Postcard From Goat Hill Park

Goat Hill Park LogoIf you are in the vicinity of Carlsbad, California there is a golf destination about 10 miles north, in the surf town of Oceanside, that you should go out of your way to experience.

Goat Hill Park has a golf vibe that all municipal golf courses should strive for, including affordable rates, full featured practice facilities, their three-hole “Playground” approach and putt course for kids that actually grows the game, and a unique 18-hole Par 65 executive course that will test your golf skill set and stimulate your senses with panoramic views of the hills of Oceanside and the Pacific Ocean.

Over the years the facility struggled financially and there have been repeated attempts by developers to consume this property for just another commercial or residential development. But the locals have had to foresight to fend them off and a recent revitalization project spearheaded by John Ashworth brought Goat Hill facilities and amenities up to World Class but kept the spirit of the operation in tact to serve the Working Class as their motto indicates.  The result is now a thriving and affordable community resource that all can enjoy on a regular basis.

Golf Shop Front

The community anointed the name Goat Hill because of the severity of the land  Ludwig Keehn had to use to morph an old 9-hole course into an 18-Hole Par 65 short course in the early 1990’s.  General public weekday rates are $42 to walk-$58 to ride and considerably less for members, local residents, and seniors.  Kids can walk for $10 and ride for $17.

Tin Goat

Inside the modest golf shop fit for the working class clientele, you are greeted with all sorts of nostalgic memorabilia including pictures of celebrities like Bill Murray, Adam Scott, Kelly Slater, and others who have frequented this place.  There is also an ample selection of domestic and regional beer at surprisingly affordable prices.

Old Clubs

The annual Wishbone Brawl Tournament has attracted some pretty well known professionals to participate….many who live in southern California drop in from time to time to refresh their golf batteries.

Wishbone Scoreboard

There is a weekly Friday afternoon Skins Games that is a hotbed for locals as well as an array of other robustly attended competitions run through the year.  They have a vibrant junior golf program, a women’s league, and even disc golf for those with that apptitude.

Goat Hill Match Play

Disc Golf Flag

A section of the matted driving range bays feature Foresight Game Improvement Technology but as you can see it is not a Starbuck’s crowd that is hanging about this place.

McCafe Cup

Folks of all ages and backgrounds make use of these practice facilities, some bring along their furry support staff to dutifully oversee their practice sessions.  This one is clearly channeling her inner Sean Foley.

Range Guard

There are three putting greens about.  One large enough for full-fledged short game practice,  a second for remedial putting work, and one next to the first tee for a last minute  warm up before the round.

Goat Hill Practice Green

To me the centerpiece of Goat Hill Park is “The Playground”, a three-hole Approach and Putt Course suited for kids (who play for free) or for anyone new to the sport who wants to develop their game.  The Playground has short grass everywhere with sculpted green complexes sprawling across rolling contours… is mezzanine golf….actual golf between the range and the course.

The Playground-Kids Course-Gate

Playground Empty

In the middle of the afternoon you can see hordes of youngins chirping and frolicking about in a real party atmosphere that encourages exploration, experimentation, and refinement of their developing golf skills….or simply having fun.

Playground #1

Playground #3

Then there is the real course, a hilly, rambling roller-coaster affair.  8 Par 3’s, 9 hybrid Par 4’s, and 1 not so Par 5 with kitschy names will test you, taunt you, and eventually give you a few reasons to come back again.  Multiple sets of tees for folks of varying ability and a special forward tee that makes up the “Mini-Goat”… approach and putt derivation for those who find the many uphill holes a mountain too high to climb.

Goat Hill Park Scorecard

Tee Stanchion

Mini Goat

There is good grass where it matters and no grass where it does not (which saves on maintenance and makes finding an errant shot pretty easy).  Plenty of forced carries off the tee and well protected small turtle back greens on the other end.  It is like there was a yard sale at a used VW dealership and they simply buried 14 old Beetles and grassed them over.  Holding an approach pitch or simply two-putting is a real challenge on The Goat.

#1 Fairway

#1 Revetted Bunker

Precipice green settings just about everywhere.  Besides negotiating elevation changes that will defy the slope adjustment setting on your Bushnell, there is virtually no bail out spot on most of them.  Hit it where you are aiming or play the next one from the oblivion.  Those who have any sense will play a match with a buddy and forget keeping a medal score.  But you have to admit the horizon views are breathtaking.

#5 Green Par 3

#10 Green Par 4

“Oz”, the finishing hole on the outward half, speaks volumes to what Goat Hill Park is all about.  Simple 100-yard pitch into an amphitheater green complex is a birdie chance a lurkin’.  Note the plethora of homemade viewing benches that adorn the surrounding hills to provide ample seating for adoring crowds of people and dogs for the big events.

#9 Green Par 3

Goat Hill Park is a must visit for anyone with a serious golf bucket list.  You will walk away from this experience with a dented ego but a head full of good vibes from this very unique golf destination.

February, 2023


Oasis at Rancho Park

When people talk about playing golf in L.A. it is always the posh private places like Riviera and L.A. Country Club that get mentioned.  But right in the center of town, just off West Pico Blvd above Santa Monica is one gem of a municipal course called Rancho Park.

The fountains are period pieces…reminder of a less posh time in L.A.

Rancho Park FountainThe current course at Rancho Park was designed by William “Billy” Bell in 1949 on the site of an old Herbert Fowler design that preceded it.  The course was the home of the L.A. Open back in the 1960’s and has the distinction of being the first place Jack Nicklaus won a check as a professional….around $33 and change.

It also has the infamous distinction-memorialized by a meditation bench and a plaque behind the 18th tee-where Arnold Palmer made 12 of the finishing Par 5 in the L.A. Open after splitting the fairway with his tee ball and then hitting four balls O.B.

The meditation bench behind 18..chill while waiting for the driving area to clear

The meditation bench..chill while waiting for the fairway to clear on 18.

Original plaque details Arnie’s 12 in the final round of the 1963 Los Angeles Open-two into the range and two on to Patricia Ave.


The updated bronze memorial put up in 2017 after Arnie’s passing

PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, and Senior Tour events have all been held on this track.  The list of winners in the L.A. Open  at Rancho Park during the period from 1956 to 1972 is a who’s who of great players from the era.  They include Lloyd Mangrum, Doug Ford,  Frank Stranahan (amateur), Ken Venturi, Arnold Palmer (3 times), Bob Goalby, Dow Finsterwald, Charlie Sifford, and Billy Casper.

Wall of Winners in the hallway to the Rancho Park Restaurant

In spite of it’s municipal conditioning-it’s location means it gets over 100,000 rounds a year-this course has the bones of a championship layout.  The back nine in particular has some incredibly cool holes that will challenge you skill set.

Three putting greens out front…you can lose serious change to a hustling local

putting-greenThis was recommended to me by a number of guys who have played the best L.A. has to offer as a place well worth spending an afternoon of adventurous golf.  They were not wrong….it is worth letting your hair down, renting a hand cart, and walking this most enjoyable track in the middle of Los Angeles.

September, 2016


Kyle Franz-A New Name To Remember

Making a name for yourself in the Course Architecture is often about spending extensive apprentice time with crack designers who have made names for themselves before you. Kyle Franz has taken this route and is well on his way to the top of the “next best” category of designers under 40.

Franz found his first job with Tom Doak when he begged him for a position at age 19 on the team doing Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes. He went on to work with Doak at Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, Coore and Crenshaw in their restoration of Pinehurst #2, Kyle Phillips at the Cal Club, and, most recently, with Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner on the Olympic Course in Rio.

As you can read in this fascinating interview with GolfClubAtlas, Franz brought to these experiences an exuberance of youth, an adhesive mind, and a creative imagination. Being around these designers he soaked in their appreciation of the work of admired designers from the Golden Age of Design like Ross, Raynor, MacDonald, Tillinghast, Mackenzie, and others. He also made sure to do the extra curricular study time of these great designers and their work that related to the projects he was working on.

Greenside bunkering on the majestic #5 at Mid Pines is devilish

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHis big break came while working on the Pinehurst #2 restoration when he had a chance meeting at a cocktail party with Kelly Miller the president of the Pine Needles and Mid Pines Resort in Pinehurst. The owners of this storied old place were contemplating a restoration of their vintage Donald Ross course and what they saw the Coore and Crenshaw team do at #2 was in the front of their mind.

Franz had done extensive research of Ross’s work at Mid Pines at the Tufts Archives while working on the Pinehurst #2 project so he brought an impressive understanding of the original Ross design and had a plan in his head on how to restore it to the original Ross ideals.

Taking a flyer on a young mind with big dreams they hired Franz to do the restoration of Mid Pines and what resulted was a win-win situation for both of them. Franz delivered a fabulous return of Mid Pines to it’s full glory.

His work at Mid Pines is a pure Donald Ross Pinehurst restoration

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Click to read the GolfClubAtlas review of Kyle Franz’s restoration of Mid-Pines)

As you can read in the interview his thought processes during this renovation were ambitious and creative. His use of materials and resources already on the grounds allowed him to complete all the work for under $1 million dollars to the owner’s delight.

The most interesting part of the conversation are his revelations of the work he did with Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in creating the course in Rio for the 2016 Olympics. Still fresh in our minds from the Olympic competitions this summer, Franz gives real insight into what they had in mind and what they accomplished with this new offering.  His references to holes at North Berwick,  The Old Course, and Royal Melbourne  indicate the source of many design concepts were from the classic links and sand belt courses of the British Isles and Australia.

Franz has since brought his talents to bear on a number of other prestigious re-do’s of classic courses that have come his way. Working on restorations of places like Pine Needles for Miller, Seth Raynor’s Country Club of Charleston, and, maybe the most intriguing of them all, a restoration of the old Wood’s Hole Golf Course in Cape Code, he has fast established himself for the right opportunity to build his first Franz creation from scratch.

After reading this interview I think you will come to the same conclusion.

(Click to read the Kyle Franz GolfClubAtlas Interview)

August, 2016


The Golden Age of Golf Course Design

The Golden Age of Golf Design LogoAt the turn of the century golf course design in the United States was in a nascent and mundane state. Building a new course was pretty much about staking holes in straight lines on flat terrain with a few hurdle hazards to make it challenging. Thankfully with the immigration of golf “professionals” from Scotland and England in the early 1900’s the strategic thoughts and concepts of course design from the links courses of the British Isles started to infiltrate the thinking as new courses were built to meet a fast growing interest in golf in the states.

In his book “The Golden Age of Golf Design” journalist and author Geoff Shackelford catalogs the accomplishments of a new age of golf course architects that marked the most prolific and creative period of course design in the past century. Men like Charles Blair Macdonald, Seth Raynor, George Crump,  George Thomas, Donald Ross, Hugh Wilson, William Flynn, A. W. Tillinghast, and Alister MacKenzie completely changed course construction introducing new and bolder routings, hazards, and green complexes to usher in a new strategic approach to course design.

These guys and their associates were downright prolific-the number of courses in the U.S. expanded from around 700 in 1916 to over 5900 by 1930. They went on to produce some of the most memorable courses as well.  As Shackelford points out a Golfweek list of the Top 100 American Courses opened before 1960 indicates that 84 of the top 100 were constructed between 1910 and 1937.

The Golden Age of Golf Design is a beautiful leather bound biographical encyclopedia of information on about 40 of the most influential characters of this period. To make this intelligible Shackelford groups the architects into five-plus “schools of design” of his own making-The National School, The Philadelphia School, The Ross School, The MacKenzie School, The Monterey School, and Other Schools. Each school is made up of a number of architects who studied each other’s works and helped leverage new course production in different regions of the country. What defies his distinctions is that many of these designers cross pollinated schools by expanding their contributions across the country and even around the globe. But there is little doubt that the era spawned mentorship and collaboration which hastened the proliferation of new and better designs
over a very short period of time.

Shackelford provides well researched detail of the interactions of these designers to explain the evolution and dissemination of the new strategic concepts. He has a credential page on each architect which includes their interests, published writings, career influences, golfing ability, methodology, design characteristics, best original designs,
and a personal quote. He supports this with a trove of original black and white photos of the holes from some of our classic golf courses to give context to their conceptual elements.

A wonderful accent to the book are the watercolor drawings of Mike Miller on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter of iconic holes from Merion, Los Angeles Country Club, Royal Country Down, Pine Valley, and Pebble Beach among others. The vivid renderings give the reader a surreal feeling for the character and design of these classic courses.

Geoff’s book provides a synthesized understanding of the contributions of these designers and their influences on each other in setting a new standard for quality course design in the Golden Age. For an armchair course architect the book is a go-to reference manual that codifies the genealogy of the influential architects from the most significant age of American golf course design.

The Golden Age of Golf Course Design
Geoff Shackelford (1999)


Donald Ross Meets The Wayback Machine

Pinehurst 2 US Open LogoWhen the head honchos of Pinehurst called on Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2008 to consider restoring the famed Pinehurst #2 to it’s original Donald Ross character they had to feel like Mr. Peabody and Sherman cranking up the old Jay Ward Wayback Machine.

Coore and Crenshaw (C & C) were the obvious choice for this task because of their success with sand based terrain in Nebraska and Oregon and their reputation for copious attention to architectural detail of the classic golf courses. With the USGA’s Mike Davis enthusiastic in supporting this change it added to the pressure that it would need to be done in time to showcase #2 for unprecedented back-to-back appearances of the men’s and women’s U.S. Open Championships at Pinehurst in June of 2014.

From it’s introduction in 1907 Pinehurst #2 was Donald Ross’s obsession. He spent the next 35 years tinkering with a flat piece of North Carolina sand hills terrain turning it into one of the most captivating strategic golf challenges in the states. It built it’s reputation through the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s hosting some of the most important annual professional and amateur events and national championships in the game of golf.

Bronze tribute to Donald Ross the famed designer of Pinehurst #2

Embed from Getty Images

Ross’s architectural principles were pretty simple-use the sandy base to create a wide open hard and fast running layout with interesting twists and curves into accessible small convex green arrangements made up of sharp falloffs, grassy hollows, and bunkers. In the original design there was virtually no rough just wide fairways between the tree lines and primitive adjacent landscape full of sand, scrub brush, and wiry vegetation.

This put a premium on making the right positioning decisions off the tee for the day’s flag position. Executing precise approach shots into these mounded green complexes would be the key and being able to play creative recovery shots when they were rejected would be equally important.

This style of design lent itself to flexibility in strategic approach and enjoyment of the game by players of wide ranging golf aptitudes. As George Waters says in his book “Sand and Golf-How Terrain Shapes The Game”, “Too many golf courses focus on separating a good shot from a bad one. The real goal should be to separate a good shot from a great one, while allowing the bad shots to eventually find their way home”. Pinehurst #2 was always a championship caliber course playable by every man.

Time and taste in golf course design changed all of that and the owners of Pinehurst #2 let it morph over decades into a Bermuda grass laden array of 18 lush green bowling alleys between the pine trees. It lost the unique rugged look and strategic character that Ross had envisioned. Worse, the holes meandered off the original strategic lines that Ross had created.

By the end of 2008 the groundswell of criticism got to the owners and C & C were brought in to rediscover and reveal the original Donald Ross intent. They were given a Carte Blanche to do whatever they felt need to happen to bring #2 back to it’s original glory. For the most iconic golf resort in the U.S. this was not without great risk since the American golfer’s appetite for the lush Augusta Green look had not abated.

C & C started the work in 2009 and two very fortunate things happened early in the process. First, Bob Farren, Pinehurst’s director of course maintenance, told Coore that the original center fairway irrigation line installed 80 years ago and long since abandoned was still in the ground. Revealing that line and an associate 30 yards on either side of it gave them the original fairway borders to work with. They now had an accurate skeleton of the original design.

Second, Craig Disher, a Pinehurst resident who knew spent much of his retirement years studying course design, revealed a cache of low-level aerial photos taken by the War Department in 1943 which would provide them with the blueprints they would need of original green sizes, fairway lines, and shapes of bunkers. These photos proved invaluable during restoration in understanding and implementing the original design and intent.

Over the next four years the C & C operatives marshaled the stripping of over 35 to 40 acres of lush green Bermuda rough grass and the reintroduction of the natural sand and scrub off fairway areas of Ross’s day. The replacement of this rough with sparse native planting created natural looking inconsistent rough areas with a perfect balance of penalty and recovery available. Pros and schlubs alike meandering off the fairways would be presented with a new set of strategic decisions to make off of unpredictable lies.

Approach and recovery from this makes Pinehurst #2 unique

Embed from Getty Images

As Waters says, “On well designed sandy courses, the interplay between firm conditions and clever architecture places approach and recover shots among the highlights of any round”. The added bonus was the restored #2 had 700 less sprinkler heads and needed 40 percent less irrigation to maintain it’s firm and fast playability.

The routing of the course did not change so the basic 70 par and strategic approach to playing is in tact.  Mike Davis of the USGA did prevail on C & C to flip the par on the 4th and 5th holes.  The 5th was the hardest par 4 on the course and with a new tee lengthening the yardage into the high 500’s it will now be the hardest par 5 on the course.  The main difference is that the 6 or 7 some of the players would have made on the hole anyway will seem less of a self-esteem issue.  The 4th had the tee relocated to the original Ross location  further to the left.  It now will be a seriously long wrap around dogleg left par 4 where a pitch and a putt may be needed to save par.

With the two U.S. Open Championships now at hand it will be up to the professionals to give the renewed Pinehurst #2 their blessings as an appropriate venue for competitive golf at it’s highest level. It will remain for the owners to convince the green’s fee paying public that brown is the new green. Then this entire experiment might turn out to be, pardon the Jay Ward pun, a watershed moment in the time-line of American golf course design.

June, 2014

Alister MacKenzie Approach and Putt Course

When Bobby Jones contracted Alister MacKenzie to design and build the course at Augusta National he had in mind two courses not one. The land proved insufficient for two full length courses so Jones suggested a short Approach and Putt Course instead for the second layout.

As Josh Pettit revealed in a Golf World article on April 7, 2014, the plans for this unique layout were found recently in the archives of the Fredrick Law Olmsted landscape architecture firm from Brookline, Massachussetts. This was the only copy of the original plans for the Augusta National Approach and Putt Course MacKenzie designed in 1932. The course was never built because of the dire economic times of the 1930’s.

Proposed Augusta National Approach and Putt Course (courtesy of National Park Service)

Proposed Augusta National Approach and Putt Course (courtesy of National Park Service)

What makes this concept so unique is that this was to be done with nine double greens to serve the 18 holes. This same idea had been proffered by MacKenzie for a proposed private course in Argentina in 1930 called El Boqueuron “The Lost Mackenzie”. While in his creative prime,  the beginning of The Great Depression sent MacKenzie global in search of new work. In spite of economic hard times in Argentina the very wealthy elite asked him to design two courses at The Jockey Club in Buenos Aires. While he was there he met with a wealthy land baron and proposed an 18-hole course on his private estate with nine double greens.

The Approach and Putt Course greens were to be from 7,500 to almost 15,000 square feet and set on opposing angles to two different tee approaches. No bunkers on the course, just a meandering brook that cuts across six holes on the course. Jones wanted a friendly practice facility that was “intended for enjoyment rather than frustration”. These were to be sprawling MacKenzie green complexes that would provide many memorable moments for those enjoying a short afternoon stroll with a few clubs.
Take ten minutes and read this marvelous article on the Jones/MacKenzie collaboration at Augusta which focuses on the concept and design of this Approach and Putt Course as it appeared on the website through the link below.

It is hard to imagine how Augusta National could have been more special but this would have addedanother unique aspect to this golf treasure.

(Click to read about the proposed Augusta National Approach and Putt Course)

Robert Hunter

March, 2014

Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes The Game

Sand and GolfPlaying on the links at Royal Dornoch or Pacific Dunes or The Old Course you cannot help but understand that there is is a different type of golf you are asked to play.   Links golf is played closer to the ground, emphasizing finesse and position,  thoughtful approach and recovery.   This style of golf in unique both in strategy and shot implementation.  The lure of links golf is infectious to those who have experienced it and explains why so many of us will travel to obscure destinations to experience it again and again.  The subtle question that almost never occurs to us when we are playing links golf is how much does the sandy soil itself account for the character of these courses and the style of play they dictate.

To George Waters, a course architect with plenty of credential from working on sandy soil terrain, this seemed a subject worth addressing in a book.  He has worked on the construction or renovation of some of the best sandy soil courses in the world including Barnbougle Dunes in Australia, Sebonack in Long Island, The Renaissance Club in Scotland, and Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina.   He spent considerable time working at Royal Dornoch as well as studying courses in the Sand Belt of Australia, Bandon Dunes in Oregon, the Sand Hills of Nebraska, and links courses throughout the British Isles.

His photographs and the accompanying text convey how the sandy soil and the topography that has evolved with it provide an opportunity for architects to create these sand based links, wonderful compilations of features provided by the great greenskeeper in the sky and some thoughtful contributions of their own.   With a unique set of elements   “designers let terrain shape the game rather than the other way around…. the key is to give players room to adjust their strategy to the conditions and their style of play.   This puts a premium on analysis and problem solving, making golf more a thinking game.”

Water’s asserts that sandy soil gives these architects the optimal conditions for creative design.  The rapidly draining turf allows them to maintain firm and fast conditions almost all the time.  The natural depressions in fairways and greens can be employed in the design since they will not collect water creating troublesome soggy areas.  Hearty long stemmed fescue and bent grasses thrive in this soil and can be kept closely cropped to allow for consistent firm and fast conditions.

Nature’s evolutionary effect on the sand based topography creates an array of natural hazards the designer only needs to compose rather than create.  Fierce and penal blow out bunkers are only a scratch of the surface away which allows more arbitrary location of the fairway bunkers.  Existing grassy mounds and protrusions can be employed in the lines of play to force strategic choices that need to be carefully considered but depending on the day’s wind direction and intensity.  Native grasses and low growth plantings can be used to shore up these natural hazards further erosion and give these hazards an aged, seamless character “blurring the edges between golf and nature”.

These same native grasses create rough that is imposing but playable, “the perfect balance between penalty and recovery”.  With the exception of the prickly dense gorse bushes that impose their presence on some sandy soil courses, recovery shots from the rough require a calculated assessment to determine just how much recovery is plausible on the next shot.   Approach and recovery play a pivotal role on this type of course.  “On well designed sandy courses, the interplay between firm conditions and clever architecture places approach and recovery shots among the highlights of any round.”

Playing these courses we come to quickly understand that the irregular natural terrain and the ever present wind dictate a more grounded style of play.  Mildly articulated washboard roll outs or heaving tempests of hummocks and hollows can lead to existential shot results. A strategy of play to minimize their effect must be respected.  But these same topographical irregularities are an ally in controlling the pace of a ground approach to firm, contoured, and wind swept greens that may not abide an airborne approach.

He talks at length about the green complexes on sandy soil courses being in sync with the topography.  “Fairways relate to approaches, and approaches to greens, with continuity that is nearly impossible to achieve on other types of terrain.”   Table top greens, greens with shoulder pads, punch bowl greens, greens with sweeping contours, and greens that just seem to be a natural extension of the fairway all are possible on this sandy soil base.  With the challenge these complexes present green speeds do not have to be pushed to the maximum to challenge even the best players-this makes the course more playable and fun for players of all ability.

Waters concludes, “It is much easier to design and maintain a golf course in harmony with a sandy environment.  On a forested site, comprised of heavy soils and replete with ponds and bogs, a golf course is more an installation in the landscape than a natural part of it.”  The character of sandy soil courses “illustrate the advantages of valuing fun and playability above difficulty and perfect conditions, as well as the benefits that come with accepting some natural imperfection.”

If books like “Scotland-Where Golf Is Great”, “Emerald Gems-Links of Ireland”,  “Links Golf” by Paul Daley and “Grounds For Golf” already adorn your personal golf library, “Sand and Golf” will find a comfortable spot right beside them.

Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes The Game

George Waters (2013)

January, 2014


True Links

True LInksTwo former editors of golf magazines of substance have put together ‘True Links’ an illustrated guide to the 246 Links golf courses in the world.  Much in the vein of Larry Lambrecht’s ‘Emerald Gems’ and James Finegan’s ‘Scotland-Where Golf Is Great’ this is a thoughtful presentation of photos and supporting research on the links courses that define the game of golf.

George Peper, a former editor of Golf Magazine, and Malcolm Campbell, a former editor of Golf Monthly, bring their expertise to the task of defining and documenting the active links courses around the world.  Augmented by the vivid photography of Iain Lowe and other supporting photographers this book brings to life the grandeur of links courses from the British Isles and around the world and puts their individual stories in the context of the evolution of golf over the centuries.

Their premise is that links courses remain the soul of a game that has spawned over 30,000 golf playing grounds around the world.  In the prologue they say, “Links golf is the game distilled to its core virtues.  To walk beside the sea with a brisk breeze on your cheek and firm,sandy turf beneath your feet is to experience golf not only as it was hundreds of years ago but arguably as it should be today-a simple, beguiling game in need of no embellishment.”

If you asked the greatest players who ever played the game where they would prefer to play every day links courses like The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Country Down, Muirfield, and Ballybunion would come to their lips.  The style of golf these courses demand bring out the deep seated talents of all players so the satisfaction of playing them well is very special.

Tom Watson, arguably one of the most successful players in Open Championships contested on links courses, slowly came to accept and embrace the demands of links golf.  He describes what he discovered, “Don’t fight it…enjoy it.  Solve the puzzle……Calculating the wind, allowing for the firm terrain, trusting your judgment and feel…that is the joy of playing a links.  You need almost a sixth sense, an ability to adjust to all the conditions and somehow get your ball to travel the proper distance-whether through the air or along the ground.  That is the essence of links golf.  But the links giveth and the links taketh away.  It can be cruel and beautiful in the same round, occasionally on the same hole, and once in a while on the same shot.  When you figure out all the equations properly and the shot comes off as intended, nothing is more satisfying.”  I have a feeling Phil has come to share this sentiment recently.

True Links begins by defining what distinguishes under 250 of the courses in the world as Links courses.  The British Golf Museum in St. Andrews defines linksland as “a stretch of land near the coast…characterized by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil, and indigeneous grasses as marram, sea lyme, and the fescues and bents which, when properly managed, produce the fine textured tight turf for which links are famed.”  Add to this the quirky and sudden changes of wind and rain that seaside venues present and you have a chess game on grass against the elements and the higher order who choreographs them.

The result of this requirement of turf, terrain, and weather is that many of the most familiar and storied seaside courses are left off of the list of Links courses.  Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, Whistling Straits, Shinnecock Hills, and The Ocean Course at Kiawah are spectacular and challenging venues we equate with links golf but they lack either the firm sandy turf, the associated dunes, or the close proximity to the sea that strictly defines a links course and the brand of low to the ground golf associated with them.

The authors pay homage to the great architects that drew links courses out of the unique terrain nature presented in the British Isles.  From Old Tom Morris to Harry Colt, James Braid, C.B. MacDonald, Alistar MacKenzie, Donald Ross, and A.W. Tillinghast they show the linkage of thought and design the great architects made studying the challenges of links courses and how they incorporated them into what would become the classic courses of the Golden Age of Course Architecture.   This respect for links design feature continues to be seen in the contemporary work of Pete Dye, Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore and others in places like Whistling Straits, Bandon Dunes, Sand Hills, and Cabot Links.

The Crucible is a chapter dedicated to the grand daddy of them all, The Old Course at St. Andrews.  Tracing it back to days of shepherds hitting rocks with their herding staffs, through Royal edicts against playing, to Rabbit Wars for the land’s usage, we get a sense of how the game evolved.  Rules, equipment, course construction and maintenance were forged over centuries throughout Scotland.  The standard of the number of holes, the routing, the cup, the ball, and all the rest came from trial and error and the guiding will of a series of individuals who sought to regiment and standardize the game they were playing.

What follows is a chapter called The Icons which gives vibrant imagery and context to the 25 links courses that have defined the game.  Quirky courses-Lahinch and Ballybunion, original classics-Prestwick, North Berwick, and Rye, the full array of Royals-Aberdeen, Birkdale, St. Georges and Portrush , and the mysticals- Royal Dornoch and Royal County Down come to life as the authors explain the developmental history and unique characters of these pioneering links.

The Classics are the next level spawned by the Icons-they are the broader inventory we have come to know as links courses.  Many are familiar, Machrihanish, Lundin Links, Waterville, Country Sligo, and St. Andrews Jubilee.  Others less so The Island, Enniscronne, Gullane, Aberdovey, and Ballyliffen.   From there they go to The Exotics covering the links courses outside the British Isles in The Neatherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

The journey ends with The Moderns, links courses that have come on line in the last forty years and reinvigorated the interest of golfers in the true tradition of the game.  New entries in Ireland-Tralee, Doonbeg, and The European Club, Scotland-Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, and Trump International, and North America-Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old MacDonald, and Cabot Links are testimony that the influence of links golf design on the pleasure and enjoyment of golf continues.

Peper and Campbell argue that the future of golf remains in the hands of this movement.  The demands of environmental responsibility and financial viability in developing new courses once again directs the architect’s attention to the minimalist approach to designing and maintaining a links course.  Jim Arthur, an agronomist and promoter of natural links in Scotland put this way.  “Lack of money has always been a great limiting influence on the making of mistakes.  The poorest clubs have the best courses…in greenskeeping one should ask a farmer what to do and then go and do exactly the opposite.”   The coast of Oregon and Nova Scotia, the sand hills of Nebraska, and down under in Tasmania Australia credence has been paid to this notion with fine result.

For an understanding of the place of links courses in the historical time line of golf, simple reminiscence of the places one has played, or in developing a bucket list of what is yet to come, True Links is a book that should have a place on your library shelf.  This is a book you will reach for on a regular basis.

True Links

George Peper and Malcolm Campbell (2010)

October, 2013


Royal Hague: Links Golf In The Netherlands

While at the PGA Show a few years ago I had the pleasure of spending some time talking to Larry Lambrecht the renowned golf photographer about his work shooting stunning golf landscapes all over the world.  I asked him what is the next must visit golf destination that no one currently talks about.  Without hesitation he replied “The links courses of the Netherlands”.

Have to admit I was astounded by that answer since I had never heard mention of any golf courses in the Netherlands.  It is three years later and I finally stumbled on something to back up Larry’s assertion, a couple of pieces on the Golf Club Atlas website about Kennemer Golf and Country Club, site of this year’s KLM Open, and Royal Hague a three-shot par five from Amsterdam. I have to say it makes me feel like wooden shoes with Soft Spikes are in my future.

The Netherlands sits due east of Britain, just across the North Sea.  Despite the fact that 20% of the country is below sea level, the Netherlands has an abundance of dunes land stretching the length of it’s western shoreline.  In many areas the dune band is as much as 3 to 5 kilometers wide, far wider than the dune bands of eastern Scotland, and they are replete with the full variety of characteristics-big dunes, sandy soil, seaside flora and the like-needed for fine links golf courses.

Back in the Golden Age of Course Architecture Harry Colt, one of the prominent British architects of the time, ventured across the sea to build the first links course in the Netherlands at Kennemer in the mid 1920’s.  He built the bulk of his unique courses in the Netherlands by the end of the decade.  But his firm, Colt, Alison, and Morrison, was contracted in 1937 by Daniel Wolf a wealthy businessman to build an eighteen hole course on the other side of the ridge from Wolf’s estate about 25 kilometers from Amsterdam.

Since Colt was getting too old to travel by this time his associates Hugh Alison and John Morrison set off to meet with Wolf to survey the property.  What they found when they got there was an incredible piece of seaside ground with dunes “large enough to create an heroic setting without being too big to hinder good golf, the dunes were perfect terrain, literally every architect’s dream.”

Having worked with closely with Colt over the years they followed his script of clever strategic routing and minimalist designer intrusion.  There are only 18 bunkers on the entire course and a set of ingeneous green complexes many of which have crowned greens that will only honor the purest struck approach shot.  They let the lands speak for itself and the result was a links course with grand vistas and strategic shot lines that require full concentration.

As you look at the vivid images in the attached Golf Club Atlas article you cannot help but be struck by the similarity of this look to what we see at Bandon Trails in Oregon.  Given Crenshaw’s extensive study of the great designers I cannot believe he did not have The Hague in mind as they conjured their creation of Bandon Trails for Mike Keiser.

The course has recently undergone a significant restoration under the able hands of Frank Pont a local architect who used original architectural documentation and photographs to bring the Alison and Morrison feature back into a course that had been victim of many renovation design compromises over the last 70 years.  There is an extensive interview with Pont within this article if you want the nitty gritty on the latest work.

Enjoy the attached article about The Hague.  I think you will agree that your next trip to Amsterdam should include a diversion to take in one of the great links courses of Europe at Royal Hague.

(Click to read the Golf Club Atlas piece on Royal Hague in the Netherlands)

Golf Club Atlas

September, 2013

The Real Top 100

GolfArchitectureNetLogoYou see these lists of the 100 best courses in the world in golf periodicals all the time and you wonder about the qualifications of the guys making these choices.   Well you won’t have to worry about it with this one since this list was assembled from a poll by of the guys who actually build these things for a living.

As the editor Adam Lawrence says, “Fundamentally….. we believe golf architects have a unique perspective on what makes a course great. It’s a common criticism that many, perhaps even most golfers, judge courses on factors such as the turf condition or the quality of service in the clubhouse; well, if anyone is best placed to look beyond that at the design of the course itself, it ought to be the architects.”

You will enjoy strolling through this list replete with luscious photos of the courses and glib commentary on what makes them special.   Maybe you won’t agree with the ranking of some of your favorites but you will understand where they fit against the best of the best.  And you may be surprised at some of the gems you did not expect to see in such company and maybe disappointed by a few that were left out.

Plop yourself in a comfy chair with a tall cool one and enjoy this is a truly authoritative list of the 100 best in the world.  It may just add a few more destinations to your personal bucket list.

(Click to see the Golf Course Architecture- Architects Choice Top 100 Courses)
July, 2013