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Above Par: Golf Design with Ritz-Carlton Masters

Article by Melissa Liebling-Goldberg 05.02.2019

When masters design golf courses, those courses often become destinations in their own right. Discover some of the world’s finest greens and fairways — and the inspiration behind them.

The unmatched thrill of a drive sent straight down the middle of the fairway. The perfectly planned putt that earns you an eagle. These are some the things that keep golfers coming back time and again. And there may be no better way to experience the magic of the game than on a course designed by a pro. Here, golf greats Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Tom Fazio explain what goes into creating some of the world’s finest courses.

The Art of the Game

A golf course next to the ocean with a cliff-top building in the distance

The differences between golf courses are practically infinite, and each designer has a unique style. Tee locations, green sizes, depth of bunkers, turf types and water hazards combine to provide the personality of a course, which then reacts differently to weather and seasons, making each day on any given course unique. “I have always tried not to have a style that is immediately recognized,” Arnold Palmer told Golf Course Architecture. “I like to think we are doing courses that are different in style and structure, and that we are constantly doing new things in the design of our courses to give players an opportunity to try different golf shots. Not necessarily difficult, but something that is fun to play.”

Where to play: Palmer’s unique style is on display at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, where the Old Course offers traditional parkland play perched atop dramatic oceanside cliffs and views that rival Pebble Beach.

Inspired by Nature

The best architects use existing site features to develop the course’s character, allowing nature’s designs to lead the way, and the best courses are a result of proper landscape management. “Like a good tailor, a [golf course] routing plan must fit well to wear well,” said Robert Trent Jones Jr. “If it’s cut wrong to begin with, the garment will never wear well.”

To this, courses should reflect the best of the site without overshadowing nature’s beauty, and each hole should have variety, but the course should feel like one cohesive set of 18. “We begin each new golf course design with a least-disturbance approach,” Greg Norman told Today’s Golfer. “Our design team dedicates time and effort to finding the most desirable natural features of a site and incorporates them into the routing.”

Where to play: Set amid a Certified Audobon Cooperative Sanctuary, Grande Lakes in Orlando blends seamlessly into Florida’s landscape. Wide fairways offer a bit of balance to the strategically placed hazards.

Designed with the Golfer in Mind

In addition to natural beauty and challenging terrain, pro-designed courses stand out from the rest due to their player-centric philosophy. No one knows the mental stamina required by the game better than the people who have won major tournaments like the Masters and the U.S. Open. “My No. 1 goal in terms of creating individual shot values is to make the player use his mind ahead of his muscles — to control his emotions sufficiently to really think through his options before drawing a club from the bag,” Jack Nicklaus explained in his memoir, My Story.

Where to play: Originally designed for the Match Play Championship, the Golf Club at Dove Mountain in southern Arizona is home to some of Nicklaus’ most dramatic greens, as well as 27 holes of unique challenges and breathtaking views of desert landscape.

An Ongoing Evolution

As courses around the world continue to elevate, so do players’ expectations. Course designers are pushed to create experiences with major landmarks like Pebble Beach and Augusta as their benchmarks. The end result? Better golf all around the world. "The industry of golf design and construction has elevated to a point, for me, in the decades I've been involved, it's shocking to me that we've evolved that much, relative to the expectations,” Tom Fazio explained to Golf Digest. “People expect something new — as it is to rankings and comparisons. Anything that's new is always how you compare it to somewhere else. Someone goes and plays somewhere, and people want to compare it to Pebble Beach or Pine Valley. We've evolved to that — we expect the very best.”

Where to play: Tucked away among towering Georgia oaks are five courses designed by four of the game’s best-known architects: Rees Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Bob Cupp. The Jack Nicklaus-designed course, Great Waters, has been named one of the best courses in Georgia, second only to Augusta National.

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