G4G at the Toronto Golf Show

Well, it won’t be just me, but I’ll be heading down to the Toronto Golf Show in a couple of hours to interview David Leadbetter, and then head to events that will become increasingly rare — new course unveilings (one for the horribly named “The Lakes” on Cape Breton Island and one for Oak Bay Golf and Country Club in Muskoka, which I know next to nothing about).

From there I’ll wander around the show — and then take in a couple of new elements. At 3 pm, Richard Zokol is going to be interviewed by ScoreGolf managing editor Jason Logan Bob Weeks in a public forum to talk about Sagebrush, his award-winning golf course in BC, and that will be followed by a panel on the “game of golf, its growth in Canada.” The panel will include yours truly, designer/builder Dick Kirkpatrick, instructor Henry Brunton, Canadian Tour commissioner Rick Janes and Weeks, and will be moderated by John Boykin, a writer and industry consultant. It runs from 4 to 5 pm. Feel free to come down and ask questions, boo, or even throw things, as long as they aren’t too big and won’t hurt too much.

This is all taking place at the Sandra Post Side Theatre — whatever that is.

Weeks isn’t finished — he then moves on to interview Leadbetter at 6…

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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.

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Is it just me or is Richard Zokol taking credit for a course that another architect designed? I have read the reviews in score golf and golf digest about Sagebrush and both state Rod Whitman as the first (main?) architect. Since Zokol has never done any golf design before, it is hard to believe this is his design. Was he not just a “big” name for the project? Am I missing something?

    Also, Armen Suny is also mentioned as a designer. Is he not just an agronimist and superintendent? How is he a designer?

    I am unable to make Zokol’s interview this weekend so maybe, Robert, you can answer these questions for me?

  • how was your busy day? the websites for the two new courses are not that enticing, but it is nice to see new courses at any rate.

    Curious: I visited Sagebrush before it was finished, I think Zokol was very on site and involved with ALL of the designers, it looked like Rod Whitman and Jeff Mingay and others were all getting their hands in, however it was Zoke who was saying yes or no as it went along. This can be tough on a designer but Sagebrush worked out well as far as I can tell from 6,000 miles away.

  • Curious: Whitman did the routing, which I consider the essential part of the design. Zokol surely had a lot of impact on what was done — the concept is his, the way it plays is based on his ideas and I think he collaborated. Armen was surely involved as well, but you’d have to clarify with Dick exactly in what capacity. I think they’re trying to link grassing and conditioning with design. I frankly don’t care who gets credit for it — and Richard will likely come on and explain — since I just really enjoyed the course.

  • Let’s get the record straight… Sagebrush is a Whitman/Zokol/Suny design.
    Whitman laid out a draft routing. It really was a wonderful initial start since the whole site was in question right from the beginning to even be able to put 18 connecting holes on the ground. Whit’s initial routing got tweaked about 20%, so I would say Whit’s responsible for 80% of Sagebrush routing.
    Curious: it’s easy to default and assume that just because I am/was a PGA Tour player that my presence was in name only, but that is not the case and that shouldn’t be assumed. In most cases, PGA Tour player’s names are as you stayed, just ribbon cutters and poster boys that bring marketing horse power to the design.
    In the case of Sagebrush, if it was just a Whitman design, Sagebrush would have been very different that it turned out. Originally, Whitman had a very different vision for the design of Sagebrush than what Suny and I had. Whit saw small greens, standard fairway with few bunkers with gray sand. In complete contrast to Whitman, right out of the blocks Suny and I saw bunkers everywhere… incredibly massive greens… and fairway corridors very substantive in width. It was quite shocking for Whit and his crew to deal with an owner who had his hands (and the hammer) in the design.
    We were looking for a real Scottish feel on the ground, and in scale, similar as possible to The Old Course which I have a great deal of experience. At the time Whit has never been to Scotland and I keep expressing the remarkable feeling one get with the width, and options of play, of all the holes at The Old Course when you stand on those tees. When Suny and I stood on the land, we felt and saw the same thing, in our minds, the land dictated green so enormously large, it just fit the scale. This was 4 years ago. Right now it’s interesting to see this size and scale is in vogues with the opening of Old Mac this June at Bandon Dunes. Whitman’s skill came to bare in many ways, routing, connecting and particularly in his extraordinary ability to shape… Whit is equivalent with a dozer as Moe Norman is with a golf club… Whit is the best!
    Curious: You should understand that Bill Coore was just a superintendent in the beginning and Ben Crenshaw was a Tour player and those two, C&C, are in many minds including myself, the best golf design/build guys in the business. Armen Suny has had more design experience than anyone knows. Suny was part of the in-house reshaping of Merion’s bunkers prior to the 1981 US Open. As the super at Cherry Hills, Suny had is hand in developing those bunkers in-house that hosted the PGA Championship. He oversaw courses like Shadow Creek and Castle Pines and has more experience than most. Have a look at his blog at:
    In addition to his design contributions, Suny is responsible for Sagebrush’s (with Norley Calder) agronomic practice that was recognized by Ron Whitten (Golf Digest) as the No. 1 example of leading practices for firm & fast conditioning in North America. Presently, the USGA is using Sagebrush as leading example in the “Brown is the New Green” initiative. This is leading edge stuff for a Canadian golf course.
    All in all, at the end of the day, Whitman, Suny. Mingay and myself feel the collaboration everyone had on Sagebrush came out wonderfully. We had a few challenges and differences…this is nothing new in the business… in fact it’s only healthy. The collective efforts from our group made for a better product, an accomplishment that we all feel very proud of.

  • Out of great struggles comes great art…or in the case of Sagebrush, great golf course design.

    Zokol’s ambition was to create something that really hadn’t been done before…..a minimalist style, links playability course in an alpine setting. The design team he put together included Whitman, and me along with him. As to his reasons, one can only guess. I saw my role initially as the one to make sure that the design worked and that there was nothing crazy, while insuring that the look and playability Zokol wanted, hit the ground. That was easy to do since he and I had a very similar vision. It was a great experience and I hope that everyone involved learned from it, I know that I did.

    Has any PGA Tour Professional/Architect ever spent more time on site than Richard Zokol did at Sagebrush?

    And for that matter can you think of any Pro/Architect that has a better first golf course than Sagebrush?

    He was on site more than anyone but Jeff Mingay and with bunker finishing and grow-in considered, Zokol was on-site more than anyone from the design side.

    Zokol had a crazy idea that in order to achieve his goal of links type playability, that someone like me, a superintendent that had been providing fast and firm conditions since 1982, should be involved. And on top of that I think that Whitman was an unknown to him with a perceived cavalier approach to the design process. I think that Zokol saw me as a way to control Whitman and his wild tendencies.

    It immediately became obvious that Zokol and I were the ones with wild or unconventional tendencies and that we were constantly pushing the design direction to be less conventional and more in tune with the land. Zokol and I had the same vision for this rugged piece of ground, a big golf course that was a mixture of visually compelling and stunning stories told from the tee to a few mysteries from the tee to test ones mettle. Whitman and Mingay thought that Zokol and I were insane with the width of the golf course and the size of some of the greens. We just saw the scale differently. Ultimately they embraced the ideas and more fully exploited the possibilities of the madness.

    What I remain convinced of is that this golf course would not have been as good without everyone’s involvement and that I was and am privileged to work with people that have passion for what they do.

  • Zokol:

    I am curious about your implication that Sagebrush has influenced design/construction at Old Macdonald. Were Doak et al. at Sagebrush? It would be difficult to be influenced, or pick up on a trend without actually seeing it in the ground. Alternatively, trending based on anecdote is dangerous business.

    thoughts appreciated.


  • Phil:

    Pardon me if I’m missing something but where exactly did Zokol imply that?

    All I see in his comment is that large greens and the grand scale at both Sagebrush and Old MacDonald are seemingly in vogue.

    It seems to me that you are reading way too much into that one sentence of his…unless there is another comment he made that you can direct me to.

  • “This was 4 years ago. Right now it’s interesting to see this size and scale is in vogues with the opening of Old Mac this June at Bandon Dunes.”

    By adding a timeline (4 years – ie/ pre Old Mac) it implies that Sagebrush was ahead of the trend, and thus trend setting.

    Maybe reading a bit into it Matt – but maybe not – read it again.
    Wasn’t being accusatory. Just looking for elaboration.

  • Phil,

    I didn’t see it as Zokol implying he set the trend, more just noting that he isn’t following Doak’s lead. One can be ahead of the trend without setting the trend.

    I don’t blame Zokol for wanting it on the record that his course isn’t inspired by Doak. Doak is one of the best, but too many people on think nobody else is capable of original thought or inspired design. I would include a prolific poster with the initials T.D. in that group.

  • Phil,

    I think you have misinterpreted my words so I will hope to clarify my recent message. Firstly, please reread without prejudice, I wrote, “This was 4 years ago. Right now it’s interesting to see this size and scale is in vogues with the opening of Old Mac this June at Bandon Dunes.”

    A little back ground for you to consider. The year prior to Old Mac announcing to the congregation the greens sizes at Old Mac, Sagebrush had already built massive greens in general. Including our two largest, the 7th and 16th greens, each are over 20,000 sq/ft. Suny and I were certain our green size was right considering the vast scale of land in BC’s Nicola Valley but we also knew it would most likely be provocative to some. For the simple reason, greens of this size and to this extent are way-out of the golf course design industries way of thinking, until Old Mac triggered this acceptance.

    Well after Sagebrush’s greens were built we were delighted to learn Urbina’s & Doak’s similar sized greens at Old Mac. Suny and I didn’t need validation for our benefit, but we did sense these abnormally massive greens would need validation within the industry and to the market. To be clear, in no way have I implied Sagebrush has influence at Old Mac. The facts and dates speak for themselves and they are very clear, Sagebrush’s overall design, construction including greens are pre Old Mac’s greens, although nobody has used the term “trend” or “trend-setting” other than you.

    The intention behind my word “interesting” is in the happenstance of the situation. With Urbina & Doak building such massive greens at Old Mac, and predominantly given their esteemed position in the design industry, Old Mac’s profile of green size happened to lay the ground work for support and acceptance within the industry instantly for greens of this magnitude. This happened to significantly help Sagebrush validate to all the naysayers and that is what I find interesting.

    Armen and I can recall questions and reservation from many including those on our design team and in fact even RT questioned “why” Sagebrush’s greens needed to be so enormous? In effort to give clarity, I constantly default to the example of The Old Courses 5th and 13th green combination, being approximately 80,000 sq/ft. in size. This gives way to 40,000 sq/ft per green, which is still twice the size of Sagebrush’s and Old Mac’s largest greens. From our perspective, the extent of these green provides multidimensional options of play which is a truly wonderful gift for those who played them.

    From the Suny, Zokol Golf Design perspective, we just felt our greens size was right with the land and scale. Before Old Mac came out we kept hearing many limited viewpoints that considered greens this size a design liability. Now that Doak et al have done it, albeit after Sagebrush, Old Mac has the clout to make it vogue, Sagebrush does not. Another wonderful aspect regarding Old Mac’s greens is they’re not only accepted as brilliant but they’re not even questioned or challenged, in fact, they’re considered innovative by the flock and it’s not fully opened yet.

    It’s pleasing to Suny, Zokol Golf Design and I’m sure Rod Whitman and Jeff Mingay would also agree that Sagebrush was first to the market with greens this vast in the category of these two designs, and now it’s widely accepted. We tip our hats, bow and say “thank you” to Jim, Tom and Old Mac for this.

    Not that it has any reference by any stretch of the imagination, but Jim Urbina has been on the property and in fact did a rough draft of a routing back in 2003 when they were considered for the job. But that was long before we built anything.

    Hope this answers some of your questions.


    Suny, Zokol Golf Design Ltd.

  • I know it’s important for the principles here to clarify things, but really guys, with all due respect…who cares?

    The golf course is outstanding. The experience is outstanding. The lay of the land is outstanding. The design features that are different from many traditional designs or run-of-the-mill-residentially-routed golf courses are also…you guessed it…outstanding.

    A day at Sagebrush is a terrific experience because it takes you away from the modern-day merry-go-round of municipal golf or the same old private golf club experience.

    So, can we lose the “academic-style” debates, especially when it includes people who have yet to enjoy the “experience at Sagebrush”.

    Just cough up your $200 and then compare the experience to everything else you regularly deal with in the golf biz these days. I think it creates an interseting perspective. Zokol and the boys have done it right!

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