This is one of our favourite Canadian Golf Magazine (CGM) contributions over the years by Golf Course Architect Tony Ristola. It’s a well-written, engaging piece for all of those with an interest in golf course architecture and one of the first contributions to appear in CGM.
We hope you enjoy it as much as we do and thank Mr. Ristola for sharing his wisdom.
As golf course architects we all have our theories when it comes to designing a golf course, but the following are fool proof design principles that won’t ever steer you wrong.
1 | EXCELLENT GOLF COURSES CANNOT BE MEASURED BY MONEY SPENT
Remarkable golf courses are singular, often built on sandy soil and follow the land, making them cost-effective to construct and maintain. Even if you’re not fortunate with site selection one can follow a proven path to achieving maximum value from your budget and land. The key to an exceptional golf course is as simple as having a golf course architect who has an understanding of the game at all levels, is creative, laces up the work boots and rolls up the sleeves. Money? There’s no substitute for the architect’s time, focus and commitment.
2 | THE UNCREATIVE MIND
Our brain is an astounding super computer but amazingly not that creative. NASA conducted a simple test for creativity: discover as many uses for a paper clip as possible. Researchers ran a test on 1600 children of kindergarten age, repeated the test when they were in grade school and finally again in high school. If any could come up with 200 uses/ideas they were considered a genius. The results? Interestingly, 98% of five year old’s were able to find 200+ ideas/uses for the paper clip while only 30% of ten year old’s and 12% of fifteen year old’s were able to do the same. Astoundingly, the same test was given to 280,000 adults and only 2% could come up with 200 or more uses for a paperclip. Surprising, isn’t it? One would think the opposite would occur, but this is why an architect’s unique skill set and creativity is crucial.
3 | PLANNING IS NOT A SCIENCE
Golf architecture is not a science but an art integrated with science. CAD and GPS? These are merely technical tools that supplant pencil and paper. They aren’t miracles, silver bullets or some sort of magic elixir. Anyone involved with building a golf course knows there is nothing exact when it comes to the art of building holes, greens and features. Great art requires flexibility and that can only happen during construction. Plans can never depict the intricacies, spirit, detail, opportunities and refinements that make golf courses extraordinary. For that you need someone in touch with the project, looking at it from every angle, maximizing your land, budget and opportunities. It’s about people and wide open communication.
4 | PLANNING IS NECESSARY
To say planning isn’t necessary would be misinformed. Plans are necessary and their greatest values are: satisfying bureaucrats, acquiring permits, setting environmental guidelines, defining engineering solutions, achieving a routing, creating a general design direction and to estimate labor and material costs. Plans are not meant to be fallen in love with. Think of them as a tool, a glorified paint-by-number kit to get you to the start line.
5 | SPARKS
Being directly involved in the construction phase sparks ideas and opportunities for improvement you would never be able to foresee if all you did was nest behind a drawing board. It allows concepts to evolve that are beyond standard and less repetitive and all it takes is observation, thinking and asking, “how can we improve this?” The culmination of this process and commitment to continual, daily improvements is what makes exceptional golf courses exceptional.
6 | ROUTING THE COURSE ISN’T SEXY, BUT IT IS OH SO CRITICAL
Routing is how the sequence of holes fit into one another and how they are utilized within the natural assets of the landscape. It is probably the least sexy and most overlooked aspect of the design for most laymen, but the routing is the backbone of a golf course and extremely critical. If the backbone is defective the entire course will suffer poor or boring sequencing of holes, increased development costs or all of the above.
7 | GREEN AND BUNKER PLACEMENT MAKE INTERESTING COURSES
If you have exceptional greens and surrounds, even on a flat piece of land, you have the basis for a highly interesting golf course. Add an artistic bunker scheme that requires the player to think and you are well on your way to having a golf course that intrigues and excites. You don’t have to move mountains; just focus on making the essentials exceptional.
8 | BEAUTY
Beautiful golf courses enhance the property. They are believable — timeless. They may be radical for the challenges presented, but not because they are antagonistic to their environment. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are rare.
9 | RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN
Some of the most interesting holes are the product of an odd bit of ground cleverly massaged to work well. When handled expertly by the architect and builder these are often among the most unforgettable spots on the golf course. Breaking the rules can create something inspiring and unique, but you can’t be afraid to use your imagination.
10 | LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE
Whatever you can leave alone saves money. This is why routing is critical. If nature provided eighteen remarkable holes why would you want to bulldoze one millimeter of land? If you do decide to bulldoze, do it in the playing area. For many courses earth has been moved along the perimeters of the hole where it doesn’t come into play…this often looks unnatural. And with so many forced landscape courses built in the past 25 year, they have become more repetitive than unique.
11 | GREAT COURSE DESIGN IS NEVER COMPLETE
Design continues daily even after opening. It is the product of thought and thinking never stops. Golf courses grow, maintenance alters design and superintendents change. Sadly, a collection of continuous changes over time can culminate to contaminate the design integrity. In an ideal world the architect monitors and shapes the maturity of the course over decades, but architects do not live forever. Therefore, the architect should provide a clear set of thoughts and directives of what the club should watch out for, what to do, but even more important, what they should not do. Many great courses from the last century pay millions to conduct research and ascertain the architect’s thoughts in order to restore the course as originally intended. Unfortunately, most are left to guess.
12 | LOVE
It all comes down to love. Love spawns commitment, joy of work, focus, pride, teamwork, harmony and the communication essential to developing all the important details. Like most everything in life, the greatest courses are products of deep love, and money can’t buy love.
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