Courses & TravelAugust 8, 2011

Palmer Design Downsized

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*This week colleague Ron Whitten explains how and why *Palmer Design* is downsizing:

               The recession has even affected the Kingdom. Erik Larsen, Executive Vice President of [__Arnold Palmer Design Co.__](http://www.arnoldpalmerdesign.com/), announced in an August 7th mass email that Palmer's design business was restructuring and that the 57-year-old Larsen would no longer be an employee. Instead, he'll serve as an independent contractor, finishing his present course design projects, then working as International Sales Consultant to Palmer's design business, earning a commission on any work he can shepherd Palmer's way.[#image: /photos/55ad746fb01eefe207f6ac1f]|||Larsen.jpg|||Larsen, a graduate of North Carolina State University, joined Palmer Design in 1983 and was responsible for an estimated 125 designs for Palmer, including Eagle Ranch in Colorado, Spencer T. Olin near St. Louis, Tournament Club of Iowa (in Larsen's home state),  ArborLinks in Nebraska, Dakota Dunes in South Dakota, Old Tabby in South Carolina and the recent remodeling of Bay Hill Club in Orlando. I spoke with Larsen on August 8th. He said he was happy about the arrangement, if a bit nervous about striking out on his own. He confirmed it was indeed a downsizing of the firm, but he said the arrangement looks beneficial to him. As both a golf architect and certified landscape architect, he hopes to implement some new twists to the traditional golf design business, ambitions he found it hard to pursue while with Palmer full-time. "I'm excited about the green design business," he said, referring to the environmental movement within golf. "I also think there will be lots of business in golf course conversions, taking failed golf courses and restructuring them with fewer holes to serve other recreational purposes, like parks and ball fields." The latter is an idea he ambitiously promoted during his 2010 stint as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.This was actually the second downsizing of Arnold Palmer Design Co. this year. The first occurred in June, when much of the staff, including longtime administrative assistant Liz McCarthy, and two design associates -- David Couch and Eric Wiltse -- were let go. With Larsen's departure, the company will now have just two employees, senior designers Brandon Johnson and Thad Layton, both of whom trained under Larsen.I spoke with Layton, who expressed admiration for Larsen. "He's the lead architect on our project in Uruguay, and I'll be down there with him next week," Layton said. "My hope is that we can continue to work on courses with him, and that he can find new work for us at Palmer Design." One advantage to the smaller workload, Layton said, is that both he and Johnson can spend more hands-on time on course construction sites. "Before, I'd spend only a day or two at a time on a project in China," Layton said. "I now plan to spend two weeks at a time." Once the China projects start up again, that is. Right now, the company has several projects on hold. Layton said he and Johnson recently spent time hand-raking green contours on their remodeling of Wexford on Hilton Head Island, an activity they relish. Both Larsen and Layton are high on the Wexford project, Larsen saying it'll be different than anything on the island, Layton promising that it will convey a throwback style of architecture, with smaller greens, fewer bunkers and "a huge emphasis on strategy."Layton said that Palmer Design will continue the approach that Larsen adopted a few years ago. "There's  been a new mandate on designing for maintenance," he said, "and we're embracing the classic green styles of the past. Best of all, no more superfluous bunkers." Larsen has agreed to a modest non-compete period with his old boss, which will last just six months. He and his wife, Paula, will relocate from Orlando (where they had moved at Palmer's request in 2007) back to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where they still own a home.  He'll run his two new firms, Erik Larsen Golf Course Architecture and the landscape-oriented RecCreation, from there. 

--Ron Whitten

(Here's my story on Palmer and Larsen's recent efforts on the renovated Bay Hill. You can follow Whitten on Twitter @RonWhittenGD; you can follow me @Matt_Ginella.)*

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