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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 23, 2005

Golf course design is apple of Paul Cowley’s eye

By Tim Matteson

ALTAMONT — When Paul Cowley walks into the barroom in the clubhouse at the Orchard Creek Golf Course, people flock to him.

Cowley is not a physically imposing man and is not overly well dressed. He looks like a man who is on vacation and is ready to play 18 holes.

He has charisma, though, without being boastful or self-important.

Cowley looks like he’d rather just visit with friends than draw too much attention to himself, which includes being interviewed for the newspaper.

But he obliges the reporter in his polite way and offers his story.

Cowley’s story is one of local boy going far, traveling the long and winding road to his current gig as one of the head architects for Davis Love III Inc., the professional golfer’s golf-course design company.

Cowley is the son of artist Ed and gardener Bette Cowley of Altamont.

"I grew up here," he says over a beer outside the restaurant at Orchard Creek. "I used to steal apples from the orchard."

The Abbruzzese family that owns the orchard couldn’t be too mad at that little delinquency; they hired Cowley to design the Orchard Creek course, one of the most popular in the Capital Region.

Cowley, who now lives on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia, has been an architect for courses all over the country and was recently honored by his peers.

He was inducted to the American Society of Golf Course Architects in April.

"In this profession, this is the highest thing you can get," he said. "What is nice about it, too, is that you are nominated by your peers. It’s nice to be recognized by them. There are only 157 in the country, so it is a small group."

Cowley said that three members of the group have to sponsor you and five had sponsored him.

"They review the work you’ve done and the nominating groups run a presentation by the big group," Cowley said. "Then the group votes on you."

To California

Cowley grew up playing golf, playing in his early teens at Western Turnpike Golf Course in Guilderland.

He worked at The Enterprise as well, when he was 12 years old.

"I was an insert boy and carried lead for the Linotype machines," Cowley said.

Cowley later worked in jobs as a designer, landscaper, and in building architecture.

He then decided to head west.

"I was in my 20’s and went via a Southern route," Cowley said. "And I ended up in California."

He wound up at one of most well-known golf courses in the country.

"I wanted to apply at Pebble Beach," Cowley said. "It’s the best course in the world. And, as luck would have it, they lost somebody the day before."

Cowley started as a greenskeeper and worked his way up before "migrating south" about 25 years ago and working in landscape and construction.

He then did some designing and planning for resorts, which included golf courses.

Cowley next got hooked up with Davis Love.

"He was interested in design and was looking to put together a design company," Cowley said. "We live on the same island."

Cowley met his St. Simon’s Island mate and started designing courses for him. The first , in 1991, was the Ocean Creek Golf Club on Fripp Island in South Carolina.

"I went to work for Love Golf Design," Cowley said, "and we’ve been together ever since. Now I’m a senior designer."

Cowley has designed 15 courses, mostly in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The only two that are not in the south are Orchard Creek and the Crystal Peak Golf Club in Reno, Nev.

Cowley also has eight courses under development.

He loves what he does, but said there is a lot of hard work that goes into it.

"We work hard in the planning," he said. "People ask me all the time if I would’ve gone a different path. There was no school for this discipline. But I knew about land planning and I understand golf."

Pressure comes with the job.

"When someone is willing to give $6 million to build something," Cowley said. "They are like, make me money. It’s an interesting business."

Natural setting

All courses offer different challenges, he said. They each have their little idiosyncasies that make them stand out.

At Orchard Creek, it was the the natural setting.

"Coming here for this project, it was really exciting," Cowley said. "I have family here and the course is more and more successful. It’s a great setting. There is a great view of the Helderbergs, which I hadn’t noticed until I started building the course. And, on the back three holes, you can see Settle’s Hill high point."

Cowley has a connection to all the courses he designs, but Orchard Creek will always have a stronger hold on him.

"There is, of course, the nostalgia connection," he said. "It’s probably the one course I come back to the most. The resorts are okay on vacation but, as far as day-in and day-out, I want to be at a golf course like this. This is the way golf is and should be."

Cowley also appreciates the way the course is run, saying it is run like most private golf courses.

"They do great work," Cowley said. "The superintendent, Peter Cure, does great maintaining it."

One of his other favorite courses is The Patriot in Lake Greenwood, S.C. The course features ruins of an old Civil War fort.

Each course design has its little quirks, usually based on the site.

"It’s a different approach with each one you design," Cowley said. "You incorporate different elements. Some you have a hard-scape element and others, their historic relevance. They add interest to the course. But every site is different."

On site

Cowley stays on the site until a course is complete. It usually takes eight to 10 months for construction, but, before that, is usually a six-month planning period.

Earth is moved to shape the course and Cowley stays for all of that process.

"We design everything from scratch," Cowley said. "We take the land form and apply it to the golf course."

For Cowley, it definitely isn’t a nine-to-five job.

"I actually do a lot of work at night or early in the morning," he said. "I try to figure out what’s going on out there. I go out there in the off hours, when the machinery is shut down. It’s the most exciting time. I can get things together and there’s no one there. I can figure out what they did and go on to the next thing."

Cowley said it is hard to picture himself in the role that he has today.

"When I was a greenskeeper at Pebble Beach," he said, "I never, ever saw myself as a course architect. It was unreasonable to think of that as a goal."

His up bringing may have played a role though, Cowley said. His father is a well-known artist and his mother is a horticulturist.

"I guess I got a combination of both their talents," Cowley said.

Cowley’s brother, Ed, also works in landscaping and construction and worked on Orchard Creek Golf Course.

"Ed did a lot with the seeding," Cowley said. "He helped a lot with the construction and brought in the stone markers that are on the course. He went out and individually picked them from a quarry."

On course

Paul Cowley’s time will continue to be busy with all the projects he has in the works. But that is okay with him. The next challenge presents a chance for more growth.

"With a lot of courses, I feel like I nailed 40 percent of it," Cowley said. "And 30 or 40 percent of the things, I wished I had spent more time with...There is about 10 percent of a project that were mistakes that I try not to incorporate into the next one. It’s a constant evolution of ideas."

In his 50’s, he doesn’t plan on quitting any time soon.

"I don’t have to have too much confidence," Cowley said, "because then I’d question whether I’d challenge myself with designs, and that will be time to get out of it. When you start reflecting on successes of the past is when people start getting stale...You just have to keep looking forward with the few challenges that you get."

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