‘One great man’

‘One great man’

GCI columnist Jeff Brauer reflects on the impact golf course architect Jay Morrish had on the industry.

June 22, 2015

On March 2, 2015, the golf course architecture profession lost one of its giants in Jay Morrish. On Memorial Day weekend, his wife Louise hosted a tribute to the life of what she called, and all agreed was, “One great man.”

The highly attended event was impressive, and perhaps the number and quality of people who couldn’t make it from all over the world, was even more so. I know Jay didn’t live his life just to have an impressive funeral, but the reaction of so many people tells me he was a man well loved, and certainly had a life well lived, both personally and professionally.

His course list is phenomenal, and his accomplishments in the field of golf course architecture are well documented. As a fellow architect, I can tell you there are artistic architects, there are technical architects, there are construction-oriented architects and there are design-oriented architects. Most favor one or the other, but Jay had more ability in all four areas than any architect around.

For all his accomplishments, it was his personal life that was the focus of most tributes. Friends (I doubt Jay had an enemy!) and family all shared warm remembrances of what a caring man he was with family, friends and strangers.

Industry stalwarts shared numerous entertaining stories on his time designing courses with Jack Nicklaus and Tom Wieskopf, and lastly his son Carter. There were more on his hunting trips, and his house, which was a museum for his trophies. All in all, it was as much laughs as tears, which is fitting for a man known for his sense of humor and storytelling. 

My personal remembrances of Jay date to my first month in Dallas back in 1984. I was an unknown practitioner, in business a month. I certainly wanted to meet Jay, and was introduced during the Byron Nelson tournament on the course he had designed.  I doubted he knew me, but he said he had been looking forward to meeting me, which stunned me, and made me feel great. He and Louise invited me up to the hotel room they had above the 18th green, certainly making me feel more a part of the DFW golf scene.

In 1994, I was invited to speak at the Australian Club Managers Conference, and toured many of the great courses there, including the Jack Nicklaus redesigned Australian Club. I figured there would be many photos of Jack around, but only saw a photo of Jay onsite during construction. It was he the superintendent remembered most.

In 1999, I had the honor of co-designing a course with Jay, courtesy of a joint development venture of two companies, each who insisted on using “their architect.” 
We decided to combine forces, and it was a great learning experience some 22 years into my career. My staff was in awe of him, and we all learned a lot about architecture for pros and better players, and had so much fun doing it.

I continued to have lunch and dinner with Jay after he retired, usually at “Uncle Bucks,” a restaurant contained within a local hunting store, which I am sure he browsed for an hour before and after I left. And at every ASGCA meeting, I listened to Jay whenever I could, and always instructed new members to do the same to learn about the “old days” of the architecture profession. Hearing a Jay Morrish story the fifth time was more entertaining that hearing most other stories the first time.

In DFW, and in the golf industry, no one could “hold court” better, and Jay was in a league with the likes of Dan Jenkins or Sam Snead. Jay’s wry sense of humor made everything funny. Among the best was Bob Cupp recalling when they both worked for Jack Nicklaus. Once, Jack was explaining how he wanted a bunker built, using mostly contorted hand gestures to make his point. He asked if Jay knew what he wanted, to which Jay responded, “What bothers me, is that I do.”

Upon sitting through a terrible grade school violin recital (and knowing violin strings were made of stretched, dried, and twisted sheep gut) he remarked, “A sheep lost its life for that?”

And Louise related that Jay was Jay right until his last days. He told a friend, “I haven’t died before. But, I don’t like it, and don’t think I’ll do it again.” With Jay, even death was funny.

There are many, many more Jay Morrish stories. As Larry the Cable Guy might say, we could go on all night, and the memorial nearly did, as so many were reluctant to know Jay as only a memory. We imagined that golf courses are already being redesigned and look forward to playing those, and seeing Jay again.