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Sooner Golfer Turned Architect Receiving Acclaim for Designs

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,

THE COLONY, TX - Tripp Davis was only 11 when his parents joined Farrington Country Club in Atlanta and his first remembrance of the golf course wasn't the tee boxes, the fairways or the greens.

It was the foyer of the clubhouse and a scale model of the golf course, with biographies of its designers - Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Rees Jones.

"That model intrigued me," said Davis, who went on to become an All-American golfer at Oklahoma University and a member of its 1989 national championship team. "I remember being interviewed by the Atlanta Journal when I was 15 and I told the reporter I'd rather be a golf course architect than on the PGA tour."

It was a prophecy.

After two years on various tours like the Hogan Tour, now the Buy.Com Tour, Davis injured his shoulder. His pro career was over.

"I was thinking about going into golf architecture so I called Larry Nelson (Senior PGA Tour), whom I had known growing up in Atlanta," Davis said. "And he strongly suggested I go back to school and study landscape architecture before trying to get into design. I was actually calling him to see if he could help me find a job right then."

Today, Davis is becoming known for his The Tribute at The Colony, where he took what was born in Scotland and built it in Texas.

The layman sees The Tribute as "borrowing" designs from famous holes of the British Isles. Nos. 1, 17 and 18 of The Old Course at St. Andrews are integrated into The Tribute's par-72, 7,002-yard layout which was developed on 250 acres of ranch and farm land on the eastern shoreline of Lake Lewisville, north of Dallas.

But Davis sees The Tribute from a different perspective: "We did not use the designs - try to copy them - rather we allowed my favorite holes from Scottish links courses to influence the design. Not all of the holes at The Tribute are famous. For instance, our 8th is the 4th from Moray Golf Club. Ever heard of it? Some Scots don't know where it is," Davis said.

This summer, Davis' firm will open Grand Elk Ranch and Club, a golf course designed with Craig Stadler, in Granby, CO. He's already designed another 18 at The Tribute (pictured) and he's also received much ink for his minimalist design in Tulsa, OK called Clary Fields. "We built Clary Fields on a very small budget, on a very flat piece of land that had been an oil field and I think people love the golf course," he said. "I had just played Winged Foot and its bunkers and interesting greens strongly influenced me. Our firm usually takes two or three projects at a time and we really pour our hearts into them."

Davis and his staff looked at several ways to save money at Clary Fields. They created some elevation changes by building rock walls to support edges of greens and tees. This limestone rock was a freebie - they rescued the rock from a nearby highway project - it had been destined for burial. He also used the same rock for bridges.

Davis said: "We got this material for pennies and it gave the course an expensive look."

Today's concrete cart paths can cost $500,000 and up. At Clary Fields, Davis' staff found asphalt-tailing waste from the highway project and used the material for the cart paths.

Further savings came when they rescued an early 20th century log cabin on the property and made it into the pro shop.

"The log cabin fit right into the theme," he said. "We made some additions to it and built the routing around it, and put about $75,000 into remodeling," he said. "And it fit right in with the theme."

The irrigation system, a $600,000 cost, was the biggest singular output on the project. The team only moved 175,000 cubic yards of earth.

Clary Fields was the fourth Davis design to open in Oklahoma - he also authored Patricia Island Golf Course in Grove, Grand Cherokee Golf Course in Langley and a new nine holes at Roman Nose State Park.

New Thinking at The Tribute

The Tribute's new 18 has taken on some new thoughts.

"We are thinking about the first course we built at The Tribute as the Old Course and the second design at the New Course," he said. "Its design will not embody specific holes, but the style of early American courses such as Shinnecock, National Golf Links and Prairie Dunes. These courses were very natural in appearance and they tried to mimic their older brothers in Scotland."

"I don't see The Tribute's new course having any pot bunkers or sod walls, but I see a course that is more natural. I actually think the second course has a better piece of land for its construction," Davis said.

Grand Elk will open in August 2002 and has been described by Davis as a heathland style of London, with sagebrush lining the fairways.

"The back nine has more wetlands and the front nine will go up into the hills with some elevation changes. Ten Mile Creek, an offshoot of the Fraser River, will be integrated."

Grand Elk rises to 8,026 feet at its highest point in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountains just minutes from Winter Park Ski Area.

Davis' Design Philosophy

Does Davis consider his style as "minimalist" or "naturalist"?

"Well, I try to work with the land as much as possible," he said. "I don't try to move any more dirt than I have to in order to create strategy for the course and I look for ways to take strategic intent from what is there in nature. Sometimes the concept of the course may suggest we need to move a little more dirt, like at The Tribute, but I prefer to only move as much as necessary for strategy and drainage."

"It all depends on the site. When I am routing a golf course I am very aware of finding good holes that are fairly natural. However, I am not afraid to move some dirt if it will make a better hole. I am probably more minimalist than most, but I would say I am more of a naturalist," he said.

"My design philosophy has taken a lot from early American golf architects such as Perry Maxwell and Donald Ross. I like Alister MacKenzie's flair. Ross, especially was about building substance - strategy - into his courses. He was very aware of the importance of making courses beautiful, but substance was his first priority. I think too many courses today overlook the importance of substance in the search for style. However, a course that is full of substance will endure longer than one that is not. Style, especially if it is not natural, will likely fade. Many people don't realize that today's Augusta is as much Maxwell as it is MacKenzie," Davis said.

"These guys were strategic-minded," Davis continued. "I like that. The courses they built have stood the test of time and substance was the core to their golf courses. They weren't worried about creating great views, which is important today. I sometimes think we need to get back to the strategic game when building courses."

In designing The Tribute, Davis learned much about golf in Scotland. He said golf across the pond uses much more flow of the land.

"Nature did much of the work in Scotland's golf courses," he said. "While greens, tees and bunkers have evolved to some extent, these are still very natural in orientation and the rest of the course is pretty much what God provided. It has resulted in golf courses with contours that constantly moves and provides outstanding interest. Many times they scraped greens and fairways at the same time then mowed the grass and that was the course. Level lies didn't happen very much and you just appreciated the thinking game much more."

Davis' Biography

Tripp Davis studied Landscape Architecture at OU, where his thesis researched "The Environmental Impact of Golf Course Construction," and the practical experience of working on a diverse list of more than 25 projects around the United States.

Davis' commitment to the success of his clients and the preservation of golf's traditional values is what sets him apart. He has committed Tripp Davis and Associates to accepting a limited number of projects at one time in order to work closely with each client during design and construction, continuing the firm's record of delivering each competitively bid project under budget with the highest level of detail and quality.

That commitment is exemplified by such projects as The Tribute Golf Club near Dallas, Clary Fields Golf Club near Tulsa and the restoration of the historically significant Herbert Strong-designed Engineers Country Club on Long Island, New York.

Tripp Davis and Associates:
1000 Boyd Road
The Colony, TX 75056
Phone: 469.384.1736
Fax: 469.384.0379
Email: Luke Anderson, landerson@tdagolfarchitecture.com
Web: www.tdagolfarchitecture.com

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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