View Website (photo courtesy of The Pit; hole 11, 12, 13)

A Conversation Dan Maples

The renown Pinehurt golf architect

A recent golf junket to spectacular Pinehurst North Carolina provided an opportunity to have a conversation with Past President of The American Society of Golf Course Architects, Dan Maples. Sitting in the clubhouse overlooking the finishing holes at one of his signature courses, The Pit, Maples shared some of his principles, background and love of the game. Possessing a background as an architect, golf professional and course superintendent, Maples feels he brings a multifaceted approach to serving the clients that seek out his expertise. He is able to incorporate pieces in his design that cater to the needs of each of these vital components to the success and profitability of a course.

Maples, designer of dozens of favourites in the south-eastern United States, as well as a few projects over-seas, is the third generation of a family of architects dating back to 1895 in the Donald Ross lineage. Grandfather Frank was instrumental as Ross’ construction superintendent while building the first four of Pinehurst’s layouts, including world renowned Pinehurst #2. Father Ellis also served under Ross as a construction superintendent, before establishing his own design firm. Ellis is credited with the first Pinehurst design not attributed to Ross with his 1961 Pinehurst #5.

In speaking with Maples about what he values in a design, he believes that enjoyment for the golfer is a major component to measuring the success of the design. Accolades aside, he is most proud of the traffic his courses generate for the owners who hire him. The Pit typifies this guiding principle for Maples. In an area filled with courses on every list imaginable, he takes pride in seeing the full fairways and repeat players who frequent the challenge and of fun his creations.

Telling the story of the property, a one time sand quarry used to build the Blue Ridge Parkway, Maples describes the land as a natural canvass with a character he wanted to preserve, while massaging out a terrific routing. The dramatic remnants of dunes left behind decades ago have been left to create a Japanese garden feel to a stunning corner of the property. Another section has the distinctive ridges of the receding rail lines used during the decades of quarrying. The masterpiece of this design is the use of the natural lake. It is here that Maples fashioned his own trio of heroic holes. Each present a forced carry of water, with the signature being the 180 yard island green on number 12, that Maples reminds is 25 years old and predated the 17th at Sawgrass by a decade. This “Oh My Corner,” is a stretch of shots any golfer won’t forget.

The character of the land and what its history is, gives foundation to Maples design principles. “I want the course to look like it fits the landscape.” Any major earth work is done to mould or soften the features, like the ridge that provides the incredible backdrop to the conversation. Maples described the area as a sharp fall-off and that he made the slope less striking to provide greater sightlines for those overlooking the finishing holes. Adding a bit of charm to the place, a sand pit and excavator awaits you next to the first tee, so you don’t forget the origins of this wonderful layout.

Maples is confident in the role he plays as a designer and keeper of the game. He sees the role of golf courses becoming more prominent in the ever present and welcomed “Green Revolution.” Golf courses can become a major player in the treatment and use of effluent water. Moving forward, with the many environmental restrictions being imposed on water taking and use of chemicals, Maples feels that golf courses can become more of an ally to the movement instead of being viewed as part of the problem.

Reminiscing about how the nature of course design has evolved from the days of his grandfather utilizing shovels and wheelbarrows, to the modern day earthmoving behemoths available, Maples says not much has changed, that the basics are still much the same. The land still dictates much of the routing, the sculpting of the final product is just more refined now with the technology available. A bit of a historian, Maples is trying to stay close to his roots with a restoration of one of his father’s tractors, used to build #5. The fourth generation of Maples, Dan’s son Bradley is at the cutting edge of the current evolution. Three dimensional computer generated design that allows owners to see the product even before the first shovel of dirt is moved is his specialty.

Asked how Maples is able to create these many individual and unique playgrounds for golfers while balancing the design, costs and specifications of the clients, he humbly points out that, “It’s easy, I just see it.”

For anyone having the opportunity to play one of his designs, you too will agree that we should be thankful for the vision and creativity of Dan and the storied Maples family of Pinehurst.