Clubs need better awareness of why they should engage the expertise of a qualified golf course architect
Recently I attended the launch of a book on the life of Alex Russell, co-authored by Dr John Green and former SAGCA President Neil Crafter. It is an excellent book (see review on page 74) on the man who was Australia’s first home-grown golf course architect. A man whose work, along with the construction team of the Morcom brothers, greatly impressed Dr Alister MacKenzie on his visit to Melbourne. Royal Melbourne would subsequently engage Russell (also a member) to design their second course – the East Course. He would also subsequently be commissioned around Australia and across the Tasman in New Zealand. – Harley Kruse
In the almost 100 years since Russell’s first design work, Australia has continued to produce home-grown golf course architects. Often spawned from an interest in golf course design and from a range of disciplines including professional golf, engineering, surveying – and in the past few decades, landscape architecture. It is a niche profession and approaching 2018 the SAGCA is some 30 members strong (including two members from New Zealand).
The profession of golf course architecture has become more sophisticated, knowledgeable, creative and perhaps for want of a better word, ‘worldly’ (or perhaps the world has simply become a smaller place). Certainly course architects today, through the ease of travel and the internet, can easily seek and be exposed to the best layouts on the planet for knowledge and inspiration.
Numerous online forums, discussion groups and the world of social media involving course architects, plus passionate, everyday amateur players with a keen interest in golf course architecture, have spread knowledge and sparked robust and informative discussions. The result is that both course architects and indeed golfers are more well informed than ever before.
Our members do excellent work in Australia with new both courses and existing ones. They are consulting on some of the most revered courses in the country. It is a long list of courses. In a truly global industry, our members (some of whom are perhaps better regarded internationally) have for years plied their profession and left their mark outside of Australia – primarily in the Asia Pacific region, but also in the Middle East, India, Europe and indeed the USA, the nation with the most courses and the most golf course architects.
It is a tough time in our industry, but I believe our industry will be better for it.
I think as a profession we must accept that we are part of a global golf course design industry. Consequently in Australia we are competing against architects from around the globe and, most recently, course architects from the USA. Understandably, architects who visit Australia draw much inspiration from own Sandbelt courses, which they use for their work elsewhere; but they are also securing design work here. Perhaps this is part of the ‘new norm’, as clients are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing an architect. Some high-profile clubs continue to engage foreign architects as their consulting architect – something that Royal Melbourne and others have followed since Alister MacKenzie visited our shores in the 1920s. Some may wish to use the 1950-coined phrase ‘cultural cringe’. Perhaps it is indeed alive and well in our industry, just as in building architecture which has its star architects (starchitects) for high-profile projects.
My belief is that foreign course architects in the mix is not at all a bad thing. There are always ideas, design principles to be honed and compared to. It might drive our already skilled Australian talent to lift its game further and perhaps get better at self-promotion (something that’s perhaps been a little ‘un-Australian’ to date). There is no doubt the level of design skill and talent amongst our membership is higher than ever before. Also complementing our work is an industry of superintendents, irrigation designers, and construction personnel who are also highly talented and passionate people, as good as anywhere in the world.
It’s my mission as the new President of the SAGCA to see us to do a better job of reinforcing our industry relationships, promoting the excellent golf course architecture of our members, identifying the importance and need for the expertise of a golf course architect, and the skills and work that ourmembers bring to the table. It is a tough time in our industry, but I believe our industry will be better for it.