Friday, April 13, 2018

Getting to Know: Jonathan Gaunt, Golf Course Architect

Castleknock Golf Club in Dublin, Ireland
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Jonathan Gaunt: I started playing golf at age 7, in 1971. My father was a good golfer (3 hcp) as were my grandparents (father’s parents) - they had played golf all their lives and had been members of golf courses designed by Alister MacKenzie - Crosland Heath in Huddersfield and Oakdale in Harrogate. I played golf passionately up to the age of 18 at a very ordinary hilltop course between Leeds & Bradford - Woodhall Hills. By this age I was 3 handicap, but then I started to study Landscape Architecture at Leeds Beckett University, so I actually stopped playing for about 3 or 4 years.

Jonathan Gaunt
AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JG: I was fascinated by golf design and was always creative as a boy and I found out from reading golf magazines that golf courses were designed rather than just built … so I decided at age 14 to train as a landscape architect, but I was encouraged to do so because I wrote to Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Fred Hawtree. I got responses from them all, however, the response from Hawtree was: “I would not recommend that you train to become a golf course architect because there will, eventually, be no work left for us!” This spurred me on even more passionately to become a golf course architect.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JG: There are design trends in all eras of golf development and even though some have not necessarily been damaging, they have changed the way people play courses today. In fact, many (championship) courses are too difficult to play for the majority of golfers (or for people wanting to take up the game). What was damaging to golf in the UK was the boom that happened in the 1980’s to 2000’s where hundreds of (lower quality) golf courses were built, scattered all over the countryside, often by investors who were not design orientated, but wanted to make “a quick buck.” Many of these courses, today, could happily close and help to get the golf industry back into a more healthy situation.
Castleknock Golf Club
AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JG: I’ve been asked this so many times - and have written articles on it - make the game easier - make the hole 6” - make 6-hole courses or 9-hole courses and develop residential developments on the remainder of the land, make practicing more fun - TopGolf, etc., encourage children to play Adventure Golf, free golf for juniors, better facilities in clubhouses, the list goes on - oh, and make the professional game more varied and more accessible to watch on TV or as a spectator.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JG: See my website, but put in simple terms, I design golf courses that are bespoke, for the specific site that I’m given by the client - no two designs are the same - we don’t use templates, I design everything with a pencil and scale ruler - we adapt all designs on site, working closely with really good contractors to make the design work even better - I want to provide options within the strategy of the design to make the golfer think about every shot - tee to green - hole #1 to #9 or #18.

AG: Of all the holes you have designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JG: Wow, good question. I’ve designed 40 golf courses, so remembering every hole isn’t easy, plus all the course remodels I’ve worked on. But, there’s a par-5 which I particularly like, on the Cathedral Course at Ramside Hall in Durham, UK, it’s hole #5 - played from an elevated tee and you can see most of the fairway as it winds and undulates ahead of you, with a fast flowing brook along the left side and the green is set quite high and slightly dog-legged to the right with big, mature Beech trees on the amphitheatre-like slope behind it. Oh, then, there’s the par-3 hole #6 following it, I like that, too. Plus, there’s some fun holes with big lakes at Castleknock Golf Club in Dublin, Ireland…. I could go on … And there’s some really nicely shaped holes at Twin Chapels in Prague, Czechia - a new 27-hole course we’re currently building.
Linden Hall Golf & Country Club, UK
AG: What is your “dream foursome” (living, dead, golfer, non-golfer)?
JG: Easy - Tom Watson because he was my golfing hero as a boy, Gary Player, because I’ve met him a few times (first time when I was 16) and I might just be able to keep up with him with my driver, Ben Crenshaw, because he’s actually a really good designer (for a pro’) and, of course, Alister Mackenzie, because, firstly, I’d like to check if he had a Yorkshire accent, because he was from Normanton in my home county, plus, I’d ask him for thoughts on all the courses that he designed that I’m working on today - at Cavendish in Buxton, for example - which, many aficionados consider to be the most authentic MacKenzie design in existence.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JG: Hmmm. I once went to Kaliningrad (part of Russia) and also to Lithuania and the Baltic coastline - white sand dunes, pines and birch trees are just amazing, otherwise, in Zlatibor in Serbia, where the landscape already looks like a golf course. I want to be able to design golf courses in some of the remoter parts of eastern Europe, further east than I’ve been working for the past 20 years … I remain hopeful and patient!

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JG: I’m 53 now and expect to be designing or redesigning golf courses until I’m in my late 70’s, at least. I worked with Donald Steel at Greensboro CC (Carlson Farms Course) about 7 years ago and he was in his (early) 70’s when we were working together there, so I don’t see why I can’t do the same …

Learn more about Jonathan Gaunt at
Greensboro (NC) CC Farm Course with Donald Steel

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