On what makes a good golf course

Some fascinating discussion on when golf course designers get it right, and wrong.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on course design but in the process of managing Aussie Golfer I’ve begun to get more and more interested in the nuances of course design, purely by listening and reading to what the best in the business have to say.

There is a big debate going on right now that encompasses the attempts by golf courses to deal with the long distances the golf ball travels, and a desire to keep golf fun and interesting. It has lead to some very interesting discussion about what makes a good golf hole and routinely dispels the myth that the length of a golf course defines its status and interest.
For the average golfer, (and by that I just mean golfers only concerned with their own golf game) some knowledge of course design can be beneficial to your golf game. You may have heard some professional golfers talking about  “playing the course backwards”, in order to come up with a strategy. This is very much tied in with what a (good) course designer was thinking when the golf holes were first conceived.

With this in mind I wanted to highlight three very interesting discourses on golf course design and the problems disasters that ensue when you get it wrong.
Firstly, I found myself utterly engrossed in the analysis of the seventh hole at Barnbougle Lost Farm by Darius Oliver in the latest edition of Australian Golf Digest. It may have helped that I have played the hole and remember it well, but his passion for golf course design is clear as he gives a wonderful overview of the golf hole. A few extracts:

“Even ignoring the fact that Barnbougle is one of the windiest places in Australian golf, the notion that this course needs narrower fairways is completely off the mark…”.

“Coore deliberately left acres of room on the right-hand side of this fairway, knowing how difficult it was for golfers who bail out from the tee to then blindly throw their approach shot beyond a gnarly sand dune and onto an unseen landing strip above their feet. Approach shots from the left are no picnic, but from the right this is one of the most intimidating shots in the country.” (Full article)

Most golfers don’t give a second thought to their second shot before they play their first, mainly because they are never sure where their tee shot will finish. But some thought about the best approach to the green before the tee shot is made is surely invaluable knowledge before anyone starts slashing away.
Secondly, this story from Scottish terrier, John Huggan. Never one to take a backward step when it comes to making his point, his words on the disastrous re-designs that litter the world’s championship golf courses, including Augusta National.

“It is a sad but undeniable fact that history will not be kind to those charged with the administration of golf over the last two decades or so.”

“They have also cost themselves money, if this week’s admission that the R&A has spent £10 million on “renovating” the Open Championship courses since 2000 is anything to go by.
In the process, untold damage has been done to so many aspects of the game, with perhaps the most egregious and offensive in the area of course design and set-up.”

and…

“At this month’s Masters, all of the above was cringeingly obvious to all. The seventh hole, where the green was clearly designed to accept shots struck with lofted irons, players are now asked to approach with as much as a 4-iron. All because of a new tee built somewhere in the middle distance, far behind the original.
The story at the 11th, 15th and 17th holes at Augusta National is even worse. All have new back tees and all have seen the planting of trees, eliminating much of the strategies formerly characterised by each hole. It is not the point missing that is surprising, just the extent of it.”
Lastly, here is the link to the latest “State of the Game” podcast that you can listen to below, or via the link. It is certainly more of a time investment (clocking in at a little over an hour) but the comments from Mike Clayton about the prosaic changes to Merion in preparation for next year’s US Open, are worth hearing. (The Merion conversation starts around 43:40m).
The take away message
Options. If you have options as you play a golf hole, the more enjoyable your golf game. golf administrators, particularly in the US are obsessed with distance and heavy rough as a way of combating the prestigious distances professionals are now hitting the golf ball. This type of thinking is cascading down into amateur golf where golf courses are becoming long and boring.

Golf is no more fun hacking your ball out from deep rough, as it is hitting tee shot after tee shot towards the only position you’re presented with from the tee.

7 thoughts on “On what makes a good golf course

  • May 3, 2012 at 00:56
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    I haven’t read the Golf Digest article but it sounds like he is talking about the 8th at Barnbougle Dunes, not the 7th as you mentioned in this article.

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  • May 3, 2012 at 01:05
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    He’s talking about the mid-length seventh. It has a large mound in the middle of the fairway.

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  • May 3, 2012 at 02:10
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    According to the course diagram, the 7th is a short par 3, the 8th has a mound in the middle of the fairway

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  • May 3, 2012 at 03:54
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    ah whoops! sorry guys, It was meant to read Barnbougle Lost Farm. My apologies. Appreciate the feedback and the story has been changed.

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  • May 3, 2012 at 06:15
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    Ah ok, that makes much more sense. FYI I found a copy of the article here

    http://www.planetgolfusa.com/index.php?id=1612

    and you’re right, it is a very good read.

    It just so happens that the 8th at Barnbougle Dunes and 7th at Barnbougle Lost Farm are quite similar holes and that is where the initial confusion came from. The 8th at Barnbougle Dunes also has a mound in the middle and a huge bail out area to the right. Like the 7th at Lost Farm, the chances of hitting the green in reg from the right side of the fairway on the 8th at the Dunes is quite small.

    Both great holes on great courses.

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  • May 7, 2012 at 03:23
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    I wish more golfers would take the time to learn about course design and what makes a hole good or bad. And it definitely should have nothing to do with how you play the hole on any particular day.

    I’ve had the pleasure of playing a lot of golf with Mike Clayton and it’s fascinating to hear how he goes about his business. He’s truly passionate about golf and goes the extra mile to ensure he continues to improve his skills.

    Unfortunately he cops a lot of flack from golfers who don’t understand why he does certain things. It’s a shame because he really is a huge asset to Aussie golf.

    Cheers,

    Cameron

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