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Tom Weiskopf excels at new job title : Golf course designer

By David R. Holland, Senior Writer

Tom WeiskopfSTEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO - Tom Weiskopf pulled out one of those new drivers that looks like a toaster on a stick and ripped the ceremonial first drive 300 yards to the "A" position.

Not a bad way to cut the ribbon and open his newest course, Catamount Ranch & Club, located just minutes from the ski slopes that have produced 52 Winter Olympians in this historic Rocky Mountain town.

The 6-foot-3 former British Open champ still has it.

Long known for one of the best swings in golf, he can still generate power unknown to most mortals. He can pound a golf ball down the middle long and he can score.

At Catamount's grand opening he led a celebrity foursome of former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Miami Dolphins' All-Pro defensive back Dick Anderson and former Olympic ski jumper Moose Barrows, by recording a six-under-par 66.

But today, as his portfolio of admirable golf courses hits 40, Tom Weiskopf, the former college teammate of Jack Nicklaus, is a golf-course designer.

He is a former PGA and Senior Tour player.

And as hot-tempered as he was as a player, he relishes his self-portrayal as a mild-mannered designer of golf courses.

"I had enough controversy as a player, so I try to stay away from design controversy," said Weiskopf, who is 57. "My design thoughts are reflected in all the things I've seen in the past that I like. No one has reinvented the wheel on this issue. And I think the best golf courses built since the 1930s were built in the 1990s and are to come in 2000 and beyond."

As a designer he admits he doesn't have formal training and he can't draw a stick figure, but he can "sketch" and he knows what he likes. He's a traditionalist. He likes false fronts. He doesn't like blind tee shots (there's also a liability issue). He wants a reachable par 4 on every course he designs. He wants a balance of holes with doglegs right and holes that bend left. He likes less mounding.

Weiskopf names Alister MacKenzie as his favorite golf-course architect, identifying Pasatiempo and Cypress Point, the two gems MacKenzie built before Augusta National. Next on his list are Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, Billy Bell and Charles MacDonald. These are the old-style builders that excelled in simple, playable, enjoyable, memorable and maintainable golf courses. He says these are the most respected courses we have today and they have stood the test of time.

Weiskopf has always admired MacKenzie's bunkering, especially in the days there was extensive fingering. He wonders why Augusta National, through the years, has tamed MacKenzie's bunkers, except on the fairway at No. 10 where they left his original work almost intact. Weiskopf realizes it's all about easier maintenance.

Another one of the traditional elements he laments may be gone forever in new courses is the ability go from green to tee in a few steps. "Only four of the 40 projects I have been involved with weren't also being built along with a considerable number of houses. Building courses that are easy to walk - well, that's just not going to happen anymore."

Weiskopf, who won 15 tour titles and five foreign championships, has a vision on each project.

He says his team starts at the design table, but he gets creative out in the field. He likes to learn what strengths and limitations the land has by walking it. And sometimes he'll even walk the site and put out stakes for possible routes. Even with his imagination going in many directions, he says he's careful not to let areas remind him of holes he's seen before.

He says to imagine a hole could be just like the 16th at Cypress Point is a mistake - that holes leading up to a specific one are influenced by those that follow.

"I'm not into naming signature holes, I'll let the golfers decide that," he said. "But each hole has to have its own identity."

Catamount, his seventh mountain golf course, presented a different challenge.

Catamount"Because of the elevation changes, mountain courses pose special challenges," Weiskopf said. "But once you overcome those challenges, the beauty and the views can be dramatic."

So Weiskopf agrees that a designer is only as good as the piece of land he's given to work with. He looks for mature trees, natural rock formations, water features and would rather work with elevation changes that don't exceed 30 feet. That last point is hard to abide by in the Rocky Mountains. At Catamount Ranch & Club he has several holes that drop so drastically, you will be questioning club selection. You also have to figure that at 6,800 feet, the ball carries at least 10-percent farther.

His favorite design? That's Loch Lomond in Scotland, home to the Standard Life Loch Lomond Classic, a European Tour event, won this past July by Ernie Els.

He says the site, which is 25 miles northwest of Glasgow, has huge old trees in a parkland setting and was the greatest site he's had to work with. It has trout streams, wetlands, marshes, peat bogs and an elevation change of 35 feet. And there were zero houses being built. There hadn't been a new golf course constructed in Scotland in 19 years when he arrived for the job.

Other favorites include Double Eagle in Columbus, Ohio, the city where he teamed with Nicklaus at Ohio State and played on the University's MacKenzie-designed Scarlet Course. He also picks Forest Highlands in Arizona as a dramatic mountain layout he loves.

"I really enjoy the first two months when you start a new golf course," Weiskopf said. "It's like preparing for a tournament. You're wondering what you have. There can be a lot of anxiety because it is such a competitive business."

Troon NorthWeiskopf, who lives in Scottsdale, AZ, entered the design business with Jay Morrish. He needed a new outlet, wanted to try to design golf courses and he set a timetable in case it didn't work out. It worked out - right out of the box they came up with the Troon North Monument winner in Scottsdale, then Weiskopf added the Pinnacle course on his own.

Ultimately, Morrish and Weiskopf built 25 courses together before parting ways. He says they are still friends.

Today's younger generation of golf-course architects, who sit for hours and hours at the drafting table, drawing the blueprints, look at Weiskopf and see he doesn't have any formal training. He just builds award-winning golf courses.

Remarkably, he reached his Senior Tour goals. He was ready to go when he turned 50 and gave himself five years to win the U.S. Senior Open. It took him only three years to reach the goal.

His PGA Tour history was almost as fascinating. He admits he took a big chance by quitting at age 40 - at the time he was fourth on the all-time money list. At that time only five players had ever won more tournaments.

Weiskopf's daring change of professions benefited the average golfer - the guy who is striding around Troon North on a perfect, windless 75-degree Arizona day in January, probably is oblivious to who designed it and what his education was. He just knows he's a lucky guy to be here instead of at the office.

Some of Weiskopf's Gems

Troon Golf and Country Club, Scottsdale, AZ. The Monument Course is ranked No. 20 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List. The Pinnacle Course is rated No. 42 on the same list.

The Ridge at Castle Pines North, Castle Rock, CO, is No. 66 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List.

The Shanty River Cedar River Course, Bellaire, MI, is No. 84 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List.

The Quail Hollow Course in Painesville, OH, is No. 100 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play List.

Shadow Glen Golf Club in Olathe, KS, was voted Best New Private Course of 1989 by Golf Digest. Double Eagle Club in Galena, OH, is No. 60 on Golf Digest's America's Top 100 list. Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, Arizona is No. 57 on the same list.

Other Weiskopf designs (some with Jay Morrish): Tournament Players Club of PGA, Scottsdale, AZ. Mira Vista Country Club, Fort Worth, TX. Willowbend Country Club, Wichita, KS. Foothills Golf Club, Phoenix, AZ. Marbella Golf and Country Club, San Juan Capistrano, CA. Waikoloa Golf Course, Waikoloa, Hawaii. Bentwater on Lake Conroe, near Houston, TX. LaCantera, San Antonio, TX. The Golf Club at Vistoso, Tucson, AZ.

Catamount Ranch & Club is Weiskopf's 40th design project and his fourth course in Colorado, along with Grandote Peaks in La Veta, The Ridge at Castle Pines North and Eagle Springs in the Vail Valley. Catamount is a private course but will accept public play for its first year. Green fees are $150. It is owned by the world-class golf resort Cordillera, located in the Vail Valley. Photo of Catamount's downhill, 211-yard, par-3 No. 8 hole by David R. Holland.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Senior Writer

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.


 
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