Golf Course Architecture
Golf Course Design & consultation
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GOLF COURSE ARCHITECTURE
the home of John
Architect & Planner
golf course architecture, golf course design,
consultation, golf course construction supervision,
with expertise in environmentally-related
design, and planning.
GOLF COURSE ARCHITECTURE BLOG
Who really is qualified to “architect” golf courses?
Some time ago, on various of my Golf Course Architecture sites, I started posting my opinions on Golf Course Architecture. One of those opinions is that there are really very few people qualified to “architect” golf courses, and there are even fewer people who have the right to call themselves Golf Course Architects, either legally or out of true expertise. This raised quite a firestorm of counter-opinions in the profession. A little later, out of courtesy, and because I am a gentleman, I removed many of those opinions. But I have decided to start posting those opinions again.
One of those opinions, and the one which drew the most wrath, was that professional golfers including ones that have had successful winning careers (and may or may not be retired from the pro golf profession), really don’t have the expertise to design golf courses, they aren’t architects in the true sense of the word, and shouldn’t be considered architects nor be allowed to use the title.
You have heard of a former pro golfer who now has “300 golf courses to his credit” or another golfer whose career is on the obvious decline but who hasn’t retired yet who “after a few unsuccessful rough starts is scheduled to begin architecting what he hopes will be his first successful course”. Outside the US, I am aware of one former golfer, now a commentator, who has been recently commissioned to design a course in Central America, in the same country and under similar circumstances and with the same concepts and techniques as one I designed several years earlier but which has yet to be completed. Fortunately, my plan is copyrighted, but I’m not even sure that matters anymore in a profession where I see copy-catting and design plagiarism going on every day by people calling themselves architects but who have no sense of imagination or innovation.
You may ask, “Why isn’t a former or current golf professional qualified to design golf courses?”
And I would answer, “Why isn’t Kobe Bryant qualified to design basketball arenas? Why isn’t Peyton Manning qualified to design football stadiums? Why isn’t Derek Jeter qualified to design baseball stadiums?”
And all of you will respond, “But it isn’t the same thing.”
And I will reply to that by saying, “No it isn’t the same thing. A golf course isn’t an ‘arena’. It isn’t a ‘field’. It isn’t a ‘stadium’. A golf course is a living, breathing, evolving, ecological part of a delicate, fragile, and complex environment on a living, breathing, evolving earth.”
A golf course has many similarities to living organisms like us. It has a “skin” of living vegetative matter and surface hydrology. It has a ‘sub-dermal” layer of topsoil or organic matter and sub-surface hydrology. It has a supportive “skeleton” of geological rock. It has a “nervous system” in the miles of wiring and sensors and computer “brain” that control the delivery of H2O and nutrients through it’s “circulatory system” that is the irrigation system and the “heart” that is the pumping station.
If you were about to have plastic surgery on your face you wouldn’t call in a cosmetician or make-up artist to do the surgery. If you were about to have surgery that only an orthopedic surgeon is qualified to do you wouldn’t call in a chiropractor to do it.
One of the parties I referred to above self-proclaims that he and his firm are “recognized as the premier signature golf course designers and architects in the world”. Many of the non-informed think a “signature golf course” is one that stands at the pinnacle of a golf course designer’s career. In reality, it is a course worked on by others who will never receive credit, but is endorsed by a particularly well-known personality. This person claims all the artistic talent when in effect all he has done is lent his “signature” to the project and allowed his name to be used in conjunction with the project.
The designer with the 300 or so completed projects to his name worked with other golf course designers early in his career. This man’s company claims to be a “design” firm and is so named. It employs all his sons (one of whom shares his name) and a son-in-law. Now, say this man began “designing” golf courses when his accomplished professional golf career was coming to an end, and he completed the 300, all over the world, in a 30 year span. Do the math. That is turning our 10 courses a year, almost 1 per month. And this man gets the credit for “architecting” them, or designing them, or whatever you want to call what he is doing. If you think that’s amazing, he currently has 110 commissioned but unfinished courses in the works, just from the period 2010-2015. This is double the rate of the 1st 300! There is just no way these are all being designed by one man! A course just opened near me billed as being designed by this man. He never made an appearance the entire few years it was being built, and he wanted 1 million dollars to make an appearance on opening day of this one of 410 golf courses that will be attributed to him.
Now let us take a look at a real Golf Course Architect. His name was Robert Trent Jones. He was born in England in 1906 but moved with his parents to the US when he was five. The family settled in East Rochester, NY, (about an hour from where I live), and RT Jones became the 1st golf professional at Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club, which overlooks Lake Ontario at Sodus Point, NY (even closer to where I live). RTJ was a fanatic and skilled golfer as a youth, but suffered health problems that kept him from going pro. RTJ attended Cornell University (about 3 hrs south of where I live). He was so gifted he was allowed to create his own course of study to become a professional golf course architect, the first ever such field of study. He studied Landscape Architecture (let me repeat that, Landscape Architecture), agronomy, horticulture, hydraulics, surveying, public speaking, and economics. While completing his studies at Cornell University, RTJ completed his first Golf Course Architecture project, Cornell University’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Course! RTJ designed Green Lakes Golf Course at Green Lakes State Park, east of Syracuse, NY, in 1936, during the height of the Great Depression, when projects like this helped put many out of work people back to work building an amazing array of Parks, Institutions, and infrastructure across the US. In the 1980s, another RTJ course was completed just north of Syracuse NY, at the planned community of Radisson, and is called Radisson Greens.
RTJ’s courses are noted for their artistic landscaping, elegantly-shapped bunkers and sprawling beguiling greens. RTJ’s greens were generally made up of several different sections that offered a multitude of pin placements. He enjoyed surrounding his greens with large amoeba-shaped bunkers and water hazards that were designed as if nature created them. And he believed that golf should be a no risk; no reward sport, his designs encouraged daring play. They were challenging mentally, but not extremely penalizing. By the time Robert Trent Jones passed away in 2000, he had Architected, yes Architected, over 500 golf courses in his 70+ year career. By the time it was over there were legitimately Architected Robert Trent Jones golf courses in almost every state in the US, and in over 35 countries in the world.
If you wonder why I keep giving distances from RTJ events to where I live, it is because I consider Robert Trent Jones to be immortal. I consider most of his creations to be sacred ground, and I want to live near the place of the golf course “prophet”. At the age of about 14 I was smitten with the game of golf. But then I found myself more fascinated with golf courses and their layouts and artistry than the game itself. It appealed to some aesthetic need in me. I actually designed and built 3 golf holes and a pond on a little used-portion of my father’s farm before I was out of high school. At the College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry at Syracuse University I studied all the things RTJ studied, and I added art history, architecture, engineering, drafting, botany, silviculture, soil sciences, geology, environmental sciences, ecology, climatology, site planning and land planning.
I know things that people getting the cream of golf course projects probably will never bother to know. I am a real Golf Course Architect, like Robert Trent Jones was. Yet here I am, kind of a bottom-feeder in the hierarchy of Golf Course Architecture, watching people with less expertise get millions of dollars thrown at them to do things that, in all likelihood, they will have to hire people like me to accomplish, have me sign a non-disclosure document as to what is really going on, pay me a fraction of what they’ve been paid. And if, by some miracle, I am successful, they can claim all the credit, and demand a million dollars to show up at the “Grand Opening”.
Such is life. If I can’t do anything about it, at least I’ll write about it. And hopefully still find people who want me to architect and build beautiful, enjoyable, environmentally sound and sustainable golf courses that are built under my direct supervision. I'll even be there at the Grand Opening of your course, and I won't charge you a penny to do so!