Killian was a 1957 graduate from the University of Illinois, earning a degree in City Planning and Landscape Architecture. He began his golf course architecture career with the first ASGCA President and Founding Member, Robert Bruce Harris, in Chicago. In 1964, he and fellow Illinois graduate Dick Nugent joined forces and formed the Chicago-based firm known as Killian and Nugent. He and Nugent parted ways in 1983 and he formed Killian Golf Design Group, which he operated in Illinois and Southern California until his death.
A prolific designer credited with courses throughout the United States and Asia, Killian was also a frequent lecturer at golf industry conferences worldwide. He co-authored the book "Planning and Building a Golf Course" for the National Golf Foundation.
Killian was elected into ASGCA as a member in 1971 and ASGCA President from 1986-1987. He remained a member of the society for 38 years until his death in 2009.
ASGCA Past President Jeff Brauer shares some of his memories of Ken Killian and Dick Nugent:
"Ken Killian and Dick Nugent were kind enough to hire me out of the University of Illinois in 1977. I apprenticed under them for six years. Overall, we had a good time and great collaborative process at Killian and Nugent. They were influenced by Robert Bruce Harris, who owned several golf courses during the depression and designed to the concept of maintaining the course with bare minimum expense. Ken was more conservative than Dick, but had more overall artistic ability. Bunkers at courses where he was the primary architect tended to be smaller, but somehow, just more artistic. Dick preferred using two tiered greens, while Ken was more likely to put a really wild rolling green in a design. The 7th at Tuckaway Country Club survives as designed to date, and I immediately thought, 'Ken did this one!' Ken had a way with people. I once heard him tell a club member that, 'we designed it just the way you suggested, and only a little different,' which made that member feel invested in the process."