Zac Blair hits from a greenside bunker during the Houston Open golf tournament in April. The PGA Tour player was at Inverness on Monday to take part in a First Tee event. ASSOCIATED PRESS
If you work in the pro shop of a top 100-ranked golf course in the United States, chances are you’ll answer the phone one day and PGA Tour pro Zac Blair will be on the other line.
Blair might only be 26 years old, but he has the mind of a seasoned golf course architecture whiz. It’s become a ritual for Blair to play the best courses in the area of whichever tour event he’s at.
On Monday, he played Inverness. He’s playing Double Eagle today. On Thursday, he’ll tee it up at Muirfield Village for the Memorial Tournament. All three are ranked on Golf Digest’s prestigious list of the top 100 courses in America.
Oh, and he might try and get to The Golf Club, another top 100 course, if he finds time.
“I at least try and go see prominent or historic places,” said Blair, who played Inverness for the second consecutive year. “We always call ahead and try to set up a game. It’s always fun to play with someone who knows the history. Most of the time people are very nice about having us out. I think they enjoy it just as much as I enjoy being out there.”
Blair was at Inverness to take part in the First Tee of Lake Erie’s annual Memorial Day Golf Clinic.
No surprise, but he said Pine Valley, a stalwart at No. 1 on Golf Digest’s list, might be his favorite course in the world.
Blair’s dad, Jimmy, a former PGA Tour pro, is a legendary golf figure in Utah. From playing to designing to managing, golf and golf courses are in the Blairs’ blood. Zac grew up around the game, but didn’t truly become an architecture junkie until the past five years.
Jimmy owned Mulligan’s Golf & Games, a nine-hole executive course in Ogden, Utah, with a driving range, putting green, and chipping area that became Zac’s childhood refuge.
“We had a little three-hole course that was our private little place,” Blair said. “It was the coolest thing ever having that and being a part of building it. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted the same thing for me and my friends.”
It’s not just some outsized dream, either. Blair has purchased land in St. George, Utah, for the already-named Buck Club, which has a logo, and he’s drawn the holes.
“Honestly, I’ve been drawing golf holes and thinking about having my own golf course my entire life,” Blair said. “I’m not in a rush to make it happen. It’s just one of those things that any minute somebody could call and be interested in doing it with me. I want to make sure it’s right.
“The golf course part of it — everywhere I go I learn new things about golf courses. I got to talk to Gil Hanse the other day about golf courses. You always learn new stuff. There are a lot more courses I need to see to pay homage to those places a little bit.”
Golden Age architects from the early 20th century are in Blair’s wheelhouse. Seth Raynor, C.B. Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie, and Donald Ross are his favorites. The feature he most enjoys from courses that were designed and constructed 100 years ago are the green complexes.
Instead of giant greens with undulating surfaces, Blair favors subtle rolls and breaks.
“If you look at those courses from back then, the green complexes are so much better than what you see today at the modern places,” he said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. They aren’t wild and crazy green complexes. You don’t have to make wild greens to make them challenging.”
Inverness is known for its small greens that often are protected by bunkers, or deep rough, or both. The course has hosted six majors — four U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships — but none since the 1993 PGA. But the course will host the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur and 2021 Solheim Cup, which Inverness officials hope is a stepping stone to another major.
“This is an old Donald Ross gem,” Blair said. “I hope to see another major here while I’m playing. It’s a great golf course. You get the rough around this place and get the greens firm, there aren’t too many courses that are much harder.”
Zac Blair was all smiles during last year's First Tee event at Inverness Club, and he returned to take part again Monday. BLADE PHOTO