Andy Staples has built an impressive portfolio as a golf course architect, including renovations of The University Club of Milwaukee and historic Meadowbrook Country Club in suburban Detroit and a co-design of the acclaimed Sand Hollow Resort course in St. George, Utah.
His latest job, however, gives him a heightened level of gravitas as an architect and stamps him as a rising star in the business.
Staples, a Sussex native and Wisconsin Lutheran High School graduate, has been selected as the consulting architect for Olympia Fields Country Club in suburban Chicago.
“Nothing else compares,” he said. “This is as big as it’s been for me.”
Olympia Fields, a 36-hole facility, has played host to the U.S. Open twice, the PGA Championship twice, the U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur. The North Course, a 1923 Willie Park Jr. design, is ranked 75th in Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses in the United States and will play host to the 2020 BMW Championship.
Staples’ contract calls for him to start with a master plan for the South Course, a 1916 Tom Bendelow design.
“We’re going to investigate the original design and also address some drainage and tree and shade issues,” Staples said. “It’s probably more technical than design work, to make the course play better for its members. It’s probably more in the neighborhood of some tweaking.”
When you tweak a classic design at a golf-centric private club, however, every tree branch trimmed, bunker realigned or green slightly re-shaped is bound to be heavily scrutinized by the membership, a fact Staples readily acknowledged.
“It’s almost more pressure than I’ve ever had,” he said.
If all goes well on the South Course, Staples will oversee the master plan for the North Course, site of the 2020 BMW Championship. Any work to that course would begin afterward.
“The members have all intentions of moving forward on the North Course after the South,” he said. “The 2020 BMW is coming and we’ll pay close attention to that tournament and will use it to address any future planning. The initial thought is some of the same things we were talking about on the South would be done on the North.
“First, we have to fix some issues on the South Course.”
Staples was chosen because of his previous work on courses designed by Bendelow and Park. Bendelow designed The University Club of Milwaukee and Park designed Meadowbrook CC, which played host to the 1955 PGA Championship won by Doug Ford.
“I told them there’s nobody in the country that has more knowledge about those two architects than I do,” Staples said.
He is looking forward to working on the South Course, which has some of the same features Bendelow employed at The University Club of Milwaukee.
“One of the things he really enjoyed doing was wide fairways and open greens and he challenged the player to be able to roll the ball onto the green,” Staples said. “This was pretty common in that era. You couldn’t fly the ball onto the green and stop it. So, the greens were wide open in front and protected in the back with some bunkering. Some of the images we have of the old Tripoli CC are very similar.
“The other interesting thing, and I saw this at University Club, is he framed these wide fairways with bunkers and he challenged you to get around or over them. Those bunkers today are 120 to 180 yards off the tee. How do you make it relevant to today’s game?
“We’re going to overlay what Bendelow did based on how people hit the golf ball back then with how we want the course to play for its members today.”
Olympia Fields originally hired Keith Foster to do the master planning but terminated its contract with him in December, after the architect pled guilty to federal charges involving smuggling and selling items made from endangered species.
Staples is just grateful for the opportunity.
“We always have to do good work to get these projects,” he said. “I think it’s gotten me to a level of projects that very few guys get a chance to do.”