Jeff Brauer, a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, began his career in Chicago and, in 1984, formed Jeffrey D. Bauer/GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas, which has designed more than 50 new courses, including Minnesota courses The Quarry at Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik and The Wilderness at Fortune Bay in Tower. He also designed Wild Wing Plantation’s Avocet Course in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan, Kansas; and Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, Texas.
My first rounds of golf as a boy were secret Monday outings on the closed country club courses. The woods and solitude of an empty course impressed me, particularly the championship No. 3 course at Medinah Country Club in Chicago.
My parents were less impressed when I presented them with a $140.00 guest fee bill. The club pro had unexpectedly come to work one Monday and spotted me.
Years later, I’d see famous PGA Tour players compete at the U.S. Opens and PGA Championships staged at Medinah, and I’ve even collaborated with some of those stars. I’ve worked with PGA Tour players Fuzzy Zoeller, Jim Colbert, Larry Nelson, Steve Elkington, Lanny Wadkins, and Fred Couples.
By far the biggest contributor to our design philosophy has been Colbert, who is both dogmatic in his architectural ideas and eloquent in expressing them in terms I can understand. Some of the others have trouble articulating the detail necessary to make a difference. All of the players have given me general ideas about how they play, and those tidbits have worked their way into their designs.
Colbert was adamant about certain things since, in many cases, he was the owner of the project as well. But he was the type of player who was a grinder, so he tried to create shots that maximized his chances for success, unlike some of the players who always played the same shot – a draw, for instance – out of convenience. Colbert taught me bunkering, contouring, how to punish a miss hit, and how to design a hole to encourage a particular type of shot.
He told me, “Pardner, there are smarter guys than me, but if the ground slopes to the left, the green angles to the left, and the prevailing wind blows to the left, I think the ball is going left no matter what I try to do, so I’m going to hit a draw!”
“You wouldn’t know what to do if you came to an intersection, and it had both a stop sign and a green light. Golf shots are the same – all the signals should be saying the same thing!”
I think of golf design like a bunch of little comedy bits strung together in a routine. Others architects use a song analogy. I tend to find inspiration and satisfaction in little things, like an irregularity in the land or shaping that is just plain different.
On my first solo job – a remodel of Desert Rose for Jim Colbert – I got upset with a shaper who wasn’t using enough depth on the course. Then I left for another green site. I came back and didn’t see his bulldozer anywhere. I thought maybe he gotten mad at my criticism and had left the job. But as I approached the green, I saw the dozer popping out of the deepest grass bunker I had ever seen! Since it was deep enough to hide a bulldozer, I was going to have him fill it partially back in, but Colbert liked it, so it stayed.
I get the most press from my Giant’s Footprint bunker at Giant’s Ridge Golf Club in Minnesota. I needed a long, skinny bunker on the third hole, and was aware of the legend of a giant roaming the area, so I added toes to the bunker. The client insisted I take it out the Giant’s Footprint bunker, but I prevailed. The client did convince me not to go forward with my plan to create three similar bunkers, which would have appeared to be the footprints left by a giant walking across the course.
The footprint bunker has become the signature of the course and created millions of dollars in shirt sales!
Later I created a cat paw bunker at Kansas State University as an ode to their team mascot, the Wildcats.
Unusual and different features can give each course a sense of place, but can also draw criticism. Golf architects, despite what they say, all live and die by reviews. Good reviews please us and bad ones infuriate us. Very few reviews are totally negative, though, because reviewers have ways to subtly pan a course with double entendres, including:
- “You’ll be lucky to enjoy this course” (it would depend on something besides design).
- “I would like to enthusiastically recommend this course to you” (but I can’t).
- “Best of its kind” (the bad kind).
- “Never seen anything like it” (and hope not to again).
- “He designed a course like he’s never designed before.” (How do you mean that?)
- “Now, that’s a golf course.” (what kind?)
- “I had a hard time believing what I saw.”
- “It redefines the meaning of ‘a place to play golf.’”
- “It had it all” (tee markers, flags, ball washers, the works)
- “I don’t usually write about clubhouses, but this one is the club’s focal point.”
- “It’s always interesting to see a designer take chances.”
- “I would like to recommend this as a must-play course” (but I just can’t).
- “It proves you can build a golf course just about anywhere.”
- “Years from now, golf course architecture students will visit this course just to study it.”
One review affected my general design theory: Tangle Ridge in Grand Prairie, Texas, which got favorable press, but one reviewer noted that all of the par-threes were of medium length. I purposely designed them that way because public players like such holes. But that criticism made me think about creating par-three holes of different lengths for variety. In newer designs, like my current renovation of Indian Creek in Carrolton, Texas, a similar public course, I have par-three holes of 130, 180, 205, and 270 yards, which provides great variety. The full driver, 270-yard hole and the partial-wedge, 130-yard hole, with a deep swale in the green, are memorable and different! Since these two holes sit just two holes apart on the back nine, I doubt any golfer will forget them when they review their round.
So I will live with reviews – good and bad – and use them as one source to further my personal education in golf course design.
I love the old-style courses, but our designs encompass philosophies inherited from the past with a realistic look at the needs of golf in the future. I don’t think new courses should look substantially like old ones because golf and life have changed. With more recreational activities available, golf must retain its charm and strength: being in a beautiful environment playing a game you can’t master, while gradually changing to appeal to younger generations that expect visual excitement, instant gratification, and entertainment than previous generations. Courses need visual excitement, which, given how far we are getting away from nature, need not be truly natural. And life is easier, so most courses need to be easier, balancing the need for beginner’s achievable success by dumbing down courses with the risk of failing to hold long-term interest if they are too easy.