On the March 22, 2022, episode of the Stick and Hack Show, Adam and Mike spoke with Jeff Lawrence, President and Principal Designer at Lawrence Design, who has worked with such greats as Fazio, Player, and Nicklaus.

This Q&A has been shortened for clarity. Listen to episode 412 of the Stick & Hack Show to hear the full interview. 

SH: So are we on base here? Golf Course design is no longer just about the course, you’re responsible for every aspect of that experience when someone steps onto that property.

Jeff Lawrence: Absolutely. It starts once they hit the entry into the property and all the way through the experience of getting into the clubhouse, the locker room, and the practice facilities. It’s all-encompassing. It just doesn’t start with where you put the tees, where you put the bunkers, what size greens you have, it’s bigger and broader than that.

SH: Now in areas like Wisconsin the course might be the driving factor that draws people to a course, but in Florida, it might be the community or surrounding club amenities. Does it matter what you’re designing for and does it affect the way you’re designing courses?

Jeff Lawrence: It really doesn’t matter, you know I’ve been involved with private clubs, resorts, public… what you try to do is just try to find the best 18 golf holes you could possibly find on property. Sometimes mother nature gives you something to work with, and then there are other times where it’s a dead flat site and you have to create every square foot of that property. 

You definitely need to know who your target market is, who your client is, and you need to go into it with a full vision of who the client is, what are the goals of the developer and start from there. 

SH: Jeff before you started your own company, you worked with some of the best in the business. How has that shaped your career in golf design?

Jeff Lawrence: Well I’ve been blessed with some great mentors in golf design, starting with Jack Nicklaus. I didn’t go to school to be a golf course architect, it kind of happened. Learning from the best, starting with Jack Nicklaus and then doing some construction, working as a designer for Tom Fazio, and then most recently, 15 years with Gary Player, it’s been an amazing ride. I’ve learned a great deal from the basics of how to build a golf course to designing a golf course. 

I’ve traveled the world. I’ve done design work in 23 countries on 6 continents. I’ve seen quite a bit, and I look back on my career, on just how thankful I am to have those mentors teach me throughout the process and over the last 35 years.

SH: Your mentors were like Jordan and Kobe and Bird, I mean those aren’t the mentors those are the giants and the titans. Do you ever look back and just pinch yourself like, holy cow. That’s quite the apprenticeship.

Jeff Lawrence: I oftentimes just need to stop and think and look back on the process of where I started and where I am today. We take so many things for granted in life, and it kind of fell into place perfectly… It’s been an amazing ride and I have to continue to remember that. 

SH: So I’m curious what your process is for building a course

Jeff Lawrence: You really need to understand the site going into it. You need to walk the site, study the site, all the ins, and outs of what can you do. 

You want to make a course that’s sustainable, that’s eco-friendly, that’s environmentally sensitive. Every site is different… golf is a visual game, so the visual aesthetics of a course are, in my opinion, extremely important. So, it’s all about putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

SH: I would think that renovation of those spaces is most challenging because you have so many people with pre-existing opinions or experiences piping in. Am I right? How do you navigate those waters?

Jeff Lawrence: Right now the bread and butter for course architects is renovation work. We’re seeing a bit of new construction, which is great, but most course architecture contracts, it’s all renovation work. 

Going into it, you’ve got to understand the club’s objectives… Right now I’m working on a project where I’ll do two or three focus groups with the members. That includes all levels, from the single digits to the seniors, the super seniors, the ladies. I also will play a couple of times with some members to see how they play the course… That sets the tone for the next steps I would take.

A golf course is a living, breathing thing. Everything has a life cycle, whether that’s a bunker, the irrigation system, the drainage, the grasses… there are so many courses right now, I’m doing a course right now where the greens are 25 years old. So the construction practices, at that time, and the drainage and irrigation are all outdated. It needs to be brought up to current standards, from a design and technical standpoint…

The thing about renovation work is that you’re trying to educate members. You need to explain to them why things need to be done, and most of the time they understand, as long as you’re clear and diligent with your explanation.