Agustin Pizá

Date: Sat 30 Sep 2017

10 Questions for … Agustin Pizá, MSC MEIGCA

José Agustin Pizá

1. Why did you want to be a golf course architect?

I come from a family dedicated to sport, both of my parents are P.E. Teachers as well as my grandfathers. My great uncle was the first Mexican to swim across the English Channel in 1953 and now I am the third generation that makes a living through sports. I knew that I wanted to be an architect since I was 10 years old and wanted somehow to mix sports with architecture. It was in 1998, in my first job with Jack Nicklaus, that I discovered golf design and had the opportunity to fuse my two passions: architecture and golf. Since then I have had the honour of working four golf courses for Jack Nicklaus and never looked back since.

2. Which golf course architects do you admire and why?

My favourite of all time is definitely Alastair McKenzie because he was a student of the game and thought completely out of the box with loads of character and unique proposals. I like to think I have a bit of that in me. I embrace critical thinking and disruptive architecture.

The others are Tom Fazio, from whom I learned attention to detail and quality; Jack Nicklaus, for showing me the ropes on resort and housing development; Gary Player, for showing me his discipline and quality as a human being and sensitivity in sustainable golf design; Robert Trent Jones II for his character, and last but not least, Robert von Hagge, whom I think was arguably one of the best strategy designers with great vertical interpretation and expression.

I also have admiration for, and would love to work with, David Kidd, Gil Hans, Core Crenshaw, Tom Doak and anybody that designs with character and is not afraid to go out on a limb.

3. What is your proudest design achievement.

At this stage of my career it would have to be between having the trust of a few tour players, celebrity designers and living legends to assist them on their world class projects and, being the first Latin American architect to be a runner up on the prestigious Remodel of the Year award in the US with our project in Huatulco, Oaxaca. Of course, being the first and only Latin American Senior member of the EIGCA isn't bad either.

4. What are your favourite three golf courses in the World from a design perspective, and why?

  • Saint Andrews Old Course for its strategy and historic value.
  • Cypress point for its beauty, character and strategy
  • Diamante Course in Cabo, México designed by Davis Love III. Our first proper links course in Mexico and fortunately ranked 36 in the world. After that, any golf course that brings tourism into Mexico #VisitMexico

5. What are the greatest challenges you face as a golf course architect

There are a lot of challenges but if you want to dig deep I would say being Mexican in an Anglo Saxon industry and trying to break into the level that I know I can compete at. I could settle and either play back fiddle or cater to a lower market, but I enjoy the competition and knowing that the 4 or 5 design companies competing for a project are world class options and my name is on the table. The wonderful game of golf gives us that, you can enjoy the competition and genuinely wish your competitor best of luck, and sometimes even end up working together for the best interest of our client, i.e.- Punta Mita, Vidanta, Costa Baja with Nicklaus Signature, Nicklaus Design and Gary Player Signature respectively. Two of my mentors.

6. What environmental or sustainable initiatives have you incorporated into your designs?

Anything that I can I incorporate. I am actually very active in the ecologic and social aspect of sustainability but also in the economic side since we do have to create a good return on investment for our client. As for the social aspect, I have been growing the game of golf in Latin America since 2011 with the Peruvian Golf Federation and my own program in Mexico called Primer Swing that will change now that The First Tee Mexico begins in 2018. As a pro-environmental thinking architect, I design as I should-do and not as I can-do.

7. How do you see the golf course design industry changing in the next 20 years?

I've been in the golf industry for 19 years and I have seen some cycles. I started in the boom of the 90s where everything was changing. Fairways were getting wider and longer to sell more real estate. I think the 90s were the real bonanza in our industry. You wouldn't see anything built for less than 12 million dollars on sites and courses that could have been done for less. The celebrity designer was also on a boom because you had the best generation of golfers out there offering their services.

In addition, there were really no "tree huggers" back then which made it easier on the developer and the designer to just go out there and devour our land. Now those days are long gone and we have to reinvent ourselves by making more inclusive and affordable golf resorts and destinations and comply with sustainability issues. I don't know how it will be in 20 years but I do know there are good tendencies now. Six-hole golf courses and other alternatives that create all-inclusive spaces with a sense of place.

8. What makes a golf course great rather than just good?

The experience. I don't care how good you are at designing, if you don't offer a 360 degree experience the golf course will never be great. We have the privilege and the honour to create attractive and fun places, functional sculptures that create a sense of place. I personally like to design experiences, not golf courses. Golf courses are easy to design. In my book, golf is the only work of art you can play on, so you better make the most of it.

9. What advice would you give to an aspiring golf course architect

If you have the passion to pursue your dream, if not, don't even bother. Golf course design has to be one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever find but it's also one of the most dangerous ones to be in. It's so specialized that if you decide to enter and 4 years later you find out there's no next job, you might find you just wasted 4 years of your life dedicated to one thing and you aren’t qualified for another job. Golf architecture is not an escalating job in the "real world" so every year you dedicate your life strictly to golf architecture, it's a year you potentially waste of a regular career where you can move laterally.

10. What do you enjoy about being a golf course architect.

Being able to get into people's minds.

Click here to read more about Augie.

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