- Top 100
- Mike DeVries
A 1987 graduate of Lake Forest College in Chicago where he studied Business Administration, Mike DeVries apprenticed with golf architect Tom Doak for a couple of years before going on to the University of Michigan to complete his Masters in Landscape Architecture in 1994.
During his graduate studies, he worked on a number of freelancing construction projects and drew up plans one year for architect Bill Newcomb. He was then employed by Tom Fazio for fifteen months as an on-site design co-ordinator before starting up his own company.
Mike learned the game from his grandfather and worked at Crystal Downs in the pro shop and with the grounds crew throughout high school and college. This early involvement at a golf club in his formative years did nothing other than fire his desire to get into the design side of the business.
It’s a fact that most golfers will never get to his world class design at Cape Wickham on King Island in Tasmania, but there are many more in his home state who can enjoy his layouts in west Michigan, including Pilgrim’s Run, Diamond Springs and the Mines in the Grand Rapids area, plus Greywalls in Marquette and (for those with good connections) the private Kingsley Club outside Traverse City.
Design Associate Joe Hancock has provided Mike with shaping, agronomy and construction management advice since 2004. Former co-owner of the Grand Island Golf Course in Grand Rapids Michigan, Joe has built a couple of courses unrelated to DeVries Designs from scratch so is well versed in all aspects of construction.
Design Associate Fred Muller is a graduate of Georgia State University and has been Head Professional at Crystal Downs since 1977. He has played on the PGA Tour in the USA, the PGA Tour of Australasia and the professional golf tour for Latin America.
Frank Pont of Infinite Variety Golf Design in The Netherlands was for a time Mike’s trans-Atlantic partner. He has gained a name for himself in the new millennium for restoration work carried out on courses designed by reputable architects such as Harry Colt, Tom Simpson, Javier Arana and Frank Pennink.
At the end of 2019, Mike and Frank joined Mike Clayton in a new design company called CDP Golf, with a central office located in London. All three architects have worked closely together before – Pont and De Vries restoring the Bloomfield Hills course in Detroit, while Pont and Clayton’s OCCM firm missed out on a bid to become consultants at The Berkshire.
A couple of quotes from the architect on Cape Wickham:
“From the first time I saw the property, it’s the most magnificent ground for a golf course that I’ve ever seen. What makes it different, having the coastline, which is wonderful, in itself, but also, it has extremely diverse coastline. It’s not just the same 20-to-50-foot rock cliffs, or all beach, or dunes that separate the golf course from the ocean.
It works its way across the property in different ways. So we have clifftop holes, we have holes that are right down in the water, tees that are out on rocks with waves that wash up to you, and No. 18 has a sandy cove beach that’s in play.”
“Golf should be fun, isn’t that why we play? If someone says they had fun playing a course I designed that is the highest compliment I can receive. At Cape Wickham, the weather is quite variable and the wind can really blow at times, so it was paramount that we employed very wide fairways to accommodate golfers of all skill levels.
The fun greens and fairway width enable playability in all conditions for everyone, yet strategy dictates certain angles to certain pins for optimal scoring – this challenges the best players to think their way around the golf course while permitting the average player to have fun playing all kinds of different shots.”
From geekedongolf.com: Who has influenced you the most in your work, both within and outside of golf?
“Family, parents and grandparents instilled in me a strong work ethic and desire to always do the best I can. Certainly, my maternal grandfather taught me about golf and the respect for the game and the land. In the business, Fred Muller taught me about the game and playing (still does) and Tom Mead was the first big influence on understanding agronomy and the care of a golf course – the two, combined with Crystal Downs as a canvas, gave me a great understanding of what GREAT golf is about.
Tom Doak gave me the opportunity to learn in the dirt with him and we constantly talked about what this change or that change would do to the feature and golf course as a whole every day – that working style still impacts my methods today. Tom Fazio and his associates gave me a thorough education in the design and construction of high end projects and showed me their desire to always give their clients the best of everything.
Of the great architects, MacKenzie stands above all others but Ross, Tillie, Macdonald, Raynor, Colt and Flynn have all influenced me to look at the ground we are working on. I like to see all kinds of different golf courses by different designers. Of the modern designers, I most like to see the works of Pete Dye, Doak, Coore & Crenshaw and Gil Hanse as they are always trying something and it is fun to try to figure out what they were trying to do here and there.”
In Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective (Volume Six), compiled and edited by Paul Daley, Mike DeVries contributed an essay entitled ‘When less can be more in golf design’. This is an edited extract:
“How can the average player expect to score amid the haze of hazards that golf course architects place before them? I propose that we should minimize hazards in order for golfers to bring about their own misadventure... The simplest form of a golf course is a sward of turf cut at one height, with a cup and flagstick. Indeed, a rolling tract of land with finely shaved turf that allows the ball to bounce and roll into a variety of locations, expands the player’s experience and demonstrates prowess, or lack thereof, of the golf stroke. Pure and unblemished: that is the simplest form of the game.
Examples of this philosophy abound with every bunkerless hole that has been built… Royal Ashdown Forest may well be the ultimate expression of this concept. By edict – there shall be no artificial excavations of any kind in this natural forest – the course is completely bunkerless… By building a course and including features that respond to the environment you create a golf experience that is inherent and exclusive to that site.
Let us move beyond the barest of golf holes; let’s give the golfer one feature to process at a time. When a golfer stands on a tee, with only one bunker in the centre of the landing-area, it affords many playing options: concentrate on just avoiding the bunker; challenge the hazard to gain an angle or length advantage; determine the best line of attack for the current flagstick location; drive over it; or play short of the feature. There are multiple considerations that most golfers ignore or don’t recognize, yet they must execute whatever decision they make. That is no easy proposition for most players. With only one element to consider, they will often still be out of position and be faced with a more difficult second shot.
The same concept applies to shots around a green. The more variety in recovery shots that golfers are given, the more opportunity they have to make a mistake. By relegating a player to one type of shot in the conditions they play from, only accomplished players will be able to consistently make a good play. Greens surrounded by bunkers will undoubtedly lead to more bunker recovery shots; just as thick rough would lead to more wedge shots from it. But, if we give golfers less-definite boundaries to encounter – just short grass and undulating terrain immediately around the putting surface – then golfers will have more variety in the type of shot they can play to get the ball on the green.
A design based upon a ‘less is more’ philosophy allows golfers to enjoy the beauty of the golfing landscape; it also enables any golfer to be the architect of their own demise and, ultimately, the problem solver to any on-course solution. Overcoming the obstacles we put ourselves in the way of is why we play golf. Moreover, it is what makes the game enduring.”