Course Rater Confidential: What are your main takeaways from golf architecture in 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 are your main takeaways from golf architecture in 2020? Any themes you noticed from GOLF’s Top 100 rankings, or industry trends that you think are here to stay?

Steve Lapper (has played 84 of the World Top 100): Fairway width and green expansions are popular, along with continued tree removal and attention to women’s tees. These trends almost always enhance all courses, whether classic or contemporary. Great architecture has always been about angles and lines of charm. Now more than ever, clubs and their architects are getting the message the game is made more enjoyable by revealing more of the terrain and inviting golfers of all abilities the possibilities of making a special shot where one didn’t have the chance before. I `strongly feel our GOLF Top 100 rankings especially rewarded courses for their architectural fun factors, their playability and their integration into their environments. Difficulty and artificiality probably don’t completely go away, but no longer are they a primary goal. People want the game to provide enjoyment and some test, but unless they are pros, they much prefer the former to the latter. Charm over brawn seems here to stay.

Thomas Brown (has played 95 of the World Top 100): The trend is faster greens with respected architects flattening historic Golden Age greens. Technology and process improvements in conditioning continue to give us faster greens with better turf coverage. Recently I was allowed to crash a lecture given by Professor Thomas Nikolai of Michigan State University. Professor Nikolai is known as “The Doctor of Green Speed,” and it was instructive to peek behind the curtain of the scientist’s unthinkable green-speeds research. Recent improvements in warm season grasses, namely Zeon Zoysia grass in the fairway and TifEagle Bermuda greens, have given us more consistent playability. I enjoy the thrill of swift greens, but two visits to Top 100 courses this year gave me pause. With the recent renovations, reducing the slope in one of the greens at each property was disappointing, as it had taken away from the greensite’s character. Technology will continue to advance.

All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy a linked product, GOLF.COM may earn a fee. Pricing may vary.

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Michael Pelliccione (has played 60 of the World Top 100): What I’m starting to notice is that golf courses that open themselves up by allowing more angles or width allows for more variety, which tend to do really well in the rankings. Courses that force the player to hit a certain shot followed by an equally demanding second shot fail to capture the player’s interest. No. 15 at Ohoopee Match Club is a hole that works wonders with angles. If you’re daring enough to take it down the right side of the fairway, you’ll not only leave yourself with a shorter shot into the green. You’ll also have an approach that avoids all the deep greenside bunkers you’d have to carry if you bailed left off the tee. The 9th hole at Ballyneal is a great example of width. The hole plays about 350 yards with the widest part of the fairway at 200 yards off the tee. If you’re willing to take the driver and shoot it through the 20-yard gap, you’re left with a much easier second into a diabolical green. Also, removing the strokes from your scorecard and allowing a course to be set up more for match play. To steal a line from Ohoopee, “nobody cares what you shot.” Both Ohoopee and Ballyneal were built for match play and I can’t think of two finer examples out there.

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Joe Andriole (has played all of the World Top 100): There appears to be a definite trend toward what I’ll call playability. Fairways are becoming wider, green approaches are opening up and putting surfaces are becoming larger. These changes seem to engender two reactions: the courses are more fun for most players, and easier for good players. Also, the location of bunkers on many courses is as much or more about aesthetics than strategy.

Tim Gallant (has played 62 of the World Top 100): Towards the beginning of the century, I think there was a lot of talk about minimalism, but I think we can safely say that the courses being developed now are leaning toward naturalism instead (i.e. – the method of making something look natural, even if there was significant earth moving). Maybe the good sites just aren’t out there to lend themselves to a minimalistic design, but it seems like architects now are swinging the pendulum back to moving significant amounts of dirt to achieve a certain look.

Adam Messix (has played all of the World Top 100): I agree with Michael; golf is taking a step back to the future with more width and faster golf courses tee to green. There is also a movement to add more texture and contrast to courses, allowing for golf holes to appear as if they are one with nature. If we could only thin the grass out on the fairways a bit and slow the greens down slightly we would truly be back to where golf was in the Golden Age of the 1910s and ’20s.

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