Most Influential Architects

What makes a person influential?

Many people believe that golf architects don’t truly have impact unless they’ve put multiple courses on best-of lists, or unless they’ve produced large bodies of work. Others think influence radiates from styles or approaches that have been widely copied or from work that’s stood the test of time. Some feel influence is best measured by the amount of change that follows in an architect’s wake.

There’s one thing that most everybody can agree on, however: These days, the odds are stacked against anyone getting successful enough to become an influential architect.

“We can’t create many influential architects when we’re only opening 15 or 20 courses a year,” said Dana Garmany, CEO of Troon Golf.  “There are a lot of creative guys out there who’ll never get a chance to show their talent.”

The golf economy these days is only marginally better than it was in 2011, when Golf Inc. published its first list of the world’s most influential architects. At that time, the words “affordable” and “sustainable” were just beginning to creep into the mainstream, China was still viewed as a land of opportunity and the emerging naturalist aesthetic hadn’t fully taken hold.

Today, we ask the same questions about golf architecture that we asked back then: Whose voices are speaking loudest, and what are they saying?

Like five years ago, we turned to architects, developers and operators to find out who has influenced them the most. Our editors then reviewed the nominations and finalized the top 10.

The nominations fall roughly into four categories: Immortals, Signatures, Purists and Next Big Things. And one of the Next Big Things from five years ago makes our list this year — Gil Hanse. Hanse, who did not make our top 10 in 2011, has made a name for himself in the past five years, most prominently with the Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro.

Two other architects join the list. Gary Player has been around much longer than Hanse, but his approach to sustainable design has pumped up his influence in this age of austerity. Steve Smyers is the current president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and a member of the USGA’s executive committee.

But perhaps the most interesting change from five years ago is that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have risen from No. 2 to the top spot, displacing Pete Dye. Fair? We present the thoughts of 12 nominators so you can determine for yourself. 

Mike Keiser


His nominees: Coore & Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones 

Considering where Keiser’s sympathies lie — “There are maybe 30,000 courses in the world,” he’s said, “but the only ones that really matter are the top 50” — it’s no surprise to discover that the architects he’s nominated are responsible for 38 tracks on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.

“My giants,” as he calls them, helped to define golf architecture in post-World War II America. Jones and Dye, he believes, reflected the burgeoning confidence of the nation that had won the war.

“They were great salesmen who designed championship-style courses that couldn’t be long enough or tough enough,” Keiser said. “A lot of developers wanted their courses.”

Fazio provided relief, with courses that were, typically, less challenging.

“I love his golf courses,” said Keiser. “They’re beautiful and fun to play, and he could make something out of nothing. Of all the modern architects, he impresses me the most by far.”

Jones, Dye and Fazio reigned until the naturalists, expressing faith in the Golden Age ideals that Keiser used to create Bandon Dunes, introduced a more affordable, more sustainable approach better suited to an age of austerity. Among the naturalists, Keiser regards Doak as the purest of the pure — “He lives and breathes natural.” — but in his mind no architects have done more to mold contemporary tastes than Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.

“With their brilliant shapers, they’re the best in the business today,” Keiser contends. “They’re impactful on things that people think of as golf course architecture.” 

Tom Fazio

Golf Course Architect

His nominees: Pete Dye, Robert Trent Jones, Jack Nicklaus 

Though he didn’t design many courses, George Fazio had a profound impact on one of the most celebrated architects of all time.

“My biggest influence was my uncle,” said Tom Fazio. “From him, I learned how people play golf. I learned to appreciate playable courses where people have fun and enjoy themselves.”

Fazio began designing courses with his uncle in the 1960s, when Robert Trent Jones was, in Fazio’s words, “the most recognizable name in golf.”

“If any architect created a brand, it was him,” Fazio said. “He had the imagination, the drive and the ego. He always talked about giving a course a signature, and he got tons of publicity for it.”

Later, as his solo career took off, Fazio competed against Dye for commissions. “He creates wonderful golf courses,” Fazio said. “Some people think his courses are too difficult, but I like them. I like hard golf courses, even though I don’t design them.”

Fazio also learned an important lesson from Jones and Dye: When sites don’t naturally lend themselves to great golf, an architect shouldn’t hesitate to make wholesale changes.

“The Keiser style is great, but it’s not for everybody,” Fazio said. “The result is all that counts. It doesn’t matter how much or how little earth you move.”

Regarding contemporary golf architecture, Fazio finds much to admire. As far as he’s concerned, “Golf courses are better today than they’ve ever been, including the Golden Age.”

To find out which architects are most admired by Dana Garmany, David McLay Kidd and other big names in golf, read the rest of the story in the free Jan/Feb digital issue of Golf Inc. Magazine here. 

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