10 Things Golf Course Architects Are Talking About

From our most recent chats with golf course architects, here are 10 topics of conversation within the profession at the moment

Golf Course Architects
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We get to talk to many golf course architects every year. From our most recent chats, here are 10 topics of conversation within the profession at the moment

Golf Course Architects: 10 Things They're Talking About

There may not be a huge number of new golf courses being built in the UK and Ireland right now. Most likely there won’t be for the foreseeable future in the current economic climate.

But that doesn’t mean golf course architects aren’t still very busy, with plenty of work going on at existing courses and clubs.

In the course of our work, we get to chat with a number of the UK’s most prominent golf course architects.

Based on what they've been telling us, here’s what our relatively small band of golf course architects is mostly talking about right now…

How busy things are

Several architects have expressed grateful surprise at how busy they are given all that 2020 has thrown at us. Yes, we’re not building many new golf courses in the UK right now, but it seems there is still more than enough work to keep them very busy indeed.

Golf Course Architects

A number of golf course architects have been busier than ever in 2020

“Since lockdown, we have just not stopped,” one golf course architect told us. “Work has come in, and more work has come in.”

This may, in part, be down to over-supply creating a survival of the fittest scenario, with clubs looking to improve to stay ahead of the competition. It may also be a result of golf's membership boom, but will that last as Covid seems increasingly reluctant to disappear?

The distance debate

You might well love being able to hit the ball further than you used to – who wouldn’t? But it is raising concerns through many areas of the industry, including golf course design.

Why? Ever-bigger golf courses demand more land and put a greater strain on natural resources at a time when sustainability is a real buzzword.

Golf course architects are no doubt chatting about this among themselves. But it's also an important enough issue for the EIGCA (European Institute of Golf Course Architects) to comment on.

Golf Course Architects

The distance debate has ramifications for golf course design and land use (Credit: Getty Images)

Here is the EIGCA’s response to the Distance Insights Report published by The R&A and USGA in early 2020.

“Increased shot distances over recent decades have seen a demand and requirement for greater land use, course lengthening and alteration to ensure the game’s challenge is maintained. The report clearly highlights that this “cycle” is unsustainable. The negative impacts seen in the game today – such as slow play, increased maintenance costs and high resource use – are all in part a result of this cycle and so we agree that it needs to be reviewed.”

The use of water

Perhaps the most precious of those resources is water. There is a very strong likelihood – perhaps even certainty – that golf clubs will not be able to use mains water in the same way that they have done for too much longer.

Golf Course Architects

Water will become an ever more precious commodity going forwards - food for thought for golf course architects

Golf course architects will need to keep abreast of the situation and any regulations to advise clients appropriately. Sustainable drainage and irrigation solutions are definitely on the agenda.

Course changes due to health and safety issues

Golf collectively has an obligation to take due regard of persons and property inside and outside the course boundaries.

One architect told us safety work was becoming a growing part of his business. The ideal scenario is action before, rather than after, something untoward happens.

Golf Course Architects

One of big issues at the moment is health and safety where golf holes flank roads and houses

Many golf courses flank roads, houses, schools, playgrounds and so on, or struggle with internal safety issues. There will be plenty for golf course architects to talk about on this front for years to come.

The need for more short courses

With hindsight, most golf course architects would agree that the largely client-driven demand for ‘championship courses’ in the 1980s and 1990s was not what golf really needed.

Golf Course Architects

The six-hole Yellow Course at Frilford Heath. Many feel golf now needs more short courses

Attention is turning more now to courses of more modest length and par-3 layouts. These not only provide a more manageable entry point, but would probably prove more fun for many established golfers too.

Does the number of holes matter?

Golf has become primarily an 18-hole game. But delve into the archives and many early courses simply had however many holes they could realistically fit in.

Golf Course Architects

Shiskine on Arran has proudly played a 12-hole course for the best part of 100 years (Credit: Getty Images)

Some golf course architects feel we should return to those days, become less obsessed with 18 holes and create courses with whatever number of holes the available plot of land naturally lends itself to.

Soil importation/landfill projects

Building or modifying a golf course is not cheap. One of the potential ways to neutralise the capital outlay is via soil importation.

Golf Course Architects

Soil importation projects are proving an increasingly popular route to viability (Credit: Getty Images)

This means that existing or proposed courses are paid a royalty to import the spoil (subject to permission and stringent controls) from major infrastructure projects such as roads, railways or tunnels. Those royalties then offset the construction costs.

Such schemes have been around for some time. They seem to becoming more prevalent now, though, with one architect telling us he had six such projects on the go.

Bunker renovations

Variety is to be applauded, but at many courses, over time the bunkers have become homogenised, bland ovals. They lack the aesthetic appeal of what was once there or what could ideally be there.

Golf Course Architects

The eye-catching new bunkering at Prince's Golf Club on the Kent coast

Different architects have different style preferences, but bunker renovation or remodelling projects are on the up right now.

Restorations based on old aerial photography

Following on from that, old aerial photographs are increasingly being used by golf course architects to show them what was once there and what has changed over the years.

Golf Course Architects

Old aerial photographs are increasingly being used in restoration projects

Where applicable and practical, there is a growing trend towards restorations of what has been lost.

Improving practice and short-game facilities

More clubs are realising that they need to be offering members more in the way of practice facilities.

Golf Course Architects

Many clubs have been building new practice facilities including this excellent short-game area at Foxhills in Surrey

Ranges, and in particular short-game areas, are becoming ever more desirable. Golf course architects have been creating some very fine new facilities for their clients, or extensively remodelling existing ones.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response