Dan Maples – Golf Course Architect Interview (Conclusion)

Short on time and long on work, Maples enlisted not one shaper, but four different ones at Little River Farm. He had laid out the basic sites for each of the eighteen holes previously and noted four different terrains, each of which comprised a stretch of four holes. Four shapers would speed the building timetable significantly and each could tackle four holes in their own unique golf ecosystem and with their own style. Holes 1-4 are set in rolling, undulating land. Holes 5-8 play through a low lying wetlands area. Four more holes feature narrow fairways playing through woodlands and four more feature a softer feel as they meander through scenic meadows. Maples crafted the ninth and eighteenth holes himself. Then he went back to the remaining holes and smoothed the contours of the course, weaving the four different styles into one seamless whole. Most importantly, he finished on time, under budget and produced a design that no one would know was shaped by four different parties upon playing the course – a remarkable achievement.

Indeed, Maples is renowned for his ability to blend artistic flavor and a wide variety of playability. At Myrtle’s Beach’s brother and sister tandem of The Wizard and Man-O-War, Maples designed a wild Irish links amidst heaving 40-foot tall dunes right next to a target course where the fairways are merely a chain set in the middle of an enormous lake. “The land we took to create the lake at Man-O-War became the giant dunes that line the fairways at The Wizard” Maples notes. Effectively, he built two golf courses at once. At the Witch, arguably Myrtle Beach’s prettiest course, Maples wove an enchanting parkland stunner in verdant forests and serene wetlands.

Yet Maples revels in the understatement of his achievements and in the simple pleasures of life. He takes pride doing a job on time and within budget, the look of delight on players’ faces, the esteem of his golf architect colleagues and yes, driving the bulldozers. “I love getting behind the wheel of those big monsters and everybody else likes when I do it too” he says with a mischievous grin. “The equipment operators all cheer when I start cruising around in my favorite dozer – an TD 15 – but I also gotta tell you, it is fun!”

Maples even loves classic comedy movies. “You like Caddyshack don’t you?” he asks almost as though it were somehow possible I might not. “Pete Dye and I had a Caddyshack moment at the ASGCA tournament in Bermuda one year,” he grins as he recounts Dye edging him out in sudden death in the teeth of a maelstrom. “Nobody was left on the course but us and it was pitch dark with driving rain and howling wind all around us.” It’s a shame the other architects, tournament directors, friends and everyone else were huddled in the clubhouse because Dye and Maples traded blows for several extra holes, before Dye finally squeaked out a victory.

Don’t miss The Pit when heading to the Pinehurst area for a golf vacation. With its distinctive sweeping flavor, sandhill and quarry setting and artistic design, it is far more than just a challenging golf course. If there is a weakness to The Pit, the finishing holes lack a mighty crescendo to bring the round to a close with a bang. As a trade off, they have a warmth and comfort, a low-impact ease after the watery stretch preceding them. Maples has repeatedly redesigned the closing stretch, even to the point of reversing the routing of 15, 16 and 17 so that the greens became tees and the tees became greens. Sixteen in particular is a problem. At a mere 100 yards downhill, it is just a three-quarter wedge. Maples had to make compromises and 16 is a prime example, “but golf course design is all about making the most of the limitations of each particular job. Sometimes its money, sometimes its environmental concerns, sometimes its time, sometimes it’s the size of the property, there are countless considerations to balance. Golf course design is all about managing the trade offs.”

CHIP SHOTS AND TAP-INS

On every level, Maples is the epitome of the mantra “less is more.” Everything about him is subdued. He is not outwardly imposing at roughly 5’8”. Dressed in his leather bomber jacket, khakis and wire-rimmed glasses and sporting short but wavy salt and pepper hair he looks more the New England prep school professor than a pioneering golf course architect. Part southern gentleman, part Back Bay, Maine porch sitter, Maples is equally at ease in the cockpit of a bulldozer moving earth as he is presiding over a Golf Course Architects function.

In contrast to his soft-spoken demeanor, his accomplishments resonate throughout the public golf world. For decades, Maples designs dominated the golf landscape at Myrtle Beach and still compete admirably even with the recent explosion of excellent courses. At twenty-five, he was the youngest person ever inducted into the American Society of Golf Course architects. In 1991 he served as president. He is nothing short of a celebrity in the Virginia-Carolina region, yet he wears his fame comfortably like an old faded flannel shirt.

In his classic novel The Sirens of Titan, author Kurt Vonnegut once opined that there is a difference between doing things “with style” and doing them “in style.” Doing them in style means trying to make yourself look good, doing them with style makes everybody look good. Maples, like many of our great modern day designers, is in the latter category. When he enters, he doesn’t work the room, the room just naturally makes its way to him. There is a natural ease and comfort about him. Perhaps it’s because he sees admiration and gratitude in the eyes of generations of golfers. Perhaps it’s because he has golf in his blood. Happily, the family commitment to excellent affordable public golf was passed on to his children. His daughters Ashley and Jennifer organize and book thousands of Pinehurst area golf courses each year. His son Bradley is presently studying landscape architecture at North Carolina State.

Like the man, his courses are firmly rooted in the classic, familiar design elements of past generations of architects, just with an interesting spit-shine to bring them into the present. Whether it’s far flung destinations like Mallorca in Spain or his own backyard in Pinehurst, he deftly blends quintessential classic elements with a subtle modern twist. Vibrant artistry stands side by side with strategic golf elements providing equal doses of challenging play and visual attraction. Less is more all right, especially for grateful public golfers.

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Jay Flemma

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