In 1976, Rod Whitman left Ponoka Composite High School in Alberta to enrol at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where he worked towards a Batchelor of Science degree.
While studying during his three-year course at the university, he helped out with the green keeping staff at nearby Waterwood National Golf Club, under the direction of superintendent Bill Coore.
As well as carrying out his normal maintenance duties, Rod assisted with the renovation of some of the holes on the layout, which led to him learning how to operate a range of construction machinery.
After graduating from university, he returned to Canada and spent a year as the superintendent at the Devon Golf and Country Club in Alberta before heading back to the Lone Star State in 1981 to work with Pete Dye, having been recommended by Bill Coore.
Over a three-year period, Rod ran the construction crew for the new Dye layout at Austin Country Club then went back home (literally) to Ponoka to design and build a golf course for an old school friend, the former baseball player Ryan Vold.
Wolf Creek Golf Resort opened with an initial 18-hole layout in 1984 – another two nines were subsequently added by Whitman in 1990 and 2010 – and it features one of Canada’s largest hand-carved log buildings (at over 20,000 square feet) as a clubhouse.
Rod then teamed up again with Pete Dye as a design associate from 1985 to 1989 and was involved in rebuilding the greens at Crooked Stick in Indiana and renovating the course at Oaktree National in Oklahoma.
During the late 1980s, he collaborated with Bill Coore on a project in France at Golf du Médoc in Bordeaux, fashioning the highly regarded Châteaux course. Rod then went back to the same resort a couple of years later to craft the Vignes course for the owners.
He followed this up with another European commission, a thousand kilometres to the northeast of Bordeaux at Schloss Langerstein Country Club in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, where he laid out an 18-hole course for the Douglas family, who own the property.
In the mid-1990s, Whitman joined up again with Bill Coore – now in a design partnership with Ben Crenshaw – to work on a couple of jobs. The first of these was at Klub Golf Rimba Irian in Indonesia and the second was the 36-hole golf facility at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Rod concluded the 1990s with a 9-hole addition to complement an 18-hole course that Pete Dye had built in the early 1980s for Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln, Nebraska. He then started the new millennium by constructing the new course at Blackhawk Golf Club, outside Edmonton, Alberta.
His shaping skills were next called upon by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw for a couple of projects on the eastern seaboard of the United States: Friar’s Head on Long Island, New York which debuted in 2002; and Old Sandwich in Plymouth, Maryland, which was unveiled two years later.
Back in Canada, Rod collaborated with Richard Zokol and Jeff Mingay to produce the well-regarded course at Sagebrush, in Quilchena, British Columbia in 2009 but the acclaim given to this layout was as nothing compared to his next two assignments.
In 2012, Rod finished work on the course at Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia, then he spent the next two years working with Coore and Crenshaw on Cabot Cliffs which lies immediately next door on the same bluffs that overlook the Bay of St Lawrence.
Both layouts are currently ranked in our Top 100 Courses of the World, which says much about the man whose skill and endeavour has brought them to such global prominence.
Rod has since completed another renovation project at St Andrews-by-the-Sea in New Brunswick for the historic Algonquin Golf Club.
In the summer of 2020, it was announced that Rod Whitman was teaming up with Dave Axland and Keith Cutten to form WAC Golf.
From The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten: “Whitman’s work, like that of his friend Bill Coore, adheres to ‘minimalist’ or ‘low-profile’ principles. His conviction is that each site is unique, and that it is the job of the architect to reveal a site’s natural attributes; relative to interesting golf.
Although Rod has been recognized as one of the finest bulldozer operators in the golf world, he maintains a ‘light’ touch when operating on a golf course site. Rod spends almost the entirety of a construction project on-site, to ensure that every detail is either personally constructed or approved.
This method allows the design process to become a fluid progression; one which evolves as construction progresses.”
From Rod Whitman's website: “Strategic design coupled with great contour – whether natural or manmade – is the essence of golf architecture. Showcasing and enhancing a site's natural attributes relative to interesting golf – contour and slope, wind angles, vegetation and views – always produces the best results. The only way to create golf courses of remarkable distinction is to allow inherent site characteristics drive design.
The world's best golf courses were not created in two-dimensions in a downtown office. While nearly every golf course development starts with preliminary concepts on paper, actual creation of a golf course should be a fluid process which evolves as construction progresses.
This is why it's extremely important for golf architects to spend an extraordinary amount of time on-site throughout construction. This is the only way we can take most advantage of previously unforeseen opportunities which always present themselves as golf holes are being shaped.”