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News

An Interview With Arthur Hills

by John Kim

Pity the task of the golf course architect. He must design courses that are challenging to the best players, but playable for the hack. He must provide scenic beauty, but not let it interfere with the integrity of his layout. Environmentalists won’t let him change many things, technological advancements in equipment demand that he does. He must think about the massive task of fitting in eighteen holes in a logistical and challenging fashion and still have an eye for the details such as the shape of every bunker and the slope in each green. Everyone from course professionals, to weekend duffers, to website writers have an opinion on their work and how it could have been done better. Who would want such a thankless job?

Well, thankfully, there are gifted individuals around that are up to the task. In fact, there are some that excel at it. There are even a few that stand out as the very best. AtlantaGolfer.com was fortunate enough to land a coup of an interview with one of the absolute finest, as famed golf course architect Arthur Hills, one of the most celebrated and awarded golf course designers in history, was kind enough to share a few exclusive thoughts with our website.

AtlantaGolfer.com: Is it easier or harder designing a course today than it was twenty or thirty years ago? Don’t new environmental regulations really hamper your ability to create and envision?
Arthur Hills: "There is still an ample supply of attractive land and will be for the foreseeable future. Actually, the environmental regulations have been a plus in my opinion. Because of those regulations, we have been able to preserve wetlands and incorporate them into the course design, making for beautiful, careful use of the land."

AtlantaGolfer.com: Are there too many courses out there now?
Arthur Hills: "Some areas have enough courses. However, superior designs attract golfers to new courses."

AtlantaGolfer.com: You’ve been incredibly successful in designing courses from scratch and in redesigning already existing courses. Do you have a preference on which you would rather do?
Arthur Hills: "We enjoy the creative process. Therefore, both creating a new course and redesigning an existing layout offer wonderful opportunities. For example, our recent renovation of the Congressional Country Club Golf Course fulfilled a need just as much as a new course would."

AtlantaGolfer.com: Is one any easier than the other?
Arthur Hills: "A new course is sometimes easier because you start with fewer restraints."

AtlantaGolfer.com: Everyone thinks they could design a golf course, what is the most basic thing that they don’t know that you do? What is the biggest challenge in designing a course?
Arthur Hills: "The main thing going for us is our experience with a variety of sites, our experience with many design ideas, our ability to recognize what the result will be, our understanding of what degree of difficulty is appropriate, and how to relate to the real estate aspect of the development."

Imagine being on a roll, on such a massive winning streak, like that of Arthur Hills. Can you be the best one year and be the most improved each year after that? In 1986, GolfWeek Magazine named him “Golf Architect of the Year”. You’d think that would be a great way to cap off a very distinguished career. Six years later in 1992, Golf Digest awarded him both the “Best New Public Course” and “Best New Private Course” (our own The Golf Club of Georgia) - a feat that has never been done before or since. Seven years after that, he was ranked #2 on “The Games’ Hottest Architects” by Golf World magazine. His firm designed more “upscale” courses in the 1990s than any other firm. The real estate developments that spring up around his course sell out faster than any other architect’s layouts. Moreover, the average home on an Arthur Hills course (in 2001) sold for $500,800. In sum, he creates great courses, he creates great value, and he’s done it consistently for a long time.

AtlantaGolfer.com: Do you compare courses you’ve done with each other? Is it fair to rank your own work?
Arthur Hills: "Critique might be the more operative word rather than compare. We are constantly critiquing what we’ve done to determine what is exceptional and what could have been done better. Only our clients and those who play our courses can really rank or evaluate our courses. The buyer’s enthusiasm tells the story. That is the real value of trying to rank a course - Do the players really like it a lot!"

AtlantaGolfer.com: Do you ever play on a course or view one on t.v. that isn’t one of your courses and say, “I could have done this better” or at least, “I would have done this differently.”
Arthur Hills: "When we look at other courses, I am critiquing, comparing and sure, we will sometimes think about how we could improve on what we see. However, I have a friend who has a saying “I have traveled the world and never seen a statue of a critic."

Well, Atlanta may not have a statue of Arthur Hills, but many people travel to pay homage to his designs. Towne Lake Hills and Olde Atlanta Golf Club are two Arthur Hills works available to the Atlanta golfing community. The Standard Club and The Golf Club of Georgia are also his creations. I asked Lance Bailey, the head professional at Olde Atlanta Golf Club, how -according to Mr. Hills’ own standards, his players and staff would rate his work there. His response was simple and direct.
“We are privileged to have Mr. Hills’ name and work associated with our course. His reputation for working so well with the natural terrain and native areas to create courses that golfers will go out of there way to play just makes our course that much more appealing. People remember playing an Arthur Hills course.”

Randy Waldron, the Director of Golf Course Maintenance at The Golf Club of Georgia, was with Arthur Hills from the very inception of his work at the prestigious course. He echoes the sentiment that Arthur Hills is not only a distinctive master of design, but adds his interpersonal relationships and continuing interest in the course after his work is done really distinguishes him as the preeminent architect in the world of golf.
“He (Mr. Hills) has a great ability to listen and receive input objectively, without letting ego get in the way of his creation. Everyone loves his work but they also really like and respect the man as well. His continuing role in our golf course helps make it what it is, one of the great layouts anywhere.”

AtlantaGolfer.com: What are your thoughts about your work in the Atlanta area?
Arthur Hills: "Atlanta has beautiful terrain and variety of tree cover. The Standard Club is a little-known gem in my opinion. It has some great holes in a beautiful setting! The Golf Club of Georgia has, since it’s opening, had some of the finest green surfaces anywhere in the South."

AtlantaGolfer.com: Atlanta is suffering a bit of a glut in the golf course market. Do we have room for another Arthur Hills course?
Arthur Hills: "Atlanta’s population and work force continues to grow. Residential development keeps pace. No doubt there is a place for more good courses. Perhaps one of ours will be included."

AtlantaGolfer.com: I have to ask; your work is so widely respected and appreciated, but I know people would want to hear your comments on hole #18 at Towne Lake Hills. Can you share any thoughts on it and if the renovations done to it have taken care of the critics?
Arthur Hills: "#18 was built into some rugged terrain. Modifications have helped. However, there is obviously an opportunity to make the hole more user friendly and, therefore a better hole."

More than likely, you’ve played at least one and probably several designs by Arthur Hills. But even if by some fluke you haven’t, if you follow golf, you’re more familiar with his work than you think. Without going into a long recital of his seemingly endless number of distinctions, his influence on today’s golf scene is as strong as ever. His recent redesign of Inverness was widely lauded as it hosted this year’s U.S. Senior Open, and next year’s Ryder Cup will be determined at his redesigned Oakland Hills Country Club.

AtlantaGolfer.com: In your opinion, what is the state of the game? Is its future bright or are we in for a few down years?
Arthur Hills: “The game has a great future. Our population is growing. There is more time for recreation. As an industry, we must make the game easier to get into and more fun. One of the key improvements, in my opinion, is very simple: eliminate the archaic 7 and 8 minute starting time intervals and go to 9-10 minute times even on busy days, and to 12 minute times when 150+ rounds per day are predictable. Many good things will result!"

AtlantaGolfer.com: Finally, what does the future hold for Arthur Hills?
Arthur Hills: "I hope, opportunities to work with more wonderful clients and create even better courses than before. Probably a fewer number in the area of (3-4) per year, so that I focus all of my energies on these wonderful projects."

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