Knott Your Average Golf Course Designer

Sun Valley’s courses designed by one of the sport’s best

By Mike McKenna

Trail Creek, Hole #18

When you get right down to it, it’s actually easier to make it as a professional golfer than it is as a professional golf course architect.

Don Knott is one of those lucky few people with the talent and tenacity to make the cut as a professional golf course architect. But he hasn’t simply made the cut.

Don has become one of the most highly respected golf course architects of all time. If there were a Master’s Tournament for golf course designers, Don–-who designed Sun Valley’s White Clouds course and redesigned Trail Creek–would get a lifetime exemption.

 

Don Knott designs his golf courses to fit within the natural landscape

"Golf is still golf"

Don didn’t always have a love affair with golf. A collegiate All-American swimmer at UC Berkeley, the Northern California native didn’t pick up the game until graduate school.

He started playing Berkeley’s course simply because he loved the outdoors and had a passion for landscape design. Don quickly got hooked on the game and could often be seen riding his motorcycle to the local college course, carrying his clubs on his back.

Knott landed an internship with the legendary Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Architects (RTJ2)  in Palo Alto, California. He quickly made his mark in the company and was hired on, eventually becoming RTJ2′s Lead Project Architect and Senior Vice President of Design, spending the next 26 years helping the firm to construct golf courses all over the world.

"The game is pretty traditional. It’s been 18 holes for a long time," Don explains. "Golf is still golf. People still hit the ball the same way as they always have. The key to all great courses isn’t how much money they cost to build, it’s that they fit into the natural landscape. A good golf course design makes it look like you haven’t moved any dirt to make it, at least that’s the goal."

"There has to be magic"

Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach,  The National Golf Club of Australia, The Prince Course in Hawaii, and Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall are some of Don’s most celebrated designs.

"It’s hard to build a bad course on a great location," Don explains. "But there has to be magic to the location if it’s going to be a truly special course. There’s a reason Pebble Beach is so famous.

"Of course, you have to have nice views. But there should also be a wee bit of mystery and intrigue," Don explains. "The origins of the game are not based on scoring. The origins of golf are that it’s an obstacle course through nature. You hit the ball and then you go see what your fate is."

"Idaho is just spectacular"

"I still love the game and play when I can," says Don, who left RTJ2 in 1999 to found the Knott & Linn Golf Design Group with fellow golf course designer, Gary Linn.

The breathtaking view from the White Clouds course, Hole #4

Based in Mountain View, California, they are busy building courses across the globe, but one of Don’s favorite places to swing the sticks is still Idaho.

"Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall is one of my favorite spots, and the 360 view you get at the courses in Sun Valley makes it a really special place," says Knott, who travels to the Wood River Valley each Summer to play in the Danny Thompson Memorial.

"The whole mountain scene in Idaho is just spectacular," Don declares, professing the type of admiration for the Gem State that golfers all over the world have for his work.

There may be more than 28 million golfers in America alone, but there’s only one Don Knott, and players all over the country–and especially in Idaho–are certainly happy he made the cut as a golf course architect.