I asked Geoff Shackelford to answer a few questions on how it was done. I wanted to post the comments as I got them – I thought you could learn and understand more with the complete set of questions unedited.
I.A.: What was your goal with the project?
GS: Well my personal goal was to learn everything I could about a project from start to finish and Gil Hanse was kind enough to let me get my feet wet.
I.A.: Do you think that Rustic Canyon best illustrates the future for golf development?
GS: For the most part yes. There are elements of the project that are not necessary (wall to wall cart paths), that could save a lot of money for someone. And the operation is by no means a model. The place survives in spite of the operation actually, which says a lot about the conditioning, environment and hopefully the design.
I.A.: What design ideas do you think are most important to making this model work
GS: Width, width and more width. That instilled the fun. And sandy soil. That helps on the construction end (saving money on drainage) and on the maintenance end, not to mention makes for fun golf if the course is setup properly.
I.A.: What would you like to have done differently?
GS: More smaller bunkers. We built a few little pits, a couple of blind ones and they get so much attention even though the odds of hitting in them are slim. They tantalize good players but rarely upset the average joe's thinking. I love that, and it's great from a playability standpoint. Heightens strategy,but reduces the number of penalties for the majority of players.
I.A.: What was your target green fee?
GS: 30 to 60 dollars.
I.A.: What was the target budget to make the model work?
GS: In an area with nine million people within 45 or so minutes of the course, there was room to spend a bit more and still make it because golf is year-round here. The golf course budget was $4 million, and we came in at $3 million, and it should have been less but the cart paths and the construction supervisor wasted hundreds of thousands.
I.A.: Could you explain the financial model for other regions to copy?
GS: I'm not the one to ask about models, all I can say it, find sandy soil and an architect that is sensible and you'll do fine.
I.A.: Was the width to help speed of play or for creating options?
GS: Both. But I can't see how the course would have been narrower in any scenario, say as an upscale daily fee or a private course. It was just what felt right for the land, and it's the type of golf Gil and Jim and I like.
I.A.: The greens are magnificent was that the plan from day one?
GS: Well of course the plan was to make them magnificent, but how they actually come out is a mystery. Gil did most of them and create the shell in remarkably little time (#13 was a day and a half...my favorite). That said, a lot of thought and discussion and debate went into the concepts behind them. I don't know how Gil feels, but I believe the best ones out there are those where we really talked about the idea behind the hole and figured out the concept going in, so that when he got on the bulldozer, things just clicked. Of course, then there's #10, where I, a total hack on the bulldozer, just started making a hole that Gil refined into the green we have today. There was a concept there, but still, there was some fortune there too that it worked out.
I.A.: There are very few bunkers, was that due to the natural areas, playability or maintenance, or none of…?
GS: Looking back I wish we had even fewer. Mostly because the land was so good and there were so many natural hazards, that we chose to emphasize those features. As I said early, maybe more small pits would have added some fun and intrigue, but overall we really haven't wanted to do much to refine the strategy behind the holes.
I.A.: Any other thoughts about the project?
GS: Well it was great fun and eye opening for me in so many ways. Environmentally, we had a lot of issues to deal with and came out okay. I believe that stemmed from working to avoid the sensitive areas and being honest about what we were doing. I think a lot of projects get into trouble by trying to force holes into areas they just shouldn't go either because of impact on wildlife or because wetlands were really meant to be just that, places for water to go.
But ultimately the success of the place all goes back to fun. The operation is dreadful, but the super holds his end together and the golfers ultimately don't care that the carts are dirty or the place has no bathrooms on the course (well, that is embarrassing). The fun of playing the course keeps it attractive to most golfers and that's neat to see.