Jeff Mingay is a golf course architect from Canada who exemplifies a new breed of architect, making a living in trying financial times. While the bubble has not blown away, it has certainly burst and golf course architects must be more and more creative in their pursuit of work. Judging by this pseudo-mission statement, Jeff Mingay must appeal to a number of potential clients: My aim is to work with clients who share a deep passion for the game of golf and course architecture, to consistently create golf courses of true distinction.
1. Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit.
2. Did you play much golf? How’d the game hook you?
Golf has always been a big part of my family’s lives. My dad in particular. He’s a life-long, passionate golfer who’s very interested in all facets of the game including course architecture. He was a member at Essex Golf and Country Club, near Windsor, where my younger brother and I learned the game. We were fortunate to simply step in the door, as junior members at Essex, when we turned 10 years old. Essex is a fantastic flat-land course, designed by Donald Ross, in 1929. My brother took to learning how to swing the club properly and get the ball in the hole. I was more fascinated with the golf course than the golf swing. While Jamie was winning junior club championships, my brain was occupied with seriously trying to figure out this amazingly wonderful golf course, at Essex, was designed and constructed. My dad had the greatest collection of golf books, too, which helped. When I became interested in golf architecture as a kid, all of the classics books on this subject were available to me on my dad’s bookshelf. He had everything… Golf Architecture by Alister Mackenzie, Scotland’s Gift by Charles Blair Macdonald and, of course, most of Bernard Darwin’s writing on golf and the great courses in the British Isles. I read this stuff incessantly, constantly swing by his office as a teenager to trade in one book for another. That’s really how I got hooked, Essex and my dad’s remarkable collection of golf books.
3. At what age did you figure out that the playing field held secrets?
By my early teens, really. Again, it was Essex and my dad’s books, and Harbour Town too, actually. My dad took my brother and I down to Hilton Head, South Carolina a few times when I was in early high school. Seeing and playing Harbour Town brought my interest in golf architecture to a higher level. About the same time, my dad bought me an original copy of The World Atlas of Golf for Christmas. This was good and bad. Some pretty poor marks resulted, as I was studying The World Atlas… a lot more than my high school textbooks! But, in retrospect, I was studying practically for the future, obviously!
4. Detail your years in the business, please
Back when I was in my mid-20s, Brad Klein gave me a great break. I’d been reading about golf and course architecture for years by then, and was starting to write for a few publications. Brad was working on his Donald Ross biography and starting up Golfweek’s Superintendent News at the time. I had researched Mr. Ross’ work in Canada and offered a bunch of material to Brad, for his book. He then offered me opportunity to write on golf architecture for Superintendent News. This provided many opportunities to travel, meet people in the industry and learn more about golf course design and construction. Everyone I talked to, who I respected, told me that if you want to really learn how to design and build golf courses you have to do it in the field, participating with construction. I then wrote an article on a relatively unknown Canadian designer, Rod Whitman, who had worked with Pete Dye and Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and was known for building his courses not just designing them. Rod and I got to know each other, and I expressed my interest in getting into the businesss to him. He was open to this idea, and brought me out to a project in Alberta. The first day I was out there with Rod, I was on a bulldozer. This was the main reason I wanted to go to work with Rod. Again, he was building, not just designing. And here I am almost 15 years later, doing the same. Since 2000, I’ve been fortunate to work with Rod on the development of Blackhawk Golf Club near Edmonton, Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club in British Columbia, and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia just finished up. Having now attracted a number of great club clients and being involved with a number of new golf course developments in planning, on my own, I established Mingay Golf Course Design in January 2009. Things have been really good since. I remind myself how fortunate I am to be as busy as I am at the moment. We’re currently restoring Victoria Golf Club in British Columbia and Overlake Golf and Country Club in Seattle. Plans are also in the works to significantly remodel the Derrick Club in Edmonton, York Downs and The Oakville Golf Club in the Toronto area, as well as a few more established courses here, in Canada. And I’ve recently laid-out a few new courses. These projects are at various stages of development at the moment.
5. What project has offered the greatest challenge that ended in success?
Every project has its challenges, of course. Mostly on the financing side of things, actually. But, to answer your question with one, it’s probably Sagebrush, which Rod and I did with Richard Zokol and Armen Suny. Sagebrush is laid-out over a a very challenging, rocky mountainside. I was excited to work with Zokol, who’s one of Canada’s most famous golf professionals. But when Rod first visited the site, he came back and told me that there’s no way we can build a golf course there. He thought it was way too steep in too many spots. But Zokol was adamant, and a great routing plan made it work in the end. We actually didn’t move much material, either. There were a few spots that required some blasting and significant rearranging of the landscape to accommodate golf, but Sagebrush is pretty lay of the land in most areas of the course. And I think we did a really good job at hiding artifical construction work that was required. When it opened in 2009, Sagberush was named Best New Candian course by SCOREGolf magazine and Golf Digest. It’s now ranked 28th on SCOREGolf’s list of the top-100 courses in Canada and 8th on Golfweek’s ranking of the Best Canadian courses built post-1960. A pretty good result considering Rod’s initial assessment of the property, I think!
6. What aspects of golf course architecture are unknown/unrecognized by the typical amateur golfer?
Nearly every golfer has opinions on the design of a golf course… which is fine. It’s part of the fun of being involved with the game. I want a bunker here, you want it there. Who’s right, who’s wrong? That’s really a tough question to answer if we both have our reasons. I always say, as long as a golf course drains water effectively, everything else is subjective. But, what many opinionated golfers fail to realize is that it’s relatively easy to design the rest of a course once the holes are already in place. More golfers should understand the importance of routing a course. Every really good course in the world stems from a brilliant routing… that is, laying out a complex variety of short, long and medium length holes that look different and present varied challenges, and also showcase the best natural attributes of a property.
7. As a follow up, what should golfers pay more attention to, in order to improve their enjoyment of each round?
I guess I have to say the routing of the course in question now! But, really, paying attention to and gaining understanding of how golf courses flow from the first tee to the home green – especially the best courses – and how inherent topography and other natural features were used by the architect to create variety in the type of holes presented is a fascinating study any passionate golfer will appreciate.
8. Are there any architectural elements that work against the efforts of the typical golfer?
A lack of width and the proliferation of water hazards over the past half century and more immediately come to mind. I’m partial to courses where the principal challenge is presented by the design of the greens. This type of design, where players aren’t necessary required to thread the needle off every tee and aren’t hitting balls into ponds every other hole, is exemplified by so many of the world’s best courses. starting with the Old Course at St. Andrews and Royal Melbourne, and a majority of Donald Ross-designed courses, including Pinehurst No.2, for example. To me, golf should be a game where you can hit your ball, find it then hit it again. I don’t mean golf should be easy, by any means. But shooting 100 with 10 or 15 phantom strokes resulting from penalties is no fun. If you’re able to design really interesting greens that demand strategic placement of tee shots and present interesting recovery shot options and challenges, you can employ as much width as you want. Better golfers are challenged by approach shot angles and recovery shot options while higher handicap players are provided enough room to enjoy the game. This is very important. It’s interesting, too, that weaker golfers can equalize themselves with better players much easier with a putter than a driver or long iron. A course that caters to 20-handicappers, seniors, juniors, beginner, and women golfers and at the same time presents adequate challenge to better players is the ideal.
9. What question have we not asked, that you have been waiting to answer? Might you answer it?
How about this one, considering you’re from the Buffalo area. we have a tee time tomorrow morning at Country Club of Buffalo, would you like to join us? I’d answer yes. (Editor’s Note: We’re working on it!)
Thanks, Jeff. Good luck to you in the architectural field.