Longtime golf architect Erik Larsen’s work can be seen around the country, but he also designs golf courses here on the First Coast. He reinvented the Atlantic Beach Country Club in 2015 and is now completing work on the St. Johns Golf Club, which is owned by the county.
Tell me about Larsen Golf Inc. and the services it provides.
Our core business is golf course architecture. That includes master planning/routing plans, construction documents and construction review. Other services are community master planning and landscape architecture. We also have the skillset to discover and free up extra land within golf courses and bring a development team to create “right-sized” neighborhoods on the extra land. New property increases membership dues. Check out www.larsengolf.net.
You’ve done some notable projects across the nation and here on the First Coast. Are there some that stand out as your personal favorites?
Working close to home is always nice for a couple reasons. One is simple logistics of easy access. Two, it is always nice to give something to the community where you live. Atlantic Beach Country Club and St. Johns Golf Club are special to me because my community plays them.
Similarly, I recently returned to my home state of Iowa and played the Tournament Club of Iowa, a course where I was architect of record for the Palmer Design Company. It was fun and a good challenge for all. It’s nice to know I left something of value in my home state and it still holds up well after 20-plus years. Plus, it is always nice to get national recognition by golf magazines and to have my courses serve as PGA Tour tournament venues (2005 Principal Charity Classic on the PGA Tour Champions). We have been blessed to have several of each.
Are there unique challenges in creating some of the courses, particularly with regard to terrain and climate?
This question needs a long answer to do it justice but let me condense by noting four elements to design: safety, function, playability, beauty. Safety and function should not be compromised. Playability and beauty are opinions but demand a minimal level of quality. Drainage and irrigation are the main items to consider in function, so terrain is always important to consider.
Soil types require particular attention, especially for drainage but also for their ability to grow turfgrass. On hilly ground the degree of slope generally determines where golf holes land to minimize clearing and dirt movement. Predominant winds are the key climatic element to consider.
Your company is working on the St. Johns Golf Club, which is set to reopen later in the year. What can you tell me about this course?
At one time 27 holes, the golf course closed nine holes in 2010. This allowed for routing changes that created more interesting/different holes. We flip-flopped nines so there is better starting hole access from the practice range and a great turn experience of Nos. 9 to 10 and finishing out back of the clubhouse and patio at No. 18. The golf course has a large amount of play and is an important community asset. All components of the infrastructure, primarily drainage, were failing and we fixed those. The golf course should be open late this year and be available nearly every day now vs. being closed 30-plus days a year due to rain. Plus, a completely new irrigation system and pump station, feature construction and grass types were implemented.
Are there some attributes that will set this course apart from others in the area?
There is no other golf course of this style in Jacksonville and only a handful in Florida — a throwback design style similar to the work of iconic course architects Seth Raynor and C.B. McDonald. We gave it a unique new look as a “Renaissance” type golf course with template greens, square coffin bunkers and big vistas via simple shaping. Biarritz, thumbprint, redan, punchbowl greens, coffin bunkers, open approaches and simple shaping. Check out the progress at www.sjgc.com.
I recall a few years ago there seemed to be a shift away from 18-hole courses and toward 9-hole courses.
There is definitely a trend to golf other than regulation 18 holes; however, there is also a resurgence in 18-hole facilities. Nine holes, par-3 courses, putting courses, expanded short game areas — call it “small golf” — are trending upward across the country. At the St. Johns Golf Club, we added a three-hole “wee links” area in the old chipping green area and created a center hub for practice by bringing the practice range tee and practice green together close to the clubhouse. All of those will accommodate events and fun activities.
Is that still a trend?
Absolutely, and that will probably continue.
Has this impacted your company or the kinds of projects it is doing?
Yes, mine and most of my golf course architect colleagues have been affected. It is a new niche in design that is here to stay. If a facility undergoing renovation is not thinking about adding a “small golf” component it is missing the opportunity to add a fun, accepted new type of golf. It also adds another revenue bucket to its operation. Master planning for a golf community is also a big asset that we offer when courses are renovated to invigorate the entire area beyond the course boundaries. Additionally, I am associated with BrightView Golf as the business development lead for the Southern region, providing BrightView, the nation’s largest commercial landscaping company, with a deeper connection to golf.
Tell me about your career. How did you first get involved in this type of work?
I started working on golf courses at Newton Country Club in Newton, Iowa, when I was 12. I worked on golf courses while at college at University of Kansas and Iowa State University. I eventually decided on a career in golf course design and transferred to the landscape architecture department of North Carolina State University.
What kind of education did you need?
I received a double degree in landscape architecture and horticulture. These helped me pass the CLARB (Council of Landscape Architectural Review Board) national board examination for landscape architecture and helped my resume. The education gave me the background to land a position with Ed Seay and Arnold Palmer with the Palmer Course Design Company in 1983. The work done with Ed and Arnold from then until 2011, and my own company since then, has provided a real education.
What do you like best about what you do?
Creating these beautiful playgrounds where the best players in the world or the average player can go and have healthy fun.
What do you like about living here on the First Coast?
Golf and surf all year and the unique ecosystems from mainland to ocean, uplands, low country and salt marshes, Intracoastal Waterway, dunes, ocean. Live oaks!
How do you like to spend your free time?
Golf and surf. Catching tailing redfish. Playing bass in the Crosswater Community Church praise band.
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