Tom Doak

Full Name
Thomas Harry Doak
Website:
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Year of Birth
1961
Place Born
New York, USA

“It’s not unusual that some of the deepest thinkers about golf architecture have played relatively few courses… others are so busy putting new notches in their belts that they never have time to think.” Tom Doak

Tom Doak was born in New York and was raised in Stamford, Connecticut. He played junior golf at Stirling Farms Golf Course, a five-minute stroll away from his front door. As a youngster Doak accompanied his father on business trips, visiting Harbour Town, Pinehurst No.2 and Pebble Beach whereby he became fascinated by the architectural variation between golf courses. He began reading dusty old golf course architecture books unearthed by his mother, a librarian. His obsession had well and truly begun.

Doak went on to study Landscape Architecture at Cornell University where he won a scholarship to travel to the British Isles to research the classic links courses. After graduation he literally lived on the links, first caddying at St Andrews and then spending the next seven months on the road, playing and examining every notable golf course he could find.

In his 1992 book, The Anatomy of a Golf Course, Doak acknowledged: “Those travels left me with a love of good golf courses, and a fair grasp of the principles of sound design; yet I never would have been able to make the leap from student to architect without the guidance of Pete Dye and Alice Dye and their sons, Perry Dye and P. B. Dye. After I had bugged them by constantly writing letters for a couple of years, they let me come to work for them, in the most menial capacity, on the construction of Long Cove Club in the summer of 1981. For four years afterward I followed along from Plum Creek to PGA West to Riverdale Dunes and Piping Rock, gradually becoming more involved in the construction of their courses, and occasionally getting to contribute my own two cents worth to the final design. Of all the things I learned from Pete, the most important was just how much work was involved in getting a great golf course from the dream to the ground.”

Doak’s first solo design, High Pointe Golf Club in Michigan, opened in 1989. His Williamsburg lay-of-the-land public course has since closed, but this design bucked the trend of 1980’s blueprints and paved the way for minimalist, sustainable courses. Gil Hanse, (who also won the same scholarship) was one of Doak’s early design associates, but they parted company in 1993.

Renaissance Golf Design is one of today’s foremost architectural firms with a portfolio that includes more than its fair share of World Top 100 ranked courses. Opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes was Doak’s first layout to receive global recognition, a collaboration with Michael Clayton at Barnbougle Dunes followed. The arrival of Ballyneal in 2006 cemented Doak’s place in the top architectural division. Today, he’s hot on the heels of his hero, Alister MacKenzie – it’s possible he may equal the good doctor’s design achievements in years to come.

"Starting in his college days, Doak freelanced design articles for Golf Magazine and later became a contributing editor and handled the publication's rankings of golf courses and golf holes," wrote Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten in The Architects of Golf. "He also developed a reputation as a topflight golf course photographer. He authored and self-published The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses in 1988, what one observer called a 'no-holds-barred' rating of all courses Doak had played. Others more critical felt it could be called the controversial guide to golf courses."

In addition to the impressive collection of golf course gifts that Tom Doak has contributed, he has written more reflections on golf course architecture than just about any other author. His musings are both frank and insightful, but more importantly they are exceedingly readable, thought-provoking and demystifying.

Books by Tom Doak:

The Anatomy of a Golf Course published in 1992: “On one level, this is a lucid look inside the mind of a golf architect. On a second, more important level, it’s an instruction book – it tells you exactly how to read a course.” George F. Peper

The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses published in 1996: Billed as “the ultimate insider’s guide to golf courses, Doak’s laser-like reviews may cause a chuckle or provoke an argument, but he is not afraid to challenge the reputations of some of the game’s most expensive resorts and revered clubs, while at the same time divulging his own far-flung favorites.”

The Life and Work of Dr. Alister MacKenzie published in 2001: “Considering the fact that he was one of the greatest golf course architects in the history of the game, Dr. Alister MacKenzie has long been something of a puzzle — if not a mystery. He liked to wear kilts, but he wasn’t a Scotsman. He graduated from medical school, but he never made a living at it. He designed spectacular courses, but he was not a good golfer.”

The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Volumes 1 to 5: Volume 1 published in 2014 (Volume 4 is still to be released). Written by Tom Doak and based on his own personal observations plus input from three co-authors: Ran Morrissett, Masa Nishijima, and Darius Oliver. The series is a much-extended version of his original 1996 title where once again the author juxtaposes both criticism and approval. The Confidential Guide revealed

Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture published in 2017, edited by Bob Crosby: "The comments by Tom Doak collected in this book were taken from his posts at GolfClubAtlas.com, a website devoted to the discussion of golf architecture and related topics... Tom's posts at GCA brought something different. They were by turns critical, sympathetic, and remarkably honest, all in a conversational voice not found in Tom's more formal, long-form writing."

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Courses designed by and courses remodelled and added to by Tom Doak

Aetna Springs

Gem USA - Best in Area

In 2007, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina completed the redesign of an old E. F. Hutton layout at Aetna Springs Golf Course. Unfortunately the historic Pope Valley course closed in 2018. However, in September 2018 we learned that there is still a chance that the course could be saved. Only time will tell.

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Apache Stronghold

35th Arizona - Best in Area

Apache Stronghold Golf Club at the Apache Gold Casino Resort is Tom Doak’s first attempt at desert golf design dating back to the late 1990s. Lightly bunkered and with no water hazards in play, the layout relies on arroyos and other natural features to help protect par.

Atlantic City

15th New Jersey - Best in Area

This venerable course has hosted national championships on several occasions over the years and Atlantic City Country Club claim to have coined the golfing term “birdie”.

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Ballyneal

1st Colorado - Best in Area 26th USA Ranking 27th North America Ranking 55th World Ranking

Ballyneal sounds Irish so it’s fitting that this is a links course albeit an inland links. The dream of Rupert and Jim O’Neal is located in the middle of a huge Colorado dunescape, and even the address – Holyoke – echoes that of a current Open Championship links venue.

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Bel-Air

12th California - Best in Area

Bel-Air Country Club is a throwback to The Roaring Twenties and the course here is one of the finest layouts that came from the remarkable George C. Thomas design stable. Tom Doak reckons Bel-Air may well be the most spectacular routing ever conceived.

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Camargo

1st Ohio - Best in Area 23rd USA Ranking 24th North America Ranking 49th World Ranking

The Camargo Club is set amidst undulating countryside on the edge of Cincinnati in the State of Ohio. It’s a Seth Raynor jewel which opened for play in 1925.

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Cape Kidnappers

2nd North Island - Best in Area 2nd New Zealand Ranking 6th Oceania Ranking 44th World Ranking

The longest drive at Cape Kidnappers is between the public road and the clubhouse. But once on the course, if you can keep your eyes off the cliff top views, the main golfing points are the bunkers and the greens.

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