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The architect

Eben Harrell

Readers of this column may remember that I recently wrote that I imagined acclaimed golf course architect Jim Engh (who designed the new Snowmass Club course) to be an “an undersized, geeky guy – a John Stockton type – who shows up at pickup basketball games and blows away the competition.”My reasoning was the near obsessive meticulousness of his courses and Engh’s instance on preferring precision over power. But the description also came from a preformed image of what a golf architect should be like: Refined, old-fashioned and probably a good, but not great, golfer (because it’s just not dignified to sweat on the range).Fast forward: It’s a sunny morning at a golf course in New Castle, and this notion is about to be blown to shreds by a dude in wrap-around sunglasses and Merrel hiking boots, who bombs 300-yard drives without a single drop of consideration for strategy. Meet the real Jim Engh.Engh pulls into the parking lot at Lakota Canyon Golf Club in New Castle – his newest course – 10 minutes late. It’s his first time playing the course, which opened this spring. I meet him on the first tee and sheepishly ask him for his advice on where to place the opening tee-shot.”How am I supposed to know?” Engh replies. “This is my first time on this godforsaken dog track.”The round continues in this vein, with me trying to impress Engh with smart, savvy play and Engh just stepping up and clobbering the hell out of the ball (he’s a solid two handicap).We have fun, as good golfers who play together often do. But he won’t open up. Is it possible he’s this shallow, this irreverent? What about the spiritual side of the game? Can it possibly be missed on him, one of the game’s creators?The veneer finally cracks when we get to the 16th, the course’s best hole. I play a shot off an undulation in the fairway clearly placed by Engh for that purpose. He smiles at me approvingly. “It must be nice being the hand of God,” I say.”Nah,” he replies, “I’m just the paintbrush.”I have a feeling that was the real Jim Engh.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address iseharrell@aspentimes.com


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