• Richard Mandell

What is Golf Architecture?

What is golf architecture? Is it just simple design? Or is it art, environmental science, engineering, land planning? The obvious answer is all of the above in one form or another. In fact, an old adage in the business is that it is 20% inspiration and 80% drainage. Golf Architecture is not only a merging of disciplines; it is a dynamic process which requires much more than a good iron-game or a prevalence to make many birdies. In fact, the better the golfer plays, most likely the worse that golfer’s design ability may be. Similarly, if a designer focuses too much on just one discipline, the resulting product will be deficient in many aspects as well.


Golf course design running too close to the analytical side of the brain tends to have very antiseptic features and an overall blasé appearance. A lack of strategy will probably dominate the golf holes as well. Free of maintenance headaches, the course will most likely drain very efficiently (which is a good thing). Golf architecture running out of the creative side of the brain will have completely different pros and cons. “A feast for the eyes”, “chock full of excitement”, “what a challenge” are phrases that are often used to describe the more “creative” endeavors. By the same token, when art dominates the design palette, functional problems arise regarding maintenance and playability.


When the focus is solely on one side of the creativity fence or the other, the golfer and operator both lose. A lack of design may not be enough to attract a loyal following. But a golf course so over the top may be too much for the golfer to declare loyalty as well. Boring, yet functional and exciting, yet difficult are two conundrums that consistently crop up in the world of golf course design.


The strategy question can be affected on both sides of the fence as well. Typically with an overly engineered golf course, a lack of strategy is the dominant focus. When the focus becomes all about eye candy and aesthetics, even the most breathtaking double-fairway usually has an apparent strategy that after some thought just isn’t present. It is for these reasons why it is so difficult to cleanly define any design discipline, especially golf architecture.


A blending of disciplines is the only way to achieve a success in golf course design that accomplishes all goals and is why one should hire a professional golf course architect who is well-versed in all disciplines. For the next few weeks I will be exploring the broad-ranging answer to this question because it simply cannot be narrowed down to one simple answer. Golf architecture is indeed design, civil engineering, land planning, and environmental science, but it is much more as well.


How do you define golf architecture?

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