A darling of the online golf forums and self proclaimed architectural Renaissance man, Tom Doak entered the design business largely on the back of his ‘no holds barred’ commentary on competing architects and a profound confidence that, given the opportunity, he could return golf to the glory days of the Golden Age. Whether deliberate or not, he touted himself as the reincarnation of classic designers like Dr. Alister MacKenzie, and the antithesis of those increasingly popular ‘signature’ designers who simply churned out golf holes from their computers and never developed a genuine passion for their land or the project.
It seemed all Doak needed was a break, and he got one when Mike Keiser awarded him the job to design the second course at his Bandon Dunes Resort. Doak had earlier built courses near his home in Traverse City, at Stonewall near Philadelphia and at Lost Dunes in Bridgman Michigan, but this was dream land – coastal with dramatic cliffs, huge sand dunes and plenty of natural golf contour across the property. The result was Pacific Dunes, a stunning layout that surpassed what David Kidd had done at Bandon Dunes and set in motion the momentum needed for Doak to become one of the modern game’s busiest designers.
Regardless of what one thinks of Doak’s personality or method of attracting business, his output speaks for itself and in a relatively short period of time he has established a quality golf portfolio. There are several Doak courses listed on the Planet Golf World 100, including Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal in the Top 30, as well as Barnbougle Dunes, Tara Iti, Cape Kidnappers and Old Macdonald lower down. Each is a tribute to both his passion for the classic style of golf design, but more so his willingness to listen to the land and let the terrain at his disposal dictate the routing and the nature of his design. Ballyneal is one of the most natural golf courses in America, and golf holes could have been found all across the sandy dunescape. Rather than rushing, Doak spent time on the routing and produced an enjoyable course that, in many ways, is better balanced than Pacific Dunes. As Ballyneal doesn’t have ocean views, Doak wasn’t restricted by a need to bring the golf along a rigid coastline or dune ridge. He could move anyway he wanted on the site, the task simply being to find the best holes the property had to offer.
There are other good courses in the Tom Doak portfolio, including Rock Creek, Dismal River Red and Streamsong Blue and much to admire about his approach to design, such as working with the land and assembling a quality team of associates. His associate designers are often given freedoms and the license to display their own vision where appropriate.
It’s true that Doak has been fortunate to be given so many glamourous sites to work with over the years, and also that he does his best work on more dramatic land, but equally it’s unlikely such land would have been made available so often had he not demonstrated a gift for extracting good golf out of great property.
To contact Tom Doak at Renaissance Golf Design, or for an independent assessment of his suitability for your project, please contact the Global Golf Group.