A proud past and prepared for the future

Dustin Johnson never considered the spot where his tee shot landed on the 72nd hole of the 2010 PGA Championship to be a bunker; but Pete Dye, ASGCA, did. To make Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis., Dye’s design scattered bunkers throughout the course. Nearly 1,000 of them, to be more precise; including the patch of sandy ground under Johnson’s feet that would prove to be his undoing when he grounded his club … a two-stroke penalty that kept him out of a playoff.

When asked after the tournament if Johnson’s situation might lead to changes at the course, Dye said in a humorous manner, “I think it needs more bunkers.” Besides providing an unfortunate occurrence for Johnson … who later admitted he had failed to note the course rules posted in the clubhouse … the 2010 PGA Championship shined a new light on golf course architects. The work of a golf course architect today is both an art and a science, continuing a legacy that reaches back more than a century. The members of the America Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) design the great majority of newly constructed and remodeled golf courses in the United States each year and have branched out to also design courses worldwide. And in each instance, ASGCA members produce these challenging and interesting layouts while enhancing the environment unique to each course.

ASGCA’s 65th year

Since the days when Donald Ross started laying out the courses at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina early in the last century, the profession of golf course architecture has blossomed in the United States.
But it wasn’t until 1947 that 14 of North America’s golf course architects gathered in Pinehurst for their first official meeting. They determined a society of golf course architects was necessary to promote the professional, ethical development of the finest golf courses possible.

Over the years, ASGCA has grown in stature and increased its commitment to golf course architecture. ASGCA has encouraged a growing intelligence of golf course design and development, and also produced the resources to help developers, planners and those interested in producing environmentally safe projects.

Wearing many hats

The romantic conception of the golf architect is a distinguished-looking gentleman strolling through a meadow … perhaps with pipe in hand … dropping a series of stakes into the ground as he walks. If only it were that easy.

The reality is designing a golf course today is more complicated and challenging than ever. Golf course architects must consider many factors in their designs. Unlike the early days foursomes are no longer composed of just adult men. Now they’re likely to include men and women, low handicappers and high handicappers, seniors and youngsters. As ASGCA Vice President Bob Cupp puts it, golf course architects must plan for both “John Daly and Grandma Moses.”

Golf course architects also must consider nature and environmental issues. Protecting wetlands, promoting wildlife habitats, incorporating conservation areas, protecting water quality and preserving green space are some of the more important goals golf course architects seek to achieve in their designs.

“ASGCA members have to respond with innovative solutions,” said Geoffrey Cornish, ASGCA past president and co-author with Ron Whitten of “The Architects of Golf,” an authoritative history of the profession.

Indeed they do. ASGCA members design courses with multiple teeing areas that welcome higher handicap players as well as provide conditions which comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines to accommodate the disabled. Further, they design and remodel courses with an eye on the continuing technological advances in the golfing world.
ASGCA members today are also working with their clients to design and renovate courses that are shorter and less expensive to construct and maintain, responding to economic challenges and a desire to meet the changing needs of players. “Courses measuring 7,500 yards or more for 18 holes are played to that length by about one percent of golfers,” said Tom Clark, ASGCA. “Something closer to 6,800 yards from the tips and 4,800 … 6,200 yards is good for 95 percent of all golfers.”

Value of the golf course

ASGCA members are committed to promoting the “value of the golf course,” demonstrating the benefits provided to individuals and communities by the course. The efforts of ASGCA members have shown the incredible value a golf course has for everything it touches: people, environment, wildlife, the community, the local economy and more.
As an association that loves golf and works to create sustainable layouts for others who love the game, ASGCA has seen firsthand throughout its history how golf courses truly benefit their communities at the environmental, social and financial levels. From courses specifically designed with storm water retention in mind so that the course works with nature and protects surrounding homes and businesses, to the economic impact provided by jobs, taxes, tourism and more, what would be the negative impact on these and other areas if the golf course was not there?

Education and training

As golf course designs have evolved over the years, so have the requirements of the profession. “In the early part of the 20th century there weren’t any real requirements for being a golf course architect other than understanding the strategic elements of the game,” says Cornish. “But when Robert Trent Jones created a college curriculum for himself to become an architect, it heralded the arrival of professionalism in golf course architecture.”
Robert Trent Jones … a founding ASGCA member … studied agronomy, civil engineering, soil sciences, public speaking, landscape design … all areas important then and critical now to the architect’s ability to create interesting, aesthetically pleasing golf courses that are playable for particular skill levels, maintainable for superintendents, and in harmony with the land.

As golf and golf course design has grown and expanded into new territories over the past 65 years, ASGCA’s commitment to professionalism, ethics, and outstanding design has enabled its members to meet the new demands. It is a commitment which will continue for years to come.
Rick Phelps graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Colorado School of Environmental Design in 1989 and immediately began work with his father’s Colorado-based firm. His work is known for its strategic and aesthetic variety, playability and environmental stewardship. Visit the ASGCA online at

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