His courses evoke everything but indifference. "We all love it," a golfer named Chris Hobler from Horseheads, New York, said of his annual buddytrip stop at Tobacco Road. "We have to think, and use every club. I personally love the first hole, because it's so intimidating. But every hole has something about it that's great."
On the other hand, Harvey Porter, from Apex, North Carolina, won't go back to the same course Hobler and his friends love. "Some holes are so unfair," he said, "they're just ridiculous."
Strantz sometimes feels that's he's the victim of a form of prejudice on the part of his critics. Design features that are acclaimed as brilliant, or at least quaint and challenging, when American golfers see them on an old course in Scotland or Ireland are deemed irritating or artificial when they see them on a new course at home.
"Some of the things we are doing today are tame in comparison to what is done at some of the great golf courses," Strantz said. "If I built the Road Hole at St. Andrews today, people would say it was way too difficult. But that hole has been hailed over the years, so people don't have a problem with it. Time and tradition are great equalizers."
If you want to judge Strantz's designs for yourself, you'd be welladvised to play them soon. They tend to be entropic. At Royal New Kent, the owners are gradually filling in some of Strantz's most dramatic bunkers. They're hard for hackers to escape, and they require a lot of maintenance. "It can take three men a whole day just to re-flash all the bunkers after a thunderstorm," general manager and head pro Andy Bemis said. At Tot Hill Farm, three greens had to be rebuilt due to flooding in 2003, and the new surfaces have fewer tiers and smoother contours than the Strantz originals.
Sometimes this kind of tinkering is done in consultation with Strantz, and sometimes it isn't. "I'm not opposed to making adjustments," Strantz said. "All great golf courses have evolved and been adjusted. What I don't like is when people panic and rush to make a change without thinking it out."
Sadly, this is the least of Strantz's concerns at the moment. In 2001 he noticed a soreness in his mouth. He thought at first it might have been a burn from a hot slice of pizza. But it didn't go away. He had cancer.
The last three years have been hellish. He tried radiation therapy, but it didn't work, only causing his weight to fall from 220 pounds to 155. He tried a partial glossectomy, in which surgeons removed a portion of his tongue and some lymph nodes. The cancer returned. He tried chemotherapy. All the while, he continued to work, completing a renovation on the Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore course in Northern California.
Finally, last March, he underwent a full glossectomy. After removing all the tissue from his lower mouth, surgeons took portions of his scapula to reconstruct his jawbone and muscle from one of his shoulders to reconstruct his tongue. Seven months after the operation, Strantz was still receiving treatment and fighting the disease. "It's a very aggressive cancer," Heidi Strantz reported. "Some days are good and some days he feels like twenty trucks hit him instead of ten."
Strantz may never be able to talk as he once could, but he hopes still to be able to sketch and use a can of spray paint to lay lines in the dirt, showing his crew how to transfer his vision to a piece of land. He figures his project manager, former PGA Tour player Forrest Fezler, can handle presentations to prospective clients.
"I still have holes I want to build," he said just before his glossectomy. "I'll do it as long as I can."
COMPANY: Maverick Golf Course Design, Mt. Pleasant, SC
NOTABLE DESIGNS: Caledonia Golf & Fish Club; Pawleys Island, SC (1994) The Tradition GC at Royal New Kent; Providence Forge, VA (1997) Tobacco Road GC; Sanford, NC (1998) True Blue Plantation; Pawleys Island, SC (1998) Bulls Bay GC; Awendaw, SC (2002) Silver Creek Valley CC; San Jose, CA (2002, renovation) Monterey Peninsula CC, Shore course; Pebble Beach, CA (2004, renovation)
RELEASE YOUR INNER ARCHITECT!
One of golf's most glorious bits of trivia comes from 1914, when Charles Blair Macdonald urged a British magazine to sponsor a contest to design the perfect par-four hole for him to use as the finisher at Lido Golf Club on Long Island. The winning entry—featuring five potential routes off the tee—came from a British doctor and amateur designer named Alister MacKenzie, who would subsequently "turn pro" and go on to create Cypress Point, Augusta National and Royal Melbourne, among others. (Lido Golf Club still exists, but after the Navy took over the land in the 1940s, the course was completely rebuilt on adjacent property by Robert Trent Jones Sr.)
The Alister MacKenzie Society today sponsors a modern version of the contest, the Lido Competition in Golf Course Architecture. Aspiring amateur architects of all ages are welcome to follow in the master's footsteps. To enter, request an application and rules by e-mailing or writing to the addresses below. Applications are available until March 1; completed entries, including a handdrawn sketch of a par-four golf hole in the spirit of MacKenzie (i.e., strategic, and enjoyable by both novices and experts), are due by May 1. First prize is an all-expense paid trip to the Society's annual MacKenzie Cup, to be held August 16-19 at Alwoodley and Moortown, two MacKenzie courses in his native England. The winning design will also be published in TRAVEL + LEISURE GOLF.
Pencil it in.
For a complete set of entry instructions, e-mail email@example.com or write to: Chair, Alister MacKenzie Lido Competition in Golf Course Architecture, Green Hills Country Club, End of Ludeman Lane, Milbrae, CA 94030.