The Loop

Why golf-course designer Bobby Weed is fueled by a cause that transcends golf

February 15, 2017
Bobby Weed Pete Dye.jpg

You know Bobby Weed for his golf courses. Among his original designs are The Olde Farm Golf Club in Bristol, Va., recently ranked 128th in Golf Digest’s Second 100 Greatest, the Dye Valley course at TPC Sawgrass, and a number of other TPC facilities, including TPC Summerlin, TPC Las Vegas and TPC River Highlands. Equally passionate to Weed are his efforts to help fight autism, as he and his wife, Leslie, who have a non-verbally autistic daughter, Lanier, look to help others. Through the HEAL! Foundation (Healing Every Autistic Life), more than $1.4 million has been raised to help fund local programs for autistic children, teenagers and adults. The foundation is hosting its 10th annual golf tournament next week at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye Valley course. Weed answered five questions from Stephen Hennessey for a Q&A in this week's issue of Golf Digest Stix.

1. Helping raise awareness for autism is a cause near and dear to your heart. How has this evolved over time?

“We started our foundation on behalf of our daughter, Lanier, who is now 18. Early on, once we determined she was autistic, it changed our life in so many ways. It just threw myself and my wife, Leslie, into a tailspin in so many ways. We felt like we were in a canoe going across the Atlantic. And we just realized how much we were struggling, so we knew, felt and understood how much this affects the families, siblings and one’s extended family. It’s devastating financially and emotionally in every aspect. So we started our foundation in hopes of providing grants for schools, programs and camps.

“We’ve turned our fundraising efforts into fun family outings. We knew, if you have an autistic child, you’re so limited in the things you can go and do. So we have an array of offerings for those affected and their families, from horse-back physical therapy to fishing leagues. We’ve been able to give out 50 service dogs for those affected, and we’ve funded more than 200 iPads to local schools.”

2. You’ve had the emotional experience of communicating with your daughter for the first time with an iPad. Can you share the benefits of tablets and how families can use them?

“iPads have revolutionized our relationship with our daughter. She has been able to communicate and express herself through the use of this iPad, and we’ve discovered that we have an incredibly intelligent daughter. She’s just locked inside of her body. And now, to be able to communicate with her, what she says is incredibly profound.

“We can now ask our daughter what her goals and objectives are. Very simply, she types and says: ‘I want to change the world. I want children who are silent to have a voice.’ And that’s just very powerful. When she talks and says what we says, it further fuels what we know we can do that can have an impact on all of these families that have been devastated by autism. It’s giving these non-verbal children, teenagers and adults a voice. And we’re collaborating with Apple in this initiative that includes teacher training for autistic students with the tablet, special pricing, and the ability to track students’ progress. It’s just a great way for these children, teenagers and adults that have been totally trapped to be able to express themselves, and, boy, do they have a lot to say. They can only type one letter at a time, but they become sentences, and what they do and what they say will just blow you away.”

3. You’re a golf-course architect, and at the root of what you do is build this setting for golfers to enjoy themselves for five hours. But this work you’ve described off the course is extremely important, too. How do you compare those this work and the gratification it gives to others?

“There’s no question, I’m very passionate about our profession. And I’m passionate about the game of golf. And I’m extremely passionate about being involved in designing and building golf courses. But on an equal level, my family comes first. And our foundation and what we do with our family, there’s no substitute for that. I’ve been fortunate to be able to balance the two. But we’ve had a full plate. We often have to lean back on our faith. Often times, my wife, Leslie, and I sit around and say to each other: ‘God only gave this to us because He thought we could handle it.’ But I’m like, ‘My Gosh, I didn’t know we’d need side boards on the plate, to handle the path we’ve been given.’ But everything happens for a reason, and we’re trying to help others who are going through what we have, too.

4. Switching gears to your recent work on the golf course: One of your most high-profile jobs was redesigning Medalist Golf Club. That was one of Pete’s co-designs with Greg Norman, so to be able to restore it, what did that mean to be able to work on that project and see it to the end?

“It was a very high-profile project from the day it was built. Of course, when it first opened, Greg Norman was the No. 1 golfer in the world at the peak of his career. And that area has grown significantly with tour pros—Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, etc., it’s a who’s who of tour pros—so this was a high-profile redesign. So I went to see Pete, and I basically got his blessing. I went to Pete early on and said, I’ve been contacted. And he was 100-percent supportive, he said, ‘Absolutely, you go down there and I’ll support you and back you up.’ So that meant everything to me. I actually moved to the site to oversee the job, shape and mold every feature, and that’s kind of one of my trademarks: Design, build. I got that from my mentor, Pete Dye. To have mentors of the caliber that I have, I’ve been so fortunate.

“To have Pete Dye, who’s certainly the No. 1 architect in the modern era, and then to be associated with Deane Beman and working directly with him for 13-plus years and then all the years afterward on a business standpoint, there’s no one better. And then after that, a mentor from a maintenance and agronomics standpoint is a guy named Ron Hill. Ron was a certified golf-course superintendent that I learned so much from him. The common thread between all three of those mentors of mine was that they were all so passionate about the game of golf, as I am. So when you’re as passionate as these guys are, and as I am about the game of golf, and of course, Deane and Pete played at a high level, and Ron was a very competitive amateur golfer. Not only did I look up to these guys, but for them to mentor me and to have access to these guys at that level, has really given me the opportunity to be where I am today. And whatever I’ve accomplished today, I owe to them, without question.”

5. As you’ve evolved as an architect over the past 30+ years, what have you learned from Pete Dye, Deane Beman and others?

“Just an unyielding work ethic that I took from both Pete Dye, Deane Beman and Ron Hill at the highest level. And secondly, from Pete, being in the field. Pete told me one time a long time ago: ‘You show me a golf course built specifically from a set of plans, and I’ll show you a bad golf course.’ Golf courses evolve. You can only take a plan so far. You use a plan as a guideline, but what really separates you is how much time you spend in the field and rubbing, shaping and molding the features by hand. I learned that early on from Pete. And while we have to use contractors, it really starts from the architect being in the field. Pete is never afraid to go in and make changes, and keep molding and improving upon every golf hole, every feature, every green complex up to the point of grassing. He was never satisfied because he thought he could make every feature even better. And that’s a trait I’ve certainly inherited over the years.

“And helping others have the opportunity to carry on and hopefully do what I’ve done. As great of a legacy that Pete Dye will have with all of his great course designs, I think equally, another component of his legacy will be all the people he mentored. Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Lee Schmidt, Tim Liddy, Brian Curley, there’s so many guys who are the next generation. And what a great part of your legacy to hand that down to the people who work for you, and to pass some of that on. I’m still like a sponge. I’ll see Pete next week, and we’ll go play some golf, and I’ll just be tagging along like a little puppy dog. I just can’t wait to spend time with him next week. He’s 91 years old, and he’s still down to earth, and so is Deane Beman. They both haven’t lost any of that drive and passion that he showed getting the PGA Tour to a whole different level.”

For more information on the HEAL Foundation, and Bobby Weed’s Golf Gig at TPC Sawgrass (Dye Valley) on Feb. 24, click here.