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Remembering legendary golf course architect Arthur Hills (1930-2021)

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All of us at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Arthur Hills. Of course, Hills is one of three legendary architects — along with Robert Trent Jones Sr., and George Fazio — to put an indelible stamp on the resort with their golf course design work here.

We paid tribute to all three architects when Palmetto Dunes celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018 and specifically recently caught up with Arthur Hills in this interview.

Here is Hills’ obituary, posted by the prestigious American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), of which he once served as president:

American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) Past President Arthur Hills, ASGCA Fellow, died May 18, 2021, in Florida. He was age 91.

A graduate of both Michigan State University (science) and the University of Michigan (landscape architecture), Hills excelled at golf as a member of the MSU Spartan golf team. He formed his golf course architecture firm in the 1960s. Today, Hills * Forrest * Smith, Golf Course Architects continues to, as their website states, “create golf course designs that stimulate the senses, display creativity, and honor the hallowed traditions of the game as they relate to strategy, shot values and aesthetic character.”

Hills designed more than 200 new golf courses around the world and renovated more than 150 other courses. His new designs include: Bonita Bay, Naples, Florida; The Golf Club of Georgia, Atlanta; Bighorn Golf Club, Palm Desert, California; Keene Trace Golf Club, Lexington, Kentucky; and Hyatt Hill Country Resort, San Antonio, Texas. Hills-designed courses have hosted a number of distinguished amateur and professional tournaments, including U.S. Opens and the Ryder Cup.

“As a kid drawing golf holes and dreaming about becoming a designer, I would read the magazines and marvel at the articles about new courses,” ASGCA President Forrest Richardson recalled. “One was Tamarron in Colorado, a new course by Art Hills set in a rugged valley with steep cliffs. Eventually I got to see it firsthand, and it inspired me with its bold greens and creative routing.

An environmental pioneer, Hills designed the first Audubon Signature Sanctuary courses in the United States, Mexico and Europe. ASGCA Past President Pete Dye dubbed Hills “the Mayor of Naples” for the number of private country club courses that he designed in and near that coastal Florida location.

ASGCA Past President Steve Forrest said, “He started the business by placing an ad in the Toledo, Ohio, Yellow Pages under ‘Golf Course Architect’ while operating a landscape contracting business. I had the great privilege of learning all aspects of golf course architecture from a distinguished professional practitioner and humble gentleman over 42 years. Arthur became a father-like figure to me who was a mentor, an instructor, exhorter and admonisher while always trying to improve his own skills and increase his personal knowledge every day.”

“Mr. Hills was among a handful of golf architects who subscribed to a newsletter I published about golf design in the 1970s, and he also took time to comment and contribute,” Richardson said. “While he left an incredible legacy of work across the world, for me I will always recall the kindness he showed a young aspiring student — a gift we should all pay forward.”

Hills has been inducted into both the Ohio and Michigan Golf Halls of Fame and received a lifetime achievement award from the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association.

He became an ASGCA member in 1971. Hills served as ASGCA president in 1992-93 and achieved Fellow status in 2003. He is survived by his wife Mary. They had eight children, 24 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.  

We will always remember the great Arthur Hills and we consider ourselves blessed that part of his legacy will live on forever here at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. 

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