The Next A-List Golf Architects

On an undeniably tall, slippery ladder, three acclaimed designers are primed to climb to the top rung.

Every generation has its own collection of A-List architects. Naming them isn’t hard. A stiffer challenge is identifying who will comprise the next crop. Being an A-List architect means your name is on the short list every time a great property becomes available; you have a track record of critical acclaim and rankings success in new builds and renovations; and you’re doing innovative, inspired work whether or not it’s sufficiently recognized.

In the Golden Age of Design in the 1920s, the A-List included Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, A.W. Tillinghast, William Flynn, C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor, and George Thomas. Others were close. Canadians made a strong case for their own Stanley Thompson. H.S. Colt and his longtime partner C.H. Alison were unmistakably A-List, though they were less impactful in the United States.

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Beau Welling at PGA Frisco

In the 1950s, two names stood out, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Dick Wilson. The next gilded era consisted of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones Jr., and Rees Jones, with a nod to Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. While Nicklaus, Fazio, and the Jones brothers are still active—and still prolific—the current A-List is Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner, Tom Doak/Renaissance Design, and David McLay Kidd. Reserve spots as well for Andrew Green, Jim Urbina, and Keith Foster, strictly for their renovation/restoration efforts.

The three architects selected here—plus six more who will likely join them—were chosen for their achievements in the recent past, but also for current demand, projects they have in the pipeline, age, ambition, and talent. By examining current course portfolios and peering into a partly cloudy crystal ball, these are the three poised to step up.

BEAU WELLING

It can’t be easy wearing three hats, but Beau Welling does it in style. The 53-year-old is president of Beau Welling Design, based in Greenville, S.C., and is also Senior Design Consultant for Tiger Woods’s TGR Design. Most improbably, he is current president of the World Curling Federation, through 2026. “I’m all about Scottish sports,” he says.

Welling revels in using his designs and land plans to bring people together, a philosophy that dovetails perfectly with that of his client and frequent collaborator, Tiger Woods. “We see golf through similar lenses,” says Welling of Woods, who also favors designs and facilities that are inclusive of all types of players, which means options off the tee and around the greens and an emphasis on the ground game. Their short courses are really short, full of beguiling contours, with holes that can be played with a putter, if that’s the choice.

A-List Architects
Beau Welling

With Welling helping to execute Tiger’s vision, a collection of outstanding courses has emerged from TGR Design, including award-winning Bluejack National in Texas; Diamante’s El Cardonal in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a PGA Tour venue in 2023; Big Cedar Lodge’s Payne’s Valley in Missouri; and a slew of stellar short courses, among them The Hay at Pebble Beach.

Welling’s star shines equally bright as a solo act. His Fields Ranch West course at Omni PGA Frisco near Dallas, the new home of the PGA of America, perhaps is already overshadowed by Gil Hanse’s Fields Ranch East, PGA Championship host in 2027, but Welling’s track is earning plenty of laurels, as well. It’s only a matter of time before Welling both with Woods and on his own—is perched comfortably on the top shelf.

What to watch for: The Peninsula Club (renovation), Cornelius, N.C.; Trout National-The Reserve—with TGR Design, Vineland, N.J.

KYLE PHILLIPS

How can an architect tally so many successes—from top 100 courses in the world, to “best renovation ever”—and not be considered an A-Lister? For Kyle Phillips, the issue may be the basic rule of real estate: location, location, location. Phillips has spent much of his professional life, and done much of his best work, in far-flung locales. Perhaps a new course in the Sunshine State will remedy that.

A-List Architects
Kyle Phillips

Phillips’s breakthrough solo design occurred in 2000 at Kingsbarns, near St. Andrews, Scotland. Co-host to the DPWT’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship since 2001, melding flat farm fields and Old World links contours into one of golf’s greatest modern layouts.

Still, Phillips has earned equal acclaim for his renovation and restoration work. He accomplished one of the best-ever hybrid renovations in 2007 with the California Golf Club of San Francisco. Taking a 1920s Vernon Macan/Alister MacKenzie design that was substantially modified in the 1960s by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Phillips restored 12 holes to their Golden Age greatness, created two brand new holes, and renovated four others. The results catapulted the Cal Club into the world top 50.

If there’s a common thread to Phillips’s originals and renovations, it’s not only that each be sympathetic of its location and sit naturally on the land, but that it should evoke the traditional playing qualities and strategic elements rooted in links golf.

“When I went to St. Andrews for the first time, it totally changed my thinking,” says Phillips. “Everybody was building mounds in the 1980s, building things up. What was so fascinating at St. Andrews was what was happening with the lows. What looked flat and docile actually had subtle movements and so many interesting things could happen with the ball once it was rolling around in those areas. There was so much more there than what meets the eye.”

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Kyle Phillips at Cal Club

With all these honors, plus top-ranked new builds in South Korea, Italy, and the Netherlands, it’s baffling why Phillips isn’t on the go-to list for every great new site. Nonetheless, he’s far from done. Phillips is on board to design a new course at Apogee in south Florida for developers Stephen Ross and Michael Pascucci. It’s part of a three-course complex with the first by Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner and the second from Tommy Fazio and former USGA executive director Mike Davis. Phillips is creating the third, scheduled to open in late 2025. Amid coastal pines and oaks and atop sandy subsoil, Phillips has his chance to craft a linksy statement course in America for all to see. That could well put him onto the A-List—better late than never.

What to watch for: Apogee Club (North), Hobe Sound, Fla.; Wilshire Country Club (renovation), Los Angeles, Calif.

TRIPP DAVIS

As an All-American member of the University of Oklahoma’s 1989 NCAA Championship-winning team, it’s understandable that Tripp Davis would have been influenced by the king of Oklahoma course designs, Perry Maxwell. Nevertheless, his two greatest design guides were Donald Ross and Pete Dye.

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Tripp Davis

Starting in 1994, Davis became the perfect example of a regional architect, toiling in the middle of the country, whose work was so good that it could not be ignored. Davis credits two renovation projects for elevating his status, both in Dallas: Northwood, in 2016–18, which played host to the 1952 U.S. Open; and Preston Trail in 2008–09, home to the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Classic from 1968–82. Also in ’08–09, he hit the refresh button on one of Dye’s masterworks, Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla.

“Those projects seemed to have kickstarted things,” he says, “but seven or eight renovations we were doing in the Met Area (New York) really pushed us along. When you do some of those projects at clubs that people have heard of, it gives people a sense that they can trust you to do good work.” Those renovations included the Deepdale, Whippoorwill, and Engineers clubs.

In the past five years, the prestigious clubs that came calling were increasingly more widespread: Thunderbird in Palm Springs, site of the 1955 Ryder Cup; The International’s Oaks course in Bolton, Mass.; Atlanta Athletic Club’s Riverside course at Bobby Jones’s old home club and venue for the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open. While Davis is soaring on the wings of well-received renovation work, 14 original designs round out the portfolio, with more in the pipeline.

A-List Architects
Tripp Davis on a site visit

“It’s gratifying to be considered for these new opportunities,” says Davis, who turned 56 last September. “I think our reputation these days helped a little.”

What to watch for: Gasparilla, Boca Grande, Fla.; Wichita Country Club (renovation), Wichita, Kan.; Sonoma Golf Club (renovation), Sonoma, Calif.


Getting On the A-Train?

Fry/Straka (Dana Fry, Jason Straka)—Breakthrough courses: Erin Hills, Erin, Wis.; Calusa Pines, Naples, Fla.; Union League National (renovation), Cape May Court House, N.J. (Erin Hills and Calusa Pines were completed under the Hurdzan-Fry banner, where both worked at the time.) What’s ahead: Miakka Golf Club (with Paul Azinger), Myakka City, Fla.; Cabo del Sol (renovation), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

King-Collins (Tad King, Rob Collins)—Breakthrough courses: Sweetens Cove, South Pittsburg, Tenn.; Landmand, Homer, Neb. What’s ahead: 21 Golf Club, Jackson, S.C.; Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C.

OCM (Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Cocking, Ashley Mead)—Breakthrough courses: Kingston Heath (renovation), Melbourne, Australia; Shady Oaks (renovation), Fort Worth, Texas. What’s ahead: Medinah No. 3 (renovation), Medinah, Ill.; Tepetonka, New London, Minn.

Love Golf Design (Davis Love III, Mark Love, Scot Sherman)—Breakthrough courses: Diamante (Dunes), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Barefoot Resort (Love), North Myrtle Beach, S.C. What’s ahead: Hazeltine National (renovation), Chaska, Minn.; Watersound, Watersound, Fla.

WAC (Rod Whitman, Dave Axland, Keith Cutten)—Breakthrough courses: Cabot Links, Nova Scotia, Canada; Wild Horse, Gothenburg, Neb. What’s ahead: Cabot Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada; Bandon Dunes (Shorty’s), Bandon, Ore.; The Tribute Club, Redmond, Ore.

Andy Staples—Breakthrough courses: Sand Hollow (with John Fought), Hurricane, Utah; PGA National Resort (The Match and The Staple), Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. What’s ahead: Mesa Country Club (renovation), Mesa, Ariz.; Mount Bruno (renovation), Quebec, Canada.

Thank you for supporting our journalism. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the Winter 2024 issue of LINKS Magazine. Click here for more information.

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