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Designing Oenophiles

Pine Beach South Korea

Pine Beach Golf Links, Hannam, South Korea

David Dale and Kevin Ramsey size up the lay of the land for golf, and for what goes into their wine glasses.

You don’t need to explain terroir to a golf course architect. Especially one—or in the case of the Dale & Ramsey Golf Course Architecture firm, two—working out of Sonoma County, California. Attuned to the land as David Dale and Kevin Ramsey are, it would have been unnatural not to be influenced by the hundreds of vineyards surrounding them. What is intriguing is how they’ve taken their keen wine appreciation around the world and back.

For their Golfplan design company the pair has traveled to 85 countries, with 220 courses open worldwide. With new course construction flat in the U.S., the work is abroad and often far-flung. The pair is on the road anywhere from 100 to 145 days a year. “I don’t really count,” says Ramsey. “I do know I set a personal record last year when I hit 200,000 miles just on Star Alliance.”

Dale is from Montana and, for the record, he says his wife certainly counts. “What I knew about wine back then was the occasional bottle I’d sneak out of my folks’ refrigerator.”

David Dale & Kevin Ramsey

David Dale (left) Kevin Ramsey (right)

His love for golf led him to pursue a degree in Landscape Architecture from Washington State University in 1988, and shortly thereafter join the Ronald Fream Design Group. “It was moving here to Sonoma County that prompted the fascination with wine, just from heading out to tastings with my wife and friends. I gravitated more toward the red blends, particularly Pinot. From Russian River, Mendocino County, down through Southern California or up into Oregon, there’s a lot of access to great Pinots.”

Ramsey grew up in Chicago, and stoked his interest at the University of California at Davis, where it was easy to sign up for wine tasting classes or head off to Napa for winery visits.

“I’m more the white wine guy. I love some good Cabs but day to day, when it’s warm here, I tend toward Chardonnays.”

Ramsey competed for the golf team in the NCAA Division II National Championships, and began working in golf course architecture before the ink was dry on his UC Davis degree. He joined the Fream firm in 1999.

Ramsey and Dale purchased and re-branded the company in 2006, and have kept busy since, their portfolio stuffed with courses that regularly show up on various best-of lists. Among their favorites are Krakow Valley Golf & Country Club, Poland; Anvaya Cove Golf and Sports Club, Philippines; The Club at Nine Bridges and Pine Beach Golf Links, both in South Korea; Pezula Championship Course, South Africa, and the U.S. East Coast course, Shore Gate Golf Club in Ocean View, New Jersey.

Four new routings will open before the end of the year in Thailand (Chee Chan Golf Resort), Uganda (Lake Victoria Serena), the Republic of Georgia (Tabori Hill) and Turkey (Samsun Golf Course).

But first, what is an oenophile? The definition of an oenophile is someone with a love and knowledge of wines. For Ramsey to be both an oenophile and have a talent and passion for landscaping means you know his courses are going to be something worth traveling to.

Club at Nine Bridges South Korea

The Club at Nine Bridges, Jeju Island, South Korea

In the mid-‘90s Dale decided to take some wine along with him on his way to a Korean project, taking his newish obsession with him on the road, a modest evangelist of wine. “I’d share it with some of my new friends who had no clue about wine. They were more into Soju probably made in a Seoul warehouse, mixing it with beer and calling it Atomic Bombs. They discovered wine was more of a sipping deal instead of just getting loaded and moving on to the next party. From there, I started seeking out places where I could taste some wine—wine bars and such. There weren’t any. But today it’s completely different. There are wine bars everywhere.”

Ramsey says, “It was the same in Singapore on a project we tag-teamed for a while. When we crawled from the dust of a construction site we’d say, ‘Let’s go have a glass of wine.’ In the old days you couldn’t find anything but a cheap bottle of Australian wine in the market. Now there are close to a dozen wine bars, and over a few trips I think we’ve hit them all, calling ourselves the Experts of Singapore Wine Bars. They’re not all wonderful, but Verre is our favorite, right by our hotel. Great food, great wine selection.”

Silver Lake Vineyard Thailand

Silver Lake Vineyard, Thailand

Ramsey has become enamored of Georgian wines, both their small-batch organic approach, and historical touches of fermenting Qvevri wines in earthenware pots. Dale has been surprised by a killer Chenin Blanc he found at the Silver Lake Vineyard in Thailand. They’ve both been surprised by the zeal of some collectors they’ve met on the road.

Ramsey mentioned one client he wouldn’t name who annually travels to Europe with three buddies. “I thought they were going on golf trips, but it turns out they were on wine-buying jaunts, spending up to $1 million on vintages they ship home in a container, leaving it at the port to avoid onerous duties, and just driving out to the container and loading up their cars when needed.”

The time that Dale and Ramsey actually get together in the Sonoma office is when they go over their meticulously-detailed architectural drawings for projects. Ramsey will head home to have a Cakebread Chardonnay when he and his wife decide to splurge, or resort to a day-to-day favorite from La Crema.

Pine Beach Golf Links South Korea

Pine Beach Golf Links, Hannam, South Korea

Cakebread Cellars’ Chardonnay is one of my favorites, too, and the first time I had it was in Tokyo at a Trader Vic’s restaurant,” says Dale. As for his favorite reds of late, he says, “I’m enjoying the wines of De La Montanya winery in Russian River; I love the Pinots but they make an amazing Zinfandel. All their vintages are always fruity, aromatic, but dry, not sweet.”

“Rosés are getting hot out here, and there are some really nice ones made from Pinot Noir that is a nice change from Chardonnays for me,” says Ramsey. Dale mentions the Posy Rose from the Stephen & Walker winery in Healdsburg, that is about 40-percent Pinot, 35-percent Zinfandel, 13-percent Syrah. “It sells out immediately; they cannot keep an inventory of it.”

Chances are good there’s a bottle or two among the 800 Dale has collected in wine racks in the Golfplan offices. Ramsey says he has about two: “I’m not as patient as Dave.”

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