Friday, August 25, 2017

Getting to Know: Jonathan Davison, Golf Course Architect

American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Jonathan Davison: I was about 14-15. My cousin introduced the family to the game, at first, we played on a local pitch-and-putt before going to a full 18-hole. The whole family was hooked.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JD: I originally studied graphic design and loved golf. Put the two together and it was a good starting point. I didn’t enter the industry till a few years later when I finished my post-grad studies in golf course design from Edinburgh College of Art in 2005.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JD: I'm not sure if has directly hurt the game but bad routings are something I dislike about a lot of modern courses. We always seem to be walking more from greens to tees, and mostly walking back. I think a golf course should flow and I much prefer short quick walks from greens to tees. It’s not only unpractical it adds so much time to the round.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JD: Different countries require different methods. In the UK, I think golf takes too long and the game needs to get quicker. I have seen this direct as clubs are now looking to redesign certain elements to have returning 9 holes.
Also, I am not a fan of the range finder I think this adds time to the game and why a 28-handicap golfer needs to know if it is 240 or 250 metres to flag mystifies me.
I also spend a lot of time in Central and Eastern Europe and we have a different problem. Golf is too expensive for a high percentage of people, we need more good affordable family golf centres to really grow the game, more driving ranges and pitch-and-putt courses.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
JD: I am certainly inspired by traditional golf. I love the old courses designed by the likes of Colt, Mackenzie, Braid and Simpson. They had so little but created so much, no dozers, no excavators but still produced great golf. I think the secret is to find the best routing possible, don’t move too much dirt and have good simple strategy.
Hole No. 11 on the Heritage Course at Penati Golf Resort
AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JD: Probably the 11th hole on the Heritage course at the Penati golf resort, Slovakia. It was a beautiful piece of ground which required virtually no earthworks. We basically cleaned the existing grasses dug a few bunkers within the natural contours and put some rootzone in for the green. It’s a short par 5 which is dominated by a large natural ridgeline maybe 100 metres from the green. Carry the ridgeline for your second shot and it can feed into the green, which is semi blind. If it’s into the wind, the ridgeline is important, as anything short of it will leave a totally blind shot. It is a bit controversial for the local golfers but I love the hole. Natural, quirky, traditional but extremely fun to play.

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
JD: Harry Colt, Dr. Alistair Mackenzie and Tom Simpson would be fun. I am sure I would learn a lot from these three and I am sure some of the stories they would tell would be interesting.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JD: Give me more sand sites, I don’t really care where they are located but a few more sand sites would be fun. The material of the site is probably more important than the location. I have been lucky to work on sand sites in Slovakia and Poland and I think we will see some cool courses in these countries in the next few years.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JD: For me who spends a lot of time in Europe, I still think we will see a large number of new build projects. Both affordable and high end new build designs are needed to introduce people to the game and to attract and build tourism.
I don’t think my methods or philosophy will change in the future, I hope I will still want to build interesting, fun and traditional inspired golf courses.

AG: Any advice for someone considering a career in golf course design?
JD: It’s very difficult for anyone to enter the industry at the moment, most companies are one-man bands and the opportunities are just not there anymore. My advice would be not to limit yourself to golf course design. The construction side of the industry can be fun and creative at times also. And if the industry does pick up in the future a background in golf construction will certainly help.

Learn more about Jonathan Davison at

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