As Tom Doak points out in this article about his approach to golf course design, the rules of the game state that a player must play the ball as it lies.
He would argue the same thing should apply to course architects-they should seek out the natural features of the land to decide how to design a particular hole and not add artificial elements simply to make a hole more challenging or visual.
He asserts that the best golf course architects out there “route as many holes as possible whose main features already exist in the landscape, and accent their strategies without overkilling the number of hazards.” The object should be to create holes that challenge a shotmaker to use his judgment to help him succeed not to overwhelm him with a challenge that has only one solution.
Too many designers get carried away with creating artificial challenges instead of studying all the facets of a hole site-topography, vegetation, prevailing wind direction, and the like to choreograph existing conditions to present a challenge that will require the proper combination judgement and shot execution. The best part is that these holes look like they are a product of the natural environment not of the architect’s far fetched imagination.
Those who have seen or played Tom Doak designs like Beechtree Golf Club (of blessed memory) in Aberdeen, Md, Old Macdonald in Bandon Dunes, Atlantic City Country Club, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, or Ballyneal Golf Club in Colorado understand that Doak has created very dramatic and very challenging courses that have a visual appeal and character that look like a natural product of their surroundings.
In an age where name architects seem to be more concerned with expressing their vast ego in their designs or simply creating inordinate challenges to emasculate the best players, there is something to be said for this minimalist approach to course design.
(Click here to read Tom Doak’s article The Minimalist Manifesto)