Zac Blair is that rare PGA Tour member who not only understands what makes great golf course architecture, but he also embraces it and promises to implement it when given the chance.
Blair’s goal is to design a golf course based on what he considers some of the best golf holes in the world. Most are well-known such as the Redan green that originated at North Berwick in Scotland, or the double plateau green complex created by an architect with whom he coincidentally shares a part of his name, Charles Blair Macdonald. Macdonald and his students Seth Raynor and Charles Banks used the concept repeatedly. It is the work of that triumvirate that most influences Blair’s ideas of design.
Other templates are less familiar, like the cool drivable par-4 15th hole at TPC River Highlands, a Bobby Weed design in Cromwell, Connecticut, home to the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship.
Blair’s first exposure to golf architecture and construction came via his father, Jimmy Blair, a club golf professional who spent a few years on the PGA and Senior tours and who won virtually every state open in the Midwest.
Blair grew up in Utah, which is woefully lacking in courses of notable design, and as a boy watched his father draw up plans for a couple of executive courses he built, as well as accompanying him as his dad oversaw the construction.
Blair’s watershed moment came in 2013 when he played in the Tour’s Greenbrier Classic at the Greenbrier Resort’s Old White Course, a Macdonald design built by Raynor. He fell in love with the layout, and since then he has golfed at approximately 15 of their creations, including the epitome of the Macdonald school of design, National Golf Links of America on Long Island that opened in 1909. “I haven’t played a Raynor or Macdonald that I haven’t enjoyed,” Blair, 26, said.
His love of Macdonald’s style will heavily influence Blair’s planned course, The Buck Club, in his native Utah. When built, it would be the home layout for his alma mater, Brigham Young University. It’s an idea Blair has been formulating since his college golf days. “I told my coach that when I get on Tour I want to build a course that is the best of the best,” Blair said. “He thought I was kidding.”
The layout will have variations on holes he likes as well as one of the fundamental defining attributes of Macdonald-Raynor-Banks designs. “If you hit a really bad shot, you have problems, but otherwise you can whack it around,” Blair said. “I want 18 solid holes that are fun to play.”
That doesn’t mean spraying it off the tee is the optimum strategy. There will be favored routes for players to take that are looking to make the best score possible. For that to happen, golfers will have to successfully challenge hazards, either by playing over them or near them, which will open up preferred avenues. The correct approach shot will not always entail hitting right at the flag. Greens will have plenty of movement but not be crazy.
“I don’t think you should ever have a putt where you can’t make the putt,” Blair said.
The concept is not to beat golfers over the head, he said, but give them a chance to score well if the proper shots are executed. Blair does not view someone going low on his design as a failure of the architecture.
“I want a course, if I get playing good, I can shoot 60, 61, 62,” he said.
Blair will put in hazards at The Buck Club for the specific winds, since the variation can be substantial. With a firm golf course, he said, there could be a 50-yard difference a drive travels from early morning to late afternoon, so bunkers that were unreachable at 10 a.m. might be in play at 4 p.m.
Work was recently completed on Blair’s first design project. Working as part of his dad’s company, Addiction Golf, father and son significantly renovated Bloomington Country Club in St. George, Utah, designing and building greens, tees and bunkers, as well as Zac adding and repositioning bunkers, with noted shaper Kenny Edwards in charge of earth moving.
It’s a significant design step for Blair as he advances toward his goal of bringing a taste of Macdonald-Raynor-Banks to Utah.