Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on the 2022 inductees into the Brookfield Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.
Golf courses often are seen as environmentally unfriendly because of their use of large amounts of water to keep their acres of grass green, and their use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. But, this way of doing things is changing, and Brookfield native Jason Straka is part of that change.
Straka, a 1990 Brookfield High graduate who now lives in Dublin, Ohio, is a partner in Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design, and is a proponent of environmental design, which seeks to use the least amount of resources for the construction and maintenance of golf courses.
“It was very different than what was typical in our industry,” he said of the attempt to reduce the usage of water and chemicals, and incorporate the local ecology as it already exists.
“When I was at college, I took classes in chemistry and wetland science and natural resources,” Straka said. “I studied climate change and global warming. Everything that my company does, especially with my background, there’s a very big, strong emphasis on environmental design and management.”
He also looks for ways to make golf courses useful to their communities, beyond recreation and economics. Straka said he has designed courses that serve as storm water detention facilities for the towns where they are located, reducing the likelihood of flooding to streets and parking lots, and he writes programs for school districts to go to golf courses so students can study local bird species and water quality.
“We contribute to the community in ways that you wouldn’t think,” Straka said.
The interest in environmental design started at home in Brookfield, where Straka learned to hunt, fish, camp and play golf, and at school, he said. Brookfield Local School District had access to a farm when he attended, and students would collect and study insects and measure water quality there.
“That’s sort of really what triggered, at least, to me, early on, into that sort of realm,” Straka said.
He attended Cornell University – possibly the first Brookfield student to go to an Ivy League school – and got a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and a master’s degree in environmental design and agronomy, which is the study of plants for human use.
Straka has contributed to Erin Hills, Wisconsin, and Kenwood Country Club, Cincinnati, both of which have hosted major professional golf tournaments, and Little Mountain Country Club in Concord, Ohio, his first 18-hole course. He spends about 200 days a year on the road, and has been to 40 countries for golf course projects in Italy, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and elsewhere.
At the time of his induction into the Brookfield Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame, Class of 2022, in September, his firm was involved in transforming a construction debris landfill into Hong Kong’s first new golf course to be built in 90 years.
“It likely will be the most expensive golf course ever built – ever,” Straka said. “It has massive engineering challenges in terms of how you do this on a smaller site. It’s dramatic because it sits into the harbor.”
Straka said he never imagined he could attend Cornell, let alone accomplish what he has professionally. He encouraged Brookfield students to dream big, reach out to those around them for advice and support, pursue whatever they’re passionate about, and form relationships with whomever they meet along the way.
“I will tell you that I have had some awesome professional accolades, but they don’t mean nearly as much to me as the people that I’m involved with,” Straka said.