In my career, I have been very fortunate to work alongside people like Tom Fazio, Robert von Hagge, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. They all taught me some great lessons, but my skills as a golf architect have also been enhanced by some unlikely sources.
Paul Heaton is an English singer-songwriter, former member of The Housemartins and the Beautiful South. In 2000, I first met Paul in Los Angeles at one of his gigs. In 2004, while I was living in Edinburgh, we became friends and shared many moments. In conversation with Paul, I realised that our work shared many similarities. He is a music composer and I’m an architect and we are passionate about what we do. We are both creative, although my friend is on a level I only wish to achieve in my next life. We try to entertain and challenge people; his audience can be more than 20,000 people in one night, mine is spread in foursomes throughout a year.
We both feed from the tears, laughter, excitement, argument and critique – all the feelings people share when they experience our creations.
When I design a golf course, I approach it as if I were writing an 18-chapter book, directing a movie or creating a set list for a concert. All have a main purpose in common: to get underneath the skin, entertain and challenge – to create an unforgettable experience for a specific audience.
Paul and I both present an introduction, a rising action – perhaps accompanied by suspense – and a climax. He calls it a set list and I call it a layout. There are no rules, just artistic freedom and responsibility.
In my designs I visualise a rhythm. It could be the first three holes are the introduction, while the next six rise in action and challenge the player’s ability and mental strength. On the back nine, they might find the first three holes to challenge, or even hit them in the face. The following three might be designed to allow for a comeback if losing, or to play relaxed and safe if ahead.
The final three holes will be make-or-break, to end the game full of excitement and hopefully pleasure; either for scoring or enjoying the aesthetics and mixed feelings encountered during the round.
In a set list designed by Paul, there is a surprisingly comparable creative process, and his attempt to reach and mesmerise the audience is astonishing, just like in my approach to golf design.
He tells me that at first he builds up a rhythm to the set. Depending on the venue, Paul will design the beginning of his first songs quick-slow-quick or quick-quick-slow. Then, he continues building up the rhythm, balancing and varying vocals with his co-lead singer Jacqui Abbott (pictured above, with Heaton). In the same line, he will introduce a couple of relaxed songs to prepare the crowd for the cheerful finale that will send the audience away wanting more.
Focusing on the audience is another similar challenge for the design of the set. For a golf course, the design objective varies for a private club, public or a resort style. In a concert, it depends on the audience and the venue as well. If the concert is for his own fans, Paul plays more of his new songs. If it’s for the summer festivals, with general audience, he plays classic hits, and in sit-downs, he designs it with more mellow songs.
During our conversation I learned that the design approach and structure of a set list could be very similar to that of an 18-hole course layout. They are both formed from a well-thought plan. They both toy with people’s emotions whilst comprising functionality.
For the past 11 years, I have learned much from him, both as an artist and as a friend. I have witnessed his work and creative process so many times that I’ve come to realise he has actually influenced my design approach with his artistry, wittiness and passion! My creativity has been enriched by Paul’s work. Gracias Pablito.
This article first appeared in issue 48 of Golf Course Architecture