Golf architects, like other professionals, often develop an area of particular expertise in which they come to specialise. If you have a perfect sandy site and your goal is to build one of the best courses in the world, the safe bet is to hire Renaissance or Coore & Crenshaw, who have done just that several times before. If you know your site will require a massive earthmove, but you want the course to look as though it has been there for many years, your first choice might well be Tom Fazio. There are architects who specialise in dealing with projects where the business model is to import vast amounts of construction spoil and pay for the course that way.
And if you want a very difficult golf course, suited to strong players, then you might well call Steve Smyers.
Smyers, though himself an elite amateur golfer for many years, chafes a little at this label. “I don’t set out to build incredibly tough courses,” he will say. “I’ve just had a few clients who have asked for that”. But reputations stick, and since his first solo design at Wolf Run in Indianapolis, through Old Memorial and Isleworth in Florida, Smyers has built a number of courses that, while fair and equitable, are known for being extremely difficult.
And so it was that when Texas oil man Albert Huddleston bought the former Honors Club (previously the Colombian Club) in the Dallas suburb of Carrolton, he hired Smyers to create his ideal ‘players’ course’. Huddleston, a long-time member of the (also extremely difficult) Pete Dye-designed Honors Course in Tennessee, envisaged a course that would test the skills of his many high-level golfing friends, and perhaps also attract some significant golfing events to Dallas.
Huddleston renamed the club Maridoe, the nickname of his wife Mary, and Smyers, along with his associate Patrick Andrews, set to work.
The large lake at the centre of the property was dredged, and 660,000 cubic yards of silt extracted from it. Smyers and Andrews used this material to build an enormous landform all along the northern side of the property, blocking the golf course off from the surrounding neighbourhood. This landform also provides a base for several of the course’s most interesting holes. The 31-acre lake has been stocked with fish to provide members with another leisure activity. It comes into play on four holes, but is visible from 14.
“We are creating Maridoe to challenge not only the best players of today, but generations of elite players to come,” says Smyers. “Here, we are fortunate to be building a club for a group of owners who are avid golfers who have always wanted to build a golf course and be involved in the process. As architects, we embraced that opportunity, not only because of their passion for the game, but because of their knowledge and insight, as well.”
Smyers says that since its earliest days, the game of golf has remained in a constant state of evolution, and that his design at Maridoe Golf Club reflects this. “At Maridoe, we are creating a golf club in that same spirit of innovation, respectful of the traditions and history of the game but always focused on its future,” he says.
The golf course is extremely long, around 7,800 yards from the wayback tees, though there are multiple sets of tees down to 4,200 yards to accommodate all age groups and skill levels.
Dallas courses have traditionally had bentgrass greens; the city is a classic transition zone climate, and bent struggles in the heat of the Texas summer, requiring large amounts of water to keep it alive.
Smyers and his client Huddleston, though, have a different plan. They both want Maridoe to be an advert for golf’s sustainability, particularly in the matter of water usage. Both also embrace the idea of firm, bouncy turf that browns off in hot weather. So the playing areas of the course are entirely bermuda, while roughs are layered with natives such as buffalo grass and blue grama closer to the fairways and bluestem and bromus farther away. “We want the golf holes to feel as if they’re carved into the middle of prairie,” says Smyers. “We’re integrating the golf into the native landscape setting.”
Smyers, never shy of building interesting greens, has created some doozies at Maridoe. My favourite green, on perhaps also my favourite hole, on the golf course comes at the par five seventh. A double dogleg hole, the seventh’s green is offset slightly to the left, so a pond bites in at the front. It slopes steeply from back to front, and the slope continues behind the green. While Smyers and I were touring the course, a new member was playing a preview round on his own. He hit his approach fifteen yards through the seventh green and was faced with a quite terrifying downhill chip with the water behind the hole. Both Smyers and I were convinced he would not be able to stop the ball anywhere near the hole, and was quite likely to end up in the water; however, the golfer conjoured up a remarkable shot that trickled down the slope and dropped in the hole for a birdie as unlikely as any I have seen. Congratulations sir!
Maridoe opens officially in mid July, around the time this issue of GCA will be published. It is a typically strong piece of work by Steve Smyers, one of the golf industry’s most underrated architects, and, with its strong backing, seems sure to be a success. With the new Coore and Crenshaw course at Trinity Forest and Tripp Davis’s enormous renovation of the historic Northwood club, not far from Maridoe, these are exciting times to be a Dallas golfer!
This article first appeared in issue 49 of Golf Course Architecture