2006: Thinking outside the box

Greensboro, Ga.

For years Jim Engh has been making his mark on the American West. Now he’s taking his road show to the East. Along the way, he has not shed any of his penchant for drama, or his willingness to go over the edge if it means an interesting golf hole.

He’s standing in the middle of the fairway-to-be of the 18th hole at The Creek Club, a private course that is the newest addition to Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee. It’s construction time, and that means lots of dirt – clay to be precise. Hole corridors have been hacked out of the woods on this heavily rolling land, and it’s now time to take the two-dimensional construction plans and translate the details into three-dimensional features.

Unlike many architects, Engh doesn’t like winging it in the field. Last-minute arm-waving is expensive. He has been trained as a landscape architect and is perfectly willing to draw out everything in advance, spending hundreds of hours in his office in Castle Rock, Colo., producing a paper trail that enables him to build efficiently and on budget. His plans, drawn to a scale of 1 inch to 60 feet, are the largest and most detailed in the industry.

Given the grandeur and boldness of his courses, it’s amazing that Engh can visualize so much on paper. At Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo., the back tee on the par-3 17th hole is 205 feet above the punchbowl green. The third fairway at Black Rock in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, falls 180 feet, and Engh had to elevate the second-shot landing area by 30 feet just to keep the ball from running off into a creek fronting the green.

Engh’s not afraid to buck traditionalism. He figures that since 90 percent of golfers are going to take a cart, there’s no reason to design a course for the small minority who don’t. He’s more interested in crafting good holes, each with its own identity, than with making a course walkable. Along the way, he’s sure to highlight views of the course and the hole. It’s what he calls “the golf cart path experience.”

While many designers are inspired by the classic Scottish links, Engh says he feeds on the rush he gets from the dunes-laced Irish layouts – Ballybunion, Lahinch, Inniscrone, Carne. He makes two or three journeys there per year, often bringing along clients and associates to show them how rugged golf can be and still work.

Having proven himself on demanding sites in Idaho and Colorado, Engh seems positively sedate working the relatively tamer ground of central Georgia, where the entire site affords him 160 feet of elevation change. Having spent 10 years traveling through Europe and Asia working for other people, he has acquired the confidence to stand on his own and make bold decisions with confidence. In the late 1980s, Engh worked simultaneously for three companies, often working in five countries on five consecutive days. So now, at age 47, he has no trouble standing his ground and sticking by his plans. Even when they call for three greens on the final hole.

“I was standing there, trying to figure out which of the areas would work best,” says Engh. “I couldn’t pick one over the other, so I thought, why not use them all?”

The result is a downhill par 5 with an unusual amount of strategic options, especially if the club opts to place flags on all three putting surfaces and allow golfers to choose whichever one they want during play.

“It’s going to be a private club, so we have a lot of latitude,” says Bob Mauragas, vice president of golf operations.

Having scouted architects for the assignment and deciding upon Engh because of his bold vision, Mauragas is excited with the course and has no qualms about the unusual finish, “as long as it works from a playability standpoint.”

That’s why Engh is conferring with construction manager Hugh “Bubba” Massey from Medalist Golf Inc. It’s one of those typical conversations in the field, with half-phrases and gestures part of the interchange whereby architect and builder tame the land.

“Can you take that back a little?” asks Engh.

“Probably.”

“At this level?”

“Probably.”

“If you just cut that down and put that dirt here.”

It was with such eloquent phrases that Engh conquered the American West. Now those same terms are about to have their influence in the East.

Jim Engh’s portfolio

Dragon Hills Golf Course, Ratchaburi, Thailand, 1994

Columbia Point Golf Club, Richland, Wash., 1997

Dong Guan Hillview Golf Club, Guandong, China, 1997

Sanctuary, Sedalia, Colo., 1997 (No. 33 Golfweek Modern)

Red Hawk Ridge Golf Course, Castle Rock, Colo., 1998

Hawktree Golf Club, Bismarck, N.D., 2000 (No. 56 Modern)

The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa Golf Course, Grand Junction, Colo., 2002

Tullymore Golf Course, Stanwood, Mich., 2002

The Club at Black Rock, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 2003 (No. 51 Modern)

Fossil Trace Golf Club, Golden, Colo., 2003

The Snowmass Club, Snowmass Village, Colo., 2004

True North, Harbor Springs, Mich., 2004

Blackstone Country Club, Peoria, Ariz., 2005

Lakota Canyon Golf Club, New Castle, Colo., 2005 (No. 46 Modern)

Pradera, Parker, Colo., 2005

– For more information, visit www.enghgolf.com

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