Q & A with Bill Coore
Interview with M. James Ward
SOUTHAMPTON, NY. The tandem of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore are among the world's finest golf course creators. The duo have reshaped -- no pun intended -- by re-emphasizing classical golf architecture with some of the finest modern designs including the likes of Sand Hills in Nebraska, Friar's Head on Long Island, NY, Bandon Trails in Oregon, Sand Valley in Wisconsin and among others Streamsong (Red) in Florida, as well as major restoration work with the likes of Pinehurst #2 leading the way, and as course consultants to this year's US Open site – Shinnecock Hills. Among their upcoming newest layouts is Ozarks National in Branson, Missouri opening later this year. In sum, the twosome continues to bring to life golf architecture that embodies designs working in total concert with their native sites.
Like his partner Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore was exposed to traditional golf architecture during his formative years. A native North Carolinian, Coore played much of his early golf at the Donald Ross courses of Pinehurst and the Perry Maxwell designed Old Town Club in Winston-Salem. A 1968 graduate of Wake Forest University, Coore began his professional design and construction career in 1972 with the firm of Pete Dye and Associates. Under Dye’s guidance, Coore was introduced to the elements of creative design and physical construction. It was also Dye that first introduced Coore to the written classics of golf architecture – the same books that Crenshaw was then collecting and studying. The information within these books was to later form the foundation for the Coore and Crenshaw partnership.
During the succeeding ten years, Coore was involved in the design, construction and maintenance of golf courses in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Canada, and Texas.
Coore formed his own design company in 1982. Thereafter, he completed courses at Rockport Country Club in Rockport, Texas (featured in the 1986 issue of the USGA Golf Journal) and Golf du Medoc in Bordeaux, France – named one of the ten best courses in France and one of the top fifty courses in Europe. Bill Coore and his wife, Sue, reside in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Ben and yourself have been consultants at Shinnecock Hills, what’s your take on the course’s best hole?
COORE: In my opinion, there is no best hole at Shinnecock Hills and fortunately there is no worst hole or even less good holes. There is a collection of 18 distinctive, extremely high quality holes that fit seamlessly together.
What’s the most underrated hole?
COORE: The first hole may be the most underrated because of its position in the round, and it's not one of the course’s most difficult holes, yet it is a marvelous introduction to what is about to be experienced. The view from the first tee located so near the iconic clubhouse, the angle of the fairway to the tee shot, the bunkering, the contouring of the green, its surrounds and the precision demanded of the shots played to the green combine to make it one of the most attractive and interesting holes on the course.
Shinnecock is considered to be one of the most impressive courses in the world. Why is that?
COORE: The most impressive overall feature of the course is the amazingly interesting way in which the holes lay on the natural landforms and are oriented in such a way that holes play toward all major points on the compass, therefore assuring that during a round the almost always present winds will be encountered at every possible angle. I'm not sure I can think of another course about which that can be said.
Golfers have their own respective bucket list of courses to see/play. What’s yours?
COORE: Amazingly enough, during my travels, I have yet to see Muirfield in Scotland, so that would certainly be on my bucket list.
What’s the hardest thing about being a golf architect?
COORE: If you’re successful in the business, saying "no" to a given project. In so many ways you do wish to say "yes" but if you don't feel as if you can really attain the goals set by the ownership it's best not to go forward.
What’s the tipping point in making that decision?
COORE: Ben and I have been good naturedly kidded about taking forever to make a decision. When we first started we knew we had to run the operation as a business but we also wanted it to be fun too. Truthfully, when we first started we wondered if anyone would hire us. When making a decision we're going to study the site. We're going to listen to what the ownership wants. We're also going to be candid to ourselves -- can we accomplish the goals being set? Sometimes a given site requires extreme alterations and we may not be the appropriate fit to do what is being sought.
What’s the most satisfying aspect for Ben and yourself?
COORE: The early stages are the most rewarding, discovering the natural attributes and spending time with the ownership on the property. The whole discovery process shows whether the site plays to our design strengths. Can we accomplish the goals set by ownership in tandem with our skills? It's tough when you like an owner personally and professionally and really want to see things move forward to make that dream a reality, but there are times when you don't see how we can make that happen.
What have you learned from when you first started creating courses to what you do today?
COORE: When you're a young designer there's a temptation to show what you can do. You often try to do too much. It's understandable to happen -- particularly early in a career. It's tempting not to have much restraint. We've believed that if we could mange our impulses we'd be better off. We try to establish the concept and the goals collectively with the guys we work with to allow that process to evolve and come to life. If something happens in the field – even by mistake – that seems to be a better end result then our team is free to move in a better manner. If you allow the process to happen and don't get hung up on some preconceived concept so many wonderful things can in fact happen.
What’s harder to do, a completely new course or one being restored?
COORE: A restored course by far. You have to first decide what are you going to restore it to. This happened during our time at Pinehurst #2. The course had gone through various looks over the years and when we got involved that question needed answering. Are you going to go back to its earliest days by using aerial photography? Or is there some interim period of time? So one needs to ask restore it to when and what.
When Ben and yourself walk onto a property for the first time, what generally do you both discuss?
COORE: The very first day can prompt some general impressions of the potential a given site has to offer. We will assess if the site plays to our strengths. Does it have interesting natural features? Is it adaptable to golf if it doesn't need major alterations? What are the most interesting features and whether we can work with that site? Can we do it justice? Clearly, when talking with the ownership, you get some guidance on what the goals are to be.
From what you have mentioned, you spend plenty of time listening to others. How important is that in getting the final assessment on whether you will be involved?
COORE: It's an absolute priority.