Studying immense subjects can be a lifelong endeavor. Journalist Robert Caro has chronicled the life of Lyndon Johnson since 1982 and it’s not over yet. World War II still provides historians with inexhaustible sources of reflection, review, and debate. And biblical scholars continue to make new discoveries and archaeological connections centuries after the fact.
Topics limited in time and space are much more manageable (though not necessarily simple): the Cuban missile crisis; Quentin Tarantino films (there are only 10); the 20 extant paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. In golf, saying definitive things about the work of architects like Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones or Tom Fazio is almost useless because their output is so vast and varied. But exploring Mike Strantz’s work is something most golfers can do.
Strantz built just eight courses before his untimely death from cancer at age 50 in 2005. These eight projects, opened within a 10-year window, represent one of the most emphatic bursts of creativity and pushing boundaries the profession has ever known. His compositions of holes and greens were so original that they are often shocking, simultaneously sensual, surreal, distorted, intimidating and crazy. The word artist is often applied very loosely, but it fits Strantz, whose pencil sketches of his architectural ideas remain almost as captivating as the living thing.
He emerged in the 1980s and early 1990s working in teams for Fazio, whose ability to carve vast sections of bare land into beautifully proportioned landscapes defined the modern sense of golf course aesthetics. It is assumed that it was during this early phase that Strantz learned to shape and structure his holes, but those who worked with him on the Fazio projects claim that it was actually his vision that influenced them and infiltrated their perspectives on golf course design.
Strantz is gone, but his legacy lives on in his courses, six of which are open to the public. A wonderful trip between Myrtle Beach and the Richmond, Virginia area will give golfers a sense of what made their vision of strategy, emotion, intelligence and deception so unlike anything else in golf.
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