Getting to know JDR

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Thursday, April 13, 2017


Getting to Know: J. Drew Rogers, Golf Course Architect

American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
J. Drew Rogers: I started at a pretty young age - 8 years old. I was mostly self-taught, as there were no golfers in my family … and I suppose that started the impetus to continue to pursue golf - it was MY thing, which made it special. As time went on, that interest became an obsession, and led to summer jobs at golf courses and playing competitive golf. The Country Club became my hangout, and from that point, I wanted to learn everything I could about the game and anything connected to it.
AG: How did you become a golf course designer?
JDR: I’ve always been an outdoorsy type, fascinated by landscape and nature - and that led me to a degree in landscape architecture in college. Add the fixation on golf and you have the makings of a dream career pursuit! I never wavered in my quest of that dream. Hard work, diligence and a whole lot of luck - and the dream became reality. I’m very fortunate.My big break came in 1992 when I was hired by Arthur Hills. The rest is history, and now I’ve had my own practice for seven years.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JDR: Well … I finally gave in to the fact that I was never going to make a career PLAYING golf! Plus, I wanted to put all of my best skills to work while also doing something I could really enjoy. Designing golf courses affords me that opportunity.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JDR: The golf boom certainly led us down a ‘not so good’ path, in any opinion. So many of the golf courses we built in the ’90’s and into the early ’00’s were completely driven by real estate and developers. To home builders, golf was no more than a mandatory amenity to help drive sales. Many architects were given very direct design criteria by developers - many of which were not at all friendly to the golfers. Fortunately, today, many of these courses are being renovated to be more practical and enjoyable. There is also the tree planting trend that we saw in the ’50’s through the ’80’s … when it was vogue to create separation of golf holes and to make the holes tougher tests. Clubs were rampantly planting thousands of inexpensive, low quality, fast-growing trees to fill in all of the open gaps. Today, we’re having to remove most of those trees because they have overgrown and cause headaches for superintendents - and golfers.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf? 
JDR: We have that chance every day when we interact with young people … especially when we’re at the course. Today’s youth is tomorrow’s golf enthusiast. I recall being encouraged by adults when I was young - they gave me opportunities to play and to be exposed to the game. All of us in golf have a responsibility to do the same. We don’t need tour players, we need people who just want to play and enjoy … no matter where, no matter how many holes - just appreciate the game. Women also need to feel welcomed on the golf course. Most courses are not well suited for women - they’re much too long. And like men, they should have choices of multiple tees and lengths.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JDR: I guess I’m not one to impose on my clients and their courses, so I’m very user-centric in terms of providing them with solutions to address their needs. Being practical and sympathetic to a wide range of skill levels is basic to my work, but I also like to challenge players to think while having fun. I do tend to honor classic architectural principles … strong strategic elements, alternate routes of play, varieties of recovery and bits of playful whimsy. Ultimately, though … the product has to fit the client.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JDR: I don’t have a favorite, though there are naturally plenty that I “like a lot”! I prefer short, strategic holes with lots of options … and I’m always looking to develop holes like that in my work, whether a new course or a renovation. The best holes are the one’s that anyone can play … but they can be adapted, through set-up, to test the best.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)? 
JDR: I’ve been asked that one before, so I guess I will follow with the same answer again! Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt, Ben Crenshaw, and my 13 year old son.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JDR: Sandy sites offer the best medium for golf wherever you can find one. They drain well, they’re easier/less expensive to construct and will ultimately provide the best canvas from which to evolve dynamic design creativity.

AG: What is the future of golf course design? 
JDR: Golf needs to be fun! In order to build fun holes for everyone, we need ample width so there is space for safe play and to provide for interesting, alternate routes of play. Width is more important than length. I see the need for less bunkers in favor of utilizing more traditional ground form obstacles and short turf. More teeing options afford opportunities for players. The number of holes on a course is irrelevant as long as we’re out there enjoying ourselves. Maybe the governing bodies will finally get control of the golf ball so the focus will again be on shot making. For over 100 years, architects have been warning about the impact of the golf ball, and yet, here we are, still waiting for that mandate.

Learn more about J. Drew Rogers, ASGCA, at