10 Gorgeous Golf Course Designs

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10 Gorgeous Golf Course Designs

September 09, 2016

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Photo by Stephen Szurlej

Photo By: Stephen Szurlej

Photo By: Getty Images

Pine Valley, George Crump & H.S. Colt (1918) 7,057 yards, Par 70

As with so many masterpieces, Pine Valley was not perfect when it opened. The course struggled with maintenance issues and some of Crump and Colt’s more outlandish ideas were massaged after his passing. The overall vision was always supreme, but it took a decade to refine Pine Valley into what is widely considered the planet’s most complete, varied and dramatic set of 18 holes. Recent restoration work suggests that more tree removal and the exposure of even more pine barrens could actually further refine the already impeccable Pine Valley.

Cypress Point Club, Alister Mackenzie and Robert Hunter (1928) 6,524 yards, Par 72

The evolution of this long-heralded design has been less straightforward than most would expect. There were changes during planning and construction suggested by developers Marion Hollins and Samuel Morse, then more tweaks and even a few compromises by MacKenzie’s on-site partner, Robert Hunter. In the decades following its 1928 unveiling, weather and maintenance decisions led to many original elements disappearing. But with the recent restoration of nearly all MacKenzie elements, combined with epic scenery and gently graced by George Washington Smith’s clubhouse, Cypress Point comes as close to the most idyllic combination of a strategic golf course melding into eighteen artfully composed series of landscapes.

Oakmont CC, Henry & William Fownes (1903) 7,255 yards, Par 71

Even before the much-ballyhooed restoration of this historic property, Fownes’ course is considered the Penal School of Design’s most complete examination of skill. However, Oakmont’s permanence as a textbook piece of architecture in spite of its relentless difficulty stems from its many strategic design elements. With an unmatched tournament legacy that pervades the senses from the moment you spot the iconic clubhouse and change your shoes in the unchanged locker room, the golfer is transported into a time warp unlike any other in America, Yet you never sense this masterpiece is anything but the most relevant test of skill on the planet.

Shinnecock Hills GC, William Flynn (1931) 7,041 yards, Par 70

The Hamptons' sandy soil and fescue grasses provide the setting, but its Flynn’s ingenious use of leftover elements from early versions of the course and his bold re-routing that leads to an operatic experience transporting the golfer through highs, lows and genuine thrills unlike any links-like course. Shinnecock Hills starts and ends at Mead, McKim and White’s epic clubhouse, which serves as a locating beacon while Flynn designs takes you up, over and through a rolling, rocking setting. Never does a hole feel forced or fake, and never is Shinnecock Hills anything but thrilling to play or study.

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National Golf Links of America, C.B. Macdonald (1911) 6,935 yards, Par 72

A design famously inspired by many of Europe’s finest holes is by no means the theme course some early skeptics derided it as. Because no hole at the National feels like you’ve played it before and no course sets out over such an imperious landscape while making it all work. From a giant windmill, to a larger-than-life clubhouse, to even the unusual entrance drive bisecting holes, National Golf Links is original in every way. Restoration work over the last two decades highlights C.B. Macdonald’s design vision that has come to be revered thanks in part to the resuscitation of his design and greater awareness of what genuine architectural artistry looks like.

Photo By: Photo by Stephen Szurlej

Merion Golf Club (East), Hugh Wilson and William Flynn (1912) / 6,886 yards, Par 70

With so little acreage and so many issues--bisecting roads, boundaries, neighbors, a college--to potentially interfere with the design, Merion should not be such a nearly flawless work of art that it is. But like Pine Valley to its east—minus the secluded pine barrens canvas—Merion is the accomplishment of a founding designer with little experience (Wilson) and the seasoned ideas of a professional architect (Flynn). From afar, Merion looks like a slightly-amplified inland American design. Yet when gracing its fairways and greens the golfer never faces the same shot or stance twice and never feels under-tested for even a split second. A tiny creek plays great tricks, while the bunkering and finishing quarry-hole stretch add grandeur to what should otherwise be just a nice inland layout.

Photo By: Stephen Szurlej

Pacific Dunes, Bandon, Ore. / Tom Doak (2001) 6,633 yards, Par 71 / Points 65.1748

Golf course design perfection is nearly always is defined by complete imperfection. The second course built at Bandon is widely viewed as its most inspired thanks to Doak and team’s unorthodox use of the landscape, where four back nine par-3s violate every rule of balance and variety. Most designers could have come up with a world-class course on this cliffside property, but it took an architect with a willingness to combat orthodoxy, move earth when necessary, and adjust to the features found under the suffocating gorse, to raise Pacific Dunes to a level of design mastery.

Chicago Golf Club, C.B. Macdonald (1894) / Seth Raynor (1923) / 6,846 yards, Par 70

Architects have been presented with many properties far richer in possibilities, yet Chicago Golf Club supersedes most with design variety, audacity and whimsy. Set on the second site of this historic club envisioned by Macdonald, it was his understudy Raynor who took everything learned and then modernized this into an inland masterpiece. Restoration touches over recent years, combined with a greater appreciation for the engineered bunkering style inspired by the great links, makes Chicago a design that must be studied to understand the value of vision when the property doesn’t necessary offer an other-worldly canvas.

Photo By: Getty Images

Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C. / Donald Ross (1935) 7,565 yards, Par 72

The design Donald Ross took from infancy to completion in his retirement years fell into disrepair during decades when architectural demands emphasized fairness. But now reflecting a desire by more golfers to tackle a somewhat-mysterious landscape, Pinehurst No. 2 again presents a series of cunning design-induced questions while never overwhelming the sandhills landscape re-exposed by Ross mentees Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. An inspiration to so many architects, everything about the Pinehurst No. 2 experience reflects the vision of its creators and shows that golf architecture does not need to be played by an ocean to elicit awe.

Friar’s Head, Baiting Hollow, N.Y. / Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (2002) 7,049 yards, Par 71

Giving the modern masters Coore, Crenshaw and their team of artisans sand dunes 200 feet above the Long Island Sound doesn’t take much vision. But asking them to meld that with potato fields and transition those holes to a sandy, woodland setting was a tall ask by developer Ken Bakst. While their opening day design achieved stunning results, it’s been the minor tweaking by Coore and Crenshaw (at Bakst’s prodding) that has lifted this inspired 2002 design above the many masterful modern creations by the duo.

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