Franz Creating Legacy on the Links

Part 1: Q&A With Kyle Franz

At Southern Pines Golf Club, architect Kyle Franz continues restoration work on a variety of historic, Donald Ross-designed golf courses in North Carolina’s Sandhills region

Southern Pines Golf Club Flagstick

With his ongoing improvement project at Southern Pines Golf Club, architect Kyle Franz is coming full circle renovating a variety of Donald Ross-designed golf courses in North Carolina’s Sandhills region.

The Oregon native played a key role helping Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw enact the highly-profiled restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 in preparation for the historic 2014 U.S Men’s and Women’s Opens. Franz’s solo work at Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club in Southern Pines captured the 2013 GOLF Magazine Resort Renovation of the Year Award. In 2018, he renovated Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club — which next year will host its fourth U.S. Women’s Open — prior to Pine Needles hosting the 2019 U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Franz also helped Kye Goalby bring Ross characteristics back to Pinehurst No. 3.

In addition, Franz has been instrumental in creating some of the most innovative and acclaimed courses built in the last decades. Several of these courses can be found in the American and World Top 100 rankings. Included on that list are two of the three highest ranked golf courses built in the last 80 years — Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Ore., and Barnbougle Dunes in Australia for architect Tom Doak. Franz also played a key role as an onsite representative building the 2016 Olympics Course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for Gil Hanse Golf Design.

Currently, Franz’s restoration at Southern Pines Golf Club is being performed in two stages. Depending on weather, the 18-month improvement plan is expected to be completed in late August or early September 2021.

Kyle Franz

Golf writer Brad King recently interviewed Franz to pick his brain about not only his work at Southern Pines GC, but also his background and design philosophy. This is part 1 of a multi-part series.

Brad King: You grew up and studied in Oregon. When did you officially relocate to the North Carolina Sandhills? How do you enjoy living and working in the Home of American Golf?

Kyle Franz: “I started coming to Pinehurst for the Pinehurst No. 2 project when I was working for Bill and Ben. So that was about 2010-11 or so. Then from there I went to work at Cabot Links (in Canada) after that and a project for Gil Hanse out at Waverly Country Club in Portland. After that is when I started talking to Kelly Miller and the family about doing the project at Mid Pines. I got to know Kelly during the renovation of No. 2 a year and change before that. Kelly’s such a great guy and we always had so much fun together. That was about 2012 or so.

“Pinehurst really became home immediately after that. After we finished Mid Pines, I had already committed to help Gil on the Rio Olympics project, where I was going down and shaping for him and what-not. So, I took a sabbatical from my solo career to go back to working for Gil on that project. That was such an interesting and fun experience — really a great cultural experience. We were very lucky to work on such a great piece of property. We were working on sand and we were able to do something pretty cool.

“After that, I started to pick up other jobs. Kelly had hired me to work on Pine Needles and I was starting to talk to the Country Club of Charleston by then, about helping them, and a few other places up north.

“So about then, around 2014 or so, is when I really got serious about becoming a full-fledged restoration business. Then, the offers began coming in fast, so I said, ‘I can give this a go.’ Kelly offered me a place to work there at the resort, he gave me an office and I’ve just lived around the neighborhood there ever since. So, I’ve called Pinehurst home off and on since 2010-11 and permanently since 2014.”

Bandon Dunes

BK: You’ve worked with some of the most respected names in golf course architecture from Tom Doak to Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and Gil Hanse among others. How has that type of experience helped boost your own design career as a solo practitioner?

KF: “I’ve been very, very lucky. I always wanted to get into the architecture business, growing up in western Oregon. There were some cool, older golf courses, like Waverly, where Tiger Woods won his last Junior Amateur. That was a course I had played in high school and was my first exposure to USGA-caliber places. And Bandon Dunes (pictured left) was obviously the big, great leap forward for publicly accessible destination golf in the ’90s and early 2000s. So, my friends and I burned a track down there every weekend to get the twilight rate at Bandon.

“I remember just really wanting to get a job working for Tom (Doak). I had read all of his stuff in GOLF Magazine and Golf Digest, and all his books to that point. He had all the right ideas about what we should be doing in the industry. I was very fortunate that Tom gave me a shot, when I was only about three hours away from where I grew up and where I was going to school, and I was really familiar with Bandon. So, I was able to help out in some ways that allowed me to contribute immediately. I was able to do a lot of stuff that was second nature to me, having grown up out there and spending a lot of time in eastern Oregon and knowing the bunker work.

“And then I had Barnbougle (Dunes) as my third project down in Australia. I was pretty lucky out of the gates to work on two unbelievably good projects so early in my career. (Barnbougle Dunes) might end up being the second- and third-highest rated courses built in the last 80 years. I got some pretty lucky breaks for that three-year period. That led to me getting to know Ben (Crenshaw) and Bill (Coore), working at Bandon Trails around the summer of ’04. I had some time between Barnbougle and Stone Eagle for Tom, and had helped them out (at Bandon Trails), which in turn led to me working with them on No. 2 several years later. I’ve been very, very fortunate.

“I’ve just learned so much from those guys right out of the gates. I was 19 years old when I started with Tom at Pacific. So, I got a grade-A education. For somebody that wanted to go into architecture, and specifically minimalism and classically oriented architecture, it was pretty much a dream come true and a perfect 10 in terms of education.”

In part 2 of Brad King’s interview with Kyle Franz, the architect discusses his on-going work at Southern Pines GC, and how he feels about completing the third of Ross’s three eras of design philosophy.