What exactly makes a golf course great? Scores of weighty volumes and a zillion breezy blog posts have addressed this question, many of them settling on this answer: Great courses marry artistry and scenery with shot-making variety in a manner that blends seamlessly with their surroundings. That’s for starters. The consensus holds that great courses also make you think. They engage and entertain. Offer up any of these observations with your pals over a post-round drink and it’s unlikely anyone will argue. But they may come back with “How about some examples?”
To help you strike an authoritative stance without coming off as a windbag, we asked a quartet of premier architects — Tom Doak, Bill Coore, David McLay Kidd and Jim Wagner — to discuss their own work as illustrations of how their design ideas play out in the field.
Architect: Bill Coore
Course: Barnbougle Lost Farm
Design principle: Test a range of skills
A great design should make a player hit every club in the bag. Like anyone who’s been around the game awhile, Bill Coore has been confronted with that blanket statement more than he’d care to mention.
His reply: “That depends on who is playing.”
A better measure, the architect would argue, is a course that presents golfers of all abilities with a compelling but realistic challenge, coaxing them to try a variety of shots that test the boundaries of their skills. No wonder Coore has an affinity for short par 4s like this one.
From its starting point just inland, at modest elevation, the 14th at Lost Farm — the Tasmanian course designed by Coore and his partner Ben Crenshaw — drops gently toward a fairway that surges toward a green nestled in the coastal dunes. Part of the hole’s allure is that it lies so naturally on the land it looks as if it’s always been there (bonus points in almost any course ranking!).
But even more important, Coore would argue, is the way it avails itself to different styles of play. While a big knocker can drive it, there are risks to rearing back and blasting. Right is no bargain, thanks to an imposing green-side bunker and a tangle of marram grasses. The left side of the fairway slopes into a valley, leaving an awkward pitch to a slender, angled target that is everything a scratch golfer can handle. The shorter hitter, laying up, still has to take a proper line to have a straightforward approach, but the shot is within reach, even for a novice.
“Strength alone is not a guaranteed advantage,” Coore says.
With design as equalizer, birdie or double is in the cards for everyone, using almost any club in the bag.