'What's my career missing? I want to design a links from scratch'
Tim Lobb was inspired by Australian icon Peter Thomson – and ended up working with him. One of the busiest modern architects tells Chris Bertram about how he got into course design…
What are your first memories of the game?
I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and can remember my father playing golf regularly on a Saturday. I would be interested to look at his clubs and golf equipment and often follow him around the course.
Was there a big influence on you playing golf in your early years and where did you play most of your childhood golf?
My father introduced me to the game of golf and I started playing around the age of 10.
Peter Thomson was and still is a legend of golf and my father always said to me to model my game and mindset on him.
I started playing golf at the local municipal course called East Malvern but was fortunate enough to become a member of Riversdale with my father at age 12.
Was there a course or even an incident in your childhood-into-teenage years playing golf that left an impression on you?
After becoming a member of a club I became exposed to playing many other courses. In the early days I used to attend a junior clinic with Bruce Green at Royal Melbourne Golf Club and started to fall in love with course design.
What made you decide you wanted to be an architect and how did you go about it?
At my club, Riversdale in Melbourne, they were undertaking a course renovation and I became very interested in the works. The project was being designed and constructed by my hero Peter Thomson (below) and his firm – Thomson Wolveridge & Perrett. I was probably about age 15 and when I saw this my mind was set.
What was your first entry to the industry?
After completing my university degree and spending some years working on my own landscape contractor business in Melbourne I followed my dream and applied to the few golf course design firms in Melbourne and around Australia. Ted Parslow responded to me and I went for an interview.
A short while later he offered me a job to work in his office in both Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. I was thrilled beyond belief and my adventure was about to begin. I was 25 years old.
Has there been one lucky break that really boosted your career in the early days?
Your first break into the business is always a massive step but I would say my move to Europe was a major step for my career.
During the late 1990s I was working with Ted in Kuala Lumpur when the economic crash came. The office projects were decimated and we both decided there was not enough work to sustain my position.
I decided to come to Europe to look for a new position and after meeting several golf design firms Jeremy Slessor of European Golf Design offered me a position.
This role with European Golf Design allowed me to continue to design new golf courses in amazing locations and I immediately started work on projects in Ireland, Turkey and later Finland.
My next big break was meeting Ross Perrett and Peter Thomson and forming Thomson, Perrett & Lobb which we ran together for 12 years until 2016.
Do you look back in horror at some fledging work you did, or actually are you quite satisfied with your early days?
Our industry has certainly changed since the 1990s. Back in those days we didn’t worry so much about maintenance budgets and it is very noticeable that we bunkered courses heavily.
I would say now we don’t as much. Greens complexes and greens contours are similar philosophy and I still enjoy playing on the course we worked on at the start of my career.
What is the one piece of design work you’d still like to do?
I would like to build a links course from scratch.
Is there a project you were close to getting and just missed out on that you still lament?
In our industry there are probably more projects designed and left on the drawing boards than project that get built.
While I did not personally build on the project my business partners at the time, Ross Perrett and Peter Thomson were bidding on the Olympic Course in Rio from their Melbourne office.
The process was rigorous, but I think that project and golf being re introduced into the games would have been a fascinating prospect.
Gil Hanse did a fantastic job and put golf back on the global sporting map.
Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery and do you ever spot little things you’ve done on courses elsewhere?
I am not sure about that. Golf design and construction certainly does run a bit like fashion sometimes.
How do you deal with criticism of your work?
Yes criticism is a part of the job.
It is impossible for everybody to like your work as our interpretation of the golf course is so subjective.
I always welcome feedback from golfers and clients and it is sometimes fun to sit in the locker room after a game and listen to golfers.
Do you still love golf and do you still play golf regularly?
I love golf still and play around 30 games a year, being a single figure player.
I am not a member anywhere but seem to get enough games to satisfy myself.