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Schmidt & Curley
Lee Schmidt graduated from the School of Agriculture at Purdue University in 1970 before becoming a design associate for Pete Dye – a fellow Hoosier – where he worked on projects such as Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic during his seven years with the old master.
He then spent over a decade with the Landmark Land Company, heading up the Design and Construction Division which built the Californian resorts of PGA West, La Quinta and Mission Hills. Lee then had a successful 7-year spell as a senior design associate with Nicklaus Design before founding his own company with Brian Curley in 1997.
The Schmidt-Curley Design firm has worked quite a bit in the United States and the neighbouring countries of Canada and Mexico but the vast majority of its output has occurred in China and other Asian countries.
A long standing member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, Lee was elected president of that organization in 2014.
Brian Curley went to Pacific Grove High School, where his father was the principal, before studying at the School of Architecture and Environmental Design within California Polytechnic University prior to his graduation in 1982. He began his design career with Landmark Golf Company as a Land Planner, eventually concentrating solely on golf course projects.
He left the company after a few years to work briefly on some international developments with the well-travelled architect Ron Fream and his Golfplan company but he returned to Landmark in 1988 when things didn’t quite pan out as expected.
Over the next decade, Brian was heavily involved in design assignments with both Lee Schmidt (until he left in 1991) and Pete Dye, who was the headline architect with Landmark for quite a number of years.
Brian and Lee formed their own design partnership in 1997, becoming leaders in the burgeoning Asian golf market as they quickly established ten courses at both the Mission Hills sites in Haikou and Shenzhen – followed by another ten that will be spread out across Vietnam.
A long standing member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, Brian has served on the Board of Governors of that organization.
During their initial years, most of the Schmidt-Curley designs were the results of a joint effort from both partners on courses such as Bali Hai in Nevada and Oak Valley in California.
Realizing that the Asian golf development market was about to take off in a big way at the start of the new millennium, the company saw that its future lay in that part of the world. “We didn’t just dip our toe in,” says Curley,” we jumped in head first.”
They began with the design/build of ten of the twelve courses at the massive Mission Hills project in Shenzhen, China in co-operation with various “signature designers”. The firm then completed another ten courses for the same development group on Hainan Island, China.
They’ve also constructed an additional twenty courses at different locations in China, along with half a dozen layouts in both Thailand and Vietnam. Elsewhere in the world, there have been assignments undertaken in countries as far apart as Egypt, Mexico and Sweden.
Lee Schmidt retired from Schmidt-Curley Design at the start of 2019 and the company is now owned and managed by Brian Curley.
Lee Schmidt told us in March 2019: “I am no longer associated with Brian Curley at Schmidt Curley Design. Our relationship is still good, I just wanted to slow down after going to Asia almost every month for eighteen years. It has been great to slow down and just do other things. My new company is Schmidt Golf Design based in Naples, Florida. I am currently working on a project in Japan…..remodelling nine holes this year and the other nine next year.”
Brian Curley: “Developing courses in China on very difficult and severe lands, there aren't too many people that can do that, and I know that those courses don't get the same attention that you get on some of the more natural courses, but to me I think that when you can take something that has no business being a golf course and turn it into something that is world class golf is a huge accomplishment.”
By means of illustrating this comment, Brian gave the following answer to a question in a golfclubatlas.com interview in August 2010 asking him what it was liked to oversee the simultaneous construction of five courses (Annika, Duval, Leadbetter, Norman and Olazabal) at Mission Hills in China from late 2002 to early 2004:
“It was wild, fun, fast and furious, and it started well outside our typical comfort zone. We made 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-meter cuts and fills just to manhandle the property into something resembling golf-friendly terrain in just over six months. We moved approximately 40 million cubic meters with over 2,000 trucks and excavators working 24 hours a day. On our peak day we moved some 350,000 cubic meters.
We were irrigating a hole a day and sometimes grassing two holes a day. At a time when minimalism was all the talk in golf design, we flipped the script. The speed and statistics are unbelievable, and all on a rocky site that needed blasting three times a day – it would rain rocks for huge distances.
It was an awesome experience with a great team of shapers, laborers etc. managed by Martin Moore and our sister company, Flagstick. The huge crew overtook the nearby town Da Ping, and the camaraderie was great. We had something like 60 Thais that, at the end of the day, threw rooftop barbecues. I could go on forever with stories and thought ‘this will never be done again.’ Then came Mission Hills Haikou…”
From planetgolf.com: What's interesting about Schmidt and Curley is they work on projects separately, often within close proximity to each other. It seems that Curley is the more artistic and flamboyant whilst Schmidt is an analytical and precise architect. It's obviously a good combination for partners in this business.