Like Perry Maxwell who began his career working with golf course designers like Alister Mackenzie, Jim Urbina began his education in golf design working with legendary golf course designer Pete Dye. Jim did not have any preconceived notions of what a good golf course should look like nor did he have a golf game that formed a design philosophy to adhere to. He learned from the ground up. Walking with Pete listening to what was important to him, sometimes kneeling down in the dirt with Pete so he could shape with his hands what he wanted the feature to look like. Pete Dye looking on as Jim would shape a green or sometimes even climbing on a tractor to show Jim what he wanted. When Pete knew Jim didn’t understand a concept he would send him packing on a plane to look at golf courses he was trying to emulate. Today, Jim is still spending considerable time looking at golf courses gathering ideas and formulating plans.
Jim went on to work for Pete and his son Perry on many of their designs including working in the Asian rim during the Japanese golf boom. He quickly was put to work working on grading maps for many of the golf courses being built in the late 80’s. Jim was able to assist the design staff that worked on the grading and drainage plans. Jim has a degree from University of Northern Colorado in Education. Jim taught high school drafting prior to golf; it’s that ability to visualize in three dimensions and his knowledge of topographical mapping which assisted his learning process.
During that tenure with the Dye family he met Tom Doak. Jim would later leave the Dye’s and for the next 17 years he would create and build golf courses with Tom Doak. Always in the same fashion he first learned with Pete Dye, using the model of design/build. Jim went on to build many golf courses using in-house crews on many designs including Apache Stronghold, Pacific Dunes, Sebonack and Old MacDonald.
Jim has worked closely with many talented shapers and construction crews over the years. The foundation he first learned from Pete Dye has served Jim well in his many years in the golf business. A talented team is the foundation for every great golf course built in the last 100 years. Studying great golf courses like St. Andrews, Cypress Point, Prairie Dunes, the National Golf Links and Pinehurst #2 helped build a foundation for the future. From the very first days in the field crafting and shaping ideas to recently co-designing Old Macdonald with Tom Doak, the foundation has always stayed the same. Be on the ground in the field willing to try new ideas; using local labor crews he designed and built a golf course in the spirit of Charles Blair Macdonald.
Jim uses that same design philosophy when consulting on Golden Age designs, including several golf courses designed by Alister Mackenzie. He has also consulted on the works of Charles Blair Macdonald, Donald Ross, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast, Vernon Macan and Deveroux Emmett to name a few. By preserving these classic courses Jim not only encapsulates these timeless designs he gains knowledge from what made these courses so legendary. Never out of vogue and created with a personal touch. He continues to search out clubs with an interest in preserving the past without the notion of change for sake of modernization.
Jim spent several years restoring Pasatiempo Golf Club. The club’s inability to close the course required that the restoration of the bunkers and greens happen over a longer period of time. They were very time consuming. The meticulous work that Mackenzie and Hunters construction crews took to create the bunkers also required that we spend the same amount of time to faithfully restore that flare. The Valley Club of Montecito and Claremont were the other Mackenzie designs that received that special attention.
Many of the clubs that have experienced Jim’s work including Yeamans Hall, The Valley Club of Montecito and San Francisco Golf where the greens were resurfaced. Jim spent his time surveying and floating out each and every green so that no details were left undone. Jim oversaw all of the work and assisted the clubs with construction costs, construction timelines and overseeing the shapers that performed the work.
The belief that not every golf course should be 8,500 yards long and prepped for championship play is the standard that Jim is trying to do when consulting at established clubs across the country. These ideas are not sustainable in today’s golfing climate. Make the course enjoyable for most players providing ample variety and testing shots.
He looks forward to many more years hand crafting golf courses in a timeless manner. Creating his own design or assisting in the creation of a golf course for someone willing to let golf evolve.