Arnold Palmer Design Company winding down as senior golf architect Thad Layton hangs own shingle

Golf architect Thad Layton couldn’t be much more excited to have started his own eponymous business after more than a decade working with Arnold Palmer Design Company, but his announcement on social media this week served in many ways as a closing bell for the company founded by Palmer in 1972.

Palmer Design has built more than 300 courses in 37 states and 27 countries, including many listed on Golfweek’s Best ranking of top modern courses in the U.S. and the state-by-state rankings of public and private layouts. The company really took off in the 1980s and has been one of the most recognized brands in course architecture ever since.

But business, especially in constructing new courses, slowed for the company following Palmer’s death in 2016, and the company plans to wind down operations as non-architectural matters shift from Palmer Design specifically to the greater Arnold Palmer Group. Brandon Johnson, Palmer Design’s other senior architect, declined to comment to Golfweek about the news. Calls to Palmer Design seeking comment were unanswered.

Adam Lawrence, writing about Palmer Design’s winding down for, pointed out that there has been no significant example of a branded golf design business surviving after the death of its principal architect, and now the same appears to be true for Palmer Design.

Layton said he has dreamed of creating his own firm for several years. The industry has boomed since COVID started in 2020, with the ranks of players swelling as they searched for outdoor recreation. Since 2021 there has been significant interest industrywide in building new courses along with renovations and restorations to existing courses.

“The timing couldn’t be better for me to enter the golf business as a sole practitioner,” said Layton, a Mississippi State grad. “I’ve been in this business now for 25 years. It’s just been good times in the golf industry these past few years, and I couldn’t find a better time to hang out my shingle. I have a lot of experience putting together strategic master plans for clients, being able to deploy their capital in a meaningful, sustainable way.”

Layton said he took on increased roles as a course shaper in recent years for Palmer Design, frequently spending time on heavy equipment turning drawings into golf holes. His most recent project for Palmer Design was a greens and bunker renovation at Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica, where he did the detailed shaping.

He plans to continue with a hands-on approach, using the term “design-build model” on his new website – in general, that indicates an architect who is intimately involved in projects, working with a specific crew of contractors on a frequent basis.

Layton also mentioned his love of golden age architecture with classic courses built in the four decades running through the 1930s. He then expressed a love of courses built by modern architects in that style, citing Sand Hills in Nebraska by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw as well as Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, built by Tom Doak.

Layton already has a project lined up, consulting on a restoration to the Donald Ross-designed Lakewood Country Club in Colorado. He said he has been in talks with several other course operators about work on their layouts, too, and he hopes to soon get a crack at designing new courses.

“Where my heart is, I want to do new stuff, new courses,” said Layton, who moved to Denver four years ago after living for years in Florida, where Palmer Design was based. “I’m hopeful, once I get established, that I can show the golf world what I can do on a new site. …

“Golf has been a lifelong pursuit. I mean, I’m a golfer before I’m a golf course architect. That’s what got me interested in all this, all kinds of different golf courses. Seeing courses that have adopted Golden Age architecture, that’s where I want to get to. I’m super excited to get started.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek