What makes for a well-designed golf hole? There are multiple schools of thought on the topic. Some are inclined to think a hole’s greatness is measured by its difficulty. Others would focus on its beauty. In having been a party to many post round conversations, I can attest that others derive their opinion of a hole by its conditioning. As those who listen to the Golf Blurb undoubtedly know, I am a fervent student of the Allister Mackenzie/Bobby Jones School of golf design. Jones and Mackenzie believed that a great golf hole should incorporate as many of a set of key principles as possible.
First, a hole should fit its natural surroundings. This is to say that the work of the golf course architect should be indistinguishable from nature. This presents a significant challenge in South Louisiana as our flat topography doesn’t naturally lend itself to interesting “golfscape”. The successful designer must somehow shape the land into contours that evoke a pleasing reaction aesthetically and present challenging play, all the while not seeming contrived or artificial.
Secondly, the hole should offer strategic options. Instead of forcing a player to proceed down a specific line to the hole, a strategic hole offers the player many potential routes to the green, depending on the player’s ability and risk tolerance. This can be achieved in a number of ways. The designer can simply offer a very wide fairway. He or she can manipulate the angle in which a fairway or green is oriented in relation to the tee. The routes to the fairway or green can also be divided with hazards and bunkering. One problem, with many potential solutions, limited only by the player’s imagination.
A golf hole should also present a challenge to the expert player, and yet be enjoyable to the beginner. This sentiment was perhaps best captured by Bobby Jones, speaking of his philosophy in co-designing Augusta National with Dr. Makensie. To paraphrase, Jones felt that bogies were to be readily available if earnestly sought, pars could be had with routine good play, and birdies were to be dearly bought. For every peril a designer presents, there should be an equal reward for the golfer brave enough to take on the challenge. Conversely, there should be a way around the trouble for the player not skilled or courageous enough to attempt the carry. As oft discussed on the Golf Blurb, it is my opinion that the modern designer relies too heavily on length and water to defend the golf hole. I would contend that challenging greens and surrounds would do the job just as effectively without the frustrations, excessive time requirements, and cost of lost balls to the beginner.
If I were to add my personal thoughts to what makes for a great hole, it would be able to answer the following questions in the affirmative: Do I look forward to playing the hole? Does the hole evoke an “emotional reaction”? (This could mean many things) Does the hole present interesting problems to solve? Does the hole allow for multiple shot shapes to yield desirable results? Does the hole avoid giving the long hitter a full stroke advantage over a shorter player? And perhaps most importantly, Is the hole fun?
To clarify my criteria, I am focusing only on the design of the specific hole, not the quality of the golf course as a whole. I’m also not deducting for course conditions (shaggy greens and hardpan fairways have no bearing on the quality of the hole’s design). This ranking also assumes the player will play from a tee box suited to his or her ability. Lastly, keep in mind that there are many holes that I haven’t played or haven’t played enough to have formed a proper opinion. These is a list of my favorite golf holes in South Louisiana as of today. I would love to hear yours!