Geeked on Golf

A Celebration of the People & Places that Make Golf the Greatest Game

Clayts Speaks – An Interview with Architect Michael Clayton

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If you are a golf nut, and you are not following Michael Clayton on Twitter (@MichaelClayto15) and/or listening to the State of the Game podcast, you really should be.  His perspectives are always informative and entertaining, and sometimes a little surly.  Best of all, he is an unapologetic defender of the spirit of this game we love, and he is working hard to channel that spirit into the golf course architecture work that he and his partners at OCCM Golf are doing.

Mike was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, which I share with you here, along with a photo tour of his firm’s work, which is fantastic.


Mike and his partners at OCCM have been involved in several high-profile projects in Australia and Tasmania, including Barnbougle Dunes, The Lakes, Bonnie Doon, and Victoria GC.  Strategic options off the tee afforded by wide fairways, varied and interesting green complexes, and attention to natural beauty are the design principles that they uphold.

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Photos by OCCM and Gary Lisbon Golf Photography

Check out the Australia & Tasmania section of the Geeked On Golf GCA Video archive for even more on OCCM’s work.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get into the business?OCCM-SevenMileBeach

I was playing in Europe and Australia and hadn’t ever thought of doing it – but two supers/consultants – John Sloan and Bruce Grant – asked me in 1995 if I was interested in starting a company together. They thought there was room for and a need for an alternative design company in Australia.

Who is your favorite Golden Era architect, and why?

Every Australian – except Peter Thomson who would pick Harry Colt – would pick MacKenzie because he had such an influence on golf in Australia.  He came here in 1926 and transformed the game by example and education of others who would advance the game after he left.

Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?

The biggest influence on my work is the combination of the best courses and the great books written on the subject – MacKenzie, Hunter, Thomas, Simpson and Wethered, Doak, Shackelford, Klein and others who have written so eloquently and sensibly on the game.  Growing up in the city of Royal Melbourne it is hard for anyone with any power of observation not to learn from the place.  Sadly many don’t.  Outside of golf?  Good question.  I need to think on that one a bit!

Describe your process for a new design.

Find the best routing.  Work out how to best get the course built and who we are going to use to help us get it done.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking course improvement initiatives?

They should learn the basics of good design and what makes a good hole – and what contributes to a hole not reaching its potential.  They should all read at the very minimum The Spirit of St Andrews and The Anatomy of a Golf Course.

What are the primary challenges you consistently face in trying to deliver results that are up to your standards?

Those who are looking after the work after we are gone doing that job well.  It varies.  Anthony Mills has done an incredible job at The Lakes looking after our work there.  Ian Todd too at Victoria.  They get the small detail stuff all the time.

How do you know when you have hit the sweet spot in your work?

Perhaps when a hole polarizes people – you know it then has an element making it more interesting than some of the other holes.  Sometimes it’s hard to predict player reaction.  So many have such a distorted view of the role of ‘consistency’ and how ‘fair’ should be interpreted.  Fair is another word for dull.  The primary challenge of golf is dealing with its inherent unfairness and how can you make such a fickle game played over a wild 150 acre landscape ‘fair’?  The Old Course isn’t fair and that is at the heart of its greatness.

What course would you love to get your hands on for a renovation project?

RoyalCanbera-AFunny you should ask. My answer to that question in Australia has always been Royal Canberra and we are half way through the front nine now – with the back nine and the 9 hole course to finish. It’s a beautiful site and a course far from its potential.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Building good holes and good courses.  Making something better of an existing course – but it’s not easy dealing with the politics.  It gets tiring dealing with people who have very little idea of what constitutes good golf.  We are not perfect and don’t always get it right but I think we have a good understanding of the principles of good design.  But the average member has never read, or even thought, about the subject, but that doesn’t stop them having an opinion.

If you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?

In Australia – Royal Melbourne.  In Continental Europe – Morfontaine.  Britain – Woking.  USA – NGLA.

What are the top 3 new courses on your list to play next?

Seminole, Oakmont, Ballyneal.

What do you like about playing with “throwback” equipment?

Each wooden club has its own unique feel and look.  The fun of this part of the game was the continual search for a better driver or 3 wood – and the love you had for the clubs which served you well.  Now they are more effective but they have zero character and they are disposable as soon as something ‘better’ comes along.  ‘Better’ is the latest concept of the marketing department.

When you are not playing golf or building golf courses, what are you doing?

Making sure we don’t lose contact with our friends – it’s too easy to do and a full time job in itself.  We are lucky enough to have them all over the world.

Any interesting or challenging projects in process or on the horizon for you?

Mat Goggin has an incredible piece of land just out of Hobart in Tasmania. It’s the best site I have ever seen.  Sand dunes in the pine trees on the coast.

For even more from Mike, check out this older interview on GolfClubAtlas.com.


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Copyright 2015 – GeekedOnGolf, Jason Way

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