Thursday, October 29, 2015

Getting to Know: Jason Straka, Golf Course Architect

Hole No. 3 at Georgian Bay in Collingwood, Ontario
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Jason Straka: My father started me when I was about 6 years old.  I have a large extended family and golf was, and is, a big part of our lives. We even have an annual family tournament called the Straka Cup.  Every 4th of July weekend we compete for a large, engraved, silver family trophy.  If you win, you get your name engraved on it and you get to keep it for the year.  Golf is one of the activities that keeps our family very tight knit.

AG: How did you become a golf course designer?
JS: I started off by working as a greenkeeper for three years, essentially to learn the aspects of maintaining a course and how design impacted it.  I chose to study landscape architecture at Cornell University, in part due to its lineage of successful golf course designers such as Robert Trent Jones, Tom Doak and Gil Hanse.  I actually completed a senior design thesis under Tom back in 1994.  I also worked in golf course construction for several years, spent a summer on environmental research and putting greens, completed a masters in agronomy and environmental design under Dr. Norm Hummel, and finished my masters thesis on the development of Widow's Walk Golf Course in Scituate, MA, under Dr. Mike Hurdzan, which is widely regarded as the United States first environmental demonstration golf course.  That is how I ended up working for Mike for nearly 20 years.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JS: I grew up loving the outdoors ... golfing, fishing, camping, canoeing, hunting, and I also loved the creativity of design.  The combination of golf, being outdoors and using my creativity is what drew me to golf course design.  I chose my career path early on and have never looked back, now some 26 years later.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JS: The overall push to make golf courses long, and many of them difficult have certainly hurt the overall game.  I used to be one of the guys that wanted to 'see the whole course', played with 'one foot in the rough' but when I had children of my own, watched as my extended family aged, and even as I have grown older, the need for golf courses which are just fun became very apparent.  There has been more attention given to this in the past decade by many of my colleagues and a realization by our clients that long and difficult golf courses only serve a very small portion of the golfing public.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JS: I don't think there is one silver bullet, but rather a host of methods.  For a father who travels a lot for work, when I am home it is family time.  I don't spend time at the course when I am home unless it is with my family.  This is a lifestyle unlike years past when guys would have their usual weekend games.  The more family friendly courses are, in design and programming, the better.  Affordability is another key.  Golf is just one activity my kids participate in so discretionary funds are spread thin.  When I was a junior in northeast Ohio, Yankee Run Golf Course sold yearly junior passes for just $150.  I could play anytime on the weekday other than during leagues or outings and on weekends after 2 p.m.  I played with all my friends there and got hooked on the game for life.  I know that was a long time ago but the McMullin family who owned the course did so much good for the game by treating juniors that way.  We need more of that.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JS: Sure, to provide a great golf design that fits my clients needs which is also safe, fun to play, built technically correct for a reasonable cost and can be maintained for a reasonable cost using the least amount of inputs given project and site constraints.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JS: The par 3 third hole at the Georgian Bay Club in Collingwood, Ontario.  It's a spectacular hole but it's my favorite for another reason.  When I travel I usually will call my family to check in and talk, including my parents.  One time I happened to get a call from my father when I was sitting on that particular green site during construction after work one day, watching the sun set over the bay.  My father asked where I was in the world that day and I told him on one of the most spectacular green sites that I had seen.  I told him that one day I'd bring him there to play the finished hole. We did it a year or so later and those two precious days shared with my father will be etched in my memory for as long as I live.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
JS: My father, son and hopefully some day my grandchild.  It would be very cool to play with four generations together.  For now, my father, son and I make a great threesome.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JS: I've come to have a great affinity for links golf.  I've worked on many sites with links type characteristics but I'd love to actually design a course on true linksland, out on the water somewhere.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JS: Design trends will always come and go but I think we'll have some consistent staples such as the use of emerging technology.  Just as fast as computer technology changes so does technology in the golf business.  Just think of what is now becoming commonplace that was not in use just a few short years ago, such as the use of drones and drone technology, GPS trackers to study golf course traffic and use patterns, and maintenance efficiency. Environment design will be a constant too, as will safety issues.  Another reality, at least domestically, is the fact that not many new courses are going to be built.  Much of golf course design for the foreseeable future will be based on refurbishing our existing courses.  While complimentary, it does take a whole extra set of design and communication skills for that type of work.

To learn more about Jason and his work with partner Dana Fry at Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design, visit www.frystraka.com.

3 comments:

Steve Johnson said...

Great article on a tremendous young man. Jason is currently completing renovation work on The Oaks Club Heron Course in Osprey, Fl., and all of us here at the Oaks have benefited greatly from his creativity, passion, and dedication to making our course something members of all ages and skills will enjoy. You could not have selected a better subject for your interview.

Steve Johnson
The Oaks Club
Osprey, Fl.

Randy Elliott said...

Jason is a quality person as well as designer. We worked with him building the Georgian Bay Club for over 4 years. Of all the people I liaised with over the years, he would have to be at the top. The result of his work is evident from the picture above. We never have tired with playing the Club, especially the 3rd. It was designed so that each day the set up can vary so greatly that it feels like a new experience.

Randy Elliott
The Georgian Bay Club

PS. We had a new member join our club who is also a member at The Oaks Club because of the reputation of Jason.

Blogger said...

Thank you, Randy and Steve, for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to seeing a lot more of Jason's work.