An Interview With Arthur Hills
by John Kim
the task of the golf course architect. He must design courses that are challenging
to the best players, but playable for the hack. He must provide scenic beauty,
but not let it interfere with the integrity of his layout. Environmentalists
won’t let him change many things, technological advancements in equipment demand
that he does. He must think about the massive task of fitting in eighteen holes
in a logistical and challenging fashion and still have an eye for the details
such as the shape of every bunker and the slope in each green. Everyone from
course professionals, to weekend duffers, to website writers have an opinion
on their work and how it could have been done better. Who would want such a
Well, thankfully, there
are gifted individuals around that are up to the task. In fact, there are some
that excel at it. There are even a few that stand out as the very best. AtlantaGolfer.com
was fortunate enough to land a coup of an interview with one of the absolute
finest, as famed golf course architect Arthur Hills, one of the most celebrated
and awarded golf course designers in history, was kind enough to share a few
exclusive thoughts with our website.
Is it easier
or harder designing a course today than it was twenty or thirty years ago?
Don’t new environmental regulations really hamper your ability to create and
Arthur Hills: "There
is still an ample supply of attractive land and will be for the foreseeable
future. Actually, the environmental regulations have been a plus in my opinion.
Because of those regulations, we have been able to preserve wetlands and incorporate
them into the course design, making for beautiful, careful use of the land."
Are there too many courses out there now?
Arthur Hills: "Some
areas have enough courses. However, superior designs attract golfers to new
You’ve been incredibly successful in designing courses from scratch and
in redesigning already existing courses. Do you have a preference on which
you would rather do?
Arthur Hills: "We
enjoy the creative process. Therefore, both creating a new course and redesigning
an existing layout offer wonderful opportunities. For example, our recent
renovation of the Congressional Country Club Golf Course fulfilled a need
just as much as a new course would."
Is one any easier than the other?
Arthur Hills: "A new course is sometimes easier because you start
with fewer restraints."
Everyone thinks they could design a golf course, what is the most basic thing
that they don’t know that you do? What is the biggest challenge in designing
Arthur Hills: "The main thing going for us is our experience with
a variety of sites, our experience with many design ideas, our ability to
recognize what the result will be, our understanding of what degree of difficulty
is appropriate, and how to relate to the real estate aspect of the development."
Imagine being on a roll,
on such a massive winning streak, like that of Arthur Hills. Can you be the
best one year and be the most improved each year after that? In 1986, GolfWeek
Magazine named him “Golf Architect of the Year”. You’d think that would be a
great way to cap off a very distinguished career. Six years later in 1992, Golf
Digest awarded him both the “Best New Public Course” and “Best New Private Course”
(our own The Golf Club of Georgia) - a feat that has never been done before
or since. Seven years after that, he was ranked #2 on “The Games’ Hottest Architects”
by Golf World magazine. His firm designed more “upscale” courses in the 1990s
than any other firm. The real estate developments that spring up around his
course sell out faster than any other architect’s layouts. Moreover, the average
home on an Arthur Hills course (in 2001) sold for $500,800. In sum, he creates
great courses, he creates great value, and he’s done it consistently for a long
Do you compare courses you’ve done with each other? Is it fair to rank
your own work?
Arthur Hills: "Critique might be the more operative word rather
than compare. We are constantly critiquing what we’ve done to determine what
is exceptional and what could have been done better. Only our clients and
those who play our courses can really rank or evaluate our courses. The buyer’s
enthusiasm tells the story. That is the real value of trying to rank a course
- Do the players really like it a lot!"
Do you ever play on a course or view one on t.v. that isn’t one of your courses
and say, “I could have done this better” or at least, “I would have done this
Arthur Hills: "When we look at other courses, I am critiquing,
comparing and sure, we will sometimes think about how we could improve on
what we see. However, I have a friend who has a saying “I have traveled the
world and never seen a statue of a critic."
Well, Atlanta may not have
a statue of Arthur Hills, but many people travel to pay homage to his designs.
Towne Lake Hills and Olde Atlanta Golf Club are two Arthur Hills works available
to the Atlanta golfing community. The Standard Club and The Golf Club of Georgia
are also his creations. I asked Lance Bailey, the head professional at Olde
Atlanta Golf Club, how -according to Mr. Hills’ own standards, his players and
staff would rate his work there. His response was simple and direct.
“We are privileged to have Mr. Hills’ name and work associated with our course.
His reputation for working so well with the natural terrain and native areas
to create courses that golfers will go out of there way to play just makes our
much more appealing. People remember playing an Arthur Hills course.”
Randy Waldron, the Director
of Golf Course Maintenance at The Golf Club of Georgia, was with Arthur Hills
from the very inception of his work at the prestigious course. He echoes the
sentiment that Arthur Hills is not only a distinctive master of design, but
adds his interpersonal relationships and continuing interest in the course after
his work is done really distinguishes him as the preeminent architect in the
world of golf.
“He (Mr. Hills) has a great ability to listen and receive input objectively,
without letting ego get in the way of his creation. Everyone loves his work
but they also really like and respect the man as well. His continuing role in
our golf course helps make it what it is, one of the great layouts anywhere.”
What are your thoughts about your work in the Atlanta area?
Arthur Hills: "Atlanta has beautiful terrain and variety of tree
cover. The Standard Club is a little-known gem in my opinion. It has some
great holes in a beautiful setting! The Golf Club of Georgia has, since it’s
opening, had some of the finest green surfaces anywhere in the South."
Atlanta is suffering a bit of a glut in the golf course market. Do we have
room for another Arthur Hills course?
Arthur Hills: "Atlanta’s population and work force continues to
grow. Residential development keeps pace. No doubt there is a place for more
good courses. Perhaps one of ours will be included."
I have to ask; your work is so widely respected and appreciated, but I
know people would want to hear your comments on hole #18 at Towne Lake Hills.
Can you share any thoughts on it and if the renovations done to it have taken
care of the critics?
Arthur Hills: "#18 was built into some rugged terrain.
Modifications have helped. However, there is obviously an opportunity to make
the hole more user friendly and, therefore a better hole."
More than likely, you’ve
played at least one and probably several designs by Arthur Hills. But even if
by some fluke you haven’t, if you follow golf, you’re more familiar with his
work than you think. Without going into a long recital of his seemingly endless
number of distinctions, his influence on today’s golf scene is as strong as
ever. His recent redesign of Inverness was widely lauded as it hosted this year’s
U.S. Senior Open, and next year’s Ryder Cup will be determined at his redesigned
Oakland Hills Country Club.
In your opinion, what is the state of the game? Is its future bright or
are we in for a few down years?
Arthur Hills: “The game has a great future. Our population
is growing. There is more time for recreation. As an industry, we must make
the game easier to get into and more fun. One of the key improvements, in
my opinion, is very simple: eliminate the archaic 7 and 8 minute starting
time intervals and go to 9-10 minute times even on busy days, and to 12 minute
times when 150+ rounds per day are predictable. Many good things will result!"
Finally, what does the future hold for Arthur Hills?
Arthur Hills: "I hope, opportunities to work with more wonderful
clients and create even better courses than before. Probably a fewer number
in the area of (3-4) per year, so that I focus all of my energies on these