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Architect Brian Curley has seen it all while designing more than 40 courses in China

Brian Curley
Patrick Lim
Thanks to regular trips to China, architect Brian Curley has rung up more than 1.5 million frequent flyer miles in the last five years.

Architect Brian Curley has seen it all in his 30-year design career. So it was hardly a surprise to him when an excavator operator at Curley's Mission Hills design in southeastern China exhumed a 20-foot-long live Python. What happened next? "Oh, the workers killed it, took it back to the village and ate it for lunch," replied Curley, matter-of-factly. Curley has designed courses in the U.S., Mexico, Sweden and Egypt, among other globe points. The co-founder of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Schmidt-Curley Design, the 52-year-old Curley and business partner Lee Schmidt have blazed a trail in China, with offices in Haikou on Hainan Island, in Kunming on the mainland and a roster of more than 40 Chinese designs. We caught up with Curley just before he boarded a plane, to -- where else? -- Asia.

How do you cope with language issues?
People ask if I speak Chinese and I reply, Mandarin? Cantonese? Which dialect? They often cannot understand each other. I was in the back seat of a car with an architect, 100 percent Chinese as the day is long, with two Hainanese government guys up front talking (in local dialect) and he says to me "I have no idea what they are saying". It's impossible!

What advice do you have for folks who travel frequently in their jobs?
You can't do everything, focus on what you do best and delegate. We are fortunate to have great staffs both in the States and China, so I do not have to sweat the details and can focus on the big picture. In addition, I am fortunate to have a great, understanding wife to handle the home life without any drama. No need to worry about things you cannot control, especially flights. I have yet to see a plane arrive earlier as a result of someone screaming at the counter attendant. Also, fly first class whenever possible, not so much for the seat, but for the service and attention when there are issues. You do not want to be in line with the masses, without a command of the language, when you need to deal with problems.

How do you stay healthy on the road?
Don't go too long without exercise. I am fortunate that my days often include walking sites, most all day long. Unfortunately our days usually end late after dinner and drinking-fests with clients.

What's one thing you don't leave home without?
The technology available today turns downtime and layovers into productive time or entertainment time, even in the most remote places of the world. Besides the obvious laptop and Internet choice, for me it is the iPod because a man's gotta have tunes, and I am often in places with no, or painfully slow, Internet.

What's your best jet lag cure?
Sleep as much as possible at all times, and when you wake put yourself back to sleep. Ambien and a beer is my formula. As soon as you step on the plane, mentally set your inner clock to wherever you are headed. If it is cocktail time there, have a cocktail. If it is breakfast time, have orange juice. I try to stay up until midnight the first night I arrive. On flights, I wear a stocking cap pulled over my eyes so flight attendants know not to talk to me.

Are you able to sleep when you fly?
I hibernate. I have an unbridled, Pavlovian response to the combination of an airplane and that wonderful sound of jet engines. I sleep 14 of the 15 hours flying LAX to Hong Kong -- no food, no movies. If sleeping on airplanes was an Olympic event, I'm gold medal, baby!

Total miles traveled in 2012: 300,000. "Monthly round trips U.S. to Asia, with another 10 or so interior round trips."
Total miles traveled in the past five years: 1.5 million. "Been doing this monthly routine for 17 years."
Total number of courses designed worldwide: "Total completed courses, with various companies from Schmidt-Curley to Pete Dye, are well over 100. Forty in China alone."
Favorite airport: Koh Samui, Thailand. "You expect to see Gilligan peddling a bamboo luggage cart."
Least favorite airport: Cairo. "Once at 2:00 a.m., I waited over two hours to get luggage, because Omar went home with the key to the fence separating indoors and outdoors."
Longest flight: "With connections, delays, diversions it was San Francisco to New York to Frankfurt to Rome to Marseille/Provence, about 40 hours. We arrived in time for the meeting by about one hour, and it was poolside with topless women, so I was quite awake … diverted attention, but awake."

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