Editor's notebook: A house is a home

Editor's notebook: A house is a home

A pair of veteran golf course architects reflect on leaving their office.

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February 28, 2020

Steve Forrest has worked around the world for more than 40 years, the finest patches of the planet providing him with fresh office space. Whenever he returned to northwest Ohio, though, his professional endeavors had been limited to the same quiet, carpeted house, the drafting tables covered with sketches, every wall lined with books. Good years. Good decades.

There are still good years ahead for Forrest and the golf course architecture firm that bears his name, but they will not come in this house.

Hills • Forrest • Smith is not closing its doors for good. The veteran designers are closing the doors on the Toledo office where they worked for so many years. The time feels right, what with only Forrest and Shawn Smith remaining from a team that once numbered about a dozen and that has produced almost as many ASGCA members. Forrest and Smith will work out their homes — two of the more than 8 million Americans who no longer commute to an office — still busy with design and renovation projects. For now, they have a few more days inside those walls, selling off the remains of so many years in the golf course architecture business.

“There is some sadness,” Forrest says. “But also some thankfulness.”

An estate sale invitation granted friends an opportunity to purchase plans and drawings for $1 per square foot, old programs for $3 or $5, clubs for $5 or $10, a couple bags for $30. In one corner of a back trailer, a trio of maracas rested inside a woven basket. You could have it all for $11. A hand-painted bongo drum rested a few feet away. Yours for $100. Half a century of scorecards and yardage books were arranged artfully under glass in a quartet of accordion files, course names big and small splashed across their front. Forrest and Arthur Hills, who founded the firm in 1966, collected one from every course they visited. The whole thing was a bargain at a grand. Upstairs, hundreds of books filled tables, every one of them marked with a Post-it Note or a sticker. Bernard Darwin was going for a couple hundred dollars. Dan Jenkins was more affordable at $8.

One visitor asks Forrest’s wife, Teri, whether the vacuum cleaners in the front room are for sale. “Anything not nailed down,” she says. “If you want the carpet even, you can have the carpet. You’ll probably need to wait until after the sale, though.”

Hills • Forrest • Smith is responsible for nearly 300 courses across the country and around the world — including some in Canada and Mexico, Norway and Sweden, Jamaica and Morocco and Portugal and Thailand, even the first 18-hole course in Russia. “There was no shortage of travel,” Forrest says. “You couldn’t have an aversion to flying.”

You would never guess that the green house set back off Bancroft Street was the hub of all that activity — and certainly not now that everything is marked for sale. Seventy years old now, maybe 80, it will be bulldozed soon, its eight acres packed with three or four dozen home lots, the third phase in a development.

Forrest has married twice, become a father and a grandfather during his years in this house. Smith has transformed from a twentysomething bachelor who would think nothing of hitting golf balls every evening after work into a married father of three with a car seat still buckled in the back. Why not work from home a little more if you can? Spend mornings with your partner? Drop off your kids at school?

“It’s not an ending,” Smith says, “just a transition. The business model has changed the last 15, 20 years.” They used to keep a local print shop in business almost by themselves. Now everything has shifted from 5-foot draft tables to 15-inch laptops. Architects, Forrest laments with a laugh, have lost the ability to hand-letter. Gone is the fine art of rolling plans into a tube.

Forrest started to clean out last June, a sort of catharsis. “He is handling it incredibly well,” Teri says. A couple weeks ago, right around Valentine’s Day, she spotted a slip of paper about the size of a fortune cookie fortune pinned to a cork board with a dart. “Don’t cry because it’s over,” it read. “Smile because it happened.” Who knows when or exactly why her husband tacked it there, she says. She has learned so much about this great game that he loves during their years together. She has learned to love it herself.

She smiles.

Matt LaWell is Golf Course Industry’s managing editor.