He was one of the true pioneers of Arizona golf, yet few who play the game these days have ever heard of Arthur "Jack" Snyder.
Snyder, who died Feb. 12 at age 87 in a hospice home in Phoenix, was a dynamic force in the state’s golfscape, designing or co-designing 32 courses including a host of tracts in the East Valley.
Add in his work in Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah, and Snyder’s portfolio included more than 50 courses.
Snyder fought melanoma (skin cancer) for years, but it was a series of falls in his last month, one of those leading to a collapsed lung, that led to his passing.
Forrest Richardson, who became Snyder’s design partner in the later years, called his friend and colleague, "a gentle genius." Even though I only met Snyder on two occasions, I would add "wise’’ and "humble’’ to Richardson’s words.
"Most everybody liked Jack,’’ said Richardson, a Phoenix-based architect who most recently was working on the Links at Las Palomas in Rocky Point, Mexico, with Snyder.
"He was extremely disciplined, and even when he didn’t agree with someone’s opinion, he always had a way of presenting his opposition in a positive light that was full of compassion. That was Jack. His golf courses were always challenging, but he never lost sight of also making them fun.’’
Even though Snyder had a hand in some of the state’s great upscale tracts — The Boulders, Camelback Golf Club, The Phoenician, The Pointe at South Mountain and The Wigwam — he might be best remembered for some of the courses he built for the average guy, especially in the East Valley. Mesa’s Arizona Golf Resort and Desert Sands; Scottsdale’s Coronado Golf Course, Villa Monterey and Mountain Shadows; and Tempe’s Ken McDonald are some examples of his work.
"He was a traditionalist, but very innovative at the same time,’’ Richardson said. "Jack started out as a superintendent, but it was his love for design and landscape that led to his distinguished career.’’
Snyder was the son of Arthur "Art’’ Snyder, who at one time was the greenskeeper at Alcoma Country Club near Pittsburgh. The elder Snyder actually raised his family on the course, the house being located amid the club’s fairways.
Jack, like his brothers Carl and James, followed his father’s footsteps, first as a caddie at Alcoma, and then upon his graduation from Penn State with a degree in landscape architecture. Among the early feathers in his cap, Snyder became the superintendent at Oakmont, priming the course from 1951-52 for the 1953 U.S. Open held there.
In 1956, Jack and his wife Ruth were asked to come to Arizona and run White Mountain Country Club, once referred to as "Phoenix Country Club North.’’
It was there at White Mountain that Jack helped build the club’s second nine holes — the project that launched his career as an architect.
In 1959, Snyder moved to Scottsdale to focus on golf course design full-time. He built Arizona Golf Resort (formerly called Apache Country Club) in 1960, and followed that up with Beaver Creek in Lake Montezuma, Arizona City Country Club, Black Canyon Golf Course in Phoenix, Show Low Country Club, Canyon del Oro in Sedona, Wigwam Country Club in Litchfield Park, Haven Country Club in Green Valley, Coronado, and Poco Diablo in Sedona.
That Snyder did all of the above in a period of five years, while taking on projects in New Mexico and California, shows just how prolific he was at the time. It also led to his next destination: Hawaii.
"His work in Hawaii led to some of the great resort courses in Arizona,’’ said Richardson, pointing to Camelback, where he did the Club Course (formerly Indian Bend), The Phoenician (the original 18 that are now part of the redesigned Oasis and Desert nines), and The Boulders (original nine).
"He helped formulate some of the early design principles in desert golf," said Richardson, who got his start with Snyder on the Phantom Horse project (Pointe at South Mountain), and also collaborated with Snyder on Coyote Lakes in Surprise and The Hideout in Monticello, Utah. "The Boulders (1973) featured some split fairways that work around desert outcroppings, leaving the lay of the land untouched. It was a natural look way ahead of his time.’’
Along the way, Snyder served as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (1982), and was inducted into the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame in 2002. Even though many of his original works have given way to modern designs or renovations, or even gone under the bulldozer, Snyder’s legacy will live on.
"He was a terrific man, who stayed active right up until the end,’’ Richardson said.
A memorial service for Snyder is scheduled March 19 at 3:30 p.m. at Mountain Shadows Golf Club, 5641 E. Lincoln Drive in Scottsdale. Memorial contributions can be made to the Penn State University Landscape Architecture Scholarship Fund, c/o Advancement Office, 215 Wagner Building, University Park, PA 16802.