Catching up with Bill Coore
The noted course architect and his team are as busy as ever, with projects in the pipeline around the world
By Matt Ginella
In light of the news that Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina has commissioned Tom Doak to build a course at Aberdeen, four miles from the front door of the main clubhouse, I reached out to Bill Coore for comment.
Where was Coore? At Pinehurst, at the Dornoch Cottage, Donald Ross’s old house, taking a break from having walked and tweaked his routing at Aberdeen, the one he did in 2012. The thought at the time was that the Coore and Ben Crenshaw course would be No. 9 at Pinehurst and would’ve opened in concert with the playing of the men’s and women’s U.S. Open championships in 2014. But because of the economic uncertainty, and because of a shift in focus to what Pinehurst already had in and around the main clubhouse, the decision was made to wait.
Coore shared the story of how and why the parties came to that decision. Bob Dedman, the owner of Pinehurst, called a meeting near his home in Dallas in 2012. An inner circle of advisers was present. The new routing was on the table, but Dick Higginbotham, Pinehurst’s CFO, strongly urged Dedman to hold off.
“At that point, Dedman put his elbows on the table and his head in his hands,” Coore recalls. “Don Padgett, the president at the time, looked down and said, ‘Bob, are you OK?’ To which Bob looked up at everyone in the room and asked: ‘What if they die?!’”
They were Coore and Crenshaw. Now here we are, a decade later, and as Dedman will turn 66 in June, Coore asks: “Now it’s like, ‘Bob, what if you die?”
Coore laughs as he tells the story. He’s 77 now, and Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion, will turn 71 on Jan. 11. Both are very much alive. Not only are they tweaking what will most likely be the 11th course at Pinehurst (2025?), but Coore also filled me in on everything his company has going on in architecture.
Coore and Crenshaw will be wrapping up three projects in the next few months. First there’s Cabot Saint Lucia (pictured above) for Ben Cowan-Dewar, with financial assistance from Mike Keiser. Cowan-Dewar and Keiser partnered on all things Cabot in Inverness, Nova Scotia, where Coore and Crenshaw built Cabot Cliffs.
They’re finishing up the second course at McArthur Golf Club in Florida, a private course that will be a companion to what Coore refers to as a “very nice Fazio design.” The third project is a putting course at the private Wicker Point Golf Club in Lake Martin, Ala., which will open alongside the 18-hole course they’ve been building for Russell Lands.
As for what’s next, five projects are five on the horizon: They’ll get started in May on a course for Sam Byrne at the Yellowstone Club in Montana. Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, who recently launched their own design firm, will be key associates on that project.
“Sam (Byrne) is a delightful guy, and it’s a beautiful piece of land,” Coore says. “I believe Gil (Hanse) will build a second course after us.”
Coore and his team will be doing a complete renovation of the Pines Course at The International in Bolton, Mass. The private course was opened as a nine-holer in 1899, converted to 18 holes by Geoffrey Cornish in 1955, and at 8,040 yards, debuted as the longest course in the world.
New ownership led to another conversion by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1972, which he lengthened the back tees to 8,325 yards. After yet another ownership change, Tom Fazio added the Oaks course in 2001. Escalante Golf acquired The International out of bankruptcy in February 2021, and now Coore and Crenshaw will completely redesign the Pines, which may be available to limited outside play.
“Ryan Farrow, who spent a lot of time at Sand Valley, has already got a jump-start on that project,” Coore says.
Then there’s the course on the private island in the Bahamas for a developer who for now wishes to remain anonymous.
“It’s a 700-acre island with its own runway,” Coore says. “It’ll be played by only friends and associates of the owner. It’ll all be right on the ocean. It’s where they filmed those famous scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean, with that pristine blue water.”
The next 18-hole Coore and Crenshaw course available to the public will be for Michael and Chris Keiser, Mike Keiser’s sons, who hired the pair to build their first course at Sand Valley in Wisconsin. The Keiser boys will probably add at least one more course at Sand Valley, which already has four 18-hole courses and a 17-hole par-3 course, before developing Rodeo Dunes outside of Denver.
“It’s possible we start sometime there this year,” Coore says. “John Hawker, who’s the one finishing up at McArthur, will be leading that project.”
Coore is thrilled the Keiser boys hired Jim Craig, another longtime associate of Coore and Crenshaw, who has been working with them “since he was a kid,” to build what will be the second 18 at Rodeo Dunes. Craig spent a lot of time working on Sand Valley’s first course, and not only was he was a part of the team who built Bandon Trails and then Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes, but he also worked closely with Michael Keiser on the building of the Sand Box, Sand Valley’s par-3 course.
So that’s three projects being finished and at least four more in the works. Not to mention, an additional short course at Streamsong in Florida. That will get started sometime this spring.
Coore and Crenshaw get a little concerned that the perception is they’re too busy because they prefer to be working on no more than two courses at one time.
Coore tries to be on site on every project for at least 100 days, which limits the amount of work they can take on. His team is also selective about who they work with and the land they work on.
And Covid, as was the case with so many other small businesses, impacted the business. In 2020, construction was underway on a course at Tara Iti in New Zealand. Coore had to get special permission to fly in and out of the country and had to quarantine for two weeks on the front end of each trip. But the course was completed and will neighbor a pair of Tom Doak designs.
That means Tara Iti, Bandon Dunes, Barnbougle in Tasmania, Streamsong, Sand Valley and ultimately Pinehurst will be able to promote having both Doak and Coore and Crenshaw courses.
“Ben and I are both so happy Pinehurst selected Tom for the first course at Aberdeen,” Coore says. “No disrespect to anyone else, but as Tom (Pashley, the president of Pinehurst) said in that press release, Pinehurst is a museum. Not only of golf for elite amateurs and the pros, but for architecture. It’s a showcase of styles and of eras, and they didn’t have a Tom Doak design. And there’s no question he’s one of the very best at his profession. Pinehurst deserves him, and he deserves an opportunity to showcase his talents at a place like Pinehurst. It’ll be mutually beneficial. And the timing couldn’t be better.”
Coore compared it to what happened at Pacific Dunes. He said that everyone knew Doak was talented, and that when he got the opportunity from Mike Keiser to build what was the second course at Bandon Dunes in 2001 that everyone would begin to understand his genius.
“What defines success?” Coore says. “Talent, preparation and opportunity. This is a wonderful thing for both Tom and Pinehurst.”
As for the Coore and Crenshaw 2012 routing at Aberdeen, which he will continue to tweak in preparation for a project that most likely will get commissioned after the next U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2024, Coore says: “This could all work out perfectly. We weren’t in a position to build this course right now. Tom gets to go first. And his routing isn’t really in any conflict for us and our routing.”
Doak and Angela Moser, his lead associate on this project, whom Coore is a big fan of, will build their course on the west side of the 900 acres and will get started later this month. The Coore and Crenshaw course will be on the east side, with the potential for several short courses in between. The design firm of King-Collins (Sweetens Cove) has been on the property at least once.
“I’m working on a revised routing,” Coore says, “and it’s better.”
So with the PGA Tour season underway and as we settle into what will undoubtedly be another turbulent stretch in professional golf—Cam Smith not defending the Players Championship and all qualified golfers being invited to play the Masters—let’s take a breath, hold out hope for a swift and sensible resolution to all that needs to be resolved, enjoy the breathtaking views from Maui and take a second to appreciate Coore, one of the architects responsible for Kapalua’s Plantation Course, host of the Tournament of Champions.
Coore and Crenshaw have been on quite the run for the past three decades, ever since the Plantation Course, their first course, opened for play in 1991. “It was nothing but a dream,” Coore says. “To be a golf course architect. And then it was real.”
“Have you ever heard about the frog who dreamed of being a king, and then became one?” Coore says. “I still love going out and tromping around on property. It’s a puzzle. I like exploring and finding a way of getting around.”
Most refer to that as a routing, the narrative that starts at the 1st tee and usually ends on the 18th green. That is what inspires Coore, as he envisions one intriguing and artful hole after another. “The day it becomes work is the day I quit,” he says. “Or if I’m physically unable to get around. I don’t see myself being driven around pointing at things.”
And to watch Coore “tromping around on property” is quite the experience. He moves quickly. And with a purpose. He’s quiet. It’s as if he’s hunting holes.
Rhebb, who has worked with Coore and Crenshaw for almost 20 years, ever since he was 22, says Coore “outwalks all of us on the course.”
At Cabot Cliffs, long before the shaping of the course began, I saw him jump out of a moving truck because he was so excited about what would become the 2nd hole (pictured above). On one expedition he got so far into the trees at Bandon Trails, somewhere near what is now the 9th green, the farthest point from the clubhouse, he realized he might not make it back before dark.
Well, he made it. So has the team of Coore and Crenshaw.
Not long ago, I produced a two-part podcast on how they met, formed a partnership, and got off to a rough start. (They had several stop-starts before they opened a course for play). They shared stories about the building of the Plantation Course and then Sand Hills in Nebraska.
“It’s fascinating to us,” Coore says, “that there are people who’ll say they’ll wait three or four years for us to build them a course, but we couldn’t get one built in the first five years we were together. It’s unimaginable.”
Maybe for Coore and Crenshaw, but not for anyone who has spent time with them or who has played one of their courses.
“They’ve provided a road map of how to conduct ourselves, not only as professionals, but as human beings,” Rhebb says. “The lessons we’ve learned, from both Bill and Ben, are endless and priceless.”
The best news of all: There’s more on the way.