• Volume 13  Number 2  Spring 2004

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Architect’s designer greens go global

Summarize Lee Schmidt's life in a three-minute song? Just cue up Johnny Cash's I've Been Everywhere. It's been in heavy rotation in a television commercial lately, the one that goes “I've been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto …” Well, you get the point. Meet the new Master of Moving, Lee Schmidt, BS '70.


Lee Schmidt helped transform this Chinese jungle into Mission Hills (below), the largest golf complex in the world with 10 18-hole courses.
Go-kart racing means being your own pit crew, too.

“We have lived in Hong Kong; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Michigan; Ohio; the Dominican Republic; Virginia; West Virginia; California (five different places); then Jupiter, Florida; and finally, here to Scottsdale, Arizona, all while working on different golf course projects,” Schmidt says. Jean, his wife of 30 years, has threatened him with physical harm if he ever mentions the “M” word again.

So every month or so, for the past 13 years, Schmidt has flown from Scottsdale to Asia, where he takes a week to check out his company's golf course projects in Japan, Thailand, and China.

If frequent flyer miles were pennies, Schmidt could have retired long ago.

And if he has learned anything in his travels, it's that there is no word in the Chinese language for “impossible.”

Five courses in one year

Schmidt-Curley Design, one of the top golf course architectural firms in the world, is building five courses near Shenzhen, China. When the 14-month project is completed, the Mission Hills Golf Club will comprise 10 courses, making it the largest golf facility in the world.

To put that into people terms, Mission Hills expects to employ 1,300 people as caddies.

“They told us what they wanted done in one year and we pretty much said, 'That's impossible, '” says Schmidt, who formed Schmidt- Curley Golf Design with Brian Curley in 1997.

“They said, ?You just tell us what you need and we will do it.' Then they just go out and make the impossible possible; their work ethic is just phenomenal.”

The Mission Hills courses carry the names of golfers Nick Faldo, Jumbo Ozaki, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Jose Maria Olazabal, David Duval and Annika Sorenstam as designers. But it has been Schmidt, Curley and roughly 2,000 Chinese laborers who have the dirt of a day's hard work under their fingernails.

It has been an amazing transformation of real estate, where real-time video looks like timelapse photography. The Chinese have sculpted the courses out of 1,000 acres of wilderness terrain, working in around-the-clock shifts, utilizing 600 dump trucks and 200 pieces of earth-moving equipment. Half a million trees have been uprooted and replanted. Three-dozen stone bridges and more than 20 miles of cart paths have been built to feed China's insatiable thirst for golf.

Schmidt estimates there are fewer than 200 golf courses in China, but analysts predict as many as 100 million Chinese golfers could be looking for tee times within 20 years.

“They are literally moving mountains to get this project completed,” Schmidt says. “And as a result, I think you are going to see some really good golfers coming out of China in 10 years or so.”

Some course design projects in the United Sates and Europe may require moving upwards of 300,000 cubic yards of earth. When the Chinese courses are completed this summer (four of the five are already open), workers will have moved approximately 23 million cubic yards of earth.

He gave Pete Dye a piece of his mind

Schmidt's design career started off with a bogey. After graduating from Purdue with a degree in turf management, Schmidt took a job working for legendary golf course designer Pete Dye.

“In the summer of 1970, I was making $800 a month working with Pete's brother, Roy, building a golf course just north of Columbus, Ohio,” says Schmidt, recalling the first course he ever helped build, literally, from scratch.

“It wasn't a real good course and we had a lot of problems building it.”

Golf course designer Lee Schmidt lists five ways to keep courses challenging in the face of technological advances by equipment manufacturers.
  1. Roll back golf ball specifications to 1990 standards, which would reduce drives by 30 to 35 yards. "That's the easiest way," says Chmidt. "If we did that, we wouldn't have to do all of these other things."
  2. Move back tees to lengthen holes, especially par fives, which most pros now reach in two shots.
  3. Add bunkers to tee shot landing zones or extend the back ends of bunkers farther toward the greens.
  4. Narrow the width of fairways to make accuracy a premium.
  5. Move all housing projects farther away from golf course boundaries, because, as Schmidt says, "bad shots now go a lot father sideways than they ever did before."

 

Profile continued on Page 7