How important is a Golf Course Routing?

A Golf Architect is a bit of a jack of all trades – you need to know a lot about golf, master planning, drainage and civil’s, landscape architecture, Irrigation, agronomy, construction, project management and have good people skills.

Whilst a jack of all trades I am of the opinion that if there was one thing a Golf Architect should be a master at it’s being able to route a golf course. But not just any ‘Plain Jane’ golf course routing rather one that maximises the sites potential and has an abundance of variety and interest.

Eccentric Golf Architect Desmond Muirhead would say that the ‘Routing is the bones,
everything else is flesh’ Alistair Mackenzie in the book ‘The Spirit of St Andrews’ mentions ‘A badly routed and planned golf course can be improved, but it can rarely be made perfect. It is analogous to a badly fitting coat’ Other famed Golf Architects would also weigh in on the importance of a sound routing….it’s that important.

Unfortunately today many golf course are routed to follow some formula and because of this they lack interest. Too many golf courses carry similar traits even if the land the occupy could not be more different. It’s almost as if a strict set of rules were applied to each of these courses.

The best routings seem to embrace and then enhance the existing land features and all seem to have an abundance of variety.

The better routings seem to ebb and flow and have ‘a sense of connection and rythm’ (Tom Simpson) as well.

In my own experience I find my best work is usually a product of having spent as much time as is needed on site at this early stage? I really do enjoy exploring a new site much like a kid looking for treasure. On site I am visualising holes, identifying key features, noting areas of concern and importantly soaking in the character of the place. I am looking for ‘clues’… anything that will help in developing an idea or concept.

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Sometimes getting around site can be a challenge

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Identifying key features on site and then plotting them on the Topo

I am privileged to have visited many of the best golf courses around the globe and this I am convinced has helped me – particularly when working on concept routings. You see I think I have seen enough holes (good and very bad) to know what works and what does not. I have seen all sorts of holes layed out over every conceivable bit of land you can imagine. I have purposely explored, in great detail, some of the best golf routings as well….thinking places like Shinnecock Hills and how about Hamilton Golf Club in Canada. All of this has given me the confidence to explore a multitude of options when working on routings of my own.

I really struggle to think of any top class golf course whose routing does not impress in some way? In many cases what makes these courses so good is that the architect did not follow any set norm …think Cypress Point’s back to back par 3 holes or what of those wonderfully fashioned and quirky holes at Ballybunion Old including back to back par 3s as well. Crystal Downs is another great routed golf course to seek out and explore.

I leave you with these pertinent words from Golden Age Golf Architect Charles Banks (long time associate of Seth Raynor and Charles B Macdonald) ‘Playing a round a golf course is not merely a question of getting around, like travelling over a race course or walking around the block. It rather a question of taking nine or eighteen separate and distinct little journeys, each of which presents its own distinct pictures and its own distinct problems as part of the grand tour’ 

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