Thoughts on Design, Golf and Life

A friend approached me recently and mentioned that he came across this very page on this website.  Seemingly confused, he asked why I took the time to include something like this on a golf design website... something so seemingly personal.  My answer was simple...."because those quotes and other bits of inspriration are threads of who JDR is, how we work, our influences, how we think and how we treat others."   It's an evolving compilation.... sort of my little version of Harvey Penick's Little Red Book!


"Do anything, but let it produce joy." - Walt Whitman


"From the purely golfing point of view, also, it is interesting to observe what very poor results are often achieved at very considerable expense." - H.S. Colt... and his suggestion that great golf courses need not always be expensive to build and maintain.  Many times, the best design is the simplest one to conceive.


"Make no small plans” – quote from famous architect, Daniel Burnham... translated to me by my first and most influential professor at the University of Kentucky, David Spaeth. “They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”  It always serves as reminder to open ones mind and eyes to all possibilities, avoid contentment and to get others to do the same.


"Golf has no other justification for existence than to heighten the joy of living.  To diminish this is to defeat the purpose of golf."  - Max Behr    

This was passed along to me by my cousin, Mac.  It would be hard to imagine that golf has given anyone more joy than him.


“Less is more” – another truism learned through professor Spaeth but originally adopted by famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – referring to what is coined as minimalism – using only basic and necessary elements in design….What it translates to me: keep it simple. Thoughtful planning and sensitive design precludes a heavy hand on nature and the landscape.


"Less is only more where more is no good." - Frank Llloyd Wright    

Wright goes on to define simplicity, "Think simple, as my old master used to say - meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest form, getting back to first principles."


“Form follows function” – the law quoted by architect Louis Sullivan, who called for an absence of ornamentation and promoted all things that are simple.  Artistic elements are less desirable if first they do not have purpose.  I interpret this as taking time to first get the skeleton of the design set first, considering all of the options.  From a proper platform, we can then develop strategies to bring the best designs to life.


"We cannot command Nature except by obeying her." - Francis Bacon.    

Nature has a way of telling us all we need to know about the land, about climate, drainage and about balance in our natural systems.  When we make the mistake of unnecessary alteration, we inevitably create our own problems… many times the scars can be obtrusive, costly and sometimes irreparable.  We all know there are unavoidable exceptions, but to always be mindful will save many a headache.


From one of my favorite books, Aldo Leopold's, A Sand County Almanac, a reading requisite in my first design class in college... "We abuse the land because we regard it as a comodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."


"Make each hole present a different problem.  So arrange it that every stroke must be made with a full concentration and attention necessary to good golf." - Donald Ross


Make your work fulfilling – every day is a new opportunity to learn and improve and each person we meet has something to contribute.  Work with good people and entrust and empower those with whom you work.


Donald Ross states... "There is no such thing as a misplaced bunker.  Regardless of where a bunker may be, it is the business of the player to avoid it."     

I have always found this one to be valuable, but have gone on to understand that the most important aspects of good bunkering are not how many, how deep, how large or small.... it is only important that placement has been properly conceived.  One ideally placed bunker is more effective than any number of misplaced bunkers.  That being said, once the bunkers are rightfully positioned, it is their detailed characteristics that give them their beauty, inspire a golfer's emotional response and evoke a mental trepidation from their presence.


"The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." - Ben Franklin  

As we look to whittle down the cost of a project to its mere skeleton, it is wise to remember the reality of trimming costs or taking the cheap way out.


"It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little.  When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that's all.  When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it it was bought to do.  The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it can't be done.  If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better." - John Ruskin


Always help others – its more rewarding than doing something for one’s self.  I see my job as one intended for helping other people to achieve and exceed their goals and their enjoyment.  The reward is greatest when my clients succeed and when people find joy in what has been created.


"As beautiful as trees are, and as fond as you and I are of them, we must not allow our sentiments to crowd out the real intent of a golf course, that of providing fair playing conditions.  If it in any way interferes with a properly played stroke, I think the tree is an unfair hazard and should not be allowed to stand." - Donald Ross    

A reminder that trees are beautiful, but when they are the cause for issues with playability,  turf quality and the overall health of a golf environment, they must be reduced.  This is by far one of the most challenging subjects we face as architects.  Members fall in love with trees, whether they are valuable or not.  They must be educated... shown the proper way.  We must always strike a balance with trees.


Leadership is best exemplified through listening.  Leaders empower others, encourage expression and promote great teamwork.  When we all understand and are committed in our direction, we are rewarded with the pleasure of having accomplished something together.  Individuals with egos lack true passion for their craft and are ultimately resented by others  - no one is capable of seeing their vision.  Many times, they can't see it themselves.  Quality will suffer as a result.  The team never develops because they dont believe in where they're going.


The bunkering on a course should never cause the experience to become tiresome or onerous.  But sometimes bunkers receive a great deal of criticism. Thus I am reminded by this quote, "Often the highest recommendation of a bunker is when it is criticized.  That shows that it is accomplishing the one thing for which it was built: it is making players think". - Donald Ross


Have Fun – If not, then why do it?  It feels good to laugh and smile, and it makes others feel good.  I feel blessed to be doing what I do – If I can’t enjoy it with others and laugh at myself, then there is no reason to get up in the morning.  I design golf courses!!  I have to remind myself of that to fully appreciate how fortunate I truly am.


"Don't ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure." - Joe Maddon


Grow and promote the game, make it fun, make it memorable, make it interesting; with enough challenge to keep one’s acute interest, respect the land, make clients successful, value what is innate.


"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." - Victor Hugo  

Inspire people with imagination and bold ideas; dont miss out on a chance to accomplish something very special.


A quote from Robert Hunter, The Links, 1926, “Do not let certain standards become an obsession.  Quality, not length; interest, not the number of holes; distinction, not the size of the greens – these things are worth striving for.  A well-designed short course kept up to a high standard will often be more popular than many long, tiresome, unkept courses which boast of championship length.”   

Hunter was keen enough to recognize the most important aspects of the game and the function of golf courses back in 1926.  I find it most interesting now that we are facing similar economic and social struggles that directly affect golf, and we have now come back full circle to again focus on many of the same qualities Hunter describes as we continue designing courses today.


Family first – my career is important and so are my clients, but family comes first.  It is with their blessing and support that I can follow my dream and be who I am.


"Variety is not only the spice of life but it is the very foundation of golfing architecture.  Diversity in nature is universal.  Let your golfing architect mirror it.  An ideal or classical golf course demands variety, personality and, above all, the charm of romance." - C.B. Macdonald


"Architecture is all about what happens to the ball on the ground - about the challenge of the subtle kind: angles, width, options and simple, thoughtful features." - Bradley Klein


"A goal is not the same as a desire, and this is an important distinction to make.  You can have a desire you dont intend to act on.  But you cannot have a goal you dont intend to act on." - Old Tom Morris

"Know what you've got when you see it and know when to quit" - Bill Coore

Bill told me this one day as we were walking and talking together on a golf course.  His wisdom is something I carry with me during my work... because as we continue to strive to do our best work, we can sometimes become obsessed, to the point of not realizing that we've reached a point where further tinkering may be damaging to the already great product.  Smart guy ;)