For course designer Beau Welling, the game is just a starting point for more human connections

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“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” — James Joyce, “Ulysses”

 

Golf courses are most often photographed without players. Unsullied, they are defiant, pristine, perfect. But Greenville golf course and land designer Beau Welling sees the intangibles: companionship, association, collaboration, creativity, shared joy and comforted disappointment. Places cannot be fulfilled until they are shaped by human interaction.

Welling knows that his perspective may be a bit different from others. He comes by that honestly, having honed it through an extremely diverse array of educational and business experiences.

“I’ve always been fascinated by learning,” Welling says. “That’s what I am into the most and it will take me on interesting routes. I get interested in something new. And I like the sense of discovery. So I am constantly seeking out new things to discover.”

To that end, he’s traveled the world designing and building golf courses, lived in Europe, earned a degree in physics from Brown University, a master’s in international business from the University of South Carolina, been a “visiting scholar” at Trinity College in Dublin, and studied landscape architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. Among his clients he counts Tiger Woods and the Biltmore Estate, where he has an advisory role in long-range planning that sustains the property while maintaining the vision of its designer, Frederick Law Olmstead.

 

Bigger than the course

 

Welling’s journey of discovery has energized himself and his company, Beau Welling Design, which he launched in 2007.

For 10 years, Welling worked with Tom Fazio, the champion golfer and world’s leading golf course designer. The list of golf courses he worked on in the Fazio years is impressive, including Pinehurst #4, exclusive Pine Hill in New Jersey and Waterville in Ireland, one of the Top 100 courses in the British Isles, birthplace of the sport.

Working with Fazio helped Welling learn “the business of what we’re trying to do.” He describes Fazio as a “wonderful teacher” and a “close friend.” But ultimately what he learned is that he wanted to “do more than just golf.”

His work with Fazio led him to collaborate with Tiger Woods’ golf course design business, where Welling is now senior design consultant. In that role, he helps to execute Woods’ vision of golf course design projects, like the new Bluejack National golf community in Texas.

“It started that all the planning we did was around golf, but the communities and projects that I got really excited about were the ones where the club itself became really neat,” he says. “It was something bigger than the golf course.”

What that means is often intangible. “I see it. I know within myself what the consistent part of this practice is. But it is hard to verbalize,” Welling explains. “New clients come to us because they want to talk greens, tees and bunkers, and all of a sudden I’m talking about human planning and this experiential stuff.”

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Changing the American golf game

 

“Cultures are different in how people like to get together,” Welling says. For example, golf. The play is fairly consistent no matter where in the world you go. But the social aspects are very diverse. In Korea, he says, “golf is a daylong experience” that includes stops for tea and snacks on the par 3s, a full sit-down lunch between the front and back nine and then a trip to the spa followed by dinner.

The example isn’t just anecdotal. It is what he thinks golf needs to evolve into: an experience, not just a round; the feed and caring of social relationships.

To facilitate that, Welling envisions some basic changes in the way Americans play golf.

More walking (fewer carts) — not for the exercise, but for the human experience. “Camaraderie in golf,” he says, “is one of the game’s most precious assets, and it needs to be fostered even more than the game itself.”

More flexibility. Golf is a highly programmed and coordinated activity. You’ve got to make a tee time in advance and arrive on time. You’ve got to wear the right clothes, know the rules and complete your activity within a socially accepted amount of time. This rigidity may, in part, contribute to golf participation being “flat to down,” Welling thinks.


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“It’s trying to create intangible brands in a way that connect people. It can be golf. And it can not be golf.”

– Beau Welling


What’s exploding, though, are unscheduled things: running, hiking, biking. Go when you’re ready, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re done. What golf needs, Welling believes, are more “golf-like” experiences where you decide how long you’ll do it. Practice ranges, short courses, relaxed rules and night play under the lights.

In Spartanburg, Beau Welling Design is working on the ReGenesis Project. The project is the rehabilitation of the Arkwright community, an inner-city area fouled by chemical waste, forgotten by government and mired in poverty and crime.

Into this mix, Welling brings golf. In a central area, BWD will build a practice range, nine holes of regulation golf and a series of shorter holes. “The project resonates with me on a lot of levels. We are taking something where humans have done bad things and we’re going to make a good thing. And I think it is going to be fun.” And it will expose new people to golf, particularly young people, who might never had had that chance.

Are these steps toward saving golf? Says Welling: “It’s trying to create intangible brands in a way that connect people. It can be golf. And it can not be golf.”

 

Method to the madness

 

Welling is placing his mark on South Carolina through several high-profile projects that feed his desire to create these spaces for connection and interaction. In addition to the ReGenesis project, BWD is integral in the development of Camperdown at the south end of Main Street. The firm is taking the lead on the design of the canopy that will be the iconic image for the new space. He sees this project as a big step in creating “Greenville 3.0,” which would move from the flow of human traffic up and down Main Street to “nodes of people clustering more together.” Camperdown, he says, “will be a big movement in that direction.” The direction of all the great urban environments, he says.

In Columbia, a former asylum is being transformed into a mixed-use development bringing modern urban design to the 181-acre BullStreet project while preserving the 19th-century character of the city and the existing buildings. BWD got involved through Welling’s friendship with Robert Hughes, master developer of the project.

“He said, ‘You know, you don’t have to have a golf course in the middle of it to do all this stuff you’re talking about.’”

Hughes brought him into the BullStreet project, which Welling defines as “a great opportunity to make the leap and take some things that I had learned more around the recreational and resort space and start putting them in an urban context.”

“If you look through all the things I’ve done,” Welling says, “it looks schizophrenic.” But there is method to this madness. “It all comes from a thirst for learning and discovery.”


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3 things about Beau Welling

 

1: Golf isn’t his only sports passion.

He is the founder of the Palmetto Curling Club in Greenville and serves as the U.S. representative to the World Curling Federation.

 

2: He is a member of the board of directors of The First Tee of Greenville.

The First Tee strives to impact young people’s lives and instill them with the values that are both the bedrock of golf and of a well-conducted life.

 

3: There are four things he can’t live without:

“Reading, thinking, learning and drinking… I am half Irish, after all.”


Beau and Tiger link up on Bluejack

 

Bluejack National, the first Tiger Woods-designed golf course in the U.S., opened last April in Montgomery, Texas. It is, Beau Welling says, “the most significant thing I’ve done.”

Although he’s not big on superlatives, he can’t hide his pride in the project. “This is our little experiment of what we think golf should be.”

The golf course is just one part of this private club community with a resort vibe. The 18-hole course has no rough, so you almost never lose a ball. That cuts playing time down to a “very fast three to 3 1/2 hours.”

But when Welling gets really excited is when he’s talking about The Playgrounds, a 10-hole short course of 35- to 135-yard holes and a 30,000-square-foot putting green. “You and I could go out after a round on the main course, take a cocktail in one hand, a club in the other and have fun,” he says. It’s a relaxed, low-pressure environment for families to do “all these human things.”

The concept is reminiscent of the fishing camps and lodges of the 1800s. Working with Tiger Woods Design, BWD was actively involved in the land planning for the entire 775-acre community. The entire project fits the Welling desire for experiences. In addition to The Playgrounds, there’s The Fort and its Wiffle ball field, skate park, canoeing and fishing, zip line and flag football field.

“I am uber proud of this,” he says.


Beau Welling’s projects

 

From China to Columbia, S.C., Beau Welling Design is making its mark. Here are a few past and present projects.

Current

Stanford University Golf Course, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford ranks fourth among U.S. colleges producing the best PGA Tour players. No. 1 on that list is Tiger Woods. The Stanford course that honed Tiger’s skills opened in 1930. BWD is helping the university evaluate possible renovations to the course and the practice facility.

The University of South Carolina, Columbia: Just last week, BWD started staking out the new 17-acre golf practice facility. The firm designed “The Coop,” a smaller practice area that opened in 2012. The new practice area is near the Williams-Brice football stadium and will offer world-class training for Gamecock golfers. Construction should finish this summer.

The Biltmore: BWD serves in an advisory role for land planning at the Biltmore Estate. Grace Vince, BWD marketing director, defines that as “helping to synthesize the many factors that should influence both short term planning needs, along with long-range legacy planning that conforms to the historic and sustainable master plan of George Vanderbilt and Fredrick Law Olmsted.” Frederick Law Olmstead, the founder of landscape architecture, designed New York City’s Central Park, the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the Stanford University campus.

Camperdown: The Main Street site where The Greenville News building has stood for nearly 50 years will be forever changed by the Camperdown project. BWD has been involved in the project from the beginning, offering land and site planning, streetscaping concepts, landscaping designs and advisory services. BWD is leading the design process for a canopy that will be another iconic image for the city along with the Liberty Bridge.

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Quinta do Lago (Portugal): The North Course underwent a complete redesign in 2014. A collaborative project with BWD and European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, the project was completed in just 10 months, despite having a number of environmental and planning challenges. Quinta do Lago appears on several Top 100 lists of international golf courses.

27 Club: In Tianjin, China, the 27 Club is a unique golf experience. Each of its 27 holes expresses the vision of a major championship winner. The result is a dramatic setting, unique in the world of golf experiences reflecting the vision of players like Fred Couples, Tom Watson and Greg Norman.

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