News out of Asia this week, that the 2011 Asia Pacific Golf Summit in Pattaya will feature British legend Tony Jacklin as one of its keynote speakers. Following from the ‘love-fest’ of previous years, where the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and Annika Sorenstam have been fêted for their ‘services to golf’, this year it’s apparently Jacklin’s turn to be adulated as he spruiks for course design work.

The Asia Golf Monthly magazine is an increasingly prominent publication in the region, and its annual Summit, despite great promise, continues to disappoint by failing to offer any genuine insight into ‘real’ course design. The APGS model seems to be all about simply trying to attract the biggest professional stars available.

What’s particularly disturbing about the Jacklin announcement, were the statements used by the publisher and its managing director Mike Sebastian who noted, ‘we are absolutely delighted to have a star of Jacklin’s reputation headline the 2011 Asia Pacific Golf Summit and we are especially happy to bring out Tony to share with Asia his unique philosophy relating to how golf should be played today and his revolutionary ideas about golf course design.’

OK so there is no denying that Jacklin was a fine golfer in his day, but let’s look at his design career and focus specifically on Sebastian’s claims that his ideas about golf course design are ‘revolutionary’.

A quick look at the Jacklin Design Group web site reveals the following punchy philosophy statement, ‘Our goal is to create a challenging golf experience that will enhance the natural features of your site while being mindful of environmental sensitivities.’ Nothing wrong with those ideals, but hardly a revolutionary philosophy.

What Sebastian is more likely referring to, is the three-tier pricing structure offered by the Jacklin Design Group.

On the bottom tier is Jacklin Design, where Tony makes an initial site visit but then basically leaves the design work to an ‘associate architect’. Jacklin does apparently stay informed on the progress of the design and build….which is nice.

He is also able to participate in an exhibition match at the official opening.

The middle tier is Tony Jacklin Design, which is essentially the same as the Jacklin Design option, except that on these projects Jerry Kilby (a more senior associate) will provide ‘advice and guidance on all aspects of golf operations and marketing during design and construction so that developers can maximize their return on investment.’ Further, ‘through special request, Tony will also be happy to take on an honorary position in the club’s organization in order to maintain a strong connection between the Jacklin name and the club as it grows and prospers.’ So you basically get some free promotional advice and to call Tony a member of the club – irresistible stuff indeed.

The final option however, is the top-of-the-range Tony Jacklin Signature Design, which is offered to clients who want their course to be ‘highly distinguished.’ For those who can afford a Signature Design, Tony offers a more hands-on approach to the design and construction process ensuring that ‘no detail is forgotten.’ Not sure if that implies that details may be forgotten or will be forgotten if you choose the cheaper options.

Additional, with the Signature Design you also get the same marketing help from Jerry Kilby as the middle tier selection, and Tony will both play an exhibition match at the course opening as well as ‘happily take on an honorary position in the club’s organization.’

While the question of how a busy celebrity golf designer manages to squeeze such value into a design package is still a mystery, again it’s a hardly revolutionary concept. In fact it’s precisely the same business model and pricing structure that Nicklaus Design has been offering clients for years. And it’s not a business model that any passionate golf lover should support or embrace.

Unlike genuine golf architects, for Jacklin his involvement and commitment to each project is dependent upon the size of the fee paid by the client, rather than the quality of the client or the suitability of the ground for golf. Golden Age golf designers would surely roll over in their graves…

While the Asian Golf Monthly magazine claims to have the best interests of Asian golf at heart, they continually dumb down golf course architecture by promoting famous golfers as talented and prolific designers. The truth is right there on Jacklin’s own web site, he really only ‘designs’ when clients can afford his biggest fee.

Rather than simply regurgitating media announcements and proclaiming guys like Tony Jacklin as a design revolutionary, is it too much to ask that the AGM editorial team do a little digging and try to present a balanced picture to the industry on the truths behind signature golf course design?

When it comes to course content, and understanding the business of quality design, we gave up on the Asia Golf Monthly magazine many years ago – about the time when they named the Thai Country Club as the best course in Asia. Despite a complete lack of credibility in this field, the organizers of the Asia Pacific Golf Summit still have an important role to play in raising golf standards in the region. Surely it isn’t too much to ask that they attempt to bring at least a little balance to their Summit and the subsequent discussions about architecture and signature design?

For more on the Jacklin Design Group – click here