Feature Interview with Andy Staples, pg ii

That’s really neat. One last feature spring to mind?

Here’s an interesting side story: the 17th hole is a reachable par 5. In order to give the approach to the green more interest and strategy, we shaped the entire complex à la a Biarritz, with a strong swale separating the approach and the putting green, then protecting the front and sides with bunkers. One day, in the pub, a member comes to me and asks specifically about the 17th green, wondering what I was thinking. The member, someone I knew to not be overly interested in golf architecture, was intrigued, and after having listened to my presentations, was acutely aware that this green was something he’d never seen before, and was inclined to think this was something he needed to know about. I explained to him the idea behind a Biarritz, and told him to search the internet to find out which courses around the country have this type of feature.

A few days later, he saw me walking around the club, and ran over to me as excited as I’ve ever seen a member. He told me he now knew exactly what I was describing, and was amazed at the types of clubs that had a Biarritz feature. This is what I feel we as golf course architects are meant to do: educate our clients about what makes good architecture, and why the ground game means so much to the enjoyment of playing a course. It’s clear that players can have more fun if they open their minds to design intention, and that is something I love helping them discover.

The Biarritz-style green complex of the par 5 17th hole (taken from the left rough).

What are some examples of holes that we would all recognize on television that you wish you could claim was ‘Staples originals’? What do you admire so much about them?

I love the 17th at the TPC Scottsdale. The back portion of that green reminds me a bit of the green on the 6th at Chicago Golf Club. It’s a great risk-reward short par 4, that challenges about every type of approach. I also really like how it makes you want to go for the green.

Also, I love the 10th at Riviera for all the reasons I like to use this type of short hole in my routings.

I use the 7th at Pebble as proof that a short par 3 can be really good, and fit nicely into a routing. The short par 3 seemed to be a hole that for years, no one was building. That’s a shame.

You refer often to Community Links and environmental sustainability. How do they tie together?

I’m a firm believer that a community’s leadership has a responsibility to plan for a sustainable future. That means being a good steward of land and resources, and requires those at the top, often municipal office holders, to be paying attention. Also, an aspect of sustainability that isn’t spoken about much because it’s not well understood, is the social aspects of a golf course. Community Links is a paradigm shift for how community leaders should view their golf course, which uses the game of golf as a nexus for healthy living, community pride, and raising our youth. Further, “CL” emphasizes uses for both golfers *and* non-golfers, which is vitally important today when getting support for investment into failing facilities.

Anyone that’s been around the game for a while knows all the benefits of golf, and my aim is to meld these benefits with responsible environmental stewardship, in order to further the game to as many people as possible. It’s one way I can leave golf better than I found it, which is something I strive for always.

Rockwind Community Links focused on integrating non-golf uses, such as a comprehensive trail system, to bring more people to the golf course.

The range at Rockwind was designed to host a variety of programs including beginner programs for kids.

course is aptly named Lil’ Rock, specifically designed for kids and families.

We look forward to visiting your most heralded original design – Sand Hollow in Utah. Tell us about that project and what design features we should look for.

Sand Hollow holds a really special place in my heart, as it was my first design contract on my own. I was introduced to the owner, Dave Wilkey, in 2004, and helped him get the entire development approved through the State, the City of Hurricane, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It is still the most natural site for a golf course I’ve had a chance to work with; huge red sand dunes, set atop incredible sand stone cliffs, next to the Virgin River (a major tributary of the Colorado River). Ultimately, when it came time to build the course, I was teamed with John Fought to bring it across the finish line. I lived in Utah during the entire build, and handled the day to day management of the development. Interestingly, Forrest Fezler and many guys from Mike Stranz’s team, were the builders of the course.

Sand Hollow’s stunning and drivable par 4 13th.

You need to look for how the course routing takes you through a journey of the property, and gives you a real sense of the land as if you were to take a 4 wheeler, or a hike. The site is dominated by two huge rock outcroppings, and a spectacular rim of rock formations normally found in national parks.

Also, make sure to get over to the “Links” Course; a 9 hole course intended to be a wide-open, with multiple angels of play, for a reduced rate for the local residents. It can be played in different variations, and from different sets of tees. I’ve been told by some, that they like these nine holes better than the Championship course, and, I tend to agree!

Sand Hollow’s Links Course – Hole #6, par 3.

Was it a hard course to route?

In short; no, because many of the dramatic features of the site drove the overall layout.

The longer answer requires imagining various parcels of BLM land interacting with the owner’s property; two of which were “island parcels” within the owner’s property itself. The entire site was amazing, but it was on the BLM land where some of the exciting sand dune features existed. From the outset of the routing process, we knew that BLM had serious concerns about how this development would affect the preservation of their land, but we ultimately worked out an agreement that had the golf course in charge of preserving it for them.

Once we had everyone’s support, routing the course essentially became an exercise in maximizing use of the BLM land. The whole project turned out to be a real win-win-win; we developed some amazing natural golf, more of the owner’s land could be used to develop the resort now that the golf course was given access to BLM land, and BLM sites were preserved and protected. Overall, we still worked out over 20 options ranging from 36 holes, to 18, then settling on 27.

Sand Hollow’s Master Plan

The other major challenging aspect of the routing was the rock ledge on holes 11 through 15. This was the only portion of the property void on any sand, but obviously was an incredible asset for the course, and adds tremendously to the golfer’s experience. Interestingly, John and I tried to convince the owners to not put golf on this area, as it just seemed overly expensive, especially when we had some other impressive sand dunes on the top of a nearby ridge to work with. We would still have the views, but not have to excavate the rock, and cap the area with 3 feet of sand. Ultimately, it was Dave Wilkey that said there was no way we weren’t going to have golf holes on the edge of the cliff, and committed to paying the added expense to build the holes. Without a doubt, these holes are the most dramatic on the property (if not in the entire state!), and is what drives many to come experience the course.

Given its setting, was scale easy to come by?

We built the entire course out of the native sands, ala Sand Hills or Ballyneal, so the most difficult aspect of scale was determining how big we wanted to go? Once the ground was exposed, we really only shaped the greens, tees and bunkers, and hardly touched any of the fairways (with the exception of the holes 11-15 on the Championship Course). The wind blows pretty hard there (the name of the town where Sand Hollow sits is Hurricane), and we all knew we needed some extra width to account for the different wind directions. All the sand for the greens and bunkers was native to that area, so establishing green sizes, and cutting in the features, became an exercise in irrigation spacing, and overall width of play.

The entire course, except the greens, was seeded with dwarf, low mow bluegrass, so we were able to make the fairways as wide as they wanted to maintain. They say working in sand is the ultimate, and after working on Sand Hollow, I can wholeheartedly say that it doesn’t get any better than that.

Design sketches for the Championship Course at Sand Hollow:

Hole #18, Championship Course, under construction

Clearing the Links Course

Congratulations – I can’t wait to get there. Moving on, you seem experienced in building practice areas. To what do you attribute the recent surge in popularity for multi-purpose practice areas as well as ‘short courses’?

Well, I think that life is just getting busier for all of us. I have three young boys, and travel a fair bit during the week, which means I don’t have the time to play 18 holes on the weekends. Obviously I’m not alone here, and sometimes the best we can do these days is take our kids to play 5 holes, hit balls, or putt on the practice green. This type of societal trend, in my opinion, is what’s driving both private and public facilities to become more flexible in their product offerings.

My own life is indicative of this growing desire to spend less time at the course and I’m able to speak directly to how it will affect my client’s customers’ experience. Right now, I’m involved with 5 clubs either expanding their practice ranges, adding short game areas, providing short courses for juniors, and for three of the clubs, we’re allocating space to house golf simulators. The advancement of virtual and augmented reality in golf is pretty incredible these days, and I foresee a time where a certain segment of golfers search out a simulator instead of going to an actual range or course. I can’t say I agree with it, but I certainly see a day where someone will go play golf, but never actually leave their home.

Concept Plan for the practice facility at the University Club of Milwaukee – new home of the Marquette University golf team

Yuck, golf is an outdoor sport but so be it. Do you view it as your role as golf course architect to help grow the game and/or make it more enjoyable for more golfers?

I’m not sure about all that, but I do know that great architecture gives a golfer the feeling of enthusiasm for the game, making them want to play more. So, in that sense, we golf architects help grow the game. Operators of golf courses, along with the rule makers, will have the best ability to “grow the game,” but overall I don’t see the game as being in desperate need of growth. I would say we should make what we have better, and continue to provide better golf experiences in the markets that can support golf.

I also feel the game is uniquely positioned to capture the portion of our population that is looking for outdoor recreation, healthy activity, and spirited competition. It just needs to be presented in a way that is more accessible and easier for people to get into, with the intention they become a lifelong participant. It’s a game that can be played well into your 80’s, so it will always be there when you need it. We as golf architects just need to keep providing the playing fields that people want to use, provide them in a manner that gives a bit of flexibility in how they’re accessed, and then ensure they are built sustainably, which allow our clients to make good returns on their investments.

Where do you see Staples Design in 10 years? What will have separated it apart from other firms?

Ha – I wish I could answer that with a bit of certainty! All I know is I don’t plan on going anywhere as long as I can continue to be involved with good projects with great people, that ultimately help the game. I look forward to more collaboration within the industry, as I’m convinced that to make it in this business and “separate yourself,” you can’t go it alone. I’m confident that if I just keep being myself, surround myself with good people, I’ll continue to be successful in my niche of creating fun, sustainable, and community focused golf. Golf’s been great to me, and I’m grateful for that every single day.

The End