If you tee off in Tunisia or take a Malaysian mulligan, you may
be part of Ron Fream's grand design. Fream (above) runs
Golfplan, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based firm that has planted more
than 150 golf courses in 62 nations, from icy Finland to the
Indonesian rain forest, where one of his tracks fills the crater
of a dormant volcano.
Fream studied turf-grass management at Washington State. When he
drew up plans for a muni course as a class project, "I was
hooked," he says. After apprenticing with Robert Trent Jones and
Robert Muir Graves, he and a partner founded an architecture
business in 1972. "We started with $3,000, but it was gone
fast," says Fream. "Then Peter Thomson called."
Thomson, who won five British Opens before turning to course
design, put Fream to work in Asia. In 1975 Fream unveiled Bali
Handara, the course he built inside an Indonesian volcano.
"There were virtually no machines used. Every foot of earth was
moved by shovel or by workers carrying baskets on their heads,"
he says. Today the course ranks among Asia's most famous. Yet
it's a tricky paradise. Monkeys dart from the forest to steal
golf balls at Bali Handara, just as wild boars scuff the
fairways at a Fream layout in Tunisia and cobras sun themselves
at Malaysia's Saujana Golf and Country Club.
"Cobras aren't so bad," he says. "It's the fer-de-lance snakes
in Trinidad I worry about--just little green things about two
feet long, but deadly, and they'll drop down on you from the
The sultan of Brunei hired Fream to create a private course in
Borneo. "The soil was as acidic as lemon juice, and there were
places where you'd take a divot and see oil ooze up," the
designer says. He spread lime and organic humus over trouble
spots to control the soil's pH level. He redirected a few holes
to keep players from striking black gold with every swing, and
finally presented the sultan an Augusta National-inspired course
sown with a Bermuda-grass blend that could survive Brunei's
stifling heat and 200 inches of rain per year. It was a fitting
bookend to Fream's Oulu Golf Club in Finland, where temperatures
plunge to -30[degrees] in winter but golfers enjoy a rare treat
between May and August: round-the-clock golf under a midnight sun.
"I'm a missionary, a Johnny Appleseed for golf around the
world," says the 55-year-old Fream. "In Florida or California
you can build a golf course by phone. You spend a lot of money,
and everything is perfect--perfectly artificial. I'd rather make
something that looks like it belongs where it is." --John