I shed a tear as I typed the lead for this piece. It was a tear for a gifted man taken from us far too young and in the prime of an extraordinary career. It was a tear of sadness for a family’s loss of a devoted husband and father. It was a tear for his design partners, business associates and golf course design colleagues who sorrow for their collective loss of a man who lived a golf life less ordinary and who was a faithful friend. And it was a tear for our golf community’s loss of voice far more intrepid, visionary and wise than his mere years. It is a dark day for the game. A great light has gone out.
I felt one last twinge in my heart as I took a farewell look at the gorgeous union of sea and sky from the clubhouse when I recalled that when the American Society of Golf Course Architects met at Monterey Peninsula in April, they were so overwhelmed by the course they made Mike an honorary member. Sadly, in his final days, Mike was too weak to be able to acknowledge the honor personally.
As I stood on the 11th tee at Monterey Peninsula Golf Club’s Shore Course, the last hole Mike ever designed, my thoughts turned to Mike’s family and closest associates. I thought of Forrest Fezler, Mike’s long time design partner telling me the heartbreaking story of Mike looking at him here on what would become Mike’s last tee box and saying “Forrest, the problem is we’re running out of golf holes fast.” As I walked up the 18th fairway, I thought of Heidi Strantz, Mike’s wife. I took an instant liking to Heidi the moment I met her. Beneath her jaunty cowboy hat and sky-blue eyes and warm smile I could sense the conviction and strength of tempered steel. “Heidi is a rock” Forrest once told me. He was right. Heidi handled extensive management duties for Mike’s design company even before his cancer struck. After the worst was confirmed by Mike’s doctors - at the same time he landed the Monterey job - she took on even more responsibility, caring for both the company and for her husband. Courage is the ability to be brave in the face of adversity. But valor is being courageous in the face of insurmountable odds. Heidi was tireless in her courage and valor in helping Mike battle to the end. If all families had the white-hot devotion to each other the Strantz’s had, this would be such a happier world.
Author John Gunther’s book Death Be Not Proud tells the story of a gifted young scholar who succumbed to cancer just as he finished his illustrious career at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and just before his matriculation to Harvard University. I echo Gunther’s sentiments. Neither death nor cancer can proudly claim the life of anyone so gifted in his profession, so universally liked, so widely respected and who harbored not even the slightest glimpse of professional envy to his colleagues.
Nevertheless, the golf world can be proud of Mike Strantz. We sorrow now, but if we remember to celebrate Mike’s life and vision of our great game as we move forward, we will transform this fleeting sad moment into a watershed moment for the game. This is not an end, but a beginning. The bold vision that Mike championed in life – to elevate our knowledge of the game and our acceptance of truly great golf course design - will grow even stronger in us as a golf community. In the short time we celebrated life with Mike, he was luminescent. But now he belongs to the ages. He joins the pantheon of epic architects who changed the way we think about the game and made both the game and golfers better for knowing them.
My priest will forgive my simplistic view of Heaven, but I know that Mike has earned his wings, along with whatever excellent standard issue fourteen clubs are handed out at the pearly gates. Happily, Mike can stride to the first tee and proudly join his new eternal foursome and enjoy his great reward. Earned it, he has. Alistair, Old Tom and Seth Raynor are waiting there to greet him. And they embrace him warmly, welcome him and say “You did great, Mike. You did just great.”