Careers in Golf: Golf Course Architect

Dec 22, 2014

Overhead map serving as an example of output for a golf course architect or designer

This is the ninth post in a series exploring professional paths in the golf industry.

As a sport, the game of golf is tied to the courses on which it is played. It’s not a stretch to say that the development of new courses and the buildings and amenities that are a part of them is integral to growth of the game.

A swell in new course construction can be an indicator that the industry is healthy, whereas inaccessibility to courses discourages players and is correlated to a dip in participation. In short, a surge in facility development can “create a brand and comfort for the player,” said Buzz Gill, Director of the Career Development Department at Golf Academy of America in San Diego.

Golf facilities are comprised of the course itself, and perhaps a pro shop, clubhouse, driving range or a larger resort. Those seeking a career as a Golf Course Architect would aid in the design and building process of these amenities.

Golf Course Architects and facility developers can be found at Golf Course Architecture firms, golf course building firms, irrigation firms, landscape firms or as an owner’s project manager for golf courses under construction/renovation. They might work for developers in the real estate, municipal or non-profit arenas.

According to Michael Flanagan, a PGA Instructor at Golf Academy of America in San Diego, “Anyone is entitled to call himself a Golf Course Architect. All that is required is a client willing to spend money to design a place to play golf. There is no educational requirement, no licensing and no testing.” However, he said it’s important for Golf Course Architects to have a passion for the game, and perhaps greenkeeping experience. According to Flanagan, education in turfgrass, design or environmental science is also helpful. Becoming a member of Golf Course Architects Society is advisable.

An Golf Course Architect’s initial duty is to analyze the land, studying topography, drainage, environmental challenges and general suitability for the course that the developer has envisioned. This includes site and feasibility study, schematic design, design development and master planning phase. Golf Course Architects can also be active in permit approval, construction documents, bidding, pre-construction and the actual construction phases, all the way to course opening.

Depending on site limitations, it can take a year or two on average to develop a course. Many Golf Course Architects work on multiple courses simultaneously. Today, golf course design is often a product of a design team rather than the work of a single architect.

Golf Academy of America offers several courses to prepare an individual for a career as a Golf Course Architect, including classes titled “Golf Course Design,” “Principles/Golf Course Maintenance” and “Capstone Management Study of Golf Operations.” As Flanagan said, “Becoming a Golf Course Architect requires a lot of preparation, perseverance, and luck. The only true and time-honored requirement is having a trusting client.”

Previous Posts in the Jobs in Golf Series Include: