It started with a typical argument between a father and his teenage son.
The son, 14-year-old Allan MacCurrach III, was tired of cutting the grass at his home for free, and wanted his father, PGA Tour agronomist Allan MacCurrach Jr., to start paying him.
When the debate got heated enough, the teen asked his father why he couldn’t arrange a job for him at an ambitious project in Ponte Vedra Beach: the construction of the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course.
“You wouldn’t last two weeks out there,” he was told.
“Just try me,” the youngster said.
Allan MacCurrach III got the job in the summer of 1979, working under Stadium Course architect Pete Dye. It began a lifetime of passion for the process of moving and sculpting the earth to form 18 holes of emerald finery, for everyone from 20-handicappers to the greatest players in the world to sink a tee into the ground and lose themselves for a few hours in nature and the ancient sport.
Years later, when the father would ask him how business was going, the son would reply: “just working on that third week.”
By the end of 2020, MacCurrach Golf Construction will have completed its 33rd year and more than 100 projects, a combination of new construction and renovations — the latter of which can be just as challenging.
There are few Jacksonville courses that have not experienced the MacCurrach touch. His company, with around 100 employees operating more than five dozen pieces of equipment ranging from bulldozers to small shaping machinery, built the original designs at the Slammer & Squire, Palencia, the St. Johns Golf and Country Club, Eagle Landing, Atlantic Beach Country Club, Amelia National and Windsor Parke.
MacCurrach Golf also gets offers beyond the First Coast. The company built notable designs such as Streamsong Red, Black and Blue courses, the TPC Tampa Bay and LPGA International.
In recent years, with new golf-course construction limited, MacCurrach Golf has been hired to do renovations at the TPC Sawgrass, the Sawgrass Country Club, Pablo Creek, Oak Bridge, Timuquana, Hidden Hills, both courses at the Omni Amelia Plantation, the Jacksonville Golf and Country Club and the Jacksonville Beach Golf Club.
Outside the area, MacCurrach Golf has done restorative work at famed courses such as Seminole, Shinnecock, Bay Hill, the Medalist, the Sea Island Club, Southampton, Canterbury, Inverness, Harbour Town Golf Links and Kiawah Island.
MacCurrach Golf was recently cited by Golf Inc., a trade magazine, for being the construction company involved with its best renovations of 2019 in two categories: the Sea Island Club Plantation Course in St. Simons Island, Ga., for public golf and the TPC Sugarloaf near Atlanta for private golf.
“We’ve gotten awards before, but never in two categories at the same time,” the 54-year-old MacCurrach said.
Along the way, the company has established a reputation for integrity that brings in a high volume of repeat business.
For example, MacCurrach has handled three renovations of the fairways and greens at the TPC Sawgrass and every year when the San Jose Country Club closes for two weeks, he gets the phone call.
“We have about 25 projects per year and about 23 of them are repeat customers,” he said.
There’s a good reason.
“He’s an honorable man … he embodies everything the game of golf is supposed to be,” said former TPC Sawgrass general manager Bill Hughes, now general manager of the Country Club of the Rockies in Colorado. “With Allan, it’s not about the money. It’s about making the customer happy.”
“He’s the best there is,” said Ponte Vedra Inn and Club director of golf Jim Howard, whose Ocean Course is undergoing a MacCurrach golf renovation that will be completed by Labor Day. “He’s always on time and on budget.”
San Jose general manager Rocky Staples said the reputation of MacCurrach and his staff are “impeccable.”
“He’s always fair with his bids and he has great respect for the architect’s vision,” Staples had. “I love the guy. I love his team.”
MacCurrach and his team can work fast. In 2006, they stripped the sod from every fairway of the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, trucked in 10,000 tons of sand and re-sodded in 17 days.
They can also fan out. In the past two years, he has had overlapping projects on the First Coast, Georgia, Virginia and Massachusetts.
“You can have a great design, but at the end of the day, the guys in the bulldozers have to do the job to make it a great golf course,” said M.G. Orender, president of Hampton Golf who has worked with MacCurrach on new and original designs on the First Coast. “Allan and his guys are the best.”
San Jose and the Ponte Vedra Club Ocean Course are two of the active projects MacCurrach Golf is handling in the area. Others include Pablo Creek, the Sawgrass Country Club, Oak Bridge and the University of Virginia golf course.
And in 2018 MacCurrach finished Dye’s final design, an ultra-private course at the White Oak Plantation in Nassau County that is owned by Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter — who also owns the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was the 18th and last time that MacCurrach built or renovated a Pete Dye design, which is no accident. Aside from his father, MacCurrach had no greater mentor or role model than Dye.
Hughes said the two are kindred spirits.
“Allan is a man of the dirt, just like Pete was,” Hughes said. “He has a feel for the land.”
“The Gardner” was at it again.
It was the nickname laborers on the TPC Sawgrass project in 1979 and 1980 had given Pete Dye for his habit of grabbing rakes or shovels out of their hands and showing exactly how he wanted a fairway or green contoured.
Sometimes it was less subtle. On more than on occasion, MacCurrach said a crew would think they had a green, tee box or mound finished. But Dye would suddenly appear on a bulldozer, and proceed, as MacCurrach recalls, “to just smash everything you had done because he didn’t like it.”
MacCurrach was part of a group that finished the third green of the Stadium Course one day — until Dye plowed through the green with a bulldozer, his way of telling them to start over.
“I was riding home with my father that day and told him, ‘that damn Gardner is nuts,’” he said. “The green was perfect.”
But young Allan found out that Dye has his own definition of perfect.
“That was the genius of the man,” MacCurrach said. “He would never settle. He wouldn’t sleep on it unless he was 100 percent satisfied. He was inspiring to work for because there was an energy about him. You knew you were working on something special.”
MacCurrach’s first job was “picking up sticks and digging holes,” on the property that would become the TPC Sawgrass. But young Allan took an interest in heavy equipment and Dye taught him how to use a bulldozer literally by letting him dig in the dirt like a little kid with a toy.
“After I was done with whatever jobs they had me doing during the day, Pete would let me get on a bulldozer with lights and I pushed dirt up and down on the driving range,” MacCurrach said. “It was a big, muddy mess and you couldn’t do any harm. I just pushed dirt from here to there until about 1 or 2 in the morning.”
MacCurrach would then retire to a cot in a construction trailer, get about four hours of sleep, and then repeat the process the next day.
For the next three summers, until he graduated from Sandalwood, MacCurrach worked for Dye. After the TPC Sawgrass was finished in 1980, MacCurrach spent the summer between his junior and senior year working on the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The next summer it was on to Castle Rock, Colo., to help Dye build and Plum Creek Country Club.
Then came a course in North Carolina. Then Georgia. Along the way, MacCurrach got an associate’s degree in golf course management at the University of Massachusetts and even branched out from under Dye’s wing, working for 1982 Players champion Jerry Pate on a course in Michigan.
“I was a vagabond,” he said.
Eventually, MacCurrach had to develop a bit more structure than that. He decided he could handle a job on his own and wrote a proposal to the owner of a planned golf course.
“He started asking me about workman’s comp and general liability … stuff I had never heard of,” MacCurrach said. “I told I’d get back to him.”
MacCurrach leaned on Dye, his father and another architect, Dave Postlethwait, for advice.
MacCurrach Golf was incorporated in 1987 when Allan was 22 years old. Within two years he landed a project in Georgia and two courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
Windsor Parke was the first local project. MacCurrach scored his biggest deal in 1997 when he was hired to build the first World Golf Hall of Fame Course, the Slammer & Squire, and the offers have come tumbling in ever since.
It was during the Slammer & Squire project that MacCurrach was walking around the property one day and saw a young man neck-deep in a trench in the blazing sun, working for $7 an hour.
It was Brian Almony, a recent graduate of Lake City Community College’s Turf program who had moved to St. Augustine.
MacCurrach liked the work ethic the young man was showing. It became not only a lifelong friendship but a business relationship, with Almony eventually rising from that muddy trench to become the company president.
“His talents are where my weaknesses are,” MacCurrach joked. “People actually like Brian.”
MacCurrach began doing more renovations of “classic courses,” those built primarily before 1960 and designed by some of the most famous architects in history.
The names ring out. MacCurrach has done renovation on courses designed by Donald Ross, Walter Travis, A.W. Tillinghast, Harry S. Colt, Seth Raynor, Dick Wilson and Herbert Strong.
MacCurrach Golf has done 40 classic course renovations. The company uses laser technology, robotics and GPS to rebuild greens, fairways and bunkers as closely as possible to the architect’s original design, but often it comes down to someone coming down from the bulldozer, grabbing a rake or even getting on hands and knees to mold the earth by hand.
“You’re always thinking about the designer, and you also think about the great players who have been on those courses,” Almony said. “It’s very humbling.”
Renovations have constituted the vast majority of their contracts since the recession in 2008. MacCurrach said the company’s revenue fell by half that year but he was prepared.
“We were well-capitalized and did not have to lay anyone off,” he said. “We stayed committed to our people and we knew what assets we had, how much money we had and we knew what our door-closing number would be. We never got there.”
Despite the current economic downtown because of the coronavirus pandemic, MacCurrach has more than enough business and said the company has exceeded its revenue record in each of the past five years.
“We’re doing a lot of face-lifts,” Almony said. “We like to think of them as new designs on old pieces of ground.”
MacCurrach said having passion is the key.
“We’ve worked with 59 architects and most of those guys are fanatics, passionate,” he said. “They know what they want and they want it right. I love that. We thrive on that.”
MacCurrach’s passion trickles down through his employees and it’s one reason most of his customers only have to dial seven digits to reach him.
“I don’t have enough good words to say about Allan,” Howard said. “There are a number of national construction companies people could go to and we take multiple bids when we want to do a renovation. But we always settle on Allan.”