Most of us know the golf course. We play on top of it, sometimes daily. Hardly ever do we meet the people responsible for it, the ones who altered or didn’t alter, the ground. The ones who laid out the trace, placed the hazards, shaped the undulations. Today, that changes. Kye Goalby works in the development of golf courses. He runs bulldozers and other big equipment. He returns classic courses to their classic condition, reversing years of trifling by ignorant, selfish architects and zealous greens committees. He works with some of the most important designers in the game today and also has time to run his own business. Kye took time to answer some questions from across the globe. We are grateful. Photos of Kye Goalby on his favorite equipment are courtesy of Joe Wachter and Glen Echo Golf Club.

1. Your dad is a Masters champion. Your cousin is a successful PGA tour player. Your other cousin and you decided to head to Wake Forest and play some golf, etc. Talk about your growing-up in the game and what some of the important moments were.

As you pointed out I grew up around some pretty good players  With my Dad obviously in the same house  when he wasn’t away playing on the Tour, and my cousins, Jay Haas and Jerry Haas living about 6 or 7 houses up the street in a fairly small town outside St Louis.  While I was a decent junior, and sometimes amateur player, it wasn’t too hard for me to figure out I was not nearly  as good as some others around me and more importantly,  that I was not as motivated and driven to be great.  They all worked really hard at the game with a strong focus, and that, as much as talent, is what gave them an edge.    Growing up in this environment, just like any kid,  It was all I really knew, so it wasn’t something to really think about or even realize it was that different than anybody else’s experiences. There were obviously some nice perks that I did understand I was  fortunate to have, like attending the Masters, getting inside the ropes at golf tournaments and getting to meet guys like Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus  and when caddying for my dad during college summers, getting to meet and talk with guys like Bobby Orr, George Brett and Stan Musial during pro-am rounds.  That part, I realized was pretty darn cool,  and that I was quite lucky to get the opportunity to experience.


2. You graduated from Wake Forest some time in the 1980s. If you were like me, you asked yourself, “What the heck do I do now?” What were your first jobs out of college and what kept you from pursuing them?

After College, I had completely burned out on golf and I don’t think I even touched my clubs during my senior year. After graduation I just wanted to move to the northeast ( Boston, NYC) and make money and keep living the college lifestyle, but with cash!  Being a naive 22 year old I thought that was easy.  I ended up working for Fidelity Investments for a few years and realized, just like golf, that there were other people in the financial industry that were much more talented and and a lot more motivated to be rich than I was!   I also couldn’t stand being in the office all day and really wanted to get outside. 


3. At some point, you got into the building of golf courses. For someone who grew up on top of fairways, tees and greens to morph into someone who made a living beneath those spaces is a monumental series of steps. How did you get into building golf courses?

It was really a lucky break to get into the golf design business.  I was kind of floundering in  Boston and thinking about switching up the career path. I knew a guy that had a golf construction company and thought about giving that a shot, when out of the blue in 1989 someone offered my dad  job designing a golf course in the town where we grew up.  My dad was still playing Senior Tour golf and doing TV announcing , so he needed help with the supervision and execution of the course design. Being a 25 year old with no experience in golf design,( but knowing pretty much everything) I figured I was the perfect associate!  I mean how hard was designing and building a golf course?  I had played a lot of golf, my dad was Tour pro and I had seen a lot of Tour golf courses, so hell yes I had all the experience I needed!  It took a few years,  but I learned that I didn’t know squat.  I began studying golf design on my own by reading everything I could on the subject and going to see every course I could. i also  learned to run a bulldozer and track hoe to build my own greens bunkers etc, which, in 1997 led to an opportunity to work with a rather unknown guy named Tom Doak. That has led to  lot of great experiences over the last two decades working on some fantastic golf courses all over the world.

photo (1)

4. There come two points in every successful career, I think. The first is the one at which you feel like throwing your hands up and quitting. The second is when you have an epiphany and say, “Wow, this is for me.” Did you have either of those moments? If so, talk about them.

The “wow this is for me” moment came really early in that  first job of my dads.  It didn’t take me long to figure out it wasn’t as easy as I thought, but I did seem to have a knack for certain elements and really enjoyed getting out there every morning and putting the pieces together, working with the construction crews and trying to explain details to them.  The beauty of it was it never seemed like work even though we were out there sweating and getting dirty 10 to 12 hours a day. I knew that was a special dynamic and its something I still feel 25 years later. I honestly have never had a throw up my hands monument where I felt like quitting.  There were a few times when work was very slow and I thought I may have to do something else to survive, and that is always a thought that stays in the back of the mind as the golf business sometimes doesn’t seem sustainable with our focus on snobby, expensive,  over maintained, over constructed, unsustainable golf courses as many peoples ideal of what golf is about.    

5. Tell us about the best golf course you’ve ever had a hand in building. Who was the architect and what made it the best?

Seems to be  a theme here…, I have been really fortunate to work on a lot of great courses with Tom Doak.  I think Old Macdonald, Ballyneal, Sebonack and  Rock Creek Cattle Club, are all in Golfweek Top 15 modern courses. Of those Ballyneal was the  by far the most fun to work on.  We had a great team, an owner who allowed us to do our thing, a great site and a great routing by Tom Doak.  We knew it could be special, but nobody was stressed out, we were all confident we could do something great and while working very hard in the middle of nowhere, we had fun every day we were out there and a lot of the nights too.  I have told the story often, about the team and fun environment we had in place there during construction,  being transferred into a really fun golf experience as well.  I really believe  the spirit  we had building that course resonates every time a golfer steps onto the course. Its just a place that you puts a  smile on your face as you play, no matter how you are playing. To me that should be what golf is about.  Life is hard enough, golf should be fun.


6. Tell us about the most fun you’ve ever had while building a golf course.

Well that job at Ballyneal was a blast, but I have had great times on many projects.  It all starts with  the ownership or club leaders ( depending if it is a new course or renovation of an exciting club) creating a well planned environment where you can succeed.  Also working in cool locations can add to some great fringe benefits if you enjoy a little adventure and travleing.  In the last four years I have worked in North Berwick,  Scotland for a summer.  Tokyo, Japan for 6 months, Mangawhai, New Zealand for about 7 months and Southern California during a couple of winters.  The job I am on now for Tom Doak in New Zealand is phenomenal.  We have a great crew of young guys learning the business with  real international cast of characters.  We have a couple of Americans, a Kiwi, an Aussie and an Englishman. Working with these young guys who are trying to learn the business and working their tails off is a real treat, as is getting to meet a bunch of great new friends from New Zealand, and experience a new culture in a fabulous beach town 12000 miles from home. 

Working in Japan was also a fantastic and fun experience.  I did a co design with Brian Silva there in 2012.  My job was to be on site every day and rebuild all the greens and bunkers at an existing golf course.  I was the only guys on a crew of about 30 that spoke English and thought it would be a nightmare, but it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.  Th Japanese people were exceedingly kind to my wife and I, and again we made tons of friends, some who spoke English and some who barely could.  The funny thing was even though I couldn’t verbally communicate with the crew there I tried to have a lot of fun with the course and the vibe of fun seemed to  translate.  We did some things on that course which were not the normal for Japan and even their culture and the crew really got into the work and the “rule breaking” It became more of me and the golf course features leading by example and them sort of understanding by watching what I was building.    I think they enjoyed having the ability to  break out of some of the rather ridged Japanese  convention and methods of doing things. We had a lot of smiles on the job every day and it paid off, The course won Golf Magazines Best International Renovation in 2013.


7. Without giving away the name, tell us about the worst experience you’ve had building a golf course and what made it so wretched a time.

It is pretty easy, the only thing that really bugs me, and its only happened a few times, is when an Architect I may be working with makes decisions based on politics, ego, or lack of preparation.  I have mostly worked on my own jobs or with Tom Doak for twenty years  On my jobs I am there very day and take time to think things trough and with Tom he never makes a quick judgment, he will usually be on site for a day or two before really making any changes or big decisions. His vists usually last about a week, so he has time to let things percolate and to think through  the array of elements that go into every design decision.   Most importantly he is also not afraid to say “I don’t know”.

In contrast there have been a few  guys  I have worked with who make one day site visits, get out of a car with an entourage of owners etc, walk up to a green and start pointing out stuff  to change without having much idea what they are even looking at.  They might say something like make this bunker wider here, cut this green eight inches there,  etc without actually realizing it may completely destroy the surface drainage, make something not visible from the fairway etc, etc. But it makes them look decisive and valuable in front of the group who are usually paying their fee!  While there is no doubt  some thoughtful  changes can help, these types of impulsive and pompous decisions often make the golf less good.  It can also get expensive,  as  often after the guy is gone someone in power realizes the ramifications of those moves and  time and money have to be spent to put it back to something similar to  how it was  previously.

8. Where are you now and what is the name of the project? What are your future plans?

I am in Mangawhai , New Zealand working for Tom Doak on  project called Tara iti.  it is in dunes along the beach about an hour and a half north of Auckland.  When finished it may well  be the best course I have ever worked on.  The owner’s directive and goal was to find a great site and to build a top 50 course in the world.   I don’t control  the rankings element, but I  know it will  for absolutely  be the most visually stunning course I have had a hand in and probably the most stunning I have seen anywhere. The site is just beautiful.  There are views of the south Pacific from every hole,  and quite a few greens are close enough to the beach that I have seen the maintenance crew guys  take a break from mowing, go grab their  surfboard off the utility vehicle and ride a few waves before finishing up the work!After finishing up here and sadly leaving,   the road show continues.  I have a few months of work in Santa Monica, California then some renovation work of my own to do on a really cool, old  William Langford course in Wisconsin.  That job is very rewarding because the club does not have a lot of money to spend, but by being smart and efficient and working with the in house crew, we can make some really quick and dramatic improvements without spending a lot of money.  While I have gotten to work on a lot of high profile and very well known clubs, it might be my Midwestern upbringing coming out, but  I get more satisfaction by providing these under the radar clubs with hands on improvement without spending a lot of money. 

9. What question haven’t I (or anyone else, for that matter) asked that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it.

Not sure. I will have to think about that and get back to you!  Not too many people  interview me!

photo (2)