As a long-time client of OGL Engineering, we sat down with Gary to learn more about his career, the changing technologies in the industry, and his work on the iconic Kananaskis Golf Course restoration.
Gary Browning is the founding principal of Browning Design Inc., a landscape architectural and golf course design consulting firm based in Alberta. Gary’s background in landscape architecture coupled with his graduate degree in environmental planning has made him a particularly strong designer with an emphasis on environmental values. He has over 30 years of experience in the landscape architectural profession with specific expertise in the areas of resort planning and design, master planning, landscape design and golf course architecture.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO GOLF COURSE DESIGN?
I got involved in the profession of golf course architecture only because I was a landscape architect with an obsession for the game of golf. I chose to get a Master’s Degree in Environmental Design because I recognized the value of that background when dealing with large, environmentally sensitive pieces of property. Early in my career I had an opportunity to work for a golf course architect in South Texas for a few years. That sparked a passion that never left me, I was hooked.
WHAT CAN BE THE MOST CHALLENGING ELEMENT WHEN INITIATING THE DESIGN OF A NEW OR EXISTING COURSE?
The challenge is to make each project unique and unlike any other I’ve done. I like to draw on the site’s natural characteristics and let that dictate the direction the design takes. Some sites are easier than others.
THE KANANASKIS GOLF COURSE JUST RE-OPENED AFTER THE RESTORATION FROM THE 2013 FLOODS. WHAT WAS IT LIKE, WORKING ON SUCH AN ICONIC COURSE THAT WENT THROUGH SUCH DEVASTATION?
Working on Kananaskis was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a 40-year career. The devastation that mother nature wrought was catastrophic. To be tasked with restoring this iconic masterpiece to its original state was a tremendously daunting challenge, to say the least. There were some sleepless nights for me. I was humbled to have been given the opportunity of a lifetime and believe I delivered on what was asked of me.
HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED THE WAY GOLF COURSE DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE IS DONE?
Technological advancements in the design industry have been mind boggling since the start of my career. Just to put things into perspective, there were no cell phones when I first started in this profession. Today, with advancements in terrain modeling and mapping, lidar data and aerial reconnaissance methods, we have so much more detailed data to work with. CAD versus manual drafting is such an obvious technological advancement that allows us to be so much more accurate in our quantity measurements, calculations and cost estimating……and I also now have an Iphone 8.
HOW DO YOU USE AERIAL IMAGERY AND LIDAR IN YOUR PROJECTS?
As just referenced, the use of aerial mapping and LiDAR data has become critical in the generation of accurate and detailed design drawings. In the early stages of a project, when preparing routing plans for a golf course, particularly on heavily treed sites, aerial imagery and topographic data is our ‘road map’, without which we would be working blind. LiDAR data has given me contour accuracy to within 4”. Amazing when you think about it.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT PRACTICING YOUR CRAFT?
I love the satisfaction of seeing a project go from concept to completion. To see a vision become a reality on the ground never gets old. I especially like the look of complete awe that most people have when they see the completed project and cannot comprehend how I was able to visualize it.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF GOLF COURSE DESIGN GOING?
The future of golf course design is challenged. It is a very specialized craft. There aren’t many of us practicing and new, larger projects are few and far between. Golf course design, moving forward, will have more focus on existing courses and renovation. Pressure to stay relevant in an ever-increasing competitive market has forced golf clubs to con
stantly look at ways to improve. As a golf course architect, the challenge is to help clubs stay on the leading edge and to help them recognize their full potential.