Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Getting to Know: Ryan Farrow, Golf Course Architect

Sand Valley in Nekoosa, Wisc.
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Ryan Farrow: I started playing in the 8th grade when my mother purchased a beginners set for me. It came with a handful of clubs and a plush tiger head cover on the driver. I would only play a few times a year but finally became hooked when my older brother brought me along on a golf trip to Maryland. I finally saw some golf courses that were properly designed instead of the neglected public courses I grew up on.

AG: How did you become a golf course designer?
Ryan Farrow
RF: Mostly luck! I received a lot of support online when I stumbled upon and was able to read some encouraging stories about the journey many golf course architects undertook. I won an internship with Tom Doak in 2007 to work on the construction crew at Rock Creek Cattle Company as Junior at ASU. I then worked in a design office in Scottsdale my senior year for John Fought Design and graduated just as the financial markets crashed in 2007-2008. I weathered the storm by working in China for Schmidt-Curley Design as a Design Associate. That six-year journey started with me splitting office time and site supervision on a 22-course golf resort (later whittled down to 10 courses) on the tropical island of Hainan and culminated with my first project as Lead Designer (with Schmidt-Curley) in the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia China at 26 years old. A few months before the golf course was set to open, the central government began to crack down on corruption and reinforced its moratorium on golf course construction throughout the country. The golf course was subsequently closed, along with at least 50 others and the market as a whole dried up overnight. For the past two years I have been working as a shaper with Coore & Crenshaw Design on projects in Virginia and Wisconsin and have been sharpening my photography skills along the way, being published on a few magazine covers, in two books and the front page of Wisconsin's largest newspaper.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
RF: I have always been interested in design and had aspirations to become a building architect or landscape architect. I finally settled on graphic design before entering college at Arizona State. When I saw the senior class working on typefaces as a final project, I realized graphic design was not going to be a fulfilling profession and did some research into golf course design. When I finally found out it was a legitimate profession, and many of them were educated in landscape architecture, and many of them were practicing in Arizona, I knew it was for me. The combination of losing yourself in a round of golf, forgetting everything that is going on outside of the golf course grounds, and  reconnecting with nature is what attracted me to the profession.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
RF: Certainly the length of golf courses has become a major problem, but I place most of the blame on the governing bodies and their inability to control the length of the golf ball. Not many architects have the ability to tell a client no, when they are asked to build a par 72, 7,000+ yard golf course. Now we are seeing golf courses with 6-7 sets of tees where the men and women are not even playing the same golf course. Let's just say 80-90% of golfers are perfectly happy and adequately challenged by a 6,400 yard, par 70 golf course. Then why are we forcing longer rounds and higher green fees in order to serve the 5-10% that drive the ball 300 yards? I would rather eliminate a back tee than add one, distance is not making golf more fun.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
RF: You can see that I am leaning towards shorter courses and to take that one step further, we can create alternate facilities like par 3 courses and putting courses to introduce the beginner to a less overwhelming and less stressful atmosphere. Another cost-free solution would be to offer a "beginner's round" on existing courses that might play 2,000-3,000 yards. It can be as simple as a placing a marker halfway up the fairway and offering a heavily discounted green fee that may encourage men to bring their wife and/or children along with them on the golf course.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
Dalu Dunes in Inner Mongolia China
RF: I would prefer to let the site dictate as much of the design as possible, I am certainly in the minimalist camp and enjoy a naturally contoured fairway like we see on many of the classic layouts built in the early 1900's. I also like to build a golf course that is inspired by designs of a certain area like you see on Long Island, or the sandbelt of Melbourne, Australia. If I were to build a course in western Pennsylvania it would probably have drainage ditches, and  flat bottomed, grass faced bunkers like you see at Oakmont or Seth Raynor's Fox Chapel. With that said, I would NOT want to imitate iconic features like the church pews. In general, my courses would have lots of width, minimal forced carries, and fun, varied green sites that give each hole its own identity.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
RF: The 5th hole at Dalu Dunes. It is a driveable par 4 with lots of width and plays to a punchbowl green. It sounds like an easy hole but you have to play smart in order to get a birdie (or hit a heroic tee shot). Part of the challenge also rests with the visibility and angle of the green site as it is tucked below the fairway and obscured by a dune ridge. The smart play is an iron off the tee to the right side of the fairway, which leaves you with a great angle, but a partially blind shot to the green. The foolish play is to bomb a drive down the middle/left of the fairway where you end up approaching the punchbowl from the side, leaving the golfer with an impossible wedge shot that will, more than likely, land on a down slope and roll away from the pin.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
RF: Myself, President Obama, President elect Trump, and a Camera Man.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
RF: No. 1 on my list is to built a great public course in the City of Pittsburgh, where I grew up. The people of our town have been surrounded by great golf courses like Oakmont, Fox Chapel, Pittsburgh Field Club etc. ... but they are not accessible to the public. I want to give them something they can be proud of, something to call their own. I would also love to build courses where I share family heritage, Italy, Germany, and Slovakia. Family has always been the most important part of my life and as a golf course builder, there is nothing I enjoy more than getting to know the culture, food, and people where I am working.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
RF: I am not one to predict the future so let's just say a great service has been done through Tom Doak's internship program and by architects who are training young designers to build golf courses. Many of us have learned from the best designers in the industry and are well versed in the classic designs and writings from Alister Mackenzie, George Thomas, Robert Hunter, Wethered and Simpson etc. We have all of the tools we need to continue building great courses and the golf world should be better off because of it.

Learn more about Ryan Farrow at

1 comment:

Gate Holloman said...

Hi there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.|