A self proclaimed architectural Renaissance man, Tom Doak entered the design business largely on the back of his ‘no holds barred’ commentary on competing architects and a profound confidence that, given the opportunity, he could return golf to the glory days of the Golden Age. Whether deliberate or not, he touted himself as the reincarnation of classic designers like Dr. Alister MacKenzie, and the antithesis of those increasingly popular ‘signature’ designers who simply churned out golf holes from their computers and never developed a genuine passion for their land or the project.
It seemed all Doak needed was a break, and he got one when Mike Keiser awarded him the job to design the second course at his Bandon Dunes Resort. Doak has earlier built courses near his home in Traverse City and at Lost Dunes in Bridgman Michigan, but this was dream land – coastal with dramatic cliffs, huge sand dunes and plenty of natural golf contour across the property. The result was Pacific Dunes, a stunning layout that surpassed what David Kidd had done at Bandon Dunes and set in motion the momentum needed for Doak to become the modern game’s most acclaimed designer.
Regardless of what one thinks of Doak’s personality or method of attracting business, his output speaks for itself and in a relatively short period of time he has established a quality golf portfolio that is almost unrivalled in the history of this business. There are several Doak courses listed on the Planet Golf World 100, including Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal in the Top 15, as well as Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Old Macdonald and Sebonack slightly lower down. Each is a tribute to both his skill and passion for the classic style of golf design, but more so his willingness to listen to the land and let the terrain at his disposal dictate the nature of his design. Ballyneal is one of the most natural golf courses on the planet, and golf holes could have been found all across the sandy dunescape. Rather than rushing, however, Doak spent time on the routing and after a couple of years he had produced a course as enjoyable as any built during the last 60 years. In some ways it’s even better than Pacific Dunes, as it doesn’t have ocean views which means Doak wasn’t restricted by a need to bring the golf along a set coastline or dune ridge. He could move anyway he wanted on the site, his task simply to find the best holes the property had to offer.
There are plenty of other fine courses in the Tom Doak portfolio, and much to admire about his approach to design, like assembling a quality team of associates around him and letting them display their own freedoms and vision where appropriate. It’s true that he has been fortunate to be given so many glamourous sites to work with over the years, but equally it’s unlikely such land would have been made available had he not demonstrated such an incredible gift for extracting great golf holes out of the land.
Needless to say, Tom Doak is a Quality Endorsed architect and developers should be confident that, if chosen as their project architect, he will deliver a fine result.