Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Getting to Know: Ian Andrew, Golf Course Architect

No. 12 at Maple Downs Golf & Country Club in Ontario, Canada
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Ian Andrew: At the age of 13. I had already figured out I wanted to be a golf course architect. My father said that I would need to play and understand the game if that’s what I want to do. He was a really good player and helped me understand the game. He taught me the strategies and the architecture by making multiple golf architecture trips to places like Pinehurst and St. Andrews.

Ian Andrew
AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
IA: It chose me. I was watching Pebble Beach with my father, drawing holes and I asked if people actually get to design these courses. He said “of course” and I said “that’s what I’d like to do.” Dad bought me golf design books and I never stopped. It was an obsession right from the outset. I never thought I would do anything else. Things eventually worked themselves out and I found my opportunity.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
IA: The Modern Era (1960 – 1990) was the golfing equivalent of the Dark Ages. It was the era that brought us massive amounts of tree planting, a philosophy of harder is better, pushed for higher levels of maintenance which led to increased costs and unrealistic expectations. There was a lot of courses built for a lot of money and most of it is crap.
But the real frustrating damage was done to the early Golden Age courses. Modern architects wrecked so much of that great golf with their arrogance and self-interest. That’s why we saw the restoration era begin around 1990. We just wanted that great work back …
The next era will be the rebuilding of all the Modern Era courses by the next generation.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
IA: Design 95% of courses for the average player and 5% for very best players. In the Modern Era, the designs concentrated only on the elite player’s interest and forgot the average player. It left the bulk of golfers frustrated and drove many away to other activities. People want to have some fun.
The other approach is making the game cheaper by simple builds or smarter renovations. We need to embrace the British approach to course maintenance, which involves lower fertility and less water. It will be drier, firmer and browner … but the ball will roll the same and our costs will be less. We need to be a lot more sustainable and that includes economically, too.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
IA: Let people choose their own route. Let their own level of skill select the appropriate challenge by giving them a long safe way to go and a direct route to each landing zone or green. It’s then up the player to take on as much as they dare, or as much as they think they are capable of. The better they play, the more they will try to take on and the harder the course will play. But if they’re successful, they will get the benefit of scoring much better. When presented that way, golf becomes addictive …
No. 12 at Maple Downs Golf & Country Club in Ontario, Canada
AG: Of all the holes you’ve designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
IA: 12th at Maple Downs. It’s a downhill, down-wind reachable par four. There are lots of options from the tee. Definitely in reach for most, lots of opportunity to utilize the ground on the approach shots, but hard as hell if you’re going to roll the dice and go for the green. Why it’s my favorite is the impact on member play. Members tell me they know they should lay-up but they just can’t help themselves and go for the green most time despite knowing it’s the wrong decision …

AG: What’s your “dream foursome” (living or dead, golfer or non-golfer)?
IA: Gil Hanse, Tom Doak and Bill Coore. Course would be National Golf Links of America. They are three architects who define this generation. They are all friends of mine. And the conversation about architectural ideas and features would be second to none. I’m going to ask them after doing this.

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
IA: No. I just want an opportunity. At this point new golf almost doesn’t exist for 90% of architects. For me it’s been all renovation or rebuilds for a dozen years. I’d like the opportunity to build something new.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
IA: Design / Build.
The architects will come from the construction side of the business. It’s where golf is going. I’m a consulting architect. At this point I’ve taken to referring to myself as the last of the dinosaurs. Designers are going to build their own work for increased control on the final product. It’s the logical answer when there is less work and every project means so much.
Golf design is in good hands. The young crop that is apprenticing and working on construction sites is very motivated and talented. There will be some great golf coming from this next generation.

AG: Any advice for someone considering a career in golf course design?
IA: Don’t … unless you’re willing to work long hours, live in strange places and settle for limited amounts of money for at least a decade, but likely two. There is going to be very little opportunity for someone to become a designer over the next 20 years.
It’s an honest answer … it needs to be at this point in the development cycle.

Bonus Question
AG: Assuming equipment remains the same, what can a golf course architect do to protect today's courses or design future courses without approaching 8,000 yards?
IA: I think it’s time that golf courses refuse to design for the increases in technology. If it’s great golf now, it will remain so for 99.9% of all players. So why increase your maintenance costs and spend huge amounts of money with renovations to address less than one tenth of a percent of players. Let them shoot lower numbers and stop wasting the money trying to prevent that from happening.
Besides you don’t need length. You need to get the ball to roll out when it gets to the ground so that judgement is as important than flight. The key is getting the near miss to run away and not be saved by rough. Length does nothing to change the scores.

For more information on Ian Andrew, visit

Originally posted Sept. 11, 2017

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