Award-winning architect Todd Schoeder joins Shon to talk about the industry greats who have had an influence on his dream career, how course designer's play a role in helping to alleviate slow play, and his latest Northwest redesign project at Legion Memorial Golf Course in Everett, WA.
Announcer: The Golf Show on 710 ESPN Seattle. Shon Crewe (00:06): He's a well-respected, award-winning architect who's been involved in numerous projects across the country and around the globe. He's once again put his stamp on the Pacific Northwest with a newly completed remodel project at Legion Memorial Golf Course in Everett. Joining us now on The Golf Course with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe, Todd Schoeder. Todd, thanks so much for taking the time today. Todd Schoeder (00:31): Oh thank you, Shon, I'm excited to be here. Shon Crewe (00:27): Well, Todd, I'm curious. When did you discover that you had an interest in golf and, more importantly, golf course design? Todd Schoeder (00:33): Well, it goes back quite a-ways. I actually started in the golf course industry in 1979. I started as a young 16-year-old on the golf course, working on the grounds crew at a private country club in Minnesota, called Minnesota Valley Country Club. Fortunately, it happened to be a Seth Raynor design, a very classic old-school golf course architect that I really got to learn the craft of design, construction, and maintenance. So I worked there for several years - all the way through high school, all the way through college, and a little bit after. That's how I got my start, and during that time, I was fortunate to play on the high school golf team. I was never that great of a player to move on to college but was actually able to enjoy the game at that point, and I really spent my time just on the golf course, just learning the craft from the ground up, so to speak. Shon Crewe (01:18): You've been doing this for several years now and have had a lot of success along the way. When you think back to when you first decided that you wanted to pursue a career in golf design, is it what you expected? Todd Schoeder (01:29): It is. You know, when I started on a grounds crew, I always had an inkling or a desire or a passion to really go into designing, a golf course designer. At that time, in fact, in the late '70s or early '80s, I never even knew that was a profession, a real, legitimate profession that you could do. So I worked in maintenance on the grounds crew and learned a lot there, but after that, I went and worked on golf course construction. I was fortunate to land with a company called Wadsworth Golf Construction out in the Midwest and spent nearly six years with them, building projects in the Midwest. So not only did I have the maintenance aspect, I had the construction aspect as well. And that was when I started to learn what design or golf course design was really about. So I had an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota, but in addition to my construction background and maintenance, I thought it was important that I had a design background as well - educated design background. So I went back and obtained my Masters in landscape architecture, also from the University of Minnesota, and during that time, was fortunate to build three golf courses with Wadsworth during the mid-to-late '90's. So I have all rungs of the ladder, so to speak, you know, design, construction, and maintenance. So I've been thinking about it this morning, been in the industry almost 34 years, and it's hard to believe it's been that long and the last 23 in the design realm. Shon Crewe (02:45): Well, there had to have been some people in the industry that you admired as you were coming up. Who are some of those names, and did you ever had an opportunity to work with any of them? Todd Schoeder (02:54): Yeah, I've been very, very fortunate in my career. Early on, a very talented designer by the name of John Fought, who's now based in Arizona, but when I met him, he was in Oregon, took me under his wing as, you know, really my mentor in golf course design. So I was young in the profession as a designer but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to build two of his golf courses. So John took me in after graduate school. I went and moved to Oregon. And that's my connection to the Pacific Northwest was that move in the early '90s to Oregon and I got to work with John, and then in addition to John, Bob Cupp, who was John's designer partner. Tom Wayman was involved at that time as well and a really young, talented designer by the name of Chris Brands. So the group of us had a great time designing courses all through the Pacific Northwest and it was just a great opportunity for me. And since then, really been fortunate and lucky to really get connected with some great designers, some PGA Tour pros including Phil Mickelson, like I said, Tom Wayman, worked with John Fought, Bob Cupp, worked on projects by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer. So it's really been spread across the spectrum of just different people I've been able to work with, all who had an influence on my design philosophy. Shon Crewe (04:06): Well, and as you mentioned, you've done a number of great projects here in the Pacific Northwest - Washington National, Trophy Lake, Jackson Park, West Seattle, to name a few. The fact that the opportunities keep coming up, I mean, people obviously appreciate the work that you're doing, but from your standpoint, what's your attraction to designing in this area? What do you like about the Pacific Northwest? Todd Schoeder (04:25) You know, well, the environment, just the environment, and actually, the people that we work with. These are all classic designs I've been involved with, from Tom Bendelow designs, Chandler Egan. These are classic architects of the classic age of golf course design, and the ability to come in and given the opportunity and really the honor to work on those golf courses, it's just mind-boggling. It's really fantastic to be given just the flexibility to go in on a very historic golf course and make changes and enhancements, but at the same time, protect and honor the golf course you're working on. So just my connections with John in that area, Bob Cupp, and the ability to really hone my design skills to the Pacific Northwest, which is a challenging climate for a variety of reasons to build and design golf courses, was really a stepping stone early in my career. Shon Crewe (05:13): Do you have a preference on the type of design work you like to? I mean, is there more of a preference designing from scratch, or is there something rewarding about coming in, making fixes that really enhance and improve an existing course? Todd Schoeder (05:25): Well, again, I've been fortunate to have the ability to do both. Both have their rewards and opportunities and challenges, obviously, but it's always nice to start from scratch. But as we all know in today's golf industry, those projects are few and far between, but with the amount of golf courses in the United States, roughly over 14,000 and some, and the age of some of these courses and the condition, the remodel and renovation of these courses is gonna be an ongoing thing for decades to come. And the opportunity to work on very famous golf courses and to come in and make enhancements is really an exciting opportunity, in addition to the new projects as well. Shon Crewe (06:08): Well speaking of coming in and making enhancements to another course, you just completed a project at Legion Memorial Golf Course in Everett. This was an interesting one and that your help was solicited to solve a problem. It sounds like homeowners were experiencing issues with stormwater flooding, and the city was looking for a solution to minimize that impact. And as it turns out, the golf course was a big part of that solution. Todd Schoeder (06:29): Yeah, it's an interesting project, and these are actually occurring all across the country. Golf courses, or the landscape of a golf course, are a great resource to address environmental issues, from water quality, stormwater detention, and others. And in the Everett community, there was a big flooding problem in the surrounding neighborhood in the community, and the golf course being in one of the low points in that area was just a great resource or opportunity to address the stormwater problems. So we were tasked with the idea of creating detention on the golf course to handle just over five-acre feet of water, which would then alleviate the neighborhood flooding issue. So we had to go in and consequently, because of those requirements, modify the routing of the golf course and several of the golf holes to build new ponds that would naturally take the stormwater run-off, detain that water, and then release it back into the system. So we were given just a great opportunity on a historic golf course to go in and really redo four and a half golf holes on this really famous Egan design. Shon Crewe (07:36): So, when they come to you and say, "Hey, we have a need. We have a problem," how much are you involved in creating that solution? I mean, do they come to you knowing exactly what their fix is, or are you suggesting to them what needs to be done to make it work? Todd Schoeder (07:48): Well, that's a good question because when I was brought in, a lot of times when you're working with engineers, they are brilliant at their craft but not necessarily understand golf. So I was brought in as a golf course architect to work hand in hand with public utilities in the city of Everett and Everett Golf to make sure that any changes that were done to the golf course did it with integrity and honor, and we didn't change the character or the playability or the strategy but actually enhanced it. So when we built the new ponds too, just totaling over an acre and a half of new ponds on the golf course, we also redesigned the golf holes in conjunction with them to make the actual stormwater elements as part of the golf course strategy. So when you play the golf course, you don't necessarily know that we're actually addressing stormwater flooding, but you do know that it's a part of the golf course strategy and the enjoyability and playability of Legion Memorial. So I was brought in really to honor and protect the golf course but work with the engineering goals to solve two problems simultaneously. Shon Crewe (08:47): And Todd, if you were to summarize the biggest changes that were made to the course, what were some of the things that were done to not only solve the problems but enhance the look and the character of the course as well? Todd Schoeder (08:58): Well, you know, I'm not sure how many listeners are familiar with the previous Legion Memorial, but it was remodeled over a decade ago, and a lot of that remodel changed some of the original character of the Chandler Egan design, and we brought that back in the green sizes, the new bunker shapes, the new green sizes and shapes, the fairway contouring, how the waters integrate with the holes themselves. So the golf course now feels more like it would have when it originally opened in 1934. So we were excited to be given the flexibility and opportunity to bring back those golf holes, yet solve some major stormwater issues as well. So you may not necessarily recognize the changes, but I think you will inherently feel those changes when you're playing the golf course. We created a par 3, a par 4, another par 3 in water and another par 4, so four holes in a row play on water. But more importantly, we eliminated an awkward par 5 that was 90 degrees dogleg right into a really interesting, strategic rewarding, par 4, and a par 3. We almost are our version of Amen Corner, so to speak, on this portion of Legion Memorial, so we're real excited about the changes. Shon Crewe (10:07): We chatted last week and since I've had a chance to get out and play the course and I really enjoyed it. I think the changes add a fun challenge, and aesthetically, it's just gorgeous. The new holes almost feel like a signature for the course. I'm curious, what sorts of things are you hearing from the golfers? What has the feedback been so far? Todd Schoeder (10:24): Well, you know, so far, we've had tremendously positive feedback. I was also able to spend near the entire day last week on-site, and I just went around those four new holes and talked to golfers, and 100 percent were ecstatic with the changes, and then the feedback from phone calls and emails has been overwhelmingly positive. The holes are playable yet challenging, and like you said, Shon, very aesthetically pleasing. So, so far, we couldn't be more thrilled and excited with the feedback we've received. Shon Crewe (10:54): Todd, I think that's great, and it's probably very rewarding for you knowing that these efforts have not only paid off to help the city, but the golfers playing at Legion Memorial are really enjoying the changes as well. I want to shift gears now to something that people are probably are not enjoying, slow play. This seems to be a problem that's gone on for years, but it's something that seems to only be getting worse, and I wanted to talk with you about it as someone who's done a lot of projects on public courses, where we're seeing it most. Is there a role that designers play in how we can tackle this, and is it something that's now more front of mind for designers than it used to be? Todd Schoeder (11:29): Yeah, another great question. Pace of play obviously is a major issue, and no one wants to play a five, five-and-a-hour round of golf, and that's one of the drawbacks in today's golfing market is the time to play. An architect has a direct influence on pace of play and sequence, and that's really done by sequencing of golf holes, whether it's a par 3, par 4, par 4, par 5, and there are certain circumstances or layouts that will slow downplay. If you have a par 3 backed up by a short par 5, that will slow downplay. And there are many other versions of that. So when we're laying out a golf course, we are very early on considering the sequence of par. How many hazards are on the golf holes, whether those hazards are on the left side or the right side, how much water's involved, how much rough, how tall is the rough, and those are all elements that a golf course architect can control or detail or dictate in the design and construction. So we do have an influence on pace of play. And then obviously, it comes down to the golfer themselves. Are they playing the appropriate tee, are they biting off more than they can chew? There's a lot of things that play into it, but if there was a crystal ball or a magic wand, we would sure like to make that long round go away. Shon Crewe (12:41): (laughs) Well, you mentioned something about playing from the right tee. I read that you had installed the Longleaf Tee System at the new City Park Course in Denver. For people who aren't familiar, how would you describe what it is and how does it address this particular issue of where to play from? Todd Schoeder (12:56): Yeah, well Longleaf is a system that was developed a few years ago in the southeast part of the United States, and basically how it works is there are multiple tees on each hole, anywhere from four to seven tees on a golf hole, and people generally like to play toward the back. But in many cases, that is more than probably was appropriate or what a normal or average golfer can handle, so how the Longleaf System works is when you go to the driving range, there are targets on the range based at a certain distance. And you tee off, or you hit shots, and you can gauge how far your ball goes to that target and statistically, just that one club, the driver, based on how far you hit it, will dictate what tee you should play from on the golf course. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me but, you know, for instance, if you hit your driver about 210-220, which is very average for a 15 handicap, you will play roughly the third tee up. And you will have a great experience, and you'll have the same approach odds in the par 4s and par 5s as you would a lower handicap player. And your round is faster. It's more enjoyable. You'll score a little bit better. Your handicap will go down - everything about it just makes the experience we're finding very, very enjoyable. And the feedback across the country's been fantastic. Shon Crewe (14:10): Well, Todd, congratulations on another fantastic northwest project, and thank you for taking the time today. I really appreciate it. Todd Schoeder (14:17): All right, Shon. Have a great day. Shon Crewe (14:19): That was Todd Schoeder, golf course architect and principal at Icon Golf Studio. You can find out more about his projects at IconGolfStudio.com. You'll definitely want to check out the new changes at Legion Memorial Golf Course in Everett. To learn more or schedule a tee time, visit EverettGolf.com. Thanks so much for joining us. It's The Golf Show with Jim Moore and Shon Crewe on 710 ESPN Seattle.
Schoeder is well-known for a number of Northwest projects including Trophy Lake Golf & Casting, Washington National Golf Club, The Reserve Golf Vineyard & Golf Club, Langdon Farms Golf Club, and Sunriver Resort. For a complete list, visit icongolfstudio.com.