Course Rater Confidential: What was your favorite design feature of 2020?

GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture. You can see GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the World ranking here, and our Top 100 Courses in the U.S. here. Meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.

Though this past year did not allow for the kind of travel many of us might have liked, a number of our course raters still managed to get out and about. Here, as part of our 2020 recap, we’ll let them break down the most memorable of golf architecture and golf courses in 2020.

What was your favorite design feature of 2020?

Steve Lapper (has played 84 of the World Top 100): The not quite/almost greenside “deception” bunker. A.W. Tillinghast, Walter Travis and Donald Ross were great practitioners of this kind of Jedi-mind trick. These bunkers appear to sit beside the front of a green, yet are often set back 10 to 20 yards and must be carried to avoid facing a dicey play on your next. Prime examples of this are the 11th at Hollywood GC; the 8th at Paramount CC; and the 2nd or 11th at Mountain Ridge CC. It’s taxing yet fun to plan the correct approach trajectory.

Thomas Brown (has played 95 of the World Top 100): With Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes opening as a bunker-less golf course, 2020 highlighted that unique design feature. The 4th hole at The Honors Course in Tennessee has a bunker-less greensite and is memorable for its challenging strategy. Pete Dye designed the plateau green on the par-4 hole to be set diagonally to the approach shot from the fairway. It is one of the more subtle holes I’ve seen from Dye, and hole locations in the front-right corner are daunting. This approach shot is a place for caution.

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Michael Pelliccione (has played 60 of the World Top 100): I wouldn’t say one single design feature caught my eye in 2020, but rather an ongoing movement: To make golf more enjoyable and grow the game, you need to capture the players’ interest and let them have some fun — you want them coming back for more. New-age developments like Friar’s Head, Sand Valley, Bandon Dunes and Congaree have caught on and made their courses do just that. We are also starting to see a lot more restoration/renovation pop up at world-class venues. Places like California Golf Club, Old Town Club and Sleepy Hollow Country Club — which were daring enough to give their membership an entirely new course — are being rewarded with their place in the most recent GOLF Top 100 rankings. I expect this trend to continue in the years to come.

Joe Andriole (has played all of the World Top 100): I’m a big fan of bunkers in the direct line of play: cross-bunkering, “Principal’s Noses,” etc. Their inclusion on modern designs like Isleworth and their reinvigoration on many Tillinghast renovations — like Baltrusol Lower and Sand’s Point — are quite satisfying.

Tim Gallant (has played 62 of the World Top 100): I’ll cheat a bit on this, but I love a course that starts with two half-par holes. On Sunningdale Golf Club’s Old course, there is an easy par-5 opener, followed by one of the toughest par-4s on the course. At Woking, there is a drivable par-4 opener followed by a long and tricky par-3. They say par is relative, but these courses test that theory and start to play tricks on the mind right from the start.

Adam Messix (has played all of the World Top 100): I love seeing how more courses are widening fairways so that players can use the terrain to work their ball toward the target. Several holes come to mind, notably the 10th at St. George’s (N.Y.) and 15th at Congaree (S.C.). It’s a shame the ball flies so far and straight for the best players, as it would be fun to see them have to play different types of shots, using more creativity. The other thing I see is more variety in hole lengths and how they are set up day to day. There’s no hard-and-fast rule that you should play one tee box from all the way back on every hole.

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