Saturday, January 20, 2018

Getting to Know: Jay Blasi, Golf Course Architect

American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Jay Blasi: Believe it or not, I started golfing about the same time I started walking. My dad was a teacher and in the summer he would work on a grounds crew. When my parents bought their first house, he built a putting green in the backyard. So I was putting as a toddler and playing golf by 3-4.

AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
JB: I fell in love with golf early. I would play as much as possible, not only at local courses but on family trips and of in the backyard. From a very young age, maybe 5-6, I started doodling golf holes. Our family took a lot of road trips and I would spend the entire time just looking out the window and picturing golf holes in the rolling fields. In reality, golf design is all I have ever really wanted to do. So choosing the field was easy, establishing a career in golf design was the hard part.

AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
JB: I believe there are many industry trends that don’t benefit the game. Things like housing development courses, tour courses on TV, golf carts, landscaping, etc. Most of these elements have forced other courses to do things to compete that add to costs but don’t add to enjoyment. So my hope is that as we move forward the focus will be on the golf and the strategy and not on housing, landscaping, unrealistic conditioning, 8,000 yd length, etc.

As for design, I feel there is value in different design ideas. Right now there are courses being designed that I believe will be cherished as they are (or close to it) a hundred years from now. There are also courses being designed today that I believe will be blown up or completely redone 20-30 years from now. Having different looks, strategies, construction methods, etc., is what spurs growth and innovation. Over time the bad ideas will be seen for what they are and hopefully corrections will be made.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
JB: I’m not sure that the game of golf needs to grow. The game of golf is a big enterprise with lots of stakeholders and many of them are doing fine (i.e. club and ball makers, tv, pr companies, etc.). I would love to see more people have a chance to experience the aspects of the game that I find so rewarding. Things like the natural beauty of a golf course, the healthy aspects of walking, the people skills gained from caddying, the friendship and competition of a match, etc. In my opinion we have two big barriers to entry; cost and time.

In my opinion, if we followed the Scots or Australians and focused more on the important parts of the game we could reduce the barriers to entry and perhaps expose more people to the best of the game. We can do this by eliminating the unnecessary elements of golf (carts, 8,000-yard courses, landscaping, overwatering, etc).

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
I love golf courses that embrace and highlight the unique features of a site.
I love golf courses that provide different options for how to attack a hole and make players think.
I love golf courses with a great deal of variety.
I love golf courses where the joy exceeds the pain.

Perhaps as important as what I believe in, is that which I oppose.

AG: Of all the holes you have designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
JB:The honest answer is no. Think of golf holes like your children. You like them differently but one isn’t your favorite. Some holes you like because of the design and how they play, other holes you may like because of the challenges you overcame in construction and others you might like because of events that take place there.

I will offer up three holes that I’m proud of ... A par 3, 4 and 5.

PAR 3 = Hole 17 – Santa Ana Country Club (54-131 YDS)
The hole is a short par 3 to an undulating green surrounded by bunkers. Players should have a wedge or sand wedge in their hands so they will be tempted to be aggressive. The green has three sections and finding the right one will allow for a great birdie chance. Missing the section where the flag is will leave a difficult two putt or recovery. I’m proud of the hole because we set out to craft a hole in which players can be aggressive or conservative and a hole where both eagles and double bogeys occur and that is certainly the case.

PAR 4 = Hole 16 – Chambers Bay (245-415 YDS)
This is one of my favorites for a number of reasons. I believe the hole is beautiful and feels very natural even though it is entirely manufactured and required massive amounts of earthmoving. I believe the hole is full of strategic options. There are numerous tees and each offer a different length and angle making the hole play very different day to day. I’ve seen top players drive the green on one day and hit driver, 4-iron on other days. The green design dictates the strategy. Depending on the hole location, players may want to lay back or go for it. The right side of the fairway is the better approach angle but it is guarded by a long waste bunker. The left side looks inviting off the tee but is a very tough approach. I’m proud of the hole because in 2004, prior to construction, I dreamed of how this hole might look and play in a US Open. In 2015, I was there to watch Jordan Spieth make a dramatic putt that eventually propelled him to victory.
** Designed while serving as Project Architect for Robert Trent Jones II, LLC **

PAR 5 = Hole 10 SentryWorld (488-611 YDS)
The 10th hole at SentryWorld is a long par 5 that moves from right to left off the tee and then from left to right at the green. A three shot par five that provides plenty of options at each level. The course was opened in the 1980’s but I redesigned the layout in 2013. One of the goals of the redesign was to eliminate some awkward holes. Holes 1 and 2 of the course were each OK, but very tough. The new 10th is essentially a combination of the old 1 and 2. You tee off from near the old 1 tee and finish at the old 2 green. By combining these holes, it opened up the routing at the far end of the property and allowed for some new holes to be created. I’m proud of the 10th hole because it achieved our goal of embracing the past, while eliminating poor holes and adding new holes.
** Designed while working in collaboration w/ Robert Trent Jones II, LLC **

AG: What is your “dream foursome” (living, dead, golfer, non-golfer)?
JB: I’m fortunate to get to play golf with my dad, brother and uncle and if I had one round left that is who I would want to play it with.
As for a “dream foursome” I will go with …
- Alister MacKenzie
- Bobby Jones
- Bobby Kennedy

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
JB: There are many. I’ve been very fortunate to work on special properties like Chambers Bay and The Patriot. But I’ve never had the opportunity to work on a piece of land where the natural landforms are ideal for golf and the task is to “find the holes.” Any property like that would be ideal.
Below is a list of places I’d love to work:
- Anywhere with sandy soils
- Australia / New Zealand
- Germany/ Northern Europe (my wife is from Germany)
- California Coast
- Wisconsin / Michigan
- Scotland / Ireland
- Cabo

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
JB: The million dollar question. I believe that because the world is a big place and each property / project is different there is no one size fits all answer. I believe the current situation of mainly renovation / restoration / remodel with a few high end destination courses will continue. I think you will see contraction. I think you will see more “short courses or alternative courses”.  I think hands on design as opposed to plan & contractor design will continue to be more popular. And I think water will be the biggest question for the future of golf.

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