Mark Parsinen, the acclaimed and visionary co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links, has died in California almost exactly ten years since the opening of the internationally-renowned golf course he helped create.
Mr Parsinen, 70, who was also the co-designer of Kingsbarns Golf Links near St Andrews, suffered a stroke at home last week and passed away in hospital yesterday (3 June) surrounded by his family.
Friends and colleagues at Castle Stuart have sent their condolences to Mark’s wife of 38 years, Dede, their children Cammy, Jenny and Samantha and their four grandchildren.
Mark Parsinen, who was a managing partner in the business, saw it as his destiny to create a major golfing resort at Castle Stuart and the ‘Pebble Beach of the British Isles’. The championship course he designed with fellow American Gil Hanse opened in the summer of 2009 and within 18 months staged the European Tour’s Scottish Open, the first time such a major golf event had been held in the Scottish Highlands.
The course, with spectacular views overlooking the Moray Firth, has so far held the prestigious tournament four times, from 2011-2013 and again in 2016. It has won widespread praise as a contemporary classic among Scotland’s rich heritage of links courses, one that challenges the best players, but is enjoyable and playable for every-day golfers of all abilities.
His vision for the resort near Inverness included a Par 3 course, which he designed, a second championship course, as well as hotels and on-site lodges for visiting golfers.
Grant Sword, also a managing partner at Castle Stuart, said: “Mark was a friend first and a partner second. His knowledge of golf and design was inspiring and his enthusiasm for his work highly infectious.
“He was immensely proud of what he achieved here, but his vision for the resort was much bigger. As difficult as it will be without him, we must continue his legacy and fulfill his ambitions for a place he held dear to his heart.”
Stuart McColm, Castle Stuart’s general manager, said: “Everyone at Castle Stuart, and the wider golfing world, is today mourning a man whose foresight, creativity and intelligence made him one of the great golf architects of modern times.
“He helped create something special at Castle Stuart and that, along with the other courses he designed or influenced, will be his legacy.
“But he was also a charming and engaging person, and a great friend to many at Castle Stuart, the Highlands and Scotland, and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go to Dede and the rest of Mark’s family and colleagues.
“Words can’t describe the feelings that have been around since first learning of his stroke some days ago and today is the end of a massive chapter in the continuing evolution of Castle Stuart.
“We all have a duty now to continue delivering his vision.”
Mark Parsinen grew up with golf. As a teenager he was a caddie and while at school he was on the greenkeeping crew at his local course. He inherited from his Finnish parents a cultural characteristic they call ‘Sisu’ – or ‘never giving up’: “Sisu was hammered into me from birth and golf seemed a perfect match for me insofar as perseverance in golf in the face of imperfection”, he said in a recent self-penned article.
A 2-handicap golfer, he studied at the London School of Economics, the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Graduate School of Business, before becoming director of marketing at the Adolph Coors Company and later was partner and vice president at the Boston Consulting Group.
In 1983, his career arc took him to Silicon Valley, where he set up a specialist computer company with three electrical engineering professors and rose to become president and CEO in 1990.
Later, semi-retired, he co-built a course at Granite Bay in California, which also helped develop his philosophy for how golf should be played: “I built it for people like me who loved golf, whose skills were suspect or were never honed in the first place, whose spare time was precious, and who wanted to find some pleasure in the time they spent playing the game of golf; and rather than being humiliated by their inevitable errant shots, would appreciate opportunities to recover and to some extent have a chance to redeem themselves.”
He carried this through to his next project when, with Kyle Phillips, he created the acclaimed Kingsbarns Golf Links at St Andrews which opened in 2000. He was Managing Director and Partner until 2005.
Mr Parsinen became involved with Castle Stuart in 2004. Ironically, he visited the wrong site, having incorrectly followed directions to a farmhouse then on the site: “Clearly this was not the result of some grand plan or an organised approach to one’s career, but sometimes things are simply serendipitous. You just are where you are and you make the most of it.”
In the same year Castle Stuart opened it was ranked at 56 on Golf Magazine’s “gold standard” list of the Top 100 Courses in the World and it has stayed in among the leading courses internationally ever since.
The journey from farmland to European Tour venue was remarkable, the intention being to create a course that was a nod to a bygone era, the links courses of old. The guiding principle was provided by renowned course architect Dr Alister MacKenzie who wrote: “The chief objective of every golf architect or greenkeeper worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself”.
The result was a course that focused on fun, enjoyment, playability, beauty and engagement, whilst still making it challenging rather than difficult for the sake of being difficult. Fairways were widened, bunkers placed asymmetrically to promote certain angles of attack and carries over deep rough omitted. Greens were set to have infinity edges to showcase landmarks to create interest and beauty during shot-making.
He rallied against the trend that, while golf clubs were closing, courses were evolving to have faster greens, narrower fairways and much longer rough, which had the effect of ‘humiliating’ the general player.
Castle Stuart is Parsinen’s ethos in 18 holes, that golf should be pleasurably engaging and interesting; that courses should be a visual treat; that the overall experience should offer hope and redemption after an error rather than punishment and pain, and that the experience should present players with opportunities for choice and regard for nuance in finding their own path through the tee-to-green puzzles.
In his own words: “When people make a decision to come to the Highlands to play golf, why would we not take it as one of our objectives to make them appreciate where they are by presenting the endearing ‘sense-of-place’ landmarks directly in the shot-making perspective or frame of play? Why would we let the landmarks simply be peripheral and easily ignored or not seen?”
“My concept of golf is that if you don’t play a shot to an advantaged spot, you should still be able to imagine ‘success in the face of having made somewhat of an error’. You should still have hope and an opportunity for redemption, a chance to control your destiny, to go for glory or to choose a lesser path with at least an opportunity for a modicum of success.
“I enjoy eavesdropping in Castle Stuart’s restaurant, listening to what our visiting patrons are saying. They may not use my vocabulary, but I hear them express immense satisfaction in having played our course – a most enjoyable experience in fact – even often saying Castle Stuart is now their favorite course ever played – perhaps even the best.
“In today’s helter-skelter, fast-paced, work-laden world, full of engulfing difficulty, Castle Stuart offers a respite in the form of it not being difficult for the sake of being difficult, but rather Castle Stuart accepts the likelihood of errors, and its course design offers hope through emphasis on creating opportunities for recovery and redemption when errors occur.”
Castle Stuart Golf Links https://www.castlestuartgolf.com/
Kingsbarns Golf Links https://www.kingsbarns.com/