Indeed, the more of Bobby Weed’s green complexes you see, the more of his stylistic hallmarks you begin to notice.
Like his backgrounds. He doesn’t like backgrounds that make it too easy to gauge distance, so he tries to keep the rear edge of his putting surfaces as far from tree lines as he can. That also gives him room to extend his mysteries from well in front of the green itself to as far beyond and to the sides as space permits. “I don’t want to be bound by the putting surface,” he stresses. “The green complex is so much more.”
He rejects what he calls “buoys and lighthouses”: large, flashy bunkers inserted to frame a green rather than tactically infuse it. He looks instead for chances to detach bunkers from greens as a way of toying with proportion and perspective, and he likes to insert closely mown grass falloffs in places where you’d expect a greenside bunker, like left on the Lagoon’s first. “Options,” he explains. “You’ve only got one shot out of a bunker. Here you can putt, chip or pitch.”
Once on the putting surface, he searches out ways to create movement, as he did by forming three separate levels on the enormous green of the Ocean’s short par-three sixteenth. If the flag is back left, the slope can slingshot any draws hit in, but faders can arrive only by airmail perfectly delivered. Weed believes the thinking golfer should see that and use the contours of the green to his advantage.
With each pass on his tractor he scopes out opportunity, and if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing, he’ll rethink it and start again. “If I want to change things ten times,” he says, “it’ll never cost an owner anything more.”
Of course, Weed could easily draw a detailed blueprint of the design, hand it off to a contractor and move on. But then, he bristles, “they ought to put the contractor’s name on the course. I don’t operate that way, because I didn’t learn that way.”
By the time Pete Dye brought him on full-time in 1980 as his construction chief in building Long Cove Club in Hilton Head, Weed’s calluses were already well formed.
Growing up in South Carolina, he’d become fascinated by golf when his father sold some family farmland and a course suddenly sprouted on it. Weed got good quickly—not surprisingly, his strength has always been his short game—but the course had no driving range. So he built one. Like most farm boys, he knew how to run heavy equipment, and what he didn’t know his father was happy to show him. Imagining a life in golf, he studied agronomy in college and interned on the maintenance crew at Amelia Island Plantation, where Dye had recently built twenty-seven holes.
“Everything was an evolving process with Pete,” Weed recalls. “He’d shape and mold and build by hand, and he kept massaging until the day he grassed. That taught me not to be afraid to keep rubbing, because chances are whatever you were doing was only making it better.”
Between stints as the superintendent at Sawgrass and the chief architect for the PGA Tour (where he often partnered with name-brand pros), Weed continued to work with Dye into the early 1990s. The contrast between building courses by committee for the Tour and handcrafting them alongside a master was stark. In 1995, when he finally hung out the shingle for Bobby Weed Golf Design, he had no doubt which path he’d follow.
“I know what worked for Pete,” he says, “and it wasn’t being constrained by a set of plans.”
“I like to think I’ve adapted and found my own wheelhouse,” Weed says en route to the fifth green at the Slammer & Squire at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. He’s eager to use the hole as an example of his approach.
From the fairway some eighty yards out, nothing looks out of the ordinary, and that’s the point. “A green complex doesn’t have to be dramatic,” he stresses. “It just has to be interesting.”
The hole is a 426-yard par four with water all the way down the left, a large bunker below the green’s right edge and two more on the opposite side—one front and one back. It all looks pretty benign, but the front-left coffin bunker is a deceptive ten to fifteen yards from the putting surface and built into a ridge that both connects to the left edge of the green and falls off to that side. Fade an approach over the bunker and it will filter toward the pin. Miss the approach and risk a run-in with the subtle left-edge roll that folds into a tightly mown trough from which no up-and-down is guaranteed.
Weed notices the marks of a few golfers who have already slid toward despair this morning. “Those divots are their hell,” he says, “and that’s okay.” Next time maybe they’ll know better.