Madison designer helps reinvigorate legendary golf clubhouse

ZEBRADOG's Mark Schmitz was tapped to modernize the historic Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
A panoramic shot of the interior of a new exhibit at Baltusrol Golf Club
Courtesy of Mark Schmitz.
The ZEBRADOG's founder's task was to showcase and educate while modernizing the historic club.

Sporting venues don’t get much more historic than Baltusrol Golf Club, which dates to 1895 and was named for the New Jersey farmer — Baltus Roll — who once owned the land.

Dan Jenkins, one of only a handful of writers in the World Golf Hall of Fame, wrote of Baltusrol that “to golfers … its slopes and woodlands practically constitute a shrine.”

Baltusrol has hosted 10 “major” championships — including U.S. Open tournaments for both men and women — with a pedigreed list of winners that includes Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Mickey Wright.

The club recently hired Gil Hanse, a distinguished golf architect, to restore its Lower Course (Baltusrol has two) to the vision of its famed original architect, A. W. Tillinghast. Hanse’s work will be unveiled at a launch event at Baltusrol on June 14.

Hanse will be there. Jack Nicklaus will be there.

Mark Schmitz of Madison will be there, too.

Because along with the golf course renovation, Baltusrol wanted to reinvigorate its historic 1909 clubhouse. To tell the club’s story in a way that honors the history but also dazzles —with a modern, interactive, exhibit-style design melding new media and memorabilia.

Increasingly, nobody anywhere does that better than Schmitz, founder and creative director at ZEBRADOG, the Madison firm hired by Baltusrol.

Mark Schmitz At Baltrusrol

Mark Schmitz, founder of ZEBRADOG.

Schmitz’s work at Baltusrol is the direct result of his long association with the Duke University basketball program and its legendary coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Schmitz’s work with Coach K — he’d earlier engaged with the Green Bay Packers and University of Wisconsin Athletics —included designing the Duke Basketball Museum and Duke Athletics Hall of Fame.

Last week, Schmitz described that work as “a real modern spin on historical athletics.”

When a prominent member at Baltusrol — a Duke alumnus — saw Schmitz’s work in North Carolina, he reached out. Would Schmitz come to New Jersey and take a tour of the Baltusrol clubhouse?

They didn’t have to ask twice. Schmitz is a golf nut — a member of Nakoma Golf Club — and a Madison native who grew up playing Odana Hills.

Dan Jenkins called the Baltusrol clubhouse “a massive stone castle.” Schmitz called it “one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see.”

ZEBRADOG’S work at Baltusrol included transforming a dusty but spacious broom closet into a striking exhibit that features images of Baltusrol’s champions encased with their signed scorecards, as well as a hybrid map of the club’s 36 holes as they were originally drawn by Tillinghast, flanked by the U. S. Open and PGA Championship trophies.

Elsewhere, there are interactive media installations that allow viewers to fly over the course, learning the history of each hole through tales of caddies and characters and interviews with champions, including Nicklaus and Mickelson.

It is the converted closet which seems to resonate most with Schmitz.

“It’s now called the Scoring Room,” he says. “Every person who plays [Baltusrol] will go into this room to get their scorecard. I wanted to create a sense of theater and drama when you get your card. If you’re a guest, the scorecard is what you take home. They don’t allow phones on the course.”

Schmitz continued: “It’s overwhelmingly powerful to have something as simple as a scorecard be something so sacred and important in this cradle of golf history in North America. It’s really a beautiful ritual room — and it was literally a broom closet before.”

Schmitz says that his general goal is to infuse place with story, using modern techniques which nevertheless retain authenticity. “Because it’s all true,” he says.

His work continues to get noticed. Last week Friday, Schmitz flew to Florida for a Saturday morning meeting at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter.

The general manager said they’d all heard good things about Schmitz’s work at Baltusrol. He added that the club’s cofounder, Barbara Nicklaus, wife of Jack, wanted to talk about a possible project at the Bear’s Club.

Once again, they didn’t have to ask twice.

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