When Keegan Bradley played the Ocean Course last April, he described it as brutal. Is that just another pro whining about one of your courses?
The great thing about that course is the back tee where the pros are screaming and yelling. And yet play from the white markers there is up 15 to 20 percent this year, and their repeat business is good. You get a golf course where people come in and pay that kind of fee [$343 for non-resort guests] and there are 40,000 rounds a year — well, then, some pros crying is okay. Hell, I can't think of anything better.
Of all the courses you have designed…
I've never designed a golf course in my life. I've built a few, but I've never designed one.
Of the ones you've built, which one hasn't yet hosted a major but could?
Indianapolis is such a great town for sports, so I think a major might go to Brickyard Crossing some day. There's room for more length, the traffic and everything else. See, the game has changed. I don't want to get on this soapbox; they will probably run me out of town. They're hitting the ball so damn far off the tee now, and then they turn around and hit irons farther. It's just amazing what they've done to the game.
How different is the course architecture business from when you started in the early 1960s?
It's entirely different. I'm not interested in Russia or China or Brazil or wherever, but that's where these kids have to go to find work now. It's good for golf because it's an international game now. The Olympics will help too. Now, if the USGA would just stop slowing down play and increasing the cost of maintenance, and stop not having any control on the equipment, that would help. They have let the clubs get completely out of control. These guys today aren't stronger than Palmer or Nicklaus were — it's the equipment. If they could help the high-handicappers and not the pros, that would be all right.
So you favor rolling back the ball?
Hell, yes. I have a letter written in 1923 by Donald Ross, who said the ball was getting out of control. That's 89 years ago. When it finally causes real financial trouble, something will happen. You just can't keep escalating the costs all the time.
Is your best course still ahead of you?
I hope so [laughs]. I don't know. You never get one right to start with.
When do you consider a course "right"?
When pros all complain and other people don't. Now, the pros have been pretty dang good to me, they really have. But someone is always bellyaching. They don't see the building that went into it. I enjoy building golf courses. I don't know why. God, you gotta be crazy. I still enjoy trying to figure out how to get it done.
You're 86 years old, you just finished a renovation in the Dominican Republic, and you have ongoing projects in Wisconsin, Florida and South Carolina. No retirement plans then?
The man upstairs is gonna call that for me one of these days. He's going to say, "You're out the door."