Lotta Cash asks: ‘Are Signature Architects Worth the Expense?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

From the days of Old Tom Morris, pros designed courses to provide a modest supplement to their incomes. Now, touring pros make three site visits for a million dollars, and get design credit, despite not being able to find the first tee without a guide. Since I’m not a touring pro (my green jacket is from a department store) and have seen how little they add other than the fee, I recommend against signature designs.

Some say real estate developments require a signature design, and “signature” courses and developments do go bankrupt, suggesting that macro-economics determine success. While some studies show that signature designs generate real estate premiums, they don’t show a causal link. It could be that developers have to sell at higher prices, because of expensive land, upper end development, and proportionally more expensive amenities, including the golf course.

Most golf course home buyers aren’t golfers, and only a few golfers (or designers) have well-known “names” outside the golf community. Women make most home-buying decisions, and in my case, granite counter tops were more important to my wife than living on a signature course.

Among golfers, surveys show that maintenance and proximity determine where they play. Only 2% knew (or cared) who designed the course!* That’s a real blow to my ego, but suggests that signature designs won’t attract more players initially. It also suggests that funds spent on signature design fees might be better used on landscaping, irrigation, drainage or general maintenance to attract golfers in the long term.

Besides, invariably, golfers credit someone named “Dat Effen” with the design no matter who you use. How many times have you heard golfers say, “I’d like to talk to ‘Dat Effen Golf Course Architect’ who designed this course!” He’s also involved with other aspects of the business, because I have heard references to “Dat Effen Golf Course Superintendent” and “Dat Effen Golf Pro.”

Strangely, I can’t find him in industry data bases, but even so, since Dat Effen, Golf Course Architect, gets credit for design no matter how much you pay the signature pro, I recommend you skip the expense.

*Golfers have asked me why back tees were called the “Bear” or “General” tees. One wondered if the course with “Shark” tees was themed after the movie “Jaws.”