Men In Green

This story first appeared in Links Magazine in 2002.

In a meeting room at the Bandon Dunes Resort on the southern Oregon coast, approximately two dozen men are planning to make you mad– if not today, then soon.  Not necessarily on purpose, but it seems inevitable.

They’re not evil or mean-spirited, these men with names like Jim and Josh and even Robin and Dana.  They love their families.  They enjoy good beer.  Some wear goofy shoes, others are hip and sport shapely goatees.  Individually they are funny, sullen, driven, artistic, impatient, dry-humored, argumentative, outspoken, and even cuddly.  As a whole they are a bunch of brainiacs.  They work hard for little recognition in places like China and New Zealand and North Dakota, in the wind, rain, hail, dust, and heat.

One of them once lost the only golf ball in the entire country of Latvia.  Another spent $3 million constructing a single par three hole in Guam, where storms destroyed several rounds of work and relocated cart paths into the trees (and nearly carried the superintendent out to sea).

You don’t know these men, but they talk about you all the time– and not always fondly (in a moment of frustration, one of them says that 80 percent of you suck).  They can influence your mood and ruin your mojo and chances are you’ll spend some summer days in their company sometime soon without even knowing it.  They may consider whether you say “golf course” or “goff course” as a fashion statement.

Surely you’ve guessed that they are young (mostly), as-yet unheralded golf course architects– not the famous one’s whose names you’d know even if you didn’t play golf.  These are the supporting casts, the guys who will frustrate you more a year from now, or five years, when the trajectory of their bright stars rise and flash across they sky.  The ones who worked (or still work) for other men who get the credit for their efforts because life is not fair.  Although those gathered here count several dozen of America’s best-ranked modern courses among their credentials, many labor unnoticed in New England or Canada, or they toil in the strange far corners of the third world, or they only perform renovations.

They have come together at Bandon Dunes at the bequest of one who might be the most talented little-known course designer in the business: Tom Doak, of Renaissance Golf Design.  Doak is an architect’s architect: he believes in classical elements of style, he’s not shy about lambasting bad design work, and he’s written two books on golf architecture that have become cult classics.  Doak recently finished Pacific Dunes, the new course that will open at Bandon Dunes in July.  In honor of his 40th birthday, and to show off his latest creation, Doak organized this summit, which participants are calling Archipalooza.  They have ventured here to talk business and get to know each other.

If you think that golf course designers sit around discussing bunkers and turf grass, you’re partly right.  They also talk about “Jack” and “Pete” and “Bobby,” mostly with respect, but not always nicely.  They commiserate over how much they hate trees.

Over this long weekend they also hold actual meetings, the minutes of which might read something like this:

Ate breakfast.

Discussed hot topics:

1.   Course rankings: are they a positive thing?

2.   Liability, especially as relates to cart paths.

3.   “Fast and firm:” an issue or a style?

Adjourned for golf.

Later, they present slide shows and share their opinions and experiences and humorous war stories.  Tom Doak recalls how a friend once claimed that he never hit into Doak’s bunkers, so Doak began tucking bunkers closer to his greens.  There’s a lesson here: be careful what you tell golf course architects.

If it weren’t for these men (the only women in sight all weekend are waitresses) every modern track would be designed in the style of Robert Trent Jones.  Which is why, when you enjoy golf courses, you should take note of who designed them and remember architects’ names.

On a certain Sunday when you play well and meet the challenges of a skillfully-crafted layout, you will thank these men.  You will admire and respect them.  You will curse them.

They will smile in response, knowing they’ve succeeded at their difficult work.

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