From The Editor
by Terry Moore
It's been almost 40 years since young Jerry Matthews first set foot on a golf course site with his famed architect father, Bruce Matthews. The business of golf course design and construction has surely undergone some sea and ground changes. "Back when I started with my Dad in 1959, most if not all projects started merely with a handshake and a verbal agreement," said Jerry Matthews, president and chief architect of "Jerry Matthews Natural Course Design."
"We relied little on paper work back then. In fact, we drew few if any plans," said Matthews. "Instead, we just jumped in feet first into the site and figured out what best worked for a golf course." As one of the state's most prolific architects whose signature is on hundreds of courses, Matthews is an excellent source on how the business of design has evolved over the last several decades. "Today, designs are more complicated and everybody covers their butt with paper and reports," said Matthews. "There are lots of specialists today_shapers and the like, many of whom seem to want to justify their cost in the project." In other words, according to the soft-spoken Matthews, "there's too much dirt being moved and shaped on many new courses."
Even though the business is changing, Matthews is not standing still. You might say Matthews is keeping up with the Joneses_Robert Jr., Rees et al. "Architecture is still a combination of art and technology," explained Matthews. "Art is what one does and sees on the site while technology is what one does back at the office." And Matthews readily admits that the design business is shifting more and more to the technical side. Nowadays, Matthews is ably assisted by a full-time CAD-CAM (computer-aided design) technician whose role is essential to the overall design of a site. But he's quick to add, like an old trooper of the woods and dale, that the "art is still in the dirt."
And to assist him in the "dirt," Matthews identified and hired an energetic associate with literally no experience in the design business. "By happenstance, I was introduced to Denny Spencer by a mutual friend," explained Matthews from his sun-filled office in Lansing. Spencer was coming off five educational but hard-scrabble years competing on the Senior PGA Tour and was looking for a new career opportunity. At the same time, Matthews was looking for a fresh start and perspective in a fast-changing and competitive business. "At one point I even considered retiring altogether," admitted Matthews. "But I realized someone with Denny Spencer's golfing experience and slant would be very good for me and our business.
"Denny knows the nuances of the game, particularly by that of the more competitive player," said Matthews. "My primary experience in golf course design has been aimed at the average, public player." As a result, the Matthews-Spencer duo has complemented each other well. "Denny has expanded my level of golf while, at the same time, I'm teaching him the practical side of golf design. We mesh very well."
Meshing well with people is a trademark of Jerry Matthews. His honest, dependable and self-effacing manner endear him to would-be developers with dreams aplenty of the next Pine Valley, Pebble Beach or cash cow muni. Befitting his respected reputation, Matthews is a former president of the prestigious American Society of Golf Course Architects. Along with his father, no one has designed more courses than Jerry Matthews. Such standout courses as Elk Ridge, Michaywe's Lake Course, The Natural, Timber Ridge, LE Kaufman, Grand Haven, Mistwood and The Majestic all were a product of Matthews' company. But he's equally proud of all of the smaller name courses literally dotting the state with far less notability. "I guess I'm proudest of the simple fact that all of the courses have done well and have made money. That's a nice legacy," said Matthews with a smile.
And the legacy is growing not just in Michigan but out of state as well.
Matthews and Spencer are especially eager to talk about The Battleground at Cool Spring. Located in northwestern Virginia, The Battleground will be an upscale public course with postcard views and scenery. It has views of the famed Shenandoah River for two miles. The site is bordered by sheer mountain cliffs and is graced by streams, waterfalls and gentle mountain slopes. "It may be our dream site for a golf course," said Matthews. In Michigan, Matthews and Spencer are deep into new projects in Manistee and Harbor Springs, among others, as well as finishing up an equally rewarding re-design of Groesbeck Municipal GC in Lansing.
After nearly 40 years in the business, Matthews admits to gaining a second wind in his career. "I'm proud to be associated with good, basic golf courses," said Matthews. "But today, designers need more flair and personality in their design to compete_things like waterfalls and retaining walls." Matthews sums it all up by saying he's learned to "adapt to market conditions."
Having plain-speaking, "no airs" Jerry Matthews talk about "market conditions" is another sign of times. But it's also reassuring to know someone as well-regarded, hard-working and honest as Jerry is still excited about doing more golf projects.
A CAD-CAM of his handshake will surely seal the deal.
On behalf of Michigan Golfer, I wish to congratulate contributing editor Jack Berry on his well-deserved honor as the 1997 Golf Association of Michigan's Distinguished Service Award recipient. The game of golf in Michigan has been enriched by Jack's thorough reporting and keen writing over the past 40 years. When it comes to knowing the game, the business, and the people of golf in our state, Jack Berry plays at scratch.
From The Editor
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