Kari Haug fell in love for the first time when she was eight years old—with a set of Spalding golf clubs she received for her birthday. Those clubs changed her life forever. It was 1972 and she was a small-town girl in the rural town of Kerkhoven, Minnesota. The population then was just under 650 people (now a whopping 722), with the motto, “A small town with big possibilities”. Perhaps there was something in the water, because Haug really was a small-town girl with big dreams—all of which revolved around golf.
“I would go play all day long, just me and my grandmother,” Haug recalls of her childhood. “We would drive up and there was a little cash box where you’d get your scorecard, put a dollar in the box and go play as much golf as you want. I would just keep going around and round the 9 holes—grandma would go home, and I would keep playing.”
Haug’s home course was literally carved out of a cow pasture and had greens made of sand. Little did she know one day she’d be designing courses and joining the ranks of iconic names such as Alice Dye and Jan Bel Jan as one of the few female golf course architects in the world. Today Haug is determined to put women at the forefront when it comes to golf course design and renovation.
After college, Haug worked as a physical therapist, but her true passion kept calling. Ten years later she bravely decided to go back to school to become a golf course architect.
“Several people discouraged me and said, ‘oh it’s too hard to get into the field’,” she said. “The person who set me back on track was [golf architect] Tom Doak. I had an interview with him for an internship—I didn’t get the internship, but I asked, ‘what should I do’, and he said, ‘move to Scotland and learn about golf courses’… so I did.”
Fast forward to 2007 when Haug was studying golf course architecture at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She quickly began to realize a trend in many U.S. golf courses: it was at a time where advances in club technology left architects scrambling to create longer championship courses for scratch golfers and tour players, often leaving short-distance golfers as an afterthought.
“The way the red tees were laid out didn’t make a whole lot of sense, because if you looked at the percentage distance from tee to green, sometimes the forward tees would end up down in a hole, side hill, or other bad location,” she said. “If forward tees were designed properly, this game would be a lot more fun for the short hitter.”
A major influence for Haug was Alice Dye, who is known as the “First Lady” of golf architecture. Dye, now 91-years-old, designed famed courses such as TPC at Sawgrass, Crooked Stick Golf Club and Whistling Straits, to name a few. Haug developed a modernized version of Dye’s Two-Tee system for Women, which she explains in her article, Five Features to Enhance Playability of a Golf Course.
“I’m not afraid of calling the forward tees ‘women’s tees’,” Haug said. “If we’re going to push for gender equity it needs to be called what it is, and that way we keep it in the forefront of pushing for change,” she said.
In addition to creating better courses for women, Haug wants to help create more opportunities for women who want to pursue a career in golf architecture.
“One of my goals is to mentor more women who are interested in pursuing golf course architecture because I couldn’t find a mentor when I first started and that’s something I feel very strongly about,” she said. “Opening the door for women, pushing them ahead and up the ladder—I’m standing on the shoulders of women like Alice Dye and I want to be able to do the same for the next generation of women.”
Who knew that little course outside of Kerkhoven could have such an impact on a young girl? Perhaps it fostered her creativity for designing her own golf courses today.
“It was always golf,” she said. “It was golf when I was a kid, it was golf when I was a teenager, then in college, and it’s golf today.”
Today, Kari Haug has founded her own company, Kari Haug Planning & Design, Inc., and holds national certification as a WBENC-certified WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise). You can find out more about her on her website, www.karihaug.com.