Friday, May 18, 2007

Top 25 Golf Course Architects - #25 - Mike Strantz

The opening shot at Tobacco Road -intimidation at its best - there's lots of room beyond the dunes

Best Course: Monterey Peninsula GC (Shore Course), 44th in Golfweek’s modern list

Other notable work: Tobacco Road, Royal New Kent, Caledonia Golf & Fishing Club, Tot Hill Farm, Stonehouse, True Blue

Overview: Mike Strantz’s inclusion in my list might raise a few eyebrows. He’s still not well accepted as an architect - even today – which surprises me since I think he will be better appreciated over time. The people that really like his work actively seek out all his courses and interestingly enough many are the younger architects in the ASGCA. He embodies the idea that the line between genius and madman is razor thin – often stepping on both sides with delightful results. No matter what you think of his work, there is no denying his superior talent, and his guts to push golf course architecture to its very limits.

Praise for the work:
I have never seen an architect combine intimidation and opportunity so masterfully. His architecture is as frustrating as it is exciting but once you finish you can’t wait to play it again. As an architect I admire his audacity to build something so different and so controversial that you knew it couldn’t be embraced by critics or the public at large.

He believes that you get a bigger thrill when you make a great shot that seemingly overcomes impossible odds – he does this by making his work look overwhelming at times but in reality is a lot easier than it appears. While most would point to the intentional blindness and very wild greens to say that his work is over the top, they have missed his use of width to create playability and alternative (safer) routes. People seem to be focused on the dangerous short cuts that encourage a risky style of play and often don’t play the course enough to find the safer alternatives of each hole. It’s too easy to condemn his work on first play.

Caledonia Golf and Fishing Club


His architecture is said to be too severe to have any playability with the chief complaint being how tough the courses are for the weaker player. The bunkers are severe; there are massive expanses of sand everywhere, you can putt off greens due the severe shelves, he uses cross hazards, and some shots are all or nothing with no options. The biggest complaint has to be the intentional use of blindness that most feel is not only unfair but dangerous. They think his architecture is akin to the high school bully who pushes them around and intimidates them until they go home. His work is either loved or hated – and they hate it.

Great Quotes:
“It is important to make the golf hole look more difficult than it really is."

“That is almost always the case on our courses, but if your mind convinces you that it really is a difficult shot, you’re beat before you even take the club back.”

A sketch of the 6th at Moneterey Peninsula Shore Course with the seeping fairways.

My favourite:
Monterey Peninsula GC (Shore Course) If fits the space so well with massive horizontal movement in the fairways to help fill the wide open space of the site. The more restrained and subdued architecture at MPCC, with a few little flash points here and there, gives you more time to enjoy the setting.

Future Movement on the List:

What I take from him: A superior playing experience is not only brought through the freedom to choose, but also through the joy of overcoming difficulty.

Mike has taught me to take risks with my architecture and to say to hell with convention and criticism – it’s all about great holes.


Anonymous said...


I had the opportunity to play the Shore Course a year ago and I couldn't agree with you more. Other than the 18th hole which is nothing more than a 400 yard uphill path to get you back to the clubhouse I thought the course was spectacular and an absolute joy to play. As I was standing in the fairway on each hole (them's some wide fairways!) I found myself thinkng ahead with excitement to what the next hole might look like. I haven't seen anyone else on the list and I'm already certain you have Mike Strantz ranked too low.

Anonymous said...

Nice mini-profile of Strantz. I am a bit surprised you didn't at least give passing mention to his skills as an artist, and how his courses can be nearly overwhelming in a visual sense.

Taylor Anderson said...

Ian, thanks for doing this. I'm looking forward to all the profiles you've put together.

Matt said...

Indeed, a wonderful start to the series, Ian.

I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming profiles.


Anonymous said...

As an avid golfer who has infrequent invitations to private courses designed by the famous Dead Guys, Strantz is the guy that has most whetted my appetite for golf architecture. His boldness and imagination at TR and RNK are an absolute joy to behold and play. Unfortunately he is now one of the Dead Guys, but unlike others, his work is available for the public to enjoy and appreciate.

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