If you ever met Christine Fraser, you’d be surprised to learn that she isn’t an art curator for some chic downtown gallery like her cool bohemian vibe suggests.
In fact, she’s more likely to be found standing against the backdrop of a parcel of land, dreaming up fairway contours and green complexes that could challenge and dazzle both hardcore and novice golfers alike. While the 33-year-old golf course architect’s youth, fashion-sense, and gender make her different from most of her colleagues in her field, Christine’s talent and portfolio affirm that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be.
The up-and-coming designer is poised to be a force that will influence the way forward for golf course architecture, and perhaps equally so, a voice that can serve as a North Star for the golf industry. Like many professionals in her space, she’s deeply thoughtful about striking a gentle balance between her own artistic expression and capturing the beauty already set in place by the ultimate architect, mother nature.
There’s an infinite number of ways land can be manipulated through design and experienced by a golfer each time it’s played. It’s that challenge along with the responsibility of protecting a course’s ecological footprint that attracted Christine to the field of golf course architecture. But what makes her perspective so unique is that she’s equally passionate about another form of sustainability—ensuring golf’s long-term cultural relevance.
Christine’s philosophy around golf course design is holistic, taking into view a golfer’s full experience, including its management practices, affordability and whether or not it provides a welcoming environment for those far less often considered in golf—women, girls, people of color, and those with disabilities or adaptive golf needs. She believes that social responsibility plays an important role in the work of course designers and that it has the power to either help or hinder the growth of a course’s clientele, and in turn the diversity and inclusivity of golf overall.
Hazard placements and shot selection is part of the design process for any course architect. Unfortunately, in many cases not all players and how they’d navigate a course are taken into account. Elevated tee boxes that require the use of stairs or oddly placed forward tees are just some of the indicators of whether a course may be enjoyed, or played at all, by more diverse golfers.
“There’s no guarantee that golf is going to be here in fifty years,” Christine says. “It has to be socially relevant. It has to be inclusive. It has to reflect the demographics of your population.”
It’s the sentiment that course designers and operators should be designing for what’s going to be important three generations from now that sits in the forefront of her mind.
“Memberships, exclusivity and the rigid expectations that golf courses have to be 18 holes or a par 72 have long defined golf culture,” she said. “Things are going to be very different going forward.”
Beyond a clear vision for the way things should be, Christine has the credentials to help create it, having worked under the tutelage of renowned course architect Dr. Martin Hawtree. Martin’s portfolio includes work on golf course royalty like Royal Birkdale, Golf de Chantilly and even The Old Course at St Andrews. With his mentorship Christine contributed to and led projects that include some of the game’s most swoon-worthy courses like Toronto Golf Club, Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, and Lahinch Golf Club on the west coast of Ireland, which for all intents and purposes is like asking a painter to give a Rembrandt a facelift. She took that experience and commissioned it into her own firm, Christine Fraser Design, where she’s now carving out a space of her own to design, build, and restore courses around the world.
For Christine, her career path is a bit of a return to the family business. In the 70’s her grandparents bought a piece of land just a few hours outside of Toronto, Canada, and were determined to find a way to avoid having to work during the cold, Canadian winters. They thought golf could be the answer and despite having no prior experience with the game, they decided to convert their land into a golf course. Together with their three children and a few close friends, they put in true sweat equity—raking, picking, moving rocks and molding the land to build their course. Camden Braes was a six-year endeavor with the opening of the first 9 holes in 1976, followed by the second 9 in 1977. Family-built and community focused, the course offered a $2.50 per 18-hole green fee. Christine and her brother spent their summers at the golf course, which she credits with giving her a deep appreciate for the outdoors, comfort around golf and its community of players, and an up-close look at the operations of running a business.
Christine Fraser as a child with her first golf club and her grandfather
Despite having the legacy of a family-built and family-owned golf course, Christine hadn’t considered a career in golf course architecture until her final year at Stetson University when she came across an article online that walked through how a former gravel quarry pit became Chambers Bay and hosted a U.S. Open. It ignited her curiosity. But as she began to research how to enter the world of golf course design, she quickly learned that the field is one of the smallest doors to crack open. There’s no master’s degree in golf course architecture. Pursuing a master’s in landscape architecture was the closest option and breaking into the field required close mentorship.
Fortunately for Christine, during a trip to Scotland to collect data for her master’s thesis, she had a chance encounter with Hawtree.
“It was one of those one-in-a-million experiences that if you were an hour earlier, an hour later, it never would have happened,” she said.
Thankfully her run in with Martin led her to working alongside him, which helped Christine learn the expectations and emotions of a golf course architect. His support and allyship in the male-dominated space gave her the confidence to know that she could go back to Canada and make it her own.
Christine is one of just a handful of female golf course architects. In her years traveling the UK and Europe, she rarely encountered another woman in the boardroom, on the grounds crew, or on-site during a build. Growing up around golf meant she was used to being one of few women at a course. But Christine recognizes the magnitude of her role in this space.
“I’m not trying to revolutionize golf course architecture,” she said. “But I think what I can do is influence the redefinition of golf culture and perhaps what a traditional golfer might look like in 30 years. And the way I know how to do that is through design.”
She not only has the opportunity to continue creating spaces that players from all walks of life can enjoy, but the continued success of her work will serve as an example for other architects about the value of designing with those who aren’t represented in the room in the forefront of their minds.