By Scott Bernarde
Bob Cupp can pinpoint the exact moment he knew what he should do for a living.
The famed golf course architect, a Brookhaven resident, had just been humbled in a Florida PGA Section golf tournament at the Miami, Fla., golf course where he was the assistant club pro. On that wind-blown day four decades ago, he posted a score of 70, which he thought would be tough to beat.
He tracked the leaderboard, and the scores were falling: 70, 69, 68 … all the way down to the 62 shot by Gibby Gilbert, who later became a solid PGA player. Cupp sat in his car afterward and figured that a career as a golf pro wasn’t going to happen.
“That’s what inspired me to go talk to my boss,” said Cupp, who talked him into allowing him to make design adjustments to the course. “Though I could shoot par, it had to be much more than that [to be a tournament pro]. You had to go so, so much lower than par.
“After that it was a series of events.”
More than 40 years later, Cupp, who will turn 70 in December, stands as one of the world’s top golf-course architects (although he might begrudgingly accept that moniker). He has worked on the designs of nearly 250 golf courses around the world – from the newly-redesigned Capital City Golf Club, just down the road from where he lives, to Europe, Asia, South America and points in between.
He has worked with Jack Nicklaus and many other of golf’s top figures, was Golf Magazine’s first-ever Golf Architect of the Year (in 1992), and has some 60 major tournaments played on his tracts, including the recent Barclays FedEx Championship at Liberty National Golf Club in New York.
Cupp’s Georgia work includes designs at Port Armor (now Reynolds Landing) and Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee, Settindown Creek in Atlanta, Hawks Ridge in Ball Ground, and the new 27 holes at Marietta Country Club. He has worked on revisions at Capital City, Druid Hills and Peachtree golf clubs, too. He said Capital City may be in the running for best new course by Golf Digest.
Still an avid golfer – he broke 80 the day Capital City opened back up – his career decision to give up the clubs for the drawing board was a good one.
“The difference between Tour players and a top amateur is night and day,” said the quick-witted Cupp, who, yes, frequently hears that his last name is golf-appropriate. “It’s like a church choir trying to keep with Pavarotti.
“I discovered I couldn’t keep up with the Jack Nicklauses of the world.”
Cupp credits Nicklaus as helping him build the foundation of his design firm. Cupp worked on around 100 courses as Nicklaus’ senior designer for 15 years before starting his own company 25 years ago.
“It’s been a fun ride, but it is work,” said Cupp, who authored “The Edict, A Novel of the Beginning of Golf,” which is in its second printing. “It’s not always easy and when you don’t apply yourself, it shows.”
Cupp’s style is design courses that are tough and functional. By designing a course that can be flexible for most skill levels through maintenance, pin placement and tee location, it can be both test-worthy for pros and at least tolerable for average players.
He won’t say he has a favorite course, instead likening them to children. “You throw them out these and hope they do well. Some do well. Some don’t.”
Cupp was perhaps a nervous parent at the Barclays event, which was played on the course he designed with Tom Kite. He said he wasn’t concerned if the players liked it or not, but there was some tension over whether the top 124 players in the world would reveal an obvious flaw. Liberty National, with a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty, came through in flying colors.
“For the first time, the gallery came from everywhere; by rail, car, bus and even by boat from Manhattan, by the thousands. New Yorkers know how to do that. We gave them the opportunity and The PGA Tour made sure it was available,” Cupp said. “The bottom line, in spite of having professionals play my courses perhaps 60 times around the world, this one was in the eye of the world and did well. What a relief it is. And Tom and I know Liberty will be hosting events for years to come. Words can’t express how that feels.”
Cupp, who lives with wife Pam Amy-Cupp, daughter Sengens, 17, and son Foster, 14 (he has two daughters and son by a previous marriage), likes to get away from golf by making furniture, drawing and painting, singing in the church choir, and playing guitar piano and cello.