It was a most unlikely place for renowned golf course architect Tom Doak to follow up his Oregon masterpiece Pacific Dunes: a flat cotton field in Lubbock, Texas. And yet, on the high plains of the West Texas panhandle, where the sky is big and blue, the wind is unabated and the land is dry and flat, Doak created the Rawls Course for Texas Tech University, immediately one of the finest university courses in the country.
A minimalist by reputation, Doak and his team from Renaissance Golf stepped out of that role for this design, moving 1.3 million yards of topsoil to sculp a course described by the architect as “probably the most complicated we’ve done to date.” Creating an entire landscape from scratch, they shaped the earth to mimic the land east and south of Lubbock, where the great plain suddenly starts falling into the valleys and canyons that lead to the Caprock region. The result is a 7,207-yard, par-72, feat of engineering that fully exemplifies Doak’s philosophies on design and strategy, most notably the unusually wide fairways and boldly contoured greens.
Tom Doak had been preparing his entire life for the opportunity to design Pacific Dunes in Bandon Oregon. He may not have been as well a known name as Jones or Fazio in 2001, his credentials were unsurpassed. Upon completing the now world-famous Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak and his team from Renaissance Design knew it was just a matter of time until a buzz would spread. It was just a matter of time, they undoubtedly believed, until potential clients came calling. And yet, in the spring of 2001, with Pac Dunes only months away from opening to the public, Doak was faced without any immediate projects. At this time, he was contacted by Jerry Rawls at the suggestion of Rawls’ friend Mark Parsinen, himself an accomplished golf developer. Lubbock may have been a great contrast from the sandy, seaside location in Oregon, Doak was intrigued by the project for several reasons. First, he had always wanted to design a course for a university. Doak had once competed for the job to design a course for Oklahoma State but lost out to Tom Fazio, an architect who was a much more well known at the time. Second, since Pacific Dunes was built on such a perfect plot of land, with rolling dunes on 100-foot bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, Doak suspected that critics would disminish the design credit he and his team thought they deserved. Taking on a project in a cotton field would not only be a total creative challenge, he could prove his team’s design prowess once and for all. Finally, Doak was attracted to Jerry Rawls’ sincere expectation that he wanted to create the finest collegiate golf facility in the country. Doak and his team had their work cut out for them when they broke ground at the end of 2001. The course sits on a 268 acre tract on the northwest edge of the campus. Formerly an agricultural research field, it was listed as having only 18 inches of elevation from one end of the property to the other. Though Doak relished the challenge of taking on a project with such a blank pallet, and was able to implement his sophisticated design standards, he once said elevation was the soul of great golf courses. Fortunately, he was able to let his ideas on design, shaped by having seen nearly every great course in the world–more than 1,000 in all–serve as the beginning on his creativity. The Renaissance crew made a few revisions to account for the prevailing directions of wind and afternoon sun.
Renaissance Golf Design, Inc. March, 2003 The design of the Red Raider course is probably the most complicated we’ve done to date. Starting with a flat cotton field, we had to create an entire landscape from scratch, and then build our golf holes around it. We tried to mimic the land east and south of Lubbock, where the great plain suddenly starts falling into the valleys and canyons that lead to the Caprock region. Several feet of fill material was excavated from the center of the property and placed along the boundaries, with the tops of the berms built so that it would appear this was the original grade and the golf course had eroded down into the ground from there. The contours within the fairways and even the rugged bunkers are also supposed to mimic natural erosion. Once the contouring of the ground was completed, the course was heavily landscaped to break up the 230 acres of golf into several smaller visual spaces, with occasional long views across the property (such as from the third tee to the clubhouse). The final effect is that of an oasis at the edge of campus, secluded from the surrounding developed areas. While the original topography made no suggestions for what kind of golf holes we would build, the strong prevailing winds had a lot to do with the final design. Fairway bunkers jut prominently into the line of play, forcing players to judge whether they can make the carry in the wind conditions of the moment. Wide fairways give the player a chance to drive to one side, and use a quartering wind to help stop an approach shot instead of sweeping it away. Downwind approach shots will likely run quite far after they land, so players must place their tee shot to play around any hazards at the front of the green, instead of having to carry them. The varying winds mean that the length of tee shots will vary from day to day, and ensure that the course plays differently from one day to the next. We were given the task of creating a golf course that would test the best collegiate players in the country, and at the same time provide an enjoyable social venue for the entire university community. We’re pretty sure it’s tough enough to pass the first test, and we hope you enjoy the setting no matter your final tally.
Tom Doak’s Philosophies
“Every great golf architect has taken the time to study the great links of the British Isles, upon which the game evolved. Thanks to a scholarship from Cornell University, I got to live on the links–caddying at St. Andrews the summer after my graduation, then spending the next seven months playing and studying every course of note. In that year abroad, I discovered a challenging, natural outdoor sport played by all ages, on exciting courses which had cost nothing to build and which were affordable for all to play. “When I returned to America, I scarcely recognized the game. Nearly all the new courses being built at that time were promoted as Scottish-style layouts, but few were natural or affordable. Ever since, I’ve felt a responsibility to build courses which reflect the ideals of the game as the Scots still play it. “My ideas on design are shaped by having seen nearly every great course in the world–more than 1,000 in all. It still fascinates me how different good courses can be from one another.”–Tom Doak, courtesy of www.renaissancegolf.com
Description by Jim Urbina
Though Tom Doak spent a significant amount of time in Lubbock, his head shaper, Jim Urbina, spent more time on the job site than anyone from Renaissance Design. “The idea and challenge at Texas Tech was to create something out of a dead flat piece of ground. Tom allowed all of us to route how we would envision the course taking shape and then once he settled on a routing, he asked us all to pick some of our favorite holes that we have enjoyed playing to influence grading map development. Our intention is never ever to duplicate a golf hole, but only to take characteristics that make some of our favorites exciting. No one can duplicate the great stuff and I don’t think they should try. But Tom allowing all of us at Renaissance to talk about our influences and see where they might fit into the demands of the routing is good. “Once Tom decided what he liked, he and Don Placek did a 2-foot grading map of the job. Considering we are recognized as a design firm who practices the minimalist philosophy and isn’t known for working from plans, it turned out really good. TTU is not a minimalist design. It actually goes the other way. Over a million yards of dirt moved is quite a change from a design like Pacific Dunes. “A lot of people think that this sort of thing isn’t something we can do and I think that they forget that we come from lineage in this business where moving lots of dirt and being creative about it was normal. Tom and I both spent years working for Pete Dye, and no one moves more earth than he does. I think once people see and play Texas Tech, they are going to think of Tom and Renaissance very differently.”
The remainder of the project is no less impressive. The driving range, spanning 55 acres, is one of the largest in the anywhere in the country. It includes teeing areas on three sides, and a special hitting bay facility for the golf team. In addition there is a special short game practice area with three greens, five bunkers, and shots up to 150 yards also designed by Tom Doak and his team from Renaissance Design. The three greens are different grasses–Bent, Champions Bermuda, and TifEagle–in order to provide the golf teams with experience on the various types of greens they will encounter in tournaments.
When Texas Tech University publicly acknowledged their wish to build a golf course for the campus, Jerry Rawls was immediately interested in lending his support. A proud alumnus, Rawls graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1967 where he was also a varsity member of the basketball team. But it wasn’t until he went to Purdue University for a Masters in Business Administration from the Krannert School of Management that he became interested in golf. Purdue had two golf courses on campus, and because of its close proximity, he started playing golf with his classmates and some professors. Rawls realized their immeasurable value. The school, alums, golf program, and the city benefited from them. They helped in the recruitment of athletes, students, and faculty. There could host golf events for alums and donors during football weekends. It was especially beneficial that the course was on campus and easily accessible. “We didn’t know what we were missing at Texas Tech.”
So in the spring of 2001, Rawls met with a group from Texas Tech who spearheading the project, which included not only a golf course but state-of-the-art golf facility. He was involved on two conditions: that it become one of the finest collegiate golf facility in the country, and it also had to be located on-campus. The Tech group agreed with his vision and they got started. John Montford and David Schmidly, TTU’s Chancellor and President respectively at the time, agreed to move an agricultural research facility to a nearby location in order to free up 268 contiguous acres only minutes from campus center.
Needless to say, the project would require a leading golf architect to make this dream a reality. Rawls listened to the advice from a friend and accomplished golf course developer, Mark Parsinen who spoke very highly of the work of Tom Doak. Rawls had read a book authored by Doak titled Anatomy of a Golf Course and had been impressed with his sophisticated opinions on golf course architecture. At the time, Doak’s reputation was becoming more well known, as it was increasingly linked with his design of Pacific Dunes in Oregon.
Rawls and Doak met at Pacific Dunes in April of 2001 four months before it would open to the public. As they walked the course together, Rawls was given a full visual presentation on Doak’s philosophies and design/construction talents. It was there on the windswept dunes of Oregon that Doak accepted Rawls’ offer to build a course in Lubbock.
The commitment of Jerry Rawls to the University extends far beyond athletics. Having amassed a fortune as the CEO of a technology firm in California’s Silicon Valley, Rawls has also donated $25 million to the University as an endowment for the Business School. Most of the money goes to scholarships, endowed professorships with the remainder for technology enhancements. About 23% of Texas Tech’s students passed through The College of Business (now called the Rawls College of Business).
“We dreamed about (this course),” he said. “We had plans and hopes of what would happen, but we didn’t have any idea at one point that we had an alum out there willing to make a donation of $8.5 million to make this possible. Because I don’t think we would have had the funds to build a golf course of this caliber in any other way than to have a gift from an alum.”