Arthur Hills' personality comes through while working on book

By Michael Patrick Shiels, Contributor

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Who are the reigning "deans" of golf course architecture? At present, the two designers of significance with the most longevity in the business are Pete Dye and Arthur Hills.

"Arthur Hills? You don't say?"

Even the casual golfer can spot the distinctive work of the controversial Dye -- he of railroad ties, island greens, county-sized coquina shell waste areas, and bunkers torn into the landscape as if by a runaway bulldozer.

Hills, though, is not the cocktail circuit type, and not prone to tooting his own horn. While other designers appear in headlines, magazines, television shows, and at the center of controversies, Hills, from his farmhouse headquarters in Toledo, Ohio, has quietly, and without hyperbole, built a nearly 40-year legacy by pleasing clients, developers and golfers.

Bay Harbor, BigHorn, TPC at Eagle Trace, Half Moon Bay, Shaker Run, and Shepherd's Hollow are among his American triumphs, and the benefits of his precise and gentle hands have been felt at prestigious clubs such as Inverness, Oakland Hills, Burning Tree, and Oakmont.

Over the past year, I've had the good fortune to complete a study with the indefatigable and prolific Hills. The purpose was to collaborate with him and write the new book: "The Works of Art? Golf Course Designs by Arthur Hills."

Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates offer this 12x9 hardback book, consisting of approximately 240 pages with over 300 golf course, historical and architectural photographs and sketches in celebration of the company's upcoming 40th anniversary. Of course, there are anecdotes, humor and philosophy, too.

Readers of "The Works of Art" will find an informative record of a career in golf course architecture that spans three quarters of a century. First edition books arrived exclusively at Arthur Hills-designed clubs within the past two weeks. All of the proceeds will be distributed directly to needy charitable organizations.

Since I began working closely with Hills, the single most common comment about him -- a comment I've heard made by everyone from Donald Trump to rival architect Tom Fazio, is what a nice guy Arthur is. As you'll see in my introduction to "The Works of Art," he's a bloody candid fellow as well.

My first conversation with Arthur Hills occurred last January as we stood on the practice range of the newly opened Miami Beach Golf Club. Hills was in sun splashed South Beach to speak to golf journalists and reporters from el Herald about the course.

I scribbled down notes on the back of a press kit as he answered questions about turf grass and water demands. After the requisite collection of facts, I queried him about his career and mentioned that I'd recently played one of his earliest courses.

"Oh, I didn't know too much about what I was doing when I designed that one," he admitted.

The candor was astonishing. In the writing of "Works of Art," Hills provided hours and hours of that straightforward, unassuming candor. I prodded him into talking about his memories, his philosophies, his strategies and his challenges. Almost 200 courses after that early design he mentioned, he's created some of the most famous courses in America and many throughout the world, including LPGA International, Mirasol CC, Gaillardia, and Egypt Valley CC, each of which have hosted LPGA, PGA Tour and Champions Tour

Like many artists, I found him best understood not through his words but through his work, so I traveled to Aspen with Arthur and His Man Tonto Quentin Lutz to see him in action. The trip allowed me to attend the final tweaking and grand opening of a course Arthur had created there called Ironbridge Golf Club.

We'd played a couple of rounds of golf on that dramatic course out there, during which he playfully chided me about my handicap. He decreed penalty strokes null and void and insisted we "only count the shots we hit." He politely pointed out features of his new course only when asked about them. He even politely endured the design comments and suggestions I had the audacity to run by him.

"Yeah, good," he'd quickly say with the flattest of tone.

At one point, Quentin and I were staring up into the jagged rocky cliffs through which the course was carved. We noticed a shape in the rock that we thought resembled the shape of a traditional Mexican caballero. Despite our attempts to point it out and direct his attention, Arthur just couldn't see it.

"I can't see it. Does this mean I am not creative or imaginative?" he asked.

"Don't worry, Arthur. It probably means you're normal," I joked.

"No, no, no," he said. "I don't want to be normal."

About a week later, I received a voice mail message from Arthur.

"Michael, Quentin and I are driving into Seattle and we just saw two big things on a mountainside. We saw a rooster, and we saw Abe Lincoln lying on his back with his arms across his chest. Talk to you later."

The Works of Art, Golf course Designs by Arthur Hills with Michael Patrick Shiels, is available at,, and by calling (800) 369-2646 ext. 3370. The book retails for $65, and Hills is especially proud that all proceeds will be donated to various children's charities and charitable organizations throughout America.

"The book will provide significant support to people in need all over the country," said Hills. "This book also provided us with an opportunity to reconnect with many of our wonderful clients. Without their support this book could not have been possible."

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Saying Hello

    Bob Binion wrote on: May 26, 2009

    Mr. Hills,
    You probably don't remember me, my Father, Ed , worked for your Landscape Company, in the 70's. Regrettably he died on the job.
    I know my Dad held you in high esteem and I know he would be proud of your accomplishments.
    I hope to get the chance to play one of your courses, someday.