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Architecturally Sound

South Central PGA
GOLF Magazine
Volume 9, No.5
October-December 2002

Mal Elliott profiles course designer Gary Linn

When Gary Linn was a lad just big enough to pull a golf cart, he and brother Brian would caddy for his mom and dad, Dick and Marilyn Linn, at Sim Park or MacDonald Park, two of Wichita’s oldest public courses. Their pay was a sundae at one of Wichita’s earlier ice cream parlors.

Eventually there was a bigger payoff – a career with Robert Trent Jones II, one of the world’s greatest golf-course architects, and eventually a partnership in his own golf architecture firm.

Gary and Brian went through the junior golf programs at Sim Park, in which their mother was a key figure. She also became a trustee of the Wichita Junior Golf Foundation, which has provided opportunities for thousands of Wichita junior golfers for the past 30 years.

Gary and Brian played on the Wichita North High School team and Gary worked for head pro Jerry Hatfield at Wichita’s Rolling Hills Country Club. The Linn brothers attended Kansas State University, where Brian played on the golf team. Brian is a two-time champion of the Wichita stroke-play championship, which was renamed in his honor after he died of cancer in the 1980’s.

Armed with a degree in landscape architecture (1978), Gary went to work. He soon got a call from former classmate Mark Rathert, who asked Linn to join him as a member of the Robert Trent Jones II firm.

That was the start of a 20-year tenure with Jones, which whisked Linn to all parts of the world. Jones’s firm was the first American company to undertake golf projects in the Far East.

While many of the old master architects looked for the ideal tract of land where the natural features could be retained, the Jones’s architects had to be creative and build where the customers wanted a course. In Florida, there were no land features. “It was dead flat,” says Linn.

In Japan, the problem was the exact opposite. The Japanese have been crowded onto their tiny islands for so long that every inch of arable land is in use. Previous attempts at golf-course construction by engineers had scarred the land, said Linn.

The Japanese were masters at miniature land management such as their beautiful Japanese gardens. But to build something as massive as a golf course, it was necessary to knock down ridges and fill valleys. “It was a fun challenge,” he said. “It was like playing God. We had the ability. And the Japanese contractors were the best in the world.”
Linn completed 17 international courses for Jones, including seven in Japan and others in Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Costa Rica, Columbia and Canada.
Linn said Japan clearly influenced all of Asia on golf construction “until its economy bit the dust. They would pre-sell 1,000 memberships.” He said the cost to build a course in Japan was about $20 million.

Linn’s first project as the lead architect was the Shoreline Golf Links of Mountain View, Calif., which opened in 1983. His latest is the second 18 holes at Chenal Country Club in Little Rock, Ark., which was completed in late August of this year. Although he joined his new firm of Knott-Brooks-Linn three years ago, he was the lead man on the Chenal project in collaboration with Robert Trent Jones II as a continuation of the contract for the original 18 holes.

After Chenal CC opened in 1990, it was ranked No. 3 in the nation among the best new private courses by Golf Digest magazine in 1991, No. 1 in the state of Arkansas and among Golfweek’s top 100. The new 18-hole layout is slated to open in June 2003 and is even tougher.

“The first course was more open and spacious with wider corridors,” said Linn. The second 18 is purposely more challenging. It was cut out of solid forest, is narrower and more environmentally sensitive. It has a lot of native grasses and is longer and tighter.”

Two of Linn’s other projects in the Midwest are Tiffany Greens in Kansas City, which has been a stop on the Senior PGA Tour since 1999, and Highland Springs in Springfield, Mo., which has been a stop on the Hogan/Nike/ Tour since 1990.

Linn’s new firm is located in Mountain View, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. He said the recent slump in technology stocks has hit the golf-course architecture business “big-time.” There are few new courses being built but his company is doing a lot of renovation work.

Chief among them are Foxtail Golf Club’s North and South courses in Rohnert Park, 45 minutes north of San Francisco. It was originally called Mountain Shadows but was renamed to reflect the extensive and dramatic changes made by Linn’s firm.

There are five current members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects with Kansas ties. In addition to Linn and Rathert, they are Gregory Nash, a native of Hays; Frederick Bliss of Colby and the retired Floyd Farley of Kansas City, who designed more than 100 layouts in Kansas and Oklahoma.


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Knott & Linn Golf Design Group, LLC
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Photography Courtesy of John & Jeannine Henebry

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