What kind of experiences early in your career led you in the direction of your style?
In the early 1980s, I was involved in designing a course with the primary intent of it being an amenity for a real estate development. At that time, a fairly extreme style of design was in vogue, and I remember standing out there one day watching a small army of earthmoving equipment roll out, thinking to myself, This is totally out of control. We were spending so much time and money on big things that we risked not getting the little things right.
From that experience, I decided I wanted to focus on the time spent studying the site, searching for the best natural holes, and that process has evolved over the years. There's no question that we as architects can simply never be as creative as Mother Nature. We can't produce the randomness, the amazing variety of contours, or the way that vegetation inhabits a landscape. But we can study nature and follow its lead. You don't need a twenty-foot-high contour to create interest—sometimes a two-inch contour on a green can have just as much of an impact, if not more.
What is your approach to building this type of feature, especially on and around the greens?
Artistry in creating natural-looking elements is so important. A lot of courses are technically and strategically sound, but not many are also so artistic as to be inspiring. When I look at the contours of Oakmont's greens, I am blown away by the artistry. At Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell used a nose-like contour to transition from the upper part of the green to the lower. It looks so simple—until you try to build one yourself. For the man-made elements of a golf course, it's that kind of artistry that's worth emulating.
Going back to Sand Hills, what's been the best thing about the return to natural and strategic design that it helped inspire?
I was hopeful that people would see that an old-fashioned approach to design—find a quality site and create a routing plan to disturb it as little as possible—could still work. I think that has happened, with site-oriented designs springing up from South Dakota (Sutton Bay) to Tasmania (Barnbougle Dunes). So that's been the best thing, but it also suggests certain limitations, in terms of site-oriented design becoming a prevalent style in the future.
What are these limitations, and how do you expect they will affect the future of design?
The best natural sites for golf are frequently found in remote areas, meaning their greatest strength is also often an economic liability. There are only so many "Field of Dreams" courses that can operate successfully under the site-oriented model. Public or private, you have to find a way to get people there. This explains why the site-oriented movement has been largely a private one, and why one has to think of Bandon Dunes—an exception to the general trend—as all the more special.
After all, the fact remains that the majority of new sites will not be conducive to this approach. There's a place for the Shadow Creeks and Whistling Straits of the world, too. Both courses are the product of extraordinary talent and deserve every accolade they receive. The way Ben and I do things is right for us. We're glad that golfers appreciate it, and I hope that the philosophy of taking nature's lead has regained enough of a foothold to be an influence in the future. As long as there are people like Dick Youngscap who say things like, We always knew we had some wonderful land—we just never knew if anyone would come here, I think it just might.
Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
Coore & Crenshaw, Inc., Austin, TX
Bandon Trails, Bandon Dunes Resort, Bandon, OR (resort, 2005; bandondunes.com)
Cuscowilla Golf Club, Lake Oconee, GA (public, 1997; cuscowilla.com)
Friar's Head Golf Club, Baiting Hollow, NY (private, 2002)
Old Sandwich Golf Club, Plymouth, MA (private, 2004)
Plantation Course, Kapalua Resort, Maui, HI (resort, 1991; kapaluamaui.com)
Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, NE (private, 1995)
Colorado Golf Club, Parker, CO (private, 2006)
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (course not yet named), Fort McDowell, AZ (public, 2006; wekopa.com)