Golf course
2 10 mins 1 yr

I have always wanted to try my hand at golf course architecture. It is something that I will probably never get to do but my interest remains. Designing a golf course is a bucket list thing I suppose. Every time I walk down a fairway I enjoy examining the features of the hole and how the course designer presents them to the golfer. Standing on the tee and surveying the land ahead in terms of layout and penalty areas are all part of the course architect’s skill set. Optical illusions abound in golf and these tricks involving distance perception can mess with the golfer’s head. Seeding doubt in the mind of the golfer and asking questions of club choice are what a good golf hole should do, in my opinion.

Designing a golf course - green grass field near body of water
Photo by Tom Piotrowski on

Factors Involved In The Design of A Golf Course

Designing a golf course is a complex process that requires a great deal of knowledge, skill, and experience. Some key elements in designing a golf course include:

Site selection: The location and topography of the land are important considerations when designing a golf course. Golf course designers look for natural features such as rolling terrain, existing vegetation, water, and rock outcroppings that can be incorporated into the course.

Drainage: Golf course designers must also consider how water will flow through the course and how to prevent standing water or erosion. This often involves installing drainage systems and redirecting water flow to natural or man-made features such as ponds or creeks.

Fairway and green design: Fairway and green design is critical to the playability of a golf course. Fairways must be wide enough to accommodate golfers of all skill levels, while greens should be challenging and interesting. Golf course designers must also consider the slope and contours of the greens and how they will affect the way a ball rolls.

back view of a person playing golf designing a golf course
Photo by andrew shelley on

Tee boxes: Tee boxes play a crucial role in the playability of a golf course. Tee boxes must be designed to allow for a variety of teeing options and to accommodate golfers of all skill levels.

Bunkers: Bunkers are an important feature of any golf course. They are used to challenge golfers and to shape the way a golfer plays a hole. Golf course designers must take into consideration the placement, shape, and size of bunkers and how they will affect the playability of a hole.

Landscaping: Golf course designers also consider how to incorporate trees, plants, and natural features into the course to enhance its aesthetics and to frame the holes.

The old 18th tee at Galashiels Golf Course Designing a golf course
The old 18th tee at Galashiels Golf Course by Walter Baxter is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Access and maintenance: Access to the course, including parking, restrooms, and concessions, must be considered. Golf course designers also have to keep in mind how the course will be maintained over time.

Environmental considerations: Golf course designers need to consider how the course will affect the surrounding environment, including the potential impact on wildlife, water quality, and air quality.

Keep in mind that the main objective of golf course design is to create a challenging, yet fair and enjoyable golfing experience for players of all skill levels. A golf course designer must balance playability and challenge with safety, environmental considerations, and overall aesthetics.

Golfer on Swilkin Bridge St. Andrews Old Course Designing a golf course
Golfer on Swilkin Bridge St. Andrews Old Course by rob bishop is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Examining The 17th Road Hole at St Andrews (Old Course), Scotland

The Road Hole 17th at the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland is considered one of the most famous and challenging holes in golf. It is also one of the most iconic and recognizable holes in the world. Some key elements in the design of the Road Hole 17th include:

Length: The hole is a par 4 that measures around 490 yards, making it one of the longest par 4s on the Open rotation.

Tee shot: The tee shot is played over a large bunker known as the “Road Bunker,” which sits in the middle of the fairway and forces the golfer to make a decision on how much of the bunker they want to take on. Longer hitters can try to carry the bunker while shorter hitters must lay-up.

Green: The green is a large and sloping, with a significant rise from back to front. This makes it difficult to stop the ball on the green and challenging for the golfer to read the break of the putt.

Road: One of the most distinctive features of the hole is the road that runs alongside it and comes into play for shots hit too far to the left. Golfers have to be very careful not to hit the road with their tee shots, otherwise the ball may bounce into an out-of-bounds area.

The Road bunker: The Road bunker is considered one of the most iconic bunkers in golf. It sits in the middle of the fairway, and offers a significant obstacle that golfers must avoid or carry with their tee shot in order to have a clear approach to the green.

The rough: The rough on this hole is usually tall and thick, making it challenging to find and play a ball if one lands in it.

The Wall: On the left side of the green, there’s a high stone wall, which is considered an additional hazard and can be costly if golfers hit the ball there.

The angle of approach: The angle of approach to the green is also a key element in the design of the Road Hole 17th. The green is situated at a slight angle to the fairway, which makes it difficult for golfers to see the flagstick from the fairway.

All these elements make the Road Hole 17th one of the most challenging and iconic holes in the world, and a true test of golf for players of all skill levels.

Designing a golf course - man playing golf
Photo by Martin Magnemyr on

The Designer’s Job

New York Times interview with Brandon Johnson – golf course designer.

“We prepare the game board for golf. We take a raw piece of land and figure out creative ways that the game can be played out in that topography. Any one course takes between three to five years from the design phase to when it’s actually completed. I’m involved every step of the way and work with a team of engineers; agronomists, who study the soil; landscape architects; golf course builders; and golf course shapers, who are experts at sculpting the land to my design concepts. Practicing golf course architecture is a combination of balancing the technical and artistic sides of the job.”

What You Don’t Want In A Golf Course

“But what you don’t want is an 18-hole course with homes jammed on either side of it, which was often the case in the ’80s and ’90s when many communities were being built. Living in a golf community is about having space and breathing room from other homes and the course.”

Designing a golf course - green grass field
Photo by Jesse Zheng on

The Future Of Golf Course Design In Australia

“Here in Australia, Mike Clayton of CDP Golf – the new international design partnership made up of the Victorian, American Mike DeVries and Dutchman Frank Pont – believes much of the design work could focus on downsizing, particularly courses in CBD areas where the battle for green space intensifies.

“Post-coronavirus there seems sure to be a rationalising of the number of clubs in our biggest cities,” predicts Clayton. “When it comes to club memberships, supply exceeds demand especially in parts of Melbourne and Sydney. The merging of Peninsula and Kingswood is an example of one way forward. Selling and relocating is a trickier option because great land close to cities is limited. And there has to be a place for great 9 or 12-hole golf.” “

Real estate and the property market is a voracious predator in cities around Australia. The crazy prices afforded urban property in Australia means that golf courses find it very hard to compete in economic terms. Many Australians cannot afford to live in their own country right now with houses costing too much to buy and rents going through the roof as well. The lucky country is only really lucky for a few it seems. Golf has always been relatively inexpensive to play in Australia in comparison to the UK, Asia, and parts of the US. We have traditionally had a spread of working class golf clubs offering reasonable subscription rates for members in Sydney and Melbourne. However these are being diminished by the demand for housing and golf like a lot of things is becoming increasingly inequitable. We need to protect our wide open spaces near the cities and golf courses have an important part to play in that.

Robert Sudha Hamilton


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