Thursday, October 12, 2017

Getting to Know: John Colligan, Golf Course Architect

Pecan Plantation CC in Granbury, Texas
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
John Colligan: I started playing at the ripe old age of 10 in Dallas at Elm Fork Golf Course which later changed to L.B. Houston and is now called Luna Vista G.C. ... We renovated the course in 2011 which was a labor of love for me, remembering all the good times I had with my father and our German Shepard over 50 years ago.

John Colligan, ASGCA
AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JC: Part preparation and part luck. I attended Skyline High School in Dallas, which offered Architecture for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. I then Attended The University of Texas at Arlington and got my under graduate degree in Architecture. I got a little bored with some of the preliminary curriculum and dabbled in landscape architecture. I always loved golf and thought this might be a good direction to take to get into golf course design so I went on to get my Masters in landscape architecture and tailored my program around golf course design. While I was in graduate school, Jeff Brauer moved to Dallas from Chicago. Jeff called the University to see if there were any students interested in golf course design. Jeff called and my wife answered, he said he wanted to talk to me about working as a golf course architect; my wife thought it was one of my fraternity brothers and almost hung up on him. That would have made for a very short career. I worked for Jeff for 12 years and have had my own firm for 20 years as of April 21 of this year.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JC: Yes, it's what I refer as the "Viagra" theory. Everybody wanted courses longer and harder. Thus costing more to construct a course and therefore more to play, taking more time with less enjoyment. I feel the game is challenging enough in and of itself. My motto is "Golf should be enjoyed, not endured."
Parker Golf and Fishing in North Texas
AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JC: I've been designing to grow the game from the first day I opened my own shop. I think the intimidation factor is one primary factor that keeps people from getting started, so I start with practice facilities which ease people into the game; putting courses where they can learn the golf etiquette and the basics of the game. From there, short game areas where they can slowly be taught some strategy and swing basics. Then a practice range for full swing instruction and which will typically have a number of realistic target greens, a target fairway and can be set up to be played as a short course so there is no pressure from other players on the course. From the range I have tried to incorporate beginner or junior tees into the majority of new and renovations I have done.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JC: As I mentioned earlier, golf should be enjoyed, not endured. We create courses that are user friendly and fun to play for all skill levels. We want the course to be challenging for the lower handicap player; not difficult, it is easy to design a course that is hard. Designing a fair and fun [course] requires careful study of tee locations, hazard positioning, wind direction, greens locations, contouring and directional axis; fairway contouring; drainage and overall character and design style. The one underlying element I feel is most important to any course and may be the primary reason so many people play the game is beauty. You just can't have too much of it. I like to say, "The perfect golf course is like the perfect wife ... Easy on the eye and not to hard to get along with."

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JC: My next one. Having had the opportunity to design 40+ new courses and renovate more than twice that, I always look forward to the next project. We want future clients to understand that we are not a one-trick pony. Each project, property, budget and market is unique and we are constantly challenged by the combination presented and their priority as we see it and how our client will see it.
Rockwood Park Golf Course in Fort Worth, TX
AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
JC: This is a tough one: Dr. Alister Mackenzie, Lee Trevino, Bob Hope and my father.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JC: I would love to get a 1,000-acre site in the dunes next to an ocean, in Australia or in the sand hills of Nebraska. I have played many courses on sandy sites where drainage is not an issue and material is easy to move. I think of how much fun and how much less expensive it would be to construct a course on land with this character and incorporate a number of cool seasons to play upon. Some day.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JC: I feel that most of the work will be on the renovation side of the business as it has been since the mid to late 90s. I also feel, we as designers will be looking for ways and materials to make golf course construction less costly in order to make the game more affordable across the board.

AG: Any advice for someone considering a career in golf course design?
JC: As I mentioned as to why I chose a career in golf course design ... Part preparation and part luck. Many of the 'big boys' have cut their staff to the bone - releasing their staff onto the street. This will, and has, made the world of golf course design more competitive, but may also open more doors for those wanting to get in on the ground floor.

I jokingly refer to myself as a bottom feeder ... just call me catfish. There are projects out there large and small, public and private and I have been very fortunate to get a little of each over the past 33 years. The thing I cherish most about the golf industry are the people - golf course contractors, superintendents, managers, golf professionals and architects alike. It is a very small, close-nit group who realize we are all very lucky to be a part of something that bring millions around the world, young and old alike, much happiness.

John C. Colligan, ASGCA, and Colligan Golf Design, visit

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