Mickelson National Golf Club | Architects in the 21st century


Architects in the 21st century

Posted: 08 Nov 2016 Sam Schultz Uncategorized

Watching the monumental task of building a golf course, the difficulties and the number of pairs of scissors which you need to rip through the preverbeal red tape is really mindblowing. In North America at this time, 2016, there are 5 courses in active dirt moving efforts. Shaping the ground from nothing to something. And you can only hope something special. It feels like new golf course design is on it’s way to the Drumheller Tyrell Museum. The 1st quarter of the 21st century could be the foreshadowing or is this the end of original or new golf projects?

Renovation work maybe the next step of great work in land sculpting. Being asked to spruce up a work of art like a Pinehurst, N.C. or St Georges in Toronto or Kananaskis, Lorette & Kidd, is a wonderful honor and a privilege. Work that allows architects to make a living is critical but restoration work in comparison to starting with a raw piece of land is certainly 2 different tee boxes. Reno work at a lesser course maybe even more attractive, with more liberties and the creative process maybe more liberal. This architect may feel like he just moved back a tee box.

There will be new courses, cross your fingers but we’ve seen an absolute slo-mo on new work. There’ll always be someone with a 1000 acres willing to shell out millions because they can. That’s if they can get a water license. Shouldn’t be a problem, they hand those out at any old country fair. Now there is more work being completed in India, Russia, Vietnam and Cambodia but North America, crickets. I’m sure there’s an Architect’s Anonymous meeting happening somewhere right now, talking about how they missed out on being born 30 years earlier. A time when Billy bob’s excavation & design team had 3 projects going on at once, just in Southern California.

Viewing the design process from an insiders perspective is really fortunate. Enjoying golf design as I do I understand how deep and vast the list is of great architects actually is. The opportunities ahead seem so, drastically sparse. Tom Doak, Coore/Crenshaw, Tom Fazio would be near the top of most armchair architect’s list. Then you have the old guard of Nicklaus, Player and Norman which seem sensible as well. Tiger and Phil certainly look to be preparing themselves for their next career. Atleast putting together a portfolio that will allow them to be in the conversation. Then another 100 Architects names pop up with lofty accomplishments and more importantly bills to pay. Local guys like Gary Browning, Les Furber, Tom McBroom or Doug Carrick all have courses in the top 100 in Canada. So much talent. But the moral of the story is, this is a long list with budding talent and the captains of the medium. And everyone is available to work.

30 years ago when courses popped up everywhere, new architects were able to land big jobs because Nicklaus, Fazio and Pete Dye each had 6 courses on the go and couldn’t handle anymore work. Kind of like having a draft and you had 10th pick, who’s left? Ok I’ll take a chance on this young kid, read his resume, worked for Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, hmmmm ok, I’ll take this guy, Tom Doak. You’re hired.

And when the resume comes out for designers, where will Mickelson National stand for PMD (Phil Mickelson Design) and the crew. Will this new behemoth, Mickelson National, get Phil Mickelson Open type respect or will it get Phil Mickelson, US Open type respect. Both are worth mentioning but in terms of the history books, they will be viewed very differently. Time will tell on that small detail.

In this new norm or new era of Golf, how many quotes, how many sets of plans, will owners entertain when it comes to employing architects? 3, 6, 15 different guys? How do guys make the shortlists for these new projects? That’s fierce competition. Renovation work may become the new artform. Imagine asking a painter to touch up the mona lisa. What an honour. But don’t do anything new, just put her back to her original beauty. This restoration work will probably become quite profitable and flourish. There are certainly enough bad holes, poorly conceived green sites and bunker issues out there to keep them all busy.

Golf Architecture will evolve and look different going forward but new work, that’s questionable. Winning best new course in golf publications is always exciting from a golf junkie’s perspective. Who doesn’t like debating their favorite course. With so few new courses opening this award seems lackluster. Possibly Best Restoration would be a better category, examining the changes of transformation. That now becomes a hotly contested list of debutaunts each year. With this change, we could add a new category. Almost like a celebration, with the same philosophy as everyone gets a ribbon. Any new course that opens becomes the bell of the ball for one season. The starling that gets all the attention of it’s suitors. A celebration of an art fading away. Maybe it isn’t fading away but it feels like it’s 11:30pm, midnight is around the corner and I hate pumpkins.


See you on the drafting table