My design philosophy is pretty simple, work with what you have. Each site presents its own opportunities and challenges. A spectacular natural setting can produce a wonderful golf experience like Cypress Point or Pacific Dunes, but it can also produce an architectural failure when an architect tries too hard to put their own stamp on the terrain. Some of the best courses I’ve ever seen were built on flattish ground, using nothing more than subtle wrinkles and cleverly placed bunkers to provide challenge and strategic options. Yet many architects make the mistake of trying to “add interest” to such a site with massive earthmoving or the construction of lakes and ponds. I would argue that not only is it impractical to completely re-invent a landscape for golf, it is also entirely undesirable. The classic courses taught me that Mother Nature is the most creative golf course architect of all. If you are willing to study any landscape carefully there are opportunities for great golf all around, it just takes an open mind to see them.
I allow the site and situation to guide my design work when building a new course or renovating an existing one. I have worked with classic courses like Pasatiempo and Pinehurst Number 2 where the original routings and greens were mostly intact and the architect’s intent was very well documented with aerial and perspective photography. In these cases restoration made all the sense in the world because all the pieces were in place. However, it is not possible to perform such a restoration at every course, nor is it necessarily desirable. Not every existing course is a classic and sometimes the best thing is to go in a new direction that takes better advantage of the site. After all, some of the world’s most revered courses, like Muirfield and Merion, are the product of substantial and successful redesign. Knowing when to restore, redesign, or simply preserve what you have is a product of experience and taking the time to understand the course that sits in front of you.