This Time ,It’s Different

Features - Spotlight

Jeff Brauer, ASGCA, describes the joys — and rigors — of a 15-year column writing run.

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Tempest Golf Club in Gladwater, Texas, is one of Jeff Brauer’s recent projects.
© hugh hargraves

Astute readers may have noticed my regular column has been absent recently, which had happened occasionally over 15 years. I missed two deadlines, and once, I missed the editor’s memo about a “theme” issue and was wildly off topic. This time, it’s different, as I won’t be regularly writing a column for Golf Course Industry moving forward, and any contributions will come as an outside writer.

It was an annual rite of spring at the Golf Industry Show for me to offer my resignation. Why?

  • Those of you writing a monthly newsletter are familiar with pre-deadline writer’s block, which struck often. Fortunately, I always have an opinion on golf course architecture.
  • I covered a dozen architectural topics each year with my singular viewpoint, whereas some singular topics deserved a dozen viewpoints. I could only write from my experience, which is mostly with mid-range clubs and public courses willing to spend about $1.5 million on renovations. But there are courses struggling to spend $15,000 on renovations and high-end clubs spending $15 million, sometimes every 15 years. Could my columns ring true with everyone?
  • I was always cognizant that any publication needs eternally fresh content.

This year, Pat Jones agreed. Prior to his own departure, he was directing GCI toward an “extreme makeover” geared to the social media age. I have no doubt GCI will be better off moving forward while at least tweaking its format under Guy Cipriano.

I started the column in January 2004, when my publicist, Mark Leslie, recommended me as a columnist to what was then called Golf Course News. They gave me a short trial opportunity, with neither of us betting on the column lasting a year, much less through two publishers, five editors and 15 years. Perhaps, unwittingly, I might have been a better choice than they knew.

Truthfully, many architects write in a style that is frustratingly superficial. They use too many words and say too little. My original editorial direction was to favor solid answers for real world problems over broad architectural platitudes.

I think the column survived so long because I stuck to that editorial charge, with my writing style purposely focused on a straightforward “just the facts, ma’am” style, aimed at DIY greens superintendents and committees. Few architects would offer up a column focused on the mundane subject of designing cart paths to avoid worn spots at fairway entrances and exits, but it was an altogether fitting topic of my last regular column.

It’s rare among architects to write concisely, but a requirement in the publishing world, with its strict word counts. My relative brevity stemmed from some fatherly advice: “Good ideas are quickly explained. Bad ideas take longer.” Both truth and good ideas are simple, uncomplicated and largely self-evident. In Dad’s view, after the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration of Independence needed only a few bullet points.

Jeff Brauer has devoted most of his architecture efforts to working with public facilities such as Tempest Golf Club.

I once asked Dad what he did at work. He said he wrote letters, adding that on some days, he spent all day on just one letter. I was astonished then but understand it now. The Mark Twain quote, “I would have written something shorter, but I didn’t have the time” is true. While other writers are probably more efficient, my column writing process usually went like this:

  1. Constantly copying, clipping and cataloging anything that might be relevant to a future column, combined with constant worry about subject matter, except when using “leftovers” in “Part 2” of the previous month’s overly long column.
  2. On the fifth day pre-deadline, I picked a topic and started “stream of consciousness” writing, usually clocking in at about 3,000 words.
  3. On the fourth day of pre-deadline, I cut the word count by eliminating many clever sidebar jokes, non sequiturs, undue repetition and passive tense wording. Active tense always saved a few precious words and my high school English teachers would be proud. And yes, I am writing this to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas” in my head. A non sequitur, yes, but it’s my last column. What are they going to do, fire me?
  4. On the third day of pre-deadline, I further shortened and ordered the paragraphs for flow and sense. It was a struggle at first, but being the word police came naturally soon enough.
  5. On second day of pre-deadline, I put the column away and out of my mind.
  6. On the last day of pre-deadline, I made one final review with a clear mind. I usually tweaked it some more. I might allow myself to add in one humorous aside in the name of “readability.”
  7. On Christmas Day, or at least by New Years at the deadline (or thereabouts), I emailed it to HQ, always with a short cover letter making fun of Cleveland’s weather, lousy (and undeserved) reputation as a city, and most often, the Browns.
  8. After the deadline, I got feedback from the eraserhead editors, often beginning with “What the heck did you mean by?” Sentences that were perfectly clear to me could be interpreted by others in wildly unintended ways. All kidding aside, they were fairly gentle in the editing process, which I took as a sign of my ever-increasing writing prowess. I could be delusional, though.

Considering the nominal monthly stipend received, I spent more time writing than I should have. But I never wanted to send a column and feel like I was just “mailing it in,” so I endlessly massaged them into acceptable condition.

I was lucky to get some good advice early on. Terry Buchen shared some wisdom from legendary sports writer Rick Reilly. Short version: write with passion about your passion. Longtime Golf Digest editor Ron Whitten shared the problems he faced in changing from stilted lawyerly writing to popular writing. Short version: make it a toilet read. They both assured me to write in my own voice, which meant both good advice and bad puns.

The times, they are a changin’, like my hair and waistline. When I started this column, I was a mainstream architect in style and method. Over the last decade, the profession has seen drastic changes, which introduced some issues about my industry relatability. Design build is increasingly favored over the complete plans and bid style that I practice. Some younger architects think quite differently than the old school, sometimes repudiating long held architectural conventions that I espouse, and which my experience tells me lead to architectural mistakes. Millennials tell me, “This time, it’s different.” Again, I could be delusional, but only time will tell.

Regrets? I have a few. My run ended just before I was able to finalize a series on the topic of bunker design philosophy. For all the monthly angst, how could I not have covered that topic in 15 years? There is so much more to be written.

Another is that I rarely knew how well I was connecting with readers or if I was providing truly beneficial advice. I especially appreciate those who contacted me with comments or told me in person they enjoyed my column. When my confidence was low, I took comfort in the old teacher’s mantra, “If I helped just one student, it was worth the effort” and hoped that, after 168 columns, the blind squirrel theory applied.

Now seems as good a time as any to pass the baton of monthly writing to the next generation of architects. It’s been a blast and I really enjoyed writing for you every month. I’ll miss it. I gather that you and I will just have to discuss your future architectural questions in some other venue, and I look forward to those discussions.

Jeff Brauer, ASGCA, is a veteran golf course architect with more than 50 course designs and 100 renovations under his belt. Email him at jeff@jeffreydbrauer.com.