How does playing golf influence and affect those who design the mansions that sit around those courses and beyond? We spoke to four architects, all of whom have been avid golfers, to learn how their passion for the sport expresses itself in their daily life and work. These interviews have been edited and condensed.
“I used to think of the ground that a house sits on as a table, simple and flat.”
Bruce Nagel, 73
Mr. Nagel has offices in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., and Chicago. The Harvard-trained architect is the founder and managing partner of Bruce Nagel + Partners Architects, has worked on Long Island for almost four decades, and specializes in high-end residential properties there.
I got interested in golf when I was about 45. Until then, all I ever did was work; I never had time except to go to the office or come back home. So I said, “What can I do that’s not going to put me in the hospital?” I did the normal things that everybody does, going to a public course to play, taking lessons, and I quite enjoyed it.
What I liked about golf is that it’s very isolating: It gave me a long moment to concentrate on something other than my work. And I felt that I hadn’t really been spending enough quality time out of doors.
One thing I like about playing golf, especially at resorts, is that you get to see these beautiful pieces of architecture, the homes facing the golf course built by very wealthy people. It’s an opportunity to see houses you otherwise wouldn’t see. At Pebble Beach, I believe, near one of the finishing holes, maybe 3 or 4, there was this Spanish Mediterranean-style house right on the fairway that made me pause. I stood there for a while, looking at it, making mental notes of the design features.
I used to think of the ground that a house sits on as a table, simple and flat. But after playing golf, I started realizing I could undulate the grounds, making slightly rising or sloping hills and mounds. You start to realize there are different elements you can play with. I just did a big house in Westhampton with a very substantial front entrance, and I was able to serpentine the driveway to create a sense of surprise. You turn the corner and see some mounding and maybe the peak of the roof of the house beyond. That’s what I learned from golf.
I became a member of Southampton Golf Club, and I thought I would meet potential clients there — but that never happened. Some clubs are oriented to networking, and others are not; that happened not to be. But one of my best and most cherished clients invites me to play golf; he’s very rich and a member of fancy clubs where he invites me to go and play. We just have the best time on the course, laughing and making fun of each other. Sometimes his friends join, and I’ve actually done work for those people. Playing golf together is enormously useful because it cements the level of the relationship beside me just being seen as a servant.
“As someone who lives in the city, stepping out onto a golf course means you can take a deeper breath.”
Tyler Kleck, 39
Mr. Kleck is a senior associate at INC Architecture & Design in New York City, where he’s worked on everything from ground-up luxury condominiums to office renovations and hospitality spaces.
I grew up in a very flat part of the country, in Napoleon, Ohio. Our local golf course was the one place with hills and creeks or rivers running through it; it was designed by Donald Ross. I don’t know why, but perhaps because he was working on Inverness [Club] in Toledo.
He chose to put it in that place where all the natural beauty was, to get folks to experience it. Many architects, if they could, would like to design a building or a space to be the same way. In architecture, we can look to the way golf courses are traditionally designed and pull a lot of the same tenets: We’re not going to shape nature but let nature shape what my course or space will be. You should start out, at the beginning, saying, “What’s the beautiful thing I have here?”
Take an individual hole as an example — say there’s one that’s a par 5 with a dogleg. The designer has an ability to curate your approach, whether you’re a good golfer who stays on the fairways or someone who takes the long way around hitting through the rough. They can be very intentional about the way everyone approaches that hole. Oftentimes, we take the same precision approach to a building, the procession or the approach or the drive up to it. When I’m golfing with friends who aren’t architects, I end up telling them this, and they say, “What are you talking about?”
The courses I frequent in New York, when I can find time to play once or twice a month here, are Dyker Beach and Marine Park, in Brooklyn. It’s not easy to play here, and my schedule doesn’t allow me to plan a month in advance — those two are great public courses you can get on more easily. As someone who lives in the city, stepping out onto a golf course means you can take a deeper breath. And it’s the lack of things, the removal of things, the sparseness there that remind me you don’t have to provide too much. Sometimes the most successful structures are those that are more pure and unencumbered.
“When I’m in trouble on a golf course, it’s similar to what I do in architecture.”
Brian Pinkett, 56
Mr. Pinkett is principal at the Los Angeles-based Landry Design Group, where he has worked since 1994; he worked at the namesake firm of the postmodernist Michael Graves before that, after graduating from Cornell University.
Some of the best golfers are creative people — there’s a sense of creativity that comes along with this sport that’s beyond just physical ability, it’s more dynamic than working out in a gym. Creative people like to come up with their own path, and as you get better as a golfer, the more control you have over what it is you’re intending to do.
When I’m in trouble on a golf course, it’s similar to what I do I in architecture. Then, I listen to my client, and while they’re speaking, I envision the architecture in my head. As they say more, it changes and shifts, as the conversation progresses. That’s an exercise I get to practice on the golf course many, many times, and believe me, it really helps.
If I’m behind a low-hanging branch, perhaps, I have to figure it out: Am I going to go left or right, high or low? It’s the same thing as when I’m designing, trying to figure out how this will flow. I use visualization when I putt: I go behind the hole and look back at my ball, and I can see a shadow line going from my ball to the hole. It happens when I’m standing there — all of a sudden, the line appears.
My brother and I are very competitive. When I was in college — he’s about three and a half years older than me — he started playing golf. I went to visit, and he taught me, and then it was on: the competition, brother against brother, that has never stopped. I live on the West Coast now and he lives on the East, and whenever we see each other, we play. I made a belt buckle for that with our family crest, and instead of crossed swords on it, it has crossed golf clubs. On the back it says, “The love of a brother is like no other.” When we play, whoever wins gets to take the belt home, just like in [World Wrestling Entertainment].
We have a client we’re doing two houses for in Pebble Beach. One of them we designed as a reflection of the golf swing. If you take the golf swing and freeze-frame it, the lines in it we transformed into a beautiful, curved home. We took that idea to him, and he just loved it. Subsequently, he bought a property across the street which backs up to Pebble Beach, and we’re designing a house for his son there right on the golf course. That’s more of a bachelor pad, though: He’s 21 years old and he just wants to have parties.
“A golf course is like nature, but made precise, in such a platonic, geometric way.”
Karim Rashid, 62
Mr. Rashid, a Canadian architect and designer, is known for his signature “blobject” aesthetic, which prioritizes ergonomic and organic shapes over straight lines and 90-degree corners. He has designed residential buildings in New York City and Miami, as well as resorts like Temptation Miches in the Dominican Republic.
I was 10 or 11 when a friend said to me that we could make good money if we went caddying on a private golf course just on the outskirts of Toronto. And then I became super obsessed with the sport, really serious training five days per week. I moved to another job, washing clubs, and then worked in the pro shop selling shirts and clubs. The course I worked at wanted me to train toward becoming professional, but I decided to go to university and study design instead. I went off, and I didn’t play again.
At that time, the status quo of style was a hard-core modernism, pure geometry, and I found myself trying to draw soft forms. The straight line doesn’t exist in nature, but we do everything in our power to fight that. I believe my love for fluid, organic, soft spaces was greatly inspired by the shapes of bunkers and greens and courses. The meandering fluidness of the courses always seemed so beautiful and euphoric to me.
Playing golf, you’re never walking on the same piece of grass again; you’re perpetually in a fluid, organic movement around architecturally drawn organic shapes. A golf course is like nature, but made precise, in such a platonic, geometric way. I am a Virgo, so I’m really fastidious.
It was about three years ago that I was down in Miami and a friend took me back to the golf course. I took a stab at it, thinking I was going to be pretty atrocious — and I was pretty bad. But after a few rounds, you start to get back what you remember.
Now, I live in Manhattan, so I don’t even know where a golf course is, close to me, but I’m designing a private house for myself out in New Jersey, in a place called Little Falls. The other day, when I was there to look at the construction, I drove by a golf course about six minutes from my house and I pulled over. I need some sort of routine like that to get back into it.
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