Greg Martin founded Martin Design Partnership, Ltd., headquartered in Batavia, Illinois, in 1991. Martin’s critically acclaimed projects are seen as environmentally beneficial, time and budget sensitive, site specific, economically successful, creative, and thorough. Some of his projects include The Links at Carillon in Illinois; Millwood Golf and Racquet Club in Missouri; and in Wisconsin, Wildridge at Mill Run, Glen Erin Golf Club, and The Oaks Golf Course.
We get dirty every time we begin a project.
There is a perception of glamour associated with our profession. There is a certain degree of truth to that perception, but the profession of golf course architecture is like no other. We are a small band of like-minded individuals who have very distinct ideas about our craft.
Everyone sees the grand opening. Everyone sees us playing golf, or the media shot: holding a set of plans pointing at a faraway feature. But very few see the challenges of our job. We walk the rocky slopes during the early days of construction and we walk through brush on a hot August day trying to locate center points. We give pressure-packed presentations of renovation plans to three hundred pessimistic club members. We elicit changes during construction while keeping contractors enthusiastic.
We wear many hats, and they all get dirty. Every job is messy, whether trying to iron out construction issues, stretch budgets, or walk muddy paths. We get muddy. We get sunburned. We get sweaty and covered with silt. We get tired and put in too many miles between job sites.
And yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I didn’t choose it. Golf course architecture sits at the intersection of creativity, logic, a love of sport and the game of golf, an appreciation of the natural environment, and ego. That’s where I reside.
A fitting tribute to getting dirty? Golf course design is a craft and I get my inspiration on the soles of my feet while walking the property. There is a boot of mine stuck in a muddy grave at Carillon Golf Club. I stepped into a soft spot and pulled so hard that my boot came off about one foot below grade. It was never recovered!
Carillon was a ninety-five-day miracle. As part of a new “active adult” community in Chicago – the first such development outside of the Sunbelt – I was commissioned to develop a twenty-seven-hole golf course. The permitting, approvals, and plan preparation for the community was fast-tracked, but only left time to develop the golf course in one growing season. By the time plans were prepared and bids accepted we had only a total of ninety-five days to construct the golf course.
This was a large project under any scenario, but given the tight timeframe, I was on site approximately thee times per week with Superintendent Renny Jacobson. It was my first golf course and maybe my biggest challenge. I had to ignore the audacity of the deadline.
Obviously each client or owner differs in what they’re willing to accept. Jerry Rich had vision to develop the most exclusive and intriguing golf course possible. With a local contractor he had constructed three holes. Each of the holes could be played as a par-three, par-four, or a par-five by using multiple tees. He continued this project until nine holes were completed over multiple phases. At that point, though, the difficulty of routing, circulation, theme, character, and balance became a bit more daunting than Mr. Rich expected. I was hired to help complete his vision.
Over the next year or so, we conceived of a new nine holes that would be introduced to compliment the existing nine. Mr. Rich was interested in a variety of concepts and aesthetics, with each hole possessing a different image and each with incredible challenges. We had a particularly difficult time with the new eigth hole. This hole was a long, 450-yard par-four. Playing the hole required driving the ball uphill and then hitting a second shot back downhill, over water, into a beautiful setting. We’d moved the green and repositioned it a numerous times. After the third or fourth adjustment Mr. Rich settled on a size and shape for the green: very wide from left to right; and very narrow, from front to back.
After studying the new green configuration and reviewing the requirements of the hole–the challenging uphill drive, the tough downhill shot over water to a narrow target–I finally said, “Jerry, the average golfer can’t play this hole!”
Mr. Rich responded, with plenty of assurance, “Greg….I don’t want average golfers playing this hole!”
Here are a few of the guiding principles I’ve come to learn and embrace:
- Par is less important than shot values.
- Golf is a pedestrian event, even if you are in a cart.
- The site dictates the routing and feature placement (the site dictates everything!).
- Golf architecture is not static art, it is dynamic theater.
- Fun is more important than length.
- Creativity and shotmaking should be rewarded.
- Golf should be emotionally engaging and mentally stimulating.
- What the golfer feels is more important than what the golfer sees.
- Less is often better
We are stewards of the environment and caretakers of the game. As golf course architects, we are privileged to offer services that will be recognized as classic tests of golf for generations to come.