WE ARE GOLF recently sat down for a conversation with Harrison Minchew, ASGCA. A true “son of Georgia,” Minchew was destined for a career in golf. Born in Augusta and educated in Landscape Architecture at the University of Georgia, he has been a part of more than 140 golf course projects around the world.
Sustainability is an important topic for golf courses. How do you design layouts that are environmentally friendly?
Designing a course that is environmentally friendly is a vital component to the overall economic viability of a golf course facility.
Golf is all about experiencing a game with friends and family, outdoors on an expansive ‘playing field’. Other than the game itself, the essence and uniqueness of golf is the variety of the settings it’s played in, experiencing plants, animals, and the ever changing weather as you play the game.
Arnold Palmer very much understood this about golf therefore always felt that the courses we designed with him should preserve the natural attributes of a site or to re-create a beautiful and environmentally sustainable golf course. After all experiencing the nature and setting of a golf place is as much the attraction as the golf architecture itself. Augusta National and Pebble Beach are two very different and wonderful examples of this.
When an architect is presented with a site his main goal should be to not only work with the terrain but all the other natural systems the land has to offer, the existing vegetation, the natural way water flows thru it and the animals that live on it.
We as golf architects obviously are going to impact the land somewhat. And as a profession we all strive to do so responsibly. After all Golf is a way to preserve and maintain open spaces within our communities. Therefore it’s very important to create a course that uses the land so that the golf course portion of the open space is designed and constructed in a way that will not waste water, minimize the need to apply chemicals while enhancing and creating plant animal habitat
Using water responsibly is key. A golf course can use and should always use treated effluent for irrigation -a wonderful way to recycle our precious water. Technology and design techniques have advanced tremendously in the last 20 years so that golf features are built so they perform efficiently, golf irrigation piping that have no leaks, sprinkler heads and computer software that apply water extremely efficiently on to very advanced turf species.
Advanced Turf grasses that allow a golf course Superintends to very much minimize the use of expensive water, chemicals, and maintenance hours. Environmentally friendly golf architecture allows a golf course to be not only environmentally sustainable but economically viable.
What steps can an architect take to make the game more enjoyable for beginners?
This is a great and very important question, essential for the future of golf. To attract and keep beginner golfers -children to seniors -interested and engaged, it is important for the traditional golf clubhouse facility to provide non-golf recreational draws. A community facility with innovative attraction points to bring people to the golf course that might not visit otherwise. A place where people come and enjoy a meal, a drink or just relaxation in a beautiful golf setting.
Seeing adults and children having fun in a golf setting non-golfers will be drawn to give it a try. Therefore as golf architects we need to allow the space during the master plan phase to create a welcoming learning and practice facilities with a beautiful driving range, a fun short game area, and short course areas along with a putting course. Anyone can strike a putt at a hole so the putting course will draw a visitor to try the game and progress thru the other practice facilities.
On a grander scale, RainDance National Golf Club, a new course that Fred Funk and I are designing NE of Denver is a part of a regional recreational complex in a huge residential community. Adjacent to the golf clubhouse is, an outdoor recreational facility that will have winter and summer activities that includes a small inn with cottages.. A snow hill for beginner skiers for family that don’t want the expensive trek into the mountains for the kids to learn how to ski. In the warm months the open grass area will be used for all sorts of family activities including outdoor concerts.
Providing a fun enjoyable golf course for all skill levels is essential. A routing that a quick 3, 6 or 12 hole loops returning to the clubhouse can be enjoyed.
But most importantly proper tee locations are essential. Several years ago Barney Adams, inventor of the tight lie fairway metals, addressed the American Society of Golf Architects. He thanked us for making him rich by locating tees that required the average player to use long irons or woods to approach a green while the scratch player was using a short iron while playing the course back.
It’s essential that we layout equitable tee locations so that all players using an appropriate tee, after a solid strike will be able to use the same approach club to a green that the scratch player would use playing from the back tees. This will make golf more fun and reduce the time it takes to play a round of golf.
What are key takeaways for a successful partnership with golf course ownership groups?
It must be understood an architect does not show up having all the answers to the Individual needs of a facility. His job is to team with an ownership and help analyze all aspects of an existing or a new golf course including the existing and potential customer base.
From his knowledge of the successful trends in the golf industry and architecture he will go thru a very analytical step by step process that enable him to present Innovative ideas that meet the needs of a particular ownership and golf facility. By working with the ownership team, they will together devise a master plan and budget that defines a comprehensive solutions to the design opportunity. A master plan with Innovative designs of all components of a facility. A well thought out and funded Master Plan will help insure an existing or a new golf course to be economically viable well into the future.
How has membership in the American Society of Golf Course Architects influenced your career growth?
The ASGCA is a great group of some of the most talented architects in the world. Chad Ritterbusch and the entire ASGCA staff keeps us informed on the most up-to-date trends in golf and does a fantastic job promoting the trends in golf architecture and our impact on golf.
Our annual meetings, consisting of as little meeting time as possible and as much golf as possible on the US’s great courses. These ‘golf outings’ very much inspires all of us to even greater Designs’. The ASGCA also organizes Golf Architecture study tours to the world’s classic courses. This allow us to discuss and learn from each other and also from members of the European Institute of Golf Architects and the Society Australian Golf Architects that join us.
What advice would you give to those looking to work in golf course architecture?
I would suggest that anyone that truly has a passion for Golf and creative side to them absolutely pursue golf architecture.
It’s a multi-faceted field that includes a unique blend of agronomics , soil science, drainage ,understanding topography along with a knowledge of how to integrate a course into a development. After all people are attracted to live and play on golf open spaces.
I don’t really see anywhere close to the number of new courses being built like we saw in the 80’s 90’s and early 2000’s. Therefore I suggest the golf architects of the future be willing to diversify into other fields of our wonderful golf industry. Some of our very best courses were done by “part Time Designers”; Cpt. George Thomas- Riviera- LA Country Club and Dr. Alister MacKenzie Augusta National, Cypress Point…..