Midwest Golfing Magazine had the honor of interviewing Bill Coore, one of golf’s preeminent architects, for our Midwest Golfing Personals that appeared in our 2016 Spring Issue. The 70 year-old North Carolina native had so much to offer that a part two had to be in order.
If you are a fan of the National Football League, it’s safe bet you’ve heard of the phrase Coaching Tree. It’s used to describe a group of coaches that all went on to greatness after mentoring under a legend. Prime examples of this phenomenon include The Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren, or Bill Belichick Coaching Trees.
When it comes to golf, an Architectural Design Tree has evolved around the legendary Pete Dye, who will celebrate his 91st birthday this year. The Disciples of Dye include Tom Doak, Tim Liddy, and Lee Schmidt, who have all produced masterpieces throughout the Midwest. Of that impressive list, Bill Coore has set himself apart as the lead understudy that now is a master of his craft.
To this day, Coore appreciates the time Pete and Alice Dye took to teach the 1968 graduate of Wake Forest University the finer points of the design business. “When I started working for him in 1972, I was such a non-entity,” laughed Coore. “I kid a lot that the two most least-likely people that worked for him to make it in this industry would be Tom Doak and I. We were both just flunkies during our time with Pete. He and Alice were so good to me, to this day I don’t know why. Even when I was cutting down trees with a chainsaw, he made a point to spend time with me. I think he thought I was odd because I had a college education but wanted to do this for a living. I got to eavesdrop on his conversations with course owners and he taught me so much – I know for a fact I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the kindness of Pete and Alice Dye,” concluded Coore.
Coore, a true student of golf course architecture, went on to discuss the global importance of Pete Dye, the self-stated simple man from Indiana. “Pete has made a huge impact in the Midwest and throughout the world, honestly,” stated Coore. “All of his courses will stand the test of time and provide a snapshot of what his design philosophies were at various times of his career. He is the only person that changed the direction of golf course design twice in his career. It first started in 1969 and his design of Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island. Everything around that time was Robert Trent Jones influenced with long, big courses that featured elevated greens, long runway tees, and flanking bunkers styles that were seen around the world. Pete did exactly opposite starting at Harbour Town by creating a shorter, finesse-driven, some may say quirky course, complete with railroad ties you’d see in Scotland. He honestly went 180 degrees from what was being done at the time. Then everybody followed his lead so he did another 180 degree turn with TPC Sawgrass in 1980. Much of that was influenced by Dean Beman (the PGA TOUR Commissioner at the time) who wanted a big stadium course that could host large galleries and major tournaments. I’ll say it again, no one has ever changed the design realm twice like Pete Dye has,” emphatically stated Coore.
Much like golfers know they are playing a Pete Dye course, the same can be said with Bill Coore. But instead of railroad ties or cleverly placed bunkers meant to fool your depth perception, Coore’s calling card is a less-is-more strategy that always makes the land the star of the show. “If you have an interesting piece of property, we want it to guide the golf course,” began Coore. “Not just how long it is, what the par is, or individual holes, but the feel of the golf course so it is part of the landscape. That way you don’t infuse your personal ideas of the course, you let the land dictate the routing. We still try to honor the architects that came before us, that’s what they tried to do in the 20s and 30s, and that’s what we are trying to accomplish as well. We prefer to focus on the details, the larger picture then always takes care of itself,” explained Coore.
That leads us to Sand Valley Resort in north central Wisconsin, the perfect representation of Coore’s above mantra. The 350 acre property meanders and flows up and down a lazy river of sand dune blowouts and ponderosa pines. The course is unlike anything I’ve ever played in the Midwest and is already being touted “The Bandon Dunes of the Midwest.” Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the inland gem Bandon Trails at Bandon Dunes Resort, so they understood that you don’t need an ocean to forge a masterpiece.
“Craig Haltom of Oliphant Golf, Inc. was the one who found the land and had already laid out four to five courses before we got there,” began Coore. “I told Mr. Keiser you should hire Craig to do this project, but to his humility and credit he said I want you and Ben to do this. We spent a number of days driving around and we always came back to the volcano, the high point where you can see everything. All I noticed were flat areas around sand barrens and ground in between – it was a combo of big stuff, flanked by flat areas, and everything in between. You can’t do the same thing over and over again; you will get tired mentally and physically if you are walking, so this stretch of land was perfect to build the first course on. We had always wanted to work in Wisconsin and thanks to Mike Keiser, his son Michael, Craig Haltom, and KemperSports we are able to do so. It may not have an ocean, but it has a lot of potential,” finished Coore.
Mr. Coore may be President of The Understatement Society, as Sand Valley has as much potential as Dustin Johnson circa 2010. Sand Valley Resort is a can’t miss project, especially when you take into account all the thought Coore and Crenshaw have put into making the first course on property be one that that is player and maintenance friendly.
“We care about creating a course for various handicaps, and the first thing we need to understand are the goals, for example who will be playing the course? Our primary focus is for the retail golfer – the person that pays for golf. So when we layout the course we have them in mind first and then the professionals after that. Often the back tees are the last thing we do. We are always more concerned with angles than distance when setting up the back tees. We concentrate our efforts in the middle by giving them a chance of hope and reasonable expectations without dumbing down the golf course that doesn’t have any interest,” discussed Coore.
One of the most interesting aspects of Sand Valley is their green complexes, which will remind you of wind-swept, monstrous putting surfaces across the nation’s heartland. “A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you know when a green is right?’ We factor the wind, type of grass etc., but honestly it is just when it feels right. You can’t put it into a checklist – it’s a combo of artistry, golf strategy, and engineering both from drainage and what the staff can mow. It’s a judgment call – the difference between really good and really bad is fine. I guess it’s just experience,” ended Coore.
In conclusion, the title of Bill Coore’s future biography could very well be: Bill Coore – A Man Who Worked Under a Legend Has Now Created a Legacy All His Own. To see a complete list of Coore/Crenshaw courses around the world, visit www.cooreandcrenshaw.com.