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Thomas Dai

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We can debate routing and contours and bunkers and the like forever but I suspect that such aren't really the hardest aspects of being a professional golf course architect/constructor, especially in the modern world.


Without wishing to pry into individual businesses my suspicion is that the hardest and most time consuming aspects are most likely to fall into some other area(s) such as, although not in any order and no doubt missing a whole bunch of things -


Establishing an initial low-level foothold in the business
Going on your own
Getting work
Client relationships
The technical side of design
Regulations, permits, govt bodies etc
Staffing
Construction logistics
Travel/site living/being away from home a lot
Getting paid
Maintaining a good reputation in the business
Running a business, paying bills, tax, pensions etc


Thoughts?


atb












Tom_Doak

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Thomas:


Thanks for your good question, which I don't remember anyone asking here before.  You are right to recognize that there's a lot more to being an architect and running your own business than "design".


To me, the hardest parts all fall under the category of "dealing with uncertainty":


1.  You can spend lots and lots of time on p.r. and marketing, but you're never sure that the phone will ring with new opportunities.


2.  When you sign up a job, you don't have any control over when it will start because of permitting issues, financing issues, or even your client just getting cold feet, and it's hard to negotiate to get paid much of anything while you're waiting.


3.  Signing up additional work risks becoming overcommitted, if the things you've previously signed suddenly get moving.


4.  Once the project is being built, it moves at the speed of the contractor and at the mercy of the weather, so it's hard to plan one's visits very far in advance if you want them to be productive.  Your calendar is always in flux, which in my experience is harder for one's family to deal with than the fact you're away a lot.


5.  To do great work, you need great help, but it's hard to commit to those other people because of all the uncertainties above. 


6.  You can build something pretty good, and have it largely ignored in terms of getting attention for your abilities, because other designers are better known or had better opportunities.






All of these things add up to a reality of the business that no one talks about:  it's very hard to be successful unless you are already wealthy enough not to worry about them, or you have a secondary source of income.  That's the one common thread between the famous amateur designers [Macdonald, George Thomas], and the guys who got into it part-time at first [Colt, Pete Dye], and the club pros [Braid] and Tour pros [Nicklaus] who have been successful. 


Without that cushion of support, it's a very difficult business to pursue, because you are constantly under pressure to sign up work for clients who are going to be a pain, or projects that are sorely handicapped.  And then you get so busy doing those projects that you never have time to pursue the ones you really want.

Matt Schiffer

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I consider myself lucky to even perhaps be in the same conversation as Mr. Doak (if TD is the title page, I'm the footnotes) but I couldn't agree more.  The design and building part is fun.  The rest is hustle and sweat and quite a few tears while losing considerable amounts of sleep.
ms
Providing freelance design, production and engineering for GCAs around the world! http://greengrassengineering.com/landing/

Joe Hancock

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To add to Tom and Mattís comments, seems to me the hardest part is WANTING to do the stuff that is hard and not fun. Just doing those things isnít enough, because eventually people see through you and understand how shallow, or deep, your desire is to do this.



" What the hell is the point of architecture and excellence in design if a "clever" set up trumps it all?" Peter Pallotta, June 21, 2016

"People aren't picking a side of the fairway off a tee because of a randomly internally contoured green ."  jeffwarne, February 24, 2017

George Pazin

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I have no clue on what it entails to be a golf course architect.


Nevertheless, I have been self-employed, running a (little) printing business for over 25 years now. And people often say to me, that must be great, owning your own business - setting your own hours, choosing your schedule, etc. To which I usually just smile and nod....


While I hate speculating, my life as it is, I'd guess the hardest and most time consuming aspects of being a GCA are related to the bureaucratic parts of building a course - permits and such. You're likely dealing with people who have little experience in the area, and really have little interest beyond being asked the permitting question(s). And in those bureaucrats' defense, they will likely be slammed by someone, regardless of the path chosen.
Big drivers and hot balls are the product of golf course design that rewards the hit one far then hit one high strategy.  Shinny showed everyone how to take care of this whole technology dilemma. - Pat Brockwell, 6/24/04

Tom_Doak

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I have no clue on what it entails to be a golf course architect.


Nevertheless, I have been self-employed, running a (little) printing business for over 25 years now. And people often say to me, that must be great, owning your own business - setting your own hours, choosing your schedule, etc. To which I usually just smile and nod....


While I hate speculating, my life as it is, I'd guess the hardest and most time consuming aspects of being a GCA are related to the bureaucratic parts of building a course - permits and such. You're likely dealing with people who have little experience in the area, and really have little interest beyond being asked the permitting question(s). And in those bureaucrats' defense, they will likely be slammed by someone, regardless of the path chosen.


George:


I meant to say it earlier, but designers are really not as involved in the permitting process as most people think.  There are environmental engineers who are the middle men for getting permits, and we rely on them to tell us where we are going to get pushback from the agencies, and where it might be better to back off.


The most reliable way to avoid disappointments is just to give sensitive areas a wide berth, but whether you can do that depends on the project and client.  If you're working for a housing developer, the client will want you to push as close to the wetlands as you can, to leave more space for his houses.

Ian Andrew

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Hardest

I remember in early 2009, just after the financial crisis, over the period of two weeks, everything I was depending upon that year got cancelled. I did not do anything that I could bill for till late June and did not see my first check of the year till late July.


You go into just about every year with little to no idea on what is going to happen. I know when bigger things will happen, but in my own business very few things are arranged a year in advance, it often just organically happens, and you react to the work you need to do. You have some ideas, but your not sure which will come to fruition.


I find the business is largely feast and famine. After 30 years Iím so used to the cycles that I donít fret a gap and I know how to manage an avalanche. You canít plan because half of what you arrange gets cancelled and half of what you do comes out of thin air. So its a business where you must go with the flow. Personally, I donít mind being short of work, I deal with that surprisingly well, but I donít like grinding through a heavy workload for months on end. The work doesn't suffer, but you do.


Time Consuming


I do everything from international work permits to running a business to finding new work. You have to be lean and efficient to survive the tough times that come in cycles. But there's a lot of hours in running every aspect of a business, chasing work and then doing every part of a project.

Hope that helps ...
 
« Last Edit: January 07, 2023, 09:46:34 AM by Ian Andrew »
We're starting to behave as if we've reached the end of human knowledge. And while that notion is undoubtedly false, the certitude it generates is paralyzing.Ē ó Chuck Klosterman, But What If We're Wrong

Ally Mcintosh

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All of these things add up to a reality of the business that no one talks about:  it's very hard to be successful unless you are already wealthy enough not to worry about them, or you have a secondary source of income.  That's the one common thread between the famous amateur designers [Macdonald, George Thomas], and the guys who got into it part-time at first [Colt, Pete Dye], and the club pros [Braid] and Tour pros [Nicklaus] who have been successful. 


Without that cushion of support, it's a very difficult business to pursue, because you are constantly under pressure to sign up work for clients who are going to be a pain, or projects that are sorely handicapped.  And then you get so busy doing those projects that you never have time to pursue the ones you really want.


Dai, this paragraph from Tom rings true.


I got in to the business in my thirties, late enough that I was already married with children and a mortgage. These responsibilities would have made it near impossible to jump full-time in with GCA my only source of income.


I continue to ďdouble-jobĒ with project management in engineering and construction outside golf.


The disadvantages: time management. It is even more difficult to manage your time when the work comes in waves from two different businesses. Also, I probably miss out on golf opportunities because I am not constantly out there selling / investigating.


The advantages: I can pursue the projects I want to and pass on the less interesting ones that might bog me down. I can stay fresh when doing the GCA work.


Those coming in from school / college usually have one huge advantage: No ties and an ability to relocate and exist on very little money. But unless they are very focused, they are at the mercy of learning their ways only from those that hire them. And that may derail their ideas of GCA (depending on who is teaching them). Ultimately, if they want to have artistic control, they too will need to start out on their own and that becomes very difficult once more ties are established and without that second source of income.


I considered getting in to GCA at school age, 15 years before I did. I consider the maturity and self-confidence, sales technique, project management and business skills that came with those 15 years far more important to me having an enjoyable basis as a GCA.


Whatís the plan?: you can never tell but probably another 10 years doing both jobs until I feel I have a solid enough financial base to be able to risk GCA full time with little to no potential income. In the interim, I stick to my mantra that I have since I started: I will only jump full-time over if I have a guarantee of one yearís continuous work that pays me full salary.

Thomas Dai

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Many thanks for sharing these thoughts and personal insights.
As I mentioned in the OT I am conscious of not prying into individual situations so had hesitated for quite some time being even raising this thread. But I did want to explore more (holistic?) aspects to being a golf course architect than the obvious.
I think it's save to say that there is always significantly more to undertaking any job or occupation, whether it be a labour of love or not, than there appears to be from the outside so thanks again for your responses.
atb
« Last Edit: January 07, 2023, 04:38:59 AM by Thomas Dai »

Jaeger Kovich

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The hardest job is getting the work. You can be the most talented architect in the world, but if you canít convince someone or a club to write you a check then...

Ian Andrew

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I find most outsiders don't understand the time and effort that has to go into building a network of people who will support and promote your career. You can't build a business alone. Work doesn't come through cold calls, it comes through relationships. It takes a huge commitment and often a lot of your resources to build that foundation. But if you don't do this, nothing happens, there is no work.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2019, 04:32:10 PM by Ian Andrew »
We're starting to behave as if we've reached the end of human knowledge. And while that notion is undoubtedly false, the certitude it generates is paralyzing.Ē ó Chuck Klosterman, But What If We're Wrong

Jeff_Brauer

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Fur sum, gud grammer and speeling are impotent to writing gudder contrax and specifycations........

Seriously, I was told to take some business writing courses.  And some sales and public speaking courses. Landscape architect students get maybe one professional practice course, usually not worth much.  And, most contract and specifications are written by copying someone else's not borne out of real knowledge of concrete mix, or whatever.  Generally, we are not very good at it, trying to avoid that kind of work for the fun stuff.

Will add many architects fear lawsuits.  Just as you are not a  boss until you fire someone, maybe you aren't a golf course architect until you have been sued.  From my perspective, many (especially younger ones) got in the biz when there were big budgets and mistakes more easily covered.  More experienced architects will tell you its all rainbows and bunny rabbits......until it isn't.  But, gca's are charged spending millions wisely, which is always subjective.  Some big money at stake.

Since the 2006 Great Recession, I see clients get more picky about money and lawsuits or at least big construction billing disputes are more common.  On my last two projects, contractors I knew and trusted submitted last minute billings of several hundreds of thousand dollars, just hoping to up their margins (or turn them from negative to better than neutral).  Part of the job is negotiating between the two.

I would guess the second most difficult technical task after specs would  be detailed grading plans and balancing cut and  fill.  Many architects do practice without doing these things at all, and they are lucky.   Or figuring out drainage and grading on a flat site with minimal grade, or in flood plain where you are required to balance flood storage.....and they do in fact check after the fact, so you can't fudge too much.

While touched on earlier, travel breaks up many architects marriages. Takes a tough wife to handle being married to a successful gca.  And, I am writing this sitting in an airport waiting out a five hour flight delay.....

I once estimated I spend only 10% of my time on the really fun stuff.  The rest is similar to any other business.  Unlike Ally, I started my business when I was too young and naÔve to believe I could fail.  My motto was "What could possibly go wrong?.  Not perceiving how difficult the biz might be was a great blessing.  Also, having a working wife for financial cushion for slow times, and a commitment (for the most part) to living at about 75% of current income, saving for the rainy day. 

Should add, as depressing as the above may sound, I have enjoyed every day of a wild 42 year ride! I was never cut out for my father's corporate life.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2019, 01:50:43 PM by Jeff_Brauer »
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Tom_Doak

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I find most outsiders don't understand the time and effort that has to go into building a network of people who will support and promote your career. You can't build a business alone. Work doesn't come through cold calls, it comes through relationships. It takes a huge commitment and often a lot of your resources to build that foundation. But if you don't do this, nothing happens, there is no work.


When I was in college I wrote tons of letters asking for advice, and asking if I could visit great courses in the USA.  I was often invited to play with the green chairman or professional or superintendent.  Years later, six of my first seven jobs as a designer came via recommendations from someone I had met in my travels.  I had no idea I'd been networking all that time!

Joel_Stewart

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To me, the hardest parts all fall under the category of "dealing with uncertainty":


2.  When you sign up a job, you don't have any control over when it will start because of permitting issues, financing issues, or even your client just getting cold feet, and it's hard to negotiate to get paid much of anything while you're waiting.



I have a friend who is a professional comedian.  He calls "show business" 80 percent business and 20 percent show. I've always thought that being a golf architect was about the same but when I read this, at least when he signs for a job he knows he's going to be performing shortly.

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