A successful businessman turned developer and architect, Mark Parsinen created two of Scotland’s most important new courses of the last century. Both Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart have become centerpieces of Scottish golf travel, beloved European Tour venues and important efforts in showing that a “links” could be crafted out of an undesirable site.
His death June 3 of a stroke at age 70 was met with tributes from the golf world.
“We have never worked with anyone so active and engaged in the design of a golf course as Mark was at Castle Stuart,” said architects Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in a statement upon learning the news of their co-architect’s passing. “Thoughtful, passionate, articulate, and constantly probing to solve the riddles that the land provided us with, Mark was so excited to develop ‘the code’ that became our philosophy as we designed and built in the field in Inverness.”
Parsinen’s first project, the acclaimed Granite Bay outside Sacramento, was an earlier outlier in the movement toward classic design features as ’90s excess was wearing thin. Parsinen’s work there with architect Kyle Phillips spurred another collaboration at Kingsbarns, a re-imagination of an ancient nine-hole layout that has become a favorite of golf tourists visiting St. Andrews. Besides hosting the European Tour annually, the course helped strengthen the greater St. Andrews area as a destination for more than just the Old Course, while showing that a natural looking links could be manufactured with modern construction practices.
Then a decade ago, Parsinen opened Castle Stuart outside Inverness and overlooking the Moray Firth. A three-time host to the Scottish Open, the course has fueled a spike in golf tourism to northern Scotland and stands as Parsinen’s boldest effort.
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We lost a great one today. Mark Parsinen, our partner in the design of Castle Stuart passed away after suffering a stroke at age 70. I am a much better golf course architect for having worked with Mark, and a much better person for knowing him! Articulate, passionate, and a true thinker about golf course design, more people need to understand how brilliant he was. He gave us a canvas to work with him on that launched our career, and he was always there rooting us on! Keeping the golfer “hopeful and engaged” was his mantra when it came to design, and those are words I think of every time I am on site. On this sad day it is tough to be hopeful, but we must remain engaged in espousing the things he taught us! 😢💔
The site was a combination of farmland and a peculiar gorse-covered hill that required intense imagination to see as a world top-100 caliber course. Yet Parsinen bankrolled and co-designed the course with Hanse and Wagner, who lived near the site and were given the freedom to craft a mix of classic sod-walled bunkering and “blow out” sand areas reminiscent of ancient links that Parsinen was enamored with.
“Always meticulously prepared he came to work each day with a plan of action that frequently needed revision due to our artistic bent, or some practical stumbling block,” Hanse and Wagner said. “Rather than be deterred he relished these problem solving opportunities and somehow things always turned out better. We are immeasurably better golf course architects for having worked with Mark and learned from his passion and dedication to golf course architecture.”
A caddy in his youth and a fine golfer throughout his life in education (London School of Economics, Penn, Stanford business school), Parsinen was the rare course developer who exuded a passion for both architecture and service. He has established a family business that left his golf customers raving about the details of their overall experience and placing both courses on must-play lists in a very crowded marketplace.
Castle Stuart’s now world-famous clubhouse was another Parsinen touch, an updated homage to the Art Deco, ocean-liner-at-sea look popularized at several British clubs, including Royal Birkdale.
Parsinen is survived by wife DeDe and daughters Cammy, Jenny and Samantha.