Friday, May 5, 2017

Getting to Know: Casey O'Callaghan, Golf Course Architect

Indian Canyons Golf Resort in Palm Springs, Calif.
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Casey O'Callaghan: I started playing when I was six. My dad cut off his five wood and putter and I started out playing Mission Viejo Country Club. It was not my prime sport but I played a lot of golf with my dad throughout my childhood.

Casey O'Callaghan
AG: How did you become a golf course designer?
CO: I graduated with a degree in Architecture and Environmental Design from UC Berkeley. I didn’t have a passion for architecture and I had basically eliminated “architecture” as a future profession. After graduating, I spent about six months traveling the world. On that trip, my friend, Scott Fortune, planted the seed of pursuing golf course design. I had played golf all my life and had a background in design. When I got back from the trip I started interviewing with different design firms. Oddly enough, I met someone on a golf course who knew Cal Olson. I got an interview with Cal and got hired. I worked for Cal for three years and decided to start my own company. Ignorance is bliss. I fell flat on my face and struggled the first two years. However, I started to get traction in 1995 and have had some great projects throughout my 24 years of design.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
CO: See above. I think golf course design chose me. However, once I started working I found a true passion for golf course design. I love the strategy, aesthetics, and playability of golf course design. Furthermore, I love the technical side of grading, drainage, and AutoCAD. It meets me on a creative as well as technical level.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
CO: The dreaded “7,000 yard golf course!” In the mid 90’s there seemed to be a trend with developers that they wanted a “championship” golf course. Somehow, 7,000 yards seemed to epitomize the essence of a championship layout. These longer courses used up a lot of real estate and made golf a lot more difficult. The average male golfer is +16 handicap and only 25% can break 90. These golfers end up playing 6,600-6,800 yard course on these longer courses. They play a punishing round of golf and end up not breaking 100. You play enough tough rounds on difficult courses and eventually you find another activity.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
CO: Golf needs to be fun. Public golf courses need to figure out how to move golfers through the golf course quickly. Golf course designers need to design golf courses for their target market. A resort course should be a fun and playable golf course. Private courses can have more nuances and difficulty. Public courses should incorporate design features that allow golfers to play quickly.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
CO: I focus on creating fun playable golf courses for the average golfer that are aesthetically pleasing. I often place hazards (i.e. sand bunkers) just beyond their landing zone and give them a generous fairway. However, these same bunkers that are beyond the average golfers drive are strategically significant for your lower handicap golfer. The bunker placement gives the lower handicap golfer the option to challenge the bunkers or lay back and have a longer shot into the green complex. Furthermore, I like to provide golfers numerous avenues to reach the green on their approach shot. Longer hitting golfers can fly the ball into the green complex but I usually try to provide a bump and run option for shorter hitters.
Hole No. 7 at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif.
AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
CO: Hole #7 at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club. It is a double dogleg par five hole along the bluff top. It is short enough to reach the green in two if you challenge the sand bunkers that guard the first fairway landing zone. However, there is a generous landing area to the left if you play it as a three shot hole. Golfers attempting to reach the green in two can fly the ball to the green or can just carry the fairway bunkers on the left side of the second landing area. Most shots that carry these bunkers will feed down to the front of the green. Players that lay up on their second shot have a variety of locations to hit their ball (short left of the bunkers, right side fairway, or just past the bunkers on their right) to give them the best approach angle to the green based on the pin location.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
CO: My dad, Kelly Slater, and Ben Crenshaw. My dad because I would choose him first every time. I have so many great memories on the course with him. I love surfing and have surfed as long as I have played golf. Kelly is the best of the best and he is an excellent golfer. I loved Ben Crenshaw as a golfer and love him even more as a golf course designer. I would love to see what he sees when walking and playing a golf course.

AG:  Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
CO: Seaside links land. However, I have the next best think right now with a project in Belize. The developer opened up 2,000 acres to design a course (we normally only need 200 acres) and has allowed me to located the golf course in the best portions of the property. The site has beautiful savannah grasses, caribbean pine trees, jungle, dry streams and amazing views toward the mountains.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
CO: The immediate future seems to be renovation and restoration jobs in the United States with a limited amount of new golf courses. A lot of golf courses were built last century that need to be updated or restored.

Learn more about Casey O'Callaghan at

No comments: