Imagine melting Richard Serra sculptures for scrap iron or using Albrecht Dürer woodcuts for kindling. That's what's happened in golf over the past few months with the closings of three Tom Doak-designed courses: Apache Stronghold in San Carlos, Ariz.; Beechtree Golf Club in Aberdeen, Md.; and High Pointe Golf Club near Traverse City, Mich. These are signs of the times as sure as foreclosure signs on front doors.

Doak, principal of Renaissance Golf Design, is perhaps the sport's most influential living architect. Four of his creations (Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon, Colorado's Ballyneal, Barnbougle Downs in Tasmania and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand) are ranked among Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World. His next design at Bandon Dunes, dubbed Old Macdonald, in honor of the legendary architect C.B. Macdonald, is the most eagerly anticipated course arrival in years.

Of the three closings, High Pointe -- which was Doak's first design and announced its closure this past Monday on its Web site, citing "difficult economic times in the country, especially Michigan" -- is the most representative example of golf industry contraction. As Doak noted, the closings of Apache Stronghold and Beechtree were more atypical: Decade-old Beechtree was breaking even, but the land was more valuable for real estate development, while Apache Stronghold was the victim of a conflict between rival families among the Apache owners. Still, they are symptoms of a larger disease.

"The future of golf-course architecture is the bleakest it's been in my lifetime, because our economy has taken most of the rest of the world along for the ride," Doak told TheStreet.com via email from Shanghai. "Many will retire or be forced to find other work. I don't think there will be more than 30 or 40 new courses in America next year, to be shared among 150 to 200 golf-course architects! The most successful and the most passionate will survive, but it's doubtful that any of us will see booming business again soon."

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