Friday, March 25, 2016

Getting to Know: John Sanford, Golf Course Architect

American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
John Sanford: When I was 12 my father retired from baseball and went full time into the golf business, I started playing with my buddies when we weren't playing baseball. I continued playing other sports until I was 15 when I started to focus on golf.

John Sanford
AG: How did you become a golf course designer?
JS: During the off season my dad was working for a land development company in West Palm Beach, they were building a golf course and the architect, Bill Mitchell, was our neighbor. Even though I wasn't playing golf yet I was fascinated by Mr. Mitchell's plans and watched the course get built. It seemed pretty cool that you could make a living by designing and building golf courses.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JS: Once I started playing golf regularly I fell in love with the game and realized the designer can create a composition on each hole and evoke emotion in the golfer. This was very intriguing and led me into landscape architecture at LSU. A few years out of college I was working for an LA firm. We were doing a master plan for a resort in the Dominican Republic. I proposed a golf course for the project and ended up designing the entire course, the rest is history.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JS: The excesses of the 80s and 90s hurt the game. Longer, more difficult courses made golf too expensive and not so much fun for most players. Simple bunkers are as effective as complex ones and less expensive to maintain. Most golfers play from 6,400 yards or less. Many great old course are built on 100 acres or less. In most cases there is no need for a 7,000-yard course on 180 acres.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JS: Golf has to be fun again. Equipment regulations should be bifurcated so Joe Q. Golfer can hit his tee shots another 20 yards and recover from bunkers. He still has to get it in the hole but he'll have more fun doing it.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JS: As landscape architects we learn to analyze the property and work closely with natural features. Then it's all about strategy, creating different shot options for all levels of golfers, using angles and risk/reward opportunities is what the game is all about.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JS: It's hard to boil it down to one favorite hole. I love drivable par 4s ... they offer the ultimate in risk/reward. No. 9 at Granite Links, No. 9 at Juliette Falls and No. 7 at Ferry Point come to mind.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
JS: Certainly my Dad, Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Hogan. I have tremendous respect for Mr. Nicklaus for a number of reasons and would love to watch Hogan swing the club for 18 holes.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JS: I've often said I would work in the coastal dunes of Ireland for nothing. I love the country, the people and the landscape. Ok, well, maybe for travel expenses!

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JS: Repurposing courses to provide a better business model and ancillary land uses will continue for a while. New courses - whether domestic or international - will need to fit the market place better than in the past. This could mean designing and building courses on less land or a simplified version of golf to introduce new golfers in developing countries.

Learn more about Sanford Golf Design at

1 comment:

Architect PR Guy said...

I agree with John about drivable par fours, but I would add a little. I love drivable Par fours "IF" they provide the ultimate, Risk-Reward! Just because you can drive a Par 4 doesn't mean there is either. If there is a 340 yard par 4 that is so heavily gaurded by, for example water that hugs the right side and pinched in at the green and up the left side there are a series of deep bunkers positioned to catch anything short and left then the tilt of the green becomes crucial to the risk reward. If the green naturally slopes from left to right so that a ball hit into the bunker is a very scarey shot, then, even for the good player, there is not enough Reward for the risk, so most smart players will lay up most of the time. I think there always needs to be, at least some sort of feasible bailout, if even small to make the golfer stand on the tee and really have to think about the tee shot. If you can make them think every time, then you have put that, "thought" into there head, your there. When you make the golfer think, or hesitate, then the architect has sucessfulky created the risk of 5-6 on a hole that should yield an easy birdie try by laying up Vs. a reasonable go at eagle with a great drive.

On the other hand, a hole that you can bomb a 340 yard drive and if you miss you pretty much have an easy bunker shot or a basic lob wedge into the green so that birdie is in play for almost every drive, then there is little risk. In that case a green complex that calls for a high cut off of the tee to allow the ball to stop close enough for a makable eagle, but repels drives that come in at the wrong trajection, then the green complex may satisfy the "risk" portion of the risk-reward.
So I love short par fours also, as long as they have the, "Risk-Reward" factor:)!:)