March 17, 2008–Earlier this month Ted Robinson, a legendary golf course architect and former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, passed away after a 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 84 years old. His lengthy career lasted five decades and he left his indelible design mark with three Las Vegas golf courses, the resort Rhodes Ranch Golf Club and Tuscany Golf Club, and the private Canyon Gate Country Club. And one Las Vegas golf pro, Daryl Driscoll, will never forget the man who made a lasting impact on him. "He was genuinely a great person, and a great guy to work with," says Driscoll, who worked with Robinson on the construction of Rhodes Ranch.
Driscoll says he will never forget their first meeting.
"On my first day on the job at Rhodes Ranch, I went to site and met with Ted, and we walked the course together and he explained a lot of his design philosophies to me," says Driscoll, who now operates Alliance Golf. "In particular, how he made sure to have smooth lines for the bunkers. He brought out a piece of rope and had me hold one end while he walked to the other side of the bunker with the other end to ensure an easy flow. He also said that he never wanted to have harsh greens because he wanted all golfers to enjoy themselves."
Robinson golf course designs–including his Las Vegas golf courses–always seemed to be player friendly, but at the same time had plenty of challenge. Robinson was always very proud of the par 3 holes at Rhodes Ranch. They are tough and beautiful, but not overwhelming. After Rhodes Ranch opened, Robinson commented that the set of par 3's at Rhodes Ranch were among the best he had ever created.
The Robinson design philosophy:
"The greatest challenge in design is to balance the strategic elements of the game in such a way as to maximize the rewards of playing for the greatest number of people. Courses that are fun, exciting, and consistently changing day by day offer the greatest allure of all."–Robinsongolf.com
Driscoll says that he had some memorable times with Robinson.
"One time, we needed to tour the site and we jumped in my old pick up, and we were bouncing around the whole way, and I could see that he was grasping for something to hold onto, but there was nothing there," says Driscoll. "So I told him that by the next time he came into town I would have a handle for him to grab. So I put in the handle and the next time we were riding around he reached up and sure enough, he found the handle. He was pretty happy that I kept my word. Now it is referred to as the 'Ted Robinson handle'
Driscoll also remembers Robinson telling him a story about a golf project in Japan that started out very primitive. Driscoll couldn't remember the name of the project, but vividly recalls how he says Robinson got a call from the developer who demanded he come and build him a golf course. After some checking, Robinson decided to make the flight over to Japan, but when he arrived at the potential site he noticed that there was already a lot of activity taking place. He asked what was happening.
"We are building your golf course," he was told through an intrepreter.
That was news to Robinson because he had yet to design anything for the project. Robinson quickly stopped the process, but then realized that even if he designed something on paper it was going to be very difficult to communicate because of the language barrier. So he decided to ask them to create a large sandbox in the clubhouse. Robinson then went to work in the sandbox and created a scale model of a hole to be designed.
The developer loved the model, and immediately ordered 17 more sandboxes to be built. Robinson designed the entire golf course in those 18 sand boxes.
"He was so humble, and it was nothing for him to work in an environment like that," says Driscoll. "That speaks to the nature of the man.
With an architectural career spanning over five decades, Robinson is credited with over 160 projects that bear his influence, including courses in the Western United States, Hawaii, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Indonesia. In 1954, Robinson established his own practice concentrated in golf course design, land planning, subdivision and park design. Robinson spent the majority of his career working independently while wife Bobbi managed the office until 1991 when son, Ted Jr., joined the practice.
Dubbed the “King of Waterscapes,” Robinson endorsed the use of water as a defining hazard for course designs. He believed waterscapes gave putting greens maximum character and provided players with an appealing challenge. Robinson was also widely recognized for his golf-oriented master planned community, Mesa Verde, in Costa Mesa as well as 26 separate golf course architecture projects in the Palm Springs/Palm Desert area alone, including Sunrise, Monterey, Palm Valley, The Lakes, Indian Wells, Ironwood, Tahquitz Creek and Desert Springs.
“He believed pretty strongly in the average golfer,” said his son, Ted Robinson Jr. “What he believed in was to build golf courses that were inherently challenging but fun to play. His hallmark was they were fun. You didn’t feel like you were beat up.”
As Robinson’s career blossomed, Golf Digest listed his courses among the top five in Washington, Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Hawaii. One of Robinson’s most beloved projects was Sahalee Country Club, long regarded as one of the top 100 courses in the world. Located in Redmond, Wash., Sahalee Country Club hosted the PGA TOUR Championship in 1998. Other notable courses include Tijeras Creek and Tustin Ranch in Orange County, (California), the Experience in Koele on the island of Lanai (Hawaii) and Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita (California), a project designed and developed jointly with his son and named in his honor. Some of Robinson’s most prestigious international courses include Lakewood Golf Club in Japan and Pinx Golf Club in Korea.
“ASGCA is saddened by Ted’s passing,” said ASGCA President Steve Forrest. “His work over the past 50 years represents some of the best in the industry and he was a true pioneer in golf course architecture. His integrated design concepts set the standard for many of today’s architects. As both a colleague and a friend, he will be missed.”
Ted Robinson Jr. will continue as Chief Operating Officer of RGI, Robinson Golf Inc. RGI is a two generational company that has been in business for almost fifty years in seven countries with more than 150 projects. Ted Robinson Jr. will continue to design golf courses in the RGI tradition with updated themes and technologies with a design philosophy centering on flexibility, memorability and natural beauty.
Robinson was born on May 17, 1923 in Long Beach, California. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and earned his Master’s degree in Planning from the University of Southern California in 1948.
Ted Robinson is survived by his wife Bobbi, son Ted Jr., daughters Kristine Monroe and Leigha Robertson and his ten grandchildren.
And one handle in Daryl Driscoll's pickup truck, a handle that Driscoll probably looks at a bit differently today.