Christine Fraser wants golf to open its collective eyes. To her way of thinking, golf could be more inclusive, more diverse, and more interesting for a greater number of people. And though she might rub the old boys of golf the wrong way, she’s just fine with that.
“That strict, posh, upper-class golf culture makes me feel bad,” Fraser said from her home in Windsor, Ontario. “And that led me to want to pursue my career from an entirely different perspective. I want to be an advocate, for women and girls and anyone pushed to the side in the game. I want to invite more people in.”
The way forward for Fraser is through golf design, which was her entrance to the game. She has worked with some of the game’s best, apprenticing under Martin Hawtree in the U.K., and partnering with Canadian restoration expert Jeff Mingay more recently. And increasingly Fraser is gaining attention for her perspective on how golf courses could evolve to connect with a wider group of players, something she thinks is essential to the sport’s future.
“I think I was a bit naïve about all of it, but golf was my safe space, a place I was comfortable. It was a world I’d grown up around.” – Christine Fraser
Fraser grew up on a course called Camden Braes, designed by her grandfather outside of Kingston. It is the kind of mom-and-pop facility that charges a little and doesn’t promise a lot. And for a vast majority of golfers, it offers plenty, including a place to learn and embrace the game without the challenges of courses that have penal bunkers and devilish greens. Playing the course colored the way Fraser would see golf for the rest of her life.
That’s not to say she wasn’t a good player; Fraser played Division I college golf at Florida State University. But when her collegiate career was done, she recognized she wouldn’t be good enough to pursue playing professionally. And she was satisfied with that decision because Fraser already had decided on her next path: completing a master’s degree in landscape architecture. Many in the program found her pursuit to be odd. After all, since the economic slowdown in 2008, new golf design had all but dried up, and the renovation area was dominated by long-established architects who were largely white males in their 50s. Needless to say, there weren’t many 20-something women pursuing golf design, and no others who titled their thesis, “Design alternatives that encourage golfer participation.” Clearly, Fraser saw things a little differently.
While she was working on her thesis, Fraser traveled to Scotland. It was there she had a chance encounter with designer Martin Hawtree, part of a generational golf architecture firm with links back to Harry Colt. More recently, Hawtree led the changes to the Old Course, along with Ireland’s Lahinch and England’s Royal Birkdale, as well as the creation of Donald Trump’s course in Aberdeen.
“I asked Martin a million questions,” she said. “He was so generous with his time.” Soon after graduating, Hawtree offered Fraser a job helping with the renovation of Toronto Golf Club’s short Watson Nine, and later inviting her to work with him in Europe.
“I think I was a bit naïve about all of it,” she said, “but golf was my safe space, a place I was comfortable. It was a world I’d grown up around.”
That doesn’t mean the old-boys’ network was always welcoming to a young woman who wanted to be involved with their golf courses. She dealt with those who were skeptical, as well as clubs where their attitudes hadn’t evolved much over their century-plus histories.
“It was a pretty rude awakening. I remember going to Muirfield and Martin would walk right into the clubhouse through the front door, and I wasn’t allowed to go to the meeting,” she said. “It showed just how unbalanced parts of the game are. And I really hadn’t experienced anything like that until then.”
Those frustrating experiences, where Fraser was left on the outside looking in, helped her formulate a plan for how she approaches golf design following her time with Hawtree. In recent years, she has worked alongside Mingay on projects such as the renovation of Cutten Fields, all the while drawing attention to her perspective on what golf needs. Mingay has been particularly supportive of her ideas for evolving golf design.
“He’s always had my back,” she said. “That’s allowed me to push forward some of the ideas I have about golf course architecture.”
To Fraser’s way of thinking, for too long golf course design and renovation has been led by those few with the capability of playing the back tees. Anyone who couldn’t play from 7,200 yards was left out of the discussion, meaning that women, junior golfers and lesser players would struggle as courses got big, burly, and more difficult.
Which brings us full circle to Camden Braes, the course designed by Fraser’s grandfather. It is a rustic, simple country design built with little money that plays firm and fast, and lacks bunkers. But it coloured Fraser’s ideas about design, whether it is at a municipal golf course or a private high-end facility.
“A lot of my design process comes from how I navigated this course as a child,” she said. “How can I get the ball around if I can’t get it in the air? That’s what Camden Braes is. And golf could use more of that.”
And, frankly, golf could use more Christine Frasers, and others like her that think a little differently about a game framed by age-old traditions.
Photos: Madisen Young, Honey & Oak Photography
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