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Gordon Desmond Muirhead (1923 – 2002)

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Desmond Muirhead was born in Norwich, England, and passed away less than a year after the opening of The Address Montgomerie Dubai in May 2002 at age 79. Muirhead is remembered for many things: his fully integrated course communities like McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale; the graceful artistry of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills near Palm Springs; his bold experiments, like island fairways and alternate greens at Baymeadows in Jacksonville, Florida; his six-year partnership with Jack Nicklaus, which produced Muirfield Village and Kings Island in Ohio; and the overt symbolism (some cartoonish, some spiritual) of his holes at New Jersey's Stone Harbor.

Muirhead was not a typical golf course architect. Where many have a long history of golf and love to play the game, Muirhead sported a high handicap and rarely played. What distinguished him is that he was an artist and urban designer first and a golf course architect second.

This has led some to villify some of Muirhead’s later golf design forays. For example, a par-5 at the Aberdeen Golf Course in Florida is shaped entirely as a mermaid -- complete with fan-tail tee box, fish-shaped bunkers and "earthen scales" throughout the fairway.

Other holes include a fire-breathing dragon, fairways shaped like New Jersey, bunkers like Nordic crosses, etc.

At The Address Montgomerie Dubai, snake-shaped holes and hand-shaped bunkers provide make for an interesting round.

Muirhead was trained as a land planner and architect and did not get involved in golf course architecture until he worked on retirement communities in Arizona in the early 1960s. He jumped at the opportunity to design golf courses along with his housing developments and turned out a few decent layouts, none of which created much of a stir.

But his engaging personality found him an alliance with Jack Nicklaus, and he worked with Nicklaus on a number of projects before parting ways in the mid-1970s. He then left golf course architecture entirely for Australia, where he worked on large community development projects. When he returned in the mid-1980s, he came back with a bang. He began to design golf holes as art, mythology and sculpture, seemingly without a great deal of regard for playability or shot value. Suddenly, this eccentric man was celebrated by major design magazines but spurned by golfers and golf architects.

Where typical golf course architects strove to make courses look like golf's past, Muirhead had little need for St. Andrews in his attempt to introduce "literal symbolism" to the staid world of golf.

Whatever one thinks of his more outlandish golf holes, Muirhead was a thoughtful designer and one of the first to understand the importance of a safe relationship between the golfer, golf course and adjacent development(s). His writings on golf course architecture are superb, ranging from the philosophy of design to the details of construction.

Noteworthy Courses:

  • Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio (1974, with Jack Nicklaus)
  • Aberdeen Golf and Country Club, Boyton Beach, Florida (1987)
  • Stone Harbor Country Club, Cape May, New Jersey (1988)
  • Soboba Springs Country Club, Hemet, California (1967)
  • Mayacoo Lakes Country Club, West Palm Beach, Florida (1973, with Jack Nicklaus)

NB: Excerpts taken from Golf Digest (December 2002) and PGATour.com