The Art of Sports Architecture
Updated: May 6
There are sports fans, then there are fanatics. Fans root for their favorite teams. Fanatics look for anything they can get their hands on to display their love of their teams in the most unique ways.
There are golfers, then there are course architecture nerds (hands raised) that debate the intricacies of bunker placement and needs for restoration to classic courses (guilty again).
If you fall even on the slightest side of the latter of those two extremes, then we have found your next Christmas, birthday or Father's Day gift!
Step into the world of 'The Art of Sports Architecture'
If you haven't stumbled across Ballpark Blueprints yet, then you're in for a treat. Even if you have, you likely haven't heard the stories behind-the-scenes that are as fascinating as the company's products and creativity are incredible.
Ballpark Blueprints captures the distinctive artwork and beauty of sports venues for the sports fan who is looking for a classic, sophisticated, old school way to display their love for the game. The company was founded on an authentic passion for the history and architecture of baseball, and has since expanded into other sports lines.
Hand-rendered original designs, custom ink, and museum-quality paper are used to ensure that Ballpark Blueprints products are a unique and high-end addition to any room in a home or office.
Recently we had a chance to talk to Thomas (Tom) Young, CEO/Creative Director and Founder of Ballpark Blueprints. We had the idea to showcase the company, but came away with so much more that we hope you'll enjoy a deep dive into both the profession, the products and the person behind this sensational journey.
Tom Young met his future business partner Marvin Larson when moving from Denver, CO to Napa, CA during high school. The two friends stayed in touch while bouncing around the country while Marvin pursued an MBA and Tom set forth on a successful career behind-the-scenes in the opera business.
That is until the time they wanted to purchase a unique art piece that combined their love of architecture and sports.
Fast forward to 2001. After an extensive search, Marvin (ironically by this time in Denver) found that there wasn't really anything in the marketplace in the realm of a stadium blueprint. It just so happened that he wanted to start a small business. It also happened to be that Tom (then and now in Chicago) had some experience in drafting and technical drawings.
From there, Ballpark Blueprints was born. Their first project: Wrigley Field.
"I'm just a huge baseball fan," Young declares. "All the parks are unique. Back in the 1960s and '70s ballparks went the cookie cutter route, but they're all unique again now."
"When you look at Wrigley Field, what was built in 1914 is pretty much the same as it is today. The Ricketts' Family has done an outstanding job modernizing the park in recent years, but its still the same outfield that Babe Ruth once played in."
Young goes on to explain what makes Wrigley so special and why they chose it as their first 'build'.
"Before I even lived here, I wanted to visit. I remember coming in on an August afternoon. I remembered the address, 1060 West Addison, from the Blues Brothers movie! I stopped and asked for directions because I'm saying to myself, 'There is no way a Major League Ballpark is on this street,' in middle of the residential neighborhood I found myself in. Eventually you come around a corner to a stoplight, but instead of a house being on the opposite corner, there is Wrigley Field!"
During a 2016 off-season renovation, one of the amenities added was the extremely high-end 1914 Club beneath the grandstands behind home plate (starting price is about $10K a seat for season tickets). A New York City interior designer was brought on to outfit the new space. Upon seeing an 8' x 14' blank wall leading up to the seats, the consultant suggested placing the elevation blueprint (of the stadium exterior) on said wall.
"The Wrigley team had dug through some of their archives and found the original plans. Upon showing it to her, she said, 'It doesn't really look like that anymore. I want the one I saw online.' The Cubs people said, 'what are you talking about?' and she brought them to our website."
"One day, I pick up the phone and on the other end there is a representative from the Cubs asking if they could license the piece to engrave into the wall at Wrigley Field."
So what happens when you get a call from the Cubs wanting to use a piece of art you created about your favorite ballpark? You say YES!!!
As part of the agreement, Young secured a commission, some tickets to a game and access to the club for the game he attended so he could take pictures of the display. However...
"We had such a great time, I forgot to take the pictures!"
We hate when that happens!
MAKING THE ROUNDS
The same thing that makes a ballpark blueprint great applies to golf courses. As the number of golf course architecture nerds continues to rise, so do the number of armchair architects who yearn to design their own course one day.
Luckily for guys like us, we have Tom and his talent to get us through the heartache. He started a golf course blueprint line because, "I wanted a few of the courses I had played on my own wall." We're really glad he did!
An avid player - but one that rarely keeps score, (but also has some great branded golf bags!) - Tom has some ridiculously cool golf stories. One of those stories really helped grow the business along with being one of those things you have to fact check prior to putting it in writing.
We fact checked. They check out. Here you go...
"In 2015, I was planning a trip to go play golf in Ireland. I had reached out to (New York Times best-selling author) Tom Coyne to see where I should really play. I had sent him a print (of Notre Dame Stadium, Coyne's alma mater) and it turns out he was a fan of my work. I had never done a golf course at that point, but he asked if I would do one for his Ireland trip (that turned into the best-selling book, A Course Called Ireland)."
"When we got back into the discussion about what courses to play in Ireland, he says to me, 'Hey, I'm going to Scotland to do a follow-up book this year. You can go to Ireland anytime, but why don't you come to Scotland instead? Join me for any stretch you want.'"
Coyne's itinerary in Scotland: 110 courses played in 57 days, including all the Open Championship courses. Take a minute to let that sink in. Young and his wife, Tracy, hopped on a plane (red-eye), drove 4.5 hours, got out of the car, stretched and walked out to the tee with his little Persimmon woods ready to hit it over the beach.
"The first time I met Tom (Coyne) was on the first tee at the Old Course at Machrihanish."
Old Course, as in Old Tom Morris, old.
Young wasn't Coyne's only guest, however. Scott Wilson, Director of Golf at Streamsong also played the round at Machrihansih. During the round, Wilson asked Young if he would create a blueprint map for Streamsong.
Jump ahead to 2017. The back of the invitation to the Streamsong Invitational (held during the annual PGA Show in Orlando), was a Ballpark Blueprint of the resort property. "From there, I ended up with a ton of golf pros commissioning me to do their courses. Among them were Cape Kidnappers, courses in Canada, others in the U.K. It just spread like wildfire."
The list of courses completed by Ballpark Blueprints can be viewed by clicking here.
And just as one of Young's blueprints adorns the walls of Wrigley, another holds residence on golf's most hallowed ground...
"I had done the blueprint for St. Andrews awhile back. Most of the courses I do are affiliated with the course (i.e. sells in the pro shop/website/etc.). St. Andrews was one of the few that were not. This past winter (January 2020), I met with the Links Trust at St. Andrews. St. Andrews Links Limited actually had sent a cease-and-desist letter. I hadn't used anything proprietary or any logos. It was legit in America of course, but wasn't going to mess with (them)."
"However, after talking with them about it, it actually went from a cease-and-desist and turned into a partnership deal. I have the agreement sitting here on my desk to sign as we speak!"
And by the way, the fact checker for the Tom Coyne story was... Tom Coyne. Upon marveling at the experience, we asked a follow up question (clearly joking)... 'Could we get Tom Coyne's cell number?' About an hour after we hung up with Young, Coyne called us on Young's suggestion. Two Class-A gentlemen right there folks!
Check out a cataloged journey of both trips right here...
Those have to be the greatest golf trips ever taken (call Guinness)!
CONTRACTION & EXPANSION
Even the greatest of businesses have to evolve. Some out of necessity of technology, others out of life circumstance. Shortly after the company expanded in 2013, then became a full-time interest a year later, Marvin was diagnosed with cancer. Marvin Larson sadly passed away in 2016, leaving a wife, two children and a flourishing business with a giant void.
"We were doing this business together, but he ran the business end. I didn't even know the log-ins for accounts because he handled everything. Needless to say, it was horrible. It's been almost four years now, but we carry on."
So the forty eight year old with the Music History and Musicology degree with a business background in opera picked up the pieces and now has an expanded product line that goes well beyond a framed art piece.
In addition to framed, unframed, metal prints and canvas wall art, BPBP offers the same great artwork on a variety of media, such as calendars, T-shirts, hoodies, fleece blankets, murals, ceramic and travel mugs, ties, golf headcovers (so getting some of those!) and even ornaments! You can see for yourself here!
Then there's The Golfer's Journal. The quarterly publication of editorial golf content has developed a cult-like following and spreads its tentacles beyond it's printed pages. TGJ's Podcast - hosted by Tom Coyne - delivers new episodes every other week and the Broken Tee Society shares many of the same values as The Golf Crusade by creating community among golfers and sharing the game beyond the course.
If you've picked up a issue of the magazine, you may have noticed a featured hole section dubbed, 'The Yardage Book'. You may have also noticed the art provided by BPBP on St. Andrews #7.
All we know, is that the sports fan on your list (or if you are the sports fan - create the list from their website and send it to the people that keep your list), Ballpark Blueprints better be on your radar from now on!
SUPERLATIVE SPEED ROUND
- Favorite sports team?
Right now, the Astros, because my 21-year-old son was just hired as an analyst in the front office (starts next month)
- Favorite Stadium?
Hard to top Wrigley and Fenway for me.
- Favorite golf course (overall and one you've played)?
My favorite golf location is Rosapenna, a golf-only resort on the north coast of Ireland. They have 5 or 6 courses, with another one opening next summer. My bucket-list course is the Par-3 course at Augusta National; I'd rather play that than the 'big' course.
- First game attended was...
Wow. Probably a Denver Bears (minor-league) game in the late 70s/early 80s?
- First round of golf was at... at age... with...
My first round of golf was with my uncle who came to visit. We went to a little par-3 course (just a park that they put some holes/flagsticks in) near our house. It's still there: Harvard Gulch in Denver, CO. Just recently found photos from that day! I was probably 10?
- Favorite sports movie (any sport)?
- Favorite sports movie quote?
"So I've got that going for me . . . which is nice." --Carl Spackler
- Do you have a favorite piece/stadium/course that you've created?
Not really. It's like asking which of your kids is your favorite. I only have two hanging in my house: the original Wrigley Field print, from our first press run. And the only non-sport print we have: there's a wooden boat builder on YouTube: "Tips from a Shipwright". he does these video series where he builds a wooden boat, from scratch. Like, literally from picking logs, milling them into lumber, and building a boat. In one episode, he drafted the plans of a boat he was going to build. I got a hold of him and got those plans from that episode and turned it into a blueprint. I've got that hanging in my bedroom.
- If you weren't doing BPBP, what would your job be?
That's hard to say. Before doing this, I had a career in opera: I did budgets, planning & management for several major opera companies. I guess I'd still be in opera.
To close us up, we figured we'd go back to how this story came about. Well, we had noticed some BPBP products floating around social media about a year ago. We immediately followed their feeds and maybe even suggested a few venues to mock up via email. Not too long after the COVID-19 shutdown occurred (and golf clubs essentially went into lockdown along with everything else), we decided we'd pick a few people or businesses we'd admired and see if we could use our vehicle to gas up their engines.
Then we saw this...
Getting to spend an hour with Tom has undoubtedly been one of the highlights for us during this situation. We hope you enjoyed learning about his story as much as we enjoyed telling it. We hope we did him, Marvin and their Ballpark Blueprints journey justice!
Please don't forget to follow Ballpark Blueprints on your favorite social channels and bookmark their website for that next sports cave addition!
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EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Use the discount code GOLFCRUSADE at checkout & receive 15% OFF your first order of Ballpark Blueprints!
If you missed our first feature on Ben Frotscher, an Iowa native that is closing in on his goal to play every golf course in his home state, then please check it out as well!
If you're new to The Golf Crusade, feel free to look around! If you see something of interest, you can send us a note about it or subscribe using the form below. You can also find and follow us on Instagram (@golfcrusade for daily golf content, @strantzfantzclub a feed dedicated to the work of course architect Mike Strantz, or @stadiumcrusade) or on Facebook.
Dooner & BMAC
The Golf Crusade
Here are some other side-by-side samples of a Ballpark Blueprint from Tom's desk next to the actual stadium as seen through our lens.
Citi Field - New York Mets (above)
Neyland Stadium - University of Tennesee (below)
Bryant-Denny Stadium - University of Alabama (above)
Bank of America Stadium - Carolina Panthers (below)