After studying architecture for 5 years, plus a year in practice, Juris and I founded Harris Kalinka. That was back in 2005. We spent the next 5 years producing renders and animation for the architectural industry until 2010 when we got our first break in the golf industry. Fast forward 12 years and the majority of our work is golf related.
This post is all about how we made the switch from architecture to golf.
In 2009 on a flight from London to Toronto I found myself sitting next to an Irish student of Golf Course Architecture. We exchanged pleasantries and then he asked a question which changed the path of our company: “Have you ever created an animation of a golf course?” The answer was “No” but I was intrigued and spent the rest of the flight thinking about it. When I landed I called Juris and suggested we look into the possibility of animating a golf course.
Unfortunately we didn’t exchange contact details and I cannot remember his name, but if you are reading this we would like to say thank you and buy you a Guinness!
We spent the next year researching the competition, reading books on golf course architecture, and figuring out if we even had the capability to create a golf course animation. We realised there were very few companies who offered golf course animations and out of those no one specialised in architecture. This felt like a missed opportunity. This made the prospect of working in the golf industry even more interesting because we believed we could offer something new.
All we had to do was become good at creating golf course animations. Easy!
Once we had decided there was an opportunity we set about learning more about the industry. Golf is not big in Latvia. There are only two 18 hole courses in the country, so it wasn’t a surprise that none of our team were familiar with the game. If they were going to work on golf course projects, then they would need to learn. Luckily our local club in Riga had an English PGA Golf Pro who took our team out on the course and not only taught them how to play, he also gave them a grounding in the specific terminology they would need to know when working on a golf course project.
Within 8 weeks everyone had their green cards and had caught the golf bug!
Golf is very different to architecture. We had to completely change our workflow, developing new techniques for the multitude of bunker styles, cuts of grass and specific species of trees and plants. We also had to upgrade our entire network of computers because modelling and rendering a golf course requires a lot more power than the typical architectural project. We realised quite quickly it would not be an easy transition and on a regular basis we wondered if we had made a terrible decision to leave an industry that we knew well and try and make our way in an industry that we had only just started learning about.
We trained as architects which made it easy to talk to them, understand their designs and interpret their vision. But could we do the same with a Golf Course Architect?
By 2010 we had completed more than 150 architecture related projects, but not one golf course, so we knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince a Golf Course Architect to give us a project. We emailed just about every Course Architect in the world and to our surprise we received quite a lot of replies – but no one was ready to trust us with their golf course design. However, what we did learn from the feedback we received was that there was a need for high quality golf course animations, so this gave us the drive to keep going. We just needed that first project. Later that year Ken Moodie of Creative Golf Design came back to me and gave us the chance to create an animation for a par 3 hole at Weybrook Park Golf Club in Surrey, England.
That project was the turning point because we finally had something to show and prove we could do it, not only to the Golf Course architects but also to ourselves!
We knew that if we were going to break into the golf industry we would need more than just a few examples of golf course animations. We needed to meet the right people. We became regular exhibitors at the Golf Industry Show, China Golf Show and I was lucky to be invited to speak at a number conferences in the US and Asia. We had very few golf related projects during that time and luckily our architectural work kept us going. This period was all about getting to know the right people, improving the quality of our work and our understanding of the golf industry.
Each year we picked up more golf related projects than the year before, slowly gaining more experience and, we like to think, becoming familiar faces in the golf industry.
At the start we focused all of our efforts on new build courses, not realising the potential demand for showing the proposed changes at an existing club and most importantly communicating these changes to the members, many of whom cannot easily understand a routing or grading plan. We started to get asked if we could create visuals for a redesigning a green complex, upgrading the practice facilities, adding a short course or a complete overhaul of an existing course.
Now a large part of our work is with existing clubs and we have had the pleasure of working on some of the most prestigious courses in the world including Kingston Heath, Erin Hills, Medinah and St George’s Hill to name just a few.
When we started in 2005 we were an architectural visualisation company, creating animations and renders for Architects and interior designers, but now the majority of our work is golf related and we consider ourselves part of the golf industry.
When we began our journey flyovers from ‘tee to green’ were the industry standard, like those you might see on a televised golf tournament. Over the years we have tried to introduce something different, both from a technical and creative perspective; a more cinematic style of animation, animated golfers, virtual reality (VR) and we treat each new project as an opportunity to try something new.
We truly believe we are just scratching the surface of what is possible. You only need to look at other industries such as the automotive, architectural and fashion to see how sophisticated methods of presentation can be for marketing. We want to do the same for the golf industry and we believe there are exciting times ahead for all of us.