December 14, 2023 By: Jim McCabe — From creative vantage points that afford them optimum conditions – be at the break of day or when majestic sunsets cast long shadows – photographers who capture the essence of our finest golf courses have helped create a new-found level of awe for these beloved playgrounds.
Savor their brilliant work, for exquisite photography pays homage to great golf course design and has exponentially increased our understanding of the uncanny vision that architects put into their craft.
Our national landscape has never been this deep in rich, outstanding golf courses, at both the public and private levels, and a healthy parade of golf course designers are enjoying work opportunities and wide-spread attention that is well deserved.
But an aspect of this world that deserves greater appreciation is how completion of the design and construction doesn’t signal an end to a great partnership. “Golf clubs are all about families,” said Jim Wagner. “We work with people for a (common denominator) – to build or restore courses. In the process, you cannot help but become one big family.”
So when the design and construction phase is finished, it is clearly understood that much work remains.
“Knowing the work that goes into maintaining a golf course and running a golf club after we’ve left . . . well, it occurred to us that we needed to do something to give back.”
Hanse Golf Course Design came on line around 1993 and while the principles are widely known – Gil Hanse is President and Lead Designer; Wagner is Vice-President and Design Partner – what speaks to the flavor of this group is their sense of attachment. They maintain close ties to clubs where they have done work and are frequently involved in updates and master plans.
The idea to give back through “Caveman Scholarships” is a byproduct of their appreciation for all the success that has come their way.
“We thought it would be a cool initiative, that we should give back to the clubs we worked at,” said Wagner.
First, some background on where “Caveman” came from.
It is owed to Bill Kittleman, a rather legendary figure in PGA of America circles. Head professional at iconic Merion from 1970-1996, Kittleman at 65 retired and after a few years he teamed with Hanse and jumped into his real passion.
Having studied architecture at Yale (Class of ’54), the Mississippi native has the title of Design Partner with Hanse Golf Course Design but the truth is, Kittleman at 91 is a quintessential mentor in all things work and life.
About 17 years ago, Kittleman was trying to convey his thoughts as the team was constructing a bunker. When it was discovered that all the tools had been locked up for the day, he was frustrated. He could have given up, but not Kittleman. He grabbed a stick and started digging into the soil to explain his vision.
“Bill turned to us and said, ‘Look at this, we are like a bunch of cavemen out here,’ ” laughs Wagner.
Thus was Caveman Construction born.
Hanse and Wagner considered it more beneficial to keep all the contracting controls in house since each of them, like their colleagues, embrace working in the dirt over standing over drawing boards.
As the premier jobs filtered to the Hanse group and respect for their work resonated throughout golf, Wagner said he was struck by the enjoyment that came with meeting so many different people at clubs where the work was being done.
“It’s so true what is always said about golf,” said Wagner. “That the best part of the game is the people.”
Superintendents and their staff members, so many maintenance workers, landscapers and clubhouse staffers. These are the people who were instrumental in so many of the jobs that Hanse, Wagner, Kittleman, and their colleagues worked on. But when they were done and moved on to the next job, guess what? Those clubs prospered because so many of the workers who had helped in the project remained to continue with their passions.
“We’re fortunate to be in an industry where so many are OK with doing hard work,” said Wagner. “We say it all the time, you have to love what you do and so many of these people do love it.”
One day when Wagner was with friends from the Outpost Club, a national golf society, he was told about the group’s foundation. One of their priorities was to give back to clubs where their members played, specifically with scholarships for caddies. “It sounded like a cool initiative,” said Wagner.
Thoughts of starting a Caveman Scholarship program entered his mind, but Wagner quickly realized that his small crew had too much work and too little time to administer such an endeavor. No worries, his friend assured him, “the Outpost Foundation can host your Caveman Scholarship.”
Initially, prospective candidates had to be studying in turfgrass programs, but over the last few years the net has been widened. Candidates have to be from golf clubs where Caveman Construction worked, but the field of interest can vary.
Thus have scholarships gone to assistant superintendents, turfgrass majors, maintenance staff members, children of a chemical applicator, sons and daughters of those who work on the grounds crew, and a clubhouse hostess. They worked at clubs where Hanse Golf Course Design was asked to sprinkle its uncanny imagination – Seminole, Colonial, Winged Foot, Oakland Hills, The Country Club, Southern Hills, Merion, Lake Merced, Ladera GC in Thermal, Calif., and CapRock Ranch in Nebraska.
Funds for the scholarships have come from the sale of merchandise through https://cavemanconstructiongear.com and from personal contributions from Hanse and Wagner. Donations from the many friends Hanse and Wagner have met along the way have helped significantly and recently a neat little bow was tied around this charitable effort.
It was an annual tournament at Boston Golf Club in Hingham, Mass., in memory of the man who was the visionary and guiding force of the club – John Mineck. Hanse and Wagner, as they always are, were in attendance because they will never forget the impact Mineck had on their careers.
More than 20 years ago, an acquaintance said he had never heard of Gil Hanse. Mineck, flashing a wry smile merely said, “You will.” He had that much confidence in the decision to hire Hanse Golf Course Design to build Boston Golf Club and from the day it opened in 2005 the course has been blanketed with an aura.
That Mineck died in May of 2007 while working on his beloved golf course is a heartache many of us cannot shake. That board members of the John D. Mineck Foundation announced an annual $25,000 Caveman Scholarship is a sense of symmetry of the sweetest flavor.
“That’s because John was all about connecting with people,” said Wagner. “We met so many people when we were building BGC, people we’re still friends with. We know that clubs are like families and this (Caveman Scholarship) is a way to help family members.”