Fifteen years ago this week—Thanksgiving, 2003—I spent a week in New Zealand and Australia with Tom Doak to write a profile of the course designer. This is the story that resulted. It’s interesting now to re-read it, the courses he was building then that are now acclaimed, others that never got off the drawing board, and his generally outspoken attitude to the world of golf course architecture.
Thumbing through his dog-eared diary, Tom Doak is trying to figure out where the year went. Ireland. Texas. Scotland. Georgia. Australia. New York. Hardly a week seems to have passed without a lengthy business trip, and just about any trip is lengthy if you live in Traverse City, Michigan. “I tell my son I travel for a living and design golf courses as a hobby,” he says.
Though just 43 years old, Doak has been a familiar figure in golf-architecture circles for 20 years. And since mentions of his name haven’t always been charitable, he would like you to know that he isn’t the jerk some people think he is.
Tom Doak waited more than 35 years for the opportunity that was presented to him this summer, ever since he first saw Swinley Forest and Rye. Those two Harry Colt courses in England – renowned for being short on yardage but long on challenge – are the genesis of Sedge Valley, Doak’s recently announced course at Wisconsin’s Sand Valley Resort.
Great architecture exposes weaknesses in skill or judgment, and Doak’s proposed design probes the psyche even before a shot is struck. Sedge Valley is just 6,100 yards, par 68, guaranteeing that some will dismiss it sight unseen as too short to bother with, while others will assume it’s a pushover.
David McLay Kidd was at the pinnacle of the golf course architecture world a decade ago when he realized that his work was winning more awards than fans. He grew weary of hearing bruised golfers say they wouldn’t hasten back.
“Owners want me to build these things but when I consider my end user — the average golfer is my retail client, no matter who gets in the middle — he’s not having that much fun,” Kidd says. “That’s a recipe for failure. I had to figure out where I came off the path and my way back to it.”
Golfers who play for a living tend to look at courses the way the rest of us look at office cubicles – just a functional place in which to ply one’s trade. Sure, some feel more comfortable and fit the eye better than others, but you’re there to make money, not study the artistry of the workspace.