Arizona ArtBeat: Golf Course Design

More from this show

With the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament in full swing, we take a look at the art of golf course design with Forrest Richardson, a golf course architect.

Ted Simons: With the waste management Phoenix open now underway, tonight's Art Beat looks at the art of golf course design with golf course architect Forrest Richardson. Thank for joining us.

Forrest Richardson: good to be here.

Ted Simons: We talk about the art of golf. There is an art involved, isn't there?

Forrest Richardson: There is. There's art, there's science, and there's also the game. So it's really three elements -- but the art is an important part.

Ted Simons: I know you've described it as golf -- It's sculpture. It's like a massive sculpture.

Forrest Richardson: It is. Most people see one hole at a time. You're in an airplane you can be 20,000 feet and seat whole course but most don't appreciate it that way. What I do, of course I have to look at it that way and the individual hole.

Ted Simons: How do you do that? You start with a plot of land, I want a bunker here, a T short -- How do you do that?

Forrest Richardson: I wish it were that easy. It can be, but it begin was the land. And appreciating what the land has to offer. Many of our modern golf courses didn't have -- They weren't built on the beautiful fields of Scotland and whatever, so we've had to create in the last generation of golf courses the interest. So the TPC course is an example of a completely man made environment, but nonetheless, one that's very beautiful and has a lot of spectator opportunity.

Ted Simons: Sure. So when you design it, you can see from the ground, you can see the fairway -- You can see from the ground you can kind of see overhead how it looks? Can you get that in your mind? Do you have to draw it out?

Forrest Richardson: We spend a lot of time on the land. We spend time with the mapping, the aerial photos, and so it's a combination of things, but in the end, it's all about trying to make it fit the -- Not only the land, but also fit the region and the culture, so a golf course, for instance, in Phoenix is a lot different as most people know from a golf course in Minnesota. Or one in Mexico or one in Europe.

Ted Simons: And also fit the ability of I would think your average golfer. Because for a time, they were building courses that were ridiculously difficult.

Forrest Richardson: The game is supposed to be fun. This is something that we say all the time, that probably has turned people away from golf, is the fact that we've maybe made course as to hard. So the best thing is to come out of it were a golf course that challenges the best players, but is really enjoyable for the casual golfer.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the history of golf. We have photos here including the first one which basically shows probably what the first golf course design --

Forrest Richardson: that's in Scotland, and that is a golf course that in the last few years has been rediscovered. It was closed during World War II, and it is just a beautiful old course that literally was reminiscent of the way course was have been in the 1600s.

Ted Simons: And now we've got St. Andrews, the old course -- That's what people think when they think of old courses.

Forrest Richardson: that's really where the first seed of golf course design was born, in the late 1700s they decided to change the old course from 22 holes to 18. No one knows exactly why. It could have been slow play or just the town was growing, but that was the time when all of a sudden the handprint of man was brought to golf courses.

Ted Simons: You talk about the handprint of man, our next photo shows these golf courses in some respect were close to buildings and towns and roads.

Forrest Richardson: They were. They were like the greatest ski lodge and resort you could ever imagine. You finish golf and you were right there at the pub and the restaurant and where you would spend your time. But the -- What happened is when golf came to the United States, in America, in the late 1800s we didn't really know what they were supposed to look like. So the -- My predecessors, the people that started designing courses would create these manufactured looks. So Oakmont in Pennsylvania is an example of a very archaic looking golf course. Not a lot natural about it. A lot of man made features.

Ted Simons: That does not look normal. That sand trap --

Forrest Richardson: those are the church pew bunkers.

Ted Simons: Our next one is robber Trent Jones. He's known, he is the Forrest Richardson of golf courses design

Forrest Richardson: Mr. Jones, Trent as we called him, of course he has two sons that now carried on his work, Reece and bobby, but the wigwam, which is this picture, very typical of that post-World War II golf being built everywhere in the United States. Firestone, the wigwam, and the '60s and '70s were rich with build more, build more.

Ted Simons: And signature courses meaning people know by certain details who built this course

Forrest Richardson: right. Mr. Joins coined the phrase signature golf course. He also said hard pars, easy bogeys.

Ted Simons: We have a picture here of the 7th hole at stone harbor. This looks a lot like another signature par three.

Forrest Richardson: Desmond Muirhead was one of the truly right-brained out there thinking gentlemen in golf course design. And in the '80s, he created these really wild symbolistic courses and they did a lot of them in Indonesia and Japan, and a few in the United States. Unfortunately stone harbor doesn't survive. All the work he's done has been tamed down. But it was when the art was brought to a different level.

Ted Simons: When you see the saw grass, the par three at saw grass, which golfers are familiar with, that's the one --

Forrest Richardson: that's what really was the precursor to the TPC course in Scottsdale where we were creating courses for spectators.

Ted Simons: Let's look at your courses, starting with the Arizona grand. When you designed this course, you got the -- You've got such a beautiful scenery to work with. First of all, what do you try to emphasize, and secondly, how do you keep it from standing out like a sore thumb in a beautiful desert environment.

Forrest Richardson: It was a tough assignment. It we were using land adjoining the mountain preserve. We've created new habitat for the parks, so the exchange of land brought more land to the park, but it's all about integrating it with the land, taking advantage of those great views, taking advantage of the terrain, and making it feel like it's been there for 100 years.

Ted Simons: Got hideout in Utah, same thing only in high country. Is it easier in high country or more difficult?

Forrest Richardson: It's more difficult because you have a shorter growing season and you have other constraints. Again, the idea is to really fit the land to the golf and have the golfer feel they're in an environment just like when people see pebble beach on TV, or they see any famous golf course. It's all about the land.

Ted Simons: And rocky point, Mexico, I've played this course, and you got the wind, and this is like a links course.

Forrest Richardson: It's a links course and that particular hole, there was virtually nothing done to it. It wasn't so much about designing, but going back to the very first slide you saw where the golf course was found and discovered as opposed to actually being created.

Ted Simons: We've got about a minute. Let's hit you with this one -- Critics say golf courses wastewater, there's too many of them, they're a poor use of land, leave things in their natural state. What do you say to that?

Forrest Richardson: To some degree those are fair comments. However, most course, not all of them, most golf courses out here use reclaimed water. In Hawaii, they want us to put more turf if because the land is so porous, having the reclaimed water filtered by the plant is a positive thing. And most golf courses anywhere are serving a purpose of open space, they're serving for drainage, a golf course has enough oxygen produced to maintain a city of about 10,000 people. So golf courses are sustainable open space, and if they're designed properly and built properly they can be terrific neighbors to a community.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Thank you so much for joining us.

Forrest Richardson: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Forrest Richardson:Golf Course Architect;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: