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|Dan Blankenship (right) has worked with Brazilian Cláudio Ivantes on several projects throughout Brazil. (Courtesy Golf Tee Golf)|
As a student at South Dakota State University, Dan Blankenship was about as far removed from the South American golf scene as a human can get.
"You know, I never imagined I'd live outside of the U.S. and I never imagined I'd be a golf-course architect," said Blankenship, who now calls Bahia, Brazil home.
Now, as the busiest golf-course architect in Brazil, Blankenship is looking to take his skills throughout South America and beyond.
The journey from South Dakota to Brazil, as one could surmise, is an interesting tale. Originally from Colorado, Blankenship honed his early design skills alongside Perry Dye, as the pair designed courses in Asia under the Pete Dye banner.
"I worked for Perry's company," Blankenship said. "Everything we worked with had Pat Dye's name on it, though, because he was the bigger name."
It was the late 1980s, and Blankenship was working on projects such as Glenmoor Country Club in Narita City, Japan, and Bagna Country Club in Bangkok, Thailand. The call came for Dye Designs to do some work in Brazil, and Blankenship headed south.
It was 1988 when Blankenship started on the Buzios Golf Club in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, Brazil was in a financial crisis, and then-president of Brazil Fernando Affonso Collor de Mello froze the majority of bank accounts throughout the nation, causing construction of the course to be halted.
"Collor started to freeze accounts because of hyper inflation," said Blankenship, who graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in landscape architecture. "In 1989, I went back to Asia to work for Dye."
After more course work in Bangkok and Taiwan, Blankenship left Dye Designs in 1991 to go it alone and created Gold Tee Golf International. After working with one of the masters at a young age, Blankenship has nothing but praise for his time at Dye Designs.
"A big influence on my designs is Pete Dye," said Blankenship. "It was a great learning experience. They were doing so much, that they'd sent us young guys out to Asia to go do a course. You learn how to do things that way."
Blankenship returned to finish the Buzios project, which culminated in 1996. From there, Blankenship knew where he wanted to stay.
"I fell in love with Buzios and I saw potential in Brazil," Blankenship said. "I could move back to the U.S. and just be an architect or stay in Brazil and be involved in some interesting projects."
Since then, Blankenship has worked on nearly a dozen other projects, chief among them the Comandatuba Ocean Course and the Terravista Golf Club and Resort, both in the state of Bahia. While Blankenship has thrived as a course designer in Brazil, he still can feel stymied by the slow progress golf is making in the country known best for samba and soccer.
"Like with Buzios, you build it for them then they don't maintain it," said Blankenship. "The problem is there are only 25,000 golfers in the country. They are working to improve on that, but there still just aren't many golfers."
Blankenship, who has been married and separated in Brazil, and has a young son, said he considers Brazil home "at least until the work dries up." Having just turned 45, however, Blankenship seems ready to start stretching his legs once again.
"I've really been invisible down here," Blankenship said. "It's good and bad, depending on how you look at it. But I've gotten a lot of experience."
Blankenship, who has gained valuable experience working on oceanfront courses throughout Brazil, said his main interest for the future doesn't involve any specific country as much as being able to create courses in areas where people will play them.
"My idea is to have my golf course is full everyday," Blankenship said. "I'm tired of seeing my golf courses empty during week days because there aren't enough golfers here. It's changing, but it'll take time."
March 1, 2006
William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.
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