Geeked on Golf

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

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The Next 99 – Scott Pavalko & Jim Urbina at Bob O’Link

This post was a long time in the making.  Like Bob O’Link’s architectural history – first with Ross, then with Alison, and now with Urbina – it involves intertwined threads.

Growing up on the North Shore and caddying at Old Elm Club, I was aware of Bob O’Link, but had never seen or played it.  Fast forward to 2015 and a Golf Club Atlas dinner at which Jim Urbina gave a talk, while in town for the renovation project, introducing me to his perspective on architecture.  In 2016, I played Milwaukee CC and Orchard Lake, which piqued my interest in the work of C.H. Alison.

That same year, I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Pavalko who is a fellow Evanston resident, generous supporter of our efforts at Canal Shores, and all-around good guy.  He had me out to play and we were joined by Green Chairman Joe Burden,  It was a solid geek session, and I loved the course.

After Andy Johnson’s podcast with Jim Urbina, in which Jim’s passion came through so clearly, I decided that the time had come to tie all the threads together.  Scott and Jim graciously agreed to discuss the project and their work.  Enjoy the interview, and Scott’s gorgeous photos.


How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

SP:  I can’t ever remember a time where I wasn’t around the game of golf.  My father was a Superintendent in Ohio.  Some of my earliest photos of me are of playing around in sand piles or running around in bunkers at the course where he worked.  I fondly remember going back to the course with my dad to check on things in the evening.  He would let me drive the Cushman.

I learned to play from my grandfather.  “Papa” had retired from the US Steel in Youngstown Ohio by the time I was born.  He spent his time playing in muni leagues around Youngstown.  My recollection is that he played at least 6 rounds a week.  His friends called him “Silky” because of his smooth swing, as he regularly shot near par well into his 70’s.  My Dad was also a good player – he was inducted into his High School Hall of Fame for golf and shot a 29 (par 35) just months before beginning his battle with cancer.  Unfortunately, it’s a battle he lost in 2006.

Being a very “blue collar” town, public golf courses outnumbered private courses probably 7 to 1 so; this is how I came to know golf.  There is a great little “Par 3” course in Youngstown that my father managed at one time in his career.  I learned to play there, longest hole 127 yds, shortest hole 61 yds, I think it used to cost $4.75 for residents.  My Dad and I would compete in their annual  2 man team best ball tourney, we won the last time we played.

JU:  I never played golf growing up and Pete Dye who I started my design career with didn’t really care that I played golf; he said it would ruin my creativity as a shaper.  Didn’t start playing golf seriously until I moved to Del-Mar California while building Rancho Santa Fe Farms.

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

JU:  I rarely kept score when I was just starting out.  I found the Match Play game more to my liking and it kept me interested in the round a lot longer.  We use to play almost every weekend at Torrey Pines; we couldn’t work on Saturdays in Rancho Santa Fe – too many people at home around the golf course construction site on the weekends.

SP:  It wasn’t until I was 20 that I started working on a course with my father at Reserve Run Golf Course in Boardman Ohio.  I was living at home and going to college studying electronics engineering.  I quickly fell in love with the profession.  It probably had something to do with being able to see my Dad as something different than just my old man.  I realized why he had such a passion for his career and saw that he genuinely loved what he did.  This rubbed off on me.  I loved everything about working on a golf course.  Especially being outside and the freedom it presented.  A 150 acre office was hard to beat.

How did you get into the business?

SP:  After finishing my associates degree in electronics, I moved to Columbus Ohio to study Turfgrass Science at Ohio State University.  It was, at that point, the I really knew for certain that I wanted to be a Superintendent.  I loved my classes, I loved learning the science of plants, I loved everything about my time studying turf.  Then, I got hired at Muirfield Village Golf Club.  This changed my whole perspective on what turf maintenance should or could be.  My father’s course was a small public course that was the dream of two retired school teachers.  We had 1 fairway mower, 2 greens mowers and 3 maintenance carts.  Muirfield Village had 30 walking mowers, 10 triplexes for fairways and at least 30 maintenance vehicles.  I had no clue what I was getting in to.  My first Memorial Tournament was a blur and at the end of my first season, Paul B. Latshaw who had just hosted the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, became the Director of Grounds.  From Paul, and Jake Gargasz (who came with Paul from Oak Hill and is now the Superintendent at Crooked Stick) I learned a tremendous amount about preparing for tournaments, construction principles, and general agronomics.  The Muirfield Village aesthetic does not fit everywhere, nor should it, but I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to work there and learn from one of the best Superintendents in the country.

JU:  I had just graduated from college with a teaching degree; since I graduated mid-term I had to wait for job openings for the following school season.  I was going to go back and fight forest fires and work for the state forest service (that was my summer job while going to school), but my soon to be father in-law thought I should work on a golf course while waiting for a teaching job.  He thought that was a much better job, and safer too.


What got you excited about the opportunity to take on this renovation?

JU:  The chance to restore a classic Alison course was the first and foremost.  After touring Bob O’Link, I realized the potential it would offer the members, and after I met Scott Pavalko I knew his passion to do the right thing was in the right place.  As I have said before, all the moons were in alignment – the golf course had a great chance to be successful.

SP:  The project was a function of need.  I was fortunate enough to be hired at Bob O’Link in February of 2014.  We were in the midst of a historically cold and snowy winter which featured some unbelievable temperature swings that caused turf damage to many golf courses in our region.  Bob O’Link was no exception.  The greens had not been re-grassed in 90 years and as a result, featured a very high percentage of Poa annua.  Poa annua is very susceptible to winter damage.  In spots we had 80% turf loss.

The planning of the project began with a study of the golf course infrastructure.  Bob O’Link is a challenging site due to the fact that a large portion of the golf course lies in a flood plain.  Drainage was one of the most important aspects of the project.  This included greens, tees, fairways, bunkers, rough.  A famous turf professor from Penn State, Dr. Musser used to say, “the three most important things on a golf course are drainage, drainage and more drainage.”  With our soil types, this is definitely true.

What were your goals going into the project?

Bob O’Link had existed for 99 years before our project.  The overarching goal was to improve infrastructure for the next 99 years while taking the opportunity to sympathetically restore Alison’s intended features and strategy.

The goals were as follows:

  • Improve course infrastructure in such a way that the members can experience the course in the best condition for the most days of the season.
  • Add drainage where appropriate
  • Rebuild bunkers so that they can be maintained properly according to the members’ expectations
  • Improve control of the irrigation system so that fairways and greens can be firm while keeping the rough alive during the summer
  • Address Poa annua issues on greens and fairways
  • Obtain a source of irrigation water that is consistent and predictable by drilling a well (previously we were irrigating with water from the Skokie River)

JU:  To recapture the essence of these wonderful green complexes with the extraordinary large bunkers that supported the landform.


Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

SP:  The process really began by studying the current course conditions.  There were quite a few issues that needed to be addressed so that we could provide the level of conditioning that the members desired.  This helped us generate the goals above.

Luckily the Board of Directors had enough foresight to realize that while infrastructure was the driving force of the project, there was an opportunity to bring in a Course Architect to help bring everything together and improve the playability and strategy.

Did historical documentation play any role in your approach to the renovation?

SP:  Yes!  It played a huge role.  We have a 1939 aerial photograph that served as a roadmap for the project.  Jim can likely give more details on how he used that photo to help with bunker placements, grass lines, etc.  I began to use aerial photography right away, even before Jim was hired but not necessarily from the architectural feature standpoint.  I used it to help people understand how the trees had not always been there.

JU:  Yes, aerials played a big part, but really it was the skeleton remains of land forms that help guide our way into the restoration process.  The two greens that were altered by previous renovations were molded in the shape of the other 16 greens at Bob O’Link.


What were C.H. Alison’s strengths as an architect?

JU:  Massive green complexes, massive Bunkers to support the green elevations and the wonderful work of the drainage to make sure no bunker was dug too deep to surface drain even though the golf course was on almost dead flat topography.  Thoughtful viewscapes – a Bob O’Link original

SP:  For me, the scale of Alison’s green complexes is impressive.  By building huge, bold green complexes, he created the illusion of contour on a relatively flat property.

What elements of Alison’s design did you most want to highlight?

JU:  The ability to generate interesting and strategic design elements into these subtle putting green surfaces.  The impression that even though the holes felt like they played in a very narrow straight line corridor, the bunkers made the holes feel like they had movement depending on the line of play.  Holes 3-6 on the front side, and 10,11,13 on the back side are examples.


Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

SP:  Given that this was the largest project at Bob O’Link since they hired Alison to redesign the original Ross course in 1924, there were certainly challenges.  I’ll just say that the Board of Directors of the club did a fantastic job of holding focus groups and getting feedback from the members.  Jim came several times to walk the course and answer questions.  Ultimately, we tried to complete a project that would allow the club to be successful for the next 100 years. We created a detailed book that was distributed to the members To explain the details of the project, but as you can imagine, this was a significant change that required a lot of faith in the Board of Directors, and they delivered.

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?

SP:  For the members of Bob O’Link, they really want the best possible conditions on a daily basis.  So improving quality, not necessarily saving money, was the primary goal of our project.  That said, having new bentgrass turf, far fewer shade and tree root competition issues, USGA greens, well-constructed bunkers, and a drainage system that can handle large rainfalls, has certainly allowed us to cut back on chemical and fertilizer applications as well as redirect labor toward continuing course improvement vs maintaining the status quo.  Additionally we are in the process of converting some areas of mowed rough to un-mowed fine fescue which will eventually lead to lower water usage and labor mowing.  Our new irrigation system allows us to apply water where we need it and not where we don’t.  We really emphasize firmness over green, lush conditions, but we have the ability to keep the turf sufficiently healthy to withstand golfer traffic.

What makes you the proudest about the new Bob O’Link?

SP:  I am proud to have been a part of such an impactful project.  Working with Jim Urbina, Leibold Irrigation (our course builder), Joe Valenti (club president), Joe Burden (Chairman, Green Committee), Dan Watters (Head Golf Professional), and all others involved in the project has been the most rewarding event in my career.  I am proud and honored that the club leadership trusted me to help lead them through this project.


What do you respect most about your collaborator?

JU:  Scott is a professional if every sense of the word.  He respected my wishes and understood what Alison stood for in the world of golf course design.  Without a Course Superintendent who appreciates the Golden Age of design, the history that he been entrusted with, and most importantly the ability to adapt the science with strategy, we would have not been so successful.

SP:  Jim is a great listener.  He has taught me more about architecture than I ever knew existed.  But most of all, he is never afraid to give credit to others.  As a world-renowned golf course architect, it would be easy to develop some ego, Jim has none.  He would more quickly give credit to the laborers installing sod than take it himself.

What do you love about practicing your craft?

SP:  There are so many things I love about my job.  The different challenges that each day presents: working with Mother Nature (sometimes against her); balancing the art of presenting a golf course with the science of plants; teaching and coaching young people who desire to become superintendents; seeing the sunrise every morning and seeing the sun set some evenings; being able to come to work with my dog; the sense of accomplishment when you and your team successfully solve a problem; meeting so many different types of people that are passionate about golf for different reasons – it’s really an amazing career and a labor of love.

JU:  I get to work outside, I have studied books and seen almost every golf course of architectural significance, and I get to meet wonderful people who share the same love of the game.  Crafting works of art on 150-acre canvases that people get to experience walking and playing in 3-dimensional form.  For all of that I get to call what I do my JOB – hardly a job, more like hobby!


While addressing the infrastructural needs of the course, Jim, Scott and their crew transformed the way Bob O’Link looks and plays.  What was once a somewhat nondescript course in a crowded golf neighborhood, is now a standout – Golden Age strategy and feel, with artistic flourishes, all impeccably presented.

Scott generously provided the photos below, which present a photographic record of Bob O’Link’s rebirth.  For even more on the renovation, read Scott’s article in GCM Magazine here.

(click on mosaic images to enlarge)



Jim explains a bunker concept to the Shaper


Bunkers under construction


Jim explaining a green concept to the team


Greenside bunker shaping


Talking grass lines



Topdressing the new 1st green


Mowing run-ins on the 7th


Jim surveying the finished product on the 9th


Hand watering short of the 10th green



1939 aerial, open with bold features


2011 aerial, choked with trees


2018 aerial, with Alison’s intent restored

Hole #3 – Par 4 

Hole #4 – Par 3

Hole #8 – Par 3

BOB O’LINK TODAY (click on mosaic images to enlarge)


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Pitching In – An Interview with Shaper Justin Carlton

ArcadiaBluffsSouthIt wasn’t the most pleasant evening I have ever experienced in Northern Michigan, but I didn’t care.  After months of Facebook messaging, I was finally getting a walking tour of the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs with Justin Carlton.  Justin is an experienced Shaper, having worked on courses from Michigan to Bock Cay, and beyond.  He had been brought on by Dana Fry to pitch in on the South Course – one of the most intriguing course construction projects in years.

We walked and talked and geeked out hard on golf and architecture.  Justin’s interests range from building traditional golf courses all the way to applying proven design principles to disc golf courses.  Our conversation eventually turned to pitch & putts, and it was evident that we had touched on something near and dear to Justin’s heart.  His enthusiasm was palpable, and I wanted to know more.  

Justin graciously agreed to do an interview so that we could learn more about him, and what he considers to be a missing piece in the game for championship golf obsessed Americans.  Enjoy!



(click on images to enlarge)

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

Jason, first thanks for all you do for the game of golf and allowing me to be a part of it!  I was introduced to the game by my Grandfather, Ralph Carlton.  He was a great guy, but also a Marine Corps lifer so he could be a little stern at times.  I played with him and my Aunt, Kathy Carpenter the most growing up.  We always played our local courses, Arcadia Country Club and Sunnybreeze, both of which are located in my hometown (I would love to get my hands on them to fix them up).  It was a real treat to play with them and we had a lot of fun – memories I will never forget.  My Grandfather had this signature move, the Carlton shuffle.  It never failed, at some point when the game had him beat and frustrated he would hit a horrible shot and proceed to stomp the ball repeatedly into the ground to where you couldn’t even see it.  I’d give anything to witness that one more time!

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

I started to take lessons, began to understand the game better and had developed a nice swing.  My grandfather invited me on a trip.  It was mostly to visit some areas where he was stationed while in the Marine Corps and included a visit to Sea Palms on St. Simons Island to play golf.  Up to this point I had only seen good courses on TV and walked away from this experience in awe, realizing there was a lot more to the game than what I had experienced so far.

How did you get into the business?

I had some interesting things happen growing up and felt I had to find work a little early to help the family.  My first job was actually working the drive thru window at McDonalds.  My uncle was into excavation work and he gave me a shot, running a shovel cleaning up curbing on a road for a grader operator that I learned to despise.  Every day I said, if I am ever the boss, I will not give this much trouble to the laborers.  I recently bought a home off that road that I learned to hate and visit those memories frequently when driving on it.  I moved on from working for my Uncle and took a job down in the Naples area that led to moving dirt around golf courses.

Art grabbed my attention at a young age, Salvador Dali was and still is the man in my opinion.  I had gotten very good on a dozer and realized the shapers were making a lot more money than myself and figured that my love of art, dirt and golf would be a great combination.  My brother Jody actually moved into shaping before me while we were moving dirt on Tiburon in Naples, and he led me to make the jump.  Tom Fazio was starting a new project, Corral Creek Club in the Gasparilla area near my home.  At that point I honestly had no clue who Tom Fazio was, didn’t really know there was a role called “golf architect” – I only knew this was my shot.  Quality Grassing was the construction company and I found myself begging the hardnose Larry Woody for a job.  Somehow it worked out and here I am today.

Who have been your biggest influences, in and out of golf?

As far as golf shaping goes, Mark White took me under his wing and taught me the ropes and I am forever thankful for everything he taught me.  He really influenced me to become the “free spirit” shaper I am today for many reasons.  Mark was a Mike Strantz boy and had performed several jobs for the legend.  I would eat up his stories and then go home to do further research to catch up.  I’ll never forget working at Corral Creek.  Mark had ripped all the stakes out of the fairway and told me I had to learn to “feel it”. My mind was spinning when Tom Fazio’s site rep showed up and said, “Somebody sure has taken some liberty with this one.”  But he liked it, and so I thought to myself, game on!

Maurice Campbell played a critical role in developing me as a shaper.  We battled each other daily in friendly competition in who could shape best.  I never thought I would get close to him but loved every second when we would walk holes early in the morning before anyone else showed up to talk and challenge each other to do something better.  I’ll never forget the day Maurice asked, “What do you think about me doing this?”  I knew I was getting closer at that point.  Maurice also was a Strantz boy and eventually led me down a deeper rabbit hole into golf architecture.  Mike Strantz and Dana Fry who were both Fazio guys that came from the same dozer seat and helped me realize I could dream bigger.

My Parents and grandparents have played a massive role in who I am as an individual.  They taught me to be humble.  Work hard and success will follow somewhere and someday.  Although it doesn’t show up as much as it should in my daily life, I have a deep personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Without that, I’d be a complete wreck.  I owe all my talents to Him!

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

I am not sure it was intentional but Tom Marzolf from Fazio design referenced Tillie the Terror a few times while I was working with him on projects, and it was my first introduction to the Golden Age guys.  Although Tillinghast was my first real introduction to the Golden Age I would have to say it is a three way tie between Tillinghast, Mackenzie and Colt.  Sorry I can’t nail this question, and it is the toughest question you could ask me.  Although Mackenzie has the name, I think Tillinghast has had the biggest contribution to today’s game.  The guy was a genius in what he designed.  I find myself a little different than some of the guys I have shaped with in that I love studying golf architecture deep into the night every night.

Which part of a course do you like working on the most?

I think each individual aspect can be just as important as the other.  Originally I loved the finish work and still do.  I love the grand scale of creativity allowed in rough shaping.  I think the initial clearing or set up can really lead to a great start and create a great impression to work from.  I haven’t been responsible for the initial routing of a course yet, but have been given a lot of freedom on my current job to change the routing.  There is a real art to reading the land and I have learned to love the routing process.  I love bunkering – you can flip any course on it’s head with bunkering.  I feel that courses struggling in today’s atmosphere could bring back much interest to themselves by starting with a good bunker renovation.  If done right, it can be accomplished relatively inexpensively compared to the other components of course design.

How did you first become interested in pitch & putts?

I was not even aware of pitch & putts until a few years ago when I was hired to shape Adare Manor in Ireland for Tom Fazio.  Until going to Ireland I was fixed on short courses, par three courses or executive courses being the way forward.  Thankfully, when I got to Ireland my housing was just outside of the small town of Adare.  Instead of driving to work I would walk to The Manor each morning and would pass an old yellow and black sign that read Adare pitch and putt.  The next weekend, I walked to the pitch and putt and thought, what in the world is this?  It looked a little silly but, I found myself playing it every weekend.  It didn’t take long to realize that it addressed every issue we seem to be facing at home: time of play, land for development, and cost.  It seemed to have a great following amongst all age groups.  Eventually, I mapped out all the pitch and putt courses near me and started to journey out to other areas to see various designs.  I developed some favorites and Sandfield House next to Lahinch became my inspiration.  No disrespect to the other courses I played, but whoever designed this one really tried to take a step in the right direction.  I would love the chance to raise the bar higher by designing and building a pitch and putt here.

What are the elements of greatness for a pitch & putt?

I think the greatness comes from it’s ability to just get people interested in golf.  It isn’t golf as we know it, but a good pitch and putt can really spark an interest, and that is what we need here at home. It is a challenge with the short distances you are dealing with, but I think a great pitch and put needs to incorporate every shot conceivable in an approach by air or ground, including multiple angles to get to the green depending on pin location.  Most courses I have played have only one teeing ground and just including some different angles and length would greatly contribute to many facilities.

Why don’t we have more pitch & putts in the U.S.?

First off, I don’t think we have ever really been introduced to Pitch and Putt, and that has left the game relatively unknown in the States.  I am not sure if it is glamorous enough or revenue friendly for modern architects to pursue pure pitch and putt locations but I am ready to give it a spin, and am looking for the shot to put my vision on the ground and see it come to life.  If I ever get the chance to build the images in my mind I see no way a Pitch and Putt could fail.

Which course(s) do you most want to see next?

I really want to get up to Sand Valley.  I am really digging the look of Mammoth Dunes. The other course hot in my head is The Black Course at Streamsong.  Being based out of Florida I intend to set out to play all the courses listed on the Florida Historic Golf Trail.  One of the biggest reasons for trying out the Trail is that in Florida, most courses today are being built on flat pieces of land with no character.  The old guys had to be more strategic with bunker placement and I feel there are some great opportunities to learn from yesterday.  Let me add one more – whatever Mike DeVries does next I really enjoy his designs.

Any exciting projects in the works, beyond pitch & putts?

Recently finished helping out on The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs.  It was a lot of fun to contribute to that project, and I think it will be a great addition to the already fabulous Michigan golf scene.  I have been bouncing back and forth working on a private 365 acre island in the Exuma Cays for around two years.  It is one of the best sites I have ever seen.  I’m not sure when it will ever be finished, but it has tremendous potential.  There have been several interesting calls, one of which I am really excited about.  Hoping I may be heading back up North again soon – I will keep you updated!!


Ripping rock on Bock Cay


4th fairway cleared


9th and 18th green sites


10th green site


13th hole clearing


Hole corridors cleared


Disc golf on Bock Cay

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Freedom.  I am about as free spirit as it comes, and shaping is the ultimate outlet for a guy like myself.  I love pushing boundaries and getting out of the box.  We could be in the next great era of golf design and to think you have been a small part of that is really interesting and keeps the drive going.

When you aren’t working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

As great as the shaping job is, it has its negatives and the biggest downside for me is family time.  When I am home I try to spend as much time as I can with my amazing family that supports me.  I enjoy fishing more than anything and could get lost on the water, catch no fish, and be very happy.  I’m constantly reading golf design related material, researching design and golf architecture, because the job never really leaves my mind.  I could discuss it all day and could not imagine doing anything else in life!


The Carlton Pitch & Putt – Coming soon to a town near you…

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


GCA Video Archive – The Commentators

This section of the archive is dedicated to commentary on golf courses and golf course architecture.  It contains link compilations to Golf Channel’s special weeks, as well as videos from individual commentators that are typically not course specific.  This is also the section where I have placed miscellanea that did not fit in any other category.








Other Golf Channel appearances:


Other Golf Channel appearances:








Videos courtesy of Joe Bausch and Matt Frey









Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


GCA Video Archive – The Architects

This section of the archive is dedicated to the men and women doing the work of designing and building the courses we love – the Architects.  It contains videos and link compilations of interviews, presentations and more, in order alphabetically by last name.  Architects that have multiple videos have dedicated playlists that are updated regularly.


The OCCM Team in the field





Other Coore & Crenshaw videos:



Other Mike DeVries videos:


Other Tom Doak videos:


Other Pete Dye videos:


Other Tom Fazio videos:





Other Gil Hanse videos:


Other Michael Hurdzan videos:


Other Rees Jones videos:


Other Robert Trent Jones Jr. videos:



Other David McLay-Kidd videos:



Other Tim Liddy videos:




Other Jeff Mingay videos:



Other Jack Nicklaus videos:


Other Greg Norman videos:


Other OCCM videos:






Other Steve Smyers videos:












Other Tiger Woods videos:




Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf

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The Accidental Interviewer – All GeekedOnGolf Interviews

It all started with an email exchange with photographer Evan Schiller.  I asked him for photos for my U.S. Open Venues Bucket List post, and he generously sent them to me.  I then asked him a question about photography.  He patiently answered.  I then asked him another question, and he politely suggested that I compile all of my questions into an interview.  What a concept!

After posting the interview with Evan, my curiosity was piqued.  Would others be willing to indulge me similarly.  Based on the index below, the answer has been a resounding YES.  Given the passion and generosity of people in and around this great game, it is not entirely surprising that they would be willing to share.  I am still grateful for their time, perspectives, and in some case, friendships.


My intent with the interviews is to get off the beaten path and get to know the people who are making our game and its playing fields great.  Although this started by accident, it’s rolling forward with purpose.  Enjoy!




This post was a long time in the making.  Like Bob O’Link’s architectural history – first with Ross, then with Alison, and now with Urbina – it involves intertwined threads.  Growing up on the North Shore and caddying at Old Elm Club, I was aware of Bob O’Link, but had never seen or played it.  Read more…



From his design blog, to his articles on, to his Twitter posts, it is easy for a golf geek to lose oneself in the writings of Ian Andrew.  With his depth of knowledge, respect for tradition and pure love of the game of golf, wandering through Ian’s thoughts is like a trip around the greatest golf course you can imagine – interesting, challenging and fun.  Read more…


In 2015, when I heard about the innovative planned changes to the Arlington Lakes community golf course, my interest was piqued.  When I found out that the architect responsible was also involved in the creation of one of the highest end private courses in the midwest, I was downright intrigued.  Read more…


Justin’s interests range from building traditional golf courses all the way to applying proven design principles to disc golf courses.  Our conversation eventually turned to pitch & putts, and it was evident that we had touched on something near and dear to Justin’s heart.  His enthusiasm was palpable, and I wanted to know more.  Read more…


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.  Read more…


Sweetens Cove – the course and the story behind its creation – has fascinated me for some time.  Golf geeks who make the trip to play this modern 9-holer return with the same two points of feedback.  That course bold, beautiful, and great fun.  And its creator and owner, Rob Collins, is a good dude.  Read more…


Anyone who has played golf in Northern Michigan knows how truly special it is.  Not only is it home to one of the greatest golf courses in the world – Crystal Downs – it is also home to some of the best golf course architects working today.  Mike DeVries is one of those GCAs.  Read more…


Sand Hills Golf Club was more a myth than a real place for me.  Located in Nebraska, Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece sparked a golf architecture renaissance that has fueled my passion for the subject, and the game itself.  I had heard stories that one could write a polite letter to Sand Hills’s owner, Mr. Youngscap, that might result in a once-per-life invite to visit.  Not sure whether or not that was true, I hadn’t mustered up the courage to give it a shot.  Read more…


Pasatiempo.  It doesn’t get much better than a trip around Dr. Mac’s home course.   That is, unless you receive an invite to visit another course later that same day where talented architects, shapers and supers are working their magic.  A golf geek’s dream day come true.  Read more…


Our host was Peter Imber, who also happens to be a principal player in Quogue’s restoration.  We connected after my visit, and hit it off over our respective efforts to revitalize our golf courses.  Not only did he give me guidance on how to approach my efforts at Canal Shores, but he also graciously agreed to do an interview.   Read more…


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.  Read more…


Thinker, traveler, student, writer, historian, enthusiast, commentator, and most of all builder – each of these descriptors apply to Jeff, which is why he is so interesting.  He is a must follow on Twitter (@jeff_mingay) for golf geeks, especially those who want to better understand the game’s fields of play.  Read more…


I made a point of following up with Jeff regarding his renovation of the Derrick Club.  He graciously agreed to give me even more time to discuss the project.  If that weren’t enough, we also managed to wrangle George Waters to participate in the discussion.  George pitched in on the shaping of the Derrick Club, and by all accounts, their collaboration was a smash hit with the membership.  Read more…


Conversation about Chicago golf often focuses on the big names – Chicago Golf Club, Olympia Fields, Medinah – and fairly so.  But Chicago is also home to quite a few classic courses that qualify as hidden gems.  I am fortunate to have access to regularly play one of those gems, the Langford & Moreau designed Bryn Mawr Country Club.  Read more…


“I’ve had enough of winter already. Looking forward to growing grass again.”  This text message, sent to me by Shoreacres Superintendent Brian Palmer, sums up what I love and respect about Supers.  It is rare indeed to find a profession that consistently produces such passionate and dedicated individuals.  Read more…


At the drafting table, on a plane, or behind the controls of a bulldozer, Keith Rhebb is always right in the thick of the creative process of golf course design and construction.  As a member of the Coore & Crenshaw team, Keith is working on the highest profile and most highly anticipated projects around the world.  He and his colleagues continue to deliver mind-blowing results that are setting the standards for modern architectural greatness.  Read more…


The call was supposed to just be a quick “hello” and “thank you” for some photos.  An hour later, I realized that I had found a kindred spirit in realm of golf geekdom.  Beyond sharing similar perspectives on the game, Drew and I are also fortunate to have spent significant time at the Old Elm Club – me as a caddie, and Drew as the architect who has recently worked to restore the course to the original design intent of Harry Colt.  Read more…


Drew Rogers is a generous man.  I have learned this first hand in my work on GeekedOnGolf and Canal Shores.  He shares his experience and expertise freely.  So it is no surprise that he was kind enough to bring us along on his recent trip to England by sharing his experiences in daily journal posts online.  Drew and I talked upon his return and he agreed to provide a recap of the tour with us here.  Read more…


In addition to being one of my favorite photographers, Evan is also a gracious and generous man.  After patiently responding to my ongoing inquiries about his work, he wisely suggested that we conduct a virtual interview.  Shared here with some of his photos are insights about the practice of his craft.  Read more…


On the way from my house to the highway sits Westmoreland Country Club.  For years, I drove by and peeked through the fence at the course, with its gorgeous clubhouse overlooking the perfect green fairways.  When I finally had the good fortune to play Westmoreland, it was a treat to spend an afternoon experiencing first-hand what I had so long seen only from the road.  Read more…


Hobbs, NM is on my bucket list for golf adventure.  I’ll explain.  That is where Andy Staples created a source of inspiration for anyone associated with the Community Golf Revival in America at a course called Rockwind Community Links.  I became aware of Andy’s work while doing research for Canal Shores.  On a brief phone conversation last year, it was clear that we have the same paradigm about the spirit of the game.  Read more…


The past decade has seen a number of wonderful renovations of classic golf courses – Philadelphia Cricket Club, Moraine CC, Cal Club, Orchard Lake CC and others are exciting for golf geeks at several levels.  One in particular has risen to the top of my radar as I have watched it unfold from a distance.  Read more…


“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.  Read more…

Still want more interviews?  If you really want to go down the rabbit hole of GCA, I highly recommend combing through the archives of Ran Morrissett’s wonderful GolfClubAtlas interviews.  And if you are more inclined toward audio, Andy Johnson is producing terrific interviews on his Fried Egg Podcast.




Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Golden Age Redux – Shawn Smith & Todd Fyffe at Westmoreland CC


An Interview & Course Tour

On the way from my house to the highway sits Westmoreland Country Club.  For years, I drove by and peeked through the fence at the course, with its gorgeous clubhouse overlooking the perfect green fairways.  When I finally had the good fortune to play Westmoreland, it was a treat to spend an afternoon experiencing first-hand what I had so long seen only from the road.  The course was nice, with a few neat holes and greens, and the conditioning produced by Superintendent Todd Fyffe and his team was second to none.  Was there anything that set it apart from the numerous other terrific country clubs around Chicago?  Truth be told, not really.

This is the challenge for clubs in a town so deep in good golf courses.  How to be truly great, while continuing to serve the needs of the existing membership.  The leadership of Westmoreland must have been wrestling with that same question, because last year a renovation of the course began under the direction of golf course architect Shawn Smith.  The bunkering was being completely overhauled, and the pictures that began to pop up on Twitter were attention grabbing to say the least.

Shawn and Todd were kind enough to invite me out for a walk around the course this spring as construction was nearing completion.  Shawn shared his thoughts on the bunker style change – bold and strategic, but with a classic vibe.  He also shared about the architectural history of the course, which is somewhat murky, but includes work by A.W. Tillinghast.  Shawn, Todd and the club’s leadership are clearly intent on recapturing that Golden Age feel, and thus far they are succeeding.

The bunker work has been complemented with fairway expansion and the tweaking of grass lines.  Trees are slowly coming down, opening up vistas and improving turf health, and new fescue areas are being established that will create a beautiful color contrast.



How can a club set its course apart in a crowded field of solid quality courses?  A return visit to play Westmoreland a few weeks back would suggest that they have found their answer.  As the refinement continues and the new work matures, it will only get better.  And who knows, Shawn might just have a trick or two left in his Golden Age bag.

I am very much looking forward to repeat plays in the coming years.  In the meantime, Shawn and Todd have been gracious enough to share more of their perspective (Todd’s answers are coming soon), and I created a hole-by-hole tour for those who have not yet seen the new Westmoreland.  Enjoy!


How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

SHAWN SMITH: I grew up in Laurel, Montana, a small town of about 7,000 people and we lived a couple farm fields away from the golf course.  My parents first introduced me to the game when I was six but it was pretty casual, consisting of me banging a 7-iron down the fairway 90 yards at a time.  I started to take it more seriously when I turned eleven and began playing in local junior golf tournaments.    

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

SS: The summer that I turned eleven, my dad signed me up for my first junior golf tournament and I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed the game.  From that point forward, most of my free time was spent on the golf course.  During the summer, I would spend most days from sun up to sun on the golf course.  

How did you get into the business?  

SS: Growing up, I always enjoyed drawing and being creative.  In the mid-1980s when I was in my early teens, I became aware of the profession of golf course architecture and it seemed like the perfect blend of my creative side with my love of the game.  From that point on I began chasing the dream – I read everything I could get my hands on about golf course architecture, worked in the pro shop and on the grounds crew of my local course to better understand that side of the business, interned for a local landscape architect who also dabbled in golf course design, attended Washington State University where I received a degree in Landscape Architecture and spent a year working golf course construction in Mississippi and Louisiana.  In 1998, I was brought on as a design associate for Arthur Hills and Associates (currently Hills & Forrest) and became a principal in 2010.


What got you excited about the opportunity to take on this renovation?

SS: Westmoreland Country Club has a rich history that dates back to 1911 and includes architectural contributions by Willie Watson, William Langford and A.W. Tillinghast.  When you visit the Club, it has a vibe that is consistent with many of the great old golf courses built during that era.  From the iconic Colonial Williamsburg clubhouse to the beautifully contoured greens, it just looks and feels like a course that has been around for over a century.  The exception to this was the bunkering which, prior to the most recent work, had been rebuilt a number of times over the years and had taken on a character that wasn’t consistent with the rest of the golf course.  What I was most excited about with this renovation was the opportunity to recapture a bunker character with straighter, simpler lines that was more consistent with the other classic architectural features that already existed.      

Describe your process for a renovation of this nature.

SS: The first thing we do with any renovation is to meet with the Club to determine their goals and objectives.  From there, we go to work studying the golf course.  We spend a couple days walking the course, establishing an inventory that identifies its strengths and weaknesses.  We meet with the superintendent and other key individuals at the club to get there perspective.  If its an older course, like Westmoreland, we spend time researching the history of the course to better understand the original architecture and how it may have evolved over the years.  From there, we take all the compiled information and develop a plan for improvements which we present to the green committee.  Based on their feedback, we make any necessary revisions to the plan so that we have a consensus going forward.  When the Club chooses to implement the plan, we prepare construction drawings, facilitate the bid process and help the Club select a contractor to complete the work.  In the case of Westmoreland, they have worked with Leibold on most of their projects over the years so there really wasn’t a formal bid process.  Once construction begins, we make site visits to review the construction and recommend any field modifications to ensure that the design intent is met.  The frequency of the visits varies depending on the stage of construction and how quickly it is progressing.  At Westmoreland, I was making 1-2 day site visits weekly for the better part of four months (Oct., Nov., April & May).      

Did historical documentation play any role in your approach to the renovation?  

SS: We had an aerial photograph from 1938 along with a handful of other ground and oblique photos from that timeframe.  The original bunkering in the 1938 aerial consisted of massive bunkers that were mostly out-of-play.  It simply wasn’t practical to restore the bunkers to their original design.  We did however use the photographs to educate the membership about how many trees had been planted over the years.  The old photos, which showed far fewer trees, supported our recommendation to implement a tree management plan.  The plan focuses on returning to a native plant palette of deciduous hardwoods and creating more of an open character which highlights specimen trees and accentuates shared views and vistas across the golf course.


What were your goals going into the project?  

SS: The project originally just began as a bunker renovation and evolved into rebuilding, squaring up tees, widening/straightening fairways and a tree management plan.  These were the original goals of the bunker project:

  1. Improve the aesthetics of the bunkers by creating a style and character that is consistent with early 20th century architecture and the other classic features found on the course.  
  2. Improve the strategy of the bunkers by creating risk/reward relationships that encourage thoughtful play and make the holes more interesting.
  3. Improve the playability of the course by positioning bunkers where they challenge better players without undulling penalizing the weaker players.
  4. Improve the infrastructure of the bunkers so that they drain properly, are easier to maintain and provide consistent playing conditions for the membership.   

How did you decide on the bold bunker style?

SS: We knew early on that restoring the original bunkering wasn’t practical so we chose to create a bunker style that was consistent with the era Westmoreland was originally built.  Ultimately, we decided to draw inspiration from the trench-style bunkering of C.B. McDonald and Seth Raynor which has strong roots in the Chicago area.

In a renovation like this, how much weight do playability and functionality carry respectively?

SS: A large part of our effort in rebuilding the bunkers was to reposition them (especially the fairway bunkering) so that they challenged the better players without unnecessarily penalizing the weaker players. In many instances, we shifted existing fairway bunkers farther down the hole or added bunkers at the far end of the landing area that could only be reached by the better players.  We widened most of the fairways to 40 yards+/-, especially in the areas leading up to the fairway bunkers where shorter hitters would tend to hit their tee shots.  At the greens, we reposition a number of bunkers and realigned fairways to create wider approaches that would allow for a shot to be run onto the green.  By repositioning the bunkers and widening the fairways and approaches, we were able to make the holes more strategic and thought provoking for the better players and at the same time more playable for the lesser skilled golfer.  


Did you run into challenges with the membership before, during, or after the project, and how did you overcome those challenges?

SS: A year prior to the project, the Club rebuilt two of the bunkers on the short game area to help educate the membership on what the new bunkers would look like and how they would play.  This turned out to a great decision as it was instrumental in helping to gain the membership’s support for the project.  

For the most part, I dealt directly with Todd and the Long Range Planning Committee.  Throughout the project, they were great to work with and were very enthusiastic about the initial plan we presented.  There were a couple holes were we were asked to adjust the bunker placement but they were minor.  As with any project, once we got into construction, there were some minor tweaks that needed to be made and we worked closely with Todd and the committee’s leadership to make those changes.  

Perhaps the biggest hurdle we had during the project came toward the end when we recommended removing a few trees as part of an overall tree management plan.  Through a series of presentations to the Long Range Committee, the Board and then finally the membership, we carefully explained the rationale for our recommendation.  It began with a detailed analysis of the early photographs of the golf course showing the numerous trees that had been planted over the years.  We explained the challenges that trees create from an agronomic, aesthetic and playability standpoint.  And, we included a comprehensive look at the trend in the industry, especially with classic golf courses built during the early 20th century, to remove trees and restore more of an open character with only a few specimen trees.  

Describe your approach to tree management going forward.  

SS: The long term objective of the tree management plan is to eliminate non-native and ornamental trees so that we can highlight specimen hardwood deciduous trees and return the golf course to more of an open feel.  At the same time, we plan to create a dense plant buffer on the perimeter so that we can screen unwanted offsite views.  

In addition to the tree management plan, we have identified 15 acres that we plan to convert to native fescue areas.  We believe the combination of the bunker improvements along with the approach proposed for the trees and native areas will provide a look and feel that is very much consistent with a golf course that was built during the golden age of design.  

How will the renovation impact ongoing maintenance needs and costs?  

SS: Todd may be the better person to ask this question but one of the neat byproducts of the trench bunker style was the fact that we were able to significantly decrease the total bunker square footage on the golf course which should reduce the time spent maintaining the bunkers.  Prior to the renovation, the course had 57 bunkers totaling 83,275 square feet.  With the new bunkers, we increased the number to 66 but the total square footage was cut by a 1/3 to 56,620 square feet.  Additionally, the flat floors and the Better Billy Bunker construction method should all but eliminate washouts following a rain event.


What makes you the proudest about the new Westmoreland?

SS: I am most proud of the transformation we were able to make to the character of the golf course.  We took bunkering and fairway lines that were out of place on a golf course of this age and made them match the other classic elements of the golf course.  It instantly made the golf course look and feel 100 years older!

What do you respect most about your collaborator?

SS: This project afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on site and see firsthand all the hard work that Todd and his staff put into providing impeccable conditions for the membership.  At the same time, they were also instrumental during the renovation, taking on significant portions of the work in-house. Todd is extremely knowledgeable when it comes getting the most out of the golf course but what I respect the most about him is his drive to improve.  He is continually talking to his peers, trying to learn and get better at his craft and is not afraid to try new things or implement new ideas in the quest to get better.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the improvements we made mature under his stewardship.   

What do you love about practicing your craft?

SS: The aspect about design that I love the most is the creative process; taking an idea, refining it, building it and ultimately seeing people enjoy it.



The classic experience begins at Westmoreland at the clubhouse, which might be the most underrated in Chicagoland.  The opening holes on both nines play down away from the clubhouse, and their tees are tied beautifully together by the putting green and closely mown bentgrass surrounds.

Hole #1 – Par 4 – 331 yards

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The opener is a short, slight dogleg right that plays downhill.  The player is confronted with the first of many strategic decisions as the bunkers on the left are reachable.  Positioning is the key to scoring on the 1st, and throughout WCC.

Hole #2 – Par 4 – 388 yards

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The 2nd is a straight par-4 with a long trench bunker guarding the left side of the fairway, and a nasty pot bunker guarding the green front left.  It hits home at this point that most of these bunkers are in fact hazards.

Hole #3 – Par 4 – 439 yards

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The 3rd is a brute of a par-4 playing uphill off the tee to a wide, often windswept fairway.  The approach is blind down to an angled green that will accept running and aerial shots.

Hole #4 – Par 4 – 351 yards

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Options abound off the tee on the short 4th.  Smart players sneak a peek at the pin position coming up the third, as the green runs away from front to back and the approach must be made from the proper angle.

Hole #5 – Par 3 – 170 yards

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The elevated green at the 5th is one of those “must hits”.  A deep bunker guards the front left and steep, closely mown runoffs surround the rest of the green.  A short game fiasco is a really possibility when tee shots are errant.

Hole #6 – Par 4 – 300 yards

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The 6th green is reachable for bombers, but the green surrounds are no bargain if the heroic attempts fail.  The small green is sloped and contoured and players who leave themselves short-sided are unlikely to get up and down.

Hole #7 – Par 4 – 340 yards

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The 7th begins with a blind drive over a hill that runs down to a tiered green.  It is reachable, but the punishment for being on the wrong tier is a near certain three putt.

Hole #8 – Par 5 – 469 yards

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The lone five par on the front is a terrific risk-reward proposition.  Challenge the right bunkers off the tee and the distance is shortened enough to make carrying the fronting lake doable.  The heavily sloped green is unforgiving of imprecise approaches though.

Hole #9 – Par 4 – 391 yards

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The view from the 9th tee is one of the best in town.  Staggered bunkers cutting into the fairway on both sides disorient and confuse, making the hole look narrower than it actually is.  The uphill approach to an elevated green demands a confidently struck shot.

Hole #10 – Par 4 – 408 yards

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Like the first, the 10th plays downhill and doglegs right.  However, it is both narrower and longer and the green has distinct sections with testy pin positions.  This is no gentle handshake.

Hole #11 – Par 5 – 505 yards

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A deep bunker right and two simple bunkers left flank the landing zone on the 11th.  A glorious old tree must be navigated with the lay-up and approach to this contoured green that sits beautifully on the land.

Hole #12 – Par 4 – 375 yards

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The 12th is a two-shotter that plays much longer than its yardage straightaway uphill.  Deep bunkers left and right of the green lie in wait to dish out punishment.

Hole #13 – Par 3 – 193 yards

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The par-3 13th plays over water downhill to a green in an idyllic setting.  Rough-covered mounding surrounds the green creating tricky lies and stances.

Hole #14 – Par 4 – 360 yards

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The 14th plays over a hill and left to blind landing area.  Well struck tee shots with a draw can feed all the way down near the green which sits in a natural amphitheater.  The “dreaded straight ball” however, if overzealously played runs the risk of going through the fairway into a pond right that is hidden from view on the tee.

Hole #15 – Par 5 – 530 yards

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Westmoreland’s third and final par-5 15th might be the most improved hole on the course.  Tree removal on the inside of this dogleg left has opened views and lines, and fairway expansion has created room to play.  That room is critical because the approach to the green is now littered with bunkers that must be avoided to give the player a legitimate chance at birdie.

Hole #16 – Par 4 – 397 yards

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The par-4 16th is a straight par-4 that plays much more narrow than it is.  The left side of the green is well defended by bunkers into which the fairway feeds.

Hole #17 – Par 3 – 141 yards

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The par-3 17th plays over water to an elevated green fronted on the the right by bunkers.  With the wind whipping across the pond, judging line and distance can be a real challenge.

Hole #18 – Par 4 – 383 yards

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One final gorgeous view awaits the player upon reaching the home home, a par-4 which plays back up the hill to the clubhouse.  The heavily sloped green has a mammoth bunker left demanding one last accurate approach.

On the day of my round at Westmoreland, the weather soured as we played the finishing stretch, but it did nothing to dampen my spirits.  Spending time on this now special golf course, discussing the game, architecture and history with Shawn and Todd is as good as it gets for this geek.

Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


The Evolving Artist – An Interview with David McLay Kidd

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?DavidMcLayKidd-MapWalk.png

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?DavidMcLayKidd-WalkingGolf.png

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



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




St. Andrews Links – St. Andrews, Scotland




Fancourt Resort – Blanco George, South Africa




Driggs, Idaho




Luacala Island Resort – Fiji




Kintyre, Scotland




Kailua-Kona, Hawaii




Ottershaw, United Kingdom




Bend, Oregon




Hayward, California


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:



Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Rob Collins & The Sweetens Cove Story

Sweetens Cove – the course and the story behind its creation – has fascinated me for some time.  Golf geeks who make the trip to play this modern 9-holer return with the same two points of feedback.  That course bold, beautiful, and great fun.  And its creator and owner, Rob Collins, is a good dude.

My travel stars finally aligned to allow me to make the trip to Sweetens Cove.  Coincidentally, my plans for a visit fell into place at the same time that Rob was finishing up an interview and course history that he agreed to do before we met.  Neither the course nor Rob disappointed – they are both wonderful.  My recommendation:  Enjoy Rob’s thoughts and photos below, and then go see for yourself just how special his creation is.


How did you get introduced to golf?

I played golf for the first time as an 11 year old with my Dad.  At that time in my life, we only played a few times a year. It was nothing more than a minor hobby in my early years.

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

I decided to try out for my high school team my senior year.  At the time, I was an absolutely horrible player, but I enjoyed the sport and I thought I might have a shot at making the team.  As it turned out, our team was so bad that I was able to squeeze in at the six spot.  Playing on a more regular schedule helped build my interest in the game.  As I started to see some marginal improvement, I began to like it more and more.

After my freshman year in college, I was invited to go on a trip to St. Andrews.  By that time, I was really enjoying the game, and was primed to fall in love with it.  Our loops on the Old & New Courses, along with watching the first three rounds of the Open Championship at Turnberry, solidified my addiction to the game.

How did you get into the business?

I started in the graduate landscape architecture program at Mississippi State in 2002 with the intention of using that degree to help me get into the field of course architecture.  In 2004, I was hired by Rick Robbins as an intern, an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.  I learned a great deal from Rick and his team, and I was fortunate to transition that into a design coordinator role with Gary Player Design.


Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

That is a very difficult question, but I think I would have to go with MacKenzie.  His writings have had a huge influence on me.  Not only do I love his artistic flair and adherence to strategic principles in the design and construction process, but his willingness to cut against the grain of conventional wisdom appeals strongly to me on a personal level.  His twelfth green at Sitwell Park exemplifies his brilliance, self-confidence, and one-of-a-kind flair for the dramatic, and his words in defense of his work amount to my all-time favorite golf architecture quote:

“I have got accustomed to measuring the ultimate popularity of a hole or course by the amount of criticism it gives rise to in the first instance…It is only natural that players who have been spoon fed on insipid, flat uninteresting golf should view with a considerable amount of suspicion anything which is undoubtedly out of the ordinary”

Who has had the most influence on you, both inside and outside of golf?

I think I have to start with the people who first believed in me.  Rick Robbins gave me my first job in course architecture.  Also, Frank Henegan from Gary Player Design brought me into their organization.  I learned a tremendous amount about the design and construction process from both him and his colleague, Jeff Lawrence, a Senior Designer with GPD.  Also, I would be remiss not to mention my partner, Tad King.  Not only is Tad one of the most talented shaper/finishers anywhere, but he is also a master of managing the construction and grow in of golf courses.  His common sense and streamlined construction methodology has had a massive influence on me, and his approach provides the basis for much of the philosophical component upon which King-Collins was founded.


What should every owner/Green Committee member learn before breaking ground on a golf construction project?

There is another way!  You don’t need to hire a contractor to build the course, and for God’s sake, keep the consultants and so-called experts as far away from the project as possible.  It is all too common in the golf world for unnecessary expenditures to be passed off to the client by self-interested parties under the guise of obtaining a quality result.  Tad and I have both seen it firsthand, and we believe firmly that one of the biggest problems facing the game and golf construction, more specifically, is overinflated construction costs.  When courses cost too much to build, people who would otherwise build golf will look in other directions for how to spend their money when developing land.  At a certain point, it becomes impossible to recoup the initial investment if the golf course construction budget spirals out of hand.  Furthermore, inflated green’s fees result from uncontrolled expenditures, which obviously make the game less accessible to the general public.  In sum, less golf gets built AND the game costs more to play when costs aren’t controlled.

We believe, and I think that Sweetens Cove is living proof, that our method not only works, but that it is the best method for designing and building golf courses.  Simply put, we are able to maintain quality and artistic control over all aspects of the course while keeping costs to a minimum.  Here are a few prime examples:

During the Sweetens Cove construction, Tad and I visited another course that was also undergoing a renovation.  Both Sweetens Cove and this other course were using the same sand to cap the fairways.  We were told during one visit by the contractor’s project superintendent that they would no longer be using the sand because it had failed in testing and grass wouldn’t grow on it.  419 Bermuda, which will grow across a cart path, wouldn’t grow in this sand according that job’s contractor!  Think about how idiotic that is and what the consequences were for the client:

  1. They had a mountain of sand, which they were told they could no longer use. This amounted to a huge waste of resources, time, and money.
  2. They actually paid money to a lab and a consultant to acquire those results.

The end result is that they spent more money to go slower with zero improvement in quality.  Those kinds of situations occur all of the time and the cost of decisions like that can be astronomical.  As an aside, the fairways at Sweetens Cove, which were planted in the nonconforming sand, are perfect.

The second example that comes to mind is related to a project that we were hired for in the Canadian Rockies.  Unfortunately, the Montane Club was never built, but we put together a $4.9M budget on a piece of land that had previously been budgeted by a former touring pro, signature architect at $1M/hole.  With the signature architect’s army of consultants and a golf contractor on site, the project easily would have spiraled upwards of $25M.  Had it been built, how would the client have recouped these costs?  Unfortunately, stories like these repeat themselves over and over, every day all around the world of golf construction.

So, to answer your question directly, I would encourage all green committee members, owners, clients, etc. to educate themselves about construction costs and work hard to discern what costs are necessary and which ones are not.  After that, they should call us (half kidding, sort of…ok, not really kidding at all).


How has your commitment to creative collaboration in the field impacted your work?

First, the design / build method, which we employ, is the best way to build golf.  Golf courses are built in the field, not on a desk 1,000 miles from the site.  The best decision I ever made in my career occurred right out of graduate school.  I had two opportunities.  One was with the Player Group as an on-site design coordinator, which would immerse me in the daily routine of a construction process or as a CAD/office designer for a competing firm.  While I was hugely grateful for both offers, I chose to go with the offer from Player, and I am thankful every day that I made that decision.  Not only did I fall in love with the construction process, but I learned the fundamentals of how to build a golf course and the degree to which construction and design are intertwined.  So, the process of collaboration in the field forms the basis for my work.  Every great golf course in recent memory has been built using the design/build method, and Tad and I formed our company on the belief that we could deliver elite quality with a reduced price using that approach.

How did you get involved with the Sweetens Cove project?

I was referred to the project by King Oehmig.  I was desperate to remain involved with architecture after the economic collapse in ‘08, and King was spearheading the Gil Hanse project at Sewanee.  I approached him to see if I could get involved up there, and he said he would be happy to help. He took it a step further and referred me to my client who was looking to do something with their nine-hole course, Sequatchie Valley G&CC, which would ultimately be rebranded as Sweetens Cove Golf Club after the renovation.

What place do you see courses like Sweetens Cove having in the future of the game?

I think they will be extremely important.  The days of spending an entire weekend at the local club only to show up at home on Sunday night are long gone.  A lot of people don’t have time for an eighteen hole round, and quality courses of alternative lengths will be increasingly important for the game as it works to stay relevant and expand.  Furthermore, Sweetens Cove operates on a budget that is a fraction of your typical maintenance budget, but it delivers high quality conditions thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff and the design of the course.  Finally, I think Sweetens Cove is a prime example of how you can have fascinating and engaging playing scenarios on a site that, at first glance, didn’t seem like it could possibly yield good golf.  I believe that the notion that great golf cannot be derived from an inferior site is a flawed one.  If anything, Sweetens Cove proves that you don’t need eighteen holes or a good site to create a great golf course.  On top of that, an outsized maintenance budget isn’t needed either.  If there were more courses like Sweetens Cove and fewer courses like (fill in the blank), the world would be a better place.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design?  To build?

I love bunker construction, but the most fascinating part of construction comes at the greens.  Our goal is always to match the green contours to the strategy of the hole.  Ideally, I want players to be considering the slope and contour of the green surfaces and their surrounds while they are on the tee.  If you can get people to do that, then I think your work has been very effective.  Essentially, we want to provide ground for endless shotmaking and strategic scenarios to unfold.  Working to create that in the field is a thrill.


What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love the reward that comes with seeing things unfold.  It starts with an idea and then it evolves a little more each day.  That evolutionary process is what gets me excited.  At Sweetens Cove, we kept turning it up and turning it up.  It was so much fun to obsess over and refine the minutest of details on the course.  Ultimately, a golf course is a sum of its parts, and it was our goal to pack Sweetens Cove with micro details across the entirety of the property.  We never placed one detail in importance over another.  For example, the edgework on the back side of an island in a part of a massive bunker that nobody was ever going to see was equally as important as the edgework on the flashiest, most highly visible bunker.

With that approach, you are guaranteed to have a course full of highly personalized details when it is complete.  That is how you get that attitude and character in a course that you can feel but you can’t quite put your finger on.  The best courses do that, and I am most proud of that aspect of Sweetens Cove.  Nothing was overlooked and nothing was taken for granted.  That is why a nine-hole course in a flood plain in rural Tennessee has received massive amounts of publicity and attention.  None of that happened by accident.  Instead it was a result of untold countless, thankless hours of labor when no one was watching.  Looking back on that effort and seeing what we have today fills me with desire to go out and do it again.  We love the creative process, and we are ready for #2.

What courses are at the top of your hit list to see or play next?

There are so many that it is impossible to come up with an adequate list, but here are a few off of the top of my head:

Crystal Downs, Old Town, Prairie Dunes, Maidstone, Shoreacres, Chicago, Seminole….and, I would like to wave a magic wand and take a three month trip to GBI to travel and explore the endless options there.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, but it would be great if it did.

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

I have six and eleven year old daughters so my wife and I spend most of our time outside of work juggling parenting responsibilities.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I am excited to say that the phone is ringing.  We have ten solid leads at the moment.  Some are renovation / restorations, but six are new construction in both domestic and international markets.  Four of the projects are what I would consider “the big one” where we could really prove exactly what we are capable of on a great site.  We are ready for that opportunity, and can’t wait to get started on a new project, hopefully sooner than later!


In the summer of 2010, I was desperately searching for a way back into golf architecture.  I had heard that Gil Hanse had been hired to renovate the golf course at Sewanee, which happened to by my alma mater.  I asked around and found out that a graduate of the Seminary School at Sewanee and a local golfing legend, King Oehmig, was heading up the project.  Via Mark Stovall, the former superintendent of Lookout Mountain, I was placed in touch with King.  In May 2010, he wrote me this note as part of an email chain about the Sewanee project:

PS: I do know that Mr. Bob Thomas, the proprietor of Sequatchie Concrete Company, who is a Sewanee Alum, has just bought a little course right outside of Kimball, TN, the Sequatchie Country Club.  Right now, it needs a lot of work; I would suggest that you contact Bob, and you can tell him that I suggested that you call him about possibly helping him with fixing it up.  Thanks. – KO

Reading back through that old email brings back a flood of memories: my internal feeling of desperation about returning to golf architecture, my hope for getting involved with the Sewanee project, the VERY early days of King-Collins, and my gratitude toward King for suggesting me to Mr. Thomas.  Reading it now makes it hard to believe that over six years of my life have gone into this project.

Soon after King’s recommendation, we began a discussion with the Thomas family about possibly renovating the Sequatchie Valley G&CC. We were eventually hired in March of 2011 for the job, and Tad and I were extremely excited to have the opportunity to put our ideas into the ground.  We brought in Gus Grantham to be lead shaper on the project, construction commenced on June 2, 2011 and the course was grassed out a year later in June of 2012.


The golf course, which only had one foot of fall across the entire property sits in a flood plain near Battle Creek.  In addition to having extremely minimal drainage, the site sits on heavy clay soils.  We, therefore, had a massive task ahead of us if the resulting work was to have even a modest level of playing interest.  First and foremost, we had to devise a way to drain every drop of water off of the property while creating highly interesting golfing features.  In the end, we moved about 300,000 cubic yards of dirt & installed fifteen (15) miles of drain pipe. I am very proud of the fact that we did all of this “in house” while building the course for a fraction of the cost of a typical project.  In addition to the earthworks, the site was capped with approximately 4” of sand, which has been wonderful for helping us maintain firm and fast conditions across the property.

My overall vision for the project going in was to create an inland links that borrowed lessons from some of my favorite places in golf: Pinehurst #2, TOC, Tobacco Road, North Berwick, the 1932 version of Augusta National, and others.  However, I had no interest in playing copycat.  It was very important to me that the course have its own unique flair while still grasping the core lessons at the heart of the aforementioned greats.  Essentially, I wanted to take the things that I liked in architecture, put them in a blender and come up with a concoction that would hopefully remind others of places they had seen or been but with a degree of uniqueness that would ideally leave one feeling as though they had found a true original.  Those qualities are not something that you can plan for in the office.  To the contrary, the highly personalized details only rise out of the ground through intensive site work.  The long, thankless hours that we spent fashioning the course are something of which I am very proud.  There were countless opportunities to mail it in or walk away from the project entirely, but we never did.  I think that our unwavering commitment to it shines through in one’s playing experience, an aspect of Sweetens Cove that elevates it over most.


After grassing was complete, the course remained under the umbrella of our client’s various business interests until August 2013.  They made an internal decision to return the focus of their business solely toward concrete manufacturing, and I was approached about the possibility of leasing the property from Sequatchie Concrete.  Given the level of commitment that I had exhibited to the course, I was a natural fit, and as a result, I enthusiastically began the search for a like-minded partner.  Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2013 when I received a call out of the blue from Mark Stovall that Ari Techner & Patrick Boyd, partners in Scratch Golf, were interested in touring the course.  As always, I was pleased to show it to any interested parties, and soon after that visit, Ari & I embarked on a quest to launch Sweetens Cove.  We were able to get a signed lease in the spring of 2014, and the course officially opened in October 2014.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be an owner/operator of a golf course, but my intoxicating relationship with Sweetens Cove would not allow me to see it return to nature.  It’s an interesting wrinkle in the saga that Mark Stovall was the linchpin for the entire project in that he originally connected me to the project via King Oehmig and also introduced me to my future partner who would help me save it.

As of this writing, we have nearly two (2) years of operations under our belt, and the course continues to get better.  I feel like the conditions that our excellent superintendent, Brent Roberson, has been able to deliver have the architecture more on display than at any other point in the history of the course.  There are simply more options and more shots at the player’s disposal than ever, and it is a thrill to watch people enjoy and soak in the highly unique qualities that make the course so special.

Following are some of my thoughts behind the architecture of the course and the backstory of the construction of each hole (click on images to enlarge):

HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 563 yards


I think I struggled with the design of this hole more than any other.  I had a number of different ideas about the design for the green complex, before settling on the current version, which has a reverse redan tilt set inside a punchbowl.  The green itself is protected front and center by a deep and foreboding hazard, which was nicknamed the “Mitre Bunker” by Sweetens Cove GM, Patrick Boyd.  Like the rest of the course, the original hole was dead flat with a pond, which we were not allowed to touch, near the landing area on the right side.  To complicate matters, water from the mountain on the left side of the hole would pour onto the first fairway during rain events via culverts buried under Sweetens Cove Road.  After the left side was cleared of its excessive trees and underbrush, Gus, Tad, and I embarked on a plan to create a thrilling opening hole that would remain dry.  Given the existing site conditions, this was an extraordinarily difficult task.


The 1st pre-construction

Nowhere was the moniker for the original course “Squishy Valley” more apt than on the first hole.  During the original rough shaping of the hole, long buried golf balls were bouncing off of the blade of the dozer.  In order to prevent water from draining onto the hole, the entire left side of the hole was built up, and water from the mountain and road are now captured prior to reaching the course. Additional drainage was installed throughout the fairway, and like all of the other holes, the fairway was capped with roughly 4-6” of sand.

Regarding the strategy, and overall look, I think that the first does a good job of introducing players to many of the themes that they will see during the round at Sweetens Cove.  The tee and approach shots both allow for multiple routes of play, and the heavily contoured green welcomes well played running and aerial shots.  Most importantly, Sweetens Cove never dictates to players exactly how to navigate the terrain.  Instead, golfers are left to choose their own path, with each respective route providing its own unique challenge and set of options.


From the right fairway bunker


Approaching the green from the left


Short left of the green


The mitre bunker with the green behind


Left of the green

HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 375 yards


In a pure construction sense, the second at Sweetens Cove is one of the most important holes on the course.  While the second hole at the original Sequatchie Valley was also a drainage nightmare, it offered an opportunity to simultaneously handle the water on a large swath of the property while creating much needed fill material for construction.  The original hole was a long, straightaway par four of approximately 440 yards.  When the first green was moved back toward the property line, the second tees shifted forward.  Even with this change, we were still left with a massive dead space in front of the tees.  In order to handle the drainage on the second hole and the second half of the first hole, we dug a large lake near the tee complex.  I was adamant that most players not be forced to carry the water on the tee shot.  As a result, I angled the lake away from the line of play from the blue tees forward and into the massive dead area behind the seventh green.  Fill from this lake was used for shaping and to gain much needed elevation on the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth holes.


The 2nd pre-construction

On the tee, the primary goal is to miss the deep, centrally located pot bunker, which has been nicknamed “Tupac” by a Sweetens Cove regular.  If you’re in it, you’re dead.  The ideal line of play on most shots is from the small patch of ground adjacent to his bunker and the right-hand bunker, which is approximately thirty yards closer to the green.  From this angle, players will not be forced to deal directly with the very strong contour along the left side of the green.  As with all greens at Sweetens, there are many different potential pin locations.  Perhaps the easiest and most fun pin is in the bowl in the front of the green, a lobe of the green which came close to never existing.  When the green was originally shaped, it was about 25% smaller.  I couldn’t get comfortable with that iteration, and we kept pulling out the front portion of the green until that pin location was created.  I think that change took the green from good to great, and is an example of why it is so important to maintain artistic control on a project.  Had we settled on the earlier version, it would’ve been fine but nowhere near as good as what is there today.  The most difficult pin, by contrast, is the far left location.

As all of the greens at Sweetens are surrounded by tightly mown shortgrass, the bold contours along the front left and left side of the green can repel indifferent efforts on the approach.  This green complex is as good an example as any of how short grass can at once open up a Pandora’s Box of terrible outcomes while at the same time provide unlimited shotmaking options.  Short grass simply has a way of delivering a level of awe and fear that many ‘typical’ hazards can’t approach.  The multifaceted nature of tightly mown turf has always fascinated me, and the second green complex, which is defended only by contour and the speed of the surrounds, fully immerses players in the shotmaking possibilities at Sweetens Cove.


From the regular tee


Approach from the center of the fairway


Short right of the green


The view back from behind the green

HOLE #3 – Par 5 – 582 yards


The third hole is the second par five on the layout and the first real taste of how we utilized dead space on the Sequatchie Valley layout by tying the golf holes together.  One of my favorite things about Sweetens Cove is how the holes relate to and complement one another.  Prior to construction, the majority of the 72 acre site was covered with a monochromatic carpet of bermudagrass.  Now, waste areas and large swaths of native plants add texture and complexity to the layout.  The waste area which borders the right side of the fairway serves as way to add strategic and visual interest, and negates the dead space that previously existed between the third and fifth holes.


The 3rd pre-construction

During construction, the first half of the hole was raised slightly in order to ease drainage.  All water from the tee to the central bunker drains to the pond by the fifth and sixth holes, and the second half of the hole drains to the pond behind the green.  At the green, I really wanted to do something different with the strategy, and I chose to leave a lone Oak tree in the center of the approach.  This tree and the location of the pin on the massive green impact decision making on the tee.  If the pin is left, you have to come in from the left side of the fairway, and conversely, if it is on the right, it is wise to favor that side of the fairway on approach.  If the pin is behind the tree, it is generally easier to approach from the right side, but the tree and the shaping of the green complex present the golfer with a host of options: intentionally play to the left or right of the tree with the intent of using the contours to funnel the ball toward the hole or play over the tree.

The green itself is divided into sections by large rolls.  From the right side, the 10,000 square foot surface of the green has the appearance of a waterfall tumbling down a slope, and all pinable areas can be reached by playing away from the hole with the intent of laying the ball dead at the hole after it rolls out along the bold contours.  The third is the first truly wild green at Sweetens, and it serves in many ways as a primer for what lays ahead during one’s round.  Thematically, the third fits with the rest of the golf course in that it is a terrific match play hole where eagle and birdie are achievable, but the short grass, contours, and hazards can conspire to deliver a firm punishment for anyone out of position.


From the tee


The waste bunker that runs the length of the right side


The greenside bunker left


Short left of the green with the center tree


The view back from the green

HOLE #4 (King) – Par 3 – 169 yards


There is only one hole at Sweetens Cove that has a name on the scorecard.  The fourth was aptly dubbed “King” after King Oehmig, the man who referred me to the project, in addition to providing the design inspiration for the hole.


The 4th pre-construction

When I first toured the site with King in July 2010, he remarked, “Rob, it would be so cool if you could find a place out here to build a Himalayas hole.”  As a fellow lover of classic, quirky architecture, I wholeheartedly agreed with his proclamation, and I set out to find the spot to make his vision a reality.  During one of my subsequent visits, I came upon the spot where the current fourth resides.  The fourth green was tucked into a small corner at the edge of the current fourth hole.  Adjacent to the miniature green was a large open area that could easily accommodate a first rate Himalayas hole.  During construction, we used dirt from the lake excavation to create the ridge that runs between the tee complex and the massive 20,000 square foot green.

The green itself is 87 yards deep, and the hole can play totally blind, partially blind, or 100% visible depending upon the tee and pin location.  It’s not uncommon to play the hole at 110 yards completely blind on one day and visible and 210 the next.  I think the unlimited combination of pin and tee locations, along with the heavily contoured, serpentine green, makes the hole a fascinating challenge from day to day.  In the sense of pure variety, fun, shotmaking options, and ability to change complexion from one round to the next, the fourth probably embodies the true spirit of Sweetens Cove more than any other on the course.  Along with being great fun to detail, the massive waste hazard, which was built into the ridge, provides a sense of visual and strategic continuity with much of the rest of the course.


From the tee


Short left of the green


Off the right side of the green


Left section of the massive green


Back left of the green


The view back to the green from 5 tee

HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 293 yards


Drivable par fours are my favorite type of hole, and I knew that we had a great opportunity to do something special when we first laid out the concept for the fifth.  There was no interesting terrain to work off of, but we had all the width that we needed to create a highly unique, option-filled short par four.  I felt early on that the third, fourth, and fifth holes were the heart of Sweetens Cove.  I’ve always liked that they represent three different pars, and the natural ebb and flow of the routing adds emotional depth to the layout.  As you come off of the challenging fourth, which can play up to 210 yards, you are greeted with a drivable hole of only 283 yards.  Along with multiple eagles, I have scored everything up to a ten on the hole.  At its widest point, the fairway is 100 yards wide, and the boomerang green gives the hole loads of variety in possible pin placements.


The 5th pre-construction

On the tee, the key feature to avoid is the ten foot deep greenside bunker that is partially bordered with railway sleepers.  I absolutely love what this hazard does to the player psychologically.  While not large in physical size, it is guaranteed to weigh heavily on the minds of all players on the tee.  The extremely penal nature of the hazard means that multiple shots to clear its depths are not uncommon.  Additionally, the bunker plays larger than it looks as some of the greenside and surrounding contours will help funnel balls toward the sand.  Finally, we paid extra attention in the finish to the contours around the bunker, which will allow the clever player who is stymied by the bunker to play away from the flag along the ground in an effort to lay the ball dead at the hole.  One of my favorite memories of my time at Sweetens Cove involved this exact scenario.  I watched a player that could not have had a handicap lower than 36 approach the green from about fifty yards away toward the pin tucked directly behind the bunker.  With his hybrid in hand, he topped a ball that looked as if it would be gobbled up by the bunker.  Instead, he caught the perfect contour and his ball rolled around the perimeter of the hazard and rolled to within a foot of the flag.  It was an extraordinary thrill to see the contours that we had labored over help produce such a miraculous shot!

One of our members at Sweetens Cove had a similarly heroic shot this summer when he aced the hole with a three wood.  Similar to the previous example, the pin was behind the pot bunker, and his shot, which carried long and right of the hazard, ran up on the strong back right ‘catcher’s mitt’ contour, took a hard left turn, and rolled fifty feet into the bottom of the cup.  These types of playing scenarios are what make the course so special, and it never ceases to give me great pleasure when I hear a new story about someone’s shotmaking.  Ultimately, the fact that success and failure reside in such close quarters is what makes the fifth a timelessly entertaining hole.


From the tee over the waste area


The waste area that separates #3 from #5


The approach from the center of the fairway


The Devil’s Asshole bunker


Front left of the green


The view back down the hole from the back of the green

HOLE #6 – Par 4 – 456 yards


The natural ebb and flow of a good routing demands that there be a handful of highly challenging holes, and the sixth at Sweetens Cove fits that mold.  A long cape hole, which plays over 450 yards from the tips, this two shotter can wreck a good scorecard with one slight misstep.  I also love that the sixth is sandwiched on either side by short par fours.  The psychological pull of feeling as though one needs to hang on and get through the hole without falling prone to disaster can weigh on the player.  Those who are unsuccessful will find a sliver of hope with the knowledge that the possibility of redemption awaits later in the round.


The 6th pre-construction

Overall, the design of the sixth is fairly simple in that it uses the strategy of the cape hole design template.  However, I wanted to do something different at the green.  Whereas many cape holes have a kidney shaped green that hugs the water, I wanted to have a large part of the green run away from the water.  In order to get the unique angle, shape, and contour right, we ended up wearing the dirt out here a little bit.  In the end, though, I am really pleased with the way the hole turned out.  The green has the far left, nearly impossible “Sunday” pin along with easier pins on the right and middle of the green.

The transitions and rolls throughout the green can at times complicate matters on the approach or provide the option to play away from certain locations while keeping the ball on the ground with the intent to use contour to get the ball near the hole.  This is particularly true on the lower shelf, which is bisected by a strong roll.  The clever player can use this feature to aim the ball away from the water while trying to get the ball close to the far left pins.  The roll also adds complexity to shots that approach middle pins.  Slightly pulled or short shots to the middle pins can be shed away by the same contour that may have helped you on previous rounds.  Again, we see an instance of elasticity in the greens, a core component of how a golf course can provide sustained interest round after round.  One of the more difficult pins on the green is, ironically, the one furthest from the water.  There is a small, upper shelf, which is most easily accessed through the air, one of the few shots at Sweetens that has that characteristic.  Overall, the hole requires precision and excellent ball striking to avoid bogey or worse.


The intimidating tee shot


The green contours as seen from the left side


The rugged bunker behind the green


The view back down the cape style fairway from behind the green

HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 328 yards


Prior to construction, the seventh and eighth holes were by far the worst back to back par fours that I had ever seen.  The two holes were bisected by an open concrete ditch, and the playing corridor of the seventh was choked down in size by trees along the right side of the fairway.  On a golf course riddled with poor turf quality, the ground on the seventh, especially near the open ditch, was barren.  While each hole had its challenges, I am most proud of what our team accomplished on seven and eight.


The 7th pre-construction

The two holes combined cover an area approximately 350 yards long by 150 yards wide.  Our primary challenge lay in how to drain every square inch of this acreage without importing any fill material.  This was accomplished by cutting into the ground and using the generated material for shaping.  All low areas were drained to the ditch, which was covered with concrete slabs to support the earth that was pushed over its top.  By taking this approach, we were able to rid the holes of the overly penal and immensely unattractive ditch while, at the same time, providing the necessary width to create the ground where endlessly varied playing scenarios could unfold.

While it is certainly not apparent upon first glance, the strategy of the hole is similar to that of the fourth at Pebble Beach, one of my favorite holes at the famous Links.  On both holes, wide fairways greet the player, but the ideal angle of attack is from the far right side.  At Sweetens Cove, this strategic dilemma is set up by the placement of the bunkers in relation to the angle of the tee shot and the direction of the central axis of the green.  At Pebble Beach, players need to challenge the cliff along the right side of the hole to gain the best angle to the tiny green.  Frightening bunkers flank both sides of the narrow putting surface, making any approach from the far left side of the fairway extremely difficult.  I have been fortunate to play the hole several times, and my only scoring catastrophe there occurred after a tee shot that ended up on the far left side of the fairway, which forced me to approach the green over the left greenside bunker and from an angle that is perpendicular to the central axis of the green.  From that position, the margin of error is finite, and absolute precision is required in order to achieve par, a dynamic that I absolutely love on a short par four.

Unlike the fourth at Pebble, the seventh green at Sweetens is bunkerless, and the extremely strong fall-off contours on the right and left side make approach from anywhere but the ideal sliver of fairway extremely difficult.  With the tightly mown shortgrass of the surrounds, it is not uncommon for scores to balloon around this green, which may be the most devilish on the course.  In fact, we have an inside joke at Sweetens that the seventh is the hardest 310 yard par five in America.  In spite of its difficulty, the shortgrass around the domed green is a far more interesting hazard than bunkering, in my opinion, because it provides the opportunity for a greater number of players to attempt and find success with difficult recovery shots.  It is essentially impossible for a 20+ handicap to have a chance to get up and down out of a difficult bunker, whereas even the worst players can keep the ball on the ground leaving open the possibility that their ball will wind up near the hole.

I should also mention that one of my favorite hazards on the course is the large bunker on the seventh, also known as “Dan’s Bunker,” which was named after the Coore & Crenshaw associate, Dan Proctor, who provided early assistance with bunker construction on the seventh, eighth, and ninth holes.  The intricately detailed hazard is a terrific example of the bunkers at Sweetens, which were intensely labored over during every stage of construction.


View from the tee


Short of the right fairway bunker


Dan’s Bunker


The approach from the left


Left of the green


The view back across the property from back left of the green

HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 387 yards


Given that the seventh and eighth are parallel par fours of a similar length which occupy the same fairway, there was a danger that we could get repetitive in this part of the course.  This potentially negative outcome was on my mind as I thought through design for the eighth hole.  In contrast with the previous hole, the double plateau green at the eighth is massive, coming in at approximately 12,500 square feet.  With wildly different outcomes and shotmaking scenarios possible with each hole location, it is imperative that the player identify the proper angle of approach.  For nearly all hole locations, the far left or far right side of the fairway is best.

Central bunkering and a few scattered trees add drama on the tee shot. Even though the fairway is 150 yards wide, I find that this tee shot is one of the most unsettling on the course.  From the tee, the area to the right of the centerline bunker appears to be much narrower than it is in reality.  This visual deception creates indecision in my mind and a sense of unease on the tee.  Conversely, the far left side of the fairway can be tricky to reach because of the large oak that we left during construction.  Also, any balls that take the left-hand route off the tee risk winding up in one of the central bunkers if the tee shot is pushed.

Prior to construction, the fairway narrowed to approximately twenty yards wide between the ditch on the left and a large grove of pines on the right, a scenario that is hard to picture given the current realities on the ground.  Without the tree removal and the ability to cover the ditch, the hole would’ve been unrecoverable.  As it is now, it presents a wild variety of shotmaking options on approach and recovery, and the extreme width of the hole allows golfers of all skill levels to choose their own route to the pin.

The green, which is one of the largest on the course, is also one of the most severely contoured.  It is often, fairly, called a sideways Biarritz green.  While it was not my intention going into construction to design and build a green of this style, the end product is a result of our approach to the process.  I explained to Gus, our shaper, that I wanted a double plateau with a large, central roll fronting the green.  I trusted Gus’s immense talent and let him take a stab at putting something cool in the ground.  Given that it was only our second green to build, we were very early on in construction process.  What Gus shaped blew me away and solidified my belief that we were well on our way to delivering something exceptional at Sweetens Cove.  I think the evolution of this green perfectly encapsulates our approach to field work.  Had I shackled Gus and not believed in his innate abilities, the green wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is.  I think that designers need to grip the job firmly enough to have control but loosely enough to let uniquely artistic features unfold.  In the end, if the green hadn’t fit my eye, it would’ve been changed, but the point is that you have to have a certain level of trust to let things unfold naturally.  The key is in laying out a vision and trusting the people with whom you are working to help you deliver.  At Sweetens Cove, we didn’t have a lot of personnel, but the ones that we did have were immensely talented and capable of creating unique and memorable golf holes.

As a penultimate hole on a course designed for match play, I am very fond of the ability of the eighth to unveil both heroic and disastrous play.  With a very wide range of potential scores in play, golfers embroiled in a tight match will feel nervous with the lead and optimistic playing from behind, a psychological dynamic key to all great match play venues.


The center approach to the wild double plateau green


The approach from the right side


The green as seen from the left plateau


The view back from behind and above the green

HOLE #9 – Par 3 – 148 yards


Like everywhere else on the course, there was nothing remarkable about the ground at the ninth hole prior to construction.  In fact, the old ninth green was bizarrely located underneath the tree that borders the left side of the current first.  The one natural feature that we did have to work with on the entire course was the hill leading from the clubhouse site to the valley floor.  By locating the tee behind the eighth and benching the green into the hillside beneath the clubhouse site, we had the bones of a thrilling finishing hole. All that was left to do was to shape a 10,000 square foot redan / short hybrid green and construct and detail a two acre waste hazard that would provide the necessary angle and visual drama for a highly unique par three finish.


The 9th pre-construction

One of my favorite aspects of the course is that it ends on a one-shotter.  All of the match play drama that can build over the preceding holes can come down to a 130 yard short iron shot.  As I mentioned before, each hole at Sweetens Cove has a wide gap in potential outcomes and scores, and it could be argued that the ninth has the widest gap of all.  To date, the hole has seen an extraordinarily disproportionate number of holes in one, and the dreaded “other” is never too far away.  Fifteen aces have been registered since we opened two years ago, and none were more exciting than the ones that occurred during the Mack Cunningham Baylor Preview Golf Tournament in August.  We hosted thirty of the best female high school players from around the state, and the fireworks at the ninth on the final day of the tournament put the design of the home hole on full display.  Early on the second day of the tournament, two sophomores playing in the same group beat seventeen million to one odds to record back to back aces.  Not to be outdone, Ashley Gilliam carded a hole in one on her final swing of the day to give her team a one stroke victory in the tournament – a walk off ace!

During the planning stages and construction, we imagined that it would be possible for that type of drama to occur on our home hole, but what I witnessed that day was beyond my wildest imagination.  Unlike many one shot holes, this hole presents a variety of options on the tee shot.  You can play away from the far left flags by using the giant redan kick plate to bring the ball around to the hole, or the bold golfer can choose to fly directly at the flag.  When the pin is on the middle tier of the green, the hole plays much more like a traditional short. By marrying two of the most iconic par three designs into one on hole, I think we created one of the most unique, entertaining, and vexing one-shotters anywhere.

Another great aspect of the ninth is the elevated nature of the green, which allows golfers to see the entire complex with its highly visual bunkering from every hole on the property.  During construction, I realized that this visual reality is similar to the auditory trigger that one has when they are approaching a big rapid on a rafting trip.  Analogous to the sound of a roaring river, the dominating visual presence of the ninth is a constant companion for the golfer.  You know that drama and exacting shotmaking await you in the future and are fully aware that in order to complete your round successfully, you will eventually have to face that harrowing final shot.  The sense of anticipation for that moment adds to the drama of the final shot.

I think the hole is a perfect ending to one’s round at Sweetens. It presents a variety of options, and thematically, the ninth is another unique take on classically inspired golf architecture motifs.


The view over the waste bunker from the tee


From the runoff left of the green


From behind and above the green back to the tee

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2016 Copyright – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Home Course Hero – An Interview with Architect Mike DeVries

Anyone who has played golf in Northern Michigan knows how truly special it is.  Not only is it home to one of the greatest golf courses in the world – Crystal Downs – it is also home to some of the best golf course architects working today.  Mike DeVries is one of those GCAs.

As evidenced by my previous post on the Kingsley Club, my love of Mike’s work is no secret.  After playing the first hole at Kingsley the first time, I knew I wanted to play the course over and over again.  My desire is just as great to play the rest of Mike’s courses, in Michigan and beyond.

That bucket list golf will remain on the list for now.  In the meantime though, enjoy the following interview with Mike, with gorgeous accompanying photos by Larry Lambrecht (note: click any photo to open slide show).


How did you get into the business?

I grew up learning the game from my grandfather and then working in the pro shop at Crystal Downs when I was 14.  At 16, I worked in the pro shop on weekends and on the grounds crew during the week.  Tom Mead became the Superintendent when I was 17 and wanted me full time on the grounds crew, so I did that through college.  After my undergrad, I worked for Herman’s Sporting Goods and figured out their mission and mine were not the same.  I was getting married in Frankfort and went back to the grounds crew at the Downs prior to the wedding, and in that time figured out I always came back to golf.  Tom Doak was finishing up High Pointe (sorry to see that wonderful course gone) and I met him and talked about my goals and desire to work in golf design and construction.  After helping them to finish High Pointe, I worked with Tom for 2.5-3 years on the Legends – Heathland GC in Myrtle Beach and then the Black Forest in Gaylord, MI.

What do you admire the most about Crystal Downs?

Of course, the Downs is very personal for me, but the whole place is magical and has so many wonderful attributes about it.  The rhythm and flow of the routing across the landscape, melding all these different, yet similar, landforms and vistas into one cohesive masterpiece is probably what I reflect on the most after thousands of days on the property.



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

Family, parents and grandparents, instilled in me a strong work ethic and desire to always do the best I can.  Certainly, my maternal grandfather taught me about golf and the respect for the game and the land.  In the business, Fred Muller taught me about the game and playing (still does) and Tom Mead was the first big influence on understanding agronomy and the care of a golf course – the two, combined with the Downs as a canvas, gave me a great understanding of what GREAT golf is about.  Tom Doak gave me the opportunity to learn in the dirt with him and we constantly talked about what this change or that change would do to the feature and golf course as a whole every day – that working style still impacts my methods today.  Tom Fazio and his associates gave me a thorough education in the design and construction of high end projects and showed me their desire to always give their clients the best of everything.  I have been fortunate to have had numerous, wonderful owners that have allowed me to try new things and push the envelope on projects.  Dan Lucas and Joe Hancock continue to teach me about agronomy.  Of the great architects, MacKenzie stands above all others due to my lifelong study of the Downs but Ross, Tillie, MacDonald, Raynor, Colt, Flynn, etc. all influence me to look at the ground we are working on.  I like to see all kinds of different golf courses by different designers.  Of the modern designers, I most like to see the works of Pete Dye, Doak, Coore & Crenshaw, and Gil Hanse, as they are always trying something and it is fun to try to figure out what they were trying to do here and there.

Describe your process for a design project.

First of all, you have to consider what the client is really asking you to do and make sure that is taken care of.  But, if you are talking about an open-ended look at the design process, then figuring out the routing of the course is the most critical and important aspect to me.  Without a good routing, even excellent holes and features can get lost in the process and then the course loses focus.  With a great routing, the course has a chance to be something really special every time you play it (assuming you get the details of the greens, bunkers, etc. correct!).

Is there a particular element of a golf hole that you like working on the most?

Each and every element of a course is inter-related to the other features of the course, and especially those that are adjacent to them.  I really like building the green complex, not just the putting surface, because it is the focus and culmination of a hole and what dictates the strategy a golfer takes as he stands on the tee.  With a great green complex, the hole has a chance to be something really intriguing every time a golfer steps on the tee.  But, importantly, the golf hole must be considered in relation to the other holes and features on the course and how this hole connects with the previous and following holes to create a flow that is invigorating and fun to play every day.

GREYWALLS (photos by Larry Lambrecht)


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

There are certainly some good books on the subject [MacKenzie’s Golf Architecture, Thomas’ Golf Architecture in America, Macdonald’s Scotland’s Gift – Golf, and numerous modern texts that summarize the classics listed (Geoff Shackelford has done this many times)].  But, they must listen to their design consultant and Superintendent, understanding that they, as lay people, do not have the training or experience to really make decisions on golf design elements and features.  They need to listen, ask questions, and provide input to the process but not direct it.

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

You often have decision-makers who cannot look beyond their own game with regard to features and playability.  Everyone has biases and prejudices, even designers, myself included, but those have to be put aside to make the best decision for the most players on an everyday basis.  I have not had the opportunity to design a course primarily for a championship venue, and those are rare indeed, so course design must be much more inclusive in its strategy and execution, not just for the low-handicap golfer.

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

When people tell me they keep seeing new things on the course every time they play it.  Personally, it is often something you feel creep into the finished product, not something that is always there at the beginning or planned.

THE MINES (photos by Larry Lambrecht)


When you finish a big project like Cape Wickham, do you need a little down time, or do you like to jump right in to the next project?

A very hard part of the job is trying to line up projects with a nice, even spacing.  It just doesn’t usually work out that way.  So, as much as you try to have one follow directly behind the current one, you work at new projects in pieces while completing one but often, there is time necessary to line up parts of the next project.  Busy is a good problem to have, so if we are ready to go, then we get right to it – definitely better than the alternative!

What are some of your takeaways from your time in Tasmania?

First of all, it was an incredible experience for my entire family, since they were there with me for 6 months (well, only 2 for my daughter, as she had to go back to college).  The chance to go to another part of the world for an extended period of time is really an amazing and wonderful chance that few get to do in their lifetime and that is something that we frequently talk about as a family.  We made lots of friends and really loved our time there.

From a work standpoint, Cape Wickham is the most incredible site I have ever seen for a golf course and it is an honor to have been given the opportunity to work on it.  It was also very challenging working on an island, where supplies and equipment are not easy to acquire or fix, so you have to be very creative in how you approach things and use all the good ideas of locals who know the conditions.  It is a very resourceful place and the conditions were very challenging at times, so perseverance and a dedication by all those involved in the project was really what made it successful.

CAPE WICKHAM (photos by Larry Lambrecht)


What do you love most about practicing your craft?

Being in the dirt and shaping features, feeling the ground beneath you, and then sitting back at the end of a long day looking at what everyone accomplished (hopefully with a cold beer in hand!).

How did you land the job designing the Kingsley Club?

Fred Muller introduced me to Ed Walker, a Traverse City businessman and the managing partner of the project.  Ed had found the property where the club is and he and Art Preston, his partner in the club, wanted to build a great course that could compare with the great courses in the country.  They had this land but weren’t sure if it would be good enough to satisfy their desire for a great course and that’s when they hired me.  I worked on the routing for several months and we discussed the merits of the project to make sure they were comfortable with the potential result – if it wasn’t going to meet their expectations, then we wouldn’t do it.  Ultimately, everyone was on board with the course, club concept, and we got started.

What one word would you use to describe the courses you design, and why?

Reactionary.  They are the result of my reacting to what is in the land and creating a unique and fun golf course out of that ground.

KINGSLEY CLUB (photos by Larry Lambrecht)


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

Crystal Downs is home and so personal to me, so that is the easy answer.  Picking one of my own designs is like picking your favorite child and not really fair, but I might have to go with Cape Wickham, since it is so far away and I haven’t had enough plays on it yet, plus it is such an amazingly beautiful location, with such diverse climatic variances, that it is endlessly exciting and would be a candidate.

What are the top 3 courses next on your list to play for the first time?

Royal County Down – it is disgraceful that I haven’t made it there yet . . . gotta find the time to do so, as I am certain this is one place that will not disappoint.

Cape Breton Highlands – I have been wanting to get there for some time. So, since I am in that vicinity, I will have to check out Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, too!

Jasper and Banff – like Cape Breton, these are hard to get to, but they are excellent courses from all I have heard and prime examples of Stanley Thompson’s work, of which I am a big fan.

Why do you like to play with hickories?

Each club has a personality of its own and therefore you develop relationships with each club that highlights its strengths and weaknesses, forcing the golfer to find a way to make his shot.  When you execute what you are trying to do, with something not nearly as adequate as modern clubs, it is a great feeling of accomplishment.  You can play very good golf with them but it is like when you were learning the game as a kid and couldn’t count on every shot being well struck.  Also, hickory players have an appreciation for the history of the sport and its implements (they are gorgeous pieces of art to look at as well as play with) and show that enthusiasm through their spirit for the game.

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

Spending time with family and friends doing all the usual things, like card games, going to school functions, odd jobs around the house, skiing or sledding in the winter, etc.

What reaction have you experienced from your appearance on Architects Week?

All very positive about my comments and nice to see me on the show. Of course, the architecture fans want more time from the networks on golf architecture and I agree with them!


Click here to see Mike’s Architects Week segment in February, 2015

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

Lots of consulting work with older clubs in the States, particularly in the NY Met area at this time – Siwanoy CC is complete and Sunningdale CC has one more big phase in the fall or 2016.  Some other things are in the works but not confirmed for construction just yet, so you will have to wait on those.

Thanks for having me on Geeked on Golf!

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


Growing Grass – An Interview with Superintendent Brian Palmer

“I’ve had enough of winter already. Looking forward to growing grass again.”

This text message, sent to me by Shoreacres Superintendent Brian Palmer, sums up what I love and respect about Supers.  It is rare indeed to find a profession that consistently produces such passionate and dedicated individuals.  Brian epitomizes that professional commitment.

The season just ended, and Brian is already itching to get back to it, because he thinks his golf course can get better.  After recently having the privilege of playing Shoreacres, I find it hard to imagine what is left to improve.  The transformation during Brian’s tenure of Seth Raynor’s gem on the North Shore is astounding.  He has taken a charming old course and put it into the conversation for the best in Chicago, and the country.

I have been the beneficiary of Brian’s generosity in two ways:  First, he has been helping me with fall projects at Canal Shores.  And second, he agreed to let me pick his brain in an interview.  Enjoy the following insights into the man and his work, as well as a few photos of the beautiful green that he keeps.


How did you get introduced to golf?

I was introduced to the game at a very young age, but didn’t start playing until I was 10 or 11.  My dad was a Superintendent and I used to love going to work with him.  The course always seems so big when you are 6 or 7.  My Grandfather shot his age until he was in early 80’s and he taught me how to play.

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

I’m not quite sure when, maybe towards the end of high school?  I do remember drawing more golf holes than note taking in my notebooks in high school.  Around that time I think I started asking my father about doing this for a career and what might be the necessary steps to start a successful career.

How did you get into the business?

Working for my father, then he sent me to work for a younger Superintendent in Central New York, where I’m from.

Where were you before Shoreacres, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?

I bounced around New York and Connecticut for internships and my first job out of college.  Then I went to work at Merion and was there for about seven years.

It’s a difficult business.  A golf course has many working parts and most of them are out of our control.  Over time I learned to: be a problem solver, do a lot with nothing, do whatever is necessary to get it done, to be able to go with the flow and be flexible, accept the fact that the course is rarely “perfect” in your eyes, and the importance of teamwork.  It’s also important to remember that it’s not your course.  You might spend the majority of your time looking after the course and treat it like it’s yours; but it’s the members’ course and not yours.

I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some of the best Superintendents from around the world, and when I was younger I thought that these guys must know everything.  Was I wrong.  It blew me away that they are constantly seeking new advice and input from everyone around them.  It’s important to continue your education day in and day out.

What are the keys to managing change for a Superintendent during a big project?

Managing large projects is fun – it’s important to be out there as much as possible and keep your head on a swivel.

What do you love most about practicing your craft?

That every day is totally different.  It’s everything that you encounter that day; the sunrise, the sunset, the camaraderie with the staff, the quirks and intricacies of the property, the weather, the adversity and the beauty.

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

That’s a tough one.  I like heathland courses: Morfontaine, Walton Heath, Swinley Forest, and I need to play National.  I would like to see more Raynors too.

When you are not working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?

My fiancé and I like to travel both domestically and internationally, find a good hike, a good beer and a good meal.  I spend a lot of time at the course and my world revolves around the course and the game.  So when I am not at the course I try to separate myself from it all.


What do you know about the architectural history of Shoreacres?

The very beginning of the club’s history is a little blurry because the original clubhouse burned down in 1982 and we lost some of the historical documentation.  At some point Seth Raynor was commissioned to design and build the course.  The club was founded in 1916, construction started in ’18 or ’19, the course opened in ’21 and all 18 holes opened in ’22.  Very little was done to the course over time, meaning there was no rerouting or any drastic changes.

On most Golden Age courses surfaces shrink, trees grow, shots are lost, vistas are lost and aesthetics diminish.  At a certain point, it becomes necessary to bring it back to the way it used to be or go in a different direction.  It all depends on what the club is seeking.

(click on images to enlarge)


What were the key objectives of the project?

To restore the putting surfaces to their original sizes and restore the “infinity” edge that many Raynor and Macdonald greens possess.  We also wanted to get balls running into bunkers both off of the fairway and green.

Were there any surprises along the way?

No, not really.  Like most courses of this age, there was usually a lot of sand in the bunkers.  So we had to tweak the bottoms of the bunkers a little to get the water to drain because we have about 4-5 inches of sand in the bottom of the bunkers now.  My predecessor did a good job maintaining the integrity of the courses design.

How has the response been to the work thus far?

Everyone seems to be very pleased with the results, and there is definitely a significant increase in bunker shots per round.


What comes next?

There is always tweaking and we have a little tee work to be done.  There is never a shortage of work on a golf course.  There is a bunch of work to do in and around our ravines as we continue to introduce native plants, eradicate invasives and attempt to stabilize ravine areas.

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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf