There is a novel waiting to be written, about the south Buffalo golf course project that is and isn’t, that was and wasn’t, but is moving toward … something. We don’t pretend to write that novel in this brief space. This interview introduces us to Chris Cochran, the lead designer for the project. Cochran works for Nicklaus Design, as Senior Design Associate. Cochran is a middle America guy, with a thorough background in every facet of golf course work. It is our pleasure to present some of his thoughts on golf course design and building, playing of the game, and the Buffalo property.
1. What is your background in golf, from your youth to today?
I started playing golf seriously when I was 15. I played golf for Wichita State my freshman year then transferred to Iowa State University to get my degree in agronomy and Turfgrass science. I was a member of the ISU golf team and played competitively for them the 3 years I was there. I don’t play much competitive golf anymore but still love to play.
2. How long have you been with Nicklaus Design?
This year I am starting my 38th year with Nicklaus Design.
3. Which design projects have had the greatest impact on your career arc in golf course architecture?
All projects have an impact on me but the most impactful probably would be my early projects. I was promoted to a design associate at ND in 1989 and was transferred to our Hong Kong office where I worked on projects throughout SE Asia. Working on projects on these remote sites where golf was so new and not having the experienced golf construction people, machinery or materials I took for granted having in the US taught me so much about construction, working with people and how to adapt and self reliance. The old saying of “if there is a will there is a way” was driven home to me time and time again.
4. What aspects of golf course architecture and building do golfers not understand, or miss?
Just all the variables that each site has that the architect has to take into account with the design as well as the original design intent of the golf course.
5. Moving to the Buffalo project, tell us a bit about the land on which you will build the course, as in the amount of land, the topography, the constraints.
The site is a landfill. It’s amazing how much the contours of the property naturally lend themselves to a golf course but with this being said there are areas that need grading to fit in greens and tees, slow down side pitch for landing areas, etc. To do this we need to adjust grades on the property. Usually we will balance the cut and fill of the grading of the golf course but since this is a landfill, I have to keep cutting to a minimum because of cost, therefore most is not all the grading needs to be done with fill. With this in mind, the routing of the golf course is even more critical. We have several conceptual routings done already and I am happy to say they all work well.
6. The course will have nine holes. Layouts like Sweeten’s Cove in Tennessee have revealed the value of a nine-hole course to a community. What features of your layout will generate excitement? Which will be unique and new?
One of the beautiful things about golf is that it can be played any where. There are ocean, links, mountain, desert, parkland, prairie, etc golf courses. This golf course will be unique because it is being built on a landfill. This might turn some people off, but to me is such a positive because it is so unique, and I know we can design a fun, interesting golf course that everyone can enjoy playing. The golf course is in the middle of an industrial area that will takes pride in its heritage but also offers wonderful views of the Buffalo skyline, Lake Erie, the South Park Arboretum and the Basillica.
7. Reversible courses and Varied-Tee Deck options are gaining slow steam in golf. Will the Buffalo course have any flexibility in its layout? (For example, might you locate different tee decks, so that the 5th hole plays as a par four the first 9, and a par five the second 9?)
We are just in the routing phase, but we are not ruling anything out in regards to uniqueness to the design and its flexibility.
8. What is the state of your golf game? Do you get to play much? What do you love most about the game?
My 2 handicap feels more like a 10, but I can still break par a handful of times a year.
9. What question haven’t we asked, that we should have? Please ask it and answer it, and thank you for your time.
How involved will Mr. Nicklaus be in this project?
Jack is and will continue to be very involved with the design of the golf course. Jack reviews all drawings and generates all the strategy for each golf hole himself. Jack will also make multiple site visits during construction and at the opening.
All images credited to: Jim Mandeville / The Nicklaus Companies