The Female Golf Course Architect Re-Designing The Game
//As published in Random Golf Club//
Many of us see things as they are. Golf course architects are wired differently. Instead, they’re obsessed with how things will be: how this type of grass will grow, how that dune over there might erode, how distance enhancements in golf equipment could make this plot of land ultimately unviable. Christine Fraser is an architect who looks forward through a more nuanced lens. To Christine, the operative question is “Can — and will — everybody play this golf course comfortably?” She truly means everybody.
“Can diversity and inclusion within the golf industry be expanded through design?” the page asks. “Absolutely,” it answers. “Design for women. disability and accessibility consideration. design for the next generation. recruitment of new players through design.” Christine clarifies that this isn’t your dad’s “grow the game” initiative, or a marketing stunt; it’s equity and inclusion at the literal grassroots level.
“What I want to start with this website is having developers come to me who don’t need ‘the pitch’,” she says. “People who already have the same kind of values and intentions as I do, and who want to make the investment in building golf courses that anyone can feel comfortable playing.”
This type of language goes unused by most industry leaders. For reference, click on the Services or Philosophy tabs of mainstream golf architects’ websites and you will encounter words like “tradition” or “honor”. Dig through the Associates or Staff sections and, unsurprisingly, you see a lot of men; white men, specifically. If you’re curious enough to ask “who was this golf course built for,” it’s necessary to then ask “who was this golf course built by?” It’s likely you’ll arrive at the same answer.
If you’re curious enough to ask “who was this golf course built for,” it’s necessary to then ask “who was this golf course built by?” It’s likely you’ll arrive at the same answer.
A frequently unwelcoming design feature that Christine points to is the bathrooms. “I’ve gone to golf courses and the washroom on the course is closed. For most men, that’s not an issue, but for me it totally messes with my experience. If I’m on the 13th hole at the farthest point away from the clubhouse, and I have to use the washroom, but it’s closed, then that’s a huge problem. And the fact that it’s closed wasn’t communicated to me by the guy in the pro shop, so that becomes an education opportunity for people working at the golf course, as much as it’s a facilities design issue.”
Ultimately, Christine’s point of focus is narrowing the gap between design and inclusion; cost being a major prohibitive factor for most budding players.
“An absolute essential part of being a good architect is to consider the costs to the golfer,” she says. You designed a killer golf course? Great! But you can’t just blow through the budget (and pass that price tag onto the player) every year trying to keep it up. “It’s essential we take into consideration the maintenance costs, the labor costs, the grow-in costs, the sustainability of making sure the design we’re creating is going to last. In 30 years, will golf courses be able to pull water from municipalities? Probably not. Nobody’s touching water in 30 years.” A sobering thought.
Christine acknowledges the uphill battle of breaking into the tight field of golf course architecture, particularly with her boundary-pushing concepts. Even for more “mainstream” architects, new designs—creating a brand new course from scratch—come around just once or twice in a career. But Christine already has substantial experience under her belt, including a nine-hole par-3 new design at Adlington Golf Centre in Cheshire, England.
In 2014, a stroke of serendipity connected Christine with Dr. Martin Hawtree, the English-born third generation architect responsible for notable work in high places: Royal Birkdale, Ballybunion, Turnberry, even The Old Course at St Andrews line his curriculum vitae. To Christine, he’s simply, “Martin.” Mild-mannered, soft-spoken, brimming with respect for golf and the people who play it, by her description. “I learned from and worked with Martin for five years, and in that time we became close. There is a lot of trust with Martin for me, and I’d say we’re friends despite us being two completely different people. He was always an advocate for my growth as an architect, and gave me some incredible opportunities that most people my age wouldn’t ordinarily get.”
Getting opportunities: a conundrum in the world of golf course architecture. It’s a sales business, but more accurately, it’s a tap-on-the-shoulder business. The most jarring realization upon visiting the websites of golf’s world renowned architects is that they’re, ironically, poorly designed. They’re Myspace-era afterthoughts, more likely to give you a virus than a refreshing stance on making golf more inclusive. Architects are not purchasing HubSpot licenses to reach prospective customers, or using Salesforce to engage with existing ones. They aren’t gaming the Instagram algorithm to increase visibility. This illustrates the novelty of Christine’s website.
But why wouldn’t a leading golf course architect invest time and resources into developing a visually stunning online resource? Because it’s not how they generate new business. In reality, most golf course design projects are referral-based. Who needs a good website, when your name alone is the point of sale?
Therein lies the problem: the best architects in the business—the ones whose designs dominate the top-100 lists don’t need to sell anything. They’re offered the parts without having to audition.
If there’s any call-to-action to leave you with, it’s this: take a hard look at the design of your home course. Ask yourself who it was built for. Where’s the nearest restroom—is it open? Are you required to climb a set of stairs to reach each tee box, or are they accessible to everyone? Share feedback with the golf course and suggest they make design accommodations. Out there are budding architects like Christine, who, in addition to their expert bunker positioning and world-class routing, are brimming with practical ideas on how your course can save this game. Just click the contact page.