Mike Nuzzo Builds Three Very Different Nines at Grand Oak Reserve

By Tony Dear

From aerospace engineer to golf course architect, Mike Nuzzo is helping foster the reemergence of nine-hole courses across the country.

The disparate and implausible elements of Mike Nuzzo’s professional background are utterly mystifying. After graduating from Boston University in 1990 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering, the New Jersey native worked for a medical equipment manufacturer where he was responsible for the European launch of ten derivative fluid-handling pipettes. From there, he moved to Lockheed Martin where his final project was as lead engineer on a $650m program developing antennae for a satellite that created instant telephony infrastructure for much of Asia.

After seven years of that, and at the ripe old age of 32, Nuzzo packed it all in to become a golf course architect, beginning his new life working on renovations and the occasional new-build for the firm of Finger, Dye, and Spann. In late 2005, however, he landed an unusual job designing 18 holes for a former company executive turned rancher named Al Stanger who wanted his own exclusive course on part of his 1,300-acre property.

Wolf Point, Nuzzo’s first solo effort, opened in 2009. And it was brilliant. But because its doors were closed to all but Stanger and his friends, it never got the acclaim it deserved. Those lucky enough to play the course, however, unanimously described it as an astonishing debut, a strategic masterpiece, and already one of the finest courses in Texas. Tom Doak said it had the best set of greens in the state.


Had Wolf Point been open to the public, it’s likely Nuzzo would have shot to fame, perhaps becoming a leading light in the Golden Age 2 movement. Instead, the few new-build jobs that happened following the Great Recession went to established stars such as Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, David Kidd, and Doak. Nuzzo did plenty of renovation and masterplan work most notably in Texas, Michigan, on Long Island, NY, and even Hobart, Tasmania where he routed a coastal 18, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to design and build another new course…until now.

Two years ago, Willis, Texas-based McKinley Development approached Nuzzo about a 615-acre community called Grand Oaks Reserve planned for the eastern edge of Cleveland, Texas, 45 miles northeast of Houston, where Nuzzo now lives. The project would include over 2,000 mixed residential units, some retail/commercial space, a 40-acre man-made recreational lake, and an 18-hole golf course. David Nemeth, a VP at McKinley, says he did much research into course designers, and spoke with other developers, before picking Nuzzo for the job. “He had some great experience and ideas,” says Nemeth. “Plus, I really liked him.”

Nuzzo quickly realized the land wouldn’t accommodate 18 holes, so the plan changed. To provide a wide range of Grand Oaks residents and area golfers the opportunity to learn and play the game, Nuzzo conceived three nines—a standard nine-hole course measuring roughly 3,300 yards and called Nine Grand, a nine-hole short course of about 1,000 yards called Three Grand, and a nine-hole putting course (not yet named), all of which would fit into a little more than 100 acres. “During the clearing process, the idea just evolved,” says Nuzzo. “The putting course will take half an hour to play, the short course an hour, and the nine-hole course two hours. There’ll be something for everyone.”

To oversee construction, Nuzzo called in Don Mahaffey who’d done a similar job at Wolf Point where he stayed on as superintendent after the course opened. Also part of the team are the multi-talented Keith Rhebb and Angela Moser whose collective shaping skills and construction experience will complement Nuzzo’s design work.

For golf architecture fans, the re-emergence of Mike Nuzzo is welcome news. But perhaps the real story here is the creation of another public/community golf facility where everyone will be welcome, and where people of every ability and age will find a course they can play.

Grand Oaks Reserve will open around September or October when it will become the latest location in America offering short and non-conventional golf for all. Every town should have a place like it.

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Do you like the idea of three nines that include a putting course, short course, and full-size holes? Let us know in the comments below!

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