The key to a good golf course design is in how often golfers of varying skills will want to return and play the course.
The quality of the course design and playing surfaces determines the quality of the golfing experience for members and visitors. A golf course must be memorable and provide enjoyment with the right level of challenge for players of different levels. This requires an understanding of the challenges that invoke the course management skills of the lower handicap golfer and at the same time allows a fair challenge to other golfers. Golf Course Architects recognise the features that make a golf course memorable. Well designed golf holes should also help golfers to improve their standard of play.
With the clubs that I have worked with I have always considered the history as well as the challenge of how we can make the course more memorable for all the right reasons. Often courses have lost their identity over the years and many changes over time have contributed to holes being poorer and less interesting to play. The key to success is in considering each hole, what factors make the hole weak and what can be introduced or altered to make that hole exciting to play. I am not in favour of lengthening a course for the sake of it. If you have a shorter course of say between 5500 and 6200 yards then there may be a real opportunity to create some exciting holes. Longer holes must also be enjoyable and this is achieved with the appropriate level of challenge which does not make them unfair or boring. Creating better holes is a more appropriate objective and whereas it may not always be possible to make significantly greater improvements there is always something that can be done to improve a hole. As I said in the Introduction this need not be expensive. Most of my improvements have been carried out in-house at relatively low cost.
I do prefer making holes more challenging, which can involve reinstating greenside bunkers to their original, deeper, design. Also by "adjusting" the planting either adding or removing longer grasses, bushes or trees to re-define the challenge. Utilising natural hazards is an important element in creating good golf holes. I also prefer to eliminate the unfair elements so that every level of golfer has a fair challenge to overcome and develop their game. Designing a golf hole that forces a player to think about their shots goes a long way to being more interesting to play as well as helping players to take the right approach to getting a good score.
Let's put some enjoyment back into our courses and help golfers to have fun rather than have them feel that it is just a slog every time they play. Let's give members and visitors an incentive to want to return and play again!
Remodelled hole 6 at Lanark showing the new fairway bunkers in the foreground with the new green and surrounds in the distance. And below a close-up of the green.