1. Why did you want to be a golf course architect?
Playing golf always was and still is a passion of mine. I love the athletic art of shot-making, and strategically thinking through the options of playing a golf hole. I enjoy seeing the beautiful contours of the land - especially in the morning dew or late afternoon light. When I realized I could combine my love of playing golf and being outdoors with other interests like art, science, photography, the environment, and advocating for better golf facilities for women, children, and seniors, I knew I had found my profession!
2. Which golf course architects do you admire and why?
I think the best architects come from two camps: those that really understand how to play the game (the players), and those that really understand the art form (the architects). The architects that I admire the most are able to bring both strategic athleticism and artistry to the design table.
In this regard, I think the team of Alice and Pete Dye combined the two skills wonderfully! I admire Alice for her skill at the game, and for her trailblazing for design of the course for women. She was an incredible golfer, she knew the game, and she knew how to create a great golf challenge. She also understood the average female golfer's game and she was the first to look at how teeing ground locations affected playability of the course for women.
Like Alice, Pete also was a champion golfer, and he applied artistic skill as a sculptor using a small-scale sandbox to sculpt a golf hole and communicate his design intent. Most of all, I admire their teamwork that brought artistry and strategy together.
I also admire Harry Colt for his skill at using angles to create golf strategy and an aesthetically beautiful layout of a golf hole. George Thomas for his insight on the creation of multiple pathways for play on a single golf hole, and for giving us the best quotes ever on golf strategy.
3. What is your proudest design achievement?
I like the master planning work that I did with Garrett Gill, ASGCA for Oak Ridge Country Club in Minnesota. The Oak Ridge club owned an old horse barn and barnyard that was historically used as a transfer station for the pony express. It had fallen into disrepair, but the club wanted to re-purpose the space in some way, so Garrett and I produced conceptual designs for a very multi-functional space that could change with the Minnesota seasons.
The conceptual use in the winter was envisioned to be a cross country ski base and trailhead with a kids skating rink, and indoor golf hitting bays in the barn. In the summer, the space was envisioned to have a three-hole pitch'n'putt, a putting green, a U8 soccer field, and small space amphitheater. Year-round, the barn would be an espresso/craft beer venue, and an old chimney in the yard was envisioned to be used as a warming area in the winter and for BBQ events in the summer. If they go forward and build it as planned, I would be thrilled.
My proudest completed work would be the two golf courses in Fargo, ND that I worked on with Garrett Gill, El Zagal and Rose Creek. Both courses required extensive work with levee engineers. At El Zagal, we helped the Fargo Park District envision a stadium-like use for the levee that surrounded the golf course on three sides, while at Rose Creek, we padded the sides of the levee to camouflage it’s presence and add some rolling hills to three fairways.
4. What are your favourite three golf courses in the World from a design perspective, and why?
5. What are the greatest challenges you face as a golf course architect?
The biggest challenge by far is being a female in this profession. Combining one of the most male-dominated industries with a "ladies and gentlemen" culture made finding my place as a golf course architect quite difficult. In a traditional golf culture, women are not outspoken, don't compete with men, mind the etiquette, and often are not working women. Although it has taken time, I feel like I have found my place and found my voice. I am now working to open doors for others.
I think my initial gender disadvantage has become my strength - when you have lemons….right? I play better golf when facing a tough competitor, so it only makes sense that the obstacles early in my career have pushed me forward. Whether bringing concepts to the architecture community like "Leverage DesignTM, the Second Shot AdvantageTM, Pathways for PlayTM", or my work to expand upon Alice Dye's two-tee system, I think I will leave a mark on the architecture of the game.
My hard work to understand what makes a golf course difficult for the shorter hitter has actually helped me develop a design philosophy about how to make the course more challenging for the low-handicap male golfer! As with anything, once you know your craft, you start to recognize where your skill level sits in relation to your peers and at this point, I think I am in a pretty good position.
Nevertheless, I think the gender bias is something I will probably be challenged by throughout my career. The truth is that men own most golf courses, golf management companies are run by men, superintendents are male, and there is a good old boys club that is difficult to join when one is female. But I am still standing!
6. What environmental or sustainable initiatives have you incorporated into your designs?
If I said designing the course to fit the women's game was a sustainable initiative, what would be the response? Let me explain. When I think about sustainable golf course design, like most people, I think first about a design that will be harmonious with the environment - because without a healthy environment, the golf course will fail.
Unlike most, however, my model of sustainability includes consideration for whether or not the golf course can attract and retain a diverse enough consumer base to survive economically and culturally.
So instead of talking about phyto-filtration, water harvesting, local product sourcing, or many other environmentally related sustainable initiatives, I would rather highlight my design initiatives that make the course more playable for women and other shorter hitters. After all, if there were not any people playing the golf course, it would not survive. I think my design work that makes the course more playable for women is the most sustainable initiative that I have contributed.
7. How do you see the golf course design industry changing in the next 20 years?
My hope and my vision is that there will be more female architects in the golf course design industry. At the very least, I envision more women golfers engaged in the design process at their home courses. If women are not at the design table, gender-specific issues will likely continue to be trivialized or worse, ignored or even unidentified. I have faith that my fellow architects in traditionally closed golf course architecture societies will open doors and work with me and others to recruit, welcome, and retain more professional female architects.
My vision for the next 20 years may be different than what will really happen, but the projects that I envision doing will definitely be different than what we have today. I envision long, narrow fairways giving way to wider and more creative golf hole designs that provide several playable Pathways for PlayTM. I hope that the ground game makes a comeback!
I also envision more shot-making venues (like Top Golf) that are alive with golfers and non-golfers, eating, drinking, socializing, and engaging in the shot-making aspect of the game of golf. In our Minnesota climate, I envision more ways to stay active in the game of golf during the winter - whether that be heated hitting bays, indoor screens or short game areas. I envision more technology in all realms of the game, from course construction and maintenance, to food service and tee-time booking, to club fitting and skill development, and more.
8. What makes a golf course great rather than just good?
Certainly the game-based design of the golf course must be outstanding, but even good golf courses are easily forgotten if the entire golf experience is not memorable. A great golf course delivers the potential for golf highs (dramatic victories) and the potential for dramatic lows as well. Emotion attached to the experience seals the deal for a great golf memory, so dramatic views and hazards that are surmountable must be part of the experience.
A good golf course design that is distinctly memorable draws design elements from fine art, advertising and branding, gambling, and even from thrill productions. One that captivates attention from arrival to departure at the end of a great day of golf will be remembered as great.
9. What advice would you give to an aspiring golf course architect?
I'm almost laughing because my entire family jokes that we are all too full of advice for each other - I come from the "You-should family." Nevertheless, I would say: learn how to play golf. Learn how to make different types of shots, and learn how the ball reacts with the ground, wind, and turf conditions when you make a certain type of shot. And very important: play golf with women as well as men.
If you aren't a gifted golfer, become a professional golf fan. Watch how the pros play the golf courses and learn about shot shape and golf strategy. Study the great golf courses across the world and how the pros play them.
Finally, learn how to create a place with a distinct and unique identity…. not just a "sense of place." A place with a distinct identity will automatically deliver a sense of the place - so learn how to use the architectural toolbox to design pathways and places that inspire, motivate, and capture the imagination of the golfer, and highlight the unique and authentic aspects of the landscape. Finally, find a mentor and a clan to assist when the road is difficult.
10. What do you enjoy about being a golf course architect?
Envisioning space, creating memorable golf experiences, and studying the great works of art that are golf courses.
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