Thursday, January 12, 2017

Getting to Know: Patrick Burton, Golf Course Architect

American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Patrick Burton: I picked up the game when I was 12, which was about the same time I started as a Caddy at Muirfield Country Club in Dublin, Ohio. I played competitively through high school, but rarely broke 80. I now play golf whenever I can – usually every few weeks.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
PB: I met Golf Course Architect, Jason Straka (a Senior Designer for Hurdzan/Fry at the time) at a lecture series on Golf Course Design during my Freshman year at Ohio State. Through that connection, I learned about the profession, worked on golf course construction and maintenance crews during the summers and became hooked. If you’re a golf nut – there’s nothing better than designing courses. I liken it to putting together a really big puzzle – there are engineering components to consider, often times development, along with providing a memorable golf experience. Transforming a 100+ Acre site and creating a canvas on which to play is the ultimate.

AG: You operate two businesses - one pure design focus, one consulting focused. What are the best aspects of each and how does the tandem benefit you?
PB: The consulting business (Burton Golfworks), was born largely out of circumstance. Following the collapse of the golf market in China in 2014, I looked domestically for opportunities. I started consulting for other architects and contractors as both a way to generate revenue, and develop a network here stateside. I’ve enjoyed seeing how others in the profession work and it’s also nice developing a rapport with contractors, whom I will likely work with in the future. Golf Course Design is my true passion, and the design business (Burton Golf Design) is thankfully starting to gain traction – in large part due to the groundwork established through consulting.

AG: You're the youngest member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). What is the importance of belonging to that respected organization?
PB: The ASGCA is storied organization – I’m honored to be a part of it. The qualifications to become a member of the ASGCA are among the most stringent in the profession; it’s an awesome credential to have, especially as a young designer. “Behind the curtain” of the ASGCA, fellow members have been very supportive as I’ve gotten my own business off the ground – the comradery and fellowship I’ve experienced being a member thus far has been my favorite part.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
PB: Alister MacKenzie once wrote: “No hole can be considered perfect unless it can be played with a putter,” to which I strongly agree. I like giving players of all abilities options – provide several lines-of-play and let the golfer choose his or her own path.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
PB: Equipment trends and rules modifications (or lack thereof) are killing the game - many “design trends” have arisen due to improved equipment technology. In recent years, it’s been terrific to see the “minimalist movement” gaining in popularity – and our national Open played on courses that are firm, fast and even a little brown.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
PB: I don’t really have a favorite hole – but the project I’m most proud of is Yulongwan Golf Club in Kunming, China. It was a rugged mountain property that we had to man-handle in order to make the holes fit into the terrain. We had a tremendous construction team and an owner that provided a monumental amount of support (a rarity in China) – several holes are inspiring and fun to play, many include stunning backdrops which is a nice bonus.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
PB: Not particularly – I’ve always prided myself on the ability to design a course on any site, good or bad – and make the most of it. A “heathland” type of site would be really special – might be a bit farfetched, but you never know.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
PB: Assuming there is a future??? I’d like to think we’ll continue to renovate and design new courses that will be more fun to play for the average player, and also utilize fewer natural resources. I would hope we’ll not be stuck on the standard of “Par 72, +7,000 yards,” or even 18-holes for that matter.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
PB: I don’t really take playing golf too seriously – having fun is the most important part … so for me, a fun day on the links would be with: John Daly, Fred Couples and Payne Stewart.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
PB: I’m a strong proponent of bifurcation – there’s no reason amateurs, most of whom shoot in the 90’s, should be subject to the same equipment and rules as professionals. Anything and everything to make the game more appealing to the next generation is what we should be working on: relaxed rules, allowing non-conforming equipment, perhaps integrating a bigger cup, and providing non-18 hole courses are just few things we could do to keep the game going.

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