Appeared in February/March 2009 LINKS
Sure, John Fought was excited about watching the past two World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship at his creation, the South course at Gallery Golf Club. After all, both events were quite memorable: In 2007 Henrik Stenson beat Geoff Ogilvy in a closely contested 35-hole final, while last year, Tiger Woods escaped early upsets with heroic performances against J.B. Holmes and Aaron Baddeley before winning his third Match Play title.
But the event at the Gallery that Fought is really looking forward to seeing in person is this year’s Pacific Coast Amateur. This tournament is special for him because it was Fought’s first major amateur victory; he won in 1975 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Fought went on to win the 1977 U.S. Amateur and two events on the PGA Tour before injuries forced him to retire, after which he made the transformation from player to architect in an unorthodox way. Instead of teaming up with an architect, slapping his name on a course and showing up for the ribbon cutting, Fought went to work as a design associate for Bob Cupp.
As Cupp’s apprentice, Fought worked on three significant designs in his native Oregon, Crosswater at Sunriver and the 36 holes at Pumpkin Ridge, before setting up his own shop in 1995.
Since then, Fought has designed numerous tournament sites, most notably Gallery South. (The North course, which he co-designed with Tom Lehman, was site of the 2001 Tucson Open.)
A sand-and-Saguaro homage to Donald Ross, the South is better suited for match play than most desert courses, which typically demand a target-golf approach that overly emphasizes execution to the detriment of strategy. But the generous fairways—as wide as 70 yards on certain holes—encourage players to plot the best lines into the raised, angled greens that offer hints of Pinehurst No. 2.
That similarity is hardly coincidental, as the entire golf team at the Gallery, led by Fought, owner John McMillan and superintendent Paul Ellwood, made a pilgrimage to Pinehurst prior to construction. For three days they played, studied and discussed Ross’ master work.
The result is an enjoyable course that is not only playable for members, but also offers enough subtleties and risk-reward challenges for tour pros. The best strategic holes are the two short par 4s, the 349-yard 7th and 362-yard 12th. To further entice players at the Match Play, tournament organizers moved up the tees at both holes. Many took the bait and tried to drive the green—great theater for spectators.
After two years, the tournament moves down the arroyo to a new Jack Nicklaus resort course, and Gallery members get back their course during the prime of the season. And the beauty of Fought’s design is that these club players face similar challenges of strategy and decision-making during their regular matches that Woods and Stenson did en route to their wins.