Signing On The Tee
For Golf Publisher Syndications’ West Coast Bureau Chief Chris Baldwin, a Greg Norman course in La Quinta, California, was designed for “the average hacker to experience just a taste of his misery.” Namely the 11th hole, the 18th-handicapped-rated hole on the course said to have been one of the easier ones, Baldwin wrote, but, “this breather features a forced desert area right off the tee and 16 bunkers to find in the fairway. Thanks, Greg.”
So, it can mean different things to different golfers.
“These days many golfers base the decision of where to play almost solely on the architect,” Baldwin writes. “Are you a Fazio, a Dye or a Nicklaus man? It’s like declaring allegiance to Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays back in the day.”
Tiger Woods fan alert: The golfer has reportedly inked a deal to design a course in Dubai called Al Ruwaya for somewhere between $25 million and $40 million.
As for the real impact of a celebrity name, Baldwin says, “The fate of a new golf course, the way it’s perceived, gets largely determined by what big name is credited with the design. Having a blueprint legend to place on the marquee does not guarantee success, but not having one can often seal doom.”
Knowing that former professional golfers and even friends choose to play a signature course lends cache as well.
“My experience has been that ‘signature courses’ gain their popularity based upon a golfer’s prior experiences on playing other courses built by the same designer,” says former pro David McGuire.
Gillespie cautions though that believing that the same name means the same thing course to course is wrong, because each design is influenced by its landscape and whimsy of the designers.
With gold being the standard, we’ll start with the work of the “Golden Bear” of golf, Jack Nicklaus. Here in Idaho, his style can be emulated at The Idaho Club in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Former PGA pro Michael J. Deprez is the club’s director of golf and the sales team.
“Nicklaus designers are always a symbol of quality, reflect a concern for nature, and maximize beauty and function in golf course architecture,” says Deprez. “A signature course designed by him and his design team will be identified as one of the finest in the Pacific Northwest, if not the best.”
Nicklaus’ involvement in the Idaho Club’s course, “was personal and to the smallest degree,” he says. In turn, “We have provided him an incredible setting with Sandpoint, the Pack River and surrounding mountains. Our clients who are buying now and future resort guests know there is a quality correlation when you have a Nicklaus Signature course. This illustrates the standard we set for ourselves at The Idaho Club.”
Not all signatures are those of players though. Many are named for architects who specialize in golf courses. Architects Robert Trent Jones, Junior and Senior, are highly regarded designers. Junior’s work is evidenced at the Tamarack Resort, while Sun Valley’s Elkhorn Golf Club’s course represents one of the last father and son collaborations.
“The natural terrain of the land used for this course provided us a perfect design palette,” Jones Jr., Master Architect and Chairman of Robert Trent Jones II has said about the course. “The dramatic changes in landscape and majestic views of the mountains, the meadow and Lake Cascade qualify Osprey Meadows as one of the finest courses in the Pacific Northwest.”
Situated on 280 acres along the base of Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley, Elkhorn Golf Club is best known for its elevated tees, dramatic mountain vistas and rolling fairways.
“You can see Senior’s influence on the front nine with some of his signature large bunkers, while Junior’s influence is more prevalent on the back nine,” says Shane Galles, head golf pro for Elkhorn. “Elkhorn is known for its wide open views and variety of terrain throughout the golf course. Most people find Elkhorn a very challenging golf course, but during our renovation, we added additional tee boxes for the opportunity for more choices.”
Of James J. Engh’s par 72 design for The Club at Black Rock in Coeur d’Alene, Roger Nelson, president of Black Rock Development explains, “What makes golfing at Black Rock so special is a combination of factors, including the bent grass tees, greens and fairways, the topography, and the incredible views of Lake Coeur d’Alene.”
“The difference between a very good golf course and an exceptional golf course is often the site,” says designer Donald Knott, principle of Knott-Brooks-Linn Golf Design Group. “Jug Mountain Ranch has a serene and peaceful beauty, with a variety of short and long distance views; enclosed tree-covered terrain and wide open meadows; soft gentle terrain and dramatic undulating contour; dry desert sage and wetland/lake habitat. A site with natural beauty, character, and features coupled with quality design will always stand apart as a memorable golf experience.”
Knott is busy at work on many projects, including a new nine-hole slated for the Sun Valley Gun Club site, which is planned to open in spring 2008.
“The gun club site is among the most dramatic sites I have worked on,” he says. “The views are unsurpassed in all directions. The drama and character of the golf will be terrific. The ridge line holes will bring wind into play and the dramatic terrain will offer intimidation and challenge. It will be golf at its best.”
Designer Scott Miller’s vision for the Coeur d’Alene Resort with its famous floating green was to offer a stimulating round of golf in a park-like environment. Chip Beck, PGA Tour Player who won there in 1992, called the course one of the finest he had ever seen, lauding it as playable for families, yet challenging enough to test the pros.
Tom Fazio is heralded for his design for the exclusive Gozzer Ranch Golf and Lake Club which features incredible views along the 700 acres of terrain overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene. He also is applauded for the fabulous new west nine he established for The Valley Club in Ketchum, which frames dramatic elevation changes with water features and the surrounding mountains.
Renowned golf course designer Gene Bates is getting high praise for his work at Circling Raven Golf Course in Worley and his much-anticipated creation for Nampa’s Hunters Point which will debut in 2008.
“Gene Bates has created a wonderful design meandering through 620 acres of terrain,” says David Christenson, Worley’s Circling Raven Golf Club’s golf director.
Bates, who began his career with Nicklaus, says many factors are considered in designing a course today, including environmental impact and integration and appeal to all player levels.
“Over the past several years, we have been leaning towards distinctive-looking courses that are playable by all players. We need to attract new players to the game. Not just the juniors, but women and those who pick it up later in life.”
As course design has evolved, fewer architects require a name tour player to establish a signature course, but there is no player who is architecturally able to stand alone.
There is a science behind pairing a course with a name. For a club owner to obtain signature assistance, there is often a hefty price tag. That must be factored in to the fees that can be charged in return, as well as the frequency of play on a particular course.
“If someone in Paducah, Kentucky, wanted to build a golf course and could only charge about $36 a round and can only realize 20,000 rounds a year, it wouldn’t make financial sense to hire Arnold Palmer for $1 million.”
That’s where homes on golf courses became a factor in the mid ’90s, adding to the value of the course, Bates says.
“And, in some cases,” Bates says, to make it interesting but keep it affordable, “we will just suggest a signature hole or holes.”
Photography Courtesies of Coeur D'Alene Golf Course, Black Rock in Coeur D'Alene, Circling Raven Golf Course
Text Jennifer Liebrum