Editor's notebook: Tartan tales

Editor's notebook: Tartan tales

Three days of ingenuity and ample laughs, Guy Cipriano’s visit to the ASGCA’s annual meeting reveals the personalities behind modern design.

April 24, 2018

Tartan tales


Creative comedic opportunists. 

After spending three days in Houston for the 72nd annual American Society of Golf Course Architects meeting, I scribbled this three-word phrase into a notebook on the flight home.

The meeting included education, meals, receptions and, yes, golf. But, more important, a gathering of 70 architects offers insight into the personalities committed to a challenging profession.   

Don’t be fooled by the Ross tartan jackets. People who dress alike at industry functions don’t think alike. An educational session moderated by Bill Bergin about fairway width and tree removal sparked a fluid hour-long conversation. The group of architects who volunteered their thoughts swelled to 15, with nobody duplicating a colleague’s perspective. “We’re fortunate to work in an industry and on property that has such great diversity,” Bergin said.  

Fairway width to an architect designing a new course on an expansive piece of Texas land could mean 50 to 80 yards. The same concept could mean 25 to 40 yards to an architect restoring a course in a leafy Northeast neighborhood. Like golf course maintenance, architecture is site specific. How to maximize enjoyment of the land requires a creative side. 

For many architects, creativity started at early ages. Outside the rooms hosting educational sessions and receptions, a “Where The Dream Began” display featured the early sketches of Nathan Crace, Steve Forrest, David Johnson, Stephen Kay and Forrest Richardson. 

Youthful exuberance still exists – even in a leaner, post-recession golf market. Architects now spend more time using phones and tablets than sketch pads, yet a zest for designing, renovating, restoring, enhancing and tweaking golf courses remains.     

Of all the people in the golf business, architects might have the best sense of humor. From Jerry Lemons retroactively laughing about an emergency landing he made while piloting an airplane to Todd Quitno’s colleagues-to-politician roasting at the Donald Ross Award Dinner – we’ll stray from revealing whom Quitno compared to Donald Trump – architects prove success in a chosen field can be achieved without taking yourself too seriously. Needle somebody wearing the Ross tartan at your own peril. Their retaliation will be witty. 

Spending four hours with an architect in a golf cart introduces playing angles you never thought you would observe. Yes, not all architects see the game from the middle of the fairway. You’re also destined to hear a few one-liners you will want to save for a buddy trip. The mouth can be a creative tool. 

Above all, golf course architects are about seizing opportunities. The dreamy sketches of their childhood have turned into adult-sized complexities. Landing a new project, especially one in their home country, has become an unobtainable goal for most architects. The ASGCA boasts 184 members and 15 1/2 new American courses opened in 2016, according to National Golf Foundation data.

To assist their members and perhaps cajole stagnant facilities to improve their courses, the ASGCA published a Market Trend Watch survey with the Sports & Leisure Research Group. Key findings from the survey: labor presents enormous challenges for operators and golf course renovations lead operators’ wish lists. Opportunities abound for architects willing to help courses reduce labor and offer fresh products.  

Greg Martin epitomizes the opportunistic spirit. The Illinois-based Martin worked with 19 regulatory agencies to concoct a plan to provide flood control by redesigning a suburban Chicago golf course owned by The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Working with one regulatory agency can be numbing, so imagine the patience Martin needed to help create The Preserve of Oak Meadows, which reopened last year.

Martin has proudly discussed the project hundreds of times the last five years, including in Houston. 
By pursuing work where others might have run, Martin inspired colleagues to explore how golf courses can help surrounding communities solve complex issues. “This was so much fun,” Martin said. “It was so complicated and so interesting that I learned something new every week.”

Thinking different, developing the sense of humor to handle bureaucracy and finding golf-related work in a forest preservation. A creative comedic opportunist, indeed.        

Guy Cipriano is GCI’s senior editor.