Have you ever had a life-changing experience as a child that you didn’t realize was life-changing until much later in life? One that slept in your mind and heart until circumstances and bold decisions awakened it and created the space for a whole new career? Such was the case with golf architect Dan Hixson, who joins “Talking GolfGetaways” co-hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch for an in-depth, full-circle discussion on his unusual life journey, his philosophy of design, his first solo effort at Bandon Crossings, the origin of the idea for his reversible design at Silvies Valley Ranch and his current “Callahan Ridge” project under construction, all in Oregon.
Hixson shares his experience as a 7-year-old boy tagging along with his golf-professional father at historic Eugene Country Club (which was being renovated at the time) where he got his first taste of the process of building a golf course and first seed of the idea for the reversible layout, which would decades later lead to Silvies Valley Ranch (which we discuss later in Part Two of our conversation).
Hixson still remembers watching “a guy” walk around with plans (most likely Robert Trent Jones Jr. working with his legendary father), asking his Dad about what they were doing, and his father telling him, “Well, you know, they draw a golf course and then these guys build it.” His father explained that what they were doing at Eugene Country Club was essentially reversing the golf course (a revolutionary idea by RTJ in 1965) to make it better. Dan’s parents remember that he started drawing that same night, putting crayons and pencils to paper to create some golf holes of his own and emulate others.
Dan continues by detailing his journey growing up, from time spent chasing the life of a competitive professional on the Australian Tour to making the decision to get involved in golf course design, following the impulses he’s had his entire life since that visit to Eugene Country Club. He describes the most important part of his design process — the routing of a course — and shares why it keeps him up at night in the planning stages, and why he’ll obsess about the possible 20-75 different routings he often envisions before settling on the best one. In a telling moment, Dan says, “I have fun when I’m kind of worried about stuff because I’ve studied myself enough to know that I have to do that in order to get something really good and creative — and the best value for the client.”
Hixson next turns to his current project, tentatively titled Callahan Ridge, in Roseburg, Oregon. He explains the combination of factors that make the project exciting for him — great location for golfers making the drive through Oregon (it will include an RV park), a golf-loving ownership family, the chance to reclaim an old sand-and-gravel mine (perfect for the foundation of the course) and a unique configuration of land on which build, punctuated by ponds left over from the mine.
The Roseburg course will be, as usual for Hixson, a creative and interesting routing — par 70 with six 3-pars, four 5-pars and eight 4-pars — and “a real cool test of golf, a lot different test than what most people would perceive a 6,200-yard golf course is from the tips.”
Dan then takes a walk back into history to reminisce about his first solo design effort at Bandon Crossings, just south of the then-burgeoning Bandon Dunes Resort. He describes the circumstances that led owners Rex and Carla Smith to offer him his first design contract, taking a chance on an unknown architect to give them an alternative to the walking-only, cliffside tests at Bandon Dunes (which they both loved).
Dan shares the challenges of routing the course through various elevation changes and a difficult crossover section, coming up with (you guessed it) “probably 75 different routings.” A fascinating discussion follows for anyone interested in golf-course design, as Dan, Darin and Mitch dive into their favorite hole at Bandon Crossings, the par-3 No. 11, and the challenges Dan overcame in creating a memorable gem.
This episode is Part One of our conversation with Dan Hixson, one of the most creative, fun and articulate architects we have in our game. Part Two will detail his astonishing work at Silvies Valley Ranch, the 27-green, reversible 36-hole masterpiece. Enjoy the connection.
—Words by Mitch Laurance