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michael damico

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Designers...How Did You Start...
« on: June 10, 2011, 10:37:37 AM »
Your OWN firms? It'd be nice to hear how several people in the industry had enough initiative, incentive and 'balls' to go off on their own and begin ______ Design.

I'm sure there are many reasons as to why - frustration, family, life-long aspirations, etc...
« Last Edit: June 10, 2011, 10:53:21 AM by michael damico »
"without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible"
                                                                -fz

Ian Andrew

Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2011, 02:52:53 PM »
This was from my interview here:

A close friend of my wife and I died of Cancer at a very young age and it shook us. My wife and I talked for the weeks that followed about not wasting opportunities now and about taking more chances. I ended up with my mantra of “no regrets.”

Over the preceeding 10 years I had watched Doug becoming more and more interested in what he could do with manipulating a site. During the same period I had gone to see a lot of courses in the States and the UK, including a little known course called High Pointe that I really liked. The net result of my travels was I began to openly question why we were moving any dirt when I felt we didn’t have to. While Doug and I had started on the same page we had grown in completely different directions and it made it more complicated to work on projects together.

Spurred on by my friend Chris Brands I ventured out to the first Archipalozza. Archipalozza was a meeting of the next generation of architects organized by Tom Doak. It turned out to be the best kick in the ass I ever got and a key moment for me. I was quite taken by the friendliness of all involved and how they openly shared what they knew about architecture. The other major impact was seeing Pacific Dunes. I was blown away by the course, the way it sat on the land, the ground game opportunities, the width of fairways to deal with wind, the interior bunkering and the green contours. This was the type of course that I wanted to build. I left Archipalozza wanting to build courses completely differently than were being done where I worked. I now knew that I was going to have to leave - so now the question was when.

The decision to go came after I completed the restoration of St. George’s Golf & Country Club. I was asked to research and then restore some of Stanley Thompson’s greatest bunkers. I had done other restoration work at other clubs and was finding that more clubs were seeking “me” out to perform restorative based work at their clubs, but this was the big one. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to produce an accurate restoration because at that time I felt St. George’s was a Stanley Thompson masterpiece and I couldn’t bear the thought of making even a single mistake. So I put in extra effort in the research to ensure accuracy despite some people’s objections to the value of a restoration - it was contentious to some. The superintendent John Gall and I worked on coming up with techniques to deliver the original feel of the bunkering which eventually became the need to build everything by hand. I learnt a lot about the value of detail work and from that day forward obsessed about exactly how things were going to be built and began to demand techniques that produced superior work.

At the end of the project, I knew I was ready to leave. So I asked myself the one question that you have to ask yourself before you cut ties. Would I be more upset if I went out on my own, failed, and found myself out of the golf design business? Or would I be more upset with myself if I didn’t try.

No regrets right! -  I was ready to go.

My wife and I sat down and talked about how we’d do this, since a move like this affects the entire family. She was more comfortable with the move than I was but stunned me by recommending “that I shouldn’t go right away. “ She said that I should take a year and make sure you leave on the very best of terms. I had so much fun in the early years with Doug, but as we got busier and spent less time working together, we both had grown apart. It stemmed from having different views on design and eventually about how to run a business. So for simplicity’s sake we generally worked independent of each other. So I approached Doug and asked if we could work on new courses together like the old days. It took far more time than I anticipated and ended up delaying my exit by an additional three years (which I do not regret at all), but I had a lot of fun working with Doug on Muskoka Bay and Frog’s Breath.

Footnote:

I had brought in many clients over the previous 10 years and all but one choose to move with me within 6 months. With-in a year or two I had enough work to call myself busy.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2011, 03:00:18 PM by Ian Andrew »

Jeff_Brauer

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Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2011, 04:48:03 PM »
Michael,

From my recent feature interview here:


My next door neighbors were members at Medinah, in suburban Chicago where I grew up. My friend and I snuck on when the courses many Mondays, when they were closed. I fell in love with golf courses. I actually went home after my very first round, at age 12 and told my parents I was going to be a Golf Course Architect. (They told me to do something “where I would use my brain” but I was not to be denied!

Despite reservations, my Dad saw a blurb in the Tribune business section about the ASGCA moving its HQ to Chicago. He brought home a large envelope of ASGCA and National Golf Foundation articles and booklets on golf design, which I pored over. I noticed that Killian and Nugent were in the next suburb, and wrote them. To my surprise, they wrote back, offering to let me come in and see the office. They told me to take drafting in high school and work for landscapers and/or on a golf maintenance crew, and then to take landscape architecture in college, with side classes of aerial photography, turf management, business, soils and surveying, which I did.

When I came out of University of Illinois they felt obligated to hire me, since I had followed their advice, despite a low workload. What sealed the deal was sitting next to them at the state ASLA banquet, and as the night went on, I won the Best Senior Award and then the National ASLA Certificate of Merit. Returning to the table with my second plaque, Dick said, “I’ll see you Monday,” with a resigned tone of voice.

I apprenticed there for seven years until, including the last year with Ken Killian, after they broke up. I was always going to go on my own, and walked into Ken’s office on my 29th birthday, wanting to start before I was 30. I wanted to move south. I went to the local library to look at phone books, and Dallas was the only major city without a yellow page listing for Golf Course Architects, so Dallas it was.

Not long after I moved, Jim Colbert called me to help him in the renovation of a Dick Wilson design in Vegas, which I had started under Killian. Other early jobs included a nine hole expansion in La., when the selection committee was headed by man who had also just started his own business and was sympathetic to “the new guy” and a renovation near Dallas. Both actually signed the same day, and I went from virtually nothing to a real business in a hurry. A year or so later, Larry Nelson’s agent, who was in Dallas, called with some questions about design, and I ended up teaming with him on several projects.

Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Tom_Doak

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Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2011, 04:59:02 PM »
Michael:

It's a good question, and honestly, I'm not sure anyone has ever asked me publicly how I made the leap.  Ran can never think of good questions like that for his interviews.  ;)

When I was in college and writing to everyone in the business asking for advice, pretty much everyone told me I should try to get a job with Pete Dye -- so I wrote him letters for three years until I got to work on the crew at Long Cove.  After college and my year overseas, I went back to work for the Dyes, in Denver, at Plum Creek and then Riverdale Dunes.

Pete was then trying to help his sons get into the business, so when potential clients called [with rare exceptions such as his projects for Landmark who dealt with Pete directly], they were referred to Perry or P.B. and then Pete would get involved as much as he wanted.  Pete never really carried a payroll; he just sent you from one job to the next on the developer's payroll, so in going out west I wound up on Perry's side of the ledger, and in fact, I was Perry's first employee.  But, Perry was not his dad.  His goal was to do a lot of jobs and make a lot of money, and as a result, the only kinds of jobs he attracted were (a) jobs in Japan blowing down the side of a mountain to sell memberships with the "Dye" name, and (b) ridiculously tight housing development courses.  

After a year or two of seeing those, I thought, "I could probably find a better design job than these on my own."  It was extremely naive, really ... I had no idea how to go about starting a business, and didn't even think about it in those terms.  But, things came to a head, and I became Perry's first employee to quit.  I did one last assignment for Pete -- running the construction of the renovation of Piping Rock -- and then I was through, with no idea what to do.

I moved back into my parents' home for a while, but for most of the next 6-8 months I traveled around in my car, checking out different courses and getting back to some of the places I'd liked the most.  I went and spent a day in Tom Fazio's office, thinking I might work for them, not really believing I could find a job on my own -- but, I didn't pursue it past that, as he seemed to have plenty of talented people there already.  I wrote some articles for GOLF Magazine, and I started writing a book [The Confidential Guide].  I was single and had a bit of money in the bank, luckily, so there was no pressure to sort it out immediately -- that's really an important factor.  But I might have been the only architect in history to "go solo" without having any prospect lined up as my first client.

In mid-summer I went up to northern Michigan to see a few of the new courses there and get back to Crystal Downs; I stayed with the professional, Fred Muller, for a week, and we got to be good friends.  Not a month later, the professional at Grand Traverse Resort called Fred to ask if he knew of a young architect he could recommend to someone wanting to build a course down the road -- High Pointe -- and all of a sudden, I was in business.  It helped immensely in getting the job that I could say I was going to live there and BUILD the course myself, instead of just design it.

So, what made me do it?  Restlessness, and naivete.  I would have happily worked for Pete Dye as long as he wanted me to, but that was never really on the table with Pete, and especially not at that point in the economy and in his family.  Perry had given me a great opportunity to really make a lot of design decisions on the projects I worked on, but I knew I was not going to be happy under Perry, trying to make the best of bad sites and him getting the credit if we succeeded.  [After all, he really had no reputation of his own.  I figured if I was going to help build someone's reputation, it might as well be mine.]  My goal wasn't just to be a golf course architect -- it was to be a part of creating great courses, and Perry wasn't interested in that.

I found my first design job in 1986, my second in '88, my third in '89, my fourth and fifth in '92; and my sixth didn't happen until 1995, after a couple of stalled projects put some fear of failure into the equation.  [I got married and had a son in between courses #3 and 4, and had to start thinking about working steadily for real.]  ALL of those first six projects came as the result of references from people I'd met while I was traveling around in college -- Fred Muller, Brian Morgan, Dave Richards, Jim Finegan, David Earl, and Joe Luigs.  I thought I'd been traveling just to see all the great courses I could see, but in fact, I had been building an extensive network of people, without even understanding that's what I was doing; and that was the foundation of my business.  

For that matter, networking is still the foundation of my business.  People always ask what I get out of all my time on Golf Club Atlas, and in addition to the fact that I like to discuss golf course architecture, I have come to understand that talking about it is what helps build my network of friends, and potential future references.  But there's no point in networking on Facebook or Linkedin when most of the people seeking information on golf course design are eventually going to find their way here.  Years later, when I sat down and thought about it, every great architect has had a big network of people who helped them succeed.  All those old Scots pros who came to the US were a network of their own.  C.B. Macdonald had New York and Chicago money to refer himself and Seth Raynor; Robert Trent Jones had the Rockefellers; Tom Fazio has visitors to Pine Valley, plus GOLF DIGEST panelists.

The other thing I've done way above average is to identify good people to work with me, and that's another side of networking.  Tom Mead, the superintendent at Crystal Downs, quit that job to help me build High Pointe.  Gil Hanse was an intern our first summer of construction, and eventually became my first employee.  Mike DeVries was recommended by Fred Muller, and worked on The Legends and Black Forest with us.  I'd worked with Jim Urbina and Eric Iverson when I was with Perry Dye, and eventually, as Perry's business slowed down, they came over to work with me.  Bruce Hepner sought me out when we were working at Stonewall, and Brian Slawnik was referred by the turf program at Michigan State, because he wanted to get involved in construction.  Overall, we've had an amazing number of talented people volunteer to work on one of our projects, and only a couple of duds among them!

Jeff_Brauer

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2011, 06:03:11 PM »
TD,

Great stuff. Sounds like the typical overnight success story, taking only a decade to unfold.

BTW, I not only started without a client, I moved to Texas out of some misplaced loyalty to K and N that I shouldn't be competing directly with them.  Texas was very provincial, and not real kind to Yankees back in the 80's.  It took me a few years to land my first job in Texas and actually, I think my perception is still clouded by my Yankee reception many years ago - I always feel like an underdog in any competition for Texas jobs.

I also moved back in briefly with my parents and my very first solo plan was drawn on their kitchen table, before actually moving down to DFW.
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Adrian_Stiff

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Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2011, 08:24:43 AM »
My story is ... I turned Pro at 16 but was not good enough and did not want to teach or work in the shop, I always liked what the greenkeepers were doing and my boss was a golf course architect and I drew his plans, made suggestions and in most cases ended up doing the routings. He never did green plans. When I jacked the golf I moved into greenkeeping and it was at a time we expanded the course from 18 to 27, I had a nice 9 years of learning and I liked it despite the crap money. Looking after golf courses is very addictive. I won a trip to the GCSAA in 1987 and visited Phoenix, it opened my eyes and I paid for myslef for return visits in 88 and 89. At that time our course became better and popular and local clubs used me as a consultant, it became quite a lot of work. We were thinking of bidding for the 1997 Ryder Cup but a change of personell at the top saw an accountant take over rather than the man with the passion, the accountant wanted me to cut my budgets by about 25% and it really meant standards were going to be pretty poor, mowing greens was every other day, fairways weekly and I just lost the very thing that made me want to work there, I could not see the course getting better, so I left to go on my own, I figured I could try on my own and if I never made it I could get another job. I had £6000 savings. I got a few jobs planning courses for farmers or course extensions and my savings varied between £6000 and £2000 a few times, I reckoned as long as I had £6000 I was doing okay. In 1991 I had two courses break ground and in 92 another two, that pretty much kept going for a few years, I had bad car accident and dont really want to travel much so more recently I suppose I have averaged 1 course every 3 years. Most of my courses have suffered at the end and low budgets, the clients dont want to pay for enough site supervision and looking back on my course a lot of the bunkering could be better. I love golf and designing courses but fear I might not do another. I like this site because there is plenty to learn.
A combination of whats good for golf and good for turf.
The Players Club, Cumberwell Park, The Kendleshire, Oake Manor, Dainton Park, Forest Hills, Erlestoke, St Cleres.
www.theplayersgolfclub.com

Niall C

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Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2011, 09:40:51 AM »
"my boss was a golf course architect and I drew his plans, made suggestions and in most cases ended up doing the routings. He never did green plans"

Adrian

The quote above begs the question of quite what kind of golf course architect was your boss ?

Niall

Ian Andrew

Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2011, 10:00:08 AM »
Michael,

Since I assume there ill be a few people who are reading this who are considering going it alone. I’ll try adding a little more perspective.

There was nothing spontaneous about leaving. I had figured out in 2001 that “I had to leave”, but I knew I was “not capable” yet, therefore it became about creating the circumstance to be able to leave. Because of that I had time to plan the exit.

I took care of all the legal work many years before so I could quit on a moments notice. I began to slowly put away money to meet a budget number we had worked out that allowed for one year with no income from the golf design business. I had all the equipment and software in the house and an office set up three years in advance. I began writing articles for magazines and getting to know all the Canadian golf media four years before I went out on my own to build up some name recognition in the business. I had my web site done before I gave my notice (it went live once I was formally gone). I had my marketing strategy worked out five or six years before I left and then with the help of  a close friend (and media expert) put together a very comprehensive plan to market myself at no cost.

I called no clubs and told nobody prior to leaving. I’m not just saying that, I really felt that was the ethical line I had to honour. I also left on January 1st to make sure I had all my work done and that this was the ideal timing for Doug giving him flexibility to figure out what he wanted to during the winter. Once I had worked the two weeks he asked for (that caught me really off guard), I then sent out thank you cards to all the clubs and clients I had worked with, letting them know I was moving on.

The clubs I brought in all choose to make the move (with Doug’s blessing), I had anticipated that, but did not depend on that happening. One did not, which I had assumed could easily have been half of them. A few others I worked with (long term clients) wanted to come too, Doug was not as happy about this, but I took most of them in since I had 10 years with most of them. Surprisingly a few clubs contacted me immediately after I left and asked about working together. That was when I knew this was going to work out. I also choose not talk to any of the new course clients (we had no agreement) since we had parted amicably. I decided 5 years would be fair and reasonable. I still have not called any of them yet.

For the first few years “I stuck to my niche” and tried to cement my place in that business. I doubled my clients by looking outside my local region and also thanks to the occasional recommendation of a few of the favourite names on the site.

Joining up with Mike was an opportunity to branch into new design work. I think we’ll be lucky if we build more than two or three this decade since neither of us is looking seriously to the Far East for work.

I enjoyed the fact that Tom and Jeff had the confidence and swagger to simply go it alone and build from nothing. I wish I was as cavalier as they are. That might be why I like both of them as much as I do. I’m a planner and like to understand everything I can about a process so I can meticulously plan for every eventuality. I don’t fear failure, I fear being unprepared.

I hope this has helped someone out there, rather than coming across as self indulgent.

Adrian_Stiff

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Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2011, 10:31:13 AM »
Niall - He is a lovely bloke but did not really know much about golf course architecture. A lot of golf pros get to do courses, he did about 7 I think, few out in Germany, couple here and some extra nines. I was 16 when I went to work for him, I probably realised he was not great at 19 when we ended up using pretty much all my routings. A lot of clients dont know the difference between shit and chocolate pudding and they assume the golf pro knows. I dont think Henry Cotton was very good and Sevvy (god rest his soul) was a great golfer but at golf course design was probably 28 handicap. I think a lot on here could do a much better job than many golf pro's provided they had the technical, agronomic and construction back ups. I think knowing how to maintain a golf course (superintendent) coupled with good playing skills is the best combo.
A combination of whats good for golf and good for turf.
The Players Club, Cumberwell Park, The Kendleshire, Oake Manor, Dainton Park, Forest Hills, Erlestoke, St Cleres.
www.theplayersgolfclub.com

Brian Curley

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2011, 11:59:51 AM »
About 1995, I was a Partner in Landmark Golf Company, a new company that had risen from the ashes of  the original Landmark Land Company ( where we were the darlings of the golf business with projects like La Quinta, PGA West, Kiawah Island, Oat Tree, Palm Beach Polo, Mission Hills  CC ,  etc. but also the owners of Oak Tree Savings and Loan............and fell victim to the RTC/OTS  and the Savings and Loan disasters).

The new Company was small and made up mostly of upper management looking for new deals and money. The upside could have been huge.  I was 100% on board with the new deal.I was the golf design end of the company and bringing in a little work here and there but we needed  money to feed the guys at  the top. A new financial partner comes in and now I am asked to come up with cash to help float the company. I said no, if I am throwing in cash I will do it for my own deal not to help a bunch of guys about to retire. Then we have arguments about my partnership  (all of a sudden I was NOT one).....So, I am PISSED and say if I am going to work for someone I will go work for Norman,  Fazio, Nicklaus, etc etc.

I had, at the time, NO plans to go off on my own but .....I QUIT....... Nothing lined up, a wife and kids , mortgage etc.

They call me back and the main guy says I need to come address everyone and tell them I am leaving and the reason the company will fold and they will all lose their jobs! I said no. Then he asked if I was interested in buying the golf division of the company where I can manage my world but we work together. We decided to meet the next day, each of us with a buy-out structure.

Here is where it gets interesting..........our deals, both on matching yellow legal pads were gnats- ass exact (a list of deals  and participation fees , etc.) except for the last line; We had 380K left to collect from the first Mission Hills work in China. They wanted me to front 200K  ( and gave me 5 days !!!) and keep the rest of the fees  to get up and running. I barely had $200. I called my Mission Hills  contact and asked him to see if the Chairman ( David Chu)  would front the 200K and pay me 10K for 12 months  to get me started and save 60K. He said he would check.

 So,  to hedge my bet, on a Saturday afternoon I called the Plantation and asked Art Shilling to see  who was at the bar. He asked why and I  explained I was looking for 10 sponsors  to front me 20K. He said he would do one and call back. He did about an hour later with about 12  more names .

Then, that night, Mission Hills calls back and says this is just what the Chairman wanted to hear and was happy to do it. I about jumped through the ceiling..... They wired the money Monday. I still have the wire instructions in a frame in my office.

So- I went ,within four days , from having no  plans or strong desire to go out on my own to owning my own deal with employees and expenses. They strange thing, looking back, is I had very little concerns or fears.  Sometimes you just gotta dive in the pool, no testing the waters with your toe.




 


paul cowley

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Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #10 on: June 12, 2011, 08:37:17 AM »
"like" the stories so far....there is no one common path or answer to the commonly asked question "how did you become (or how can I become) a golf course architect?"....or how did you start your design company?...as this thread will surely show.
« Last Edit: June 12, 2011, 11:53:01 PM by paul cowley »
paul cowley...golf course architect/asgca

Mike_Young

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2011, 08:44:30 PM »
I knew early on what I wanted to do and where some guys wanted to work for other architects to learn it....I didn't....another architect suggested I find a job with either Toro or Jacobsen or Scotts Fertilizer where I could build the "network" Tom mentions and where I could see the work of all the various architects....I did this for a few years until one of those "network" dudes asked if I wanted to build his course.  I quit and that was it ...
You can learn a tremendous amount while selling for one of these companies and you have a reason to get into any coruse you wish and see the supt and ask questions and you can even take vacations to work for various architects if you bug them.......NOW.....if one chooses this way I can tell you from hindsight.....you can learn as much as you wish to learn and maybe more than a guy that has been sitting in the office of one architect and not getting out....AND you see all different styles and all different supt comments as to how to maintain these styles....BUT when you step out on your own your competition will call you a turf salesman not an architect....and if you get enough of their jobs it can get worse....But I still recommend this way and would do it again...

Ian,
You mention taking clients with you....seems you did it in an ethical way and good for you....BUT It got me to thinking....wouldn't you agree that if you had been in one of the large signature firms they would not have reacted the same....there are guys that leave large signature firms never to be heard of again...just like starting over and because they never were taught how to get work because they were usually in the selction business not the selling business...AND thay have much bigger problems than some of us normal dudes.....
"just standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona"

Jeff_Brauer

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #12 on: June 12, 2011, 09:26:43 PM »
Brian,

Yes there is an upside to being too young and naive to believe you could possibly fail.  It is the key to the biz, right there!
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

michael damico

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #13 on: June 13, 2011, 12:13:36 PM »
Thanks guys, it's great to hear the various stories.

Brauer mentioned he took business courses in school, did most other guys? Or did some just wing it, picking up the business aspect through experience in the industry?
"without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible"
                                                                -fz

Ian Andrew

Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #14 on: June 13, 2011, 03:52:35 PM »
Thanks guys, it's great to hear the various stories.

Brauer mentioned he took business courses in school, did most other guys? Or did some just wing it, picking up the business aspect through experience in the industry?

I thought the business side was not very complicated to understand. I'm fairly anal, so the detail and disipline required came fairly easily. It does take a hell of a lot more time than you would think. The blocks of time I lose to running a business, interviewing, marketing and organizing my trips (and projects) are incredible. That was the biggest suprise for me.

The most complicated area for me was learning about work permits and foreign taxation rules. I still do all that myself. It's in my nature.

Jeff_Brauer

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #15 on: June 13, 2011, 04:58:36 PM »
Michael,

In a small firm, the business side probably isn't a whole lot different than balancing the personal checkbook.  There are some tricks to the trade of running a small office which should be learned. 

In reality, Nugent's advice was to take business writing and presentations, to help present myself better and make sales.
Jeff Brauer, ASGCA Director of Outreach

Yannick Pilon

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #16 on: June 13, 2011, 05:12:34 PM »

Michael,

Here's my story so far.  The first part is from my web site, which I just launched a few months ago:

My passion for golf and drafting started when I was a child. At the early age of eight, "The World Atlas of Golf" quickly became a source of fascination. This great book, first published in 1976, and republished many times since, showcased impressive renderings of the world's best golf courses. Sparked by this new interest in golf courses and the art of golf course architecture, I soon tried to replicate these renderings, and create some of my own.

By the age of 15 I became confident enough in my drafting skills to send one of my plans to Jack Nicklaus for some comments. Surprisingly, I got some very positive feedback from a member of his staff who encouraged me to study in Landscape Architecture before applying for a design position in a golf design firm.

This feedback lead to a bachelor's degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Montreal, which I obtained in 1998 with honours. I soon began working for Graham Cooke & Assoc. Inc., and joined at a time when work was abundant. My first few years in the office were spent learning about all the important facets of golf course design and construction. As years went by, my input in the design and construction of the Graham Cooke courses increased, and I eventually worked alongside Graham as a co-designer on selected projects, such as The Islesmere Golf Club, The Richelieu Valley Golf Club, and the Club de Golf Les Boisés de Joly.

As I gained this invaluable experience, I also started to travel extensively, for work, but also to play and study some of the world's great courses and learn as much as I could from their particular attributes. Fantastic trips to Scotland and many regions of the United States and Canada have helped me understand the incredible value of imaginative design based on the subtleties of the sites that these great golf courses sit on and the importance of their integration in their immediate surroundings. To this day, these trips are still at the basis of my continuing education in the art of golf course architecture.

With 14 years of experience working in the industry on various types of projects, I have now launched Yannick Pilon Golf to share my passion of golf course architecture with golf clubs and golfers everywhere. Why did I do it, and especially, why now, in this market?  Well there are many reasons.  Graham and I had different design philosophies.  While I totally respect what he does – he sure had a lot of success doing it - I find myself wanting to do things differently.  I am also at a time in my life where I want to build something for me, not for someone else.  I would like to develop new products, new ideas, and I would like to benefit from the results, if any!  I am also lucky enough to have a great wife that has a good job.  I don’t have the pressure of needing a $100 000 income to make ends meet; she can support me for a while after I supported her when she started.  There is also the fact that I want to be more involved in the projects I work on, not just do plans for courses in foreign countries I will never get see.  This is important.  For now, I would prefer to work on smaller jobs, closer to home, and know that I can have more input....  I can now write on forums without having the fear to hurt the firm I work for.  Now it’s just me. I could go on.

The business end of things can be a challenge, but once you get the hang of it, it is not that bad.  It does take a lot of time, but it is also invigorating to discover whole new things I never had the chance to do before, like accounting, billing, web design....

I am profoundly grateful for the chance that Graham Cooke gave me in the business.  I have always been loyal to him, and I am leaving him in good terms, finishing jobs that I had started with him.  I had not told any clients about it before I left.  Some of them decided to stay with me, others I am still not too sure.  This year will be a decent one in terms of workload and income, but next year is a big question mark! All I know is that there is some work out there. I just need to start promoting myself more than I ever did to make sure I’ll get some of it.

YP

www.yannickpilongolf.com
www.yannickpilongolf.blogspot.com
www.twitter.com/#!/YPGolf

www.yannickpilongolf.com - Golf Course Architecture, Quebec, Canada

Tom_Doak

  • Karma: +0/-1
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #17 on: June 13, 2011, 05:45:30 PM »

  This year will be a decent one in terms of workload and income, but next year is a big question mark!



Yannick:

Next year is a big question mark for EVERYONE in this business.

Kris Shreiner

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #18 on: June 13, 2011, 05:56:23 PM »
Yannick,

I admire your pluck for striking out on your own, especially in this climate. While I'm not familiar with your work with Mr. Cooke, your website does a nice job giving an overview. Clearly, you have a solid reputation in Canada and I wish you success as you embark on the next chapter of your golf-related dreams. Remain persistent and continue to trust in your ability!

Cheers,
Kris 8)
"I said in a talk at the Dunhill Tournament in St. Andrews a few years back that I thought any of the caddies I'd had that week would probably make a good golf course architect. We all want to ask golfers of all abilities to get more out of their games -caddies do that for a living." T.Doak

Yannick Pilon

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #19 on: June 13, 2011, 07:24:58 PM »
Tom,

I know that next year is a big question mark for everybody, but I already know for sure I won't be working on a new full course in Quebec for quite some time....  Hopefully, renos will keep me afloat for a bit!

Kris,

T hanks for your kind words.  It's nice to have you with us on this website.

YP
www.yannickpilongolf.com - Golf Course Architecture, Quebec, Canada

archie_struthers

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #20 on: June 13, 2011, 08:07:48 PM »
 8) ;D ?? 8)

Not a card carrying member with only twenty  two holes in the hopper but was forced into action at Twisted Dune our archy was late to arrive and the meter was running big time . however  the design build project was so much fun for a golfoholic like me!   Would love to try again , although on an easier job.
« Last Edit: June 13, 2011, 10:00:11 PM by archie_struthers »

Robin_Hiseman

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #21 on: June 14, 2011, 04:27:22 AM »
I'll spare you the story of why and how I became a golf course architect, but suffice to say it is largely due to the personal guidance given to me as a 16-year old by none other than Jack Nicklaus.  Anyway, that's for another day...

I was 26 and into just into my 5th year with Hawtree when I was called into the meeting that every employee dreads and was told, just before Christmas 1995 that I was being made redundant.  Hawtree's had suffered a severe downturn in business and we had 5 designers on the books.  It was a case of last in, first out even though I was the one making the smallest dent in the payroll.  Myself and two others were canned.  I worked through my notice period in a bit of a daze and remember vividly coming in on my last morning to see that my colleagues had already removed my drawing board.  I turned around, bid my farewells and left.

I'd always wanted to go and work in the States and applied to many of the American firms.  I was offered 6 months with Arthur Hills, but didn't take it up, put off by the experiences recounted in John Strawn's book.  I've often wondered if I should have taken the leap.  Nobody else was hiring and I didn't really see much prospect with moving to another UK firm, as the market was in severe decline at the time.  So, I registered myself as unemployed and set about learning what it took to run a business.  I was helped enormously by the local Enterprise Trust, who ran free courses to those thinking about setting up in business on their own.  I learnt all about taxation and VAT accounting, profit and loss, sales, marketing et al and after a few months was ready to begin Robin Hiseman Golf Course Design.  All I needed now was a job!  This came about as a result of me scanning the local paper for the planning applications and I happened across a notification for a proposed 9-hole course at Charlbury, in Oxfordshire, near to where I lived at the time.  I went down to the local planning office to take a look at the plans submitted and thought that I could do a much better job.  So I wrote to the landowner to tell him so and to cut a long story short, he believed me.  I was hired to put together his detailed planning application.  The arrival of that first payment cheque was as sweet as nectar!

A year or so later I got the phone call that changed everything.  My last project with Hawtree had been a three-phase redesign and extension project for a course in Scotland.  I lost my job in the time between completing all the design work and commencement of the first phase, so missing out on the opportunity to oversee construction of 10 new holes.  Somewhere between the end of Phase 1 and the beginning of Phase 2 the relationship between architect and client broke down and so the club called me to enquire if I would like to take on the job.  Once I was assured that the previous contract had been severed correctly, I was only too glad to take on the project.  With little prospect of work locally, my wife and I took the plunge and moved to Scotland to be close to the project.  So began 7 years of working quite contentedly in Scotland and Norway on a variety of generally small scale projects.  I also did quite a lot of writing for trade magazines and retail golf magazines.  They didn't pay much at all, but I always felt that they helped with one's credibility as an expert and were far more effective than paying for advertising.

I made the final of the selection process for the No.7 course at St. Andrews, losing out to DMK.  That was a big body blow, but fuelled my desire to be involved in more high profile work.  My good friend Andy Hagger worked for EGD and upon his leaving to join Nick Faldo, the opportunity arose for me to apply for the vacancy.  It was a big wrench to close down my little company, but I was ready to take on the bigger projects that I was really struggling to find by myself.  We have responsibility for our own projects here at EGD.  There is no collective design work, so the process by which my designs are produced is little altered from when I was working for myself.  I've been lucky to complete two great jobs; Casa Serena in the Czech Republic and The Royal Golf Club, in Bahrain, both of which are now Tour venues.  My Madrid project came very close to getting the 2018 Ryder Cup and I really hope that project is going to continue.  It's been a huge part of my life for the past two years and is the best site I've ever been able to work on.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2011, 04:34:35 AM by Robin_Hiseman »
Best of '22: Al Mouj; Cleeve, Painswick, Minch Old, Silloth, Balfron, Archerfield, Roxburghe, Stoneham, Woburn Marquess, JCB, Hayling, Wentworth (East), East Sussex West, Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs South, Crystal Downs, The Loop, Shoreacres, Chicago, St. Patrick's, Rosapenna Sandy Hills & Old Tom Morris

Yannick Pilon

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #22 on: June 14, 2011, 08:31:44 AM »
Robin,

I would sure like to know more about your Nicklaus connection, as this is something we seem to share.  That sounds interesting.

Care to share?

YP
www.yannickpilongolf.com - Golf Course Architecture, Quebec, Canada

Jeff_Mingay

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #23 on: June 14, 2011, 11:29:44 AM »
Like many others, I knew what I wanted to do from an early age. Design golf courses.

I was very fortunate that my Dad's bookself was filled with all of the classics on golf and course architecture, which I read incessantly as a kid. Dad was also a member at Essex Golf and Country Club (D. Ross, 1929), where I learned the game. And he frequently took my brother and I on trips to play many of the world's best courses, including Harbour Town (a fond memory of truly falling in love with golf course design, at Hilton Head). Then I, too, began to solicate advice from people in the industry during my late teens/early 20s.

Tom Doak and others I respected most strongly advised apprenticing/learning golf course architecture on the construction side, rather than sit in an office and create plans. I heard about another Canadian who had worked with Pete Dye, and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, BUILDING golf courses. This guy had also designed and BUILT a strong course in Alberta, called Wolf Creek, which always ranked amongst the top-20 courses in Canada; even though it was, at the time, his only Canadian course. So I tracked down Rod Whitman, told him who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. He invited me out to a project in western Canada, and within about 12 hours I was on a 'dozer. Pretty cool, in retrospect.

This is a few years more than a decade ago now. I couldn't have found a better mentor than Rod Whitman, relative to genuinely learning how to BUILD golf courses. (Through Rod, I was also fortunate to get to know and work with Dave Axland, who I also consider a mentor as well as a good friend.) Rod threw me into the fire, running a 'dozer, freewheeling on bunker designs with an excavator, pushing sand into green wells, floating putting surfaces, etc. Over the past decade, I worked with Rod on the design and construction of Blackhawk, Sagebrush and Cabot Links, as well as some remodel work at Wascana Country Club and several other projects doing the same: Routing courses, designing holes, shaping and supervising construction, etc.

Looking back, it was the best learning experience I could have had to get to where I am today, on my own working on a number of interesting projects at a difficult time in the industry (for which I am very thankful).

Why am I on my own now? Rod and I are still good friends, but we simply have different ambition. It's as simple as that, and certainly doesn't mean Whit and I won't work together again. I look forward to that opportunity, actually. But, after 10 years in the business, I'd built some good contacts and landed some good clients. It was simply time to go at it on my own (without the anchor of being stuck on a 'dozer or excavator 10 hours a day, from where it's very difficult to build a business and concentrate on more than one job at a time!).
« Last Edit: June 14, 2011, 11:35:10 AM by Jeff_Mingay »
jeffmingay.com

Mike Dasher

Re: Designers...How Did You Start...
« Reply #24 on: June 14, 2011, 06:27:42 PM »
The best answer I've ever heard, "I found someone dumb enough to hire me."

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