Christine Fraser is Bringing a Breath of Fresh Air to Golf Course Design
By Adam Stanley
(Photo by Madisen Young/@honeyandoakphoto)
The National Links Trust, an organization rooted in promoting municipal golf across the United States, took to Instagram recently to highlight important women in golf-course architecture.
Marion Hollins, the World Golf Hall of Famer behind Cypress Point and others, was there. Alice Dye, husband to Pete and influential designer in her own right, was there too. Then there was Angela Moser, who has worked with Tom Doak for more than a decade.
Christine Fraser rounded out the foursome.
Fraser, 35, was blown away. Emotional. It was a huge compliment and a little nod to how much work she’s put in to grow her name, her brand, and her voice in the architecture space.
“I talked to Angela and that was so cool. ‘That’s some big shoes to fill, girl,’” says Fraser with a smile. “’Let’s keep going.’”
From Royal Birkdale to Toronto Hunt
Fraser, who was recently featured in the Challengers video series from Charles Schwab which celebrates unique individuals in the world of golf to see what inspires them to view the world differently, is a golf course architect with a simple mission: Make courses that will extend the golf lives of everyone, no matter their skill-level or sex.
“That’s such a big part of my mandate at the moment – creating that equity amongst different types of golfers and different types of people,” says Fraser. “People want to get out of golf things that are so different from their playing partners, so even looking at how to make golf an equitable experience for people playing from the forward tees, people just out there for exercise . . . that’s a huge part of the job.”
Fraser grew up in Kingston, Ontario, Canada (about 2.5 hours from Toronto) playing Camden Braes Golf & Country Club, a course built by her grandparents in the 1970s. In perhaps typical Canadian fashion, she also played hockey before earning a partial golf scholarship to Stetson University in Florida, an NCAA Division I school.
More from PGA
'The Whole Reason for Augusta National': How Marion Hollins Became a Golf Course Design Pioneer
Suzy Whaley: A Tenure of Breaking Barriers and Making History
The Love of Golf Runs Deep in Canada
Never good enough to turn professional, Fraser admits, she returned to Canada to earn a post-grad degree in landscape architecture from the University of Guelph, a top-ranked school in the country. She wrote her thesis on sustainable golf design and won the Stanley Thompson Society’s graduate scholarship – so named after the country’s most iconic golf designer. She took the money and headed to Scotland.
Fraser ended up as an apprentice for Martin Hawtree’s design firm in England for five years and worked with the teams at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Sunningdale Golf Club, Royal Dublin Golf Club, and Lahinch Golf Club – amongst others – while overseas. The duo met in 2014 at Toronto Golf Club, long ranked as one of the country’s very best.
“She has added a breath of fresh air to our office,” Hawtree told Canada’s SCOREGolf Magazine at the time.
Hawtree would, in 2016, name Fraser as the on-site architect for the nine-hole course at Toronto Golf Club. It was a big learning curve, but she loved the opportunity – how could she not?
Fast forward a little more than a half-decade later and Fraser has now made some history in her native Canada. The Toronto Hunt Club, a fabulous nine-hole facility that overlooks Lake Ontario, has signed Fraser on to renovate its course, established in the 1940s.
She is the first woman to hold a lead design role on a course in Canada, ever.
“It’s an important responsibility to have because I’m trying to focus on the experiential aspect of architecture and design. We can so often get caught up in the numbers of golf. It’s easy to do because numbers are understandable and more qualitative things are less-easy to understand,” says Fraser. “Experience in golf is really important to me and this is a design that hopefully will still be affecting golfers 25 years down the road.”
Fraser will be presenting her plan for the renovated Toronto Hunt Club to the club’s membership in May. They’ve gone through a few rounds with the committees at the club – a collaborative effort, she says. It will be a big, multi-hour presentation to about 200 people.
“It’s a long-term vision that will affect people’s daily golf experience. I don’t like to think about it too much because you can get caught up in the big-ness of it all,” she says with a laugh. “You’re going to impact a lot of people’s golf experiences, so you have to make sure it’s done right.”
Fraser says she rarely plays a full 18 holes these days since she’s always looking around and looking up. She’ll forget her ball or forget to putt out, she says, smiling. But the game remains fun for her to play as she continues to understand the ‘why’ at certain courses. She’s happy enough to have left the competitive side of golf behind in favor of focusing on architecture.
Her efforts to this point, in a male-dominated industry, have hit a culmination point at Toronto Hunt Club. She’s pushed the imposter syndrome aside. Fraser has earned this appointment, and now she’s keen to take advantage of it – and truly start to be in the same conversation as some of the game’s architecture legends.
“I’m so grateful to Toronto Hunt Club because they have such progressive ideas and they put their trust into a relatively young, female architect with not a lot of experience to my name so I’m forever grateful to them,” says Fraser. “That’s been good for my personal growth. I can actually do this.
“I finally feel like that is exactly where I’m meant to be at this point in time.”