Earnest Lee Askew writes, ‘How did you become a golf course architect?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

I assure you that aliens had nothing to do with it, no matter what you've heard.

The real story is that I was born (on this planet) to be a designer! I've taken those "personality tests." My profile came back with the highest score possible for the "designer/creator" category, confirming what I've know since childhood, when I constantly drew buildings, cities, and even my own country.

I thought I'd be an architect. My father started bringing me architecture books from the library. Then, a few coincidences altered the course of my life.

My dad inadvertently brought home a book detailing lawsuits against architects. I read about collapsing buildings, exploding boilers, and (subsequently) bankrupt architects. That troubled me, as I had plans for MY weekly allowance!

Then, at age 12, I took up golf. Our neighbors belonged to a country club with an enormous clubhouse and three wooded courses. The whole thing awed me. I loved being lost in the woods every time the routing changed direction. I was amazed that the courses started and ended at the clubhouse, having imagined a long walk back from the 18th hole. I was also relieved to find out that the 9th hole returned to the clubhouse. (Just as I was getting hungry, the clubhouse showed up!)

I thought, "Whoever designed this was a genius!"* I wanted to design golf courses, too. Moreover, I was reasonably sure golf courses couldn't explode or fall down.

I sketched out routings of courses I had played on Mom's cocktail napkins, early on matching the sophistication of some real architects. I still doodle green designs constantly. If I ever drive over a cliff, I'll be drawing my final green design on the way down. Of course, if that happens, it may be because I was doodling while driving, which I really must stop.

My father, aware of my new interest in golf design, noticed in the newspaper that an organization called the American Society of Golf Course Architects had just relocated to Chicago. He sent for their information packets, including the membership list. I wrote several letters, including one to Robert Trent Jones Sr., who was nice enough to respond.

I was surprised to find the firm of Killian and Nugent in the next town. I arranged an appointment, bought my first suit and visited their office. They directed me to take drafting classes, then study landscape architecture in college, and find summer jobs in landscape construction or golf course maintenance.

Upon graduation, I marched right back to their office and got a job. Years later, they told me they really didn't have the work to justify hiring me, but since I had followed their "prescription," they felt obligated to hire me. I apprenticed seven years there, before moving to Texas to start on my own. I have a degree in landscape architecture, but my real education came from them.

* It turns out it was Tom Bendelow, who is not considered a genius among early golf course architects. He was hired by the Spalding Company to build cheap courses to promote the game, and, of course, sell clubs. However, he did come up with some gems, like the club I first played - Medinah Chambers Creek, host to several tournaments.