Q & A: Golf Course Architect Arthur Hills

By Mike BaileySeptember 9, 2013, 6:31 pm

PETOSKEY, Mich. -- Arthur Hills has designed dozens of courses across the world in a career that spans more than four decades. Currently, his company, Hills & Forrest International Golf Course Architects, has stayed busy with remodeling work in the United States and several new courses abroad, including projects in China, Russia, Morocco and Sweden.

Hills, a former captain on his college golf team at Michigan State, has created such courses the renowned Bay Harbor in Northern Michigan as well as the Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay in California and Longaberger Golf Club near Columbus, Ohio, to name a few. The 83-year-old's designs represents modern architecture – lots of target golf and risk-reward opportunities. I sat down with Hills to discuss design elements and the state of the game.

GC: What did you study in college to prepare you for your career?

Hills: I studied agriculture and agronomy. I was going to go into the family agriculture business, so I went into the landscape contracting business. Then I wanted to know more so I commuted up to the University of Michigan and I did get a degree in landscape architecture. Those two major areas of studies were really good tools for me.

GC: Do you have a favorite classic architect?

Hills: I like the designs that Donald Ross has done. His courses were playable for everybody because most of the holes he designed were open in front. I think that's good because that means everybody – the 15- or 18-handicapper – can play them. And the good player's still got to hit the ball near the cup.

GC: Who do you like among your contemporaries?

Hills: Pete Dye. I think he designs every hole and every shot with strategy in mind. And I like the aesthetics on most of his courses. I think he knows the game very well.

GC: What do you try to accomplish in your designs?

Hills: (Like Dye,) I try to make them strategic.  I like to do risk-reward on every shot. On the tee shot, we're always trying to get it so if the player hits in the ideal shot, he's going to have the best access and angle into the green. On the second shot, it has a lot to do with cup placement and the players' judgment of their ability to play. I mean if you've got a cup that's off to the right or left, is the guy going to go for the cup or the middle of the green, 15 feet to the right or left of the cup?

I'm also trying to make the course attractive by taking advantage of existing features if there are some on the site. I try to make it so people will enjoy and tell their friends and come back basically.

GC: Do you have philosophy on bunkering?

Hills: I like to use fewer bunkers rather than more bunkers – maybe 40 to 50. I like every one of them to be strategic. I feel it's redundant to use three or four where you could use one or two. 

GC: What about movement on greens?

Hills: It can vary, but I think you want to create cup placement areas 30 to 40 feet in diameter. Then there can be movement between those cupping areas. Within the cupping areas, I like to keep the contours very simple, maybe 2 percent plus or minus a little bit. Not too tricky. I don't know; I watched the PGA last weekend and there's ample difficulty to make an 8-10 footer under pressure, and those are the best players in the world vs. all of us weekend players who not as skilled.

GC: What are your thoughts on minimalist designs?

Hills: I don't know how to measure that. I don't know the definition of that word exactly or how that's interpreted on the ground.

GC: Among the courses you designed, what are your favorites?

Hills: That's hard question to answer. I usually say, do you have any children? Tell me your favorite child.

But I like Bay Harbor a lot. I think that turned out quite well. I like the course we did up at Boyne Highlands (the Hills Course) is pretty good, too. We just had a course rated in the top 100 in the world by Golf Magazine, which kind of surprised me. It's in Portugal. It has views of the Atlantic Ocean that maybe contributed (Oitavas Dunes, just outside of Lisbon).

Boyne Highlands

The Hills Course at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. 

GC: How important is it to have a great setting?

Hills: It helps a lot. I did a course called The Dunes, north of Tampa, and it was an absolutely beautiful hilly sand dune piece of property. But we have done courses on properties flat as a tomato field, too.

GC: What are your thoughts on the trend of lengthening courses?

Hills: I read an article just yesterday once again approaching the idea of making the ball so it wouldn't go so far. And I think that's a lot better solution because 95 percent of the golfers – maybe more than that – are never going to go to the back tees on a 7,400-yard golf course. On the other hand, you can have a 500-yard par 4, and the tour guys are going to hit a driver, 5-iron or something. So to answer your question, I think it would good to cut the ball flight back so courses didn't need to be as long.

GC: Do you like shorter courses?

Hills: I grew up playing golf on a 5,500-yard course, Ottawa Park, owned by the city of Toledo (Ohio). I started playing when I was 8 or 9. I didn't know it was a short course. It was fun and still very popular. When we started playing, in 1942 or '43, it cost 25 cents to play before noon for a kid, 50 cents after lunch.

GC: Is cost to play one of golf's biggest issues?

Hills: It costs a lot of money for a person who's starting to play golf. Sure, fees can be as little as $25, but for a kid, that's a heck of a lot more money than 25 cents. I think if they could make it so kids could play golf for a dollar or two, they'd get a lot more people playing. It's just incidental to their life. They don't get hooked for a while. 

GC: What are you favorite courses?

Hills: I think St. Andrews is my favorite. I also like Merion a lot and Oakmont, and I like San Francisco Golf Club a lot. With St. Andrews I just like the way it flows and its openness. Of course they've got gorse. I just like it. It's a neat place to play golf. Merion, I like all the greens complexes. You've have to hit some really precise shots around that course. Oakmont, I feel the same way. The Individual holes are very, very attractive to my eye. San Francisco Golf Club – I just thought it was very pretty -- the terrain, the cypress trees, the bunkering; I think is very beautiful.

GC: Do you still play much?

Hills: I play all the time (Hills' handicap is currently 17).

GC: What was it when it was its lowest?

Hills: One. I played in college on my golf team (Michigan State). You didn't have to be very good back then to play on the golf team. But I played for three years and had a lot of fun doing it.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.