How does one go about choosing a golf course architect? Admittedly, there are only a few individuals who may be in a position to make such an appointment. Some may sit on committees or boards charged with such a task or perhaps you’re the Secretary or Manager of a golf club that must present a preferred option and some intriguing alternatives. Let’s look at some of the options for choosing a golf course architect.

The Yellow Pages Golf Course Architect

The wonders of the internet. Type in the words and with a couple of clicks the job is pretty much done for you. There are three main organizations that have united golf course architects the world over:

Amongst their ranks are the good, great, and legendary. Some are household names that have consulted, designed, and built some of the greatest golf courses ever seen. Others moonlight as landscape architects and may consult on boundary issues at your local municipal. The point? Golf course architects vary their abilities and the value they can bring to your golf club and golf course. Are there any other options?

The ‘If You Know You Know’ Golf Course Architect

There are many household names at the very pinnacle of golf course architecture that are members of the organizations mentioned previously. Bill Coore, Gil Hanse, and Mike Clayton are three prime examples. Look carefully though and you’ll see not all of the big hitters pay their membership dues. Tom Doak, Brian Schneider, Eric Iverson, Brian Slawnik, Mike DeVries, and David McLay-Kidd are notable exceptions. Don’t be fooled… just because they aren’t in the index of the member’s section doesn’t mean they can’t deliver. No doubt membership has its perks but it would appear there are only a few that are raising the tide for the rest.

Interestingly, many of the next generation’s household names are not affiliated. Among them are Angela Moser, Clyde Johnson, Riley Johns, Trevor Dormer, Blake Conant, Jaeger Kovich, and many more. Perhaps with the advent of social media and alternative channels of communication, the ability to promote oneself has provided an alternative to traditional methods.

The Quality vs Quantity Golf Course Architect

For some, an impressive catalogue of past, present, and future projects is touted as the measure of success. Perhaps the golf courses they consult have hosted major championships or high-ranking amateur events. Having a multitude of clients on multiple continents that have hosted tournaments may move the needle for some. If you like quantity, there are firms who stand willing to impress you with their client list.

Another approach is that of Bill Coore. His biography on the ASGCA website reads: “Coore and Crenshaw’s philosophy is limiting their company’s workload in order to give each of their projects as much attention as needed. While Coore and Crenshaw’s approach yields fewer courses in terms of quantity, their methods provide consistently high-quality work, making their group a very sought–after firm in course design.”

When it comes to extensive portfolios and impressive lists, it would appear for most golf course architectural firms, it’s difficult to balance quantity with quality. Whilst not an absolute, the modern game’s greatest golf course architects seem to take the quality-over-quantity approach. (Tom Doak & Renaissance Golf Design as another example.)

The Signature Golf Course Architect

It is often assumed that playing golf at the highest level means you know more than the rest about golf. Whilst the logic seems sound, there is the notable exclusion of most of their work from any of the respected lists. When hiring a big name that has had success at the highest levels of the professional game you’re probably paying for their insight but also for their name, likeness, or logo. That may be enough for some to consider it good, and potentially great, but it is certainly not a guarantee.

In fact, as prolific as some of them are you’d expect more of their work to be better known… By way of example, Nicklaus Designs boasts 425 designs, Gary Player 130 projects, and Arnold Palmer more than 300. The number of entrants in the World Top 100? Muirfield Village, a collaboration of Jack Nicklaus and Desmond Muirhead from 1974. Collectively, that is 1 for 855. The conclusion? Being a great golfer is not in itself a guarantee that you’ll be a great golf course architect nor does it always produce world-class golf.

The Restoration Specialist Golf Course Architect

Perhaps you are the custodian of a Golden Age Classic by one of the greatest golf course architects. That narrows it down, doesn’t it? In the USA, there are Donald Ross, CB MacDonald, Perry Maxwell, and Seth Raynor specialists. In the UK and Ireland, there are Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie, and Tom Simpson specialists.

The issue with being a ‘specialist’ and codifying the work of a Golden Age Great is there are always exceptions to rules. As an example, Alister MacKenzie’s first point in designing great golf courses was that there should be two loops of nine to make up 18. The problem? The course he admired the most, St Andrews Old Course, fails in this regard, and his own Cypress Point, also falls short. Other notable examples? Harry Colt has over 445 golf courses to his name built over a career spanning decades. His bunkering philosophy is so diverse, there are always exceptions to the supposed rules. Most of the time Tom Simpson was a strategic minimalist. Yet at Muirfield, even after removing over 160 bunkers, he left nearly 200.

For most golf clubs, a well-read, well-travelled golf course architect who has seen a large amount of golf course design from the Golden Age greats is advantageous. It’s even better when the golf course architect is willing to be proved wrong by in-depth, concentrated research of your golf course specifically. The best specialist is one who is willing to become the expert for your golf course.

Headliner Architect vs Associates

Here is where it is important to pay attention to details. If you hire an architect, ask: Who will be doing the work? Will it be the big name themself, one of their associates, or a subcontractor? Who will be your point of contact? Who will be on-site day to day? Who will have the final sign-off on the work? Will approval be done before or after the hired help leaves?

Just because you hire the big name, doesn’t mean he will show up on site. No doubt there will always be at least one visit to get the obligatory photo of the named architect with some construction plans staring into the mid-distance. However, it’s what happens on the ground that matters. The other option is to go with a single architect shaper. Remember though that one-man bands cannot both direct and play every instrument in the orchestra. For any major project, you need a team to build a golf course and the sum of the parts is often greater than the name headlining the group.

Evalu18’s Golf Course Architecture Approach

We do things a little differently… here are a few of the things that make us so:

Limited Workload – A limited client list allows us to focus on your golf course as our main priority. We are always interested in potential opportunities, reach out and see if we would be suited to your project. Existing clients are always our first priority.

Architect Shape – The details that matter are too important to leave to anyone else. We will never outsource the most important aspect of golf course construction. Your golf course will be shaped by our trusted partners and associates and never by the lowest-bidding subcontractor.

Architectural Research – With regards to pure restoration, historical research, and golf course archaeology serve as the bedrock of any of our work. We revere the golden age greats and believe their work and name should be preserved, even at the expense of making a name for ourselves.

Team-Based Approach – Each project is unique and so is our solution. With extensive reach and professional contacts, we can supply a bespoke team for every potential occasion.

Payment Terms – Many prefer a cost-plus fee structure but we feel there is a better way. We can advise, consult, and execute your project and you pay us just for what we do.

Need Help Choosing an Architect?

Still, have more questions than answers? Do you want an independent opinion? Evalu18 is willing to offer independent advice on behalf of clubs, committees, chairmen, secretaries, and managers. Why not get in touch to see how we can help?