For this youngster, it’s never too early to design a golf course. Cody Carroll tends to use the family’s dining room table when he needs room to draw holes for his imaginary golf courses.

Dec. 31, 2009
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There have been countless nights in Cody Carroll’s life in which he has sat on the king-size bed in his neatly kept second-floor bedroom, looked out the large window toward his front yard and dreamed of building a golf course on the 8-1/2 acres that surround his house.

It couldn’t be a full 18 holes, of course — not enough land for that. But he’s plotted out a five-hole course, one that would test his skills and make him a better golfer. He’s drawn up the plans, going back and forth on the shape of the fairways, the placement of the hazards, the undulation of the greens. He wants holes that would test a golfer’s ability to strategize, as well as his courage.

One time, he even took a bag of tees and started plotting out the holes in the yard, giving himself a chance to visualize how the course might look within the confines of those 8-1/2 acres.

The dream is there. All that land, and nothing but a flat stretch of grass and a few trees. For Cody, who loves golf course architecture and has filled many notebooks with sketches of his hole designs, that’s a blank canvas just begging to be sculpted into a work of art.

But that’s as far as the dream has gotten. Cody doesn’t actually own those 8-1/2 acres. The land belongs to his parents.

That’s because Cody is just 10 years old. He’d love to follow in the footsteps of A.W. Tillinghast or Donald Ross — two names he mentions as heroes — and become a great golf course designer. At the very least, he wants to design one course, just to say he did it.

But for now, he must concentrate on graduating from the fifth grade.

Cody picked up the golf bug when he was 3 years old. His parents gave him one of those plastic golf club sets, thinking it would just be one in a series of diversionary toys to keep their son occupied until he moved on to something else. But Cody showed both ability and enthusiasm for swinging the little white plastic clubs, and so father Chris and mother Kelly took it up a notch.

A year later, they took him to play his first round, at a nearby course named Baymeadows. Cody still remembers the light bulb that went off in his head.

“I thought that maybe if I had my own course, I could play golf whenever I wanted,” Cody recalls.

So he started to design holes. At age 4.

He says his dad showed him some basic outlines of things, like tee boxes and bunkers, to get him started. “He’s giving me too much credit,” Chris says, insisting that Cody picked up much of it himself. Cody didn’t watch cartoons; instead, his TV time was devoted to the GOLF CHANNEL. And he started collecting scorecards, drawing little diagrams of holes and adding the yardage while his mother drew all the straight lines.

Then a couple of years later, Cody started color-coding the holes that he drew up in order to differentiate the various elements on each hole. At some point, he also started making notations about Stimpmeter readings. “He’s just eaten up by this stuff,” notes Chris.

Cody and his mother Kelly sit in front of some blueprints supplied by former PGA TOUR pro Mark McCumber.In the last couple of years, the passion for designing courses has intensified, especially in the summer when he’s playing competitively on the junior circuit.

For his mother’s birthday in 2008, Cody created his own gift by hand — three holes created out of various sheets of construction paper. On the cover page were the words, “Let’s go golfing, mommy.”

When Cody turned 10 years old last summer, he didn’t ask for a video game, or a new football, or a jersey of his favorite player. Instead, he researched books on golf course architecture and asked his parents to buy him “Grounds for Golf: The History and Fundamentals of Golf Course Design,” by Geoff Shackelford. His parents weren’t sure how to get it for him, so Cody told them it could be found on

Shackelford’s book has become like a second bible. Cody has already read it from cover to cover, and he constantly uses it a reference when drawing up holes, which helps explain why some of the pages have already started pulling away from the spine from extreme use.

The book has taken Cody’s designs to the next level. What were simply cute, child-like drawings of golf holes a few years ago have now become more complicated designs, showing slopes of fairways and elevation of greens. He recently asked his mother to buy him some graph paper so his drawings would look more like the ones in the book.

Meanwhile, Cody’s understanding of how courses are designed also have been raised. Off the top of his head, he cites the various schools of design mentioned in Shackelford’s book — Natural school, Penal school, Strategic school, Heroic school, Freeway school, Framing school, Next school, etc. — and explains each one in a concise manner.

“I favor the Strategic and Heroic schools,” Cody says. “I used to make a lot of Penal courses, but a Penal course is easier to play than a Strategic course. The Strategic school is one of my favorites.”

He’s also trying to learn more about golf’s most celebrated architects. He mentions his top four designers — Pete Dye, A.W. Tillinghast, Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie. He has played Dye’s TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course (”I like the course, but I wish there were less pot bunkers,” he says) as well as Ross’ Hyde Park course in Jacksonville. He’s well versed in those two designers but sheepishly admits that when it comes to MacKenze and Tillinghast, “I get them mixed up sometimes.”

As he sifts through some of the scorecards he has collected, he comes across one from El Diablo Golf Club in Ocala, Fla., and notices the architect’s name, Jim Fazio. “I’ve heard of Tom, of course,” Cody says, “but not Jim.” Don’t worry, Cody — Jim is used to living in the shadows of his more celebrated younger brother.

“Grounds for Golf” is among the other books sitting on the nightstand closest to the window in Cody’s room, along with other books such as the “World Atlas of Golf,” “101 Golf Courses” and “The Encyclopedia of Golf.” The books aren’t just for show; they’ve endured lots of use. So much for the Hardy Boys.

“He reads all the time,” Kelly says. “Any sport he loves, he becomes it. When he got into golf, he just became real fascinated with drawing golf courses.”

And this Christmas, just like the Christmas before, Cody asked for one present — a room-size patch of Bermudagrass to be placed somewhere among those 8-1/2 acres so that he could hit golf balls and study the contour of the grass. Alas, Chris and Kelly opted to take the family to Busch Gardens.

Maybe next Christmas.

No logical explanation exists for why Cody Carroll is so infatuated with golf course design.

It’s not genes. Chris, an air traffic controller, likes to hunt and fish in his spare time; Kelly is a second-grade schoolteacher. With 10-year-old Cody, 5-year-old Chase and their dog Smokey running around the house, neither parent has time for golf. None of the grandparents play golf, either.

“We’re just kind of baffled by it,” Chris says.

It’s also not environment. The Carroll house is on the rural outskirts of Jacksonville, Fla., 30 miles from downtown. Had it been on the east side, then the house would be in close proximity to some of the area’s great golf courses, like TPC Sawgrass. Instead, it’s west of downtown, with the nearest course some 15 minutes away.

Cody competes in junior golf events during the summer when he’s not sketching out holes, so he does have a small group of friends that enjoy playing the golf. But none of his competitors have any interest in how a course is designed, and so Cody doesn’t bother engaging them in architecture-type discussions.

His schoolmates at Lake Asbury Elementary are even less help when it comes to course discussions; Cody said he’s the only in his class who is involved with golf.

And his teachers? Well, let’s just say that Cody has been disciplined on more than a few occasions in the classroom because he was caught sketching out a par-4 dogleg right instead of concentrating on his assignment.

“They tell me not to doodle on my paper,” Cody notes with a shrug. “They don’t get that it’s art.”

Cody does have one summer friend who could understand his passion for golf and for golf course design. One of Cody’s golf instructors is Charles Raulerson, the head pro of the Country Club at Orange Park. Raulerson, a former PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour professional, has a young son named Chaz.

Although the two kids have completely different backgrounds and golfing pedigrees, Cody is glad to have someone his own age who is completely enamored with golf. Cody, in fact, has given up playing baseball because he thinks it will negatively affect his golf swing.

“Most of the kids I know have no idea how fun the game of golf is,” Cody says. “They think all you do is hit the ball. All those kids play football — what’s so fun about throwing a football?”

Among the most prized possessions in Cody’s bedroom are 40 pages of rolled-up blueprints of a course designed by 10-time PGA TOUR winner Mark McCumber.

Years ago, McCumber’s daughter and Cody’s father were in the same elementary class; in fact, Chris Carroll even had a schoolboy crush that year on his cute classmate. That connection paid off this summer when McCumber was given a head’s up that Cody might be an interesting kid to get to know.

McCumber, who was elected to the Board of Governors of the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 2003 and whose design firm has been involved in more than 40 projects in the United States and Japan, spent more than an hour with Cody. He couldn’t help but come away impressed with — and intrigued by — the kid’s course design acumen.

“It blows my mind,” McCumber says. “How many kids at that age are into golf course architecture? It’s hilarious.”

As the decorated PGA TOUR veteran and the kid who, at that point, had just graduated fourth grade, started discussing design principles, McCumber was taken aback by some of the pointed questions he was being asked. Cody asked him about concepts of holes, why a certain bunker was placed there, or why a green was shaped a certain way.

“I was giggling at some of the things he was asking me,” McCumber says. “It’s just so way out of proportion to his age.”

Perhaps McCumber and Carroll are kindred spirits. After all, McCumber remembers when he was 11 years old, sitting in a classroom and drawing golf holes. “Everybody thought that was odd,” he recalls.

What’s not odd is Cody’s grasp of basic golf course design. McCumber considers it important to note that Cody isn’t just designing holes for art’s sake, but that because he plays golf at the junior level, he actually is applying concepts that he sees on the course and utilizing them on a practical level.

While Cody has yet to win a tournament, he’s had a handful of top-five finishes. McCumber watched Cody’s swing and was equally impressed by his physical capabilities with a golf club as well as his mental capabilities with a pen and graph paper.

“He actually has some real ability,” McCumber says. “He understands how to play the game, how to pick targets. He uses words like ’strategy,’ and he has a determination to get better.

“You see a little person, but he talks so much older. He’s a very unique kid.”

Indeed. That’s one reason why Chris and Kelly Carroll are contemplating selling their house in the rural community outside Jacksonville and moving to an area much closer to a golf course.

Ten-year-old boys who are fascinated by designing golf courses with the right amount of water hazards, pot bunkers and risk-reward holes don’t come along very often. Cody loves to play golf. And he loves to design golf courses. Why not nurture that? Why not give him the opportunity and the environment, and see what develops?

“I want to have at least one course that I’ve designed,” Cody says. “That’s my big goal.”

Notes Chris: “He’s into something that most 10-year-old kids would find boring. He’s just a pretty sharp little guy.”

There is one drawback if the Carroll family does move, however. Cody will never get a chance to take those 8-1/2 acres and design that five-hole course he’s so often dreamed about as he looks out of his bedroom window.

Of course, creating an 18-hole championship course out of some spectacular piece of land a few years from now might be an adequate consolation prize.

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