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Designers in their element

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Fans and students of golf course architecture relish the opportunity to knock it around on layouts crafted by the modern masters. What's better than the surreal view from a tee box on a Tom Fazio designed track, an approach shot to a regal, neo-traditional green complex from Rees Jones, or busting a tee shot over a Pete Dye designed bunker?

How about sampling the works of these contemporary course smiths in their element? Dye, Nicklaus, Fazio, and Jones - we all know these guys can flat out design a golf course. But some surroundings just seem to click with certain designers: Donald Ross in Pinehurst, Alister Mackenzie on the Monterey Peninsula, A.W. Tillinghast in New York.

The next time you seek out a course or two from your favorite golf course architect, do so in the following regions for a transcendental architectural experience.

Pete Dye in the Midwest and Southeast

Dye is often credited with ushering in the age of "modern" course design and is widely recognized as one of the best flat land designers in the business. From the "design what you know" department, Dye was born in Ohio, attended Rollins College in Florida and eventually took up residence in Indiana; three invariably flat states.

The amount of earthmoving required for a typical Dye design (if there is such a thing) has varied by site and budget. Some architecture critics argue that the one-time insurance salesman's courses come off as contrived. Dye has never been one to disagree, ostensibly reasoning that no golfer in his or her right mind would really want to experience Indiana, Ohio or Illinois a natural.

Experience Dye nirvana in: Indiana (Crooked Stick, Brickyard Crossing), South Carolina (The Ocean Course, Harbour Town Golf Links), Florida (TPC Sawgrass, Old Marsh), Ohio (the Golf Club), and Wisconsin (Blackwolf Run's River Course).

Jack Nicklaus in Mexico

No designer has taken to Mexico like the Golden Bear. For a homespun Ohio native, Nicklaus must have salsa flowing through his veins. From the outside looking in, it's hard to discern why Nicklaus and his prestigious cadre of designers work so well south of the border. Is the flair for the dramatic? Name recognition? Or, more pragmatically, the massive budgets involved (most upscale Mexican courses are part of mega resort properties).

As they say in Los Cabos, the site of one of the firm's most ballyhooed Mexican design efforts, "No es importante." But we'll put our money on the, well, the money. Nine of Nicklaus' ten Mexican courses are "signature" circuits, meaning Jack was there, walked the site, had the drawings in hand at some point, and probably played in some ceremonious ribbon-cutting round.

Experience the Golden Bear's nirvana in: Los Cabos (Cabo del Sol, Palmilla), Mexico City (Canadas de Santa Fe), Cozumel (Cozumel Country Club), Nayarit (Punta Mita), Cancun (Moon Palance) and Puerto Vallarta (Vista Vallarta).

Fazio in the desert Southwest

Fazio makes his home in the lush green mountains of North Carolina and broke into the business designing courses in the rain soaked Southeast with his uncle, George. But in the early 80s, Fazio picked up a project in sun splashed Tucson, Ariz., at Loews Ventana Canyon and developed a certain affinity for the desert Southwest.

He may not be as big a cactus head as his resume lets on - Fazio is reputedly a homebody - but his body of work amid the arroyos and creosote of the Southwest played a major part in his emergence as one of (if not the) top designer of his generation.

Experience Fazio nirvana in: Tucson (Ventana Canyon, Mountain), Scottsdale (Grayhawk Raptor, Mirabel, Estancia), Las Vegas (Shadow Creek), and Palm Springs/La Quinta (Quarry-LaQuinta, Vintage Club-Desert).

Rees Jones in the Northeast

Rees Jones was born, raised and continues to call the Northeastern U.S. home. His older brother Robert Trent Jones Jr. set out on a mission early in life to design courses all over the world. Meanwhile, Rees has managed to keep himself anchored on the Eastern seaboard with the occasional foray into California, Nevada and Arizona.

His interpretation of classic design and his legendary father's reputation for remodeling U.S. Open courses led to a gig prepping Hazeltine for the 1991 Open. The "Open Doctor" moniker was passed from father to son as Rees went on to revamp Baltusrol ('93 Open), Congressional ('97), Pinehurst No. 2 ('99), and Bethpage Black ('02)

Experience Rees Jones nirvana in: New York (Montauk Downs, Atlantic), Massachusetts (Country Club-Brookline), and Vermont (Manchester).

Other modern transcendental architectural experiences: Robin Nelson in Hawaii; Tom Weiskopf in Arizona; Jay Morrish in Texas; Ron Garl and Steve Smyers in Florida; Greg Norman in California; Tom Doak in Oregon.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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