Nestled amongst the suburbs of growing cities, or in popular vacation spots, lie timeless gems of golf course design. Here, legendary architects including Alister MacKenzie, Harry Colt and Donald Ross, applied their creativity like master craftsmen and etched their names in the annals of golf architecture history. However, creating this legacy wasn’t an easy endeavour, and just as US President Woodrow Wilson described golf as a game that used “weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose” golf course construction technologies in this era limited the creative expression of these geniuses.
Over the last 30 years or so, we have been lucky to witness a renaissance in the theory of golden age golf course design and, coupled with modern-day construction methods, new names have emerged to carry the torch of golf architecture and guide it into the future. When playing the modern designs of Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Mike DeVries or Bill Coore, I often find myself asking a question that feels a little taboo: are all those great classic courses really any better than this?
Modern architects benefit from a growing resource of information and an abundance of living examples of great golf architecture, so it stands to reason that they should be more educated in golf course design than those who came before. Rather than having to rely on limited literature or long journeys by boat or train, modern architects have the books of MacKenzie, Hunter, Simpson, and Doak; and hundreds of revered courses just a short plane trip or drive away.
Additionally, we have a plethora of other information available at our fingertips. A quick search of any course reveals Google Earth images and topographical maps, which can be used to study the best courses and understand what makes them great. For instance, a 4K drone flyover and LiDAR scan of the 4th hole on the Old Course is available in mere seconds if we want to visualise the exact scale and shape to the famous bump in front of its green.