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The World of Tom McBroom

Stumbled across an interesting article on Canadian golf designer [photopress:mcbroom.jpg,full,alignright]Tom McBroom written for the Report on Business Magazine by Globe and Mail sports writer Mike Grange. Grange is a fine writer, and the article has some elements that are worth considering. There’s lots of hyperbole in the article, including this comment from Troon Golf’s Jim McLaughlin:

Tactically, McBroom’s positioning continues to serve him well, even as the dwindling supply of properties and corresponding increase in land values in Ontario push the golf industry into ever more draconian belt-tightening. The market in which McBroom now competes has never seen more talent chasing fewer jobs. Former PGA legends Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman and Tom Watson, to name just a few, are now in the design business. “There’s a lot of grinding going on,” concedes Jim McLaughlin, vice-president of operations for Troon Golf, a golf course facility management company based in Arizona, and formerly the vice-president of Intrawest Golf. “I’ve seen it in action. The Fazios and Nicklauses don’t have to worry, but at the lower end there will be five or six [architects] interviewed for a project who say they’ll do it for nothing.”

Architects working “for nothing,” is pretty strong, though there certainly are a lot of designers working in Canada alone. In a recent feature I just finished I put the number at more than 35 active designers in Canada. As for the notion of “talent” including Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman, well I’d question use of the word “talent” when it comes to design. Palmer is a brand name, not a designer; Norman has yet to build a great course in North America and Watson is a bit player at best.

I found McBroom’s comments on awards quite fascinating, especially the emphasis he places on them:

“You have to win awards,” says Tom McBroom. “It’s not definable. But people see your name out there and they say, ‘There’s McBroom again, he’s won another one.’ It stays in the brain. And winning multiple times is the real key.” After he won Golf Digest’s 2006 best new Canadian course award for Muskoka’s Ridge at Manitou, McBroom says he received over 300 e-mails from clients and friends in the industry. “It totally blew me away.”

Of course the Ridge wins awards, but only has less than 50 members. I actually think the golf course is quite strong, but that hasn’t translated into sales. Maybe what this suggests is that McBroom benefits out of the awards than his courses do.

Grange also tackles the notion that McBroom might have spread himself too thin. Judging by my inability to get him on the phone recently, I’d say Tom still does a lot of on site work. However, rumors abound — suggesting that some projects are more important to him than others and get more face time. Grange suggests McBroom is getting paid $500,000 per design, but it is my impression that’s high — probably closer to $300,000, which is good price considering the talk of a $3-million fee for Jack Nicklaus’ work at Wyndansea on Vancouver Island.

Indeed, to this day, critics contend McBroom’s eagerness to expand his business has watered down his work. Not bold enough, some say. One competitor compares McBroom’s design to going for steak at the Keg: The quality is high but hardly inspired; it is, in fact, predictable, he says. McBroom’s prodigious domestic output”and rumoured $500,000 fees”only fuels the antagonism. It is impossible to fashion an average of three courses a year and still hand-sculpt every bump and bunker.

Lastly, the article contains a pretty good put down of Doug Carrick:

Auto parts giant Frank Stronach hired award-winning Canadian architect Doug Carrick to build the Magna course in Aurora, Ontario, and was rewarded with a layout that justifies the club’s $125,000 initiation fee, one of the most expensive in Canadian golf. Within three years of its opening in 2001, the membership was sold out. Was the Carrick brand a big draw? “Members were happy it was a good golf course that happened to be designed by Doug Carrick,” says David Kaufman, Magna’s executive director until 2005. “But over all [he] was a neutral factor.”

I think that’s not quite fair. Carrick, like McBroom, is a brand in Canada, a sign of quality. Both make terrific courses and are the best known designers in the world. Both worked together at one point, but have very different personalities. Doug is quiet, where Tom is outspoken. Doug’s strength is his strategies, where Tom is great with aesthetics and a strong salesman. But if Carrick was a “neutral factor,” than maybe they should have hired someone even cheaper. However, it is clear the McBroom brand travels better these days.

Grange’s full story is here.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I’m surprised at the comments you make quite repeatedly about Greg Norman’s lack of success in having built a great course in North America. Although he may not have courses to stand up to the likes of Pebble and Pine Valley he no doubt he has designed some solid, reputable courses around the world and in North America.

    Examples:
    -Course at Wente Vineyards (highly esteemed by Ron Whitten and nationwide tour host)
    -Doonbeg (Best new international course 2002, Top 100 courses, Golf world 58 top 100 courses in british isles)
    – Red Sky (25 top 100 you can play and top 10 you can play golf magazine)
    – TPC Sugarloaf (PGA tour host, Golfweek 51 of top 100 modern courses)
    – National Golf Club (8 of top 100 in Australia golf digest)

    So basically I’m just trying to say, yes, I agree that he hasn’t made anything great, but he has made man solid courses. I’m not much of a Norman fan, but it seems to me he has the potential to make something great its just a matter of time. I’m not sure the types of budgets he has and the people hiring him etc., but I’ll take a solid course with Norman’s signature Shark logo as I’m sure it attracts alot of interest and excitement either way.

    Thank you

  • “Doug’s strength is his strategies, where Tom is great with aesthetics….”

    Interesting RT. I think both archie’s have produced some excellent work with good strategies and great aesthetics, but if I had to generalize, I would have reversed your assessement.

  • “…Norman has yet to build a great course in North America…”

    Given the amount of alimony the former Mrs Norman is said to be after, he may have to design some absolute belters in the not-too-distant-future…

  • Frank — for his fee his courses have not been great successes.

    HenryE — give me an example of what you’re speaking of — and Granite Club isn’t a good place to start!

    Jeff — I don’t think Greg will be looking for handouts any time soon.

  • It’s a generalization, so there are lots of examples and lots of exceptions. When I think of a Carrick course, I think of aesthetics with good visuals off the tee. When I think of a McBroom course I think more of strategies, maybe some blind shots, more using the flow of the land.

    Like I said before, both are good on the aesthetics and strategies. I just felt if I had to generalize, I would have placed Carrick first and McBroom second on aethetics and McBroom first and Carrick second on strategies.

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