donald Ross layout. That initiated an interest in other "Golden Age" architects, which led to the big post-WWII names, and right on up to those working today. Today, I actually draw the most influence from the film industry, because I think there is a lot to learn about making a movie that applies directly to golf design - budgeting, the role that marketing, critics and awards - have. (There's also) the value (or not) of star power, the impact of the crew's skill, trusting subordinates to make decisions, making creative compromises during filming, etc.
For some reason, the guys I find most insightful come from the computer animation genre. I've learned something about golf design watching the "Making of . . ." section on every Pixar DVD I've seen. John Lasseter, the creative head of Pixar and now Disney Animation Studios, is always intriguing to listen to, and Brad Bird, director of "The Incredibles," is another.
I used to build courses for designers who would mail the plans to the site. They would show up once every few weeks or months and lower a mound or add a bunker, but essentially, the holes would be built before they ever saw them. I knew when I got the chance, that wasn't the way I wanted to do it. So naturally I respect guys that live in the dirt - Doak, C & C, Hanse, and most of all, David Kidd.
Tom, obviously, but also other associates like Bruce Hepner, Tom Mead and Jim Urbina, who were extremely generous with their time, constructive with their input, and courageous in delegating responsibility to me. I really dig Coore & Crenshaw's work and that of their guys, and was thrilled at the opportunity to work alongside them last year at Streamsong (a new 36-hole course in Florida). While RGD and C & C share more similarities than differences, their work is so subtly different it always pushes me to get better.
Mackenzie, Colt, Macdonald, Ross and Harry Colt. They're famous for a reason - their best work is fascinating and so much fun to play. Lesser-known guys like C.H. Alison, Herbert Strong, Charles Banks and Tom Simpson did some great stuff, too. And I've got a thing for William Langford and Walter Travis, who built some of the coolest greens in the game. Among our contemporaries, I always try to see what the Coore & Crenshaw team are doing. Sand Hills was an absolute revelation to me. I also really like what I've seen from Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, who do terrific detail work around their greens and bunkers.
Alister MacKenzie and HS Colt were, without doubt, two of the most successful and brilliant architects. Much of what we do today is inspired by and modeled on what these two did. Old Tom Morris can't go without mention either. He might have been the first-ever course designer and helped spread the game beyond Scotland. Of today's designers, I admire Tom Doak and Kyle Phillips - two of the most creative and intelligent designers. I like their attention to detail and the simplicity with which they execute extraordinary golf holes.
What do you regard as your specialties/strengths?
Building a good relationship with the client and members, and recognizing that I still have a lot to learn from Rees Jones. My schooling has also proved invaluable, enabling me to understand the principles of good design and problem-solve. I think creatively and am pretty open-minded.
Technical design and drafting skills, and what I have learned about construction. I realized early that any creative talents, ideas about design, or knowledge about the game would be useless if I didn't understand construction. I also love getting out in the field and actually building golf. That is extremely satisfying. I think I have a pretty well-rounded foundation of skills and knowledge that allows me to take on just about anything David or our clients ask me to.
The Dreer Award, along with many years spent shaping courses have greatly developed my talent for creating beautiful and strategic golf designs. I am naturally inclined towards minimalism. Anyone immersed in this school will tell you, in addition to working with the land, it also requires an ability to take bold steps while finding clever ways to conceal you made them at all. My experience in the field not only provides the necessary experience to make the most of a client's land. It also honed my ability to maximize efficiency of construction, an aspect of the business that will only grow in importance. Aside from the cost-saving and ecological benefits of minimalism, solving complex problems with simple solutions is essential to producing elegant results.
I think I am good at producing interesting routings - especially on difficult properties. I like finding design solutions in the field and at creating visually attractive movement in fairways, hazards and greens. Perhaps most of all though I enjoy working with clients and managing people and teams. It's a thrill to come up with a creative vision that excites people enough that they want to help build it.
I can be extremely analytical and critical of my own work. I can then identify any weak spot and address it. I think many architects have a tendency to pat themselves on the shoulder prematurely and fail to explore all the options available to them.
I think my background in, and experience of, construction, greenkeeping, and design have given me a good all-round ability. I can see the bigger picture and work at the macro level, which allows me to form the skeleton of the course. Get this right and the project becomes a lot easier, get it wrong and it will be very difficult to fix. I also think my education in landscape architecture has enabled me to re-create natural features I have seen elsewhere and therefore make the new course fit the land perfectly with 18 unique holes that are harmonious with the environment.
Firstly, I think the way my company is set up enables us to work efficiently and very cost-effectively. I make the design decisions and often do the shaping, like at Victoria, then the course's superintendent and his crew come in to do the drainage work, finish work, grassing, etc. This is a very simple and economical method that some of my clients have come to appreciate. We simply bill for time, the club pays for materials directly, and a golf course contractor isn't waiting for us to "fly in" to approve and/or make change orders. I'm also very aware of the client's wishes and what type of design is appropriate for the property. I want to build courses that are distinct from each other like Tillinghast did, not establish a Mingay stamp that's evident wherever I work.
That is really for my co-workers, colleagues and clients to answer. I do like the fact I can find work, interview for it, sign the project, do the design, oversee the construction and just about anything in between.
Site analysis, big-picture concepts for a course, routing, green complex design.
Walking a piece of ground or an existing course, sketching out ideas in the evening and then testing them the next day are the times I enjoy the most. I find the renovation work where we rebuild the course from top to bottom incredibly interesting, and I now have a good understanding of the job's business aspects - bidding, letting contracts, tracking budgets, logistics and managing a team of contractors. It's important these things are done well so that we can spend time on the details that make the finished product better.
Definitely not presenting a pretty master plan or remodeling a ladies' tee on the local muni. I think I'm good at imagining the most viable way of turning a raw piece of ground into a golf course, and then devising a routing. My real specialty though is building it. I'm currently in Nicaragua building a course we designed. I'm here at six every morning and make sure every dollar is spent wisely and every cubic yard of earth moved responsibly. I check each hole 10 times a day. So I'd say I'm pretty dedicated.
I broke into the business focusing on finish work and still enjoy seeing projects through to the very end. A big part of that is assessing the particulars of each situation (site, soils, staff, etc.) in order to create something uniquely relevant to the specific locale.
Probably a thorough understanding of the art of designing a good golf course; knowing what strategic design really is and being able to implement it; a keen attention to detail; and the awareness to build a sensible course that will be enjoyable to play.
What does the future hold for you, and what sort of courses do you think will be built in 10 years' time? Where will they be built?
It's very hard to say. It's a scary time in the industry, which has changed so much over the last three or four years. Restoration and renovation work continue and focus on better playability and operational-cost savings, which should mean better value for the golfer. If designers want to work on new courses they will need to travel overseas.
To be honest, if I'm still working for David Kidd on great projects I'll be satisfied. I don't care about getting my name in a magazine, I just want to build great courses with a great team of people. We're working in Nicaragua and Korea right now and should be busy enough for the next five years. The golf courses we build will have to be sustainable. Really, we need to build shorter and wider courses to attract more players, but incorporate strategy and challenge to keep existing players entertained. We need to reduce energy costs and water use by selecting the most appropriate turf, reducing the irrigated areas and only building on suitable sites in the first place.
The time spent working for Bill and Ben has been extremely valuable. That said, I am eager for new challenges and look forward to contributing my own momentum towards more thoughtful, sensible design. Many more people are developing an appreciation for minimalist designs and their enthusiasm bodes well for the future.
Regarding the market, while opportunities around the globe will continue to emerge and expand, they will pale in comparison to China. The Chinese boom relied on a tenuous combination of massive, growth in privately-held real estate with government ambition. Closer to home, regional economic growth and its ensuing population swings will create some opportunities. A modest spike in golf construction is even possible after a great deal of economic recovery has taken place. After all, many projects were tabled at the start of the "Great Recession" and it was a blessing in disguise for most. Few, if any, of these projects could have weathered such a drawn out economic lull. But some well-tailored business plans have a bright future once the recovery takes place. Meanwhile, infrastructure challenges such as outdated irrigation systems will fuel the renovation market for years to come, offering clubs and course owners an opportunity to instill a more exciting brand of golf for the future.
Golf design always responds to the market. If the governing bodies change the specification of the ball, then architects will respond by adapting future designs. I hope we find ways to maintain courses more efficiently and more responsibly, and bring more children into the game. I hope to be at the forefront of creating high-quality boutique designs that are environmentally-sound and can endure for generations. Personally, I want to continue design beautiful, interesting and fun courses. My focus is quality and not quantity. I see it as a real privilege to be able to design golf courses, and want to ensure I achieve the highest possible standard by working hard with my clients and being on-site to make the small decisions in the field that make the difference.
I think courses will become better stewards of the environment - they have to. Coming from Denmark, I am used to very strict environmental rules. This will affect both new and existing courses. Access to water is another issue we will have to address. I also think, and hope, there will continue to be a focus on restoring older courses properly, firming them up and restoring what the original architect intended. As for what type of courses we'll see and where they are built, I don't expect anything dramatic to happen, to be honest. I actually think in 10 years new courses will be similar to the ones built now.
We will all need to adapt and be prepared to work in places that we wouldn't have considered. One ray of light is that golf is now back in the Olympics, which will hopefully create a surge in interest and participation. Developers need to become more aware of what land is viable for golf, and architects need to always be striving for ways to construct courses that require less water and "conditioning." We need to convince the world that brown turf can be healthy turf (Hoylake for the 2006 Open was a great example). I think Augusta is a great course, but I hate the effect it has had on the game with regards to course maintenance. Other clubs demand similar conditions and throw chemicals on their course with often very harmful results.
But I see all this as an opportunity to return golf to its roots; playing on firm, natural courses that don't require a lot of maintenance and far less water than we use now. We have worked in Central Africa and are exploring possibilities in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. And China will also provide more opportunities, hopefully with proper regulation.
We all know development of new courses is going to continue slowing down. I'm involved with four new courses that have already been laid out, but who knows when they might be built? Remodel and restoration will be the nature of most architects' work in the coming years. And that's not a bad thing necessarily; clubs that do remodel will have refreshed, attractive courses ready for the upturn, which is sure to come eventually. And when it does there should be a massive shift back to building distinctive courses that are laid out in a way that makes best use of the natural attributes of the property. A great routing with 18 unique holes that vary in length and appearance produces great golf. Formulaic courses get very boring. We need to study and emphasize the characteristics of courses like the Old Course, Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne - challenging yes, but incredibly fun, too.
I will be coming in as a partner at Hurdzan-Fry as Mike slows down, and the process could take several months. I think it's fairly clear most new course activity will be based overseas for another 20 years. The number of designers will continue to contract simply because there is too little business here and/or my colleagues do not want to travel.
The types of courses will vary depending on cultural characteristics of the country and region they are being built in. In China we are building lush courses with rock work, fountains, waterfalls, etc. Purists would shudder at the sight, but that's the desirable look there. That's different from South America, say, where budgets are much smaller and greens rolling at seven on the Stimpmeter are considered good.
In the U.S., most work will be rebuilding. Every large-scale project we have in the U.S. right now is basically putting a new course on top of an old one. I will be stunned if more than 10 new courses are built each year over the coming decade.
That's the $1 million question and I don't know where it will go. My hope is that we return to the days where we build courses on suitable ground, thereby reducing construction, maintenance and customer costs. The other aspect I hope we move towards is building fun courses as opposed to hard courses. My best guess is that the only place we may see a high concentration of new courses in the future is India. They have the land, people and resources. Other than that, I would imagine a few courses here and there in special places or in developing countries around the world.
I'll be with Bobby for as long as he'll have me. We are very energized by the current climate and see it as a once-in-a-career opportunity to influence and redefine our profession. We work in a context where great design is essential to success, but no longer a guarantee of it. For a while, it seemed the formula was either to go to an increasingly remote location and try to build something awesome for not a lot of money, or find clients that really wanted a course and didn't have any financial motivation. Neither of those is a model to stand an industry on.
Moving forward, the few projects that will be given a green light are going to be more complex, come with higher expectations, and utilize more austere budgets and margins. We believe most of the next great golf courses will be built over the top of existing ones. These projects will need to produce a profit and will likely involve creating infill development that integrates with the golf.
Great golf-design abilities will be essential for these projects, but insufficient on their own. A broader skill set that provides measurable value to clients will be necessary. Bobby and I have deliberately gained expertise in land-planning, vertical construction and engineering. We even manage the daily operation of a municipal course now. The more we understand about a project beyond golf design, the more we can find efficiencies that make the project financially stable, which protects the integrity of the golf experience.
I sure hope I'm on another great site, in some far-flung spot on the planet, building another cool golf course. People have short memories - eventually the downturn will upturn, and real estate developers will start building houses again and, with houses, come golf courses.
I have often said that one of my favorite things about working for Tom is that with each project we have an opportunity and an expectation to do something great. That is tremendously satisfying. My fellow associates, and the independent shapers with whom we collaborate, are all so talented and fun to work with it is difficult to imagine doing anything else.
As for what's going to happen in ten years, I wonder if we will need to - or get to - rethink what we consider a game of golf and remodel the idea of the golf course in the interest of expanding access to the game, improving its sustainability, and reviving blighted urban areas. Last year, inspired by kids' courses in Scottish links towns, we built a short course/practice facility on the campus of Marygrove College in the City of Detroit. It was commissioned as the home course for the Midnight Golf Program but was conceived and built to be useful to the college and surrounding community as well.
I think the concept is one that could be expanded, refined, and customized to any number of urban and/or suburban conditions and employed as a means to reclaim blighted urban land, build community, and grow the game for future generations.
When I decided to work in golf course design, I wanted to be involved in truly special projects and work with like-minded people. I've had so many wonderful experiences with RGD, there's nowhere else I'd rather be. I'd like to think that the last few years have taught both developers and designers a few lessons about sustainability and responsibility. In many ways, the desire to grow the golf industry is to blame for many of its own ills. Hopefully, the future of the game itself is once again a priority, regardless of the effect on the business of golf.
I just set up the Cape Town office, which is very exciting as Africa is showing significant economic growth with an estimated 150 percent increase in urban population predicted in the next 30 years. I'm not limiting myself to Africa, though. South America is another place we are targeting.
I think, and hope, we have seen the end of the "estate golf course" frenzy, certainly in the developed economies. While I understand their appeal and benefit, I think the type of course designed within a housing estate has done harm to what the essence of golf is. I hope we see easier courses on smaller, more manageable sites. Most importantly, we need to find a way of providing facilities that are accessible to far more people.
Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own web site at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.
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