Golf architect Thad Layton couldn’t be much more excited to have started his own eponymous company after more than a decade working with the Arnold Palmer Design Company, but his announcement on social media this week served in many ways as a closing bell for that company , which was founded. by Palmer in 1972.
Palmer design has built more than 300 courses in 37 states and 27 countries, including many listed on Golfweek’s best ranking of state-of-the-art courses in the US and the state-by-state rankings by the public and private layouts. The company really took off in the 1980s and has been one of the most recognized brands in course architecture ever since.
But business, especially building new tracks, slowed for the company after the Palmers died in 2016, and the company plans to wind down operations as non-architectural relationships shift from Palmer Design specifically to the larger Arnold Palmer Group. Brandon Johnson, Palmer Design’s other senior architect, declined to comment Golf week about the news. Calls to Palmer Design seeking comment were not returned.
Adam Lawrence, writes about Palmer Design’s liquidation to golfcoursearchitecture.netpointed out that there has been no significant example of a branded golf design company surviving the death of its chief architect, and now the same appears to be the case for Palmer Design.
Layton said that he has dreamed of creating his own company for several years. The industry has boomed since COVID started in 2020, with the ranks of players swelling as they sought outdoor recreation. Since 2021, there has been a lot of interest in the industry to build new tracks along with renovations and restorations of existing tracks.
“The timing couldn’t be better for me to enter the golf business as a sole practitioner,” said Layton, a Mississippi State Graduate. “I’ve been in this business now for 25 years. It’s just been good times in the golf business the last few years and I couldn’t think of a better time to hang out my shingle. I have a lot of experience putting together strategic master plans for customers, to be able to use their capital in a meaningful and sustainable way.”
Layton said he took on more roles as a course shaper in later years for Palmer Design, often spending time on heavy equipment turning blueprints into golf holes. His most recent project for Palmer Design was a greens and bunker renovation at Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica, where he did the detailed design.
He plans to continue with a hands-on approach, using the term “design-build model” on his new website — generally indicating an architect who is closely involved in projects and who works with a specific crew of contractors on a frequent basis.
Layton also mentioned his love of Golden Age architecture with classic courses built in the four decades running through the 1930s. He then expressed a love of courses built by modern architects in that style, citing Sand Hills in Nebraska by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw as well as Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregonbuilt by Tom Doak.
Layton already has a project in the works consulting on a restoration of the Donald Ross-designed Lakewood Country Club in Colorado. He said he’s also been in talks with several other course operators about working on their layouts and hopes to get a crack at designing new courses soon.
“Where my heart is, I want to do new things, new courses,” said Layton, who moved to Denver four years ago after living for years in Florida, where Palmer Design was based. “I hope once I’m established that I can show the golf world what I can do on a new site. …
“Golf has been a lifelong pursuit. I mean, I’m a golfer before I’m a golf course architect. That’s what got me interested in all this, all kinds of different golf courses. Seeing courses that have taken golden age architecture to say, that’s where I want to go. I’m super excited to get started.”