1. Tell Us Who You Are:
I grew up in Berlin, Massachusetts, a small town about an hour west of Boston. I played golf sparingly as a kid, although I did like hitting plastic golf balls around the yard on made up “holes”. When I was 15 I was closest to the pin at a hole-in-one contest at the local fair. The prize was a years membership at a local 9-hole course. This spurred me to play more. I went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering. During summers I oversaw maintenance of the 9-hole Berlin Country Club. At the time the Owner of the course wanted to increase the course length and improve the par-33 layout. I took an interest in his plans, so I collected topo plans and resource maps, read the Cornish/Whitten book The Golf Course, and began sketching plans to change the course. The process hooked me, and I decided at that point that I would rather design golf courses than waste water treatment plants. I contacted Geoffrey Cornish and some other golf course architects. A few responded, mostly saying there weren’t many opportunities, but Mr. Cornish suggested that with my civil engineering background I should get into golf course construction. I worked in golf construction for four years, building new courses in West Virginia, Massachusetts, North Carolina (at Pinehurst Resort) and Florida. On the Massachusetts project, Mr. Cornish and Brian Silva were the architects, so I reacquainted myself with that firm and expressed my desire to one day be an architect. I must have been convincing, because a couple years after that project was completed, they offered me a position with the firm.
2. What Drew You to Golf & Golf Design and do you prefer designing or playing:
I was drawn to golf by several factors – the ability to enjoy being alone and just playing the course as well as the friendships gained by playing with others. I like being outside and experiencing nature. I like that you don’t have to be great to still enjoy the game and the company of others. I was drawn to design because I enjoy drawing and always was challenged by how things were planned and built. Since becoming immersed in the profession, my preference would definitely be for design over playing of the game. I still really enjoy playing, but the demands of work and a family with five kids on my time severely limited how often I got out over the last 15-20 years.
Hole #14 viewed from tee
Hole #4 viewed from forward tee. Both fairway bunkers were restored to layout.
3. What do you see when you look at a blank canvas vs. an existing course to be renovated?
The processes for designing a new course versus renovating an existing course are very different. On a new course, the first step is to learn about the land the course will be built on – such as the topography, vegetation, resources (such as water for irrigation), constraints to development, zoning regulations, property configuration and many other factors. For an existing course, the first step is to learn the clients goals and objectives for course improvements, understand the maintenance levels and to learn the history on the course.
When I look at an open parcel of land I can envision golf holes. With the reduction in new course work, I really miss the art and imagination that is needed to route a course. I am fortunate in that I always had a knack for being able to visualize a golf hole from a topographic plan. There are so many considerations to be balanced in the process that it results in many different solutions. A bad routing will doom a course while a good one can provide the bones for a great course.
For a renovation project, I look to maximize a site’s potential while being considerate of the impact of those changes on using the course, short and long term revenue to the Owner, and the cost to implement the changes. Unless a course can accept at least a partial closure, then re-routing changes are generally minor and done to increase the length of the course or to make better use of the space available within the site.
At Brookfield Country Club, there have been three distinct routing changes made to the original course. Many years ago, the 15th hole was shortened from a short par-4 to a long par-3. More recently, the second and third holes were moved to provide space for expansion of the practice range. Last year, the 7th tee area was shifted back to change that hole to a par-5 and the 8th tees were moved up slightly and the par reduced to four. The 8th was formerly a short par-5 that played downwind in summer and the 7th was a long par-4 with a blind landing zone. By moving the 7th tee back, it improved visibility on the tee shot. Now the player can see their shot land, and if long enough be able to see the green for their second. The change increased the length of Hole 7 to 520 yards and turned hole 8 into a fearsome, long par-4 that can be played from over 450 yards from the rear markers but typically is set up to play from 400-430 yards from the white markers.
4. How did Geoffrey Cornish impact your career and the way you look at a project:
Mr. Cornish changed my life in many ways. My first introduction to golf design was through his book “The Golf Course” which was later re-published as “The Architects of Golf”. The book not only influenced me, but it set in motion the tremendous interest in golf course architecture. He then advised me to work in construction. This was instrumental in my education and has made me a better architect. He then hired me as an apprentice. I worked more with Brian Silva then Mr. Cornish, but his gentlemanly character and interest in the history of design that influenced me. At this point in his career, Mr. Cornish was less involved in our course design work as he was in writing and educating. We never actually worked together on a project. Mr. Cornish was a great facilitator of projects. He championed “value engineering”, finding ways to reduce the cost and impact of work to allow a project to proceed. Many existing courses would not exist today without Mr. Cornish finding ways to get them built. When Cornish, Silva & Mungeam dissolved in 2006, even though Cornish was no longer actively designing courses, I asked to use his name partly out of respect but also because it is more recognizable than my own and would help in attracting new clients.
5. How did you hear of the Brookfield project and what clinched your bid?
Brian Silva had previously prepared a Long Range Plan for Brookfield in the late 1980’s. Upon completion of the Plan, I assisted with some minor bunker renovation work, but our firm lost contact with the Club, resulting in another designer overseeing the expansion of the range and changes to holes 2 and 3. Then 5 or 6 years ago I was in the Buffalo area for another project and stopped by to say hello to Adam Mis, the Superintendent, and see the course. We discussed some issues and when they sought further consultation on a problem, my relationship with the Club was renewed. John Gaffney at the Club has always been a great supporter of my work so I think he was instrumental in my being hired for completion of the renovation project. John along with several other members and staff were stressing completion of the Long Range Plan in order to bring unity to the course as over the preceeding years there had been several changes made which fragmented the character of the layout.
6. Were you familiar with Architect William Harries prior to this Project?
I was not familiar with Harries work prior to Brookfield, so it was fun to see the course and learn more about his design through study of the existing features and an old aerial photograph taken soon after the course was built. Happily, much of his design was still visible.
#5 Green before renovation
#5 Green after renovation
7. How does Brookfield fit with other local courses designed by Alison, Ross & Jones?
I am not too familiar with those other clubs. Ross, Alison, Jones and Muirhead were all talented designers, so I’m sure each club has many great attributes. Park Club and Country Club of Buffalo were built at nearly the same time as Brookfield, whereas River Oaks (Muirhead) and Crag Burn (Jones, Sr.) came later. I think it is nice that the area has courses designed by such accomplished architects. Harries was certainly not as well known or as prolific as those other architects, but his design at Brookfield was inspired and has endured relatively unchanged. I think Brookfield fits well with the other private club offerings in the Buffalo area. I can’t imagine a player visiting and playing the rejuvenated layout with fine conditioning and viewing it as lesser course than those others. I’m certainly biased, but I think the course is visually attractive and provides a lot of options in its set up that keeps the course interesting after many rounds of use.
8. What experience will two new golfers have playing Brookfield in 2015 and what will they remember from their visit?
Each player should have a good experience. They will find the layout fun to play with plenty of challenge yet not unfair or overly penal. There round will require them to hit many different shots as the course has a nice array of short and long holes. There will be several holes that they remember, such as the par-3 5th which requires a shot over water with bunkers front left and right of the raised green. Several trees were removed behind this green in our renovation to enable development of a rear chipping area and make hitting over the green less hazardous.
They will also remember the classic design of the par-3 12th, with its L-shaped putting surface and deep bunkers. This was always my favorite. The hole would fit on almost any Golden Age era layouts. I love the way the back left bunker is positioned in the crook of the L-shape and the contours of the putting surface which collect and hold most shots. For par-4’s, I feel a new player will remember the contrast of the long 8th and short 17th. The bunkering on Hole 8 was restored to Harries original alternating pattern using an old aerial photograph of the course. These bunkers require the player to carefully consider the length and position of their shot. On Hole 17, we chose not to restore the first left fairway bunker which would have created the same alternating fairway bunker pattern as on the 8th hole as we were concerned about it forcing plays to aim further right toward Shimerville Road. Unlike Hole 8, which is open at the front to allow a long approach to be rolled onto the green, the short (325 yard) 17th is guarded in front by two large bunkers, and with a steep drop-off to the left and back. We suggested the removal of several trees behind this green to eliminate the framing. By making the back of the green the horizon, it makes approach shots over the front bunkers more fearsome when knowing that hitting over the green brings great danger. This was a great hole in the 1920’s when Harries designed it and though little changed, remains a great hole today.
9. What are the challenges of the tee shot, approaches and on the greens at Brookfield?
I feel that players should have the most leeway for a miss-hit shot on their drive, while the most demanding shot should occur on approaches to the green, with the length of the approach determining the amount of difficulty. It appears that Harries designed similarly at Brookfield, although some of the forgiveness associated with tee shots had been compromised with overzealous planting of spruce and other trees over the years. Prior to and during the renovation, several trees were taken down to allow for widening of the fairways and improve the ability to play a recovery shot from the rough. This tree removal will continue over the next few years (along with some new tree planting of improved species) to open up vistas, improve playability and provide a better environment for healthy turf.
Hole 17 from tee after renovation
Hole #12 bunkers under construction
Water comes into play on several holes to add challenge to the course. A stream which crosses the course impacts play on holes 4, 5, 10, 13, 14 & 18. A new pond was added when the range was expanded which guards the right side of the second green. One significant alteration made during the renovation was to renovate the tees on Hole 14 to enable all players to see the stream which crosses the landing zone.
As part of the renovation we added several collar extensions adjacent to the greens which add interest and challenge to shots that miss the putting surface. Often called “chipping areas” the short grass provides a bail out area for lesser players who have great difficulty playing from a bunker, yet for good players it is often more difficult a shot than from the sand. For example, on 1 and 8, extended collars were added to the left side of the greens and on 13 it was added to both sides.
Hole #7 approach and green before renovation and after addition of approach bunkers and new tees turned the hole from a long par-4 into a nice par-5
10. How long did the renovation/restoration process take?
If you go back as far as when the Long Range Plan was produced, it took 25 years to complete, but really this phase of the renovation was begun with initial development of the Project Plan in the winter of 2010 and although there is still some tree work to finish, it was substantially completed in July of 2014. Much of the credit for the improved course should go to Green Chairman John Ticco. John was instrumental in pushing the project forward, spending many, many hours in meetings with the Board and members of the Club or with me reviewing the proposed changes. He did a masterful job.
The first phase of the project involved evaluating the course and creating an overall plan of the work to be implemented. This was done over the summer of 2010. The second phase of the work was the restoration of bunkers on the 8th hole as a “demonstration” project for the membership. Although the timing of the work too impactful on member and guest play, the results excited the membership enough to want to complete the project. In the winter of 2013 the Project Plan was fine tuned and a contract for construction negotiated with Aspen Corporation of West Virginia (who was doing the work at Country Club of Buffalo). The course work started in July of 2013 and by September Aspen was progressing two holes at a time. October was to be the most productive month for work, but unfortunately mother nature had other plans, dropping 12 inches of rain on the course, severely restricting work for the remainder of the fall and delaying the completion of work until early summer of 2014. The heavy rains in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014 were the most challenging aspect of the project as the heavy soils at the site make work difficult after only a little rain. By late spring, Brookfield was anxious for the Contractor to finish the work, and Aspen was anxious to move on to another project. For me, the challenge was to keep the project moving forward while maintaining consistency in the style and quality of work through the completion. Much of my work is done on the ground with the equipment operators who construct the features. It was a challenge to plan ahead to be on-site on dry days when we could work together to shape the bunkers and other features so that approval could be given to continue with drainage installation, topsoil re-spreading and sodding. Often times I would fly into Buffalo only to have it rain and not be able to work with the Contractor.
I really enjoyed working with Brookfield Country Club and Aspen Corporation on this project. I am very excited at how the work turned out. Although not a true “restoration” in that I didn’t research original plans and try to put the course back exactly as it was designed, I would call the work a “sympathetic renovation” of the Harries layout. The layout has been modernized to attract the best golfers in the area, while maintaining a old style character in keeping with the age of the course.