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Mike Strantz

Hero
Notable Courses
Year of Birth1955
Year of Death2005 (aged 50)
Place of BirthToledo, Ohio, USA
Biography

Born and raised in Ohio, Mike Strantz enrolled as a studio art student at Miami University on reaching the age of eighteen. His artistic talents were never in question but his study plans changed when he decided to forge a career in golf and so he graduated in 1978 from Michigan State University with a degree in turfgrass management.

He joined the grounds crew at the Inverness Club, close to home in Toledo, which was being prepared for the 1979 US Open. Architect Tom Fazio recognized his talents and offered him a position with his firm, resulting in Mike spending most of the next eight years on the road, fashioning layouts in the Carolinas and Florida.

Mike left Fazio’s company in 1987 to settle down in Charleston with his wife Heidi and two young daughters to pursue what he saw as his vocation as a commercial artist, forming his own art practice named Mike Strantz Studios. His spell in golf seemingly at an end, he appeared content to spend the rest of his life away from the sport.

Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989 changed everything. The Wild Dunes golf facility on nearby Isle of Palms, where he had previously worked, took a pounding from the tropical storm, so the owners asked him to return and carry out essential renovation work, which he did. He then stayed on to help on the maintenance front while continuing part-time with his artistic work.

Strantz was subsequently hired by Myrtle Beach's Legends Group as Director of Golf Design for their Parkland course and when this assignment was finished he assembled a small team that would work on new projects in the local area. His new company, Maverick Golf Design, completed its first design on Pawleys Island at the Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in 1994.

Royal New Kent and Stonehouse both opened in 1996, located between Richmond and Williamsburg in Virginia, along the gateway to coastal Virginia and the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Royal New Kent was built in the style of a wild Irish links in a Tidelands setting, while Stonehouse was carved through heavily forested terrain, with significant elevation changes thrown in for good measure.

Two years later, another couple of Strantz courses opened for play, including his most acclaimed – and most contentious – design. At True Blue, back on Pawleys Island, he created a sibling to Caledonia which was marketed as “Hell” to Caledonia’s “Heaven.” After receiving complaints about its difficulty, True Blue was softened a little but it still provides plenty of challenge.

Also in 1998, Strantz finished the 18-hole layout at Tobacco Road, a few miles north of Pinehurst in North Carolina. Strantz allowed his playful imagination to run wild on a dramatic landscape that had been previously been used as a tobacco farm before it was later mined and excavated. It’s an idiosyncratic track that sharply divides opinion, with as many golfers hating it as those loving it.

Into the new millennium and Tot Hill Farm in central North Carolina was Strantz’s sixth original course design when it debuted in 2000. Holes are laid out on a rather hilly, wooded site which is located in a less-populated area and maybe its relative remoteness has gone some way towards it attaining a much lower level of success than the architect’s other creations.

Lying two hundred and thirty miles further south, just outside Charleston in South Carolina, Bulls Bay became Strantz’s first private course design and his last wholly original effort in 2002. Here, he shifted substantial amounts of soil to fashion the layout, positioning the clubhouse in an elevated spot in the centre of the property, from where all except three of the greens can be viewed.

Strantz moved west into California during his final years. His penultimate project was as Silver Creek Valley Country Club in San Jose, remodelling an existing 1992 Ted Robinson Sr. design and this was followed by his last assignment, the rebuild of the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, close to Pebble Beach.

In 2005, a year after his final work re-opened for play, he passed away back in South Carolina, aged only 50, and as Keith Cutten commented in his book The Evolution of Golf Course Design, “the world of golf architecture had lost a vastly talented artist. One, indeed, who courted genius at close range.”

Extracts

From oralcancernews.com: “He was a commanding figure. He wore his hair long, his moustache bushy, and he was a big guy, ruggedly handsome. Mike Strantz didn’t look like a man who would go easily, and he didn’t. He fought the cancer with the same determination that he approached a property that dared him to build a golf course on it.

His golf courses tell you a lot about Mike Strantz, the golf course designer. But his widow, the lovely Heidi, can tell you a lot more about Mike Strantz, the husband and father of two beautiful daughters and she recently talked about her late husband and the love of her life.

‘I thought I was marrying a golf course superintendent when I married Mike,’ she recalled, ‘He had just graduated from the turfgrass school at Michigan, and we thought he would make a career of that. He started at the very bottom and worked long hours, much of the time away from home.’

‘Mike was an artist, he took his art and translated it to the courses. It was a combination of his art and his love of the land. Mike made everybody feel special. He had been at the bottom, and he knew how it felt to have no one pay attention to you. He didn’t look down on anyone, and that’s why the men working for him loved him. That’s how those great golf courses got built’

‘He had tongue cancer,’ Heidi said, ‘and it was the kind that early detection could have cured. But Mike was too busy working and didn’t take time to have it checked. Most of his tongue had to be removed, and he wasn’t able to express himself with words. When he had to talk to someone, he used me as an interpreter, because I could understand every word he said.’

‘Mike got a lot of criticism for building hard golf courses, but he was a purist. Everybody said, “Mike Strantz doesn’t know how to draw a straight line,” but his visions came true.’

Tobacco Road is a prime example of the visions Strantz saw. He looked at a piece of land that had been ravaged over the years as a quarry and saw a one-of-a-kind golf course. A piece of property that could have been used as nothing else is now one of the most talked about golf courses in the country. It’s on the bucket list of golfers all over the world.”

From The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten: “In the 1990s, Mike Strantz was the most notable of Fazio’s protégés to advance the trend in bold design. Critically, where Strantz differed from Fazio was his deep respect for the past work of Alister MacKenzie. Strantz harked back to classic design principles, with courses full of quirky, seemingly random features. Yet, in keeping with Fazio, his products were bold. Strantz believed that golfers wanted excitement during their rounds; and while he delivered the classic principles, he frequently cranked them to eleven, on a scale out of ten!

Strantz’s presentation of classic strategic choices was more blatant; his changing of the angles of play was much more pronounced; and his bunkers were situated that much closer to the best line of play. Effectively, the brand of design delivered by Strantz was a grand, up-scaled version of the classic approach. Golfers either loved or hated him for it, and that sentiment particularly applied to the media.”

From triadgolf.com: “A rugged, commanding figure standing 6-foot-2, with shoulder-length hair and a bushy handlebar mustache, Strantz relished his reputation as a maverick in the architecture industry.

Yet in reality, the visionary golf course designer was more of a Renaissance man: a gifted artist and golf purist, gourmet cook, music collector, college hockey player, lover of cats, dogs and horses – and most of all, a devoted family man.

At home and on site, he was often on horseback. He named his firm Maverick Golf Course Design partly for his love of animals, but also because he relished doing things his own way.

Strantz was renowned for creating hand-drawn sketches that served as the blueprints for his dramatic golfing landscapes. Fellow architects and critics referred to his courses using terms such as “sensory overload.”

Yet, Strantz’s course-building technique was more of a throwback to the low-tech days of his idol, Alister MacKenzie.”

Notable Courses

01
Bulls Bay

Bulls Bay

Awendaw, South Carolina

02
Caledonia

Caledonia

Pawleys Island, South Carolina

03
Monterey Peninsula (Shore)

Monterey Peninsula (Shore)

Del Monte Forest, California

04
Royal New Kent

Royal New Kent

Providence Forge, Virginia

05
Tobacco Road

Tobacco Road

Sanford, North Carolina

06
Tot Hill Farm

Tot Hill Farm

Asheboro, North Carolina

07
True Blue

True Blue

Pawleys Island, South Carolina

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Harry Colt

Harry Colt

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