The Toy Boat

A story delivered by Forrest Richardson at various occasions, as part of speeches and addresses.

I am asked occasionally, about design. I have spent my entire life designing things. I began as a graphic designer, worked in television design, wrote ads, and finally returned to the design I loved as a kid — designing golf courses.

Some of the projects I take confuse some people. Especially my peers. While many golf course architects hold out for perfect sites and a blank canvas, I have — for some reason — been attracted to all sorts of sites. Landfills, old Uranium mills, tiny little parcels, incredibly flat cotton fields, and the opposite: steep and rugged land that even mountain goats might avoid. My first project, back in 1985, was an odd assortment of left over land parcels that included a drainage basin, a flood corridor, a natural gas easement, part of a mountain, and some remnant land left over after condominiums were built. That land is now the Phantom Horse Golf Club in Phoenix. I am still proud of it.

The fact is I like to solve problems. It is part of me.

I have a story to tell you. It's about my father, Lee Richardson. I only heard this story a few years before he died. It made tremendous sense. And it has helped clarify my life in design.

As a preface, my father worked for Howard Hughes. He established a machine shop in Hollywood in the 1930s. And he went on to design animation cameras, camera motors and several inventions. Among them were polarized optics for 3-D cinematography, the motion picture equipment for the first computerized film: The Black Hole, and eventually the optic system that helped create the first episode of Star Wars.

My father grew up in Chatsworth, California. His years there were just before and during the Great Depression. Not a lot of money. But plenty of adventure. I always imagined may father and his brother living a Tom Sawyer-like childhood. I cannot tell you all of the stories, because there isn't time. But it is safe to imagine that Chatsworth could easily be a substitute for living along the Mississippi. While they had no river in Southern California, they did have the movie studios. And it was never dull when the studios would come out to the hills to film.

It was in Chatsworth that my dad walked to school along a dusty road. One day, as he was coming home, he noticed a pile of discarded items where the neighborhood piled their trash for collection. Among the items was an old toy boat. My father took the broken boat that was destined for the dump. It became his pet project.

Over the next few weeks he sanded, glued, repaired, made new parts, and generally brought the small toy back to life. The boat was wood, which made it easy to handle. He asked his father for a dowel to replace the broken mast. He asked his mother for some fabric to craft a sail.

My father told me about painting the boat. He "borrowed" some paint from the local garage where he often hung out and watched the mechanics fixing cars. In the end, he had a beautiful boat. It was red with a while stripe. The fabric my grandmother gave him was white. It had been left over from here work making hats.

He was proud of his boat. When the weekend came he took it to the pond and floated it with pride. The other kids were envious. Here, in the midst of the worst economy our country has ever known, my father had a wonderful new toy — or so it appeared.

Almost immediately, a neighbor boy appeared at the pond took one look at the boat and then hurried away. My father didn't give it much thought. He continued playing and sailing.

When my father got home he was met with stern looks. "Give me that boat," said his mother. Now, I can tell you that my grandmother was not even five feet in height. But she commanded attention. According to my father, she meant business on this particular evening. And so, he gave her the boat. Before he could explain, she stormed off down the street. My father went inside to do his homework.

Apparently, it was the boy who had thrown the boat out who had ran away at the pond. This young man had gone home crying to his mother about the boat, telling her how my father had "stolen it." Apparently the boy's mother had not known the boat was shattered and broken. It had been put in the trash by the boy's father because it was "beyond repair." Besides, it hadn't seen the light of day in several years.

Of course, the part about stealing was not true. When my grandmother returned she got the real story. Of how my father had found the boat in the trash. How he had fixed it up. And how he had spent many days laboring over it. She then realized what the fabric was for. And, of course, she felt awful.

But it didn't matter to my father. He had cheerfully handed the boat over to his mother. He didn't complain or try and stop her. She asked why, still feeling that he had every right to the boat. After all, it had been in the trash.

My father said, "It wasn't the boat that brought me joy. It was the act of working on it and giving it life. I got everything out of it that I needed."

That was my father. Always passionate about the act of designing. Of creating. And especially of building things.

My father's explanation sums up how I have come to know design. I am passionate about designing and figuring out golf courses. For me — just like my father — the joy comes from creating as much as it does from spending time with the finished product.

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