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Mar 13, 2016
Of all the professionals I work with in the golf industry, the ones I find most impressive are the golf course architects. Nobody has more hats to wear. A golf course architect is a visionary, a counselor, an artist, an engineer, a salesman, an agronomist, a developer, a landscape designer, an urban designer and more. Frankly, the overwhelming set of skills these folks must have in order to succeed in a very difficult business makes me want to take a nap! But the work they do also makes me wake up every morning with a giant smile, knowing I get to photograph the wonderful landscapes they design.
One of the great benefits of my cushy job is that I have the opportunity to see and walk the work of so many different designers and course architects. These folks are my heroes. They’re the ones who trudged over mountains, thru forests, across deserts and even dumps… shaping the most challenging landscapes into golf courses that are a walk in the park for the rest of us. They’re the ones who push the limits of design, sometimes squeezing 250 acres of golf course into 180 acres of land… sometimes reclaiming wasted land to create something even God didn’t see.
Bob Cupp’s work with Tom Kite at Liberty National Golf Club, in Jersey City, New Jersey, is a study in “How the Heck Did They Do That?”. The property, situated on the water across from Manhattan just 600 yards from The Statue of Liberty, was formerly a toxic dump. It took 14 years to cap the dump and bring the new course to fruition, but Cupp and Kite created a stunningly beautiful garden spot that is now one of the host courses for The Barclays Championship. Cupp also recently completed a restoration of the golf course at Glen Arven Country Club, in Thomasville, Georgia. Glen Arven was one of the first 5 golf courses built in the United States and is a club… and a course… with an incredibly rich history. In its 120 years, little adjustments had been made so many times that the course had lost its original character. Enter Bob Cupp. Problem solved. Genius.
Rick Robbins, one of the busiest designers in China, transformed a neglected property in Beijing into a stunningly beautiful golf course at Yintai Hongeye Golf Club. Along with being gorgeous, Yinhong No. 6 is fully sustainable and removes thousands of tons of dust each year from Beijing’s atmosphere. Beauty AND brains! How do they do it? It’s totally inspiring.
Another of my favorite architects is Jason Straka, of Fry Straka Global Golf Design. Due to the current state of golf, most of Jason’s work would be classified as “renovation”, but renovation doesn’t come close to describing what he’s been doing with projects like Ambiente, at JW Marriott’s Camelback Resort in Scottsdale, and more recently at The Oaks Club, in Osprey, Florida. With the completion of Ambiente, in 2013, Straka transformed a property known locally as The Dog Bone into a world class golf course and has made Camelback a legitimate golf destination. I shot Jason's recent renovation of The Oaks Club’s Heron Course in November, and it’s stunning!
Long before I met him, Bill Bergin was another of my favorites. I love his original work, but like most others in his field, renovation is the order of the day, and he’s leaving a trail of gorgeous renos and very happy clients in his wake.
The designers I’ve mentioned so far have become friends in recent years, but I photograph the work of many designers I’ve never met. Naturally, as have most golf course photographers, I’ve shot courses designed by Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Rees Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Donald Ross and many more. And I’m often completely amazed at what these folks do. I’ve praised the work of golf course superintendents before… their dedication and hard work makes my job so easy… but architects are something entirely different. Whether a property is untouched forest or toxic wasteland, former cornfield or apple orchard, somehow they see something the rest of us can’t even imagine. Maybe I need to add “magician” to their skill sets!
In spite of what seemed to be a near-terminal downturn several years ago, golf is rebounding. Some might say it’s the economy turning around. Or that the uptick is to be expected, with many golf properties on the market for pennies on the dollar in recent years. But I believe a key factor is the amazing work of the men and women who keep creating golf landscapes that are simply too beautiful not to support. So, to all you guys who are creating and renovating the wonderful properties we all get to play, and that I get to photograph, Thank You. I believe I speak for a majority of golfers when I say, your work enriches my life more than I can say.
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