In early April of 2022, I had the opportunity to travel to the Treasure Coast of Florida, to visit PGA Village (Port St. Lucie) and PGA National (Palm Beach Gardens.) After a massive amount of golf, two courses remained in my memory. They are The Staple and The Match. The PGA National resort used to have a course called The Squire. Andy Staples was given complete reign over its property. He eliminated the first and 18th holes, and replaced them with The Staple, a nine-hole short course with absolutely spectacular greens, bunkering, and vistas. With the remaining 16 holes, he created The Match, a course with no tee markers, where the winner of the previous hole determines where the teeing ground will be for the next hole.
Down the road, we will review each course. For now, we want you to get to know Andy Staples in his own words. We present this interview with an exciting new name in golf course architecture. Enjoy.
- Tell us who you are and what you do in the world of golf.
My name is Andy Staples, and I’m a golf architect based in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ve been in the golf business for over 30 years now, and founded my firm, Staples Golf Design, in 2002. The world’s best golf courses bring more people to the game, and are built sustainable and environmentally conscious way. I aim to use design to help leave the game of golf better than I found it.
- What made you decide to get involved in golf course architecture?
It was my dad. As a family, we spent many summers in Northern Wisconsin on a sandy beach near Rome, WI. It was here where sand bunker practice turned to building a small sand green with 9 tees, transplanted pine trees, retaining walls, and an island tee from the dock. Seeing my dedication, my dad came to me and told me there was a profession that designed golf courses. I think I was 12.
- Which events gave you the courage to start a firm and go it alone?
My dad was self-employed, so I’m sure that had a subconscious effect. But I think some of it was just my growing experience and the timing of the situation. I had met two other individuals from other disciplines in the golf industry that were my age and looking to do something on their own, and that helped give me some confidence in the idea and served as a good sounding board. I surely did not have that magic project, or trusting owner lined up – It just felt right, and I haven’t looked back.
- Of the projects you’ve worked on so far, which have given you the most satisfaction?
The most important job to this point in my career has been Meadowbrook Country Club, just outside of Detroit, Michigan. It was extremely rewarding to be able to sell a vision to a member-owned club, have them place the confidence in me and my team to execute, and then see the fruits of our labor in terms of the Club’s satisfaction and overall notoriety they’ve gained.
Rockwind Community Links in Hobbs, New Mexico was also very satisfying to me, as the City of Hobbs chose to use the game of golf and their newly renovated golf course as a centerpiece to life in their city. We designed a course that focused on golfers and non-golfers alike, and this ethos has proven to be successful for not only their community, but also for other municipalities across the country.
Finally, it has been incredible to be involved with Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago. Being chosen to foster this historic club into the future is incredible. Planning for member play along with current and future professional tournaments has been a rewarding experience, and it has really evolved my thoughts on the balance of designing golf courses for all skill levels.
- Which elements of golf course architecture do you think the average golfer misses that would help them to understand golf courses and play/score better?
I think most golfers miss that most designers put a lot more effort into placing multiple teeing grounds to provide variety, or a different strategy, and not always based on pure length. A golf hole should be versatile and interesting from a variety of lengths, and golfers should search out interesting tees and angles based on the playing experience rather than just an overall yardage number.
I’d also say most golfers should understand there is essential strategy presented in just about every great golf hole. Even the slightest pivot in aiming point, or adjustment of what club they hit, can have a dramatic effect on the success of a score, so use the features and think about your approach, as opposed to just trying to hit the fairway or get it close to the green.
I also always tell my friends to look for the low point of every green to understand the general direction a green will break. When we build greens, the first thing we look for is where is the water going. All putting greens will surface drain themselves so understanding the highs and lows will give you insight as to how your balls will roll across the putting surface.
- On which golf course build in all of history would you have loved to been a part of the team, and why?
Augusta National. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when McKenzie and Jones laid the course out and made adjustments. It would be fascinating to hear their views as the architect versus the player in terms of the overall strategy, and how that strategy was realized on the ground.
I’d also love to know the background of why MacKenzie wasn’t paid his full fee!
- How is your golf game these days? Does being an architect help when you play?
My game is decent I would say, considering I really don’t play as much as I would like. I’ve managed to hold on to a 3 to 4 handicap, which tends to trend up after about 12 holes! Being an architect is both a blessing and a curse. I tend to find myself getting a bit more picky of the courses I play as I grow older, and I can get bored with playing very quickly. It’s why I’m such a proponent of Match play. If we’re not playing in some form of game, and we’re on a bad golf course, I’d rather be someplace else.
- Is there a future project that you can discuss that has you excited? If not, we have another question.
So, I’m really pumped to be named the consulting architect of a Willie Park Jr. club called Weston Golf & Country Club in Toronto, Canada. We’re early in the process but this place has a fantastic set of greens, and some really cool history! Their original 2nd hole played under a rail road bridge, which I’d love to restore (but probably unlikely to happen).
I’m also very excited about working with Garden City Country Club on Long Island, a 1916 original Walter Travis design. We’re setting the wheels in motion for a full course restoration using some historic aerial photography, and club images. It has been incredible to get to know Walter Travis and his green design philosophy! I can’t wait to begin this project.
- Which question haven’t we (or anyone else) asked that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please.
(Editor’s Note: Andy Staples is the first interview subject EVER to give us two questions. Talk about a guy who gets us! #Soulmate.)
- In your opinion, what’s the best hidden gem / most underrated course in the U.S. right now, and why?
The first course that immediately comes to mind is Huntercombe Golf Club in London. Founded in 1901. this was Willie Park Jr’s personal golf course, where I believe he implemented and perhaps even tested his course design philosophies. And, it’s as preserved as any of his courses I’ve seen.
- What’s the biggest tip you’d give to anyone wanting to get into golf architecture?
Understand the game of golf. No, you don’t have to be a great player, but you certainly have to understand how a good golfer thinks, along with the realities of how the average golfer tries to maximize his talents to enjoy a course the most. I find more and more that the best courses in the world provide insight into the preferred strategy, and playability, and the courses that fall short fail to acknowledge the most basic principles of the game.