How to Become a Golf Course Designer

Have you ever wondered who comes up with golf courses? They can have a variety of levels of difficulty, often contemplate a natural setting that is appealing to the players, and involve different types of topography. Involving large spaces, designing of a golf course needs to take into consideration factors such as the environment, land ownership, and space in general.

So it is easy to imagine that golf course designers need a profound level of specialization and usually come from a landscape architecture or design background. They must also have a deep understanding of the game of golf, since their designs should not only be appealing visually but keep the users interested in playing and wanting to come back.

This is a career that involves quite a bit of multi-tasking, and experts recommend that someone starting out should understand all aspects of the design and building process. This means that those wanting to pursue golf course design are likely to work in a variety of positions and internships and will need to pursue multi-faceted learning.

Find out more about golf course design through this infographic.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Ken Gibson

Ken Gibson Golf

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:

Understanding My Career Path

  • I began playing golf when I was 7 years old.
  • I fell in love with the sport but in particular the courses themselves. Each one was so different that it struck a chord with me.
  • In high school, I decided I wanted to become a golf course architect. I began to research my favorite golf course architects and what educational paths they chose to enter the profession.
  • Most golf course architects pursued a degree in Landscape Architecture. So I began to review universities that offered that degree.
  • After narrowing down my search, I attended Kansas State University, and entered their nationally acclaimed, 5-year, Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program.
  • During my summers at university, I would work on golf course construction crews to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how a golf course is built.
  • My 4th year at university, I accepted a 7 month internship program with an international golf course architect Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates.
  • After completing my internship, I returned to Kansas State University to finish my degree and graduate with honors in May of 2003.
  • Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates offered me a designer position upon completion of my degree, which I started in June of 2003.
  • I worked on over 200 golf course designs during my time with Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, and unfortunately, in August of 2009, due to economic reasons, AHSF cut staff from 15 architects down to just the (2) namesake owners.
  • I started my own business, Ken Gibson Golf in August of 2009.
  • In May of 2010, I moved the business back to the Kansas City area and have been working out of my home office ever since.

Recommended Organizations

  • ASLA – American Society of Landscape Architects
  • GCSA – Golf Course Superintendents Association
  • USGA – United States Golf Association

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I absolutely recommend a formal education. The design and construction courses I completed at Kansas State were invaluable to me as I began my career.

Get as much construction experience as you can
Knowing how a golf course is built and what goes into building a successful one allows you to enter the design profession with the knowledge needed to design and build a world class golf course.

Take a trip to the home of golf, Scotland
My design philosophy is inspired by my passion for the game of golf as it was played on the classic links courses of the British Isles. The game of golf is just different over there and must be seen!

Get to know an architect in the industry
Reach out to an architect in your area, and see if you can do anything to help them- just to learn under them. See what they do, how they do it- pick their brain if you can!

Jan Bel Jan

Jan Bel Jan Golf Course Design, Inc.

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Jan Bel Jan
  • Jupiter, FL
  • 20+
  • Jan Bel Jan golf Course Design, Inc.

Understanding My Career Path

  • My father and his five brothers were in the golf business as club professionals, so I was exposed to golf as a game, a sport and a business at an early age.
  • In my early teens, I began my career in golf by working on the course my father designed, constructed, maintained and managed. I worked in the Golf Shop in the afternoon and learned the business: planning, finances, relationships, marketing and communication.
  • I learned golf course strategy as I learned to play the game and the rules of golf. I learned even more when I observed how golfers played.
  • I earned a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture with special attention in turf science and horticulture. I worked as an assistant golf course superintendent and then worked for a major residential turf management company.
  • One of my clients took an interest in my career and introduced me to the golf course designer with whom I began my design apprenticeship.
  • After several years, I moved on to implementing on the ground what had been conceived on paper. Every project had new requirements and constraints: land configuration, topography, geology, hydrology, environmental preserves, developer needs and budgets, permit issues, planning disciplines, contractors, etc. Every project added to my knowledge base and contact base. To learn the maximum about field design and construction, I spent months at a time at projects so I could learn the day-to-day aspects of fieldwork. Golf course construction starts at daylight and often ends at dusk. Weather is part of the job – heat, cold, drought, rain, snow, wind: “Opening Day” does not change. Marketing for it accelerates as the day approaches, so working to meet deadlines can be intense.
  • Although it was time-consuming, throughout my career I made the effort to share what I learned with others via presentations and speeches.

Recommended Organizations

  • The American Society of Golf Course Architects has a wonderful website that offers additional insight on contemporary golf course architects who are recognized by their peers as knowledgeable, relevant and proficient in articulating their passion and ability to make the game better for all.
  • The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America is the leading organization of professionals who manage and maintain the golf courses designed recently or scores of years ago.
  • The Golf Course Builders Association of America is a trade organization for golf course builders and suppliers to the golf course construction industry and is dedicated to advancing and continuously improving golf course construction.
  • The National Golf Course Owners Association is the leading authority on golf course ownership and management. They are a resource for how to operate golf facilities as efficiently and profitably as possible.

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
A formal education will be most helpful. A Landscape Architecture undergraduate degree provides a solid basis for dealing with the multiple disciplines required in golf course design. Critical thinking, creative solutions, art, sciences, engineering, presentation skills are part of the curriculum.

Understand the game of golf
Knowledge of the game of golf is vital and knowledge of the variety of people and their skill levels is equally necessary. The course design should reflect the demographics of the area and the philosophy for the property. The average golfer should have sufficient challenge but should have fun. People may play a difficult golf course once to say they’ve played it, but they will not go back if it is not fun too.

Expect long days
Deadlines are frequent. Changes happen. Adaptation is key. Travel is part of the job.

Be ready for criticism
Be prepared for everyone who plays golf to be a golf course designer in the same way that everyone who eats is a chef. Expect not everyone will like everything you’ve designed.

Getting your foot in the door
Learn to convey ideas graphically and verbally so that they can be used to get permits. Work on a golf course maintenance crew to learn what it takes to maintain what you propose to design. Work with a golf course construction company to learn what it takes to build a golf course and the compressed time frames in which work must be completed. Work in a Golf Pro Shop to learn the clientele and how to design for them. Intern with a practicing golf course architect.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Golf Course Designer?


This is quite a specialized yet creative career. In order to pursue the path of a Golf Course Designer, you will most likely need to study landscape architecture. It will cover design as well as the technical and scientific aspects of the subject. You will also learn business, as well as humanities and arts, depending on the actual program you choose. In terms of options, you can often find landscape architecture programs at your state university or through colleges.

Of course, you will also need to complement your studies with those specifically relevant to golf course design. While a degree in landscape architecture will prepare you for this wide field, you will need to learn about golf and the specific legislature, techniques, etc. related to golf. This can be done through working with companies that either design or build golf courses and by playing the game itself.

WHAT IF I WANT A FORMAL EDUCATION TO BECOME GOLF COURSE DESIGNER?

  • Ohio State University
    The Knowlton School of Architecture at OSU, located in Columbus, offers a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture, as well as master’s level studies and a minor option. The program combines the scientific aspect of landscape architecture with arts and design. Tuition for Ohio residents averages at $10,037 per year and $26,537 for non-residents.
  • Texas A&M University
    The School of Architecture at Texas A&M University offers a bachelor degree in Landscape Architecture. Students in the same department may also pursue a minor in urban planning as well as master’s level studies. For those interested, the university also offers graduate level certificates in subjects such as facility management, sustainable urbanism, and environmental hazard. Tuition is $50 per credit hour for residents and $412 for non-residents.
  • California State Polytechnic University
    The College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Cal Poly offers a bachelor level degree in Landscape Architecture and focuses studies on combining a humanities perspective with the technical skills needed for the profession. In-state students pay $8,919 per year, while out-of-state tuition is $20,079.
  • Cornell University
    Located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell University offers a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture through its College Of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Students are required to choose a concentration for their studies. These include such subjects as community based design, horticulture, ecology, environmentally sustainable design, and many others. Annual tuition here is $47,286.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    Ranked among the top three Landscape Architecture programs in the country, the bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech makes a special focus on individualized learning. Students may also pursue alternative study routes in their fourth year, including study abroad options and internships. Resident tuition here is $12,017 per year, while out-of-state pay $28,048.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

In order to become a lead designer on a project, you will need to do quite a bit of ground work first. You can pursue an internship or an apprenticeship. If you want, you can also work on construction crews that are building golf courses – this will help you acquire first-hand knowledge. Look into working for larger design firms where you can work on many different designs and with a variety of teams.

As part of trying to get into the industry, don’t forget to always be professional and network. Getting to know the people in the industry and them considering you to be a well-trained professional is extremely important. If jobs come up, they might just think of you and get you connected. Go to conferences; learn the important names in the industry; try to be at the events they go to; and you will take your first steps towards success.