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Arthur Hills

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Notable Courses
Year of Birth1930
Year of Death2021 (aged 91)
Place of BirthToledo, Ohio, USA
Biography

Arthur Hills started playing golf when he was seven. He lived just across the railroad tracks from Ottawa Park Golf Course – a municipal course built around 1900 where he could play golf for 26 cents before noon – in Toledo, Ohio.

He had no thoughts of a career in golf, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1953 with a degree in Agriculture which would be of use when entering his grandfather’s prosperous agricultural business.

While attending university, he worked at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan, close to Dexter, where his parents had moved to in 1945. At the golf course, he worked as a labourer on the grounds crew for a few seasons.

He had enrolled the Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Natural Resources in the University of Michigan for the purpose of setting himself apart from other contractors and to advance his career, not to become an architect.

As Arthur said later, “what I learned at U of M provided me the tools to become a capable golf course designer because I already understood much about the game from playing and working on golf courses.”

He also studied Business at the University of Toledo without ever intending to gain a degree, only seeking to gain knowledge in that particular area, as he was working during the day in his landscape contracting business and attending classes at night.

The family sold the business in 1957 so he went out on his own that year. As he said, “golf course design just happened, just almost a whim, because I liked course design and thought I could do it. I never considered going to work for another architect".

His first design in 1967 was a course now called Brandywine Country Club, located in the Toledo suburb of Maumee, and he used a leading firm, Wadsworth Golf Construction Company, to build this layout, along with several others that followed.

He employed talented landscape architects, Dick Meyers and Bob Mortensen, to take his drawings and concepts and made them presentable. Civil engineer Mike Dasher was another ten-year employee who assisted Arthur, especially with on-site duties.

During the late 1960s and the following two decades, Arthur Hills worked on almost a hundred projects across nineteen states in the USA and the Brandywine course in Ohio was the first of a dozen commissions he would finish across the Buckeye State during that period of time.

Giant Oak in Temperance was his first Michigan design in 1969 and he would go on to complete another seventeen commissions across the Wolverine State during the 1970s and 1980s.

He made his opening move into Florida at the Myerlee Country Club in Fort Myers in 1972 and by the end of the following decade he had fulfilled another twenty-four Sunshine State new build golf contracts.

Into the 1990s Arthur teamed up with Steve Forrest, with Shawn Smith joining them a few years later, so that the company operated with all three architects providing input to the design process.

Over the span of almost thirty years, just over two hundred new construction and renovation projects have been carried out by Arthur Hills and his associates. Most of the work has taken place in Florida, Michigan and Ohio, but they also ventured into new territories like Delaware, Illinois and Maryland.

On the periphery of the United States, Hills Forrest Smith secured contracts in Canada, Jamaica, Mexico and Puerto Rico and inroads have also been made in Europe with Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Russian assignments. Further afield, one-off projects were undertaken by the firm in both China and Morocco during 2011.

Arthur Hills died in May 2021, aged 91. He is survived by his wife Mary. They had eight children, twenty-four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His partner Steve Forrest commented as follows:

“He started the business by placing an ad in the Toledo, Ohio, Yellow Pages under ‘Golf Course Architect’ while operating a landscape contracting business. I had the great privilege of learning all aspects of golf course architecture from a distinguished professional practitioner and humble gentleman over 42 years. Arthur became a father-like figure to me who was a mentor, an instructor, exhorter and admonisher while always trying to improve his own skills and increase his personal knowledge every day.”


Testimonials:

The following tributes were paid to Arthur Hills in the summer 2021 edition of the ASGCA magazine by a couple of his former employees.

Shawn Smith: “One of my favourite memories was in 2004 when he took the entire office to Scotland to visit the home of golf. For a week, fourteen of us travelled across Scotland on an unforgettable boondoogle, soaking up everything in an effort to make us better architects. In the evenings, we would sit around having dinner and a few pints and talk about the day’s experiences.

For many of us, it was the first time there, and I remember all of us hanging on Arthur’s every word to get his perspective. However, he was more interested in hearing from us! Even with all his experience in designing golf courses, he was still picking the brains of a bunch of young kids because he wanted to learn and get better. I’ll forever be thankful for his mentorship and friendship.

Chris Wilczynski : The thing that struck me most was his work ethic. Arthur was very passionate about what he did and that was evident from the first time I met him. During construction visits at the height of his celebrity status, there would always be a big group of people and Arthur said his strategy was to walk as fast as he could because eventually, they would fade off. He only wanted to be with the contractor and a couple of others: this focus on servicing the client will stay with me.


Quote from golfconversations.com in 2010:

“I have had many interesting clients. My first client was the grandson of the founder of The Champion Sparkplug Company, at the time a world leader in that business. He died in an auto accident just as we were beginning the course.

Among many notable clients was Alan Shur, the ‘button king of the world,’ a wonderful guy. He hired us to design Ironhorse in West Palm Beach, Florida. Alan grew his business from his father’s small Bronx tailor shop to supplying buttons for many in clothing design, such as Ralph Lauren.

He loved fancy cars and drove me at high speeds in one of his eight cars every time I went to the construction site with him.

Allen Shakarian, who founded General Nutrition Corporation, a worldwide purveyor of vitamins, began in a small store on a street in Pittsburgh. He bought 2,400 acres in Bonita Springs, Florida. His only direction to us was ‘Do your best,’ no questions thereafter.

Gerry Livingston from London, Ontario made his fortune packaging jeeps for shipment around the world. We designed a course, Wyndemere Country Club in Naples, for him. Again, he was a delightful guy who just did things right.

I have been blessed with a career which introduced me to some wonderful people, and allowed me and my wife to raise a family, see them educated and enjoy our grandchildren.

Golf is a game which many more can enjoy if a formula can be found to make the game FUN, affordable, not as time consuming, although golf really takes no more time than many other recreational activities which consume the better part of a day.

Golf is a great game. It is so honest. It is up to the individual to set his standard of behavior.”

Notable Courses

01
Bay Harbor (Links & Quarry)

Bay Harbor (Links & Quarry)

Petoskey, Michigan

02
Bighorn (Mountains)

Bighorn (Mountains)

Palm Desert, California

03
Bonita Bay (Bay Island)

Bonita Bay (Bay Island)

Bonita Springs, Florida

04
Boyne Highlands (Arthur Hills)

Boyne Highlands (Arthur Hills)

Harbor Springs, Michigan

05
Camelback (Padre)

Camelback (Padre)

Scottsdale, Arizona

06
Catawba Island

Catawba Island

Port Clinton, Ohio

07
Chaska Town

Chaska Town

Chaska, Minnesota

08
Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase, Maryland

09
Chicago Highlands

Chicago Highlands

Westchester, Illinois

10
Clovernook

Clovernook

Cincinnati, Ohio

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Harry Colt

Harry Colt

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