I had the chance to catch up with Jim after he returned from his annual vacation to Hawaii with Monie and the kids (Brian 10 and Bailey 8). Here are some of his thoughts. Look for a longer article soon in my column for Golf Observer.
Jay: How was the vacation?
Jim: Oh it was great. Every year in the winter, we go to Hawaii. I rarely play any golf there.
Instead it’s two tanks of scuba diving in the morning, then Mai Tais by the pool with Monie and the kids all afternoon.
Jay: What’s the most important goal for you in creating a successful design?
Jim: For me, it’s all about options. The more ways to play a hole and get a ball close to the pin, the better.
Jay: What courses of the British Isles have given you ideas for your own holes?
Jim: Both courses at Ballybunion are incredible. I love a lot of the holes at the Cashen course, especially number 15. I also love the Old Course as well. 18 is just a fantastic finishing hole. Also the Northwest of Ireland holds a special place in my heart. My design team and I go over about four times a year. Enniscrone, Carne, and Rosapenna are some of my favorite courses on Earth. I’m really grateful to have a chance to work right now on the new nine at Carne.
Jay: You had a rude introduction to golf. Tell us about your first golf experience.
Jim: I crashed my first golf cart when I was two years old. Dad was playing and I was in the cart.
I jumped in the driver’s seat and took off and overturned the cart right on top of me. It was a frightening crash. The cart crushed one of my kidneys. I was lucky though. I got up from my deathbed.
Jay: Your career as a designer had a similar rocky start. Let me read you this quote from Jeff Brauer [Author's note: with whom Jim worked in college.] I first met Jim as a summer associate for Bill Kubly. You could tell he was a “gunner” (Kubly’s term for an up and comer) back then, but he was also green as peas. He left one of Kubly’s drafting tables in a pickup truck overnight in a rainstorm ruining it!”
Jim: (laughs) I remember that! Bill was a good sport about it. I survived my growing pains.
Jay: What are some of those growing pains now?
Jim: Well I still feel bad when my work gets misunderstood. I really try to take into account everything in a property to maximize the golf holes, yet make it a player friendly experience.
Jay: Like trying to add some walking paths at Lakota Canyon.
Jim: Yeah. I try to start by making the best hole I possibly can. The most interesting and strategic. Sometimes a hole is not as easy a walk as others, but I'm a walker. I have a small ping bag and boots or sneakers. I spend so much time in the UK where its almost all walking and I want to recreate that old time, authentic experience whenever I can. Sure, sometimes my hills are pretty tough, like 16 at Pradera which is 200 feet in the air, but the payoff when you get up there is incredible.
Jay: What's in your CD player?
Jim: Well I'm a huge Van Morrison fan. I see concerts of his all over the world, Ireland, San Franscisco, anywhere I can. Van Mo is my guy.