Feature Interview with Jay Blasi
December 2012
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10. What lessons were learned from that event?

A great deal was learned. We learned about landing areas, tee shot runout, approach shot patterns, green speeds, etc. For me the biggest thing I learned was about slopes and firmness. During the original design, there were dozens of slopes around the course that were designed so players could use them. The idea was that the course would play firm and fast and we wanted to encourage players to use the ground. On the front end we guessed how they might be used, and how a ball might react. For the most part the course has played firm and fast and those slopes work as we had hoped. However, during the US Amateur the firmness and speed was pushed to the limits and we got to see how the balls reacted under those conditions. It was awesome!! Players 200 yards out needed to think about a 2 foot roll just short of the green. As great as it was for most slopes, there were a few (usually the convex slopes) that became too severe and sent balls in places that we weren’t planning on. I’ve enjoyed studying that and keeping that in mind for future work.

11. Please discuss the changes to Chambers Bay that the USGA would like prior to hosting the 2015 US Open.

One of the really exciting aspects of working on Chambers Bay was the interaction with the USGA. When I started on the project I was 25 and I didn’t know anyone at the USGA. I read the book “Open” by John Feinstein and was fascinated by the people and process behind the U.S. Open. Early in the process I got to help Pierce County reach out to the USGA. I wrote Mike Davis a letter describing the project and inviting him to visit us during construction. I then met Mike at the 2005 US Amateur at Merion. The next Spring Mike visited us during construction. I’ll never forget his summary of the visit – “Everything is wonderful. Just don’t screw up the course!”

Throughout the project I got to meet and spend time with many of the key figures at the USGA. I went and studied other US Open venues and measured tents so that all of that stuff could be designed into Chambers Bay. I really enjoyed interacting with the USGA team and hearing about the Championships and all that goes into the setup. Getting to be part of the process and seeing how hole locations and tee selections are studied and planned for was so exciting. The entire team at the USGA does such an amazing job. I wish everyone could see all of the effort that goes into putting on a championship. Part of that work is studying play. And we studied the play at the US Amateur closely. Using that data, a number of refinements have been made to Chambers Bay.

Most of the modifications revolve around gallery circulation or adding tees to offer more flexibility for the course set up in 2015. Ironically, many of the new tee locations were discussed prior to construction and we said “if they want to add a tee, they can do so here”. That was the case on holes 1, 3, 6, 10, 11, and 14.

There were some refinements to bunkering as well. Hole 5 the waste bunker patterns have shifted. And hole 18 the waste bunker was expanded off the tee and a central bunker was added to the 2nd landing area.

Finally, there were a couple of areas around greens that were modified based on the analysis of the play in the Amateur. The approach (and front portion of the green) on hole 1 was softened to allow more shots to end up on the green in regulation. The 7th green complex was redone in an effort to have more shots end up on or around the green in two. The 13th green was expanded to allow for more approach shots to end up on the green in regulation. While I was around and involved in many of the discussions and planning, I haven’t performed the same role as when the course was originally designed. Since leaving RTJII it has been hard not being involved in the same way. I had hoped to be able to oversee the refinements the same way I was able to be involved in the rest of the course’s development.

When you come up with a vision for a course and dream about the miniscule details of every hole each night for 2+ years, sketch every green complex, paint every bunker line, flag every grassing line throughout the course you become physically, mentally and emotionally invested. You want to make sure that if refinements are going to be made, regardless of the change, that they are done in a way that fits seamlessly with the rest of the course. To watch those efforts from afar is a challenge. But I feel fortunate to have been involved in the process and I am confident that the 2015 U.S. Open will be a tremendous success due to the efforts of a wonderful team.

 

12. After Chambers Bay, you worked on the practice facility at Stanford University which cost more than some golf courses. It involved different styles of bunkers and different types of grass. Discuss the project and how it developed.

The Stanford Practice Facility (Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex) was such a unique opportunity. It was only about 4 miles from our office and it is actually on campus.

The way the project evolved was unique as well. It all started with a call from the Stanford Golf Coaches Conrad Ray and Caroline O’Connor around 2006. They were practice at the end of the public range in a small space for the team. The range itself was just a field without good targets. They were interested in creating some target greens so the teams would get better feedback. Each time I met with the two coaches they shared their dream of one day having their own space for the teams.

Sure enough a few months later we had the chance to look at a 10-15 acre site just off the course that was used as a dumping ground for debris from campus projects. The concept was that we could fix up this degraded area and turn it into the space they sought. As part of the process we would need to take a great deal of material from other campus projects. Each month the site seemed to get bigger. And eventually we were working with 30 acres. It was great fun to work closely with the coaches trying to develop a facility that would specifically suit their needs. We spent a great deal of time talking about the different types of shots they wanted to practice. The coaches were clear they wanted to create something much more than a range and chipping greens. They wanted to practice to play, not practice to practice. The desire was to be able to hit any type of shot from every type of lie. And they recognized that different places had different grasses, sand types, etc.

During our studies we talked about the different courses the teams played in competition. It turned out that most of the sites on their annual rotation were designed by famous architects. So I offered up the idea of “Road Game Greens”. Rather than just creating practice green complexes, the idea was to have green complexes that showcased some of the characteristics of different architects. That way the team could practice shots the appropriate shots before they went on the road. For example, they play at the Pete Dye designed ASU Karsten Course regularly. Now they can go to the Pete Dye green and practice shots from a flat bottom bunker, a grass wall, a bunker with railroad ties and on a green with some representative contours.

The Dye green

The Mackenzie green

In addition to our “Road Game Greens”, the site features 3 different bunker sand types, 5 different grass types, multiple mowing heights, shots around and under trees and has a sand cap. The other unique aspect is that the facility is designed in such a way so that it can be used as a range (or 3 ranges at once), multiple short game areas, or as a course. We have ways to play 2,3,4,5,6,7 hole loops on the site.

The key to layout was to get the greens in the corners of the site so play on the greens would not interfere with other play. From a design standpoint it was quite interesting and fun designing greens to be approached from 270 degrees of play.

Siebel Varsity Golf Training Complex Layout

Overall it was a great thrill working at one of the special places in the U.S. and with coaches who were so passionate about the game and design.

13. Sharp Park is your first classic restoration project. What prep work did you do? What have you learned from studying Mackenzie’s work?

Well before there can be any restoration, we need to SAVE the golf course first. And for those looking for a great cause to support, Sharp Park is one that we as golfers can all rally around. For those who don’t know, Sharp Park is a Mackenzie designed municipal course in Pacifica, California on the Pacific Ocean. Although located in San Mateo County, the course is owned and operated by the City of San Francisco. For the past few years the City has been in a legal battle revolving around frog and snake habitat just south of the course and in and around an internal lagoon. Outside groups want to close the course and have it revert to a “wilderness” habitat for the frog and snake. The irony there is that it was the creation of the course that created the habitat. Moreover, the original state of the course was a salt marsh — a characteristic that is dramatically inhospitable for the frog and snake. The San Francisco Public Golf Alliance has rallied together and done an amazing job of taking on these legal issues. The work that Bo Links and Richard Harris have done leading the SFPGA has been nothing short of extraordinary. To date I’ve been working with the SFPGA to illustrate that we can save the course and still provide a great habitat for the local species.

When Mackenzie designed Sharp Park, he created the lagoon and a stretch of holes that played between the lagoon and the ocean. Within 10 years of opening, however, those holes were abandoned due to storm damage and flooding and 4 new holes were created inland across the highway. The rest of the routing remains in place (although different sequence). The greens and bunkers have lost the Mackenzie character over time, but knowledgeable golfers who walk the course can see the rough outlines of what was there during the Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture.

We have studied the history of the site and the evolution of the course and we believe we can save the course, offer improved conditions for players & creatures, restore the Mackenzie features and maybe recapture one or more of the lost Mackenzie holes.

We also have the ambition of creating a MacKenzie Museum inside a restored clubhouse, which itelf is a historic landmark, protected by Pacifica Municipal Code.

We have studied the historic aerial photos, old newspaper articles & maps and spoken with many long time golfers trying to gain a feel for the lost Mackenzie magic.

14. How many routing have you done for Sharp Park? What are the main obstacles in this project?

As mentioned above, there are so many complex environmental issues and the solutions to those challenges will dictate what routing we end up with. Our goal has never been to reroute the course, but rather preserve and recapture as much as possible of the original Mackenzie features. We have looked at close to dozen different options for how to meet the environmental objectives while preserving as much of the Mackenzie layout as possible.

One thing is clear: this is possible. We can do it. Our plans are real. The question is whether there is the political will to allow it to happen. That’s why we have reached out to every golfer on the planet so they know about this effort. We hope they will support it because it’s projects like this that truly preserve this ancient and honorable game for the next generation. Being a part of that effort is all any architect can ask for.

15. The Patriot is another unusual project where you were the lead architect. The property varies from tree lined areas, limestone walls and lowland marsh. In short, it is quite different than Chambers Bay. Discuss the problems and opportunities associated with this project which took two years to develop.

The Patriot has a wonderful backstory. The club is located just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma and opened in 2010. The developers of the club were two gentlemen who I respect as much as any people I have ever met.

Major Dan Rooney is a F-16 Fighter Pilot, PGA Professional, Creator of The Folds of Honor Foundation and Patriot Golf Day. He is also a father of 4 beautiful girls and perhaps the most dynamic speaker in the United States.

David Charney is a Tulsa lawyer, home builder and the developer of Oklahoma’s largest master-planned community Stone Canyon. He is kind hearted, intelligent and perhaps the best problem solver / peacemaker I have met.

Dan and David met at a charity outing and talked about this large development David was creating. Dan asked about the possibility for golf and David listened even though his research suggested golf wasn’t profitable.

RTJII was invited to study the property and I was lucky enough to be the guy to go. When I got there Dan and I walked around a floodplain flanked by power lines, a highway and a water tank. Just North were beautiful rock lined canyons, creeks, woods and meadows. I begged and begged to shift the course into the dynamic landscape. Dan was on board, but getting David and his partners to give up some prime real estate would be a tough sell. David was open-minded and studied all the options. Eventually David made the most important decision of the whole project and offered up the key land for golf.

Hole 10 before / after (upland prairie landscape)

While Chambers Bay was pure links golf, it required moving a great deal of sand and “creating the course”. The Patriot didn’t have sand, but did offer an opportunity to find golf holes and shape them without moving much dirt. With 200 feet of elevation change and steep bluffs / deep canyons, the key was finding the right spots in the routing to traverse those cliffs.

We did so by having clifftop tee shots at 1 and 14 and one cart ride up from 16 green to 17 tee. Other than that, the course is very gentle, and easily walked. The routing winds through the four landscapes and highlights natural creeks, rock outcroppings and more.

Dan, David and I were all committed to creating a course that focused on fun not difficulty. The Patriot is very wide and presents golfers with numerous lines of play. The greens are surrounded by fairway and many have slopes that can be used strategically. There is no rough, and there a number of holes that can be birdied or eagled.

The course was going to open in 2009, but a severe flood occurred right after sodding and delayed the opening to 2010. While the damage was severe and the heartache was real, the team rallied and ultimately the course is better because of it. I say that bbecause the flood (over the 100 yr flood level) exposed some drainage patterns that weren’t known prior to that. Every course in the world has some drainage issues that pop up over time. At The Patriot we were able to learn what those patterns were prior to opening and adjust the drainage in a few spots, as well as adjust bridge locations/elevations. The other thing it did was it forced everyone involved in the project to appreciate mother nature (and her power) and to appreciate the effort that went into the course. The team was great and already had a great sense of perspective on what is important in life, but the flood brought everybody even closer.

When you face some adversity, success tastes a little sweeter.

Hole 1 after “the great flood”.

16. We are now in the fifth year of a golf course building recession in North America. Is any end in sight?

I think that depends on many different factors (participation, housing, climate change), all of which I am not an expert in. I think it is safe to say that we will not return to the days of building hundreds of new courses in the US each year anytime soon.

I just hope that over the next decade or two the focus of golf projects is different than it has been the previous two decades. I would love to see new projects (or renovations) focused on creating courses that are fun to play, require less water, can be walked and take up less land.

17. What projects are you now working on?

As mentioned above, I am working with the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance as we aim to SAVE and restore Sharp Park. While the journey will be a long one, this is an epic project that highlights many great aspects of our game.

I’m also in the middle of design on a major renovation at SentryWorld in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin. SentryWorld was designed by RTJII and opened in 1982. It is best known for the “Flower Hole”. The plan is to renovate all aspects of the course. The project will include: a new irrigation system, all new tees, bunkers, greens and more. Construction should occur in 2013 and the course should reopen in 2014. This is a project I was leading while at RTJII and the clients at Sentry have been kind enough to keep me on the design team as Project Architect. I couldn’t be more excited about the design concepts, working in Wisconsin, working with Sentry and collaborating with RTJII.

Earlier this week I was awarded the role of consulting golf architect at a private club in the Bay Area. Will be able to share more in the future.

And we just started a bunker renovation at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon, California. The Bridges is a daily fee course in the East Bay that opened in the late 90’s. The bunkers were struggling with drainage and sand contamination and were going to be rebuilt in place. By working with the great team at The Bridges, we have come up with a plan to adjust the bunker patterns. I’m excited about the project because we are going to improve the aesthetics and playability of the course, add strategy for better players, reduce construction costs and reduce long term maintenance costs. The project is going hole by hole while the course remains open and should be completed in Spring of 2013.

18. You are 34 years old. In addition to the ones mentioned above, where do the best opportunities lie in furthering your career? Restoration in North American? Asia for new work?

That is the $1,000,000 question. I guess that all depends on what the goals for furthering the career are. As we all know the design opportunities have changed over the past 5 years. So too has my position in the industry. From 2004-2012 I was Project Architect at RTJII. I didn’t have control over which projects we went after or which ones I worked on. Luckily for me, the three projects I lead at RTJII were all projects I believed in deeply.

Now I am a solo architect and I can work on projects of any size. I am eager to work on projects that I believe in. That can be renovating a course to make it more playable and fun, restoring an architectural gem that has lost its character, or creating a new course that will capture the souls of golfers. The trends tell you that renovation or restoration will be stateside and new courses will likely be abroad, but ultimately an Owner can be anywhere.

19. Why should someone hire you?

Hopefully it is because I am the right fit for their project and I can help them achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams.

Ultimately I think my job is to provide the client with two things.
1.    An excellent design
2.    A wonderful experience

Obviously I believe in my ability to generate a design that reaches the full potential of the site, the project and the client. Hopefully some others feel the same way.

I’m also very proud of my approach to a project. I try to be a partner rather than a consultant. When I get involved in a project I go all in. I invest a great deal of energy getting to know the site, the client, the team and all aspects of the project not just the golf architecture. I am in constant communication with all parties and go above and beyond to ensure that we meet deadlines and budgets. I’ve been lucky enough to establish some good relationships with the media and have had great success promoting projects.

My hope is that my efforts as a Project Architect offer up an example of what you get when you hire me.

I believe each of my original designs far exceeded some very lofty expectations.

At Chambers Bay I worked with a municipal client and we were able to create the first new course in America to host the U.S. Open in 45 years.

At The Patriot I worked with private clients and we were able to create a Golfweek Top 50 modern course on a site without a major water body, sandy soils or in a destination market.

At Stanford I worked with golf coaches and we were able to create a one of a kind practice facility that provided a competitive advantage.

Ideally, each of those clients would tell you I was there when they needed me (and probably when they didn’t). That I thought outside the box. That I was honest and up front. That I had a grand vision and big ideas but always worked within their budgets. That I worked with the entire team to ensure the client’s goals were met. That I promoted the project passionately and creatively. And most importantly, that we had fun along the way.

 

For those interested in learning more, please visit  www.jayblasi.com  or contact Jay Blasi via email blasigolf@gmail.com or phone #650.575.2419

 

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