Virginia Golfer May / June 2015 | Page 26

Innovation, Imagination Drive Designer George’s Style From cars to courses, architect Lester George brings passion and panache to his projects by ARTHUR UTLEY, Photography by SCOTT K. BROWN FOR RICHMOND-BASED GOLF COURSE ARCHITECT LESTER GEORGE, every project has its own unique story. Each project is a personal endeavor. There are highs and lows; sweet spots and disappointments. And there’s the mantra: an architect’s best course is his next course. Lester George thought he wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, but he was so interested in golf history, “I thought I ought to figure out a way to be an architect.” George formed Colonial Golf Design Inc. in 1991 after spending four years working with another designer, Algie Pulley Jr. Over time, Colonial Golf Design has evolved into George Golf Design. “I started my business to do renovation and restoration because I just couldn’t foresee at the time that anybody would come to me and say, ‘Master plan me a 7,000-acre ” community,’   George says. “I didn’t have the experience and probably wasn’t the right candidate for that. However, I have done 10,000-acre projects since.” SERVICE PLANTS SEEDS Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and brought up in a military family, George received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Richmond in 1977. While at UR in the ROTC program, he became adept at reading maps. He was assigned to field artillery school where he could demonstrate that skill. With field artillery, “You’ve got to look at a big piece of property … I could read terrain,” George says. “I’m very comfortable with it. I’ve always been able to see it before it was built, assimilate and draw it the way I want it built.” George served four years as an Army artillery officer, earned a master’s degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 1998 and retired from the Army Reserves as a lieutenant colonel in 2003. “I think my military background got me in those first doors [as an architect]. I had that package of the engineering side. A lot of designers do it differently. They go out and 24 V I R G I N I A G O L F E R | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 24_VSGA_MayJune15.indd 24 Lester George owns a rare Riviera Gran Sport. look at it, feel it and touch it until they can move it around and get what they want.” APPRECIATION FOR EFFICIENCY, INFRASTRUCTURE AND CLIENT’S NEEDS All of George’s projects begin with topographical maps. “I feel it, but I like to draw it,” George says. “I can walk property all day every day, but until I get that 10,000-foot view and see the whole picture, drainage from offsite, how things are affected by coming in or going off the property, I’m never going to have the total picture.” Tom Paul, a golf architecture historian based in Philadelphia, Pa., and a member of the U.S. Golf Association’s Architecture Archive committee, says the difference between George and most other designers is “he has the sort of intuitive macro vision of what is going on not only on the golf course but the whole site.” Paul says George and Tom Doak are the two architects “who can look at a topographical survey map of a site he’s never seen before and when he gets there, nothing surprises him. That is a real talent.” One of George’s current projects is Vestavia Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. It’s a George Cobb layout that will undergo extensive renovations. George was among 12 architects contacted. Five were interviewed, and the club chose George. “There were two things I thought he did better than everyone else,” says Alan Coshatt, chairman of the club’s long-range planning committee and a former Auburn University teammate of Jason Dufner. “Lester was the only one that saw the whole picture. Not only redesigning the golf course, but creating areas where we could use the club better. “Probably most importantly was that we have 1,000 members at our club and at some point I knew we had to have somebody who could stand in front of a room and take poisonous darts from the members for why we’re changing our golf course. To me the things that other people maybe find a little prickly about Lester, I think are probably some of his greatest assets. George’s willingness to work with members and incorporate his own ideas was important. “We’ve struck a really good cord. We’ve been going through the process for three w w w. v s g a . o r g 5/8/15 11:38 AM