Q/A with TGR Design Consultant Beau Welling: Behind Tiger Woods' Vision for Enhanced Playability
By Ed Sherman
Beau Welling is well of aware of Tiger Woods’ vision in designing golf courses.
Welling has worked with Woods and TGR Design President Bryon Bell as a senior design consultant on several projects dating back to 2005.
“Tiger is very passionate about golf design and gets very involved,” Welling said. “He has definite ideas about what he wants to accomplish, and I view my job as taking his ideas and filter that into the design.”
When Woods and Bell called Welling last August, asking to come the next day to meet him in Chicago to tour the Jackson Park and South Shore courses, he knew he was going to see something special.
“You could sense Tiger’s excitement,” Welling said.
TGR Design has this core approach: A motivation to create a course that will adapt to varying levels of play, bringing people together and allowing for multi-generational experiences.
Bell and Welling emphasized that philosophy when they were in town recently for the unveiling of TGR Design’s proposed plan for the restoration of the Chicago Park District’s Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses.
Here is a Q/A with Welling.
What was your reaction when you first saw the property?
It was a mixture of extreme excitement and extreme fear. As a designer, you see the strengths of the property and also some of the challenges. I remember first seeing some of the views of the lake and skyline. How good is this? But at the same time, it’s not the normal golf project. You have to figure out how to put all the pieces together.
Tiger sees the possibilities to do something significant for the South Side community. There’s a sense of responsibility. The objectives here are in big in nature. That’s part of the excitement and part of the challenge.
What are the challenges?
How do you connect the holes from South Shore and Jackson Park? That was our biggest challenge at first.
Also, the existing holes are short and narrow. The modern golf hole is much wider. How do you build modern golf holes to sustain the game’s 100+ year presence in a historic park?
Tiger believes golf is recreation; golf is supposed to be fun. How do we build every hole to be playable for everyone and challenging for the most skilled players? We’re serving a lot of different groups. There are a lot of stakeholders in this, a lot of opinions.
Having a facility that caters to everyone is part of the trick of golf course architecture. That’s the core of TGR Design.
Tiger is known for thinking his way around a course. How is that reflected in this design?
Tiger is a very analytical guy, and he processes every decision of how to play golf shots. With wider fairways, you have more shot values, more decisions for someone trying to score. If you’re not in a certain zone on the fairway, you won’t be able to attack the green. That’s something you see in TGR Design courses.
Also, look at what we’ve done with the greens and the green surrounds. If you have a tucked pin, and you miss the green, the better player will have a tough up and down. However, for the average player, the short grass around the green will give them a lot of options other than just using a sand wedge. That makes the game more fun.
What was the thinking for how many holes to build on South Shore?
Now you have nine extremely narrow and short holes at South Shore. The first permutation had six holes. But we decided to go with five holes. We decided to make as good use of what we have and not overuse the space. Also, more importantly, we wanted to enhance the dynamic between all park uses: Cultural Center events, picnics, beach-goers, nature/walking trails, and golf.
What will be the impact of those lakefront holes?
It’s not just the lake, which is terrific. Seeing the skyline of Chicago is a powerful thing. The views will help this course be known to golfers everywhere. It will help draw people to play the course.
The South Shore holes are getting much of the attention, but what about the holes on the Jackson Park side?
We’re excited about South Shore, but the possibilities for Jackson Park also are very, very exciting. We have an opportunity to create distinctive and different golf holes. Some of them will have a different kind of topography and others, nestled in the trees, will be more classic golf holes.
With the trend at the elite level to go long, golf has gotten away from the short holes. Shorter golf holes are fun and still can be very challenging. We wanted a variety of holes so someone isn’t hitting a hybrid or long iron into every hole. That only makes golfers frustrated and tired.
What is the ultimate goal here?
Tiger wants to build a course that everyone can enjoy. We don’t want to displace the people who play golf here on a regular basis. But at the same time, we want to take the course up a level that allows us to bring in the best players in the world.
Ultimately, the success of a course is if people want to play it again and again. We hope that will be the case with this course.