Doak, founder of Renaissance Golf Design Inc.
in Traverse City, has made the quantum leap from
local designer to one of
the most famous names in the business, known for
his minimalist approach. Jason Deegan caught
up with the
globe-trotting designer who has crafted 22 new courses
in places like New Zealand, Australia, New York,
California and beyond.
MG: How did you get your start in
got interested in the subject seeing great courses
as a kid, and thinking they were
way different than the little public course in
Connecticut I grew up on. When I turned 17, I wrote
letters to anybody I could in the golf business,
trying to learn all I could.”
MG: Talk about
your early days trying to get into the business.
had a lot of help. When I was writing letters in
the 1980s, it wasn’t the high
profile business as it is these days. The architects
I was writing were happy that someone was interested
and contacting them. I got a lot of great advice
from people. I got to see a lot of the great courses
in the world.”
brief as you can, what’s
your design philosophy?
design philosophy is to not make the design harder
it has to be. If you have
a good site, the holes are there.”
do you credit with being your biggest mentor/mentors?
TD: “I’ve had a bunch. But I wouldn’t
be in the business, or I wouldn’t do it the
way I do it if not for working with Pete Dye for
several years. He taught me the basic philosophy
of design and construction. They are inseparable.
I’ve had other people I learned about design
from more, but being able to do what I do, I owe
most of it to Pete.”
course, Pacific Dunes in Oregon, launched you to
another level when it comes to critical acclaim?
How has that
changed your life?
TD: “It really seems to have done so more
than I thought it would. Half of what it turned
out to be better than other courses is because
it’s such a dramatic site. I didn’t
think one great success would lead to so many other
cool projects. It made us the guys to talk to if
you’ve got great ocean sites. I’ve
gotten two so far and more are in the planning.”
us about the dramatic elements of the New Zealand
course, Cape Kidnappers, which has also gotten
a ton of praise.
TD: “It’s a bit different setting than
Pacific Dunes. Instead of 100 feet above the ocean,
you are 400 to 500 feet above on a cliff. Instead
of seeing waves out in bay, they are just like
ripples on the pond. New Zealand is beautiful and
we were thrilled to work there.”
MG: Are there any other sites like Pacific
Dunes left out there to be discovered?
TD: “Certainly there are. The question is
are they in places where you are allowed to build
a course and is it economically viable for a course.
I am sure there are sites in Africa and South America,
but can you get enough traffic for them to work
is debatable. … The other part is a great
site for golf doesn’t require an ocean view.
There are a lot of great sites for golf left in
MG: You recently got to work with
Jack Nicklaus at Sebonack Golf Club, a celebrated
New York? How well did that go?
TD: “Judging from the finished project, it
went well. It was interesting for both of us. We
are both used to making final decisions. We knew
taking the job we would have to find common ground
because we didn’t always like what the other
liked. … It is a difficult course from the
back tees. Jack’s input helped out a lot
on that. And it’s fun to play from the members
tees and I helped out with that.”
did you take from Jack’s style that
you might use someday?
TD: “For me, it was a chance to see how the
other half lived. He is amazingly busy. He was
so focused when he was onsite. At the same token,
I don’t know that I would ever want to get
that busy. It didn’t look fun. He was going
from one project to the next to the next. I like
to take time for decisions. He said if this were
golf, we would get a two-stroke penalty for slow
play in the business. I like to sleep on my decisions,
to take longer and maybe come up with something
MG: How much do you enjoy working on
the classics? I know you got to do some work at
Club out in California?
TD: “We are consultants on 20 or 25 courses
around the country, like San Francisco Golf Club
and Chicago Golf Club. It’s a privilege to
be out there to help them out. It’s been
a great experience for the guys who work with me.
We’ve got to hang out there, rebuild bunkers
and features and see how great they were built.
It is not as fun as building new courses. On that
(type of) course, you either do a good job preserving
it or you mess it up. It is not as creative a process,
but I look at it as a responsibility to take care
of the great old stuff.”
MG: What’s your take on the technology debate?
Will designing longer golf courses become the norm?
TD: “Honestly, a lot of designers are overreacting.
Technology has made great players much longer,
but does anybody have a better handicap than three
years ago? No. There is a little too much attention
paid to that.”
MG: What do you remember most about
creating Black Forest, one of your two northern
TD: “All 18 holes are surrounded by trees.
I had to do a lot of bunkers to make the holes
distinct from one another. I thought about the
old Alister MacKenzie or George Thomas style of
bold bunkers. It was not done much in the 1980s.”
MG: What other things are you working
TD: “We’ve had two projects this year.
We will open one in Scotland (in 2007). We’ve
got a resort project in Mexico north of Cabo San
Lucas, and a private club in Bend, Oregon. We are
just breaking ground and another project in northern
California. The fourth course at Bandon Dunes is
a couple of years away.”
MG: There’s been some talk about you working
again with High Pointe, your first course in Michigan?
not sure on the status of that. It’s right
across town. I would love to help them, however,
they need the help.”