It is with unreserved hesitation that I announce plans to establish Darius Oliver Golf Course Design, a new golf design business aimed principally at golf clubs and developers who wish to build courses without genuine golf architects.
For many years now the business of golf course design has been split in two. On the one hand are legitimate golf architects, those men and women who work with passion and enthusiasm to create quality courses. On the other hand are celebrity ’signature’ firms whose principals have enjoyed success in other fields and, as a result, apparently become expert course creators.
With a recent spate of B, C and even D-Grade golf celebrities now offering so-called ‘design services’, I figured it was time for me to also get in on the act and try to exploit my limited media profile for additional coin. I might not have won any major championships, but my most recent books have featured on ONE HD and were profiled in the local Mornington Peninsula newspaper.
The good news for fledgling course ‘designers’ like me is that in developing regions it apparently doesn’t matter if you can’t route a course, build a hole, float a green or solve drainage problems. You don’t even need to understand the principles of true strategic design. If you have won important championships, or (hopefully) written well-received golf articles, then you are more than qualified to advise and design.
The key business decision to make when establishing yourself as a signature ‘designer’ is whether to follow the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods, Robert Trent Jones Jr, Peter Thomson, Christy O’Connor Jr, Mike Weir, Eduardo Romero, Tony Jacklin, Wayne Grady, Bob Shearer and even Ian Stanley by starting your own standalone ‘design’ business, or whether you instead align yourself with a design factory like European Golf Design or IMG Golf Course Services, who can handle any project and do all the work for you. This is the successful model for several ‘giants’ of the signature ‘design’ game, folks like Colin Montgomerie, Annika Sorenstam, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Michael Campbell, Raphael Jacquelin, Nancy Lopez, Paul Lawrie, Jesper Parnevik, Curtis Strange, Camilo Villegas and Ian Woosnam. While none of these celebrity ‘designers’ have their names on any great courses, at least the IMG/EGD process allows them to ‘design’ while still playing, and without the need for inconveniences like site visits or client meetings.
Clearly for Darius Oliver Golf Course Design the preferred method of operation will be the standalone model, as I already run my own business and this way I’ll get to keep more of the income for myself. The first thing I need to do, however, is hire a junior golf architect or recent landscape graduate to do all of the actual work (photo shoots aside). Ideally my associate will have some golf skill and understanding, although it’s no longer essential, but lack the ambition needed to become a genuine golf architect in his own right. Most crucially, however, he needs to be able to toe the company line and to assign all credit to me for things that work, and to the client for things that perhaps go wrong.
Once I have my team in place I’m going to need an effective marketing strategy to promote my brand and attract new business. Any slogan I devise will need to evoke memories of St Andrews and Alister MacKenzie, to both give an impression that I care about golf’s heritage and also suggest an understanding or study of important design theories. I could even acknowledge current environmental issues to highlight my apparent, if unproven, green credentials. Perhaps something along the lines of…. ‘Like Alister MacKenzie at Augusta National, Darius Oliver Golf Course Design works with the earth to harness the spirit of Old Tom Morris and The Old Course at St Andrews to create timeless, sustainable golf masterpieces’.
Might require a little work, and I would love to get the words ‘harmony and passion’ in there somehow, but at least it sends the message that clubs and developers evidently want to hear.
The difficult thing for celebrity ‘designers’, like me, is the balance between sounding like a passionate architect who cares about every project, and my thirst for income and work. I would love to claim that my aim was to copy Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw and only work on a couple of select projects per year, but what I really want is to build as many courses as Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Robert Trent Jones Junior.
While I’m prepared to work on any project in any region and for anyone, I have clear views on how golf courses should be arranged and refuse to temper my style for any client – unless of course that client needs waterfront home sites, cart paths, championship length holes and cookie-cutter greens with endless pin placements.
For those clients unsure of my star power, I’m even prepared to ‘work’ and collaborate with celebrated professional golfers – so an Oliver Garcia course, for instance, is a definite possibility, as is an Oliver Westwood or an Oliver Ishikawa. The only professional I won’t work with is Englishman Oliver Wilson, as he’d get all the credit if we were to co-‘design’.
Despite what its vocal critics would have you believe, Signature Design does have a place in the modern game of golf. There are many projects where a celebrity endorsement is crucial and hundreds of developers, especially in Asia, who would rather a famous course than an outstanding one.
Here at Darius Oliver Golf Course Design we strive to become a truly worldwide ‘design’ firm, and will be available to work anywhere a disconnect exists between client ambition and architect ability. In other words, wherever signature ‘designers’ are considered for projects.
All we need to get things running is a cheap and competent junior designer.
Résumés are welcome and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org