Golf course architect designs with traditional stories in mind


ORANGEVILLE, Ontario - The golf industry is experiencing a wave of championship courses built by Native nations in the United States and Canada, and promising indigenous athletes are hitting the links. Yet there are always more barriers to break, and one worthy of note is the field of golf course architecture.

Pursuing golf course architecture as a career means negotiating a tightly knit professional community as well as swings in world economics, the demands of a rigorous education, a long apprenticeship, earning professional credentials, developing as a player and carrying the vision of an artist. It means loving the game with a capital ''L.''

Nowhere is that love of the game more evident than in Kahnawa:ke, ''on the rapids,'' a Mohawk community 10 miles south of Montreal in Quebec, where golf has been a part of the people and community for almost 100 years.

As a member of the Kahnawa:ke band and one of North America's few Native golf course architects, Tiohakwente ''Core of Tree'' Peter Horn exemplifies this passion.

''I'm fairly unique in that I'm 100 percent aboriginal,'' said Horn. His mother grew up at Kahnestake, his father at Kahnawa:ke.

''Golf is inbred at Kahnawa:ke and the community is an anomaly amongst First Nation communities in North America. They have made it happen,'' said Horn.

Like hundreds of other Kahnawa:ke members, Horn caddied at the Kanawaki Golf Club, a private club that has leased its land from the Mohawks since 1914. There he became fascinated with golf. Not only was the game interesting, but he also found himself in the position of being able to talk with Montreal's social community.

''They had a different attitude towards life and how they carried themselves. I thought, 'Why can't I be like that?'''

Horn has taken the interest he developed in golf while caddying to a whole different level.

Horn discovered golf course architecture just over 10 years ago after visiting the Web site of Hurdzan/Fry, a golf course design firm based in Columbus, Ohio. He read one of Michael Hurdzan's classics, ''Golf Course Architecture: Design, Construction and Restoration,'' in 1996. ''I devoured it, and my passion started. I didn't realize that people did this for a living,'' Horn said.

In 2000, while a graduate intern with R.J. Burnside's Golf Services division, Horn had an opportunity to finally meet with Hurdzan during the planning and engineering development of the Georgian Bay Club. Hurdzan/Fry is a highly respected design firm that has completed hundreds of projects in North America and internationally, and is known as a pioneer in environmentally sensitive golf course design.

Horn completed his Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree in 1999 and obtained his Masters of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Guelph in 2003. As a student, he gained valuable experience through an internship with R.J. Burnside and five years of golf course design experience with Shawn P. Watters and Associates; during that time he worked on several projects, including Horseshoe Valley Resort, Wildwinds Golf Club and his first 18-hole golf course, the Quarry Golf Club in Ennismore, Ontario.

When Horn spoke of his first view of Cypress Point in California, a masterwork of nature and design, his voice softened.

''For me, that was a watershed moment in my career. And the tour helped me grow as a designer in terms of planning, design, management and facility operations.''

Horn is now a client manager for Neegan Burnside Ltd., an aboriginal-owned company. Under the leadership of its CEO, Mervin Dewasha, Mohawk from Wahta First Nation, Neegan provides engineering and environmental-based solutions for both First Nation communities and corporate industry.

Neegan offers seven core service areas including land development, environmental assessment, water resource management, building engineering, transportation engineering, capacity development and geographical information systems. Recent Ontario projects include the Heron Landing course for the Couchiching First Nation and a course for the Garden River First Nation, in addition to three other First Nations projects.

Over the past seven years, Neegan has done some preliminary work for Casino Rama, Ontario's largest gaming complex owned by the Mnjikaning First Nation. In 2000, Horn provided the band with a conceptual master plan for the casino's new golf course. Through consultation with a community elder, Horn gained valuable understanding of the Anishinaabeg's traditional story and tried to incorporate this into his design. As a result, the concept involved golf holes that would be named to signify a unique point in the people's history and be a part of landscaping at each teeing area. In addition, sculptures by local Native artisans would draw on this story.

''By the end of the 18th hole, a player would have an idea of the tribal history,'' Horn said. ''We are looking forward to going ahead with Rama. They have the right vision, putting dollars into economic development and housing - the right approach.''

Horn said that a lot of golf projects die on the vine because some clients just do not have the financing in place. Stand-alone projects are hard to get going when funding is not available. Horn sees the potential that the U.S. tribal market presents for a group such as Neegan, since so many tribes are looking to develop casinos that have resorts and golf courses.

These types of projects have great success since there are investors in place and everyone involved is anxious to move things forward, he said. As a Native-owned company, Neegan encourages tribes to buy ''Native first.''

Horn calls himself an ''OK'' player, with a 7 handicap. To him, golf is a perfect sport, with different layers in addition to the recreational. ''Golf is a game you can never be satisfied with since it challenges you in different ways, both mentally and physically.''

Horn looks forward to being actively involved with economic development in Native communities.