Real Secrets of Golf Course Architects

Tom Doak's 'wild' start. Gene Sarazen's take on Alister MacKenzie. The Seminole not designed by Donald Ross. Our intrepid architecture editor reveals the backstories

Real Secrets of Golf course Architects
February 6, 2009

With all due respect to Michael Patrick Shiels and the members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, their new, colorful, hefty coffee table book, Secrets of the Great Golf Course Architects (Skyhorse Publishing, 2008), is entertaining but not revealing. There are no genuine secrets within its pages, unless it's that golf architects routinely encounter wild animals during site visits.

True secrets are messy, embarrassing, sometimes even shameful. That's why golf architects, who often swap inside stories among themselves, won't discuss them publicly.

But we will.

Animal House

Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island is a cherished Pete Dye design, No. 78 on Golf Digest's America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses. If its well-heeled membership knew what went on behind the scenes during the course's creation, they'd fall out of their carts.

One eyewitness described the process as "Animal House-builds-a-golf-course." The 1980-81 crew was mostly young turf students, good golfers who knew nothing about operating equipment. That's how Pete wanted it. He didn't want experienced workers who would build him a conventional course. Pete hired Bobby Weed, assistant superintendent at Amelia Island, to serve as project supervisor. Weed recruited interns from his alma mater, Lake City (Fla.) Community College, including Ron Farris, Scott Pool and David Savic. Pete assigned his younger son, P.B., to work as a bulldozer operator and told Weed to hire another young kid who had been penciling him to death for a job. "Put him to work picking up sticks all summer," Pete said.

That kid was Tom Doak, a Cornell University student "so skinny he could barely pick up a rake." Doak kept wanting to show everyone his slides of golf holes. The gang finally consented one evening during a beer bash; his slides of Cypress Point, Pine Valley, Merion and others quieted the crowd. "After that, we gave him some slack," says Farris.

The crew worked -- and played -- hard. Beer and other delights flowed freely most evenings, and sometimes during the day.

P.B. was the Belushi character, a wild man who cleared several fairways by chasing kids through the forest with his bulldozer, bursting out of tree lines at full throttle. Others had "dune buggy races" on "sand pros," the small but powerful three-wheeled motorized tractor-rakes used to float out green contours. One "Evel Knievel" contest to see who could sail a sand pro the farthest through the air led to the final shape of Long Cove's notorious eighth green, with its back shelf (the launch) nine feet higher than its lower level.

From those antics emerged a great golf course -- and a new generation of golf architects. Weed has since designed TPC River Highlands in Connecticut, Spanish Oaks in Texas and Olde Farm in Virginia among others. P.B. Dye has done a bunch, too, including Black Bear in Florida and Ruffled Feathers in Illinois. Farris did The GC at Red Rock in South Dakota, Pool did Mountain Air in North Carolina and Waterfall in Georgia, and Savic designed College Fields in Michigan and NorthStar in Ohio (with John Cook). Doak is the most famous of all, with Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Ballyneal in Colorado, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand and Barnbougle Dunes in Australia.

Of all their achievements, Scott Pool stands out, because he is the only golf architect ever to win an Emmy, in 2008. You know that "AimPoint" putting line they use on Golf Channel broadcasts to indicate the correct line to the hole? Pool helped invent and develop it.

Crime Beat

At least two golf architects have ended up in the slammer.

After he emigrated from England in 1890, Albert Rolls became one of America's pioneering course designers. He staked out courses in Chevy Chase and Annapolis, Md., then moved to the Midwest where he laid out the original Omaha CC and St. Joseph (Mo.) CC.

He retired in the late 1920s to a home in St. Joseph, sharing it with a son who had been severely injured during World War I. One evening in July 1939, Rolls, then 70, inexplicably shot his son's nurse with a shotgun, then turned the gun on himself. Both the nurse and Rolls survived their wounds, and Rolls was charged with assault with intent to kill. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. When he died in 1950, his obituary said he spent his last years as a master mechanic in a machine shop. It's unclear whether that was simply a euphemism for stamping out license plates.

Ted McAnlis, a one-time NASA civil engineer, learned golf design by working for architects George and Tom Fazio in Florida in the early 1970s. He then spent nearly 30 years designing courses on his own, doing some of the most beautiful, playable tracks in Florida, including St. Andrews in Boca Raton, Sherman Hills in Brooksville, Waterlefe in Bradenton, River Wilderness in Parrish and Venice G&CC.

He was good and made a lot of money, all of which he apparently wanted to keep. In 2002 McAnlis was indicted for not filing a federal income-tax return since 1977. In a 2003 trial, prosecutors produced evidence that he had willfully evaded taxes of more than $1.3 million (including penalties and interest) by establishing a sham church, using false social-security numbers and placing assets in a Bahamas bank. He was convicted by a jury of tax evasion and is now serving 10 years in federal prison.

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