15 Great Golf Course Architects You've Never Heard Of

It is nice to be mentioned about with this group of great golf course architects.

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15 Great Golf Course Architects You’ve Never Heard Of

By Tim Gavrich

March 8, 2016

Donald Ross. A.W. Tillinghast. C.B. Macdonald. Seth Raynor.

Robert Trent Jones. Pete Dye. Tom Fazio. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Tom Doak. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Gil Hanse.

These are the luminaries of golf course architecture. If you keep a list of your favorite golf courses, chances are most of them will have been designed by one of the names above.

But if you truly care about getting an education in golf course architecture, these are far from the only names you need to be aware of.

Given the cachet associated with the biggest names, it can be easy to overlook certain courses by architects whom you’ve never heard of, but in many cases, this would be a mistake.

Those name-brand architects are often active across the country, while the work of the ones you may not have heard of tends to stay mostly in one region. This is not universally the case, as you’ll see with our list, but if you are planning a trip to a new-to-you destination and balk at certain course designer names, you may end up missing out on some great courses.

So, here are some names whose work you should seek out in addition to the “big boys.”

Mike Strantz

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is the jewel of the portfolio of the late Mike Strantz. (Brian Oar – Fairways Photography)

Sadly, Strantz only enjoyed about a decade-long career, from his first solo design, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island, S.C., in 1994, to his death in 2005. But his output was of amazing quality, and every single one of his courses is memorable. His Tobacco Road Golf Club, near Pinehurst, truly must be seen to be believed.

Other notable work: Tot Hill Farm – Asheboro, N.C.; True Blue Golf Club – Pawleys Island, S.C.; Royal New Kent Golf Club – Providence Forge (near Williamsburg), Va.; Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club (private; renovation) – Pebble Beach, Calif.

Todd Eckenrode

Eckenrode’s Country Club of the Golden Nugget has an odd name, but an engaging, fun design. (Origins Golf Design)

With Tom Doak, Coore and Crenshaw and Gil Hanse earning recent acclaim for their minimalistic and rustic aesthetics, Eckenrode and his Origins Golf Design firm may be the next to join that pantheon. His highest-ranked course to date is the terrific Barona Creek Golf Club east of San Diego, and his Country Club of the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which opened last year, has received rave reviews as well.

Other notable work: Links at Terranea (9-hole par-3 course) – Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; Quail Lodge Golf Club (renovation) – Carmel, Calif.

Paul Albanese & Chris Lutzke

Tatanka is the latest effort by Albanese & Lutzke. (Tatanka Golf Club)

Albanese & Lutzke have been most active in the Midwest, gaining recent notoriety for their designs at a couple of that region’s casino resorts: Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris, Michigan; and Tatanka Golf Club in Niobrara, Nebraska.

Other notable work: Mill Creek Golf Club – Rochester, N.Y.; Eagle Eye Golf Club – Lansing, Mich.; Timberstone Golf Course – Iron Mountain, Mich.

Lee Schmidt & Brian Curley

Stoneforest International has one of the world’s unique settings for golf, and Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley to thank for its design. (Ryan Farrow)

Schmidt and Curley might be the most prolific golf course architects you’ve never heard of, as they have built dozens of golf courses around the world. In fact, the greatest concentration of their work can be found in China – at its two massive Mission Hills complexes, in particular. But they have been active in the Western Hemisphere as well, having worked with Pete Dye on his designs at Casa De Campo, Kiawah Island and PGA WEST, and with Jack Nicklaus at some of his own designs in Asia. Their own output in the United States is impressive as well – Marriott’s Desert Ridge in Scottsdale, Arizona; Marriott’s Shadow Ridge in Palm Springs, California; and Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Phoenix, Arizona among them.

Other notable work: Rancho Bernardo Inn (renovation) – San Diego, Calif.; Bali Hai Golf Club – Las Vegas, Nev.; Stoneforest International Golf Club (three courses) – Kunming, China

Lester George

The par-3 eighth at The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC is a phenomenal example of the Redan template.

George is perhaps best known for two private golf club designs in Virginia – the outstanding Kinloch Golf Club in suburban Richmond, and the wild, wonderful Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke. But his public designs and redesigns are what earn him a place on this list. His original course at Rock Manor in Wilmington, Delaware is known as one of the First State’s best courses, his restoration of C.B. Macdonald’s famed Old White TPC at the Greenbrier is phenomenal and fun, and he recently breathed new life into Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Virginia, taking a Tom Fazio design that tended to brutally punish less-skilled players and make it into a more enjoyable test for all.

Other notable work: Providence Golf Club – Richmond, Va.; Country Club of Florida (private; renovation) – Village of Golf, Fla.; The First Tee of Chesterfield – Chesterfield, Va.

Tim Liddy

Tim Liddy’s years of working with Pete Dye have influenced his own solo designs, such as the Trophy Club. (TimLiddy.com)

Liddy has long been one of Pete Dye’s most trusted associates, having served as the construction manager and lead architect on many of Dye’s best original courses and redesigns, including Bulle Rock in Maryland, Heron Point at Sea Pines Resort in South Carolina and the River Course at Kingsmill Resort in Virginia. But Liddy has his own standalone design firm as well, and has generated some excellent courses in his own right: the Trophy Club in Lebanon, Indiana; Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, Indiana; and redesigns of the Duke’s Course at St. Andrews in Scotland and Princess Anne Country Club in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Other notable work: Wintonbury Hills Golf Course (with Pete Dye) – Bloomfield, Conn.; Big Fish Golf Club (with Pete Dye) – Hayward, Wisc.; Caesarea Golf Club – Caesarea, Israel

JMP Golf Design

North River Golf Club in Beaufort, N.C. is a Bob Moore design. (North River Golf Club)

As part of the JMP Golf Design group, Bob Moore and his associates Brian Costello and Mark Hollinger have flown under the radar somewhat, but their courses tend to strike a nice balance of quality and affordability. We mentioned Cutter Creek in North Carolina a few weeks ago as such a course. Other JMP designs you should be aware of include Gainey Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona; Callippe Preserve in Pleasanton, California; and Whiskey Creek Golf Club in Maryland, in collaboration with Ernie Els.

Other notable work: Golf Club at Chapel Ridge (with Fred Couples) – Pittsboro, N.C.; North River Golf Club – Beaufort, N.C.; Santa Lucia Preserve (private; with Tom Fazio) – Carmel, Calif.; Beijing Golf Club – Beijing, China; Manila Golf Club (renovation) – Manila, Philippines

Mike DeVries

 

Remote, spectacular King Island is the setting for Cape Wickham, one of the most exciting new golf courses to be built in recent years. (Cape Wickham Golf Club)

DeVries joins Todd Eckenrode on this list as “Architects Most Likely To Become Household Names Soon.” His Greywalls course in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been known for a while, and his design at the private Kingsley Club in Traverse City has come to be known as the centerpiece of one of the best national golf clubs in the U.S., but it’s his course at Cape Wickham on the remote King Island off Tasmania, Australia that will likely vault him up alongside the likes of Doak, Hanse and Coore & Crenshaw. With spellbinding ocean scenery and cliff-hanging holes, Cape Wickham occupies one of the most spectacular pieces of land for golf in the world, and has been ranked the 24th best course in the world by Golf Digest in just its first year of operation.

Other notable work: Mines Golf Course – Grand Rapids, Mich.; Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club – Pierson, Mich.; Diamond Springs Golf Club – Hamilton, Mich.; Meadow Club (private; renovation) – Fairfax, Calif.

Tad King & Rob Collins

Sweetens Cove has the aesthetics and variety to make for a nine-hole course players are thrilled to play over and over. (Sweetens Cove Golf Club)

Does the King-Collins Design team deserve a spot on this list even though they have only designed one new nine-hole layout and renovated two holes on a second course? Given the high praise their Sweetens Cove Golf Club outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee has garnered – people are throwing the phrase “best nine-hole course in the country” around liberally – we have to believe that this duo will be getting more chances to apply their rustic aesthetic to existing courses and perhaps a new tract or two in the near future.

Other notable work: none (yet)