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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 2)

The majority of Nicklaus's time over the past decade has been devoted to his wide-ranging design business that has taken him to every continent except Antarctica. It helps when you have your own Gulfstream jet. After getting into the business with Dye at Harbour Town, Nicklaus started a design relationship with Desmond Muirhead that led to the design of the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Nicklaus's hometown of Columbus, Ohio, a course that annually holds his PGA Tour event, The Memorial.

Nicklaus's design history comes in two parts—the courses he built before Colleton River in South Carolina, and those that came after that course was opened in 1992. The courses Nicklaus built in the late '80s where steroidal in nature, difficult championship layouts that, he says, were demanded by developers who wanted to cash in on his name and the severest challenges of the game. Nicklaus calls it his humps and bumps era. Then, at Colleton River, a few miles from the bridge that leads to Hilton Head Island, Nicklaus built a meandering low-country course around marshes and near the river that has nary a bump on it. It's a lovely, very member-friendly course, and it made Nicklaus seem warm and fuzzy as well.

The Nicklaus list spans all sorts of private, public and resort courses, of almost every style. Castle Pines in Castle Rock, Colorado, hosts a PGA Tour event. Valhalla Golf Club outside Louisville, Kentucky, owned by the PGA of America, has hosted two PGA Championships. His new Mayacama Golf Club, a gathering spot for wine country moguls in Santa Rosa, California, is a wonderful routing through the hills and ravines just north of the city. Nicklaus also has 63 holes of golf under his imprint in Los Cabos, Mexico, where, not incidentally, he loves to go fishing. The Bear's tracks are everywhere.

5 Tom Doak
Tom Doak's portfolio may be small, but his achievements loom large. Not the least of which is publishing The Confidential Guide, a book with his personal rating of golf courses and thus his personal rating of other architects. How audacious, how bold, how arrogant?

He is another protégé of Pete Dye and, like Dye, is a straight shooter. He has also published his "Minimalist Manifesto," his paean to less is more in architecture, and his critique of players who want every lie to be perfect. And what does he say of them? "Instead of building character, we're raising a generation of coddled champions who can't even shrug off a bad lie and dig themselves out of a divot."

So there. Though his published views may be controversial, his design work is exceptional. His Pacific Dunes course at the Bandon Dunes complex in coastal Oregon is magnificent minimalism. Though the course has been open for only three years, it's as if it has been there forever, because Doak has allowed the land, which has been there forever, to dictate exactly what he did. The fairways are wide to allow for the coastal winds, but the approaches and greens are tricky, even lovingly quirky in spots. Another course that he's designed is Lost Dunes in Bridgman, Michigan, which would lead you to believe he's a dunesman at heart.

Doak has been a consultant for the renovation of a number of classic courses, including the Garden City Golf Club on Long Island, and his reputation has grown internationally as well. He has two spectacular courses in the lands down under, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand and Barnbougle Dunes in Australia. Back in the States, his pairing with Nicklaus to design Sebonack Golf Club is an interesting alliance that will bear, pardon the term, watching.

6 Rees Jones
Let's just say that Rees Jones and his brother, Robert Trent Jones Jr., were born to move dirt around. As the sons of the most prolific architect of all time, Robert Trent Jones, the Jones boys were properly routed at birth to their calling.

Outside of Nicklaus, Rees Jones is probably the most visible contemporary architect. His name is peppered on all sorts of best lists. He's the unofficial U.S. Open "Doctor," tuning up Open courses at the behest of the United States Golf Association or host clubs. Though he started his work with his father, his big break came in doing renovation work for the Country Club at Brookline in advance of the 1988 U.S. Open. He did major restoration work at Congressional prior to the 1997 Open and at Bethpage Black in advance of the 2002 Open. His complete renovation of the Torrey Pines South Course in La Jolla, California, the annual site of the Buick Invitational, earned that course the 2008 U.S. Open.

Before Crenshaw and Coore made their mark on Long Island, Jones had done so with the Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton in the early '90s, and he followed it up with another course nearby, The Bridge. He has a summer home in the area, and like Donald Ross did at his home courses in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Jones is fiddling with his Long Island courses regularly.

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