NO OTHER two words create quite as much debate and conversation among golf lovers.
For many, classic links layouts of yesteryear evoke the most passionate memories, while for others more modern, quirky designs are more likely to get the nod of approval.
Yet it’s not surprising that across the board many of the same golf course designers keep popping up in conversations and lists about favourite layouts around the world.
We’ve put together our list of some of the best among them, ranging from course design pioneers to today’s creative architects in a celebration of designing the greatest tracks on earth.
And while what makes a truly superb golf course remains as subjective as it gets, we stand by our list of design geniuses, each one’s signature layout spectacularly captured on film by the one and only David Scaletti.
OLD TOM MORRIS
THE beloved grandfather of golf was a renowned greenskeeper, four-time Open champion, and arguably the first golf course designer of note.
Old Tom was behind the creation of some of the most renowned golf courses across the British Isles, having laid his hands on the finest linksland on the planet.
While there is almost no clear footprint left of his original designs – Askernish in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides being an exception – there is little doubt Old Tom knew how to create a golfing heaven, or at least an outlay for other designers to take even further.
His list of courses will make your jaw drop, and include the likes of Machrihanish, Askernish, Cruden Bay, Prestwick (where he cut his teeth), Royal County Down, Carnoustie, Royal Dornoch (which provided Donald Ross with inspiration to build Pinehurst No.2), and Lahinch with Alister MacKenzie.
“NO PROFESSIONAL SINCE HIS TIME HAS REALLY GRASPED THE REAL SPORTING SPIRIT OF GOLF ARCHITECTURE LIKE HE DID.”
ONE of the game’s most highly-regarded course design statesman, Alister MacKenzie, has created some of the most iconic and revered courses in the world .
The Yorkshire-born surgeon meticulously carved out his own style of course design across several continents, believing the emphasis should be on the natural beauty of the terrain rather than unnatural or man-made additions.
In essence, he believed in blending a layout into the natural landscape, a concept he adapted from the lessons he learned about military camouflage while serving in the First World War.
With more than 50 course designs to his name around the world – including several stunners in Australia – MacKenzie was a prolific designer during a time when moving earth and shaping bunkers was both far more taxing and time-consuming due to the lack of large earth-moving machinery.
A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, MacKenzie is regarded by many as the “designer’s designer”.
“I TRY TO BUILD COURSES FOR THE MOST ENJOYMENT BY THE GREATEST NUMBER.”
AN ABSOLUTE maestro designer with a knack for making novelty and nuance effortlessly blend, American Pete Dye forever left an indelible mark on golf course architecture.
Regarded by many as the most imaginative and creative course designer – with Jack Nicklaus among his staunch admirers – Dye took what made layouts great, then injected them with a fair dose of metaphoric steroids.
From a golfer’s perspective, he had an uncanny ability to design tracks that genuinely tested all abilities fairly – the better you were the more testing the course became. If, on the other hand, you were relatively new to the game, bailout areas we’re always there, ensuring a trek around a Dye track wouldn’t kill you – unless you’re playing the Island Hole at TPC Sawgrass.
An absolute marvel of a course designer with world-renowned layouts the likes of TPC Sawgrass, Whistling Straits and Harbour Town Golf Links to his name, Dye’s numerous accolades which include World Golf Hall of Fame status, a PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award and an Old Tom Morris Award, will ensure his unique, quirky design legacy lives on for many generations.
“I THINK PETE DYE WAS THE MOST CREATIVE, IMAGINATIVE & UNCONVENTIONAL GOLF COURSE DESIGNER I HAVE EVER BEEN AROUND.”
OFTEN overlooked in ‘greatest course designer’ conversations is Australia’s own Alex Russell.
An accomplished amateur golfer in his own right and a decorated war hero who was awarded the Military Cross after serving on the Western Front in the First World War, Russell was what many today would call an ‘over-achiever’.
A successful merino sheep grazier, his course designs were quintessentially Australian highlighting the local flora, fauna and farming history so close to his heart, while adapting a ‘Harry Colt-esque’ feel with sand-faced bunkering and large but fairly tame greens a common feature.
Those in the know regard Russell as the finest golf course designer Australia has produced, and one of whom Alister MacKenzie spoke highly.
“A HOLE IS NOT WORTH A DAMN IF NO ONE COMMENTS ON IT ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.”
IF YOU’VE ever played a Tom Doak designed course you know you’ve experienced something special. If you’ve played on more than one, you know it was no fluke.
Having studied golf course architecture under the auspices of the late Pete Dye, Doak was exposed to “radical” and “controversial” design thinking early in his career, a skill that retrospectively served him well.
That said, the strong influence of Alister MacKenzie in many of his designs is particularly evident, with Doak taking a more ‘minimalistic golf’ approach that honours the natural lie of the land and its intrinsic surroundings.
What is also clear from Doak layouts is his ability to highlight the primal, aesthetic beauty of a golf course, often incorporating dramatic bunkering and rugged rough.
With an ability to blend challenge with awe – a staple in his course architecture – it’s little wonder Doak is regarded by so many today as the greatest golf course designer of the modern era.
“THE BEST DESIGNS OF ALL ARE ORGANIC, EVOLVING FROM THE SUBTLETIES OF THE GROUND THEY INHABIT.”
WHEN it comes to the design of links golf layouts, few – if any – can rival those of the great Scot, James Braid.
As a five-time Open Championship winner at three testing links courses – St Andrews (Old) twice, Muirfield twice, and Prestwick Golf Club once — Braid brought a unique links experience and a keen golfer’s eye to his layouts.
An advocate of shot-shaping – a pre-requisite for competently playing many of his designs – he was regarded as the “inventor” of the dogleg.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976, Braid’s most-famous golf course designs remain bucket-listers for golfers the world over, including Gleneagles, Carnoustie and Brora golf clubs. Ø
“HE SWUNG WITH A DIVINE FURY AND PUTTED LIKE A DEMON.”