When you think of famous golf course designers, names like Donald Ross, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio often come to mind. Many golfers also have favorite designers based on the designers' “signature” approach. For example, if you typically fade the ball, you may love courses designed by Jack Nicklaus Design. Or maybe you have an affinity for courses designed by A.W. Tillinghast who worked on more than 250 golf courses including Winged Foot, Baltusrol and Bethpage Black.
One designer you may not be as familiar with is the late Stanley Thompson. Thompson, who was Canadian and an accomplished golfer in his own right, spent 40-years of his life designing courses. With nearly 150 courses in Canada and 26 courses in the United States, his most well-known courses are the Banff Springs Hotel Golf Course in Alberta and the Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course in Jasper, Alberta. Thompson, the designer of North Oaks Golf Club which was built in 1951, is well-known and respected for his ability to preserve the natural terrain upon which his courses were built.
Thompson was once quoted saying, “Nature must always be the architect’s model”.
As is the case with most golf courses designed during Thompson’s era, they have become defenseless against today’s golfers and their technology. Yet, the challenge for today’s course designers is making significant modifications that make a golf course challenging and playable, yet also consistent with the original vision of the designer. North Oaks Golf Club faced this challenge when it underwent a course renovation with Lehman Design Group in 2007. Led by Minnesota native and 1996 British Open Champion, Tom Lehman, the membership at North Oaks wanted to retain the inspired design of Stanley Thompson.
“When someone plays this golf course 10 years from now, I want them to experience the Stanley Thompson legacy,” Lehman is quoted as saying on the Lehman Design Group website.
“We simply wanted to get back to that same strategy,” Lehman said. “The idea was, let’s take what we have there - which is something that’s a gem - and shine up that gem. And I think we have. it’s a fun course, it’s beautiful and it challenges you.”
Lehman’s team began work in the highly seasonal Twin Cities in August of 2007 and completed the work before the first snowflakes hit the ground that winter.
Since then, the work of Thompson and Lehman Design Group has elevated the club into the national spotlight. In 2017, North Oaks Golf Club became one of two clubs in Minnesota history to be recognized with the Distinguished Club of the World Award by BoardRoom Magazine. It is also consistently recognized as one of the top 20 courses in the state. And yet, the team at North Oaks continues to follow the roadmap developed by Lehman Design as it plans for the future.
North Oaks Golf Club Superintendent, Brian Boll, says Lehman regularly visits the club to check on progress and make suggestions. One of the most recent investments Boll and his team have made is to improve drainage on the greens.
“We want to continue to work with Lehman Design to identify areas where we can make improvements to the golf course,” said Boll.
Preserving Thompson’s work remains a top priority as North Oaks Golf Club continues to enhance its treasure with Lehman Design Group. But all parties will agree, with “nature as the architects model”, Stanley Thompson made it easy to polish this gem and make it shine. Brian Boll, Phil Anderson, and the greens committee continue to work with the Lehman design group on a Lehman Master Plan 2.0, addressing a number of small opportunities to take the course to the next level.