Golf Course Architecture - Issue 70, October 2022

Change is life’s only constant, but it is always challenging to implement. The longer you have been doing something one way, and the more successful you have been doing it, the harder it is to change. Which is why golf architect Tom Doak’s current plan is so ambitious. Doak has been designing golf courses for over thirty years – his first solo design, High Pointe in northern Michigan, opened in 1989. And since High Pointe – for which he personally shaped most of the greens – Doak has basically employed the same construction model, best defined as ‘design and shape’. In short, this means that by providing his own shapers to construct greens, bunkers, and do any necessary small-scale fairway grading work, the architect maintains direct control over the final appearance of the golf course, rather than handing over responsibility for construction to a principal contractor (though he eschews full scale design and build, passing over responsibility for bulk earthmoving where necessary and specialist work such as irrigation installation). Doak’s four key design associates, who live on site and run his jobs, have been with him for around twenty years and more, and even among the ranks of his regular shapers, there are names that go back many years. It is a remarkaby consistent model in an industry that has changed considerably during the same period, especially in the aftermath of the 2007/08 global recession. And, as the firm’s list of courses proves, it has been extremely effective. Essentially, therefore, the Doak model has been that the principal himself focuses his attention (once a job has been secured, which is obviously mostly his responsibility) on finalising the course routing. He is known to route, initially at least, primarily from topographic maps – in contrast to his friend Bill Coore, who is famous for routings that came about as a result of weeks tramping across the site. Routing is the core of golf design, and the best golf architects are almost always the best routers. “I spend nearly all of my time on my own projects on getting the plan of the holes together and working on the greens complexes. I probably spend 85 per cent of my time on those things,” Doak says. “All of my associates, I know they are pretty good at greens shaping, but I don’t know how good they are at doing a routing plan.” In other circumstances, one might have expected more of Doak’s long-term associates to follow Jim Urbina out of the door and INTERV I EW Superstar golf architect Tom Doak has spent thirty years building courses essentially the same way. Now he is trying to find a new way of working. He explained why to Adam Lawrence A new approach 52