As a player, Steve Smyers has established a decorated golf trophy case. He was a member of the University of Florida’s national championship team of 1973, and has competed in national and international amateur championships for six decades, with several victories.
As a student of the game, he has studied the work of many of the all-time great golf course architects – Donald Ross, Alister Mackenzie and A.W. Tillinghast, among others.
As a keeper of the game he has served on various USGA committees, including the USGA Executive Committee, Environmental Turfgrass Research Committee and the 2011 Joint Equipment Standards Committee.
Things experienced and learned during all those endeavors combine to form the essence of Steve Smyers Golf Course Architects’ classical design philosophy.
“My design philosophy has always been shaped by two quotes from two of the game’s great architects, Dr. Alister MacKenzie and Dick Wilson,” said Smyers. “The first of these, a direct quote from Dr. MacKenzie, is something that has been framed and hanging on the wall in my office since the day I started my own design business. It says:
“Unless we provide golf courses full of intricate problems, players will get sick of the game without knowing why they have gotten sick of it and golf will die from a lack of abiding and increasing knowledge.”
“The second is something that Dick Wilson always held to throughout his entire career. That is, “If you build a course for the average player, you will get an average golf course.”
“Those two thought processes are at the very heart of my own design philosophy. I firmly believe that a great golf course must challenge a player physically, certainly, but it must test the player, mentally, and stimulate the player, emotionally. If it doesn’t do all three, we, as golfers, get bored.”
Several courses in the Orlando area carry Smyers’ signature and reflect his philosophy, none more than highly rated Southern Dunes in Haines City. This classic daily fee track has been ranked in Golfweek’s America’s 100 Best Modern Courses every year since 1997, and has hosted many statewide tournaments and several USGA Amateur Public Links Qualifiers.
Utilizing 100 feet of elevation changes and natural topographical features, Smyers created a memorable challenge that demands creativity and imagination. Many holes feature multiple strategic options from tee to green, often dictated by one of the 180 bunkers on the course.
Maybe the best example is the par five ninth. This deceptive hole looks easy on paper if you are able to avoid the continuous 350-yard fairway bunker from the tee on your right. A tee shot that finds the middle of the fairway will tempt you to go for the small, elevated green in two. The smarter shot is a layup, leaving a short wedge to the putting surface that slopes left to right and serves up very fast putts.
“At Southern Dunes, Number 1, we very much subscribed to the MacKenzie philosophy, in that we built the golf course full of intricacies and subtle challenges,” said Smyers. “It’s a golf course that requires a great deal of strategic thinking, if you are going to play well.
“With every golf course we design – and Southern Dunes is certainly a good example of this – we want our designs to ask the player to do four things: understand the lie of his ball, read the ground that he’s hitting to, feel the wind and imagine,” added Smyers. “We want to create courses that make the players better because, in learning to play them, they learn how to manage themselves. If they learn how to do that, manage themselves, they will become better players.”
Another nice example of Smyers’ design philosophy in practice is the renovation he completed in 2004 of Grande Pines Golf Club on International Drive. Named Golfweek’s Top 100 “America’s Best Resort Courses”, Grande Pines is a unique throwback to classic golf architecture of the early 1900s.The second hole plays 618 yards from the tips, so for all but the longest of hitters this is a true three-shot par 5. It is a straight, narrow hole, so accuracy off the tee is a must. A sprawling bunker guards the left side of the landing area of the second shot, and a big bunker protects the right side of the green. Three good shots are needed to make par on this one.Here are some other recent projects completed by Smyers and his design team at some of the most prestigious private clubs in Florida.
INTERLACHEN COUNTRY CLUB
In 2007, the course was redesigned to build upon Joe Lee’s original concept and further accentuate the raw beauty of the club’s natural surroundings. The course features meticulously manicured fairways and greens, an abundance of large lakes and strategically placed bunkers that provide a delightful challenge for players of different skill levels.
ISLEWORTH GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB
Isleworth is private course in one of the nation’s premier country club communities. This complete renovation added significant shot value, strategy, and other design elements to the course. The re-design took advantage of the rolling terrain and generous greens to provide the ultimate in championship golf.
OLD MEMORIAL GOLF CLUB
An invitation-only national golf club located on an ecologically challenging site, Old Memorial is close to Tampa’s downtown area. The course exists in a setting of great variety, offering natural lakes, mature woodlands, and open, rolling, former grove land. This walking-only golf course was built for the principals of The Outback Steakhouse restaurants.
Ranked No. 7 in Golf Digest’s 1998 Best New Private Courses, Old Memorial was profiled as a Modern Classic Course by LINKS Magazine in 1999. In its first full year of eligibility, GOLF Magazine ranked Old Memorial as # 68 in the Top 100 Courses in the United States 1999, and it debuted at # 55 among Golfweek’s America’s 100 Best Modern Courses list in 2000 and climbed to # 35 on the 2001 list.