Family Portrait

Jazz, movie nights and buckets of paint shaped Mike Strantz’s course designs
Lipping Out 27. Mike Strantz art mpcc

Whenever Mike had a new piece of land to conquer, he enjoyed showing it to me and the girls. Dana, Andrea and I often trekked across rough terrain, crossed gullies and avoided bogs while walking through a forest thick with hungry mosquitos. But Mike loved the undulations, the rock formations and the craggy old limbs. The girls and I would be avoiding spiderwebs and hoping not to disturb a snake or even a wild hog, but Mike would be focused. He’d be marking trees, putting in stakes, then circling back to paint another tree. We were fighting nature. Mike was embracing possibilities.

People now know my late husband for the golf courses he designed, but he was so much more than that. He was an exceptional athlete. In one season as a kicker for Lake High School in Toledo, Ohio, Mike scored the most points for a single player in the league. He played varsity baseball as a sophomore. At Miami University of Ohio, Mike was tapped to play varsity hockey as a freshman. And, of course, he loved golf. His tall frame and broad shoulders transformed into an enviable twist, and, on his best days, his drive was poetry in motion.

But his true love and talent was art. He was enrolled in the studio art program at Miami, but couldn’t see earning much money as an artist if he wanted to marry this girl named Heidi, so he blended his gifts and transferred to the Michigan State turfgrass management school. Mike was prepared to be a golf course superintendent upon graduation, but first he signed up to work on the grounds crew for the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness Club. Tom Fazio was hired to make design changes at Inverness prior to the event, and that’s where they met. Tom quickly hired him.

One of Strantz’s go-to quotes came from Dr. Alister MacKenzie: “A good golf course is like good music or good anything else: It is not necessarily a course which appeals the first time one plays over it, but one which grows on a player the more frequently he visits it.”

Mike thrived while working for Tom and learned a great deal, but that much travel away from our family was hard on us, and I thought we should put down roots in Charleston, South Carolina. For three years, in order to work as an on-site supervisor, Mike left Charleston Sunday night and returned Friday night. The stress of air travel added up, and Mike and Tom amicably parted. Mike still yearned to be a studio artist, so he joined the grounds crew at Wild Dunes Resort so he could stay home to be a father and pursue his dream. Eventually Mike answered his calling to create more golf courses, but he always thought about how travel and location would impact our family.

​​It was a wonderful time. Many Saturday nights at the Strantz house in the 1990s featured trips to Blockbuster Video. The girls and I would pick out a family movie. Mike had perfect comedic timing (his daughters have that talent too), and he always quoted our well-loved videos. If we would bring home The ’Burbs, Mike might do Tom Hanks’ deadpan “Art’s got a gun.” We would all share dinner, then get cozy in our little living room and watch the movie.   

To understand Mike the artist, imagine the world as a sketch pad. Most of us would start with a blank page, but Mike’s seemed to come already bursting with color and ideas. He could immediately see compositions in full form. All he had to do was translate them to paper.

Mike Strantz art Lipping Out 27 Bob Marley
Bob Marley was probably a more familiar sight around the Strantz house in the 1990s than Tiger Woods.

While drawing, music whirled in his head and throughout the house. Jazz was his muse, but his passion for music was far-reaching. He loved classical, alternative, country, reggae and all kinds of new voices and different sounds. Imagine Miles Davis’ trumpet crooning “Porgy and Bess” while Mike pondered a topo and worked out a routing. Or hearing Weather Report’s free-flowing “Birdland” come on while he drew the setting for a green on the rocky Pacific coast, complete with cormorants skimming the waves and seals sunning on outcroppings. How about the Alan Parsons Project guiding him as he painted Edgar Allan Poe?

People still ask me if Mike, even at a young age, was always redesigning golf courses when he played. Was he making them more interesting, exciting and, most importantly, beautiful? Probably, though the great courses were his inspiration. Turnberry, Shinnecock Hills and Cypress Point were among his guideposts, along with the great Alister MacKenzie. I hope that his work has a similar effect on people. I know it did in our family: Andrea has grown into a wonderful artist and Dana is similarly gifted, a design consultant for a large homebuilder.

Mike was empowered with a pencil. He was a man of few words, but his art spoke his vision. His worldview was expansive, and he wanted to capture so much of it—music, history, tradition, culture, religion—on the page and on the course. The energy and fleeting nature of life called to him, whether it was an old barn or a tree growing out of a boulder. To us, his art was magic. But to him, that sketch pad in his head was a gift he couldn’t ignore.

Mike Strantz Family Portrait lipping out 27 Charleston
Charleston, SC

Strantz always tried to infuse character from his musical, art and cultural favorites into his golf holes. Anyone who has pegged it at a Mike Strantz course can attest to the playful spirit that animates his designs.

Featured image at top: Strantz’s sketch of No. 11 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Shore Course