Monday, April 23, 2018

Getting to Know: Jeff Mingay, Golf Course Architect

American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Jeff Mingay: I started playing at 10 years old, when I was allowed to start under club rules at Essex Golf and Country Club, where my dad was a member.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JM: Essex was a big influence. It’s a 1929 Donald Ross design in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, across the river from Detroit. As a kid, I took a serious interest in the course, wondering how this amazing place was developed, designed and built. I subsequently did a lot of research on this subject, and eventually wrote the club’s history in 2002. My dad also had most of the classic golf history and course architecture books in his office. I spent a lot of time reading those books as a kid, too. He also took my brother and I to see and play a number of great courses when we were young, including Harbour Town, which was another big influence on my career choice.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JM: As golf architects, most of us don’t think in terms of “easy” and “hard.” We think about designing and building courses that will be interesting for golfers of all abilities that are naturally beautiful. I continually fight opposers to plans at existing clubs who claim that we’re making the course "too easy” by removing trees, widening fairways, expanding greens, etc. I trace this back to Robert Trent Jones, specifically his work at Oakland Hills in the early 1950s. RTJ made Oakland Hills “more difficult” for the 1951 U.S. Open in response to improvements in playing equipment technology at the time, and improving play among the world’s best golfers. It’s amazing, but golf is still suffering from the Oakland Hills “hangover.” Even though when most golfers play well, they can birdie the “hardest” hole. When they’re playing poorly, they can also make a triple on the “easiest” hole.
Par 4, 14th at the Derrick Club in Edmonton

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JM: I’ve never been that concerned about growing the game. Golf’s always been a niche sport, and there will always be golfers. The best private clubs and resort destinations are doing better than fine these days. That said, the demise of caddie programs has eliminated opportunities for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be introduced to the game to learn about and become interested in golf. I think a wide-range resurrection of caddie programs across the world would do wonders relative to bringing more people, especially kids, into the game at a perfect age.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JM: A very simple one that’s kinda cliche these days. But, I’m always trying to create courses that adequately challenge the best golfers and simultaneously allow everyone else, regardless of playing abilities, to enjoy the game and the course. This philosophy has long been considered the ideal in golf course architecture.

AG: Of all the holes you have designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JM: In most cases, I like the long ones and the short ones the best. Two of my favourites are at the Derrick Club in Edmonton. We created the long 460-yard par 4 14th hole from a heavily wood area where a 200-yard par 3 used to exist. That’s a cool hole. But, I’ll pick the short par 3 16th at the Derrick. It’s also a brand new hole on the property that solved a safety concern relative to adjacent homes. There are no bunkers at the 16th, but it plays over a pond that also guards the left side of the green. The putting surface is long and narrow, and subtly contoured. By creatively moving the tees and the hole location, the 16th can present a significant variety of yardage day to day. Pin back, tees back and it’s a comparatively long hole. Say, 145 yards. And vice versa. Move the tees up and cut the hole on the front of the green, and the 16th presents a tricky, short pitch. That kind of variety is ideal, especially at a private club course where golfers play frequently. The green tilts toward the water, too. Getting up-and-down off a tight lie right of the green is a challenge.
Par 3, 16th at the Derrick Club in Edmonton
AG: What is your “dream foursome” (living, dead, golfer, non-golfer)?
JM: I’d probably want to take advantage of talking golf architecture during the round, and I think you’d get a lot out of Alister Mackenzie. So I’d pick him. Vernon Macan would be another good choice, for me. I’m currently working to restore a number of his original golf course designs in the Pacific Northwest and would like to learn more about Macan and his work. Then, maybe, Bill Coore. I have a lot of respect for Bill’s work, knowledge and experience. I’ve been fortunate to meet him a couple times, too. Bill's a great guy, very thoughtful, with a lot of offer as well.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JM: Somewhere ocean side, probably in Canada, is an obvious “bucket list” choice. But, I find that every project presents unique challenges and interesting opportunities. That’s what I thrive on.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JM: I think we’re already in the future of golf course design, now. Most people developing golf courses these days are being smart, using beautiful sandy properties, many next to the sea, that make sense for golf. Those sites are relatively sustainable from construction and maintenance perspectives, and naturally beautiful, which has golfers drooling to play those courses. That’s a business model that has a much better chance to work and live long than, say, building a golf course in an old farm field surrounded by houses. Moreover, we’re also seeing some smart renovation work happening, where golf architects are not solely trying to “wow” golfers with fancy bunkers and other extraneous features, but instead are making intelligent decisions about reducing the number of bunkers and maintained turf area, accommodating a wider range of golfers with new tees and increased width, removing troublesome trees that cause maintenance, turf and playability issues etc. This is a relatively sustainable approach as well, and the future of golf course design.

Learn more about Jeff Mingay at

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