“One of the biggest mistakes architects make is that they tend to deal with problems that only interest other architects”.
Alejandro Aravena, the 2016 Pritzker Prize winning architect.
“So soon as a fashion is universal, it is out of date.”
Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach
Every design industry is subject to changing tides, waves of new thinking that offer a compelling perspective and new concepts. As with golf.
The classics born from Golden Age Architects gave way to a more modern game and modern maintenance in mid-century. Robert Trent Jones Sr ushered in a longer, more linear penal perspective with designs that challenged and defended par. The 80’s generated spectacularly innovative, heavily shaped, target golf with strong imagery and bold strategies from Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus. More recently, Doak, Coore/Crenshaw, Hans and others have illustrated how firm, fast, minimal designs can shape the game and offer compelling enjoyment.
Each of these waves have reshaped a game that still remains quite simple. They each offer a captivating perspective of what golf can offer. The current wave includes reconstructing the classic concepts from the golden age. Full circle.
While these episodes continue, the basic concepts of enjoyment remain. Golfers want to be engaged with strategies to be solved in landscapes to be enjoyed. It is often difficult to remind myself of the need to remain true to the golfer and the site, not the fashion. If we advance a vision at the cost of the game, or the land, or the place, fashion wins and the game loses.
Discipline is required to resist fashion. Golfers expect more than what is sensible and judicious. Clients wish great things for their golf courses, rightly so but, often beyond what the site can provide and much more than what the budget can offer. That challenge is real.
The business of Golf Architecture is linked directly to the business of golf. As architect, I am tasked to create a suitable challenge while offering playability, engagement, strategy, provide imagery and meet the budget. Therein lies the business of design. Our work needs to satisfy the client, meet the market, be environmentally sustainable and budget sensitive, while generating enough interest to thrive economically. No small task.
A successful golf course is the result of more than what is visible. Golf Course infrastructure is as important as wiring, plumbing and the structural bones of a building. 80% of a golf course investment is unseen by the golfer. Irrigation, drainage and soil sciences all establish a valued experience of a golf course. If composed poorly, the facility will struggle. It is the 20% above ground that owners and golfers see, but the infrastructure and the aesthetic share equally in the success or failure of a golf course.
The life-cycle of a golf course varies, but within 15-25 years a golf course must adapt. If not, discontent and dissatisfaction can set in. It is important to acknowledge customer restlessness. Early warning signs include reduction of repeat customers, “squeaky wheels” or even silence. These are indicators that your golfers/members are uneasy and willing to find other options.
I attended a National Golf Course Owners workshop a couple years ago and the Editor of Inc Magazine was the keynote speaker. He offered some sage advice – and if there was ever an audience that needed to hear that message, the National Golf Course Owners was the audience. His message “See your product as your customer sees your product”. This requires brutal self-examination and a deep understanding of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and your place in the market. Without this fundamental understanding, your product is threatened.
There is a high price of self-blindness and that cost is “doing nothing”. Evolution is vital to success, and it is inevitable. But don’t chase your competition. Solutions need to provide immediate results, but should endure. See your golf course as an opportunity to sustain engagement with your most loyal while winning your most critical customers. That begs two questions: what are the problems? and what are the solutions?
Solutions to your problems should be offered thoughtfully and intentionally for your specific need, your market and site. Golf courses live and breathe on the land and in the climate for generations. These are valuable community resources that need to respond with more than the latest trend. Golf Course Architecture must accept the inevitable surges of change, but do so with long-term “tide-resistant’ solutions.