Mississippi State University Alumnus Nathan Crace Among Newest Members Elected to American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) in Annual Meeting

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Watermark Golf/Nathan Crace Design principal and Mississippi State University Professional Golf Management (PGM) alumnus elected as new member of American Society of Golf Course Architects

Each year, members of the prestigious American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) convene for a week to discuss the state of the golf industry, plan for the future, elect new officers for the coming year, and (from time to time) vote to elect new members. For Indiana native and Mississippi State University graduate Nathan Crace, the latter part of this year’s annual meeting was a particularly nervous occasion.

“I was not at the meeting,” explains Crace, the Principal of Mississippi-based Watermark Golf/Nathan Crace Design. “I was in Mississippi waiting to hear how the vote went. But the vote was going to be on April 1st, so I was also prepared for an April Fools prank call.”

The call actually came on April 2nd from ASGCA membership committee co-chair Mark Mungeam. Crace was one of only three new members and, for him, it was a 20+ year journey that he says was well worth the wait and the amount of work it took to complete the application process.

“You have to be invited to join and you need three sponsors who are current ASGCA members before you can even begin the application process,” Crace says. “I was very fortunate to have three great sponsors in former ASGCA presidents Bob Cupp and John LaFoy as well as Steve Smyers, who just assumed the office of president at this year’s meeting.” According to Crace, from that point, the application process really got rolling.

The membership committee reviews an applicant’s full body of work, focusing specifically on the most recent ten years. Applicants must collect reference letters from past clients, documents, drawings, and photos from a number of projects, and have multiple finished projects reviewed in person by current ASGCA members during on-site visits. After all of that, if Phase I of the application is approved, the applicant must attend a personal interview with current members of the society during the annual Golf Industry Show.

“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” Crace says. “But everyone there made me feel so at home that my nervousness just went away once we got started.”

Why so nervous? For Crace, becoming an ASGCA member is more than just becoming part of a select group of professionals who represent the best of the best of their industry. It’s been a lifelong goal for him; and because the selection process is so stringent and the criteria so demanding, there are only 175 current ASGCA members working world-wide. Like all new members, he will be an Associate Member for a period of two years before becoming a Regular Member.

“I literally designed my first golf course at about age 10 on my parents’ land in Indiana,” Crace explains. “That’s when I knew I wanted to design golf courses for a living. Shortly after, when I realized there was an ASGCA, I knew that’s where I was headed. It sounds crazy, but I knew at age 11 or 12 that this was a goal I wanted to achieve.”

For Crace, it was not the usual route. No one in his family played golf and there was no golf course in his small town (that’s why he built his own three-hole course). He taught himself how to play golf and then taught friends how to play. When he soon outgrew his own course and his parents realized how serious he was, they started taking him a local par-3 course, then to a county parks course. He says he was never good enough to play in college, but playing four years of varsity golf in high school exposed him to different types of courses and the opportunity to enroll in the PGA of America’s Professional Golf Management (PGM) program at Mississippi State University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1994.

“It’s not the usual route—if there is such a thing—that most people take to become a golf course architect,” Crace explains. “These days, most have backgrounds or degrees in landscape architecture. But I think my exposure and experience in golf course management made me a better golf course architect. I have a real world understanding of what superintendents and course managers are dealing with on a day-to-day basis because I’ve been there myself and if you don’t take that into consideration during the design phase, you’re shortchanging your client.”

Crace is still very involved with his firm’s sister company, Watermark Golf Management, including the daily operations of The Refuge—an upscale daily fee course in Flowood, Mississippi. Crace did not design The Refuge. He says that just like his experience with management gives him an advantage in design, his experience in design helps with club management. For example, when in-house tweaks need to be made to the course, there’s no need to bring in a golf course architect because Crace is already there.

Crace’s design credits include the 1999 renovation of former PGA Tour stop Hattiesburg CC and Golf Digest’s “Best New Affordable Public Course in America” for 2003 Copper Mill GC near Baton Rouge (both done when he was the Sr. Design Associate at Maxwell Golf for eight years after college) as well as his solo award-winning renovation of Ole Miss GC in 2008 [the “#3 Best Public Renovation in America” from Golf Inc.] and multiple renovations for the US Air Force. In more than two decades thus far, he has built an impressive portfolio, including the past 13 years of his solo career. So what does he think the future of golf looks like?

“Strong, but we have to continue to design and renovate courses in a way that makes them both fun to play and efficient to maintain,” Crace says. “In America, golfers expect a certain look; but that doesn’t mean we can’t utilize more low maintenance and native areas to conserve resources, labor, and money. It has to be done carefully and with due diligence; but if done correctly, it looks great and saves the owner money. At the end of the day, the experience for the golfer has to be valuable, memorable, and fun.”

If he had it to do all over again, is there anything Crace would change in his career path thus far? “No,” he replies quickly. “Without the steps I took from Indiana to Mississippi State to my career so far, I would not be where I am today. I wouldn’t have met my wife [they met in college] and we wouldn’t have our three kids and I wouldn’t have the background that I now have for my career. And if not for that, I probably wouldn’t be an ASGCA member today.”

Not only is he now a member of the most prestigious group of golf course architects in the world, he is also the only member in either Mississippi or Alabama. Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee each have one member.

For more information about Watermark Golf, visit http://www.watermarkgolf.com. For more information about the American Society of Golf Course Architects, visit http://www.asgca.org

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