Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Getting to Know: Cynthia Dye McGarey, Golf Course Architect

No. 5 at West Cliff Golf Links in Obidos, Portugal
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Cynthia Dye McGarey: I grew up in Urbana, Ohio where my father Roy Dye and his brother Pete Dye were born. In 1922, my grandfather Pink Dye built a 9 hole golf course, known today as Urbana Country Club, on a piece of the family’s farmland where they learned to play golf and greens-keeping. When I was a child, tennis was emerging as a popular the sport, especially for women, so I spent the summers in tennis camps and playing on school tennis teams rather than at the driving range. My mother said she and my dad would give us kids – my seven siblings and me - golf clubs and encourage us to play golf but we’d run for the club’s swimming pool. Not until after I had five children of my own did I start playing golf again for sport and hobby.

Cynthia Dye McGarey
AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
CDM: It chose me. My father opened a golf course architecture office in Urbana when I was 12. Throughout my teenage years, my sister and I would work there for an allowance after school and on weekends - coloring in maps and learning the basics of design. All of our family vacations centered around visiting the golf projects Dad was working on. In 1975, while I was attending ASU, my father relocated the design office to Scottsdale, Arizona. So I continued working on projects for him focusing on landscape architecture, which I was studying in college. Landscape and golf course design came naturally and was something I enjoyed. Later, my cousin Perry Dye offered me the opportunity to design landscapes and routings on the golf courses and clubhouses he was building in Asia, especially Japan, Korea, and Thailand. After spending more than 20 years traveling the world in the family business, I started my own company - Dye Designs Group.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
CDM: In the recent past there were a lot of golf courses built to sell real estate. I kept thinking - who are all these people that can afford such expensive lots and memberships? Many of which were speculation. The courses were overdone, excessive and not sustainable, giving golf a really bad image when the recession hit. Today, many of these courses are being remodeled and, in some cases, repurposed to make more economic sense.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
CDM: By building new courses and remodeling older courses to be more sustainable and affordable for all to enjoy. Also, by creating practice facilities and shorter courses, which allow for play without taking up too much of one’s time. Most Japanese and Koreans learn to play golf at driving ranges, never even playing a full golf course. Even their department stores have indoor hitting facilities. It encourages the interest in the sport without such heavy investment in time and money.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
CDM: I try to design golf courses that can be played by players of all abilities and ages. I want players to have an enjoyable experience despite their score. And for them to remember not just the overall course but each individual hole as a unique moment in the experience. I like when golf holes are given names and not just numbers. The Scots and Brits are clever giving names to features on golf holes, like the “cardinal bunker.” Also, I think it is very important to make maintenance cost an integral part of the design. This affects the quality, consistency, and affordability of the golfing experience over the long-term.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
CDM: While designing golf holes on a site that has no character is an exciting challenge - the golf course we built on a downtown Las Vegas garbage dump was an amazing transformation – I favor the ones that just fit the ground naturally. The golf holes at West Cliffs Golf Club on the coast in Portugal are breathtaking. The land was just there waiting for the track to be routed into it naturally. Nothing had to be forced.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
CDM: Tiger Woods, Bob Hope, Marion Hollins, and George C. Thomas. It would be fascinating for all to be a part of Tiger’s approach to the game and hole-by-hole strategy. Then Bob would make Tiger lighten up and smile. Marion could tell us how she discovered Pebble Beach and George could teach us all about grafting roses and golf architecture. I guess that makes a party of five. I will caddy.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
CDM: Close to home in Colorado.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
CDM: Diversity in length and in golf programs offered. Some golf facilities are developing new games like foot golf to appeal more people. And as I mentioned before, there are programs that allow golfers to play a 3, 6, 10, 12-hole loop and not just the traditional 9 or 18-hole round. Some people, especially today’s youth, have less time and attention for the full round. In addition, we must continue to push for golf course remodeling programs that make them more sustainable.

AG: Any advice for someone considering a career in golf course design?
CDM: A lot of recent college students come into the field with just computer skills, lacking any onsite experience. To me it is critical to get out in the field and learn how to construct what is on the screen - or for me, on the paper. They must learn to use their head and their hands together. There are certain proficiencies that can only be taught when your feet are in the dirt with the piece of land spread out in front of you. That is where you discover opportunities in design that are easily missed by the machine.

Learn more about Cynthia HERE and on Facebook.

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