Cal Olson '74, Civil Engineering
From the red rock deserts of Arizona to the verdant green hills of Taiwan, Cal Olson knows golf courses. For 20 years, Olson '74, civil engineering, has made a name for himself designing high profile golf courses around the globe.
"Golf architects think that golf course design is art on the earth, but it takes a lot of landscape architecture and engineering to pull it off," Olson says.
Throughout his varied projects over the years, Olson has dealt with just about every kind of environmental condition, a factor that makes every project different from the last.
Olson's Personal Favorites
Golf course architect and alumnus Cal Olson lists some favorite coursesfrom the practical to the spectacular.
Cal Olson Golf Architecture Designs
1) Coyote Hills, Fullerton
2) Casablanca, Mesquite, NV
3) Sierra Star, Mammoth Lakes
4) Sonoma Ranch, Las Cruces, NM
5) Reidy Creek, Escondido
1) Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach
2) Cypress Point, Virginia Beach, VA
3) St. Andrews Links, Scotland, UK
4) Pine Valley Golf Club, Pine Valley, NJ
5) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, GA
"We have one in Mammoth, at an elevation of 8,000 feet, that is very pretty. The air is so thin that the ball goes twice as far," says Olson. "We also did one in Nevada that is pretty flat and desert-type. I enjoyed that one probably as much or more than any of them."
Probably the biggest consideration Olson takes into account when envisioning a design is visual appearance. If done with care, grand vistas can enhance the whole golfing experience. He has a special fondness for Casablanca, a course he designed in Mesquite, Nev.
"It's got a lot of water and many long vistas of the mountains in the distance. I like looking beyond the golf course and seeing things," says Olson.
Location is also paramount to good course design, and Olson enjoys designing for exotic locales. He is currently working on plans for resorts in the Cayman Islands, Cabo San Lucas and Jamaica.
"I like islands, romantic settingsthe kind of thing where not only is the golf a big thing but just being there is a big thing," he says. "I like working on destination-type resorts where people come just to have fun and the course lets your name become elevated in the golf world."
Olson is working on a proposal for a "dream project" in La Quinta. Many architects in the pantheon of golf course design vie for a chance to call a Palm Springs area course their own. He says it is a coveted location for both golf designers and players alike.
"The best of the best golf courses in the world are in Palm Springs," he says. "To get to do a golf course there is really special."
Regardless of location, a trend in golf course design that has architects and course owners re-thinking the modern course is the need for longer fairways. Thanks to the new generation of golfers and improved ball and club technology, the game has outdated some of America's older courses.
"Back in the '40s and '50s, 6,500 yards was a long golf course," Olson says. "Now, you can go to 8,000 yards for some of these younger players and it still wouldn't matter. Even Augusta National has added 300-400 yards in the last six or seven years," he says, referring to the legendary Augusta, Ga., course that plays host to The Masters tournament each April.
Olson directly attributes this change to the huge influence of Tiger Woods.
"What he's done is make golf popular again. Golf design has essentially boomed because of Tiger Woods," he explains.
Part of Olson's career has involved partnering with professional golfers in course design. He collaborated with the late Payne Stewart on Coyote Hills Golf Course in Fullerton, a site of the annual Cal Poly Pomona Alumni Golf Tournament. And the course in Jamaica is a joint effort with golf legend Gary Player.
Designing an effective all-around course that suits seasoned pros while not intimidating amateur enthusiasts presents unique challenges for course architects.
"We try to outthink a beginner's bad shots," says Olson, "but definitely keep in mind a good golfer's good shots."
Cal Olson is the owner of Cal Olson Golf Architecture in San Juan Capistrano.