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Course designer Robert von Hagge dies aged 83

21 October, 2010

Course designer Von Hagge dies aged 83

Global golf course architect Robert von Hagge died Saturday at the age of 83

Following article from The Woodlands Villager – a Houston Community Newspaper:

Global golf course architect Robert von Hagge, who developed the Walden on Lake Conroe course and the Tournament Course at The Woodlands Country Club, died Saturday at the age of 83.

A celebration of life event will be hosted by Northgate Country Club on Saturday from 7-9 p.m. Northgate is located at 17110 Northgate Forest Drive in Houston. A private burial will be held prior to the service at Forest Park in The Woodlands.

The family has requested that no flowers be sent. In lieu of flowers, memorial/honor donations can be made to the MD Anderson Cancer Center (online at, by mail to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, PO Box 4486, Houston, TX 77210, or by phone at 713-792-3450).

Von Hagge’s professional life stretched from his early teen years as a caddy to international fame as a master golf course designer and architect. During his fascinating career, he vaulted to the top ranks of golf course design and architecture, became a dominant force in the European and Mexican golf world, and moved effortlessly into golf design throughout the world — arguably one of the most influential course designers in the history of golf.

Von Hagge was literally born and raised on a golf course, and had worked as a caddy, shop boy (cleaning and repairing golf clubs), caddy master, golf course maintenance crewman, assistant greens superintendent, assistant golf professional and commercial illustrator for sporting magazines before his 17th birthday. After high school, he attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and Purdue University Agriculture School, majoring in landscape architecture.

The son of noted course designer and developer Ben von Hagge, who worked briefly with none other than Donald Ross in the 1920s, Chicago-born Robert von Hagge learned the trade from his mentor, design legend Dick Wilson, when Wilson, one of America’s foremost golf course architects, employed him in 1955 as an apprentice golf course designer.

By 1959, he was being recognized within the profession as a principal designer with the Wilson firm. By the year’s end in 1962, he had been involved in all or part of the design of 40 golf courses in the U.S. and the Caribbean and four foreign countries. Late that same year, he resigned his affiliation with the Dick Wilson Company in order to start his own firm. Von Hagge was the last living associate from the original post-war architect Dick Wilson’s organization.

During his six-plus decades as a master golf course designer, von Hagge created some of the world’s most outstanding and award-winning courses, and has been responsible for the design, re-design or partial design of more than 250 courses in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and 16 foreign countries. At one time he had worldwide offices ranging from South Florida and California to Australia, before he decided to move his headquarters to The Woodlands.

He and his partners Mike Smelek and Rick Baril have created internationally-recognized courses in more than 50 cities including Paris, Milan, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City, Sydney, Tokyo, Madrid and Genoa. In the U.S. they have courses in Miami, Philadelphia, Long Island, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Naples, Fort Myers, Phoenix, Tampa, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Albuquerque and dozens more. Their courses have received more than 500 awards of distinction.

Les Bordes, set in the middle of the Loire Valley in France, is considered von Hagge’s piece de resistance. According to Top 100 Golf Courses website, “It’s been said that when he designed this beast he was at his most wickedly creative” … and (the course) “is a supreme challenge.”

As founder and senior partner/architect of von Hagge, Smelek and Baril, he actively maintained hands-on involvement in the creation of their distinctive designs all over the world even in his early 80s. Of course he wasn’t racking up the air miles to the extent he used to — something he said he regretted.

“I miss a lot of the dirt, the rain and the mud, squeezing something out of primitive circumstances,” von Hagge said.

For decades his name has been synonymous with “premier global golf course architect.” Always following his own philosophy propelled him into greatness: “Every shot situation should be one where the golfer walks up to the ball and has his breath taken away. It should be a ritual experience.”

He often spoke warmly of his partners of more than a quarter of a century.

“Both Mike and Rick have been a driving force behind the creation of many major projects throughout the world and largely responsible for the creation of some of the world’s finest golfing experiences,” von Hagge said. “I am personally grateful for the obvious creative talent and responsible dedication that is a part of the very fiber that these two outstanding men bring to the team. I am simultaneously proud and delighted that we are all on the same company design team, one which they will someday inherit along with its history, credentials and worldwide reputation; a reputation which they both have so richly contributed to over the past several years.”

Read more about Robert von Hagge


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