Arthur Hills says designing a golf course is comparable to writing a book.
If that’s the case, a Hills design would be considered a classic. And Hills might be compared to Mark Twain, Harper Lee or C.S. Lewis.
His latest masterpiece — The TPC at Treviso Bay in East Naples — is nothing but a bunch of empty pages right now. The outline of the design is completed. But the story has yet to be told.
Since the permits from the Army Corps of Engineers came through in January, construction crews at TPC at Treviso Bay have been waiting on a road through the Rookery Bay Estuary to be completed. The road is done. And the ground will be broken soon, with crews digging and blasting lakes as the next step.
This hasn’t stopped Hill from tinkering. But like a writer, that’s part of the process.
“I was reading a critique of C.S. Lewis and I could have replaced the word ‘write’ for ‘design’ and the story wouldn’t have lost its meaning,” Hills said in a telephone interview from his Toledo, Ohio, office. “I think writing and golf course designing are very comparable.”
The TPC at Treviso Bay, which will be built by VK Development in conjunction with the PGA Tour, will not be completed until the fall of 2007. But Hills and his partner, Brian Yoder, have been working on this particular golf course project for almost two years.
During this period, the course has already seen many changes. The routing, or the flow of the holes, has been altered five times, Hills said. And even after the course starts taking shape, Hills plans to be fiddling with bunkers, greens and tees.
“The course is constantly changing,” Hills said. “The routing won’t change now but it has since the beginning. And once the shaping starts, the low-ground mounding, we will be out there reshaping bunkers or lower tees to best fit the objective of the course.”
With the course measuring just under 7,200 yards, Hills has incorporated many lakes, 12 holes will have water parallel, and bunkers with forced angles to put the demand on shot making. The price of soil has caused some of the subtle changes.
“All of the water is the cost of soil,” Yoder said. “Normally you wouldn’t water on so many holes but the price of soil has tripled in the past few years.”
Unlike C.S. Lewis, whose writing always had a twist on Christianity, Hills doesn’t think his designs have a signature. Hills said look at any of his previous designs in Southwest Florida — Bonita Bay, Collier’s Reserve, Fiddler’s Creek, Foxfire, Imperial, The Club at Pelican Bay, Renaissance, Shadow Wood Preserve, Wilderness, Wyndemere or Quail West — and he doesn’t think there are many similarities.
“I really don’t have a trademark design technique,” Hills said “I don’t see a certain design or pattern that is familiar in any of my courses. They all look different to me.”
John Lee, the director of golf at Imperial Golf Club (Hills’ first design in Collier County), says Hills’ designs do have some common characteristics. Besides gradual doglegs with rolling greens, Hills rarely ever tries to make a course too difficult, Lee said.
“He never seems to trick up the course,” Lee said. “All of his designs are very playable. Kind of the opposite of what you think with TPC courses because they are normally associated with Pete Dye.”
What isn’t different is that Hills is designing a course in Naples. Obviously from the list above, Hills is the designer of choice in this area. He’s even been called “The Mayor of Naples” because of his influence on the golf community.
Hills has been designing golf courses for the past 40 years. His first was Brandywine Country Club in Toledo. Hills has designed one other TPC course — Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, which once hosted the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic.
He said that the TPC at Treviso Bay will not be the typical TPC course. There will be stadium seating at a lower profile and there are two stretches of holes — Nos. 3 through 7 and Nos. 12 through 15 — that will be very close together and walkable.
At 76, Hills isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He’s currently working on five courses. “Art just keeps on going,” Yoder said. “He’s in really good health. In the field at a course, he is like the Energizer bunny going all over the place and everyone is trying to keep up with him.”
“I don’t know what else I would do,” Hills said. “I wouldn’t want to play golf every day. I could do some charity work but as long as I’m working I can earn money to give to charity.”
And as long as Hills continues to design courses his legend will grow.
For him, that is the most satisfying part of the job.
“It may sound egotistical but there’s nothing like having your name on a championship golf course,” Hills said. “It’s got to be like a writer having his name on award-winning story or a book.”
By the way, Hills loves to write. But he’s never written a book. If he did though, it surely would be an instant classic.