“When you play a course and remember each hole, it has individuality and change. If your mind cannot recall the exact sequence of the holes, that course lacks the great assets of originality and diversity.” – George Thomas
To properly understand the importance of variety in golf course design, we must first look back to the origins of the game in Scotland. When the first rudimentary courses were laid out over the links, there was no eighteen-hole standard, no concept of par, and no minimum length that a hole or course must possess to be considered worthy. Hole locations, sand bunkers, and other hazards were discovered, not created by the hand of man, and there was no concept of fairness to be addressed.
Despite the standardizations in the way the game is played and the continual improvements in agronomic practices that have occurred over the past century and a half, the great links of golf’s homeland continue to hold a place of reverence for so many, so much so that the inherent (and correctly held) belief is that no study of golf course architecture can possibly be complete without having first explored the great links of the British Isles.
The greatest take-away from this study is an appreciation for the great variety that exists in these courses, not only from course-to-course but often from hole-to-hole or even from tee shot-to-approach. Each of these courses have a sense of place that is difficult to explain and even more difficult to replicate, but it exists, and it fills the soul of the golfer lucky enough to experience it. It’s often possible to remember not only every hole, but every shot, every putt, and every moment of euphoria one has when cresting a blind ridge to see where one’s ball has landed. This is an experience that is sadly lacking in most contemporary golf course design.
Perhaps consequently, what one won’t find during this study is the hard hand of man at play in the layout of these great courses. Greens are situated in natural hollows and on natural plateaus and ridges, sand bunkers are positioned often in the exact place one thinks they would like to be, and mounds and ridges that often inhibit the golfer’s view of their ball landing were not removed in the name of fairness.
The original routing plan for Pilmoor Links, better known today as The Old Course at St. Andrews Links.
While not every site is fortunate enough to possess the natural variety that exists on the great courses of the British Isles, our light-handed approach to golf course design, allowing the land to dictate the layout without regard for “convention” and minimizing earth-moving to only the most necessary spots, not only provides a cost-savings to our client but it also allows the golfer to have the most authentic experience with that particular piece of property. This approach helps to give every RGD-designed golf course that elusive sense of place that is often missing from the modern golf experience.