Michael Benkusky began his study of golf course architecture early and firsthand by working on and playing the Donald Ross-designed Cedar Rapids Country Club. In 1983 he studied landscape architecture at Iowa State University, focusing on golf design. Benkusky played on the varsity golf team, where he was introduced to another of the game’s giants, architect Perry Maxwell, who designed Veenker Memorial Golf Course. Benkusky then joined Lohmann Golf Designs, authoring more than fifteen original designs and directing hundreds of renovations, including classic originals by Maxwell and others. In January 2005, Benkusky started his own design firm, Michael J. Benkusky, Inc. in Lake in the Hills, Illinois. Some of the courses he created at Lohmann Golf Designs include Canyata in Marshall, Illinois; Twin Bridges Golf Club in Danville, Illinois; Eagle Valley Golf Course in Evansville, Indiana; and Hunters Ridge Golf Course in Marion, Iowa.
I grew up in suburban Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and had a dad who enjoyed the game of golf.
I began the game at age five and must have enjoyed it because I immediately took lessons from my dad and the golf professional. I wasn’t allowed on the course except at certain times with my parents, though, so my dad got a couple cups and flags from the club and we put them in the backyard so I could practice. I developed golf holes and layouts to make the practice more interesting. I imagined golf holes that went around a tree or over the house, with any concrete acting as a water hazard. The neighbor kids would come over to test my links.
By age ten I was able to get on the course Friday morning without an adult, so I played as much as I could. That summer, my parents drove into Chicago to see the 1975 U.S. Open played at Medinah Country Club. I was just starting to understand professional golf because most of the touring professionals would play at the Amana VIP Tournament in Iowa City. My parents came back from the U.S. Open with a championship program and I studied it completely. Then I began to copy the routing and holes on blank paper – my first doodle of a golf course.
I started to doodle more golf courses from scorecards we had or from layouts in golf magazines. After a while I began conjuring up my own layouts, and at one time went down to the city hall and got a copy of our club’s topography and surrounding farmland. That is when I really got serious and would fantasize about remodeling our existing course.
By the time I started junior high, I began to think about golf design as a living. I took drafting classes during high school, and I began to consider landscape architecture programs for college. Luckily, my older sister attended Iowa State University, where they had a program.
I attended Iowas State and worked two summers at Cedar Rapids Country Club, a Donald Ross design. I played on the golf team as a freshman at Veenker Memorial Golf Course, a Perry Maxwell design. These two designers led me to study more about the history of golf course architecture and earlier architects.
During my second summer at Cedar Rapids Country Club, architect Bob Lohmann was hired to complete a master plan. I met Bob at the golf course and explained to him my desire to become an architect, and he hired me as an intern following my junior year. After two summers of internships, he hired me on full time in 1988. I worked at Bob’s company for seventeen years learning the craft and business before starting my own firm in 2005.