Geeked on Golf

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

Sculpting the Earth – An Interview with Architect Dave Zinkand

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“Remote” is a good word to describe the location of Apache Stronghold.  Why did I make the trek through the mountains of the Tonto National Forest, past small mining towns, to an Indian Casino golf course in the middle of nowhere?  As always, I was in search of golf adventure and great architecture.  In this case, I was also lucky enough to have a chance to tee it up with architect Dave Zinkand.

The course was truly special, and Dave was great company – a talented architect, good player, and an even better man.  For me, the evening was what this great game is all about.

As we walked and talked, I was consistently reminded of what differentiates architects from players, even GCA geek players like me.  Architects see the course differently, and it was a blast to hear Dave’s insights about the course and his work.  A few highlights:

  • Apache Stronghold has wonderful contours, washes and gullies that wander through the fairways.  Dave pointed out that by routing the holes such that those features are often at an angle to the tee, Tom Doak has created interest.  The player can decide how much of the carry they want to take on, and they get the thrill of pulling off the carry on their selected line.  An architect does not always need to use bunkers or hazards to create that challenge and fun.  A ripple or ridge in the ground creates the same effect.
  • Dave pointed out the interesting slopes and mounds of the green surrounds.  He was particularly interested in the close proximity to the greens of some of the high-side slopes.  A bold design choice that makes for interesting approach and short-game shots.
  • We also discussed internal green contours at length, and Apache Stronghold has great ones shaped by Kye Goalby and the Renaissance Golf Design team.  Dave noted that a bold contour that might seem over-the-top on first playing, can often provide more options to pull off a brilliant shot once the player learns to use that feature to his advantage.
  • And finally, Dave put into words what I felt makes Apache Stronghold unique.  It is routed in such a way that the holes feel very intimate and engaging.  And yet, every so often, when ascending to a tee or green complex, the course reveals a vista that reminds one of the awe-inspiring expanse of the land on which the course is built.  It is a choreographed walk that creates pure magic.

My luck with Dave didn’t end with our time at Apache Stronghold.  He was gracious enough to share even more in the following interview.  I hope you enjoy his perspective as much as I do.


THE INTERVIEW

How were you first introduced to golf?

My introduction to golf was rather stereotypical.  As a boy, my father would take my sister and I out to Fremont Country Club, our hometown club in Ohio.  When Molly and I were old enough, we began to play from the 150 yard markers.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

It seems the addiction of trying to improve upon the last shot or round is almost instantaneous.  As for the bigger picture, I now recognize golf for what it is, an adventure.  It blends an outdoor sport on varied playing fields with a great deal of social interaction.  Perhaps I was unaware of how fulfilling it is until high school when I could really begin to appreciate those benefits.  By college, trips with the golf team were a welcome diversion from our studies.  To this day, I still enjoy getting out with Dad.

How did you get into the business?

Every summer in college I gained experience at a new job.  First, I worked maintenance at Heatherdowns CC in Toledo.  The second summer, I was a laborer on a Hurdzan Fry course being constructed in Cleveland.  The third, as an intern with Arthur Hills’ design firm.  After graduating from Cornell with a degree in landscape architecture in 1997, I went over to Britain on the Dreer Award.  When I came back I went to work for Gil Hanse and then spent 14 years as a Design Associate with Coore & Crenshaw.

How did the year you spent in the UK change your perspective?

Fellow Dreer recipient, Chris Monti, referred to his year abroad as “the move”, meaning the career move.  I couldn’t agree more.  It may not have been a highly marketable commodity to most potential employers, but has provided limitless inspiration that still fuels my passion for the hands-on designing and shaping of golf courses.

Who are your favorite Golden Era architects and why?

There are such obvious choices as Alister MacKenzie, who blended great strategies with unparalleled aesthetics.  But considering historic golf architects as a whole, there are folks like Harry Colt whose somewhat reserved style always yielded admirable results.  The eccentric Tom Simpson created provocative strategies with quirky contours and odd features such as flat-top mounds.  There is Tillie and Perry Maxwell… So many designers have contributed to the catalog of great work and ideas.  That is a fantastic attribute of our game, the immense variety!

You have worked extensively with Bill Coore and Gil Hanse.  How have they influenced you?

My work with Gil was relatively brief, four projects in all.  But I have always been impressed with his routings and aesthetics.  In the fourteen years I spent with Bill & Ben, as well as with their long-time Associate, Dave Axland, I really had an opportunity to delve into every aspect of golf design and construction.  I could throw creative ideas out and see what stuck.  I had so many conversations and received so much feedback from Bill, when I run into a question of how to handle a certain issue, by now I have a pretty good idea of how he might attack the problem.  All of that interaction certainly contributes to my perspective on golf design.  Working with Bill and Ben really gave me a solid understanding of how to meld beauty and function into a playable setting.

What is your favorite element of a golf hole to work on?

Greens.  There is a heightened importance in the contours of a green, both in terms of strategy and aesthetics.  That is where I spent much of my time shaping for Coore & Crenshaw.  All of that said, bunkers provide powerful aesthetics.  It is great fun to toy with their endless variety to present such a splash of interest on the landscape.  Bill Coore and I have had a lot of fun heckling Jeff Bradley, the ‘Bunker Guru’, over the stardom he receives for his sandy exploits!

What are some of the challenges associated with renovating a historic course like Old Elm or Desert Forest?

There are so many aspects to this topic.  Change is difficult and any given club has hundreds of members.  This essentially means the designer has hundreds of customers.  As the saying goes, you can’t please everybody all of the time.  That is why it is so important to be reverent to the history and attributes of a course, while pressing forward with the task of fulfilling the client’s current and future needs.  Doing so in step with the leadership and staff is essential.

What should every Green Committee member study/learn before undertaking a renovation project?

Prior to selecting a designer, they should research each candidate’s participation in the construction process (that was not self-promotion).  Preliminary design is essential for game-planning, but extra time spent on a drafting board or AutoCAD document does not replace on-site participation.  You don’t have to shape your own features as I can (that was self-promotion).  I find an unparalleled depth of interest in the work produced by designers who consciously allow their work to evolve in the field.  Bill Coore is a master at this.  Some of the concepts and details are not immediately evident or may even seem arbitrary, but reveal themselves over time.  This lends greatly to keeping a course fun to play over and again.

Which courses are on the top of your hit list to play next?

Jason, you finally got me out to Apache Stronghold.  I thank you, because that was a real treat.  Cypress Point is at the top of the list of courses I’ve never been to and really need to see.  I’ll bet my wife could have her arm twisted for a trip to Royal Melbourne and the Sandbelt in Australia.  There are also a number of classic courses on the east coast I would still love to see, such as Fishers Island.

Of the holes you have helped to build, which are your favorites?

It was fun to build a classic Cape Hole on the Sixth at Shanqin Bay in Hainan, China.

Shanqin Bay #6 - Photo courtesy of Brian Morgan

Shanqin Bay #6 – Photo courtesy of Brian Morgan

The par five Third Hole at Bandon Trails has a great deal of interest in its green that carries all of the way back up the hole in terms of how to attack.

Bandon Trails #5 - Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

Bandon Trails #3 – Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

The short par four Third at Colorado Golf Club doesn’t overwhelm, despite playing over a natural barranca.

Colorado Golf Club #3 - Photo courtesy of John Klinkerman

Colorado Golf Club #3 – Photo courtesy of John Klinkerman

I really enjoyed the bunkering improvements Jeff Bradley and I made to the Fourth Hole at Weekapaug Golf Club.  An additional bunker down the left keeps big hitters honest and the bunkering front-right of the green provides a much more engaging target.

Weekapaug Golf Club #4 - Photo courtesy of Gary Kellner at Dimpled Rock

Weekapaug Golf Club #4 – Photo courtesy of Gary Kellner at Dimpled Rock

Reinvigorating the island green on the Fourteenth at Old Elm Club with Drew Rogers was an old-fashioned opportunity to introduce Harry Colt’s original intention of torn edges.

Old Elm Club #15 - Photo courtesy of Scott Vincent

Old Elm Club #15 – Photo courtesy of Scott Vincent

My alteration of the Fourteenth at Desert Forest into a short par four was a fun contribution to an already impressive routing.  It also had the benefit of shortening the following green to tee walk.

Desert Forest #14

Desert Forest #14

Freely admitting my bias, I have thirteen favorite holes on Bandon Preserve. I thoroughly enjoyed that project and wonder if I’ll work on such a powerful parcel of ground ever again.

Bandon Preserve - Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

Bandon Preserve – Photo courtesy of Wood Sabold

You recently joined the Mickelson design team.  What attracted you to that opportunity?

I really enjoy collaborating and they already had a strong team that shares great insights, with Phil, Mike Angus and Rick Smith.  It should be a lot of fun to introduce not only my own design views, but also contribute my experience and on-site guidance to help advance our design intentions in the field.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

It may sound corny, but I just love sculpting the earth.  I started out in Cornell’s School of Architecture, but quickly realized how important an organic edge was to finding my fulfillment in design.  Having my office outdoors and providing others, who often spend much of their time indoors, with sporty and provocative holes to play is rewarding.  I can’t even count how many times I have been told by people they never had more fun playing golf than on Bandon Preserve.  That is spectacularly gratifying.

Any interesting or challenging projects on the horizon for you?

I will spend the next two summers guiding and shaping Phil’s project in Calgary.  As for potential projects outside of that, I will be happy to give you an update.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

My wife and I just had our first child, a girl.  She is the very definition of adorable.  I am happy to put my other interests, such as redesigning our new yard and brewing some wickedly dry cider, on the back burner so I can concentrate on helping her and Momma!  Perhaps someday, I’ll be busy taking her to play with Grandpa John on the golf course.


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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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