Inaugural World 100 Club scholarship winner to study St. Andrews, country's iconic courses for three weeks in 2023
Jeff Stein’s first job in golf course architecture was to pick out gravel from the sand topdressing across a double-wide fairway. While he was reluctantly toiling on his hands and knees, dropping one pea-size rock after another into a bucket, he thought his first day might be his last.
Fourteen years later, Stein took that seemingly menial task and turned it into a career designing and renovating golf courses. And now, Stein has a unique opportunity — to take a sojourn into Scotland to recreate a famous trip made in the late 1800s by renowned and beloved architect Charles Blair (C.B.) Macdonald to study the famous Scottish courses.
Stein will make his trip in the spring of 2023 thanks to a scholarship from the World 100 Club, an international society whose members each have the goal of playing all of the world’s top 100 courses, past and present, created by the architecture panel and voters at Golf Magazine.
The club partnered with the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) to create and fund an annual fellowship for architects early in their careers. Stein, chosen from three finalists, is the first winner and will receive airfare and expenses for a three-week trip that will center around St. Andrews.
Stein, 37, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, is a one-man shop — Stein Golf Design — whose first solo commission came in 2020 with a renovation of The Seawane Club on Long Island in New York, designed by Devereux Emmet. Stein is an Emmet devotee and worked on Rockaway Hunting Club with Jim Wagner and Hanse Golf Design.
Stein has worked on Quaker Ridge Golf Club with Gil Hanse to construct the famous "Sahara bunker," shaping bunkers at Merion Golf Club and worked with Tom Doak and Jim Urbina on a restoration at Garden City Golf Club.
In fact, Doak is responsible for Stein’s introduction to the business. Stein had applied for an internship that Doak created but didn’t get. Undeterred, Stein flew from New York to Flint, Michigan, and drove to Doak’s office in Traverse City. He slept in the campground the night before and met Doak face-to-face the following day.
Stein followed up with Doak by being "politely annoying" over the next six months, which resulted in Urbina hiring Stein for the construction crew at Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes Resort in 2008 just after Stein graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in economics. On his first day, C.J. Kreusher, the Old Mac assistant superintendent, handed Stein a shovel and bucket and put him on gravel duty.
Having survived that humbling introduction to the business, Stein later worked with Doak on the first six holes of Dismal River Club's Red in Mullen, Nebraska, and with Bill Coore on the Par-3 Bandon Preserve. Since taking on the project at Seawane, Stein now has a book of clients of his own.
Stein applied for the unique World 100 Club fellowship and sat for an interview with club founder David Wecker. The idea for the trip was to mimic Macdonald's trip that is said to have inspired the likes of Alister Mackenzie, Henry Colt and Pete Dye.
"I would love the opportunity to spend a week working on the Old Course," Stein says. "Not just walking around. You can learn a lot by walking around and looking at things and playing and observing the golfers but I want to see how the golf course actually functions as a modern golf course. And I think I can get a real good sense of that by helping the guys on the crew with their tasks and just seeing what it takes to maintain the Old Course."
This will be Stein’s third trip to Scotland and he would like to see Carnoustie and Muirfield, along with some of the courses on the country’s west coast, such as Turnberry, Prestwick and Western Gailes.
"I want to see some new things new to me," he says. "And I'd like to see some of the smaller clubs around the country where I'm going to see something I might find surprising. I want to see how the towns integrate with their golf courses. I’d like to integrate that into my own work, wherever possible."
A return to golf’s roots should serve to reinforce Stein’s notion that golf courses are often built one pebble at a time.