Designing women

They’re out there, but one barely needs a second hand to count all the women brave enough to seize the reins as golf course architects. Of the three major organizations for the profession there are two women in the American Society of Golf Course Architects, two in the European Institute of Golf Course Architects and two in the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects.

There were four in the ASGCA, but both Alice Dye and Vicki Martz have passed away. Martz spent most of her career with Arnold Palmer’s design firm before finally hanging out her own shingle, but never had a course wholly credited to her. Pete Dye always said his wife was a strong influence with his designs, but you won’t find Alice Dye’s name as co-designer on any scorecards.

That is how it has largely been through history, plenty of women receiving footnotes for their design work — such as Marion Hollins, said to have strongly influenced Alister MacKenzie at California’s Cypress Point and Pasatiempo courses, or Molly Gourlay, who worked extensively with British designer Tom Simpson.

Golf course architect Kristine Kerr.

And so it is still, to the degree that some female designers work as associates under the umbrella of male heads of the firm. Angela Moser, for example, was the lead design associate at the new Pinehurst No. 10, but it will be chief designer Tom Doak’s name on the promotional material.

“I regret to say that there are few courses attributed solely to women golf course architects,” says Jan Bel Jan, a former ASGCA president who runs her own firm. “The new courses on which I worked were all when I designed with Tom Fazio, so they are justly titled with his name. The same is true for anyone who did, or does, work under the name of the founding architect.

“But I love the story of Vicki Martz. The projects in her portfolio were under the Palmer design umbrella, but because the owners of the course she worked on in Algarve, Portugal, were so delighted with her and her design, they named the course after her — The Victoria Golf Course.”

The pool may be small, but the ripples are widening, and with more young designers wading in it will be interesting to keep an eye on the careers of emerging talents like Moser, Giulia Ferrari, Virginia Costa, Lynne Morrison or Christine Fraser.

There are, naturally, signature courses from LPGA Hall of Famers. Nancy Lopez has 27 holes under her belt at The Villages in Briar Meadow, Florida. Each nine of the Lopez Legacy course is named after one of Nancy’s daughters: Torri, Erinn and Ashley. Amy Alcott is credited as the design consultant for the South Course at Indian Canyons Resort in Palm Springs, California. Jan Stephenson has a co-designer credit with Perry Dye of the Indian River Preserve Golf Club in Mims, Florida.

Annika Sorenstam has design credits in China, South Africa, Turkiye and elsewhere. At the Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, she did her first U.S. design — the Queen’s Nine, the opening nine holes — while the homeward trek was Palmer’s last, the King’s Nine. It’s the site for the annual Annika Intercollegiate tournament — which is Sept 8-11 this year.

Beyond the pros, Kristine Kerr of New Zealand opened Kura Golf Course Design in 2008, and has notched the Pegasus Golf and Sports Club in Canterbury, New Zealand, on her resume.

The Kristine Kerr-designed Pegasus Golf and Sports Club in Canterbury, New Zealand

The clear leader in the clubhouse though is Cynthia Dye McGarey. You do need two hands to count all of her world-wide designs. It naturally didn’t hurt to grow up in the family business — her father, Roy Dye, was a golf course architect, and her uncle was a fellow named Pete.

So it was bred in the bone, but McGarey opened her own office, the Dye Design Group in 2001 and has been busy ever since, especially in China and now the Middle East. Her first solo design was in the U.S., and the White Horse Golf Club in Kingston, Washington, made an auspicious debut, promptly being listed among Golf Digest‘s Best New Public Courses of 2007.

“Every year it wins the best golf course in Kingston award, which is nice,” says McGarey, “but honestly, I think it’s the only one. For those traveling to Europe, the course I did in Portugal is a real beauty.” That would be the West Cliffs Golf Course at the West Cliff Ocean and Golf Resort in Óbidos, which is indeed regularly named as one of the best courses in the country.

If the history of women designers is still being mostly newly written, there is a course that can take one back in time to 1918. That’s when Isabella May “Queenie” Dunn (of the Willie Dunn family of Scotland), showed up out west as the country’s first female golf pro and course designer, laying out a track in Reno, now defunct. But her second effort, the Tahoe City Golf Course in California is still around, now expanded from six holes to nine, and its original sand greens now turf.

The course had an extended centennial celebration in 2018, including a free afternoon clinic for young players one afternoon. Appropriately, with Dunn in mind, it was led by Annika Sorenstam.