Rick Robbins is the director of golf course design for ETd, PA. He spent thirteen years with the design firm of Von Hagge and Devlin where, as lead designer, he played an important role in the design and master planning of Doral Country Club’s silver course, The Woodlands Country Club in Houston, Admiral’s Cove’s east course in Jupiter, and Tucson National Country Club. He also served as vice-president for Nicklaus/Sierra Development Corporation, and Nicklaus Design’s senior design associate in the Hong Kong office. His work includes courses such as The Club at Mill Creek, The Tribute, Horseshoe Bay Golf Club, Royal Saint Patrick’s, and a renovation of the historic Pine Lakes International in Myrtle Beach.
While serving as construction and design consultant for Nicklaus/Sierra Development Corporation, I worked with Jack Nicklaus on implementation of several projects. My job was to coordinate getting the course that Jack designed built on time and within the set budget. One of those projects was English Turn, just outside New Orleans.
One day, Jack, was on a site visit to look at construction progress. There were five or six people on the tour of the course, and Jack wanted to ride standing in the back of the pickup truck so he could better see. I was riding on the passenger side, directing the driver where to go. We had just visited a green site and were ready to go to the next hole, when I climbed in the truck, grabbed the door handle, and was just getting ready to slam it when by some great stroke of good luck, I saw that Jack had his hand inside the door frame and I was within a few inches of smashing his right hand in the door! I stopped just in time!
“Jack, you came very close to making me quite famous.” I still get the shakes thinking about how close that was to ending or setting back his competitive career. I expect Jack never tried to hold on to the side of a truck that way again.
I have been lucky in the way fate has treated me. In October of 1999 I was getting ready to design a new course with Payne Stewart in Asheville, North Carolina. I had spoken with Van Arden, Payne’s agent the week before Payne was to compete in the Tour Championship at Houston. Van had asked me to come to Orlando so we could fly with Payne on his private plane to Houston to have dinner with him on that Monday night and discuss the design project.
I had my office check the flights and found that to fly to Orlando one-way, then fly with Payne on his plane to Houston, and then fly one-way back to Raleigh, North Carolina, would be difficult to schedule and very expensive. I called Van and told him I would just book a round-trip ticket on Continental and fly on my own to meet them in Houston.
It was that quirk of logistical luck and a too-expensive expensive airline rate which caused me to unwittingly avoid being on-board Payne’s private flight to Houston – the ill-fated, fatal flight which suffered a technical malfunction, crashed, and took the lives of Van Arden, Bruce Borland, Robert Fraley, Michael Kling, and Stephanie Bellegarrigue. God bless them and their families.
Fate was looking out for me again on my first trip to Thailand. I planned to walk the untamed property and make my way through the landscape of dense grass and tree cover in order to get a feel for what would be a twenty-seven-hole routing. I asked the developer before we started out if there was anything I should know about the local fauna before I left. He told me there was nothing there to worry about and, on that particular walk, he was correct. I trudged and trounced through miles of uncharted, wild terrain.
However, on the first day we started constructing the course, a D-8 rolled over a boulder where the ninth green was to be built and uncovered a twenty-one-foot-long python! It took three experienced Thai workers to load the snake into the back of a utility truck. Imagine if I’d run across that python while wading through the long grass! I’m sure that snake would have taken his time ingesting me!