The celebrated golf course architect and golf writer, Tom Doak, gave the TORO International Design Lecture at County Louth Golf Club, near Drogheda in Ireland.
Ken Moodie, EIGCA President, was “delighted” that the EIGCA diploma students had the opportunity to listen to Tom Doak at this year’s Toro International Design Lecture, delivered at County Louth Golf Club, near Drogheda in Ireland.
The sixteen students – a truly international group from no less than ten different countries – were joined by several EIGCA Senior and Associate Members, colleagues and guests together with recent graduates from the Class of 2005-7.
“Tom Doak has been involved in many of the most exciting golf developments over the past few years,” said Ken Moodie. “His minimalist approach is a welcome contrast to the mass land movements involved in some other developments.”
Benefits of networking and of travel
Tom explained that his interest in the game of golf started as a boy of 10 years when he was able to play on a Geoffrey Cornish designed course called Sterling Farms, just ten minutes walk from his home, for $1 a time. “There’s not much of that left in golf now,” he said. “There needs to be more or there won’t be anyone to play our golf courses later on.”
Doak strongly believes in the benefits of networking and of travel. During his landscape architecture course at Cornell University he wrote letters to the best golf courses in the US, explaining that he wanted to be a golf course architect and that he would like to come and walk round and to take pictures. By age 20 Tom Doak had already visited and played such places as Merrion, Pine Valley and Oakmont.
After graduating from Cornell, Tom spent a year travelling in the British Isles. While in Scotland he was a caddy at St Andrews and gained much from his conversations with Walter Woods, then the Links Manager. His tour of the UK & Ireland covered 13,000 miles and 160 courses.
He now reckons that he has personally visited just about every great golf course in the world, gaining knowledge that he put to great use when writing “The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses” which was published in 1996. Indeed Tom Doak was famous as a golf writer long before his skills as a golf course architect received recognition.
Tom Doak told the students about the people who have had most influence in his life especially Pete Dye and Alice Dye, Ben Crenshaw and, of course, the great Doctor himself, Alister Mackenzie.
Working for Pete Dye, Doak learned to run a bulldozer
Tom worked for Pete Dye for three years after graduating and learned at first hand about construction. He was taught how to run a bulldozer. “Now,” says Doak, “I have 4 or 5 of the best shapers that have ever lived working for me. They loved golf first and learned to drive the truck second – the other way round is harder.”
Tom Doak is an accomplished photographer and he illustrated his lecture with images from some of the great courses he has designed including Barnbougle Dunes, Tasmania; Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand; Renaissance Club at Archerfield, Scotland and, of course, the one which made him famous, Pacific Dunes Golf Club at Bandon, USA.
“That site at Bandon was a gift from the gods,” said Tom. “We could see that the course was 95% already there; what we had to do was work really hard on the other 5%.
“Understanding construction is one of the keys to golf course architecture – that and the ability to visualise a topographical map in three dimensions, even when the land in question is covered in vegetation. Pete Dye once said, ‘Lots of people have opinions – only a few can get them on the ground’.”
In his thoughtful, illuminating and well-presented lecture Tom Doak included plenty of provocative comment. He has no time for clients who allow their land planners to reserve the best locations within a site for real estate leaving the golf course architects to fill in the gaps between.
Standards so high they are hard to afford
“Of course we understand the need for real estate but we would like our clients to believe that the quality of the golf course is at least as important as the housing,” he said. “The biggest problem we face now is that standards are so high you can’t afford a construction budget of $9m (and I mean just construction) without having real estate to sell.
“If you want to build a public course which people can afford to play you have to design and build with this in mind. My projects are designed to be fun and affordable. Off my handicap of 5 if I can get round off the back tees in around 80 shots and not lose too many balls, that’s ok.
“All this talk of having to lengthen holes because of new technology making the ball go further – people are watching too much television. For 99.5% of golfers most courses are just fine – we’re in danger of designing for people who aren’t there.”
One of the students, Thomas Hoffmann Jepsen from Denmark, said, “In general all the students really liked Tom Doak’s presentation and felt it was a privilege that the EIGCA had brought him over mainly for our sake.
“Everybody felt very inspired by his way of presenting his projects and his approach to them as well. He had an ability to present everything in layman’s terms and not make it into some kind of finer rocket science as some tend do to – maybe this was because of his experience from construction work.
“And I really liked the way he emphasised the importance of having some (no – a lot) of construction experience. It is simply not enough to have for instance a landscape architecture background. This is probably the single most important thing I picked up from his lecture.
“All in all a very good lecture from one of the best golf course architects in the world at the moment. It was good to see where hard work can take you before your turn 50!”
Showing the way forward
Speaking at the Design Lecture Dinner, Andy Brown, Toro Corporate Accounts Manager for Europe Middle East and Africa, said, “In Tom Doak we have someone who can really inspire the students to look at the whole business of golf course architecture and show them the way to go forward in their careers. Hopefully you’ll get the opportunity to work occasionally on some outstanding pieces of land and to show what you can do. We all wish you the best of luck with your careers.”
On behalf of the students, Martyn Jones, EIGCA Education Manager, said, “Tom Doak provided the students with an inspiring and motivating talk full of honest and candid reflections on his successes and regrets. The students wish to thank the Toro Company for their generous support in sponsoring the event and for the encouragement that the Company give by offering the Toro Design Award for the best design student. Tom Doak’s presentation, and the day as a whole, will be a lasting highlight of their two-year study programme.”