Past Ten, Next Ten: Interview with Jeff Mingay

As we roll past the first year of this decade I've asked two standard questions to a few key players in our industry. I wanted to know their thoughts, from their unique role and perspective, on what we saw over this last ten years and what to expect in the ten to come.

With a strong focus on hands-on-design, resource conservation and traditional design principles Jeff Mingay has stood out to me for awhile. Mingay is a young Canadian golf architect, who has spent more than a decade working alongside designer Rod Whitman on projects across Canada. He's been involved in the creation of several prominent new layouts, including Sagebrush and the exciting Cabot Links course in Nova Scotia. He is now also working solo on projects, including some redesign work on the wonderful Victoria Golf Club on Vancouver Island.

You may have read some of Mingays articles when he contributed ‘Sair Fecht’: the 16th hole at Highlands Links and was interviewed in Golf Club Atlas, his review of Arthur Vernon Macan in Golf Course Architecture, Lessons from St. Andrews,  and his contributions here in Organic Golf Architecture and Demands for Faster Greens can be Counter Productive.

Turfhugger: To what degree have environmental issues affected your role through this past decade?

Your Response: As a designer, I don't think about environmental issues today any different than I have since day one in the industry. The truly great golf courses of the world share a single common characteristic. They're all distinct. Think Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, the Old Course at St. Andrews for example. All of these courses genuinely reflect the unique, inherent character of individual properties. The only way to create distinct golf courses, which is what I try to do every chance I get, whether designing a new course or remodeling an existing layout, is to utilize existing topogrpahy and contour, and native plants, inherent to individual sites. I take this approach principally to create distinct golf courses. But, in doing so, you're inevitably very conscious of preserving, and in some cases restoring, as much of the natural character of the environment as possible. And, by minimizing earthwork and preserving native plant material, wherever possible, outputs associated with golf course construction and maintenance are reduced.

Turfhugger: What major changes will we see in the next Ten Years that will affect your role most significantly?

Your Response: I think golf course architects have a responsibility as educators. It's important to explain to clients that ultra-pristine, wall-to-wall green grass golf courses, which too many golfers have come to expect over the past, say, 20 years and more, are not necessary for golf to be enjoyed. People have been playing and enjoying golf for hundreds of years, over courses where the fairways weren't cut as low as they often are today and the greens were more like today's fairways. And, of course, bunkers weren't perfectly raked and measured for sand depth. It's ok if golf course maintenance regresses a bit, relative to modern considerations about environment and money. In fact, dealing with the adversity which comes with the occasional bad lie, or bad break, was once part of the fun and challenge of golf. It's amazing how this spirit of adventure has been lost. When I'm consulting with clubs, I always emphasize the importance of cutting down on what I guess you can call peripheral maintenance. This is partly because I'm partial to natural-looking golf courses. But, these days, the environmental benefits and reduced costs of doing so are very important as well.