Fairmont West grad traveling the world as golf course designer

Back when he was caddying at NCR Country Club and working on course superintendent Jack Hart’s night watering crew, Greg Letsche could not have dreamed what was ahead for him in the world of golf.

He was just enjoying being a kid. Although he is well under 6 feet in height, he remembers playing basketball with the Paxson brothers, Jim and John. And them spotting him h-o-r in a game of horse.

He remembers caddying in the Bogie Busters for band leader Lawrence Welk, Texas football coach Darrel Royal and former Cleveland Brown Abe Gibron. He also caddied for Don Leedom when he went to the final of the city tournament.

He spent four years at Ohio State University where he studied agronomy and landscape architecture. He worked for awhile as assistant superintendent at Sycamore Creek Country Club and then moved to California where he worked on a new golf course.

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That’s where he met the renowned golf course architect Pete Dye, who took a liking to the young Ohioan whom he always called “Buckeye.” Dye was from Urbana. “I loved it,” Letsche said the other day during a stop in his hometown. “I learned something every day.”

“I remember walking the Rancho Mirage course with (Pete’s wife) Alice Dye and Dinah Shore.”

These days the 1976 Fairmont West High School graduate works among the big leaguers in golf architecture. He travels the world as the senior design associate for Ernie Els Design, a company wholly owned by the four-time major champion from South Africa who has won 70 tournaments worldwide.

Letsche spent 15 years working for Jack Nicklaus Design, supervising the many of the revisions of the Muirfield Village Golf Club course over the years. He spent four years in the resort city of Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Baja California when Nicklaus was building golf courses in Mexico.

Then Nicklaus sent him to South Africa for four years (1995-98) to supervise construction of courses there. In South Africa there was a bonus. That’s where he met his wife, Jane, who is the mother of his two teenage children. They now live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

One of the last Nicklaus projects overseen by Letsche was the restoration of the Ohio State University Scarlet course.

When Ernie Els decided to get into the golf course design business, Nicklaus helped Els get started and assisted on his early projects. Els admired Letsche’s talent and late in 2005 he offered Letsche an opportunity to join his company as senior design associate.

Letsche said it was very difficult to tell Nicklaus he was leaving, but he felt that “it was time to move on.” He felt he might have more opportunities with Els because Nicklaus’ sons were getting into the business.

"It was also an opportunity to do some work on my own," said Letsche, who established his own company: LetscheDesign.com

Letsche said he has not regretted the move because Els gave him more responsibility and has trusted him with his many projects all over the world. Letsche has worked in Dubai, Argentina, the Bahamas, the island of Mauritias, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, Malaysia and VietNam and many more countries.

One of the Els group’s most rewarding assignments came when it was entrusted with the restoration in 2016 of the Wentworth West Course in Virginia Water, England – long the home of the BMW Championship.

Not many new courses are being built in the United States, where interest in golf has waned in recent years.

“There’s not as much work as there once was,” Letsche said. “It’s mostly restoration and design. I have a passion for for restoration of classic designs. Architects like Alister Mackenzie and others.”

Letsche said the challenge facing architects today is to design courses not just for the low handicappers but for all who play golf. He thinks difficult courses discourage young people from taking up the sport. He thinks one concentration should be in providing enough teeing grounds to accommodate the skills of all players.

Letsche isn’t certain when he’ll be back in Dayton. He said his visits generally coincide with an Ohio State football game in Columbus.

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