John Harbottle, the son of Pacific Northwest Hall of Fame golfers, began his career in 1984 working on construction and design with the legendary golf architect Pete Dye, where he toiled in the office and on construction sites. He was influenced by trips to the British Isles and architecture books by classic designers George Thomas, Alister Mackenzie, Tom Simpson, Donald Ross, and Charles B. Macdonald. His Tacoma, Washington-based John Harbottle Design created courses such as The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, Cinnabar Hills Golf Club in San Jose, Challenge Course at Arrow Creek in Reno, the Tony Lema Course at Monarch Bay, and the Resort Course at Genoa Lakes. Some of his remodeled or redesigned courses are Napa Valley Country Club, Saticoy Country Club, Hillcrest Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club’s north course, and Park Meadows Country Club.

I don’t mean to say that developers are difficult, but some clients are much more hands-on than others and they can definitely affect the design process, both positively and negatively.

One of my clients had lost a fortune making a movie.  It seems they started filming before the script was finished.  In my design process, I start with a rough concept for a design and then let it evolve in the field during construction. But this particularly hands-on owner asked me what I was planning to do with a certain hole, and when I told him I wasn’t quite sure yet, he said, “You shouldn’t start filming a movie, if you haven’t finished the script!”

I always loved that saying.  He meant to impart to me that, because of his experience, I should not start building anything until I was sure of what I wanted to do.

The bottom line is you need to appreciate that it’s the client’s money – and they can be a little nervous when someone else is waving their arms around a bunch of expensive machinery and spending it.

Another client once told me there would be no par-fours under 400 yards long on his golf course.

“I want a man’s course,” he told me. “There will be no short holes.”

This was the first course I designed after striking out on my own following six years working under Pete Dye, so I wanted my debut solo effort to be a great design. It took me months to convince the client how important variety was to the design and that a small group of interesting drive and pitch holes were going to make a big difference for the golf course.  I used short holes like the tenth at Riviera Country Club to illustrate my point. It’s one of the best holes on the course and about three hundred yards long.

The final design took shape little by little and as he saw the holes unfold, he began to understand what I had expressed to him.

By opening day, he was giving prospective members tours during which he boasted about the fact no two holes played the same length and they had par-fours that played from 310 to 480 yards.