What's My Line? The tools have changed, but creating the holes remains a designer's biggest thrill

March 12, 2001
March 12, 2001

Table of Contents
March 12, 2001

What's My Line? The tools have changed, but creating the holes remains a designer's biggest thrill

When Bobby Weed, the golf architect, works at his desk, eras
collide. The desk is a massive antique rolltop of solid oak with
tiny cupboards, cubbyholes and dividers on top and ponderous,
three-foot-deep drawers on either side of the knee well. On the
wall above the desk hangs a giant black-and-white photograph with
the legend, AUGUST 9, 1916--CONNECTICUT. It shows dusty laborers
building a golf course with the cutting-edge technology of their
time--mules, scrapers, shovels and rakes.

This is an article from the March 12, 2001 issue

"I collect antiques and old books," Weed says, and there is about
him, as well, a trace of the Old South--a mid-state South Carolina
accent. However, as he opens mail on a Monday morning in early
February and discusses the University of Florida project with
senior associate designer Scot Sherman, Weed's eyes keep
returning to his laptop computer, perched on a pulled-out wing of
the desk. Weed taps the keys, and a photograph of a golf hole
appears. He taps again, and a color rendering of a golf course
plan floods the screen.

"We have a love-hate thing with computers," says Sherman, leaving
Weed's office and entering the big room where the design work is
done. This room, too, is dominated by a large piece of wooden
furniture--a pool table--that Weed has converted into a
conference-design table by laying a four-by-10-foot slab of
dark-stained wood on top. Meanwhile, Sherman's PC, the essential
tool of the 21st-century architect, sits in the far corner, like
a schoolboy on detention. "Computers are a necessary evil,"
Sherman says. "We try to be as old-fashioned and hands-on as
possible, but everyone we deal with is on a computer to some
extent. It's not feasible anymore to design a course in the

With any golf course job, whether it's a new layout or a
renovation, the design process starts with a preliminary routing
study, or center-line drawing, so called because it consists of
little more than a map of the property with straight lines drawn
between proposed tee and green sites. On the Florida project Weed
and Sherman began by spreading a large aerial photograph of the
current Florida course on their design table. Next to that they
spread an identically scaled topographical map of the property.
(A topo is a surveyor's map that shows the elevation, in feet
above sea level, of all points on the ground.) Demonstrating,
Sherman takes a large piece of tracing paper and places it over
the topo. "We lay it out over this booger," he says cheerfully,
"and then we start doodling."

These first pencil drawings are covered with notes: "Leave some
trees....Add some trees....What is flood elevation? 10 yr. 25
yr. 100 yr...." The notes and outlines of each hole are done in
black pencil, the center lines are red, and the water features
are outlined in blue.

"This is a routing study that we did in November. It's very
different from what we have now because we thought we were going
to get this piece of land down here," says Sherman, pointing to a
couple of holes that stick out from the southwest corner of the
site. "That didn't happen, so we went to plan B." Now they're on
plan C, which roughly follows the current routing for 13 of the
holes but calls for five totally new holes to take advantage of
unused property in the northwest corner. "It's a very creative
exercise," Sherman says. "Sometimes we do routings at night in
our hotel rooms. We spread a topo map on the bed and sit there in
our boxer shorts, trying to imagine what the course will be."

The next step, Sherman says with a sigh, involves the computer.
He takes the tracing paper across the room and lays it on a large
gray digitizing tablet by the PC. He then opens a file in AutoCAD
2000, a drafting program used by engineers and architects. Using
AutoCAD, Sherman can create drawings on layers, any of which can
be isolated, overlaid, hidden or edited. He copies the tracing by
moving a wireless mouse on the tablet, and he enters text with
the keyboard. "Now we can start tweaking," he says.

Once the basic hole designs are in the computer, Sherman and Weed
refine the plan, relying on field sketches made during their
weekly trips to Gainesville. The digitized 17th hole, for
instance, recently sprouted several greenside bunkers and lost
between five and 10 vertical feet of soil in front of the
tee--part of Weed's plan to turn the short, bland par-4 into a
drivable tease like the 10th at Riviera. "This shows your basic
hole strategy," Sherman says, "but the drawing is only about 75
percent there. The other 25 percent will be done in the field.
That's the fun part."

For now, though, Sherman follows the cable that stretches from
the back of his PC to a waist-high machine called a plotter (most
people would call it a printer). When the architects want an
updated copy of their plan, they click on the "plot" icon, and
the Hewlett-Packard Design Jet 650c chatters until a
36-by-42-inch print emerges. The medium is 19-pound vellum--a
translucent paper favored by architects and by young women
sending out wedding invitations. "It's not the hottest thing on
the market," Sherman says of his plotter, "but it's like a
reliable old Ford. We can spit out these plans in volume."

The vellum version is then walked across the room to an even
bigger machine, the Ozalid 595. This blueline machine (most
people would call it a copier) scans the vellum and rolls out the
36-by-42-inch blueline copies that the architects fold up and
carry around. In large type at the bottom of the Florida routing
study is this disclaimer: "This plan is conceptual and is subject
to change by designer."

"Every plan we produce will say that," Sherman says. "Nothing is
final until the course is grassed." He smiles. "Sometimes not
even then."

So which is it? Old World shop or microchip design boutique?
Judging from the decor of Weed Golf Course Design's Ponte Vedra
Beach offices, it's both. The burgundy carpet is topped with an
Oriental rug. File cabinets share space with an antique umbrella
stand full of hickory-shafted putters. The glass-doored lawyer's
bookcases contain technical manuals, yes, but there's also a
vintage copy of Gene Sarazen's Common Sense Golf Tips. When old
is out of the question, Weed will happily fake it. A
water-colored routing plan for the Golf Course at Glen Mills, in
Philadelphia, which Weed designed, is drying on a table, yellow
and wrinkled. "We soaked this in tea," Weed says, "to give it an
Old World look."

But can he modernize the university's layout without losing the
look of This Old Course?

In the next installment of This Old Course, we'll meet civil
engineer Jay Brown, the man handling permits for the university.
("He's the guy with the bull's-eye on his forehead," says Weed,
fretting over possible delays.) We'll also look at the
university's plan to build the new maintenance barn in a flood
plain--which, if rejected by regulatory agencies, will force Weed
to produce yet another routing plan.

For previous installments of This Old Course, go to

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES Sherman will redraw holes over and over, right on through construction.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL FRAKES

Dishing the Dirt

Just as a surgeon won't operate without first examining the
patient, a course designer has to know what he's about to dig
into. This is usually accomplished through test borings into the
geological strata on the site. Last year a geotechnical firm
hired by the University of Florida drilled close to a dozen holes
on the course with a six-inch round auger. The holes went as deep
as 40 feet and revealed a profile of sand alternating with clay.

In January, Bobby Weed and Scot Sherman performed some cruder
soil tests of their own. The architects borrowed a trackhoe from
the university and dug a half dozen six-foot-square holes to a
depth of about 10 feet. Says Sherman, "We don't need to know
what's 40 feet down."

What they found pleased them. "Sand," says Weed. "It's all good
sand." The most interesting spot was a flood-prone area next to
the 7th fairway (above right), where the architects discovered a
layer of hardpan about two feet thick and only six inches below
the turf. "It's a great thing to find," says Weed, "because we
now know we can improve the natural drainage down there. We will
just flip over the hardpan and put the sand on top." --J.G.