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2010 Year in Review – Part One - The Death of Golf Architecture?




a permanent change has taken place



I had my last meeting for the year on Monday night which means I begin my annual tradition of writing the Year in Review. I began writing last night and discovered I have quite a lot of ground that I would like to cover. In my preparation I appear to have eight entries to come and the plan is to post an entry each day until the full review is done.


The first two are on golf architecture in general. This one takes on the state of the industry. 



How Bad is It?

“The difficulties observed by both the golf industry and the ASGCA members in the past two years do not represent a short term “blip” from which the industry will recover as the economy and real estate market heal. Instead we believe a permanent change has taken place.”


I read this in one of my recent newsletters. I was taken by a couple of thoughts. One is we damned well deserved this because the incredible building boom for last two decades was based around a mirage created by of easy access to capital and a never ending supply of cheap money. The golf industry built a series of unrealistic business models that drove the cost of the game out of reach for the average person and essentially economically ended the growth of the game. So now we sit in the penalty box for what could be a decade for our sins as an industry.


For the older players in the business I guess this change could be conceived to be a permanent since the implications may affect the balance of their career, but at the same time they enjoyed the greatest run in golf construction in history. For younger architects like me the mantra is to survive this period knowing there are far too many architects and too little work to go around. The biggest fear is a complete bust in China.



The Death of the Big Firm


This leads me to the next obvious conclusion which is the death of the large design firm. The marriage of Golf and Real Estate is over for at least a decade and without real estate to justify the fees for the big name designer there is no one left to pay the freight. With low fees and very few projects, there is no longer a need for staff or office space. This decade will see the emergence of the owner operator working out of their home. We all know that to survive this decade requires having little overhead and tremendous flexibility.


I’ve also noticed a recent trend where designs are being built by multiple independent contractors working together. It began with Pete Dye and has continued on with his associates such as Coore and now Doak. The employees maintain a link with the original company allowing them to work together. The company effectively has reduced overhead. The independent contractor now gains the option to take on their own clients or continue to work with the original firm. Some design firms are using this model now too.



Doak's 7th at the Mosiac Project



The Collaboration


For those who would like to see some interesting collaborations, this will likely be the greatest chance in history.


Right out of the gate we have one. Bill Coore and Tom Doak are building a pair of courses on the Mosiac Property in Florida. They routed the courses together and then split the 18’s. According to Bruce Hepner there will be some minor overlapping of crews during construction and each is certainly going to spend some time looking at what the other is building.


I personally think this is the tip of the iceberg on collaboration. I understand that Jeff Brauer and Damian Pascuzzo are working together on a rebuild of the 36 holes at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad California and I expect to see other architects join forces and work together on both new projects and renovations. I think this is a way for some to increase their ability to work in specific areas and for others a chance to work together with a friend.


I certainly enjoyed my opportunity to work with Gil Hanse on Scarboro and would love the chance to work with him again in the future.



Written on December 8th, 2010



Tommorrow – Part 2 - The Courses