published Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Course design stalled in U.S.

Lee Schmidt flew back to Chattanooga in time to serve as an unofficial host of the American Society of Golf Course Architects meeting at The Chattanoogan on Friday morning.

He welcomed colleagues he hasn't seen in a year -- or longer -- with a firm handshake and warm embrace because he's the one who suggested the group should gather in the Scenic City.

"It's all his fault," joked ASGCA vice president Rick Robbins, who designed Canyon Ridge atop Lookout Mountain. "It was going to be my suggestion that we come to Chattanooga. But he beat me to it."

There are three golf course redesigns going on in the area: Black Creek is getting tweaked a bit, Sewanee is getting a face-lift from Olympic course Gil Hanse, and the old Sequatchie Valley Golf and Country Club has been bulldozed into oblivion with Rob Collins and Tad King reshaping the 72-acre property.

Redesigns and renovations account for about 95 percent of the work ASGCA members are conducting in the United States these days. They're working on small projects in the States because America is saturated with golf courses, especially in the current economic environment.

"The supply of golf is overburst," Schmidt said. "It's changed our profession."

Robbins began designing Canyon Ridge in 1994. On Thursday he played the course, which was planned around a residential and resort community.

"There are too many courses because of the previous housing demand and building courses in and around housing developments," Robbins said. "The U.S. is going to take a long time to adapt."

There are still plenty of places for ASGCA members to find original design work, but they must have a passport. Most of that work is being done overseas, particularly in Asia in countries such as China, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Schmidt joked that the more passport stamps designers have, the more successful they've been the last several years.

"A year or two ago China was wide open, but it's slowed since last fall," said Schmidt, who began working for Jack Nicklaus in Asia in the early 1990s. "Getting into that market and making connections was everything."

Working in foreign markets involves dealing with different cultures. As basic as golf course design can be in principle, it gets very complicated in reality because so many people from landowners to government officials, local and beyond, are trying to make money and want input.

"There's at least one middleman in every project," Robbins said. "It's important to know that on the front end."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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