Q&A: Alex Hay, LOBB + PARTNERS
I have always been passionate about golf course architecture with different design philosophies intriguing me. Each architect has their own point of view. Those who match the hole to the lay of the land have always been among my favorites. Modern course designers face a different set of challenges to that of their predecessors. New creations, renovations, or restoration projects must focus on golf course sustainability.
I sat down recently with good friend and golf course architect, Alex Hay to learn more about his experiences. Alex discussed topics ranging from working in different environments and countries to growing up in the UK playing links golf. It was fascinating to hear the perspective of someone living and breathing these current challenges in an ever evolving environment.
Challenges & Strategies for Golf Course Sustainability
So much has changed since the economic crisis between 2008-2010. What has been the greatest challenge you have faced during this time?
This is a multi answer question. Let me start with the hiring element of our business. Prior to 2008 inquires and requests in the golf business were at an all time high, these have since filtered out. We no longer have to waste time because current requests and inquires are of a more serious nature. The focus is return on investment (ROI) so maintenance budgets are a focal point. Golf courses are bigger now with safety being a priority. We have done a good job keeping closely maintained areas to a minimum which helps offset budget obstacles.
Water is such a precious resource and golf courses need a lot of it. What does LOBB+Partners do to combat water shortages through the implementation of water conservation strategies?
It is evident that water conservation is important and impacts the design or restoration of any project. Irrigation systems are keeping up with technology and can precisely irrigate the areas which need targeting, making our job easier. On all the projects we undertake it is important to work with the irrigation designers. If there are ways to improve the existing systems and the budget allows for it, we will make updates. This can help lower cost and water wastage. Creating or utilizing areas which exist onsite for water storage is of utmost importance for water conservation.
What practices do yourself and others at LOBB+PARTNERS undertake to help manage existing wildlife to assist with golf course sustainability?
We involve the Golf Environment Organization (GEO) along with a local wildlife expert every chance we get. A new build or existing golf course will have natural fauna with established homes in the area. We pay attention to animal foot traffic to avoid cutting off paths by not running a hole straight through it. We try to leave natural woodland and wetland areas alone as much as possible to minimize disruption to the native wildlife. The attitude toward golf courses and the environment is beginning to change for the better.
As a follow up, are there initiatives you undertake which attempt to increase the wildlife?
Yes we do. On ground which doesn’t come into play we try to enhance and naturalize it. This increases ground ecology and can help reduce maintenance costs. We minimize the earthworks in every design and let the land determine the hole so it reduces our impact on the environment. We work with contractors who understand our principles.
LOBB+PARTNERS have spent considerable time in Egypt and the Middle-East. The landscape is so vastly different there than North America. What challenges did you face in these arid environments relating to golf course sustainability?
New Giza Golf Club, Cairo, Egypt
In these parts of the world my goal was simple, make adjustments within the confines of earth which had already been moved and designed. There are less challenges associated with golf course sustainability when the land was already shaped to fit the holes.
Tim’s golf course in New Giza, Egypt was built in an old quarry which along with old mines are great places for golf courses to be built. The challenge here was incorporating the quarry or mine into the design and working around what was already moved previously.
UK Childhood and Influence
You grew up in the UK and your father was from Fortrose, Scotland. This offered the opportunity to play a lot of links golf. Is a links style, seaside golf course something you have on your bucket list to create?
Playing golf in Scotland is great because we don’t place expectation on course conditions. In the United States however, we expect everything to be perfect all the time which is unreasonable. When you play golf in the UK there could be brown or burnt spots on the course and no one would ask why. Ultimately I would like to design a course which allows you to play the ground game of Scotland, it could be in any setting but ideally on a small island in Scotland, like Ardfin!
If you could choose one place anywhere to design a course where would it be and why?
Designing a golf course within 30 minutes of my house. Having the access to play it with my family and friends would be my ideal scenario. If you take me playing the course out of it then probably on a small island off the coast of Scotland as I mentioned. Ideally the course would be designed for matchplay, without a par and where yardage does not matter. You can become very creative in that scenario.
Who is your favorite golf course architect past or present and why?
A.W. Tillinghast courses are at the top of my list based on all my readings and from what I have seen. I have not played any of his courses yet but San Francisco Golf Club would be the first I would play. He had an incredible talent because he would lay out a course by just walking the property.
From the courses I have seen and played probably Willie Park Jr.. Huntercombe Golf Club west of London is one of his best and because I met his grandson Mungo Park. It was a great experience talking about Park Jr’s time in North America.
Can you provide any final thoughts to the legacy you’d like to leave?
I want people to enjoy my work without knowing it was a LOBB+PARTNERS course or bunkering. Ideally you want people to tell their friends and they will want to play the course again. It is important to be thoughtful and considerate of our clients’ wishes. We are there to work for the client first and foremost. I am grateful to Tim Lobb for the opportunity he has given me. I wake up excited to work because I love what I do and I don’t think everyone can say that.