Last winter, after seventeen years working for Carrick Design, I opened my own course design business. While searching for new projects, I've also had the chance to spend some time reviewing what I've learned about what makes a golf course great. In considering some of the principles of design that I plan to concentrate on, I often return to a handful of courses—some classic, some modern—that have most influenced my thinking. Along with the Old Course at St. Andrews (the wellspring of architectural inspiration), these courses illustrate the wonderful diversity of elements that can be drawn upon—from subtle intricacies to aggressive features that strike fear in the hearts of golfers. No course can contain all of these qualities, and it takes a skillful architect to know when to employ them, but I believe these courses are some of the very best for any student of the game to play, enjoy and examine closely.
The "Great Hole" Concept
NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
Southampton, NY; C. B. Macdonald (1911); private
C. B. Macdonald studied the classic holes of Great Britain extensively before creating his own adaptations of them at the National Golf Links of America. The lesson is that we must first understand how great holes work before we begin to design our own. "In reality," he once said, "there are only four or five good holes in golf. The local scenery supplies the variety." His adaptations are considered some of the finest holes in the world—even North Berwick's old-time head pro, Ben Sayers, called the Redan at the National superior to his course's original. Named for a Crimean War fortress that repelled multiple British attacks, the term now describes a green (traditionally on a par three) that is highest in the front right and falls away on a diagonal to the back left. The Redan demands the ball either be played short and bounced onto the surface or struck with absolute precision to hold the green. The front bunker remains the key hazard, since play must go over or around it. Macdonald found a natural site to match North Berwick's, but instead of being blind this hole is clearly visible from the tee. The architect then set about increasing the depth of both the front and back bunkers, making the hole all the more perilous.
Study the Site
Baiting Hollow, NY; Coore & Crenshaw (2002); private
Bill Coore recently explained how nature offers infinite design possibilities to architects. "We can't produce the randomness, the amazing variety of contours, or the way that vegetation inhabits a landscape," he said. "But we can study nature and follow its lead." At Friar's Head, Coore and Ben Crenshaw left all the ripples and rumples in the fairways to add challenging stances and lies for approach shots. Around the greens they kept those humps, bumps and hollows and cut the grass short to require players to use their imaginations to solve the complicated path to the hole. Even the greens they created mimic the site's knolls and knuckles to confound both approach shots and putts. Their work is proof that time spent studying the site searching for the best natural holes is more valuable than time spent at a drafting table.