Friday, June 17, 2005

Lehman is no faker at course design: Vows to make new Ontario track The Raven poetic

Here's my Nation Post golf column from today. I found Lehman to be quite interesting and very interested in golf architecture. He even knew a fair bit about Stanley Thompson, impressive for a full-time American architect, but even more impressive for a PGA Tour player.

Robert Thompson
On Golf
At this point in his life, Tom Lehman never expected to be quite so busy.
After all, most golfers nearing 50 start winding down and looking forward to the semi-retirement of professional golf's senior tour.
Not so for Lehman.
This weekend, the 1996 British Open champion, who resurrected his career at the end of last year with some outstanding play, including a tie for fourth at the Canadian Open, is playing in the U.S. Open. It is a title he's nearly grasped in the past, only to see it slip through his fingers.
Adding to Lehman's workload is the captaincy of next year's Ryder Cup, to be held at the K Club in Ireland.
With his resurgence on and off the course, Lehman finds himself with time management issues.
"Golf was always my priority, but I wasn't playing well for a while," he says. "Then all of a sudden the putts started falling."
His recent success means Lehman is playing more golf than he expected,and he's also busy building a second career as a golf course architect. One of his projects, a collaboration with Canadian golf architect Tom McBroom called The Raven for Intrawest, has led Lehman to Collingwood, regularly over the past two years.
At a time when seemingly every PGA Tour pro from John Daly to David Duval claims to be designing golf courses, Lehman wants to be clear as crystal. He's not in the golf design business in order for clubs to use his name for marketing purposes. No, Lehman is in the business to build good golf courses.
"Some people have asked why I need a hobby, but this isn't a hobby," says Lehman, who has been on-site in Collingwood more than a dozen times. "There's a stigma attached to professional golfers building golf courses. But I'm not doing this just to cut the ribbon at the media opening and move on. I'm paying employees and health care premiums. This isn't a hobby, this is a business."
Lehman has 15 courses under his belt and has two golf architects who assist in his designs. But unlike many PGA Tour players, Lehman is actively involved in the construction process and has spent the past decade learning about mundane aspects of the business like municipal approvals. Lehman also says he's started paying careful attention to the courses he plays on the PGA Tour. The knock on most professional golfers is they are only attracted to courses on which they score well. But Lehman has made it his business to look at the nuances that make a good golf course, to that end playing Toronto courses including Toronto Golf Club and St. George's.
"On every course I play there are things I like and things I don't like. I pay a lot of attention to the course now," he explains. "I've come to realize what a huge deal the routing is to a course."
He cites Stanley Thompson's use of topography at St. George's as an example of something rarely done in modern golf.
"We need to do more of that -- it is tremendous," he says.
Lehman has collaborated in the past with the U.S. design team of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, best known in Canada for their work at Devil's Pulpit and The Club at Bond Head, both north of Toronto. In the case of The Raven, Lehman says he's learned a great deal from Toronto-based architect McBroom, who has built award-winning courses like Muskoka's Rocky Crest and Prince Edward Island's Crowbush Cove.
"Tom is very talented and pays a great deal of attention to detail work," he notes. "I've learned about how to make the foreground work in the overall context of a hole."
With the Ryder Cup already taking time ("I want to get a lot of the stuff -- like uniform colours -- out of the way this year so I can concentrate on picking the team," he says), Lehman, now 46, doesn't express much interest in playing the Champions Tour when he turns 50.
He's spent three decades playing golf all over the world and would like nothing more than to spend more time with his family, working on golf courses rather than his swing.
"I'd love to coach 8th-grade basketball," he explains. "I love golf and I'll never say never. But there are others things to life."

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