In the recent edition of GolfWorld (3/17/14), Geoff Shackelford introduces the notion it’s time for change in golf design.  Moving forward he states innovative ideas are needed from today’s architect’s to offer new future experiences.  While new thinking is not necessarily a bad thing, many players might ask what can be done today that hasn’t already been done?

I’m not clear on what Mr. Shackelford is proposing.  From the heroic, penal, strategic, Dye-abolical, minimalist, and what Shackelford has described as his additions to the design curriculum — freeway and framing fancies, I don’t know where else one could go.  Perhaps a new architect will burst on the scene and be able to fold all of these ideas together in three hole segments creating the ultimate eighteen hole canvas.  I agree with his observation citing Mark Twain’s words that there is no such thing as a new idea.  If that is indeed the case, doesn’t that statement indict his premise?

I believe it is up to individual players to express their intentions on the type of architecture they think is needed.  Frankly, I’m old school and am partial to a Merion, Shoreacres, Milwaukee, or Inverness.  Not overly long challenges but layouts requiring strong iron play draped in parkland settings.  However I also enjoy the venues I’ve visited in Scotland and Ireland due to the starkness of the routings and the firm quality of the turf.  The demands of Pete Dye’s portfolio make me often scratch my head but they seem to serve the purpose of providing an ego-check to players who think “they’ve got it”.  If there is one enduring aspect of golf course architecture, it is variety.  It is a pleasure to pursue.  We will always have it regardless of what the future brings.

Golf course design is influenced by several factors — land, climate, ownership, and customer base being just a few.  What might be introduced in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey hardly works in the Coachella Valley.  Yes, a short par four in these two locales may have drastically different appearances but they are still short par fours.  The features may differ: pot bunkers as opposed to shallow seas of sand.  We only have two other selections to work with — par threes and par fives.  What would be the best new design thought to enhance these holes?  Maybe that’s the gist of Shackelford’s assertion.  Yet I think in many ways his inquiry has been already answered (by Twain).

Rather than get loaded down with “architect-speak” attributes most don’t understand, I’ll simply offer my concept of what makes a truly wonderful course design for players — one that is enjoyable to play day in and day out.  I think most would agree.  It’s not about some artificial obstacle disguised as a natural landform.  It’s not about introducing new features.  The focus should be on heightening the playing experience.  Great design is in the eye of the beholder no matter what era it evolved from.  In the end isn’t that all that matters?