HOLLAND – Ray Hearn has traveled around the world for his work as a golf course architect, but home has always been Michigan.
“I’m a Midwest guy, I love Michigan, love the seasons, my family is here, my wife and kids love Michigan,” he said. “I’ll be honest Michigan winters by the time it gets to February can be a little tough, but then I’m blessed to be able to pop down to Florida for a while.”
Born and raised in Detroit, educated at Michigan State University and a longtime resident of Holland on the west side of the state, Hearn’s firm, Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs Inc., is celebrating 25 years this summer.
For a quarter of a century Hearn and his firm have excelled in golf course architecture, including creating new course designs and the restoration, renovation, and remodeling of existing courses throughout the United States and abroad.
“It has been a great ride thus far with a couple bumps – recessions – mixed in here and there,” Hearn said. “We have stayed busy during these 25 years and our portfolio remains diverse with a variety of projects.”
In the company’s early years new golf course design comprised 60 percent of the work portfolio but the portfolio has evolved with the industry over time. Existing golf course restoration, renovation and remodeling make up 80 percent of the company’s current work.
“We are still lucky enough to have some new 18-hole designs kicking around,” Hearn said. “Times have changed in the industry though. There are fewer new courses being constructed, especially in the USA, but at the same time there are wonderful opportunities to restore, renovate or remodel existing courses that over time have come to need updating in various ways. Our company excels in this.”
Hearn’s firm is busy with several projects currently underway, including some in Michigan.
He completed a Master Plan for Washtenaw Golf Club in Ypsilanti last fall and renovation and restoration work has started on one of the oldest golf courses in the state (1899).
At Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs he is working on master plans for each hole on The Moor course, doing some restoration work on the Donald Ross Memorial course and planning a new par 3 course.
At White Lake Golf Club in Whitehall he is restoring features, shot values and strategies of the original Tom Bendelow design that dates to 1916.
He has been working on and off in recent years with The Inn at St. Johns in Plymouth with master planning ideas and has also prepared an award-winning master plan for Maple Lane Golf Club in Sterling Heights.
Hearn’s company has earned a national reputation for their award-winning restoration, renovation, and remodeling. The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) has acknowledged his firm with Design Excellence Recognition Awards five times since 2012, including three for Michigan projects – renovation of his original design in 2013 at Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville, renovation work in 2018 at Water’s Edge Golf Club in Fremont and the 2019 master planning at Maple Lane. The other two were for work in Panama (renovation at Golf de Club de Panama) and renovation work on Hearn’s original award-winning design at Mistwood Golf Club in Chicago.
Kathy Aznavorian of Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center in Plymouth pointed out that Hearn’s 2001 design of their Strategic Fox par 3 course was then a revolutionary concept. That design won the Michigan Golf Course Association’s Golf Course of the Year award.
Golf Inc. Magazine has ranked Hearn’s firm among the highest valued architects in American and one of the global golf industry’s most innovative designers.
Some of his company’s projects have been completed or are underway on highly regarded designs from various eras including the acclaimed “Golden Age of Golf Course Design.” Hearn said he has enjoyed the privilege of working on three pre-1900 projects with a fourth and possibly fifth assignment coming soon, and that working on existing courses versus creating new ones is obviously entirely different but equally as exciting.
“Working on existing courses, especially historical classics, is more difficult in my opinion due in part to the time that must be dedicated to research right out of the gate,” he said. “Respectfully, working on courses where Willie Park, Ross, Bendelow, Langford, Tweedie, and other legends graced the property and created years ago is an incredible privilege for which I am humbled.”
Hearn, a devoted MSU Spartan who started his career working with Jerry Matthews and Associates in Lansing, said he is often asked about the elements that have helped him in his architecture journey.
“I always respond in this order: My university degree in Landscape Architecture with my emphasis area in Golf Course Architecture and my degree in Turfgrass Science,” he said. “My overseas study and tours in Scotland, Ireland and England were also invaluable. Combining those things with years of experience has aided my career, and I’ve always held that, as with any profession, you must never stop learning.”