Golf course designer has 100 projects in 15 states to his credit
By Benjamin Gleisser
One of the most famous golfers that golf course architect William James “Trey” Kemp III (B.S. ’00) has met was someone who never even played in the PGA.
“Several years ago, I was with a former partner looking over the Dallas National Golf Club course when two guys in dark suits approached us,” Kemp remembers. “One guy gruffly said, ‘Just mind your own business.’ We looked at each other and shrugged, and I thought, ‘Well, whatever.’ ”
Then up came former President George W. Bush, golfing with one of his friends. The two Secret Service agents stepped back; their faces stonier than those on Mount Rushmore.
“Mr. Bush was really friendly,” Kemp says. “He said hello and shook our hands and then they played on.”
A golfer himself, Kemp has shared the links with the likes of Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan, but it’s his job of designing courses and working with notables such as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Treviño, and Jordan Spieth that makes him most proud.
“When we were redoing the Dallas National driving range, Jordan (Spieth) came over to talk with us,” Kemp says. “He was interested in course architecture, and we asked him if he had any suggestions. He gave us some good ideas, many of which we incorporated into the redesign.”
The Tartan Jacket
Kemp, who’s based in Dallas-Fort Worth, has worked on more than 100 projects in 15 states. In August, he started his own firm, Kemp Golf Course Design. He previously worked for Kimley-Horn & Associates, where one of his favorite projects was designing the baseball-themed Texas Rangers Golf Club in Arlington.
“The city’s recreation director loved baseball, but we didn’t go over the top with the baseball theme,” he says of the 2018 project. “Everything was redone, from the bunkers to the clubhouse. We didn’t put in foul poles, but there’s an on-deck circle near the first hole where golfers can practice their drives while waiting their turn. The name of every hole is baseball related.”
Lots of thought goes into designing or refurbishing a golf course. Kemp begins by walking the grounds to learn the natural landform, which helps him decide where to create hills, water hazards, and bunkers (sand traps). He studies which holes should be par 3, 4, or 5.
Municipal (public) courses are shaped to appeal to the average golfer looking for a relaxing afternoon and are designed to be maintained with minimal upkeep by city workers. Private clubs, on the other hand, have more resources for upkeep and often make unique requests. “Some clubs call and say they want me to create the hardest course I can,” he says.
When golf course designers are elected to the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the highest honor in the industry, they’re awarded a red plaid jacket. Members proudly wear their Ross Tartan jacket at industry meetings and other gatherings but not when they’re out in the field. Kemp received his jacket in January 2021.
A Life on the Greens
Kemp learned golf from his grandfather, William James Kemp. Later, young Trey hit the links with his father, William James Kemp Jr. While he was not a member of the Bobcat golf team, he worked as an assistant golf pro at Onion Creek Club in Austin while earning his degree in geography.
Kemp later earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington and has since worked for several course designing firms.
His proudest moment: the 2012 reopening of the Mustang Golf Course in Amarillo. Kemp personally redesigned that municipal course. “Doing that course was a great honor, because I grew up playing on it with my father and brother,” he says.
“Watching Dad try the new course, as well as my friends and family, gave me an enormous amount of pride. A couple hundred people turned out for the reopening, and I heard their excitement and how much they enjoyed it. They talked about bringing their kids in the future. I hope one day to take my son there.” ★