Dozer Doug: Tops in golf course construction
by Terry Jacoby
When Rick Smith of Treetops got the OK to build his signature course alongside the Gaylord resort's other jewels, he didn't have to look far to find the man he wanted behind the bulldozer's wheel.
It was Smith who gave Doug O'Rourke the nickname "Dozer Doug." So when Smith needed someone he could trust to help create the course that would bare his name, he simply shouted out above the noise of the dozer, "Hey Doug, I need your help."
Not only did Smith land a competent and energetic partner, he also helped launch a career that is making tee times all over Michigan.
In eight years, O'Rourke has gone from playing solo in the construction business to creating Dozer Construction, one of the most respected and sought after golf-course construction companies in Michigan. And remember, Michigan has more golf courses than any state in the country, so there is plenty of competition in golf-course construction.
"Helping turn a piece of land into an enjoyable golf course is a lot of fun and a lot of work," said O'Rourke, 41, a native of Vanderbilt, MI. "You feel a lot of pride when you play a course that you helped build."
O'Rourke recently got that chance when he played the brand-new Thornapple Pointe Golf Club in Grand Rapids. Walking a course with golf clubs instead of a shovel is still new to O'Rourke.
"That was the first time I played the full 18 holes," he said. "It's great to see the final product and hear feedback from people. I think it is a good, enjoyable course."
O'Rourke didn't get into golf construction because of his love for the game. In fact, he was raised a farmer, not a golfer.
"I wasn't a golfer," he says. "I was born and raised on a farm, and I was still working on the farm when I got involved with Treetops. But I had to get out of farming full-time when the company took off."
So how did Up North farmer become big-time golf course contractor?
"I was helping out with construction on the Jones Course at Treetops," he explains. "They hired Florida Golf Construction to do the Jones Course when I was working on the grounds up there. They asked me to help.
"They made some changes to the Jones Course and I got involved with that. That is when Rick gave me the nickname, Dozer Doug."
From there, O'Rourke worked on the Smith Course and the Par-3 course at Treetops. With those courses at the top of his resume, O'Rourke put Dozer Construction into play. He has since added courses like Majestic at Lake Walden in Hartland, Twin Lakes in Rochester, Misty Creek in Milford and Thornapple Pointe to his score card.
He also is ready to begin work on new courses in Pinckney and Romulus.
"Each time you do a course, you learn something," O'Rourke said. "It's like a partnership with the architect. He has the plans and the blueprints, but you have to go out and take the drawings from an office and turn them into the actual product."
O'Rourke, who has worked for some of the best designers in the business including Jerry Matthews, Ray Hearn and Bill Newcomb who did Thornapple Pointe, says teamwork is the key to turning dirt into fairway.
"You never make changes without talking it over with the designer and developer, but I do offer suggestions when I see something," he said. "It's important to always make suggestions because there are always changes going on. I like to bring up other ideas and reasons why it might be better to do something different.
"I think part of the reason I have been successful is because I give good opinions and ideas to the design team. Sometimes, I see things they don't. It's all part of being a team."
Treetops is a good example of what teamwork can accomplish. O'Rourke explains that the blueprint for the Smith signature course was more of a guide than anything else.
"Once we got started with the Smith Course, we made a lot of changes. It was a nice piece of property to start with and we didn't have to move a lot of dirt, but there are things you don't see until you start working."
It's a long process from turning a piece of property into 18 holes of magic. And O'Rourke has developed a few tricks along the way.
"The first thing we do is walk the property," he explains. "You are working hand-in-hand with the architect. He has the drawings and we walk over exactly what is drawn up. But like I said, things will change and I believe it's part of my job to help with those changes.
"We have changed a lot of things, from which way a fairway is going to go to where a green is going to be placed. The biggest factor is how much land you have to work with. If you have a small piece of property there is only so much you can do."
O'Rourke also liked the way Thornapple turned out. And the folks at Thornapple give plenty of credit to "Dozer Doug."
"He was fantastic to work with," said Dave Manes, president and general manager at Thornapple. "He brings a tremendous work ethic and a well-qualified staff. He also has a great feel for the playability of a golf course and builds a course that drains well, too. And that's very important."
Although he now has up to 40 employees working for him, Doug still gets behind the wheel of the dozer. He feels he owes it to the developer to be hands-on with all his projects.
"They are hiring me and my experience," he says. "I have some good people working for me that I know do a good job, but I still do a lot of the shaping myself. I don't see the company growing anymore than it is because of this. I don't want to become someone sitting behind a desk running a company."
"Dozer Doug" feels quite comfortable sitting behind the wheel of a bulldozer. And every once in awhile, sitting behind the wheel of a golf cart playing a course he helped design.
"I know there a lot of people who enjoy the game of golf," he says. "I like to build courses that are challenging yet enjoyable and playable. Golf is supposed to be fun."
And right now, "Dozer Doug" is having a lot of fun.
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