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Monday, March 14, 2016

Under the Radar Designers Make Indelible Impact


Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley

Under the Radar Designers Make Indelible Impact

Story by Brian Hurlburt


To the golfer not paying attention, the names Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley might not mean much. However, when you look closely, this dynamic golf course design duo has created some of the best golf courses around the world, including right here in the city that glitters and all the way to the faraway locale of Asia, and many destinations in between.

The two are as respected as any top “name” designers and the need to keep three official offices worldwide proves they are in demand. Schmidt and Curley’s home base is Scottsdale, Arizona, but they also have locations in Haikou and Kunming, China. Besides the two namesakes, the company features three additional members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Their prolific work in the Las Vegas area speaks for itself and includes Bali Hai Golf Club, Siena Golf Club, Mojave Resort (Laughlin), Durango Hills Golf Club and remodels of Wildhorse and Stallion Mountain. Curley was also intimately involved in the creation of two of the three Pete Dye signature golf courses at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. At the time in the early to mid-nineties, Curley was a lead architect at Landmark Golf, the group brought in by Paiute leadership to make the resort a reality.

“I remember it was a huge piece of land and the big thing at the time was the tribal leadership not only had the land, but they had the water rights and that is obviously huge in Las Vegas,” remembers Curley. “There wasn’t a lot of golf in town so we were excited about creating more because the marketing studies revealed that not many visitors played golf while in Las Vegas, but a majority of the visitors were golfers so there was a lot of potential demand. The idea for the first two courses (Snow and Sun Mountain) was to create the look, feel and playability of a typical Pete Dye course, but to offer a more user-friendly version. We (Landmark and Dye) had built a lot of really difficult Dye courses, but we believed the two at Paiute needed to be a little more resort friendly. It was a fun job to work on because it was core golf with no housing or any other buildings surrounding it. As far as a destination golf resort, it is very nice.”

Bali Hai and Siena were also two enjoyable Vegas projects and each opened in 2000. They were the first two Vegas courses to be branded as Schmidt/Curley signature courses. Siena was inspired by Italia and features a Tuscan feel in the desert with holes decorated by native vegetation, waterfalls and Italian-inspired buildings. The course also features rolling fairways, distinct bunkering and is played in the shadows of the Spring Mountains.


Bali Hai was inspired by legendary Vegas gambler and golf course operator Bill Walters, whose reputation preceded him on many levels.

“I absolutely love Bill Walters and he is one of my favorite clients of all time,” says Curley, who was named by Golf, Inc. in 2013 as one of the most powerful people in Asian golf. “He is very demanding, but at the same time you send him an invoice and the check snaps back like it is elastic where a lot of clients like to milk you for a long time before payment. Bill understands if he pays you quickly he will get the best service and he will get you to pay attention. I would say he is demanding, but not hard to please. He is very particular and wanted us to have a plan from the start and not vary from that plan, which would drive up the costs.”

Curley distinctly remembers getting a call on his cell phone from Walters one day and a partnership was created very quickly. Walters was passionate about the new project and was committed to providing a quality experience at every level, despite understanding there would be some challenges.

Curley wasn’t overly impressed with the site where the course was to be built because it was sandwiched between the Strip and the freeway, plus it was filled with caliche, a concrete-like substance that causes nightmares for builders in the desert. “You could say it wasn’t the greatest site ever given to an architect,” says Curley with a laugh, adding that the plot was also small in comparison to most course projects.

Walters was the vision behind Bali Hai’s tropical theme while Schmidt and Curley were left to come up with a workable routing that would meet the high standards of their newest client and be feasible given the limitations of the land.

“I think it’s a really good routing because if you look at it from a plan view it looks like a lot of holes just line up, but the way you play it there is a lot of rotation where you are always changing directions,” said Curley. “When it opened, Ron Whitten from Golf Digest called it one of the greatest routings he had ever seen.”

Bali Hai is located in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip and is a stunning tropical experience featuring thousands of palm trees, lagoons and beach bunkers. The following is how Whitten described it:

"If I hadn't seen the (Bali Hai) site before, I would not have believed it was possible,” wrote Whitten in the pages of Golf Digest. “Where there was once nothing, there is now a beautiful, engaging 18 holes. This was major transformation on the scale of Shadow Creek in North Las Vegas, perhaps more impressive, given the number of limitations of this property. Schmidt and Curley did a masterful job of routing a full length 18-hole golf course into the slender tract of land, a textbook case that ranks with the masterful routing on narrow rectangles by Willie Park or Donald Ross."

Pretty high praise for two under the radar, “no name” architects.

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