Golf Course Design

May 29th, 2014:


The game of golf. 

Many of us have developed a love-hate relationship with this past time with a much larger emphasis on the latter of the two feelings.

For myself, all it takes to keep me coming back to the course is that one pure shot.  For those who have struggled through long 12 or 13 hole stretches without anything to feel good about; you understand that satisfying feeling.  As you hold the follow-through and watch the ball sail through the air in the direction you were actually aiming!  For others, there are iconic holes on a home course or certain events and times of year that bring them back to the course.

For a long while golf courses were simply sheep pastures and farms on the rolling Scottish lowlands.  Very similar to the way you see links-style courses today (mostly flat tracks with very few trees where the wind and thicket grass provide most of the difficulty), fairways were maintained and chewed to a lower height by the grazing sheep between patches of thistle and gorse.  Bunkers were simply sandy well-worn patches set into hills and knolls created by sheep when they would lay down to avoid the winds off of the sea.  For many years and even in some remote parts of Scotland this is how courses were and are maintained with a groundskeeper going out periodically to move the pin and tee box locations.

As golf’s popularity began to grow and expand worldwide different climates and geographical locations lent themselves to certain types of layouts and even different types of grass.  The salty, humid and tropical climate in Florida does not allow for the same type of design as a course in upstate New York or around the world in Sheshan, China (site of a World Golf Championship event on the PGA Tour).  In fact, one of the ways new courses attract patrons is to either hire a big name architect (see Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods etc.) or by having a crazy one-of-a-kind type hole.



The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass was one of the first par 3’s in golf to have an island-type green.  While only playing between 100 and 130 yards based on the pin location it often plays as one of the more challenging holes at the Players Championship on the PGA Tour.  In 2013 and 2014 combined – 72 tee shots were hit in the water at this hole alone!

With many of the unique design features being man made today; some mountainous regions are allowing the piece of property they exist on to do most of the work.  Take the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.  This course is the site of the first serious golf tournament on the PGA Tour called the Tournament of Champions.  This course is set entirely in the mountains and uses the steep elevation changes to add some character and flair to the round.  Most notably is the 663 yard par 5, 18th hole which has more than a 270 foot elevation change from tee-to- green.  So imagine standing on top of a 27 story building and hitting your tee shot onto the highway below you with the breath-taking Pacific Ocean as your back drop.  Plenty of worse ways to spend an afternoon in my opinion!

Golf course designers now seem to be challenging one another to see who will come up with the edgiest and new state-of-the-art course concept.  Some have gone so far as to add a bunker in the middle of a green as well as a full-blown island at a course in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where one has to take a boat to and from the tee box to complete the hole.  With the bar constantly being raised in this competitive industry it shouldn’t be too much longer before we see a windmill or motorized T-Rex protecting the hole!

- Mechanical Engineer Thomas MacDerment, Goddard Inc.