Golf/Golf Architecture

"There Is No Greatest Golf Course"

2591665520_e5d736c03f_bTexas-based designer Mike Nuzzo has posted a pdf on his website of an essay he recently published in Volume 5 of the Australian survey Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. It’s a pretty neat piece, and it goes a decent way in explaining why the architect’s blog is called “An Ideal Golf Course” rather than “The Ideal Golf Course.”

Nuzzo references a 2007 Malcolm Gladwell speech exploring the food industry’s search for the perfect spaghetti sauce, and draws parallels with the never-ending debate over the world’s greatest golf courses.

He suggests that as with spaghetti sauce, evaluating golf courses is simply a matter of taste. Where it gets interesting is when the architect posits that golfers’ priorities might comfortably be broken down into three categories–those who favor challenge (epitomized by Oakmont, pictured left), those who privilege a beautiful environment, and those who seek out shotmaking fun.

The architect acknowledges that these qualities are more trackable on an overlapping Venn diagram rather than a zero-sum game–most golfers appreciate all of these things in some measure.  Indeed, as Gladwell demonstrates that attempts to create a universally-pleasing spaghetti sauce met with diminishing returns, the courses Nuzzo references hold plenty of appeal to golfers in at least two of the categories, but perhaps not all three. When viewed in this light, the fact that Alister MacKenzie was actually surprised by the absence of negative reviews after the opening of a course as immediately and obviously great as Cypress Point starts to make more sense.

Anyway, as with any good essay, Nuzzo’s piece is a good conversation starter. Check it out and see what you think. Is it possible to create a course that would please all three groups in equal measure, or do such attempts lead to milquetoast products that please no one?


Augusta National: Manicured perfection

Photos: Chip Gaskins/GolfCourseClassics


4 comments for “"There Is No Greatest Golf Course"”

  1. One place where this analysis falls flat is that every great course I can think of falls into the category of set in a beautiful environment.

    Maybe rather than a Venn diagram it is more of a see-saw with challenge and fun on either side and beauty being the balancing board?

    Posted by Will Smith | October 14, 2009, 5:43 am
  2. Thanks Will.

    I was defining beauty or pretty as very highly maintained or lots of flowers and landscaping.

    The model golfer is the one who cares MOST about conditioning.

    I agree every great course I can think of if beautiful.


    Posted by Mike Nuzzo | October 14, 2009, 6:23 am
  3. A good point, Will, but as with challenge and shotmaking interest, I think we measure the beauty of a course relative to comparable layouts. Carnoustie is a good example. Many people find it mean and ugly compared to, say, Turnberry. Even with the Old Course, it’s well known that many first-time visitors come away underwhelmed. I would suspect these are often the same people who consistently rate Turnberry as the best course in Scotland.

    Posted by td | October 14, 2009, 6:53 am
  4. While there may not be a “greatest” golf course, I believe there may be the most “perfect” 18 holes. My list for consideration would be:
    Pine Valley, NJ
    Quaker Ridge, NY
    Winged Foot, NY
    Sand Hills, NE
    Baltasrol (upper), NJ
    The Ocean Course, SC
    Shinnecock, NY

    Posted by Elliot DeBear | August 18, 2011, 6:32 pm

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