What makes a great golf course? Don’t forget the key figures (and committees) behind the scenes

Somerset Hills in Bernardsville, N.J.

Patrick Koenig

Ed. note: With each new Top 100 Courses ranking comes new learnings, both large and small. Our 2021-22 Top 100 World list is no exception. To better understand this ranking’s key trends and takeaways, we asked Ran Morrissett, who manages our ratings panel, for his observations. Here’s the fourth installment of his seven-part series. Stay tuned to GOLF.com in the coming days for more of Morrissett’s insights.


Part I: Pandemic positives
Part II: The return of parkland golf
Part III: Beauty is more than skin deep

Part IV: Thoughtful minds lead to thoughtful courses

To be clear, a bad design that is well presented is still a bad design; it just plays better than it otherwise would. And secondly, so much of the day-to-day play comes down to the talent of the greenkeepers. They are worth their weight in gold. Does Russ Myers enjoy having the ability to cool his greens at Southern Hills (No. 46) through the humid summer months? Of course! What a neat feature to access when needed. But just know that any talented greenkeeper will always find ways to present his course in the best manner possible. Greenkeeping will always be an art form, though science is playing an ever-expanding role.

Aboveground actions, like the removal of poorly situated trees that cast too much shade on playing surfaces or ones that stifle needed airflow, remain as critical to the equation as ever. Less water and less fertilizer are hitting the best courses than 30 years ago. Not only are such changes in greenkeeping practices environmentally friendly, but they are also directly leading to firmer playing surfaces worldwide.

While a great architect and greenkeeper are crucial, a third element also is needed: a knowledgeable green committee. Without their recommendations, nothing happens. Look at the emergence of Old Town (No. 92) onto the world list. Its governing body, led by chair Dunlop White, continually strives for refinements to this 2013 Coore & Crenshaw restoration of a Perry Maxwell classic. For example, gone is the nonsensical band of rough that separates fairways and bunkers, something found at far too many courses.

The trifecta of an intelligent architect, green committee and greenkeeper paved the way for sharp moves of other inland courses in this 2021 ranking. Myopia Hunt Club rose 20 spots to No. 72; Inverness +16 to No. 65; Yeamans Hall unranked to No. 89. Two years ago, Somerset Hills rose 33 spots, Sleepy Hollow broke onto the world list and Southern Hills, site of the 2022 PGA Championship, climbed 20.

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