1. Why did you want to be a golf course architect?
Page 20 of the original World Atlas of Golf. There’s a sequence of photographs of a golf course being transformed from meadow to a finished course. When I first saw those pictures as a 10 year-old in 1980 I immediately thought ‘I’d love to do that.’ That whole book was inspirational and opened my eyes to the world of golf beyond British shores. I used to make up imaginary golf holes whilst learning the game on the local school playing fields, so always had a pretty vivid imagination. It was a pretty bizarre ambition for a young kid growing up in Yorkshire, but it’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do.
2. Which golf course architects do you admire and why?
Of the modern architects I have a great fondness for the work of Michael Strantz. He didn’t get to build many before his untimely death at the age of 50, but I’ve played all of his original designs and have been strongly influenced by what I’ve experienced. He was a very courageous and skilful architect, who sought unusual and imaginative solutions, whilst maintaining a strong strategic core and simply gorgeous aesthetics. He was an extremely talented artist and produced these amazing freehand sketches of the holes he wanted to build. I wish I had a fraction of his artistic talent.
I also have a growing appreciation for the work of Gil Hanse, who never fails to impress. Of the historic architects, I really like the work of CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor. There is something to that engineered look I find very appealing. I’ll also seek out Alister Mackenzie courses when I can.
3. What is your proudest design achievement?
Still being here after 28 years in the trade! After being made redundant at the age of 26. It would have been easy to jack it in, but I struck out on my own, made a go of it and 8 years later decided I fancied a change of scenery and accepted the offer to work at European Golf Design. In terms of work on the ground, I’m very pleased with each of the four projects that have opened since I joined EGD. I couldn’t tell you which I’m most proud of, because each of them means so much. However, I’d say I get the most pleasure from revisiting the very low budget course I designed for Royal Balfron. It’s a quaint and simple village course on the edge of the Scottish Highlands and is a great example of a community run facility. I’m very proud indeed of what we created there.
4. What are your favourite three golf courses in the World from a design perspective, and why?
I’ve often cited Mike Strantz’s Tobacco Road as being my favourite course and that may still be true. It is the course and the architecture that made me totally re-evaluate what was possible in contemporary design. Whenever my design brain feels a bit stale, I’ll look it up and it generally gets me going again with creative ideas.
I also often look at the design of the National Golf Links of America as a source of inspiration. That course just has it all in abundance and is so intricate, thoughtful and detailed. I haven’t been there yet, but it is at number one on my ‘must play’ list.
I should also include Carne, in Ireland. I loved it so much I bought a Lifetime Membership. It’s my bolthole away from the stresses and strains of life. Eddie Hackett’s design is so soft on the eye amidst the towering dunes and Ally McIntosh’s new nine is tremendous. I love the big dunes and they don’t come any bigger than Carne.
5. What are the greatest challenges you face as a golf course architect?
The frustratingly large number of jobs that fail to materialise after one has committed massive amounts of time, energy and imagination to the design. I’m not as young or patient as I used to be, so I hate it when a project stalls. I’ve a drawer full of lovely plans that will never see the light of day.
6. What environmental or sustainable initiatives have you incorporated into your designs?
I’m big into water recycling and designing integrated networks of filtration ponds and streams into my designs. My courses at JCB and Casa Serena both have intricately designed waterways to maximise the capture and movement of drainage water back to the storage lakes, as will the next one in Siberia. I’ll always design a ditch rather than a pipe if I can. It’s very satisfying to see these filter ponds and ditches colonise with marginal plants and provide habitat for wildlife where previously none existed. I’m also very careful with my earthworks schemes to minimise the haulage distances around site. It’s nothing that the end user will ever notice, but helps greatly with the efficiency in construction.
7. How do you see the golf course design industry changing in the next 20 years?
I think we could see a big growth in commercial virtual golf course design. The technology is improving all the time to make the virtual experience almost as realistic as the actual one. It’s not something that appeals to me professionally, but it really could happen. Back in the real world, we need to embrace short form golf and design great courses that people can nip around in under two hours.
8. What makes a golf course great rather than just good?
I think you can only answer that many years down the line from when a course opens. It has to have enduring appeal across generations and not merely be ephemerally fashionable. Of course, first impressions count for a great deal, so if I can remember every hole after a first visit, I’ll think a course definitely has something that elevates it above others. An architect who knows how to get the best routing from a site has the best chance of creating something with lasting greatness. I’ve always embraced the recommendation that a great golf course routing should unfold across the landscape as naturally as a ramble through the countryside.
9. What advice would you give to an aspiring golf course architect?
Learn how to operate a bulldozer and/or excavators. We’re now in the age of the design and build architects being to the fore and if you’re able to get behind the controls and either do it yourself or show others how it should be done, then you will have a tremendous advantage over the traditionally trained architects who can draw superb plans but have to rely on others to realise their vision.
10. What do you enjoy about being a golf course architect?
It’s the best career in the world. I’ll never grow tired of the thrill of dreaming up an idea in my head and working through the stages to it becoming a real thing that everyone can play. What’s better than being able to turn dreams into reality over and over again?
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