The design of golf courses has humble beginnings which are as mysterious and perhaps as simple as the evolution of the game itself. The fact that the pastime of golf was invented in nature and in the beginning played on land created by mother nature, all without modern tools of the bulldozer and irrigation systems, is a worthy reminder of the simple beginnings and the variable and unique arenas on which the game was first played.
Today the golf course design profession remains a niche industry. An art in itself which combines a deep understanding of the game of golf and its history, with elements of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and combined with a rounded knowledge of ecology, agronomy, drainage, irrigation, and course construction.
Golf course architecture now has the tools of modern technology to render a diverse range of land types and environments around the world into golf courses. As the SAGCA’s first Patron Peter Thomson and 5 times Open Champion would remark, “the Old Course is the original blueprint which others have followed”. As the game has spread to the far reaches of the globe, far from the sandy links land of St Andrews, technology has allowed golf to be created on the mountainsides of Japan, to the deserts of the Middle East, tropical Asia, and very occasionally the joy of a sandy site near the sea.
It is the design and creation of wonderful golf courses and excellent golf holes far away from the game’s humble beginnings where we as golf course architects must be keen observers and very mindful of what nature has provided us to work with and incorporate into our design . To be respectful of a piece of land, of nature’s laws, its ecology, local cultures, and traditions, and always be reminded of the history and traditions of the game as our design work allows for the creation of beautiful, fun, strategic, memorable, challenging, and indeed inspiring golf courses which are enjoyable to play by all ages and for many years ahead.
Whether it is the blank canvas of a new greenfield site, or remodeling of an existing course, the golf course architect is seeing the potential of golf holes or the opportunity to improve existing ones the moment they begin to walk a piece of land.
The art and skill of bringing a multiple of Par 3’s, Par 4’s and Par 5’s together into a traditional 18-hole layout, or the combinations of 9, 12, 27, 36 holes and so forth requires deep study of the land in order to find and incorporate the natural shapes and features where possible. But when it’s completely flat, or steep the course architect will possess the skills to design the ground in 3D and render the land more suitable for golf.
Beyond the broad sense of developing sound golf hole routings, and the design of broad earth shape, the next step of finer detail is in the green and tee sites and finer shapes of these, along with the use of hazards as they are worked into the fairway and greens design with strategic intent of each hole at the forefront of the golf design.
Finally, with all necessary design work, drawings and specifications supplied with the required input from fellow professionals such as Agronomists, Irrigation Designers, Civil Engineers, and Surveyors, and any necessary approvals of authorities then construction can commence.
It is during construction works that a golf course architect is typically more involved than other built design professions as the fluid nature of golf holes and features along with a large land scale is best served with time spent on site to achieve the best results. The monitoring of the design in construction involves tweaking the design and confirming set out, directing shaping works, and the signing off on bulk and fine shaping works, and finally getting the final trimmed shapes and grassing lines signed off just before grassing.