One of golf course architecture’s most famous names is no more: the Arnold Palmer Design Company has closed down.
The Palmer family, owners of the business and the name of the late golfing legend, has decided to wind down its design operation. One of the firm’s two lead architects, Thad Layton, has already opened his own new practice. The other, Brandon Johnson, is expected to do so shortly.
Since the death of Arnold Palmer in 2016, the company continued as an attempt to create a new type of business in the golf architecture market, which has traditionally been defined by the physical presence of the principal. In similar sectors, most notably buildings architecture, it is commonplace for brands to survive their founders, but there has, to date, been no significant example of a golf design firm doing so.
Palmer client courses were informed of the decision. Layton says that he and Johnson will continue to offer support to former Palmer clients, and that he is determined not to leave any such clients hanging and lacking architectural backup.
“Working for Mr Palmer was great,” says Layton. “He allowed us a lot of artistic licence and, since his death, Brandon and I have tried to continue evolving the Palmer name. But, like most golf architects, I have always wanted to have my own shop, so I am very excited about what the future holds.”
Layton, who relocated from Florida, where APDC was based, to Colorado four years ago, says that Thad Layton Design will reflect what he has learned during his twenty-plus years in the Palmer family. “I’m looking forward, hopefully, to getting the opportunity to build new golf courses, and getting out there, boots on the ground,” he says. “Over the years, I have become convinced that the design and build model is the way that the best courses are built and, in the past five years, I have slowly but surely gained proficiency on running equipment, and I’m looking forward to doing more of that.”
Layton adds that the current strength of the golf design industry makes now a good time to start his own firm. “Up to about three years ago, you would have been pretty crazy to leave a good operation with plenty of work to hang up your own shingle,” he says. “But, since the Covid pandemic, the growth in golf participation numbers has started to feed through to more activity in golf architecture, so I think now the right time to go solo.”
It is not yet clear what Brandon Johnson’s plans might be. GCA approached him for comment and he told us that he is not ready to go public.