Several years ago, I played Bandon Dunes and enjoyed it greatly. Unfortunately, I have not made the trek back to the Oregon Coast, nor have I had the chance to play any of David McLay Kidd’s other courses (although I would very much like to).
Like many GCA geeks, I have followed the stories about the evolution of David’s career with interest, particularly those that have been written since the opening of Gamble Sands and his triumph in the Sand Valley bake-off. Word out of Nekoosa, WI is that the DMK crew is creating something truly special and my recent visit to Sand Valley provided confirmation.
Wanting to learn more about the man and his work, I reached out to David when I returned from Sand Valley and he was gracious enough to make time in his busy schedule for an interview.
Preview play on DMK Design’s SVII begins next summer. Until then, enjoy the interview.
How did you get introduced to golf?
Son of a Scottish Greenkeeper, raised almost literally on a golf course. My father was in charge at Gleneagles for over 25 years and was instrumental in securing the Ryder Cup for Scotland in 2014 (the last time we won).
When did you know that the game had a hold on you?
When I would look forward to going out in the wet and cold to work on the courses my father was in charge of. I got and still do get such a kick out of the visual appeal of a golf course – playing is pretty cool too.
How did you get into the business?
Son of a Greenkeeper, it’s in the DNA!
Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?
What’s this Golden Age you speak of? As a Brit our Golden Age was a little different. It was the time of the Great Triumvirate following on from Old Tom. If that’s the question then I will say Harry Shapland Colt. He introduced strategy to golf design, he liked quirky.
Who has had the most influence on you, both inside and outside of golf?
My father. He has lived and breathed golf his entire life. He loves the game and the courses we play it on. He has done a lot for his profession, mostly unheralded. He promoted sustainability and organics when it was laughed at. He promoted further education when many in the UK at least saw his profession as semi-skilled at best.
What should every owner/Green Committee member learn before breaking ground on a golf construction project?
The question that is rarely asked is “what will these design ideas cost to maintain?” That’s a question a club needs to understand before they build a course with 100 manicured edged bunkers and bent grass wall to wall.
What is your favorite part of a golf course to design?
In the dirt waving my arms dreaming up an idea and developing that idea in the field step by step, developing each detail as you go. I have more fun doing that than any golf shot I have ever hit.
What do you love about practicing your craft?
I still giggle on the inside that I get paid to do something I would do for free.
How has your design philosophy changed over time?
I started out knowing that golf in the UK is played for fun, as a past-time by most. Few play competitive golf and keep stroke play score, most don’t. When I created Bandon Dunes I knew that, but as my career developed I was convinced that golf courses needed to be tough challenges and my job was to defend the honor of the course. Golfers would have to show respect, or else be punished.
I have returned to what I know golf needs to be – fun, playable, entertaining, engaging, relaxing, enduring. It should not be punishing. Who wants to decide to do something that’s punishing? I can make a course that’s challenging and alluring, while simultaneously making it playable. It’s all down to width and making sure the rough offers the ability to find a ball.
What do you want to accomplish in this next phase of your career?
I want to take the principles I have returned to and build the most celebrated and fun courses that have ever existed. Gamble Sands and Sand Valley II will be my role models going forward.
Why are you excited to be involved in the Sand Valley project?
It allows me a grand stage to show how challenge and playability can co-exist. We can create a visually stunning course that the most occasional of golfers can enjoy just like I did with Bandon Dunes the better part of 20 years ago.
What is it like to be designed a course alongside accomplished architects like Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw?
I am hoping that after 25 years of effort I might be able to suggest that I am ‘accomplished’ even if not so well known? My profession is living through exciting times. There are a number of very talented golf designers out there doing incredible work. I would love history to include me in that group of relevant architects in the early part of this century.
What legacy do you hope to leave for the game, and golf course architecture?
The game needs to be fun. I had my time on the dark side and I see the error of my ways. I have spent many years considering how to make courses playable, challenging and fun as well as natural and sustainable. These are all words I hear from my peers, but often do not see them played out in reality on the ground.
What courses are at the top of your hit list to see or play next?
There are so many places I have yet to play. There are a number of East Coast gems I haven’t played yet (many I have). I still haven’t played Augusta – it’s on my bucket list.
When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?
I am an avid pilot. I fly my own Cirrus Sr22T all over the US. Last year I did 80,000 miles in my own plane. I coach soccer and have coached my daughter from Kindergarten to Middle School. I live in Bend, Oregon – the outdoors capital of the world, or at least Oregon – so we do everything from rafting to skiing to hiking to boating to fishing. We are never short of something to do.
Gamble Sands opened to rave reviews and continues to get glowing praise from all who have been fortunate enough to make the pilgrimmage to northern Washington. The course was also of particular selfish interest to me as it was the cause of David’s inclusion in the Sand Valley bake-off, which he won. I might never make it to Gamble Sands, but soon I will be able to go around and around on a DMK design closer to home.
To get a glimpse of the style of design – challenging, fun, and beautiful – that we will likely see in Wisconsin, we need look no further than Gamble Sands.
#1 – Par 4 – 392 yards
#2 – Par 4 – 262 yards
#4 – Par 3 – 160 yards
#5 – Par 5 – 497 yards
#6 – Par 3 – 231 yards
#7 – Par 5 – 473 yards
#9 – Par 4 – 382 yards
#10 – Par 3 – 140 yards
#11 – Par 4 – 412 yards
#12 – Par 4 – 300 yards
#14 – Par 4 – 408 yards
#16 – Par 3 – 195 yards
#17 – Par 4 – 418 yards
MORE DMK COURSES
David was kind enough to compile quite a few photos from the courses that he has designed around the world. I was taken by how far flung his work has been, and also by how varied the look and feel of his courses are. A player could be more than satisfied jetting around the world playing David’s courses for the rest of their golfing life (especially since his work is far from finished…).
(click on images to enlarge)
Bandon Dunes Resort – Bandon, Oregon
THE CASTLE COURSE
St. Andrews Links – St. Andrews, Scotland
MONTAGU COURSE AT FANCOURT
Fancourt Resort – Blanco George, South Africa
LUACALA ISLAND GOLF COURSE
Luacala Island Resort – Fiji
NANEA GOLF CLUB
QUEENWOOD GOLF CLUB
Ottershaw, United Kingdom
TETHEROW GOLF CLUB
Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:
- Ian Andrew – Golf Course Architect
- Michael Clayton – Golf Course Architect
- Rob Collins – Golf Course Architect
- Mike DeVries – Golf Course Architect
- Brett Hochstein – Golf Course Architect
- Jeff Mingay – Golf Course Architect
- Jim Nagle – Golf Course Architect
- Brian Palmer – Golf Course Superintendent
- Keith Rhebb – Golf Course Shaper
- Drew Rogers – Golf Course Architect
- Evan Schiller – Golf Course Photographer
- Andy Staples – Golf Course Architect
- Dave Zinkand – Golf Course Architect
2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf