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Our approach to design is land based.  Land-based design means that the design of each hole is primarily influenced by our first-hand experiences on the site, rather than relying solely on ideas conceived while separated from the actual site experience.  The key to building on time and on budget lies in the quality of preparation during the design process, before construction begins.  Quality is achieved by spending the necessary amount of time on site, and in consultation with the client and the client’s consultants to resolve most of the issues related to the design and construction of the course before construction begins. 

The inherent characteristics of a property that can give tremendous character to a course are there to be found, as long as we are receptive to them.  No maps, pictures, videos, or literature of or about the site can adequately supplant the personal experience on the land.  Our approach is a reversal of a bad trend in design offices.  Many offices have eagerly pursued the marketing and brand name frenzy to the point that this consumes more than half the office hours.  Left with little time for design, the design work has been passed down to second and third level designers who do most of their creative work on a client’s project in the office, rarely, if ever, seeing the site.  Many offices are preoccupied with their own packaging and marketing, course rankings, and generating fame and notoriety for themselves.  For us, land-based design allows us to leave behind this mass-market approach, and open up our minds to the land dedicated for a golf course.  Land-based design begins and ends with a face-to-face encounter with the land, with nature.  In this way, we are more willing to cooperate with nature, not impose a will to make it conform. 

The window of time for this process is short because there are hard and fast schedules to meet for permitting and construction commencement.  Putting aside precious time on the property is absolutely necessary since we are ultimately the vehicles through which the vision of the course will emerge.  The routing and design development phase is a bit like the birthing process; it must have a beginning and evolve along a natural progression that is a part of the mystery of creativity and creation.  We believe our fine-honed sensitivity and receptiveness to the natural characteristics of the land best serve this process. 

Practical Considerations of Land-based Design

 There are many practical considerations that benefit the design of a golf course through our land-based approach.  Briefly these are as follows:  

      Our golf course construction documents, including the shot-by-shot perspective sketches, are developed directly from the design development we do on the land.  This means our plans are precisely what we intend to build on the land.  A contractor’s bid will contain contingencies based upon their judgment of the accuracy of the documents, and the reputation for the quality of the architect’s input during field visits.  The contractor is assured that our documents used as the basis for their pricing the project are accurate because we have gone to great lengths to design the course appropriately to the land.  Our plans provide a high level of detail that can reduce a contractor’s typical contingency factor, resulting in lower construction costs by 10% to 30%.


      The construction phase will require Kelly Blake Moran to make frequent appearances to the site to ensure that his design intentions, as expressed in the construction documents, are properly interpreted by the contractor in the field.  He will be on site each week the course is under construction, and in the process of preparing for opening.  He will not rely upon a construction supervisor to implement the design.  President Reagan’s famous adage about the nuclear disarmament of Soviet Union applies here: inspect, not expect.  Kelly Blake Moran is the vehicle through which the vision of the course is developed; therefore he will be on site frequently.

Our thorough preparation during design development gives the client maximum input into the design process if they desire to have a formal voice in the type of course they will receive.  The client can easily access the design process through the detailed three-dimensional sketches we do of each fairway and green.


Strategic Design Considerations of Land-based Design 

Working the routing to the site’s natural features puts much more emphasis on the strategic design, making the course more challenging, interesting, and pleasurable for a wide range of golfing abilities. Ideally, as a player improves their physical and mental playing abilities, they find new ways to play each hole, and discover new challenges and pleasures in the course.  In this way, a course that captures the organic spirit from deep inside the land will never become outdated or boring.  The course will remain intriguing, mysterious, and enjoyable as the player graduates to the next higher level and becomes more familiar with the natural and manmade features that make the strategy of each hole.   

Our design is all about marrying the natural elements of the land with the strategy of the course.  While beauty is a critical element in a golf course, and manmade elements detract from the quality of the golfing experience and should be disguised or eliminated in the golfing experience, strategy is of the highest concern for our course designs.  Many architects believe they are artists and showmen, and that their primary goal is to create an artful production on the land.  We believe that the artfulness of art in golf course design is a wide path that leads no where, that at the end there is no soul or integrity in the design, and it is more of a general seduction of the senses, a mass visual media.  The natural elements that make the land beautiful actually play a major role in the strategy.  Therefore, a course strategy that cooperates with nature, enabling it to release its power through its own particular beauty, rather than imposing an artificial idea of beauty on the land will always be a beautiful golf course.  And, the golf course will only get better as all traces (construction) of our having been there vanish.     

The golf course must be a positive use on the land, and it must be an exceptional experience for all levels of players.  There need not be any compromises to the land or to the strategic experience of playing the course.  Every course should be designed to challenge the very best players and to encourage the least gifted or least experienced players.  Most of our courses have six sets of tees for all holes.    For the expert player, the course should provide considerable distance from the championship and back tees.  Despite traditionalist’s claims, distance matters.  One interesting development in Florida, and it seems to be spreading, is that players who have played very well over a number of years are starting to see the effects of age on their game.  They also have developed a tremendous source of pride in their past accomplishments.  The combination of these two factors, age and pride in their skills, has resulted in the renaming of tees, the introduction of the “championship tee” where it once was called the “back tee”.  The “back tee” is now designated where it once was the “regular or member’s tee”.  Now the aging and gifted players who may be losing a little distance can make up for this by moving up to the former regular tees, yet save some pride by calling them the back tees.  This has compelled us to actually add an extra tee between what was once the regular tee and the back tee.  Excellent players are getting away with playing from the former regular tees because now they are designated the back tees, and this has a tremendous affect on the design strategy for the course.   Ladies can play from any tees that match their skill level.  Two sets of tees have been specifically located for ladies based upon research provided by Alice Dye, one of the preeminent designers and players in the country.  The lesser-accomplished players will find a variety of teeing areas that make the course play at a reasonable distance for their skill level.  At appropriate facilities, we include a set of junior tees that play approximately 2,800 yards for the 18 holes, so that junior golfers, who have a minimum level of skill, at appropriate times during the day, can enjoy the big course at a reasonable distance.  As their skills improve, as well as their understanding of the game’s traditional etiquette, they can graduate to the next set of tees. 

We survey the natural elements and think how can an interesting hole be played over this terrain, and how can the natural elements be incorporated into its strategy.  We survey the land along the direct route between tee and green, not just along the designated centerline of the doglegged hole.  This direct route has been referred to as the “line of charm”.  Good players always check this route because it is the shortest distance to the pin.  Therefore, on our courses we make most par fours and fives doglegged holes because this allows for different avenues through which to play the hole depending upon the amount of risk one is willingly to assume in hopes of achieving a big reward.  Doglegged holes make for exciting strategy: a good player can chose different routes to play a hole depending on whether they need to be conservative or aggressive because of the circumstances of their match.   In addition to many doglegged holes, we try to make a routing plan play different directions, and to have great variety in distances for all par categories, meaning that there are short par 3, 4, and 5 holes, ranging up to very long par 3, 4, and 5 holes.   

All courses should give the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest number of players.  It can be said with great confidence that a course can provide a strategic design of the highest order, can provide for the lesser player to enjoy the course, and can respect the exceptional value of the natural features of the land, and incorporate these features into the experience of the course.  We have discovered that what is basic about the goodness of any course is its strategy.  Land-based design, with a strong emphasis on the course strategy is a specific engagement with the land that can produce a highly imaginative design.  Land based design has mass appeal.  It has been employed at all our courses that are open for play, and people are having strong, positive reactions to the look and the strategy.   

Environmental Considerations of Land-based Design

For our use in creating a golf course, modern culture has equipped us with computer software, large earthmoving equipment, and the opinions of golfers and writers.  Yet, the past resource, nature, has been redefined by packaging and marketing, and replaced by the term environmentally friendly, meaning that when making something with mass appeal we downplay how we imposed our will on the land.  Land-based design reestablishes nature as the primary resource in the creative design process.

The creative process employed in designing a golf course should begin with a face-to-face encounter with the land, with nature.  In this way, the architect is more willing to cooperate with nature, not impose a will to make it conform.  This is a land-based architect.

Every project seems vast or difficult in the beginning.  Technology makes almost anything possible; problems can be solved on paper, and with money.  Hard work on the land and confronting the realities of these difficult problems are not necessary because the architect can work a solution on paper without leaving the office, and technology and money can implement the solution.  This can make the land-based architect anxious when confronted with difficult problems caused by wetlands, steep slopes, contiguous forests, and awkward parcels caused by property lines.    Given these difficult constraints can we find a golf course on this land, or must we leave it to the big machines to rearrange the land to make a golf course?  Why try too hard if we have the modern technology and wealth to impose the kind of beauty that has mass appeal? 

Land-based design requires a specific engagement with Nature.  This engagement is a satisfying creative process.  All of the cultural pressures- technology, marketing, mass media, public expectations- are suspended when the land-based architect straps on the boots and goes on the land to become immersed in discovery and curiosity.

The persistent, land-based architect walks the land over and over.  The feeling of anxiety is replaced by exhilaration that comes from the awareness of the subtle qualities of the land.  Through a slow process, slow when comparing three days walking the land as compared to four hours in the office scratching on a base map, the land-based architect discovers how the course strategy connects with the physicality’s of nature, the terrain, plants, soil, drainage, wind and light. 

Trusting the discovery period, the period of walking the land looking for the natural golf holes, is humbling and gratifying.  Will this approach yield a good golf course?  Where’s the give; where’s the take?  Is this approach relevant to the game?  With a kind of blind faith, the land-based architect ventures out to find the energy in the land.  Incredibly, a day spent on the land seems like an hour.  Egotism, arrogance and desire for recognition give way to a wild delight in the beauty and infinite space of the landscape.  The routing begins to work with the land. 

It takes experience to recognize the natural features of the land, and skill to use them in the right way for the play of the game.  More importantly, it takes a willingness on the part of the designer to venture out onto the land to meet nature face to face.  We spend several days walking the land in search of the best routing plan for the golf course, and the best locations for the clubhouse site, maintenance site, and practice facility.  The best routing for the course is judged by how well we implement the following techniques in order to maintain the land’s integrity:

  • h golf hole design should require little earthmoving;ch hole should not adversely affect woodland connections;

The only way to meet these criteria is through the first-hand experience gained by being on the land.  Meeting these criteria can have a major impact on the environment.  First, earth moving has the greatest impact on the natural environment.  A routing plan developed through our land-based design will result in a magnificent course requiring the least amount of earth disturbance.  If earth movement is confined to softening slopes in the playing areas and enhancing the natural terrain then many environmental benefits are gained.  While we like to keep the golf course mostly in the open parts of the land, holes that must enter wooded areas will require removal of fewer trees if there is little earth movement.  This means we have a greater opportunity to maintain large wooded areas, which are more likely to provide core habitats for a greater number of species, and large wooded areas protect aquifers and interconnected drainage networks.  Minimum earth movement allows us to maintain, and use the land’s natural drainage patterns.  The natural drainage patterns can be an important part of the strategic design and beauty of the course, and can be incorporated into our large network of drainage infrastructure.  Good drainage will reduce disease pressures by removing surface water from fairways and greens.  Reducing disease pressures reduces the need to use chemicals. 

Second, woodland connections are critical to wildlife movement.  Disturbing these connections has a major impact on the environment.  A land-based routing plan attempts to preserve the existing woodlands.  Where disturbances must occur, a land-based routing plan avoids splitting wooded areas into smaller patches.  Furthermore, a land-based routing plan can incorporate existing patches of woodlands into the golf course property, and over time these smaller patches can be connected through the implementation of our landscape plans.  These connections can be made in part by using native trees transplanted from the site.

Third, as mentioned, reducing earth movement preserves the land’s natural drainage patterns.  A land-based routing plan also preserves the integrity of larger drainage ways through the land like stream and river corridors.  Golf holes are setback from these corridors, and native buffers are maintained between the primary play areas of the course (tees, fairways, roughs, and greens), and stream corridors.  Substances such as chemicals and fertilizers used for the proper maintenance of the primary play areas can be diverted from entering a stream by proper grading, and more effectively, by maintaining or enhancing a wide vegetated buffer that consists of native materials in the form of grasses, shrubs and trees.  The vegetation provides a buffer against these substances entering the stream by providing friction in the form of plant stems and litter, root absorption, and an organic soil that absorbs dissolved substances.   

Finally, by respecting the natural elements such as terrain, drainage patterns, and woodlands, these elements can become a part of the strategic design, and the beauty of the course.   A common thread through all great golf courses is the exceptional qualities of the land on which they lay.  The land at Pine Valley, Merion, Shinnecock, National, Cypress Point, Seminole and many others is exceptional land.  But it does not always have to be land that is so dramatic to make a great course.  At our course, HideOut Golf Club, in Naples, Florida, chief among the exceptional qualities are the native sand, and the trees.  This seemed obvious to us and these elements were a major theme in the design. These elements were carefully incorporated into the aesthetic and strategic experience of the course.  Oddly, a consistent compliment of the course is that it is unlike any other in Southwest Florida, that the whole presentation is unique.  The heavy handed approach that comes with trying to manufacturer a look and a style, by moving massive amounts of earth makes a major negative impact on the environment.  At HideOut, we successfully got back to something that was more truthful, simple and straightforward, something you can get close to.  This confirms that a land-based design approach of meeting nature face to face, understanding what are the inherent, basic qualities that make the land beautiful, then building a design around it, can strike a chord in people’s soul.  The obvious is not always so obvious, it has to be pulled out and shown in a way that people can appreciate.  The land-based architect discovers how the course strategy connects with the physicality’s of nature, the terrain, plants, soil, drainage, wind and light.  As a result, the land is spared degradation, while much of the area covered by our golf courses can be unmaintained, other than periodic mowing of native grass areas that are in play to avoid players repeatedly losing balls.  Typically, a golf course will preserve over 200 acres in open space, of which only 70 acres is actually under maintenance and irrigation for the play of the game.   

Land-based Design and the Neo-Classic Architecture Advocacy Group

Some thoughtful analysis has been made of the "classic" courses and their architects.  Sometimes, the analysis includes derogatory comments such as today's architects not being able to shine the shoes of the "old masters".  This type of analysis over time has actually created an us-versus-them mentality, causing advocates of the old masters to gather into a loosely organized lobby group.  Rather than this group shining a light on the subject of classic design, giving thought to the good and the bad, all toward the goal of educating, they have fallen into the worst habits of an advocacy group that sees only the good in their way of thinking, and only evil in others that do not fall in line. 

 The oldest courses in the British Isles were a response to the site's conditions.  In, A History of Golf, The Royal and Ancient Game, Robert Browning writes that the early courses where “left much as nature made them”.  He goes on to write, “The courses on the commons as a rule did not call for the creation of any artificial hazards, because they offered an ample variety of natural difficulties of their own.”  Later, some of the “old masters” copied holes from these courses when designing their courses.  These copied courses have now become the sources for designing stylish courses by the neo-classic advocates.  A style that is a few steps removed from the purest form of land-based design employed at the oldest courses in the world, the originals.  Our land-based design is primarily focused on the natural elements as well, but we do not stop there, rather we use those elements as a means by which to improvise a suitable design on the land.  Our land-based design is not an impersonation of someone else’s style, rather when practiced faithfully it is a singular organic style, true to us.   Our design becomes our own improvisation with the land.  Improvisation comes from a process developed through lots of practice being on the land and seeing.  Improvisation requires letting preconceived ideas, paradigms, and the forces of our thought take a rest while we glide over the property, and let the land tell its story.  This leads to a sort of detachment where the architect is the observer of the action, and the action is greater than architect, that is the improvising that goes on between the land and the architect.  The land-based architect must learn the melody of the place they are walking, and how best to improvise on that melody.  The land-based architect must use their eyes to find what the land demands, not what the fashion of the day or an “old master” demands.    Land-based design requires heavy thinking and concentration on what is being observed when on the land.  In that way each part of the land can tell its unique story so that there is never repetition in the design.  Concentration on what is at hand determines an architect’s ability to make a good hole or a great hole. 

Land-based design is dynamic because it confronts reality in its specific engagement with the land, making it a power to translate the design into some particular language of its own that is modern, and it is a throw back to a time when nature was a refuge, and links between the human and natural worlds would spring from the land.  Rather than imposing on the land a copy of existing work, land-based design generates ideas that spring from the natural land.  The golf holes emerge from the land rather than being forced on it.  Land-based design embodies the course with a majestic decorum that we never tire of seeing.  Land-based design reinstalls reason and faith into the creative design process. 

Sustainable Design and Maintenance

Creating a sustainable golf course requires a land-based design approach that emphasizes a well-conceived routing plan.  A properly routed golf course can contribute toward reducing energy consumption and other costs expended to build a course and maintain it.  Our main goal is to rout the course to take full advantage of the land’s natural features so that very little earth must be disturbed in the construction phase.  Disturbing large areas adds to construction costs, provides opportunities for erosion and stream contamination, releases carbon into the atmosphere, and erases any interesting natural characteristics of the existing terrain. 

In addition to the proper routing of a golf course there other items a client will want to consider in the planning and maintenance of a golf course.  These items were gathered from our experiences and consultation with golf course superintendents: 

Explore the use of electric greens mowers (technology may not quite be ready);

There are new green’s mowers that have small gas engines and generators that power the reels. These units consume half the gas and do not use hydraulic oil.  Similar fairway units will be out soon;

Only mow collars every other day;

Rake bunkers twice a week maximum;

Reduce the amount of area requiring weed trimmers;

Use growth regulators, if feasible.  Growth regulators used on fairways can cut fuel use by 30%;

Cultivate and maintain large natural areas throughout the site;

Buy local sand and soil;

Design a course so that it requires fewer specialized maintenance equipment;

Be energy conscious around the maintenance barn - use low energy bulbs, shut off computers when there not being used, recycle wastewater used to clean equipment, etc;

Use ClubCar utility vehicles for general jobs because they use much less gas as compared to Cushman and Toro utility vehicles;

Add a tenth of a pound of urea and sulfate of potash to every fertilizer application. At year end you use only a pound of nitrogen and potassium and you get better results than when you apply three or four times that amount with conventional granular applications;

Incorporate a fertigation system into your irrigation program.  This will save time, labor and fuel, plus liquid nitrogen is much cheaper than granular and saves energy on the conversion, hauling and spreading;

Contour mow fairways as opposed to stripping, and alternate directions weekly;

Do not fertilize the roughs;

Selectively remove trees so you can grow healthy turf which will reduce chemical inputs;

Establish true economic thresholds for all pests. A few weeds or brown patch in the roughs, or a little cutworm damage does not change the way the game is played;

Maintain a high quality staff.  In order to promote sustainability, the people that practice it need the training, the time, and the support to make it happen.             

Master Plans of Improvements 

Kelly Blake Moran Golf Course Architects design services include detailed master plans of improvement for existing golf courses.  Kelly’s master plans identify the strategic, infrastructure, and maintenance needs of the golf course.  Improvements can be as simple as changing mowing lines to introduce more ground game options, and expanding greens to introduce more exciting pin areas to more extensive work such as improving poor drainage, and expanding tees to better accommodate  an increase in rounds played.  Any improvements are detailed in plans, specifications, takeoffs, and budgets, and Kelly is always present to observe the implementation of master plan improvements. 

Why Do a Master Plan of Improvements 

A golf course will change through natural and manmade forces.  Over time playing features such as tees, bunkers, and greens deteriorate and become less acceptable in terms of playing conditions.  Some features will actually become more expensive to maintain as extra ordinary measures have to be taken to approximate acceptable playing conditions.  Sometimes, manmade changes are often made with a narrow perspective leaving a golf hole less than a satisfying experience for the majority of players. 

        A master plan defines what we want the course to be for the long term future.  Often times this vision is implemented in increments of time based upon priorities and funds.  A master plan ensures the vision is implemented in the most cost efficient and creative manner possible. 

        A master plan removes individual agendas from the process, while still allowing future committees to have input with the architect in accordance with the original master plan. 

        A master plan provides a club the opportunity to reintroduce the original design integrity that made the golf course a special place, and to introduce design features in accordance with the original design integrity to meet today’s playing standards. 

        A master plan provides the opportunity to restore consistency in the most important features of a golf course: the greens, fairways and bunkers.

        A master plan provides an opportunity to provide consistency in the most trafficked portions of a golf course: the tees, and cart paths. 

        A master plan provides the opportunity for the superintendent to manage the most important element to them: water.  Through the provision of proper surface and subsurface drainage, and an irrigation system custom designed to their golf course, a superintendent is better able to deliver excellent turf conditions for the golfer. 

        A master plan provides the opportunity to assess the impact of vegetation on playing conditions, and maintenance budgets, and to provide a long term landscape plan to manage and enhance the wooded areas, and to allow areas requiring costly maintenance to revert back to natural conditions without impacting playability. 

        A master plan gives the committee and the architect an opportunity to address the unique circumstances that face the golf course. 

Typical Components of a Master Plan 

        Inventory and analysis of the strategic design of the existing course;

        Inventory and analysis of the original course, if information is available;

        Inventory and analysis of the existing infrastructure and maintenance problems;

        Inventory and analysis of the existing landscape;

        Evaluation of cart trail system, and recommendations for improvements;

        Hole-by-hole document of master plan of improvements that includes plans and descriptions of proposed modifications of tees, fairways, greens, bunkers, cart paths, and other pertinent course elements;

        Conceptual landscape plan of the golf course. 

Additional Commentary


Aerial Photographs

An important part of the master plan process is to examine the changes that have occurred to the course over the years through the use of old photographs and aerials.  These important resources can help the architect and the club make better informed decisions for the long range improvement to the course.   


The important issues pertaining to tees are environmental conditions, drainage and space.  Secondary considerations are the appropriateness of the tee’s location in relationship to the design of the hole, and the height of the tee above the surrounding terrain.   

As is typical for all course features that require excellent turf conditions, tees need plenty of sunlight, and air flow.  Once these conditions are present then consideration should be given to the size of the tee in relationship to the design of the hole and to the number of rounds hosted annually by the club.   

As a matter of preference, I design tees that are close to the elevation of the surrounding terrain whenever possible.  It is important to ensure that the tee is protected from any surrounding drainage by diverting the surface water away from the tee.  A tee that is close to the ground is more accessible, is not an unnecessary distraction on the land, can add distance to an uphill hole, and in some instances can add an element of excitement and uncertainty to the hole if not everything can be seen down the fairway.  

There are many examples of multi-level tees that require increased maintenance because of the time it takes to move from one tee to the next, and the steep banks around the tees.  Many of the tees are too small for the rounds played.  Some tees are too small, have too many levels, and are stressed by trees growing too close to the teeing surface.  


Fairways require many of the same considerations as other features on the course.  Surface drainage, sunlight, and air circulation are important issues to get right if the fairway is to be in excellent condition with little inputs from the maintenance staff.   

An important strategic element to consider for fairways on existing courses is the fairway mow lines.  Over time  fairways become narrow and assume a simple shape as mowing patterns are adjusted to make mowing more efficient or to adjust in response to encroaching trees.  These efficiencies and adjustments can take fairway bunkers and green side bunkers out of play by leaving a large swath of high rough grass between the fairway and the bunker.  Expanding fairways closer to the bunkers brings the bunkers into play in three ways.  First, the ball rolling on the ground is more likely to enter the bunker if the fairway is cut close to the bunker.  Second, if more fairway is near the bunker a player may choose to play close to the bunker in order to gain a better angle from which to play the next shot.  Third, if more fairway is around the bunker, including beyond the bunker, a player may be encouraged to play over the bunker to the fairway beyond it again in order to gain a better angle on the next shot, or to shorten the distance required to play the next shot.  

Expanded fairways near greens bring interesting ground features into play allowing a player to play a bump and run shot by using the ground features to roll the ball onto the green. This gives another exciting option for playing the hole. 


One common issue with greens on older courses is that they become smaller.  Exciting and challenging pin positions along the periphery of greens are lost making bunkers and slopes around the greens almost irrelevant in the strategy of the hole.   

Green expansions can bring surrounding features into play and make the hole a more exciting, strategic adventure. For instance, expanding the green closer to a bunker can bring into play a downward slope toward the bunker. In this instance the golfer must be particularly careful with their approach shot. In addition, expanding the green area can recapture great pin areas along the periphery of the green.  Expanded greens can allow pin positions in areas much closer to bunkers or other interesting features.   


Drainage is probably the most critical issue for many older courses.  Surrounding conditions change and more surface water is directed into areas on a course that now causes wet conditions and distracts from the play and maintenance of the course. 

Older bunkers typically do not have subsurface drainage or the drainage is inadequate and has failed.  I provide for an extensive network of drainage to be installed in my bunkers.  This will make for better playing conditions and prolong the life of the bunker.  

             Alternative Golf Courses

Playing golf is a wonderful experience best understood by the fraternity of players who have enjoyed it for many years. In the past, most of these players would play an 18 hole course given the choice, and most would try to find the best 18 hole course in their area that they could afford. Times have changed for these same people who now have less time and a lot less money than before, and as a consequence their views have changed as well regarding the type of courses they would play. On the other side of the golf world are the beginning players who seek any golf course that is convenient to them in order to pursue their new interest. Like the veteran players, the beginners probably have less time and less money to devote to their new hobby and this defines their view of the type of courses they would play as well. Interestingly, there may be a convergence of these two polar opposites of the golf world at the same golfing facility and the savvy golf course owner should be looking to make accommodations for both.

Without question, most golfers are interested in golf courses that are well maintained (specifically the greens), have reasonable green fees, and aren’t plagued by slow play. That is a tall order to fill for some courses, but accomplishing those three goals can help a golf course attract the most customers. There are other virtues worth striving for that are needed to make any golf course attractive to the beginning golf, the familiar golfer, and every type of golfer in between.

Every golf course should be designed to fit in with the site’s natural features. This can be the distinguishing feature separating it from other local courses. Taking this approach could mean the number of holes may be less than 18, or it may allow for 18 holes, but at an overall playing distance much less than what is considered average today. The golf course with fewer holes that fits in well with the land by preserving the natural features may be more attractive than a course that obliterates the land’s natural features while trying to meet the “rule” of 18 holes. What if the land is featureless? This is a delicate subject to discuss because in our experiences land deemed featureless has in fact proven to have many wonderful and subtle features worth preserving and incorporating into the design of the course. If the land is truly featureless, maybe a distressed site abused by previous development, there may be a strategy worth exploring. If the golf course land is within a developing area then let the bulk earth movers deposit their excess soil and shape and misshape the soil in any way they see fit. At the appropriate time the architect can visit the site and see what kind of golf course can be found on the “naturally” manmade site. This approach certainly takes a leap of faith but it could result in an intriguing layout not possible with a more conventional approach.

For the golfers fewer holes means it takes less time to play, and costs less money to play. These benefits can be attractive to many golfers. But in many communities the most successful golf course will provide golf holes with a heightened standard of strategy and interest which will be attractive to golfers of all abilities. Golf holes with interesting natural features, and more importantly, with exciting strategic challenges can make any golfer forget the number of holes. Fewer holes are not the only feature that may prove attractive to all golfers. Shorter courses help the better player fine tune their short game; shorter courses can be less intimidating to the beginning player; and, shorter courses with variety, like a hole or two that can play as a par 3 one time and a par 4 the next time, and holes that captivate and challenge golfers with intriguing strategic qualities can make a golf course the most attractive alternative in many golfing communities. For the developers fewer holes means construction and maintenance costs are lower. For communities fewer holes means less demand on local water resources and less of an impact on local natural features.

The position of the golf course property within the community is another important matter that deserves a post devoted to it. But, it is important to leave this post with the declaration that any golf course would do well to be integrated within the boundaries of a community, within walking distance of many of its residence so that it can be regarded as an indispensible feature within the community. Less important are the number of holes and the length of the course; more important is a golf course that locals support and in a sense take “ownership” of the course as a source of pride and source of indispensible joy in their lives.             

             In The Public Arena

A healthy discussion about the various issues facing the golf community invariably leads to lively talk about the best features that should be employed in the creation of a golf course.  To go further, what would the “ideal” course look like if there were no constraints to dampen our dreaming?    We would want it to be informed by historical traditions, and we would want it to be considered an irreplaceable asset to the community.  We would want it to be public: we would want it to be accessible to us so we can go anytime.  The public access golf course is the “ideal” golf course, and we need to consider the issues related to how the public course fits into the neighborhood community, and the role of the public course in the golfing community.    

When contemplating these issues my thoughts go back to St. Andrews and Dornoch.  These towns and their golf courses have developed together over a long period of time.  Their interrelationships are interesting to contemplate, and help explain why each is so captivating.  Beyond the design features of the courses that make for the most challenging and enjoyable golf, there are urban planning features that greatly enhance the golfing experience.   

Some of these features relate to the close proximity between the town and the golf course.  One of the most unique aspects is the ability to walk, with clubs in tow, to the golf course which is within a reasonable distance from many homes and lodgings.  Walkability usually is reserved for describing the nature of the layout of the course; however walkability should also be a goal with regard for access to the course from urban or suburban areas.  Throughout America, planning boards and their planning codes have purposely segmented land uses and then sought to connect all these uses with an efficient and widespread network of roads.  This has led to suburban sprawl, large scale parking lots, and the breakup of the pre World War II communities that were the ideal examples of American cities and villages.  Lately, golf courses followed the suburban communities and became increasingly isolated from the general public.  Golf courses were zoned farther out from large population centers rather than allocating some land for golf within a mixed use of developments like in the old towns of St. Andrews and Dornoch. 

As a result of suburban sprawl many of the suburban areas in America are vulnerable to being attached to additional suburban developments that eventually will make for a long unbroken belt of urban development.  Natural breaks like golf courses should be welcomed.  Public golf courses could be a suitable natural reserve within the overall mixed use developments promoted by the “New Urbanists.”  In order to integrate golf into what has been termed the “New Urbanism” it logically would be more at the periphery of the village in the area between the village and the rural land or natural reserve.  The present planning codes in most communities throughout the country zone parcels of land to be specific uses thus breaking apart what has historically been more successful models of mixed use developments, which is to integrate various land uses into an urban or village setting.  Golf courses, particularly the public kind, should be brought into close contact with the community, it should be a visual landmark as well as a physical outlet for the community, and not be isolated out and away from the rest of the community.  Driving around the edges of suburban sprawl one finds ample open land that could be developed as golf courses and thus abutted or attached to population areas from where people can walk to the courses or at the very least be a very short drive away from their home or business.  Roads that abut the course should remain as windows from which to view the course to further integrate the course into the surrounding developments rather than have housing lined along the roads breaking the link between the course and the suburban or urban edge.   

Further considerations of the golf course as part of the natural reserves between housing developments, villages, or towns, should include the club house occupying a prominent position within the community.  The clubhouse could be one building within a planned arrangement of buildings offering public services like a post office, other civic buildings and commercial buildings offering services like dry cleaning, physical fitness, lodging and dining.  In other words, the public course should do more to integrate its building facilities into the existing community by locating them toward the property edges rather than enclosing them within a gated community thus turning their backs on the existing community.  For instance, a public course could locate the clubhouse building at the edge of the property and make a public façade that serves as a focal feature to the community much like a central court house was too many small American towns.  Existing roads leading out of the community could terminate at the doorstep of the building, which would serve as a spirited public building, and a most suitable landmark at a terminus.   

In summary, the design and development of public golf courses should be better integrated into the overall planning of a community, particularly a community that embraces the principles of the “New Urbanism” movement.  While specifying codes for golf courses can be seen as dangerous it is not unreasonable for local planning boards to establish some codes for developing public courses which should be acceptable to most golf course architects without limiting their creativity too much.  Any codes should seek to achieve the following goals:

  • nsist of any number of golf holes, the primary importance regarding the layout of the holes should be that their arrangement allows for ease of walking the entire course.The golf course should be planned as a core layout.  Any residential or commercial uses shall be incorporated into a traditional neighborhood pattern that is separate from the golf course, but can share some boundaries with the course.  It is best that the course be designed in a way that fits the surrounding natural land features. Among other criteria this can mean that the construction of the course should not require the movement of large quantities of soil.  In this way the golf course illuminates the natural qualities of the region in which it is located.Roads adjacent to the golf course should not be developed on the golf course side of the road in order to allow views to the course to further integrate the golf course into the fabric of the community.There should be flexibility in local and state codes that allow the architect to meet the aforementioned goals without having to enter into an onerous process of seeking variances.

Beyond these basic planning ideals at the local community level there are specific features which public courses, really all golf courses, should strive to incorporate into the strategy of the course.  The desire to neatly categorize golf courses into market segments like resort, country club, private golf clubs, resort, public and so on, lure people into thinking the golf course design has to change radically to meet these markets.  This is wrong.  Golf has many inherent values and attractions for all golfers.  The management companies want us to think that there are steadfast criteria of dos and don’ts that we must follow in order to be successful as a public course.  While common sense does guide us in public golf development and certainly marketing and economics play a role in the development of courses, architects must not be made slaves to business criteria that dilute the integrity of the game and the magnificent design features that have proven challenging, and stimulating on the great courses going back to the very early days of the game.  Certainly, The Old Course at St. Andrews could not be designed for public play if it were to strictly follow the criteria that management companies dictate as essential to any “successful” public course.  Some examples they find objectionable are contoured putting greens, blind features like landing areas and bunkers, partial cart path systems, and isolated practice ranges.  Therefore, certain criteria should be considered to guide the development of better public golf course facilities:

  1. he design of the course should incorporate a strategy that encourages the ground game.  The ability to place a shot short of a green and allow it to roll to a pin area enhances the golfing experience.  Many factors go into the design and maintenance of this type of design, which deserve a whole document dedicated to this subject.  But, there is no doubt that the use of the ground game can make the game much more pleasurable as compared to facing the high proportion of aerial shots required to play too many courses.Shot placement and the subsequent positive and negative impacts on the next shot should be emphasized throughout the design. This approach places emphasis on the player to engage their mind in the play of the course.  Rather than matching themselves against a number par as the determinate of their success, the player becomes more engaged in a chess match with the hole and can receive feedback and hopefully satisfaction, in accordance with their skills, that they negotiated the hole from tee to green in a thoughtful and strategic manner.  Furthermore, in addition to the over emphasis on par, there is too much emphasis placed upon the beauty of a hole when in fact the real beauty of the game comes from pitting one’s own intelligence against the course.  A golfer should derive much more satisfaction and joy out of having solved the hole by being prodded to employ his mind on each shot.The debate as to the number of bunkers should be in the context of maintenance costs rather than playability.  Good design is benefited by a rigorous debate about placement of bunkers rather than by the numbers of bunkers.  Some courses which have large numbers of bunkers can be most enjoyable if their placement stimulate the mind to find creative ways to attack or defend. Likewise, one well placed bunker can add immense strategic interest to a hole.

It is not necessary that we grow the game.  The emphasis on number of rounds and number of golfers is misguided.  Today, there are way too many golfers that do not belong on a golf course, and that is bad for business if your main concern is for the economics of the game.  Profits should not be used as motivation to grow the game.  The game has inherent qualities that capture people’s imaginations and makes them want to be golfers.  Rather than designing marketing campaigns to capture potential golfers, the emphasis should be on the qualities of the strategy presented by the course; the emphasis should be on the need to engage their minds in how they conduct themselves on the course, otherwise known as etiquette, and by engaging their minds in the strategy of playing the game; the emphasis should be on capturing the imagination of golfers at a young age by providing opportunities and access.    Making golf a part of the organized sports for kids is needed.  There is plenty of down time on many public courses that could be marketed to families or youth clubs with the main purpose of making good golfers out of our kids.  In addition to organizing this effort courses might do well to provide a set of junior tees to make the experience more negotiable for the younger kids.  The more exposure kids have to the game through real experiences on a golf course the better quality golfers we will have in the future.

Public courses must be as accessible as the local playground or sports complex; walking to the course in summer should be as easy as walking to school in the fall; locals must see the golf course in their daily travels and feel it as an indispensable part of the local landscape; the playing characteristics of the course must provide the opportunities for a style of play that has challenged and captivated the most fervent golfers of the past centuries.  All of this is not to grow the game, it is the game.  Golf is the one sport we can all play from youth through retirement, and it deserves to be a bigger part of public life in America.


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