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Weir Golf Design: My Take and Involvement

So the proverbial cat is now out of the bag.

In a column in today’s Globe and Mail, columnist Lorne Rubenstein writes about Weir Golf Design, the architecture firm being created by Canadian Mike Weir. In the article he mentions that numerous architects were asked to submit plans and that a panel is cutting that number down to four designers who will be interviewed by Mike. The panel will also participate in the interviews.

Here’s what Lorne had to say:

“I’m a traditionalist,” Weir said. “Why do we have to play courses where you’re pulling the head cover off your driver every time? The mentality on tour has been to just add yardage to courses.”

That’s not in Weir’s plans. He’s trying to educate himself, and he played a practice round at Augusta this year with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. He wanted to sound Crenshaw out on his design ideas. He said he loves Crenshaw’s model. Crenshaw and his design partner, Bill Coore, do one or two courses a year, at most. Weir enjoyed talking architecture with Crenshaw.

Weir will be talking a lot of architecture early next month in Toronto, after he’s closed out his PGA Tour season with two more tournaments. He’ll meet with a panel of four people who have been sorting through submissions of course plans that 18 Canadian architects have made to a site adjacent to the Predator Ridge resort in Vernon, B.C. It’s a test site. No course is planned there yet.

The panel includes Brad Pelletier, IMG’s managing director in Toronto; Weir’s brother Jim; veteran and thoughtful architect Dick Kirkpatrick, who is based in Carlisle, Ont.; and golf writer and architecture aficionado Robert Thompson.

“We are in the process of narrowing [the list] down and we hope to get it to five or six,” Pelletier wrote in an e-mail message, “but that has not been easy and there are certain designers who have earned an audience with Mike.”

Weir is the unproven person in all of this when it comes to designing courses. But he speaks intelligently about architecture, and he said, “I want to bring the same hard work, dedication and discipline to designing courses that I bring to playing.”

Lorne’s full column is here.

Though Lorne’s beaten me to the punch, he’s correct in naming me as part of that panel. To offer full disclosure, I’ve been helping IMG and Weir Golf Design pick their architect since late last year, as well as working with Mike on developing his thoughts on design and helping him arcticulate them to get them on paper.

The concept behind Weir Golf Design is to follow the model set up by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. In that model, both Coore and Crenshaw (who are responsible for Sand Hills, among other great courses) are actively involved in designing their courses. It is a partnership, with Crenshaw offering real value — not just taking the role of cutting ribbons and kissing babies. The goal of Weir Golf Design has been to follow that model — and therefore we’ve spent considerable time and effort trying to find the architect whose vision and skills would best fit with Mike. Needless to say, it has been a fascinating task.

So how does one choose a golf architect for a partner? It is a good question and one we’ve fought with for some time. The process of picking the architect was based on the development of the 7th course at St. Andrews. In that instance, the Links Trust put out a request to numerous designers about potentially creating the course and asked them to tour the site and come up with a plan. I suggested a similar concept for Weir Golf Design, and we decided on a site next to Predator Ridge as a test case for designers. The hope is this will become the first Weir Golf Design site, but there’s no guarantee that it will. A deal isn’t in place, though there is the will to get one done.

The site for the course is dramatic and challenging, but also stunning and breathtaking in spots, wih amazing long views of a nearby lake and holes that can play right alongside a reservoir.

More than 25 designers were asked if they were interested in submitting plans and 16 did so. The team — including Mike, his brother Jim, IMG managing director Brad Pelletier and designer/course builder Dick Kirkpatrick — waded through the proposals, putting in countless hours to reduce the number to four or five that will be interviewed next month for the job.

I’m only involved the project and the firm because I think it will offer an honest alternative to the typical approach to designing courses with a PGA Tour pro. Most of those instances are purely about marketing, where the player rarely — if ever — sees the actual project before it is finished. I am sure that Weir’s firm will be different, since Mike is very interested in working closely with a single designer in creating his own style. Beyond that, it would seem to be a huge wasted effort if Weir and IMG spent all this time picking an architect to work with and teach Mike the business and then simply didn’t have Weir involved.

The concept is simple — have Mike work closely with his firm’s designer to bring his insights to the project. Will he be determining drainage lines? No. Can he offer a lot of insight, especially since he’s a very strategc, thoughtful player. I think he can. And since the intent is to have WGD only have a course or two on the go at all times, Mike can actually participate and bring value to each project.

We’re finalizing the list of designers — it looks like four or five — who will interview with Mike in November. Hopefully that list will be established next week.

There’s only so much I can say about Weir’s design philosophy, other than he has one and has a good sense of what he wants in his courses. They won’t be 8,000 yards and you’re going to have options that make you think through your shots. Will they be great courses? Only time will tell — but I think IMG and Weir have a better chance given all the work they’ve put in establishing the firm and trying to create their own look, aesthetic and design strategy.

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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.

27 CommentsLeave a comment

  • hopefully Mr I.A. is on the short list. From what I read on “Caddy Shack”, he definitely has a lot of the characteristics that Mr. Weir is looking for.

  • Very interesting Robert. Any word on who these 4-5 final designers might be? Are they Canadian, North American? Where will Weir designs want to work, same locations? And how difficult is this design business getting with all these touring pro’s competeing against well established and frankly pretty good architects?

  • I wanna believe in Weirsy but I’ll take a ‘wait and see’ on this one for now. Not sure how the Coore and Crenshaw comparison works considering Crenshaw is a very part-time player while Weir is still very active, and apparently devotes much time to family.

    I hope this works out well and Canada gets a few more excellent courses.

  • The process sounds well thought out, but is doomed from the start. I’m not going to tell you all the reasons, ’cause there are lots. Let me just put it this way – did Crenshaw get a group of pals, business acquaintances and a few golf related guys to put together his association with Crenshaw?

  • Phil x2
    I don’t think Whitman fits in here as he does not design courses on paper…….thus would not have anything to present to Mike and/or his group. Maybe his associate Jeff Mingay would be a lead runner though, as he did most of the work with Zokol at Sagebrush. I know Lorne R. speaks highly of Jeff and maybe it is a younger, energetic architect that Weir chooses. I am sure Mike wants someone who would stick with him for many years into the future. I also think Whitman is nearly 55 already.

    I have been out to Sagebrush and am very impressed with the design and layout. Jeff was heavily involved with the construction and design with Zokol and Armand for two years at Sagebrush. Maybe this would be his chance to prove himself.

    I wish him and all the other candidates all the best as Canada needs more minimalistic courses similar to what Coore and Crenshaw have done in the USA.
    I too am anxious to see who wins this job.
    SMD

  • Craig: The four designers won’t likely be announced at any point. If they decide to make their efforts known, that would be up to them. The interviews will be done in November, with a choice being made soon afterward and an announcement in 2009.

    Henry: Such an pessimist. This is unique and pretty innovative, I think. Hopefully it’ll work out — and I think this is a pretty strong way of going about chosing a designer.

    Matt: Everything you say is true, but since the firm isn’t looking at building a dozen courses at a time — just no more than two in varying stages — I think this can work. I also think we’ve lined up an interesting group of designers who could do the work.

  • Sorry RT. Let me just say that I would agree it’s a good way to choose a designer if your building a course, or even a few. Picking a design partner is something completely different.

  • How was the selection committee determined? As someone in the golf business I can see exactly how this is going to go. I’m surprised that 18 architects even submitted proposals considering that a decision has probably already been made. Are there even 18 architects in Canada? With all due respect to Dick Kirkpatrick, he can hardly be considered an architect so I’m not sure why he was selected for the panel (unless it was simply based on his strong construction experience).

  • The selection committee was established by IMG. I was asked by Brad Pelletier, the managing director, to help out.

    There’s no slam dunk here — Mike doesn’t know the designers personally, and it will be his choice to determine who he works with. I’m sure Brad and Jim will have input as well — but any of the final group are capable of building the course. The question is more about personality, I would think, and who is the right fit from a business and personal perspective for Mike. He’ll be the ultimate decision maker in the matter.

    Dick Kirkpatrick has a lot of insight into design and building courses given his lengthy, 50-year career in the business. The goal of involving Dick was to have an objective outsider involved in the industry who understood the demands of building a course and who could look at the plans and critique them as well.

  • Dear Clueless Troll: I didn’t say I’d designed anything, nor have I ever proclaimed that. And I’m not designing anything here. I’m just helping them narrow the field so Weir can pick someone who fits with what he wants to create.

  • Clueless

    Do your eyes work or are they painted on; “and golf writer and architecture aficionado Robert Thompson. ” was a quote from Lorne’s column.

  • ajsmlt:

    Please buy a dictionary, and then look up “architect”

    I don’t normally reply to posters that do not have the intestinal fortitude to use their names, but as far as designing golf courses, I have several with my name on them, more than I can say for you, my learned friend (as one lawyer would say to the other in the form of an insult) as you did to me when you said “in all due respect”

  • Dick, My comments were not meant to disrespect you. I was simply suggesting that your expertise is far more related to construction rather than architecture. I’m fully aware that you have designed ‘some’ courses. Besides, I would think that it may be a conflict of interesting to have an ‘architect’ on the selection committee for another architect? I assume that you have not submitted a proposal?

    Also, your suggestion that I don’t know the definition of architect is unwarranted. Within the golf business architect would suggest that you have an educational back ground as a landscape architect, or that your are a certified member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Indeed, you may well be a designer.

    Phil X 2: The purpose sending out RFP’s to 18 different architects (again, someone please list 18 architects in Canada), is questionable, as only two or three architects really stand a chance and have already likely been short-listed, though no one will admit that.

  • ajsmlt:

    I still think you need to look up the definition of architect in the dictionary. It does not distinguish which profession the person is in, only that he has designed a building or something.

    Given your criteria, Tom Doak is not an architect, he does not have a degree in landscape and is NOT a member of the ASGCA

  • ajsmlt,

    There are many golf course architects in Canada, and if you include the associates who work for the most established firms, the list goes up in the twenties pretty fast. Just off the top of my head, are are a few (sorry if I miss anybody important…):

    The most commonly known across Canada:
    Doug Carrick
    Graham Cooke
    Les Furber
    Thomas McBroom

    Others less known or more or less regional architects:
    Ian Andrew
    Ted Baker
    Gary Browning
    Bo Danoff
    Neil Hayworth
    Raymond Hearns
    Kevin Holmes
    Darrell Huxham
    Robert Leblanc
    Ted Locke
    Jason Miller
    Steve Miller
    David Moote
    Paul Takahashi
    Steven Ward
    John Watson
    Phil Watson
    Shawn Watters
    Rod Whitman

    And then there are the “associates” of the more commonly known architects, who have all possibly designed a few courses in the name of their more established boss:
    Wayne Carleton (Cooke)
    Jeremy Glenn (Cooke)
    Warren Huxham (Huxham)
    Yannick Pilon (Cooke)
    Jeff Mingay (Whitman)
    Chris Nelson (McBroom)
    Cam Tyers (Carrick)
    Steve Vanderploeg (Carrick)

    And now I think that Richard Zokol has entered the business as well….

    So there you go. 32 names of people that are probably fully capable of designing a course for Mike Weir, and I am sure I left out a few.

    Would all of them fit with Mike’s vision? Probably not. Would they all be interested in working in a partnership with Mike? Who knows. One thing is for sure. If I was in Mike’s shoes, I would like to know about all of these guys, at least a bit. Who cares if he already has an idea of who would most likely be a good fit? At least, with this process, he is looking at all the options. He might even find someone great that nobody is expecting…..

    I would sure like to be able to compare all the routings and presentations submitted by all the guys who participated. That, in itself, must be extremely interesting for anyone interested in golf course architecture….

    And by the way, anyone can call himself a golf course architect if he wishes. All you need is clients willing to let you design a course for them, or a boss that will be generous enough to let you put that title on your business card…. It is the results that count. Do you actually deserve the title or not?

    And another note, I don’t see the presence of Dick Kirkpatrick in the selection committe as a conflict of interest, unless he tries to become the selected architect, or wants to be involved in the construction process somehow in the future…. But this seems unlikely. So how are these guys supposed to choose an architect if they don’t know much about golf course architecture and construction? Mike is probably searching for someone fairly young with whom he can establish a long time partnership. I am not sure that Dick meets this criteria, and his decades of experience make him a great pic to be on the committee.

    Just my two cents….

    Nick

  • “Nick”

    That’s pretty much the list I was working with (I think Bob Heaslip is missing from your list). I devised it for a piece I wrote for Score magazine that has yet to be published.

    This could clearly go a couple of ways — either a more high-profile designer could be chosen, or someone not as widely known. Either way, there are clearly a great number of viable architects who would be up for the job.

    We’ll know who it is soon enough.

  • This has got to be the craziest thing I have ever heard. I knew about the designers being asked to prepare a proposal but having a committee narrow it down to 4-5 designers is just plain stupid. The mix on the panel is weird also. Sounds like a beauty pageant set of judges.

    Weir should know what he wants and decide who should be chosen to work with him. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. Ask 4-5 designers who he likes their work.

    Sounds like he doesn’t know what he wants. Doesn’t sound too successful to me.

  • George:
    You go ahead and tell Mike that having his brother on the panel is weird.

    Perhaps you should look in the mirror for what weird is.

    Instead of being so critical, why don’t you suggest (in your humble opinion) how you think the 18 submissions should have been narrowed down to 5 or 6.

  • I didn’t suggest that his brother was weird but rather the composition was.

    Weir has some very distinctive beliefs of what he likes and dislikes in golf design. “Traditional” is one word that he uses a lot.

    How can he say that it is his design beliefs if some committee made up of “his business manager”, his brother, a golf course contractor (good one) and a golf reporter (good one) narrows down his choices?

    I would hope that Weir wants to be in the world class category.

  • George: Composition may be strange, but Brad Pelletier, the managing director at IMG, has golf development experience (with Caleb Chan at GolfBC). I know the market, know who is who and have seen pretty much all their work. Jim knows Mike’s personality and has a good sense of what would make a good fit. And Mr. Kirkpatrick comes with a lot of experience, having seen the good and bad and having built more courses than anyone in Canada.

    The goal was to find a Canadian architect. If we’d wanted to make this easy, IMG would have just used Brit Stenson at IMG Golf in Cleveland and been done with it. But that team created Grandview (which has received mixed reviews) and The Rock (which has struggled). The goal was to find an architect with talent that would work with Mike, with both developing over time.

    The reality is that we don’t have years to figure this out and Mike doesn’t have tons of time to travel to see a course or three by each of the 25 or so designers. So that’s where I came in. Is that subjective? Sure is. But everyone was comfortable with my perspective.

    Where we’ve gotten to is four or five designers who could do the work — now it is a question of having them all spend time with Mike and figuring out which is the best fit, for both Mike and th designer.

    Is it a different process? Sure is. But how else does one figure this out? Take a shot on someone only to find the fit isn’t right?

    I don’t mean this to be an argument — and appreciate your comment. Just trying to put some perspective on the task.

  • Oh, and one last thing — under your take, if Mike liked Fazio, we should have just gone out and asked him to work with Mike? I don’t think it is that simple. And that would have resulted in the standard PGA Tour pro/designer relationship — which is exactly what I was told Mike and IMG didn’t want.

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