Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Dilemma

Building 12th at Laval
A very long time ago I found myself the target of what I can now look back as the funniest insult ever hurled my way. The poster on Golf Club Atlas called me a "third rate, third tier architect." I have a lot of company if I'm the bar. It brings some self reflection and questions about the work I do.

Many famous architects come from wealth. So much so in a few cases that they never accepted a design fee for their work. Others tried to run with the wealthy and lost everything (Tillinghast and Thompson among them). Even a couple of the biggest names in golf today come from a position of wealth that others don't know about. It a rich man's game and some would argue a rich man's profession. I don't have that luxury.

When this is all you have, often you have to choose a path between financial stability and artistic opportunity. For a long time I have concentrated on making sure that I have a great business ... do very good work ... and hope the new opportunity will come with a growing reputation for solid work. Well, from a business perspective that's smart, but its slightly naive too. To get new projects, you need to run in the right circles and know the right people.

I know some, but I don't do what I need to do. That takes effort and money to accomplish and that runs contrary to running a safe and successful business. And risk.

I still want to build a great golf course from raw land. I have occasionally wondered whether I would ever see the opportunity to fully express myself. I have recently had a couple of opportunities that almost met that standard ... but in my mind .. not quite.

I really enjoyed the creative process of building Laval (Blue) with Mike Weir. It allowed that self expression to make it into the style of play and the complex set of puzzles that Mike and I left for the members to solve. We did not play it safe and many of the highlights come from the greatest risk. It was the last time I ever had a doubt that I could build something great ... given the opportunity.

More of those opportunities have come, but none has yet been a raw land project.

You can't consider my own personal dilemma without considering the times were in. Most architects are having a tough time finding work unless they are wildly successful already or niche players like me. Between Financial Crisis of 2008 and China finally imposing a complete stoppage of all new golf course, it is likely that half of the architects working since 2000 are either retired or doing something else.

I know what I need to do. I have to change the work I chase, end some arrangements that I have and spend a lot more time on the road in pursuit. I always argued that the people who are most successful in this business are not a fluke. It's the hard work behind the scenes that make them successful, but if you've met them, they also pay a personal price too. And there in lies the dilemma, its time to ask what price am I willing to pay?

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