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From pencil to pin: The architect artist designing new Trump project

By Paul Gittings, CNN
  • Martin Hawtree's family firm are the longest continuous golf architectural practice
  • Their designs span generations and take in many leading championship courses
  • The basic principles and skill of golf course design have differed little over the years

(CNN) -- In an age when computers seem to be present in every aspect our life, it is maybe reassuring there are some professions where a pencil and piece of paper still suffice.

For these are the main tools of the trade for golf course architect Martin Hawtree, one of a select breed whose finished works of art endure for generations and are appreciated -- and occasionally cursed -- on a daily basis.

Like an artist pouring over a canvass, Hawtree begins what he hopes will end as a masterpiece with a basic sketch of the proposed layout; he sticks to his instincts and hopes for critical acclaim.

"On nearly every occasion I go with my initial gut feeling for the layout," says Hawtree, whose family course design business dates back almost a century, the longest continuous practice in golf architecture.

It is somehow appropriate this little piece of golf history is itself based in a corner of rural Oxfordshire dripping with remnants of the past. Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and, since 1987, an official World Heritage Site is just down the road from this quintessential English town on the edge of the Cotswolds.

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On nearly every occasion I go with my initial gut feeling for the layout
--Golf architect Martin Hawtree

Hawtree Limited, established in 1912, is run by current boss Martin -- the third generation of his family to take the reins after his grandfather Frederick George and father Frederick William.

Their work covers high-profile championship links such as Royal Birkdale to a host of municipal public golf courses, part of his family's commitment to making the game accessible to all.

Fellow partners, all experts themselves, occupy the quaint wood-beamed and low-ceiling cottage which serves as the offices where rolled up manuscripts of previous designs act as proud reminders of the traditions and achievements of the practice.

Computers, of course, play their part in the everyday work, speeding the design and construction process. "They enable us to show the client the end product, through computer generated images," says Russell Talley, who has worked with golf legend Jack Nicklaus on a number of projects.

Most of Hawtree's time currently is being taken up with the ambitious championship links in Scotland that American billionaire Donald Trump says will be the "the world's greatest golf course."

To create a great golf course -- a fair golf course - playable by all, that's my philosophy
--Martin Hawtree
  • Golf
  • Donald Trump
  • British Open

Trump commissioned Hawtree for the development knowing that construction will be taking place on listed sand dunes on the Aberdeenshire coast, consequently environmental protection will be paramount and an ecologist will work full-time on the project.

Hawtree is clearly relishing the challenge and says the course will be open by "mid-July next year."

Trump, by reputation would be a demanding client, but Hawtree says he has been "hands-off" and has largely left him to his own devices.

Trump being Trump, Menie is being talked up as future British Open venue, while a bid for the 2022 Ryder Cup is also a possibility.

Hawtree links to the oldest major of them all go back to his grandfather's day when he and his partner, the great golfer JH Taylor, were commissioned to reconstruct Royal Birkdale in 1931.

His father re-designed the short 12th before the 1965 British Open on the Lancashire links while Martin has worked with Birkdale ahead of both the 1998 and 2008 championships to remodel greens and provide a sterner test for golf's elite.

Their initial sketches of these flagship projects are tucked away in the archive at the Woodstock office, but the abiding principles are the same.

"To create a great golf course -- a fair golf course - playable by all, that's my philosophy," says Martin.

Stripped to the basics, the process appears simple, sketch the layout, followed by more detailed design, taking in considerations such as irrigation and earthworks, then construction, making sure costs do not spiral out of control.

But it takes years of practice to master the art and Martin Hawtree, not surprisingly given his background, did his first design for the Royal Waterloo course in Belgium aged 11.

"They changed it quite a bit," he admits, but half a century later he is still going strong and, with Trump's project, designing a course which could define his career.