Thursday, August 31, 2017

Getting to Know: A. John Harvey, Golf Course Architect

Par 3 15th Hole at Saratoga National Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, NY
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
A. John Harvey: My parents were members of a small 9-hole, semi-private golf course called Pine Lakes Country Club in Haslett, Michigan in the town I grew up in. (The golf course has since changed names, ownership and has added 9-holes back in 1980.) My mom and dad enrolled my brother, sister and me in a summer golf camp program when I was about 8 years old taught by the teaching pro and owner at the time, Ron Applegate, PGA. I think we were involved with this summer camp for six years or so. I really enjoyed the lessons in the morning on the practice range then playing 9 or 18-holes following the class by playing competitively against fellow campers. Two lessons that I distinctly remember that the pro fashioned into my brain was don’t be afraid to take divots (probably why I hit down on the ball so hard?), so boy did I take divots! At the end of some practice sessions, before we played golf, he made us go pick up the errant balls that were in the briers along the sides of the practice fairway.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
A. John Harvey, ASGCA
AJH: When I was playing on the golf team at Haslett High School, Pine Lakes started adding additional 9-holes on their property. The construction process fascinated me and I kept on asking myself why they were building greens certain ways and how the bunker placement was decided? This was always at the back of my mind without really finding any answers. My brother Dave and I attended golf camp at Michigan State University at Forrest Akers Golf Course during several summers while we were in high school. MSU’s men’s and women’s golf coaches, Bruce and Mary Fossum taught the program and I remember during one session Mr. Fossum talked a little about golf architecture while we were standing on the practice tee.

While living at home and attending the Landscape Architecture program at Michigan State University, I continued my passion and interest in the game and then during my junior year, I enrolled in an oversees study program in England and Scotland through the department in 1987 that allowed me to study landscape architecture abroad and custom tailor some project assignments where I studied some of the Royal and Ancient golf courses including The Old Course at St. Andrews. It wasn’t until I returned back to campus in East Lansing and attending classes the following year when I noticed a job position opening on the jobs board at school posted by the joint turfgrass management and landscape architecture departments at MSU where Mr. Robert Trent Jones, Sr. was looking for new design and planning entry level candidates. Mr. Jones was good buddies with Dr. Kenyon Payne of MSU’s Turfgrass Management Program. Together, they had a pipeline of sending students who recently graduated from the turf program to Jones’ course construction company, named Florida Golf. I met Mr. Jones during the US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, MA in June of 1988 and started working in his Montclair, NJ office as Mr. Jones’ and Roger G. Rulewich’s assistant after the 4th of July that year. I’ve lived in New Jersey ever since

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
AJH: There’s no question about it! Much has been said and written on the topic throughout the industry. To me, longer courses do not equate to better courses! I think course architects got caught up in the hype that “big is better” syndrome. On top of this, you have the economic downturn in 2007 that is still impacting our economy, rattling confidence in the markets and trimming disposable incomes. The expectations of golfers on playing conditions with longer courses taking up larger acreage means more area to maintain, bigger budgets for staffing, labor, equipment and chemicals. We missed the boat since this mindset was catering specifically to a small fraction of high caliber players, while forgetting the other 96 percent of all golfers. The approach shot and finesse required around and on the green is where course design and setup is made for strategic risk, therefore, this is where I like to focus time and effort in the field with careful shaping of detailed landforms and golf features.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
AJH: The new program developed and promoted by the ASGCA called Longleaf Tee Initiative is an exceptional teeing system specific to each golf course that caters to all players that determines playing tees for golfers, based on driving distance and average club head speed. I think this system is probably one of the more innovative, out-of-the-box improvements to the design and playability of a course to help foster new interest and enjoyment of the game that we’ve ever seen. I encourage my clients to consider embracing this program to help foster new players and enhance enjoyment of the game.
Par 4 17th Hole at Berkshire Valley in Jefferson Township, NJ
AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
AJH: Coming from the Jones school of design, Mr. Jones and Roger Rulewich instilled upon me the importance of encouraging golfers see the hole in front of them whenever possible. Therefore, the foundation of course routing and design is founded in aesthetics, strategy, playing options and imagery. It is important to me to help describe to the player what the strategy of the hole is by painting the landscape with fairway contours, mowing lines, terrain, bunkers and water hazards where appropriate to present a chess match for the players to have fun enjoying the environment and challenge themselves with a lively, captivating golfing experience.

AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
AJH: The 2nd Hole at Ballyowen Golf Club in Hardyston, New Jersey is a short “risk-reward,” par-4 that plays from 212 – 342 yards. I worked with Roger Rulewich on designing this golf course. This course is consistently ranked as the No. 1 public golf course in the State of New Jersey since its opening in 1996. Depending on the tee markers, the player’s ability and wind direction, it’s possible to go for the green on the tee-shot on this sharp dogleg left, cape hole, but be careful, pull it left or hit it short and you can wind up in the tall grass on a steep slope.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
AJH: I’d love to play with Clint Eastwood, Ben Hogan, Walter J. Travis and my Dad. Somehow, I’d sneak on with the group and make it a fivesome. While I don’t get to play as much as I did through the years, I’m still capable of a throwing a descent round together and hit some good shots. But with this group of people, the camaraderie, storytelling, good cheer and a few beverages would create a lively and memorable day on the links for me, no matter how I played that day. Playing one more round with my dad who passed away from lung cancer 20 years ago would be very special! Playing golf with Dirty Harry, my favorite actor, politician and 2nd Amendment spokesperson would be awesome! Mr. Travis is one of my favorite golf architects and golfers of all-time. I think our group would have a blast together!

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
AJH: No question about it! I would love to design a new course on a sand and gravel dunes-like property on the shores of the Great Lakes in my home state of Michigan. This would be a dream job without question. Even though I’ve been in New Jersey for 30 years, I’m still a Michigander at heart. My clients and fiends know this as I proudly sport Spartans, Lions and Tigers ball caps, shirts and other fan wear on my travels. I’m also a proud father of two lovely girls and a wonderful son. My oldest daughter Kristen has her own jewelry design business, while AJ and Theresa are juniors in high school. If my wife Caroline and I can see them go on to become good, successful and politically engaged people as they chase their dreams, that’s certainly on my bucket list, no matter how many more new courses or renovations I work on!

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
AJH: Less is more! I can’t read the crystal ball, but I don’t see the design business ramping up to the levels we saw in the 1990s and early 2000s. Renovation, renovation and renovation! There’s still an equalizing that’s taking place in the golf market even in highly populated metropolitan areas. Time will tell what the carrying capacity is in the golf industry as to courses that remain competitive and open for play.

With fewer and fewer projects out there, the design business is becoming more and more competitive for securing new clients. More and more tour pros are getting into the business, but fortunately, many burgeoning pros have teamed up with a qualified member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.      

AG: Any advice for someone considering a career in golf course design?
AJH: I recommend studying landscape architecture at a leading, accredited university and customize the program to the best of the student’s ability in coordination with the department to feature golf architecture and agronomy related classwork. The student should then try to do internships with golf design and construction firms during the summers while attending school. After graduation, working out in the field on new course construction and renovation projects on a construction crew for a few years with a reputable construction firm and member of Golf Course Builders Association of America (GCBAA) is a great first step to broaden understanding of the purpose, rationale and methodology for the design and construction process. Getting your hands dirty digging trenches and operating equipment is a great way to build a foundation and appreciation in designing and building a course from the ground up.

Learn more about A. John Harvey at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Harvey points out some very interesting points on the changing industry. Wonderful interview and very enlightening!