If the axe is to fall over some city golf cour­ses, it should be the aim to make bet­ter, more in­ter­est­ing lay­outs with the land that re­mains – no mat­ter how long or short or how hard or easy the cour­ses be­come.


If the axe is to fall over some of Aus­tralia’s city golf cour­ses, it should be the aim to cre­ate bet­ter, more in­ter­est­ing lay­outs with what­ever land re­mains, ex­plains Ar­chi­tec­ture Edi­tor Mike Clay­ton.

Golf started o as an adapt­able game played over links land close to the sea. Those who get to play St An­drews, Prest­wick or North Ber­wick find a game played over beau­ti­ful ground on cour­ses made be­fore ma­chines made it pos­si­ble to move the land around to make what we would now think of as con­ven­tional.

There was no con­ven­tion as to what was rea­son­able or ‘fair’. Prest­wick, host of the first dozen Bri­tish Opens was a 12-hole course. At one point St An­drews had 22 holes and in the win­ter they would play it back­wards (1st tee to 17th green, 18th tee to 16th green and on all the way back to the club­house) to bet­ter dis­trib­ute the div­ots af­ter a long sum­mer’s golf. There are only two par-3s and two par-5s.

Elie, 10 miles from St An­drews has no par-5s, 16 par-4s and two par-3s. Peter Thom­son him­self says, “It’s quirky and it’s the most en­joy­able course I know. If I had my way I’d build Elies all over the world.”

Shots over mas­sive dunes to un­seen tar­gets were the ba­sis of the chal­lenge at the Hi­malayas (5th) and Alps (17th) holes as Prest­wick. A wall, cre­at­ing a strat­egy by re­ward­ing those play­ing down the dan­ger­ous left side of the hole, sep­a­rates the fair­way and the green at North Ber­wick’s 13th hole. Those who think Barn­bougle’s 13th green is pe­cu­liar need to see North Ber­wick’s 16th green to un­der­stand ‘crazy’ greens have al­ways been an oc­ca­sional part of the game.

If you like your golf pre­dictable and fair, the chal­lenge of the Old Course at St An­drews, with bunkers lit­ter­ing the mid­dle of many fairways, will test your ideas of what a good course is sup­posed to be.

Ei­ther that or you will think it’s the sil­li­est course in the world.

Maybe, but it’s worth ask­ing your­self if you know more about the game than Bobby Jones and Alis­ter MacKen­zie, who called his mas­ter­piece at Cy­press Point ‘third-class’ in com­par­i­son.

Golf though moved in­land and to the United States where con­ven­tion be­came to be de­fined by greater pre­dictabil­ity and rea­son­able­ness.

Partly the in­crease in pop­u­lar­ity of stroke play golf al­tered the game be­cause un­con­ven­tional and dif­fi­cult holes like the Hi­malayas, The Alps and the Road Hole at St An­drews af­forded chances to make a re­ally big num­ber if you messed up but in match play you only lost the hole.

“Some lead­ing play­ers,” MacKen­zie said, “dis­like the dra­matic el­e­ment in golf. They hate any­thing which is un­likely to in­ter­fere with a con­stant suc­ces­sion of threes and fours. They look at ev­ery­thing in the ‘card and pen­cil’ spirit.”

Eigh­teen holes be­came the norm yet the jam­ming of 18 holes onto land best suited to 14, 15 or 16 holes has lead an epe­demic of bad holes and com­pro­mised cour­ses.

The rel­e­vance to Aus­tralia is lo­cal coun­cils in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne threat­en­ing to take away pub­lic golf by re­duc­ing 18 hole cour­ses down to nine (or worse, get­ting rid of them al­to­gether)


be­cause they think the land can be bet­ter used for some­thing else. Un­sur­pris­ingly lo­cal golfers are hor­ri­fied at the prospect of los­ing half of their beloved cour­ses and coun­cils would do well to re­mem­ber MacKen­zie’s line, “It is a re­mark­able thing about golf cour­ses that nearly every man has an aec­tion for the par­tic­u­lar mud-heap on which he plays.”

Golf’s prob­lem is whilst it’s one of the big­gest par­tic­i­pa­tion sports in the coun­try there are many more who don’t play it and see it as elit­ist and have no emo­tional at­tach­ment to it.

I’d agree with those aghast at the threats to golf if there was no com­mit­ment by gov­ern­ment to in­vest in what’s left to make the re­duced golf bet­ter golf.

A first-class nine-hole course with money prop­erly in­vested in the ar­chi­tec­ture and the con­di­tion­ing to make it more than just a place to ‘sock’ a ball around, as MacKen­zie said of a course de­void of much in­ter­est, is surely just as good or per­haps even bet­ter than a poor 18-hole course?

The most sig­nif­i­cant change to Aus­tralian golf in the last 15 years was clearly ev­i­denced in the re­cent course rank­ings pub­lished in the Jan­uary edi­tion of Golf Aus­tralia. Five cour­ses in the top 15 are pub­lic cour­ses where for the first time all Aus­tralian golfers have the op­por­tu­nity to ac­cess some of the best cour­ses in the world. Tas­ma­nia, which barely had a course in the Top-70 20 years ago, now boasts four of the top eight. And one of the eight, Eller­ston, vir­tu­ally no one can play.

Of course not every pub­lic course can be made into Cape Wick­ham or Barn­bougle, or even close to it, but they could all bet­ter show o im­proved ar­chi­tec­ture, mak­ing the game more fun, in­ter­est­ing and more vi­able in the long term.

The key to mak­ing bet­ter golf if these threat­ened re­duc­tions hap­pen will be to be in­ven­tive, to go back and un­der­stand where the game came from in the first place.

Twelve holes are bet­ter than nine if there is space and the holes are well done. Mak­ing al­ter­nate tees or greens for play­ers, who want to go around more than once repli­cates the


prin­ci­ple of Pine Val­ley with its 8th and 9th holes hav­ing two dis­tinct greens. If it’s good enough for the best course in the world, it’s an idea worth pur­su­ing.

On the right piece of land and with a rea­son­able bud­get it’s pos­si­ble to make a rev­ersible course in the spirit of St An­drews. Tom Simp­son, the great English ar­chi­tect, was draw­ing loops of holes a cen­tury ago ca­pa­ble of be­ing played in re­verse to dou­ble the amount of golf on a small site. Or a loop of three or four holes could be rev­ersible if do­ing all nine isn’t pos­si­ble.

Tom Doak just opened a rev­ersible 18-hole course in Michi­gan mak­ing 36 quite dis­tinct holes. At the amaz­ing Ban­don re­sort in Ore­gon with its four full length cour­ses there is a 13-hole par-3 course de­signed by Bill Coore and Ben Cren­shaw, which GeoŠ Ogilvy thinks is the most fun of all great golf on the edge of the Pa­cific Ocean.

In Mel­bourne those with the ul­ti­mate con­trol over Al­bert Park, a hugely pop­u­lar course and prob­a­bly the busiest in the city are sug­gest­ing the 18 holes be re­duced to nine.

Fur­ther from the city at San­dring­ham, the pub­lic course just across the road from Royal Mel­bourne, there is a pro­posal to re­make the golf course to in­clude a driv­ing range to be used by elite play­ers as well as the pub­lic, a new club­house and an o‘ce for Golf Aus­tralia, Golf Vic­to­ria and the PGA of Aus­tralia.

Two holes would be lost from the cur­rent course for a driv­ing range and no one is overly happy with the nec­es­sary (if the project is to pro­ceed) sce­nario.

There are a va­ri­ety of op­tions in­clud­ing a course made up of less than 18 holes or a shorter course re­peat­ing the Elie, no par-5s, prin­ci­ple.

The aim should be to make bet­ter, more in­ter­est­ing ‘golf’ no mat­ter how long, or short, how hard or easy. Or how much of it there is.

Just adapt and make it bet­ter.

Elie has no par-5s and just two par-3s, which, again, would not be seen on a new course.

The Road Hole at St An­drews is an un­con­ven­tional hole that can cause plenty of heartache.

Sev­eral holes of Mel­bourne’s San­dring­ham course are un­der threat to de­velop a driv­ing range.

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