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Golf's Land Sculptors

Cigar Aficionado picks the top ten course designers in 2004

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Weiskopf had a wonderful golf swing, but didn't have the head to match. He was a land mine waiting to go off, and he exploded on too many occasions. At the age of 41, Weiskopf quite the PGA Tour to become an architect full-time, a decidedly bold move, and the right one.
He clearly has a head for golf courses, and in conjunction with Moorish he did some real beauties in Arizona where he lives—The Rim in Payson, Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, Troon Golf and Country Club in Scottsdale. Elsewhere there is the very neat Double Eagle Club in Galena, Ohio, and the pristine Loch Lomond Golf Club near Glasgow, Scotland. He was nearly swallowed up by a peat bog on the latter property while walking over it late at night.
Weiskopf's favorite architect is Alister MacKenzie, especially his work at Cypress Point and the Ohio State University Golf Course. He laments that because so much of golf course work is residentially driven, he can't design walkable courses anymore. But he gets to do what he loves, which is considerably better than playing tournament golf and watching his mind explode.
9 Jim Engh
What? You haven't heard of Jim Engh? Well, you just have.
The Colorado-based Engh is emerging as one of the brightest and edgiest architects in the land and he has a bunch of awards to show for it, such as 2003 Golf Digest Architect of the Year.
A graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in landscape architecture, Engh worked in Europe for years supervising the design and construction of courses for a British builder. It gave him his foundation, but his inspiration comes from the bold nature of Irish links golf. He's a member of the Carne Golf Club, an immensely muscular links course on the Atlantic in County Mayo.
Engh just isn't afraid to push the envelope, much like Pete Dye. His Club at Black Rock in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, and his Redlands Mesa Course in Grand Junction, Colorado, push the envelope until it's about to burst. At Black Rock he lodged a green between two giant rocks; when other rocks were unearthed during the digging, he came up with a green that's nearly entirely encased by rocks with a pond in front and two small waterfalls. "It's not natural to the average golf experience," says Engh. "But as long as you make it playable, it can work. And it's certainly spectacular."
At Redlands Mesa, he created a short par-4 hole with the drive defined by two buttes. The green is in a box canyon. There is little margin for error. Violent ricochets and scuffed-up balls are the product of the slightly errant shot. "Golf is the only artwork that you can really get inside of to experience," says Engh. "And you can compete with it, too."
10 Robin Nelson
Much is made of the golf courses on Maui at Kapalua, Wailea and Makena. They are all very fine courses with wonderful views of the ocean and mountains. But for my money, the best course on Maui is less than a 10-minute drive from the airport, just past the last of the Kahalui shopping centers. The Dunes at Maui Lani is a delightful surprise, a public course with greens fees about half those of the resorts, and it plays through some remarkable land that includes dunes left over from an ancient epoch. And it's why Robin Nelson is on this list.
Nelson has made his name in golf in Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. He is just now beginning to spread his wings in the continental United States. His Dunes at Maui Lani course is filled with his creativity and sensitivity. Several large dunes dot the property, and he has placed a par-3 green on an angle between two of them to create a hole that would be at home on any Scottish links. The par 5s are a wonder of strategy and even deception.
After a 10-year governmental nightmare, his Royal Kunia Country Club has just opened on Oahu and is easily the best course on the island, with well-framed holes and stunning views. He calls himself an evolving minimalist, but when you do work in Hawaii, the land is generally so substantial that even minimal work yields maximum results. He has also designed the second course at Mauna Lani on the Big Island, the Mimosa Golf Club in the Philippines and the Jade Dragon Club in China. He gets plenty of renovation work, jobs that often come through word of mouth, and there are plenty of good words to describe his work. Jeff Williams is a sportswriter for Newsday on Long Island.
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