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Golf's Land Sculptors

Cigar Aficionado picks the top ten course designers in 2004
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Greg Raymer, Sept/Oct 2004

(continued from page 1)

At Harbour Town, Dye changed that thinking. The tees and greens were small, and the fairways were narrowed by what came to be called waste bunkers. It was at Harbour Town that Dye became known for his use of wood scraps and railroad ties to shore up the faces of some bunkers and greens. It was the idea of his wife, Alice, whose contribution to Dye's work is monumental.

In 1982, Dye's controversial Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, just south of Jacksonville, Florida, opened, to the howls of PGA Tour players who were now going to have to play it annually in the Players Championship. "They ruined a perfectly good swamp," J. C. Snead said at the time. Now it's recognized as an outstanding course with an outstandingly dramatic hole, the par-3 17th with an island green surrounded by water (also Alice Dye's idea). This August, the PGA Championship, was slated to be played on Dye's Whistling Straits Golf Club, a links-style course that he completely manufactured for the king of commodes, Herbert V. Kohler.

There is just no underestimating Dye's impact on the golf architecture and absolutely no reason to rank him anywhere other than No. 1.

2 Tom Fazio
You could argue that being given an unlimited budget by a developer with unlimited vision would allow any architect to create a visionary course. But regardless of who the developer is or how much money is available, Tom Fazio has demonstrated for more than two decades that he is a visionary golf course architect who brings a bagful of creativity to every project.

The course that highlighted his portfolio and fueled his mystique was Shadow Creek, the completely invented wonder that was the dream of Las Vegas hotel mogul Steve Wynn. In the late 1980s, Wynn, rapt with Fazio's work, gave him a chunk of desert and told him he wanted Eden. That's what he got. Shadow Creek is a Pacific Northwest course burrowed into the land, hiding the immediate barren landscape and highlighting the distant mountains. At first it was Wynn's private track for high rollers; later it became available to play for the price of a big suite at the Mirage. Now the greens fee is $500 plus the price of a room.

Fazio is in such demand that, like Dye, he doesn't do any sales or marketing, doesn't have a Web site, isn't eager to give out his phone number. But with some 150 swell courses to his credit, well-heeled developers find him. His work is dramatic, sculptural and challenging. Among his most magnificent offerings are the Quarry in La Quinta, California, the Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Florida, and the nearby World Woods Golf Club, a public 36-hole facility. His Hudson National course, which sits within a short crow's flight of Winged Foot and Westchester Country Club, is considered one of the New York area's toughest hidden gems. And who was it that Augusta National Golf Club called in to tune up its course for future Masters?

Nearly all of Fazio's work lies within North America, but he has recently overseen the renovation of the Waterville Golf Links in Ireland. "It was an act of friendship and of love, more than anything," says Fazio, whose body of works reflects exactly those characteristics. 3 Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore
This is the first of two design partnerships on this list and it is a very close-knit one. Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion, and Coore, a protégé of Pete Dye, have been together since 1986. The adjective reverential comes to mind when they talk about their work or when others talk about it. Crenshaw and Coore are highly selective about the site they will work on and will work on only two jobs at one time. Coore is extremely hands-on, often parking himself at a site for months to get all the details right.

Perhaps no other architects let the site dictate the layout more than Crenshaw and Coore. They aren't interested in moving a couple of million yards of earth to create a course. Rather, they are looking to move as little as possible. Their seminal work is Sand Hills Golf Club in the great outback of Nebraska. Where an ancient sea once flowed, C&C walked the land dozens of times and discovered the most natural of golf holes, a true inland links worthy of comparison to all the great links courses of the world. Said Coore of Sand Hills: "If we did not create one of the world's truly outstanding golf courses, [we] had failed."

Crenshaw has a special fondness for the East End of Long Island, for its courses and their place in the history of the game. He has taken some of his cues from Shinnecock Hills and National, as well as from visits to the United Kingdom and Ireland. He and Coore designed two new private clubs in the area, the East Hampton Golf Club and Friar's Head. While East Hampton is still relatively unknown, their Friar's Head course is gaining gushing reviews, which come on top of other gushing reviews for Hidden Creek in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Cuscowilla in Lake Oconee, Georgia, and Chechessee Creek in Okatie, South Carolina.

4 Jack Nicklaus
Well, you would expect to find Jack Nicklaus on this list, wouldn't you? It's not because he is the greatest player in the history of the game, either. It's because he has overseen, in a surprisingly hands-on way, the design of 275 golf courses around the world, many of them worthy of consideration on any list.

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