Monday, May 21, 2018

Getting to Know: Todd Quitno, Golf Course Architect

Hole No. 11 at Blackstone Golf Club (Ill.)
American Golfer: When did you start playing golf?
Todd Quitno: I started playing golf when I was about 12 years old after it was obvious my baseball career was not going to reach pro level, or even varsity high school for that matter! My parents introduced me to the game on a 9-hole muni in north-central Illinois. Their only lesson to me was on course etiquette. I still remember (and follow) their rules to this day. Otherwise, I self-taught my swing, thus its many flaws, and I fell in love with the game instantly. I must have picked it up pretty quickly, because I remember it not taking too long before I could beat my dad, who at the time was the best (albeit only) player I’d ever seen! Based on that success, I talked my parents into joining our local country club and I became a golf course rat for the rest of my teens, averaging about 100 rounds a year. I could literally ride my bike to the course, jump on the 6th hole (where my grandma lived), play 18-holes, and ride back home in less than 2.5 hours round trip. It was nirvana!

Todd Quitno, ASGCA
AG: Why did you choose a career in golf course design?
TQ: I always say I fell into this career a bit by chance, as I was not the type to doodle golf courses at a young age. It seems some of my contemporaries were doing that in the womb! But looking back, there were some influences that I wasn’t fully aware of at the time that may have led me on this path. First, it turns out the original nine holes of the course I grew up on (Rochelle Country Club in Rochelle, IL) was designed by Perry Maxwell, which I actually didn’t discover until recently. I happen to love Crystal Downs, where he worked with Mackenzie, and Prairie Dunes, both very high on my list of favorite courses. So I am considering my “subconscious Maxwell connection” as a serendipitous lead-in to golf architecture!

Second, my grandfather was superintendent at RCC when they added nine holes to Maxwell’s layout, and he apparently had a hand in the design. He passed away before I was born, so I never got to ask him about some of the questionable decisions they made out there, ha! Right now I’m doing some pro bono master planning work at the course and we are going to make some upgrades that I think my grandfather would have liked, so things have seemingly come full circle. More serendipity?

At that same club, the golf pro I worked for back in the day suggested I look into Ball State University for college. He had tried to get into the architecture program (unsuccessfully it turns out) but spoke highly of the school. I visited, loved it, and changed my focus from engineering to landscape architecture. Second year at BSU I learned for the first time that golf course design was an actual thing. From there I landed a summer internship for Bob Lohmann, found out I could make a career designing play fields for a game I love, and my passion for the profession has grown every year since.

Before and after of No. 8 at Westmoor CC (Wisc.)
AG: In your opinion, have any design trends hurt the game?
TQ: So I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I went to indulge in a fountain soda and other junk the other day at a fast food restaurant (a truly guilty pleasure), where I ordered a “small” drink. The gal behind the counter handed me this monster 32-ounce jug of a drink! I thought she had my order wrong, but no, turns out that this was now their “small” size. Of course I drank it, but I only enjoyed half of it, I swear. All kidding aside, I find it insane how SUPER SIZED everything in our lives has gotten. It seems very gluttonous, unhealthy and unsustainable to me.

I think golf has fallen into that same trapping. We are obsessed with LENGTH. I fully admit I am again guilty of it, I would love to hit it farther, I mean how could you not after watching Tiger carry a ball 300 yards in the air at the Players (after seven back operations, mind you)? Of course we want to be able do that, but 95% of us never will. And yet there is still this notion out there that longer is synonymous with better golf. It’s a shame really, and it is costly: Length = bigger golf courses = more land = more construction and maintenance costs = higher greens fees, higher scores and more time to play = less fun = declining participation. Our obsession with length has really had a domino effect on the game and presents a pretty unsustainable recipe in my mind.

Width and variety, on the other hand, is where it is at. We designed and built a course close to our office here in Marengo, IL, called Blackstone Golf Club, that sits on a comfortable 160 acres and maxes out at 6,700 yards, but most guys find plenty of challenge from 6,400/6,500. The layout has three great (wide) drivable par 4s, all five of the par 5s are getable in two shots (most by mere mortals), and the par 3s range from 130 to 225 yds. The course is loaded with variety and width and playability, for every skill level, and yet is also loaded with challenge if you choose to take on the risks. It is just a blast to play and we hear about it all the time from people who have played it. That’s a design model that I think provides the ultimate in sustainability.

AG: How can we grow the game of golf?
TQ: I’m not sure there is a silver bullet for growing the game of golf, or if we even need one. I feel like golf at its core is strong, and I selfishly like the fact that you can find your way on to most golf courses on a given day without having to reserve a time two weeks in advance (though I’m guessing course operators don’t feel the same!). But that said, I am at a point where growing new golfers is front and center in my life. I have two boys, age 11 and 9, and a daughter, age 6, who are itching to play the game, and I will tell you that it is not easy to get them out there.

First off, the area I live in is in need of a facility that is truly kid/dad-centric. To me that starts with easy, welcoming access. Make me feel like you actually want me and my kids at your facility and we’ll stay there all day spending money. You’d be surprised how often I don’t feel that way. Then just give us 9-holes or less of short(er) golf, easily walkable, quick to play (less than 2 hours), thoughtfully designed enough to entertain me, and a great post round atmosphere with affordable lemonade and chicken fingers, and you will have our loyal patronage! Is that so much to ask?

Seriously though, I’ve never been more aware than I am these days of the value that quality, public access golf has in our communities. We have to keep working on making golf easy to access and fun to learn and play, at all levels.

AG: Do you have a specific design philosophy?
TQ: It is very hard to answer this question without throwing out a lot of the same rhetoric you hear from most architects about designing for all golfer types, maximizing playability, strategy and challenge, minimizing maintenance, preserving the environment, etc. These tenets of golf design have become so ingrained and discussed in our work these days that they almost seem like empty rhetoric to me now, but they truly are the backbone of our philosophy.

In the past decade-plus, our work has become 100% renovation-oriented. With renovation/restoration, the number one goal is always return on investment. What are we doing for our clients that will strengthen their position in the market? The answer to that question can shift considerably from client to client, course to course, and from public to private sector. Thus, our specific design philosophies are also often shifting with the needs of our customer. I find this dynamic to be the most interesting and rewarding part of the job.

No. 11 at Blackstone Golf Club (Ill.)
AG: Of all the holes you have designed, do you have a favorite (why)?
TQ: I don’t know if I have a favorite (just like my mom doesn’t have a favorite kid, so she says ☺), but Hole #11 at the aforementioned Blackstone Golf Club is always one of my favorite holes to play. Measured around the dogleg, it stretches to 333 yards from the tips, however as the crow flies it is only 292 yds tee to green, and obviously less as you move up tees. The simplest way to play it is to drop a 160-yard shot short of the right fairway bunker and flip a wedge onto the green on an angle that is wide open, an easy 4 at worst.

For some reason, though, I rarely play safe and I think it has a lot to do with the previous hole, which is a demanding, but getable opening par 5. Come off that hole with a bogey or worse and I am always eager to go for the green and get a stroke back. Come off the opener with a birdie or better, and I am just as eager to keep the birdie (or better) streak alive. That of course means going for it, which is wrought with considerable risk. Any offline drive can easily be bogey or worse if it is blocked into the adjacent wetland or even if it is pulled long, left into the wide part of the fairway where the angle is awkward into the left to right green, which is guarded by a deep bunker and split down the middle by a strong ridge. All of this action within 333 short yards, it’s just a lot of fun!

AG: What is your “dream foursome” (living, dead, golfer, non-golfer)?
TQ: You know I always see this question asked of others, but I have yet to dial my own answer in, so I’m going to stray a bit and answer as a foursome and then a twosome, just to mix things up.

In the golf architect realm, I’d like to play with Perry Maxwell to see if that aforementioned serendipity really exists! Then add in William Langford, because we run into a lot of his work in the Chicago-land and Wisconsin area and I really admire his boldness. Finally, I’d round the group out with C.B. McDonald so he can fill me in on all of the hidden strategies I didn’t see (from the wrong line) when playing NGLA, which to date is my favorite course ever played.

On a more personal level, I’d like a round with my grandfather who I spoke of earlier. Preferably a two-some so I can have his full attention when I grill him about his changes to Maxwell’s work at Rochelle! Seriously though, from what my mother tells me, we would have had a lot in common and some really competitive matches (I guess he was a stick), likely with some friendly ribbing along the way. If I could have 18 holes and a post round beer with him, I’d consider my golf career pretty well satisfied (assuming I win, of course).    

AG: Is there a “bucket list” location in/on which to design?
TQ: Is “anywhere” a definitive enough answer?! In all seriousness, I look forward to the opportunity to do new golf course work again, it’s something we haven’t pursued in quite some time, namely due to an overall lack of opportunities in the industry. When the time does come, I would love for it to be on a naturally sandy site to maximize construction economics, and with quirky, rolling terrain. I place the emphasis on quirky, so as to inspire something “different” than the many great golf courses that are being built and renovated by all of our talented architects these days.

AG: What is the future of golf course design?
TQ: I think across the industry the future of golf course design is still very much in flux. Though I stated earlier that golf at its core is strong, we still see a lot of struggling facilities out there, particularly in the middle markets. The high-end clubs and destination resorts are always going to thrive, but I think the game’s future needs to be focused at the local golf course level. Namely, how do we help struggling clubs, both private and public, develop strategies to differentiate themselves in a local and regional market that is still over supplied? I think the focus has to start with a strengthening of these facilities’ position within the communities where they reside and serve. To me, that means growing the game from within by knocking down race, gender and economic barriers (i.e. affordability), looking beyond just golf itself (at the facility level) for generating revenue streams, and utilizing technological advances to make maintenance and operations run as efficiently as possible. And of course, doing all of this while protecting our precious natural resources.

Sounds like a fun challenge to me!

For more information on Todd Quitno, ASGCA, Senior Project Architect at Lohmann Golf Designs, visit

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