Andrew Green will get to know western New York fairly well over the next few years. He and his team are charged with the unexpected, gloriously-welcomed restoration of the East course at Oak Hill country club, in Rochester. Green has given us one of the most authentic interviews ever on BuffaloGolfer.com, and we hope that you like it. No delay, meet Andrew Green.
- Tell us about yourself and how you came to golf, then golf course architecture?
I grew up in western Virginia – halfway between Roanoke and the Homestead. I started playing golf in the 8th Grade. My next-door neighbor was a dentist and loved the game. He played every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday…every week unless there was too much snow or a thunderstorm. He would stand at the corner of our yard and hit balls across his, into our other neighbor’s front yard – about 125 yards. He did that almost every evening that was fit. I would help him shag balls and he would let me join in. He took me to play my first full round, I was hooked. I loved the infinite challenge of the game and wonderful variety it held. I had craved something different from the rec league sports I played growing up…and golf was it!
I wanted to be a golf course architect since I was a junior in high school. I am not sure what drew me to that choice…it was deep inside me. It was obviously a dream I wasn’t sure I could fulfill, but I took a chance and have never looked back. I went to Virginia Tech and studied both Landscape Architecture and Turfgrass Management. The breadth of my studies helped me understand the many facets of working with earth and grass.
I worked on many different grounds crews during my early adult life. Seeing a range of maintenance budgets, grasses, soils, and turf leaders helped mold my career. In 1997, I helped Paul Latshaw at Congressional Country Club for the US Open. It changed my perspective on golf, as I saw what a golf course setup for the world’s greatest looked and felt like. At that event, I met Chip McDonald, one of the nations most respected golf course builders. I went to work with him in 2000 and spent the next fourteen years designing and building my work.
The experience working with McDonald & Sons was invaluable, as I learned the true value of each line I drew on paper. Having to be the architect and contractor makes you quickly realize how the pieces fit together. I further fell in love with the history of the game during these years, reading and researching all I could from the Golden Age Architects. The brilliance of their work and limit of that times’ resources, truly showed me how great the game is when played over the ground. I cannot get enough of the old architecture.
In 2014, I founded my own design firm. I saw an opportunity to be at the lead of the next generation of architects, as the 2008 economic downturn had washed a number of my peers from the business. I had a number of interesting projects headed my way and took a great leap. The journey since that decision has been a whirlwind, with awards of top 100 projects at both Inverness and Oak Hill. I have been able to be selective on the projects I take on, and I strive to work with clients that share my values and love of the game.
- Give us a bit of a backstory on the courses and clubs you’ve restored, and why restoration is important for clubs that no longer resemble their original trace.
My first true restoration was the greens redo at Bidermann Golf Course in Wilmington, Delaware. It is a great Dick Wilson course that was spread over some of the most inspired ground to be found – the HF duPont Estate bordering Winterthur. Wilson had been contracted to build the course by a small group who wanted a simple place to enjoy the game away from the country club scene. Wilson had retrofit an original Devereaux Emmet nine hole course. We had aerials from the Emmet course, but then we also had a series of progress drawings from Wilson’s firm…they were enlightening. The research we did to get that job and pull off the work was inspiring.
Its hard to keep your ego in check when you are working on another’s course, but I have found challenge in making my new work fit into the fabric of the course. Obviously, there are times when we all try too hard, but it seems classic courses are best served by improvements that fit.
The work we completed at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club outside of Philly really expanded my love of the game and its history. That golf course is not as well known as it should be, but it is a great connector in the Philly School of Design. It was George Thomas’ greatest effort on the East Coast – and on his own farm to boot! The original design was a bit crude with some extremely long holes for the day and a demanding use of the ground. After Thomas went West, they hired a pro by the name of Gil Nicholls. Gil’s brother Bernard Nicholls was brought in to institute Alpinization – the crazy (and awesome) use of extreme mounds and grading. The pictures from this time are amazing. After that ran its course, the Club hired Donald Ross to look at a handful of holes – changes were made to #11 and#18 for sure. We then found Ross documents drawn over by William Flynn – very cool stuff. Most of the modern bunker scheme are some combination of Ross and Flynn…not a bad group. There is an interesting Flynn drawing from 1934 – that is kind of an as-built from that time. The course remained fairly untouched – other than a huge tree planting process. Over the years, Whitemarsh hosted the IVB Classic PGA Tour event from 1963 until 1980. The best golf had to offer played it at that time.
In the late 1990’s efforts were made to renovate the golf course to a West Coast George Thomas theme. The work made the course different from others in Philly and set the stage for its modern presence. I was first hired to oversee the golf component of the flood plain renovation – the goal was to try to enhance the recovery of the golf course after a flood event – there was no way to prevent flooding.
With Tony Gustaitis, their long tenured superintendent, as a partner we worked hard trying to meld the modern work with the rich history of architecture on the property. Each historical version of the golf course had tremendous merit and it was very hard to pick and choose the elements that made the most sense to the current membership. At the end of the day, we pulled inspiration from every pre-WWII document we could. The styling of the bunkers in a West Coast look was a forgone conclusion, since the Club had established that not too long before. I am proud of this work and the team that we had. It was a great deal of fun and I think we protected and created some special.
Since the Whitemarsh project, I have been hooked on the deep dive into Club histories. I have really enjoyed understanding what it means to work and protect a founding vision, while understanding how a golf course evolves over time.
- Architects and their build teams use some massive equipment to put courses together. What are the three most important tools/trucks that you use, and why?
I think technology has brought us tools that we can use to make things look old…which is sometime hard to understand…
The utilization of the knuckle bucket on mini excavators has changed the way shaping and construction take place. The varying sizes of the buckets make for a wealth of treatments in feature construction. We can make bunker and green slopes appear much more hand crafted – like a horse and scoop did the work. The use of an excavator even over a compact track loader, allow features to have an infinite number of sizes and shapes. They also have a great advantage over other pieces for efficient use in infrastructure installation.
LIDAR technology has changed the way we handle historic greens. No longer do memberships have to be concerned about the replication of putting contours in the replacement, movement, or other reconstruction need of a classic green. The scanning that is available provides a dense point cloud over any surface and allows us to replicate the original to a high level of detail. This information also allows us to broadcast to the decision makers and membership at large what cupping area is available and how that can be modified with a modest touch.
The shovel is and always will be the most important grading tool in golf course construction. If you can grade with a shovel, then we can teach you how to grade with a machine. It takes some feel to get it right, but working the dirt with a shovel, will teach you more than you would ever consider. I spent 14 years playing in the dirt and love the opportunity to get dirty whenever the chance arises. I like modeling features in the dirt for the shaper and crew to see. I love tweaking slopes with the shovel, and working to get the right character. The one thing a shovel will also teach you is the varied soils and conditions we build courses on. A heavy clay will perform and do things a sandy loam can’t.
- What has been your most rewarding, architecture job to date? Share as many of the reasons as you like.
I have enjoyed every project I have been involved in. Some have had more challenges than others. I am not sure I can pin point one as the most rewarding. I love working in Philadelphia. The courses there have so much to offer – history, topography, and great architecture. I get overwhelmed by the pride and heritage the Clubs and memberships have there. I love the Philly vibe and the way you generally always know where you stand. Every golfer in Philly has a certain flair and personality about them that make golf fun. I get to interact with a range of people doing this and I love to see how their character gets wrapped into the golf course.
People are probably the most rewarding part of the job for me. That sounds weird saying it…but the relationships I have built make the job I do important. Without golfers/clients my work would have little meaning. I value friendships and even those adversarial situations. I want to serve the Clubs I work at well. I want them to value their past and look forward to their future. Architecture is very subjective and what one person likes, certainly others may not. Navigating that path is a challenge and one I enjoy. I try hard to teach the folks I work with why we do something not just what we are doing.
- You are coming to western New York to work on the East Course at Oak Hill country club in 2018. What can you tell us about this project?
Oak Hill Country Club has a rich history and the work Donald Ross did there is special. Over the years the tweaks to the golf course have reduced a number of the Ross elements and I am looking forward to putting them back. The East Course really uses the ground well and we hope the complete vision of what we are doing, will help better showcase that. The work itself will look to reinstitute much of the Ross design lost around the 1968 US Open (significant changes were made before and after that event). We will be restoring a version of Ross’ original par three, 6th behind the current 4th hole and making the new 6th a revitalization of the well regarded original Ross par four, 5th. (Sorry the numbers get confusing) We will also be trying to get the par three, 15th to fit the ground in as much a Ross like fashion as possible. All the greens will be restored to their original character and the bunkers will be adjusted to better reflect what was originally intended. All elements will be framed in a Ross style and fit to the modern game. We have expressed that the changes in the game since the 1920’s have forced us to take a sympathetic restoration approach.
- The west course at Oak Hill has long been known as the untouched one, the original Ross. How will its presence assist you in your work on the East?
The West Course is stunning…I could spend hours upon hours roaming those holes. As you point out, much of the original work is there. We you read Ross field notes, which are amazing, you see that the West was intentionally full of different elements from the East. I love this strategy from Ross to make the two courses a bit unique. He had a number of notes on the West about the use of rugged mounds with pockets of sand…really cool stuff. You can remnants of these off the sides of the fairways today. Because Ross intended for these differences, we can’t use too much from over there for the East Course. We have however, often referred to the awesome par three, 4th on the West, when we want to paint a picture of what the new par threes on the East will feel like.
- What restoration that is not your own, has impressed you the most in recent years? What about it was so noteworthy?
I think the restoration of the Wissahickon Course at Philly Cricket moved the needle in that region and showed what a major reinvestment in golf gives a Club. I have worked around there quite a bit, and to see how that project reinvigorated the Club shows that golf is still the most important part of a Country Club. It is hard to compare the scope of that project and all the new turf with more modest work, but it shows Clubs that if you embrace what makes you special, people will want to play your golf course.
- If you had an opportunity to work on any course, even if it was just a wee bit of work, which one would you choose?
I would certainly like to work on any of the top 100+ and my engine gets going if you have a good history, but I would love the chance to redo the golf course I grew up playing…Botetourt Golf & Swim Club (was Botetourt Country Club when I was there.) This is the place that I fell in love with the game. It is not complicated or intricate. It is basically a rolling piece of ground with 18 corridors for golf, but it is special to me. I used to lay awake at night thinking about the shots I needed to play it successfully and what that place could one day be. I would love the opportunity to help make it better. Although it might be hard to change things- as I reminisce about the shots it provided. Thinking about that nostalgic feeling has shaped the way I approach renovation work. I know what it is like to treasure shots and memories…even if it is over less inspirited ground. I think the challenge there would be a bunch of fun and I would relish the chance to help them make the game better for the region.
9-What question has no one ever asked, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please, and thank you for your time today.
Why do you wrap your life around a sport in which you chase a little white ball around?
This is a question I have asked myself. Most people find out what I do and talk about how cool a job it is and how much golf I get to play. But the reality is there is a lot of work to do this job and you make sacrifices. I find myself with limited time away from work and the travel takes a toll on my family. So it goes beyond just a love for the game.
I do this because I find the same challenge and reward in the design process, that I find in golf. Every golf course is unique, with special ground, individual components, and a personality. I love the way clients guard and adore their course, and I enjoy the journey in helping them improve and protect their source of pride. I love the history of the game and the challenge of playing from tee to green. So the depth of the work is what drives me, not my need to play golf.