The Globe and Mail has a storyon a proposed new Calgary golf course utilizing announcer Johnny Miller as the lead [photopress:Johnny_20Miller.jpg,full,alignright]architect. The article, by Lorne Rubenstein, also points to the involvement of Calgary’s Stephen Ames as having involvement in the project. That is in fact the case — I know, as Ames told me in an interview on Thursday, but said the details weren’t signed and asked if I could keep the information to myself. But in typical fashion, the info was already out there, as the Calgary Herald had a story on the subject last week that referenced Ames and talked about the project:
One of professional golf’s most recognized names — Johnny Miller — has slipped in and out of Calgary to meet with the Windmill Golf Group.
He was obviously impressed with the principals because he’s agreed to design a new golf course at Harmony, the Bordeaux Development community to be built on the northwest corner of Springbank airport.
Miller, the winner of the 1973 U.S. Open — when he carded a remarkable round of 63 — and the 1976 British Open, has been joined by our own Stephen Ames as co-designer. Ames started this season with a third-place showing in the Mercedes and 10th in the Sony tournaments in Hawaii. He is playing this weekend in the Buick Invitational.
Windmill Golf Group is a Calgary developer best known for creating Elbow Springs. Though I can’t comment on its quality since I’ve never played it, from the routing plans shown on the website the design looks like your standard average public course, full of holding ponds. Miller, on the other hand, is a strange selection as an architect. He’s not regarded as a bad designer — though using the term “designer” for any PGA Tour pro outside of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Mark McCumber and Tom Lehman is typically a stretch. But Miller also hasn’t done anything of note.
His website says this of his experience:
Week after week, Johnny walks the world’s most prestigious courses, and if anyone knows what makes a golf course great, he does.
Of course that led me to wonder what courses they were talking about. After all, Miller isn’t the on-course commentator, so I’m not sure about the walking bit, and most PGA Tour courses are decidedly average, at best. I guess Johnny cover the U.S. Open, so perhaps it would be better to say Miller walks a great course “maybe once a year.” And just because you’ve played or walked great courses says nothing about one’s ability to create great golf.
According to the Herald, Miller was chosen because the developers feel he understands what a PGA Tour pro wants.
Windmill managing partner Barry Ehlert says he’s particularly pleased Miller accepted The Legacy Club at Harmony. Besides his great reputation in designing some 30 courses, Miller makes frequent on-site visits during construction, will attend the grand opening and plans to make other visits when time allows.
I know this is a reporter writing this doesn’t cover golf design, but it made me laugh out loud. Glad to see Johnny will turn up at the grand opening in exchange for his seven-figure design fee. Isn’t that the least one could have expected? His website has an entire section on Miller’s involvement in the grand opening, including part about how he’ll hand out prizes at the dinner. “Now that’s what we call a grand opening,” his website says. Grand indeed. As for his “frequent” site visits, that will likely mean six flights to Calgary, including some sort of media launch and the mentioned grand opening. So his frequent visits could mean four — that would be standard for most PGA Tour pro designers.
It strikes me that building a course for PGA Tour players who might show up once in a decade is short sighted and a mug’s game. The best PGA Tour courses — places like Riviera, Westchester, Harbor Town and others — were never built with the PGA Tour in mind. They were simply built to be great golf courses. If I were in Calgary and wanted to make a real splash, I’d have hired Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (then you even get the PGA Tour pedigree), David McLay Kidd or Kyle Phillips. In other words, someone with a vision and a track record in creating golf that could actually be deemed “great.” None of these designers have craftedcourses in Canada (though Kidd, Hanse and Phillips) have courses on the books, so the developers would have been acquiring a unique brand in the Canadian market.
But more than that, they would have been building a course that would last the ages — like Park did with Calgary Golf & Country Club. Instead they’re chasing the Canadian Open and building what they think PGA Tour pros will want to play and what they’ll likely end up with is mediocrity.
Which brings us back to Ames. According to one industry insider, Ames’ name is just being tacked onto the deal, and his actual involvement is “a mess.” One has to wonder how Ames fits into an equation that already involves Miller and his team (and I can’t figure out who actually does the design work for Miller as his website doesn’t mention anyone but himself as far as I can see.) Is he simply an add-on to appeal to the local market? What does he bring to the project other than his name since he has no golf design experience?
And if Ames wants to create his own design firm, which he surely could do with the backing of his agents, IMG Canada, why work with Miller? Why not find a designer or work with IMG’s in-house guy Brit Stenson to build a course? At least that would demonstrate what Ames is capable of.
And will the Canadian Open come to Calgary? Maybe, but by that time Ames will be nearing the Champions Tour. The course is scheduled to open in 2012, and since we know the RCGA won’t take the Canadian Open to a brand new course, that means 2014 is probably the most likely date for a tournament. By that time Ames will be 50.
Interestingly, the venues for the Canadian Open appear to be shaping up like this:
2008-09: Glen Abbey
2010: St. George’s