After reading my article on Le Golf National and the danger of abandoning strategic course design in professional golf, a Twitter user named David Knight made a suggestion:
Great idea, I thought, stupidly.
But what’s done is done. Below you can find my guide to what I consider the 20 most architecturally intriguing tournament venues that you will be able to see on television in 2019. It’s a beast, I admit.
This guide has a couple of purposes. One, if you’re interested in course architecture, it can help you plan a golf viewing schedule for the year, and perhaps alert you to tournaments you might otherwise have ignored. Two, I hope it contributes to the ongoing discussion about course design, tournament setup, and the ever-expanding scale of the modern elite game. (‘Sup, Brandel.)
Before I dig in, though, two points of clarification:
- I am not commenting on the actual quality of these golf courses but rather on the appeal they might have for the architecturally attuned TV viewer. I haven’t played most of the venues; I’m just working from my knowledge of their histories and designs. So if you are looking for first-hand reviews of Trinity Forest, Royal Portrush, and so on, this is not the article for you.
- I have included only tournaments that I know will be televised in the United States. I’m not sure which events might air in other parts of the world, so if you believe I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and I will be happy to update the post.
20 Venues to Watch in 2019
Kapalua Resort – The Plantation Course (Sentry Tournament of Champions)
The first completed design by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the Plantation Course is now something of an oddity in the C&C canon. The bunkers are blandly shaped, and the course appears to be difficult to walk—two faults shared by almost no other Coore and Crenshaw designs, especially not those built after Sand Hills opened in 1995. Nevertheless, the Plantation Course has one great, rare virtue: the ball rolls and rolls and rolls. The abundance of short grass, the severe slope of many fairways, and the relatively firm turf bring the ground into play, often in exhilarating ways.
Admittedly, the tournament itself lacks juice, feeling more like a limited-field cash grab than the opening of the regular PGA Tour season. A format change—to go along with Coore and Crenshaw’s planned “rejuvenation” of the Plantation Course—would be refreshing.
Waialae Country Club (Sony Open in Hawaii)
Best known to my generation as the setting of a very bad golf video game, the seaside Waialae was once an exquisite Seth Raynor design. It opened in 1927 and must have had a few golden years before becoming a military site during World War II. As Tom Doak put it in a Fried Egg podcast about Waialae, “Coming out of the war, getting the golf course back wasn’t the highest priority for a while.” Eventually the Kahala Hotel was built on top of Raynor’s first and second holes, and the course was permanently altered.
Over the past several years, however, Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design has worked with the Hawaiian club to restore some of Raynor’s trademarks, including his par-3 template holes. The “Short” 4th, the “Eden” 11th, and the “Redan” 17th have all seen play in the Sony Open. With Doak making changes every year, this January tournament has become a sneaky must-watch for architecture enthusiasts.
The Fried Egg‘s “Yolk with Doak” podcast about the ongoing work at Waialae CC and the accompanying image-driven article are crucial resources.
Pebble Beach Golf Links (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am)
Pebble Beach has perhaps never been as well designed as its position in the top-100 rankings suggests. Shrinking greens haven’t done the course any favors—nor has an increasing reliance on lush rough as a hazard. Still, there is plenty of brilliance here: the mid-round stretch above Stillwater Cove and Carmel Beach, the sublime par-5 closer, and a handful of fine inland holes, particularly the 3rd and the 16th. Let’s just cross our fingers that this is the year CBS conquers the coverage gap and gives us a way to watch the leaders play holes 7 through 9.
Lake Karrinyup Country Club (World Super 6 Perth)
Built in 1928 by Alex Russell, an associate of Alister MacKenzie’s, and restored in 2008 by Michael Clayton, Lake Karrinyup has all the markings of an Australian classic: wide fairways, sharp-edged bunkers, and colorful flora that, to paraphrase a Donald Ross chestnut that Clayton often quotes, serves as scenery but rarely occupies the stage.
“Lake Karrinyup is a course that asks players interesting and quite obvious questions,” Clayton told Aussie Golfer in 2012. “The answering of those questions is what makes it an enduringly interesting course to play.”
Riviera Country Club (Genesis Open)
Even after decades of ill-advised renovations and tree plantings, Riviera remains a marvel. Yes, tee to green, many strategic features of the course have either been altered or rendered irrelevant by the distance gains. Fortunately, for the most part, George Thomas’s greens at Riviera have survived. On and around these artfully contoured surfaces, players must grapple with a diversity of shots that they face at no other annual tour venue in the United States aside from Augusta National.
Featured-hole coverage of Riviera’s par-4 10th is one of the main reasons I pay for a yearly subscription to PGA Tour Live. The 10th may not much resemble Thomas’s original design, but it is bracing to see such a short hole produce such an array of outcomes.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course (The Players Championship)
A Pete Dye creation of supreme variety and eccentricity, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass shows how fun difficulty can be. The finishing trio—the risk-reward opportunity of the 16th, the terror of the 17th, and the torture chamber of the 18th—makes Sunday at the Players appointment viewing. On these holes, the pros often seem genuinely uncomfortable, and pure ball-strikers have a rare advantage over bombers. While I would not want to see many more tour events at venues of this style, the malice of the Stadium Course always comes as a welcome change of pace.
DLF Golf and Country Club (Hero India Open)
DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon, India, is what happens when you mix Gary Player Design, unlimited funding, unbridled ego, and probably some peyote. Unlike the other courses on this list, DLF is not here because I think it’s good. It’s here because of the technicolor landscaping, the “geo-riveted” bunkers, the ah-hell-why-not contouring, and the deranged Xanadu that is the 17th hole, with its green perched atop of a palace of rocks and waterfalls.
None of this produces interesting golf, necessarily, but it sure makes the Hero India Open hard to stop watching.
Augusta National Golf Club (The Masters)
You don’t need me to tell you that Augusta National is great. It’s the best and longest standing argument that a link exists between strong architecture and compelling competition. Year after year, no matter which players are involved, no matter how the leaderboard is spaced, this golf course produces drama.
Over the past two decades, however, both the style of play in the Masters and the design of Augusta National have shifted. With the advent of solid-core balls, titanium drivers, and better trained golfers, ANGC chose to abandon many of the course’s strategic features. A “second cut”—that is, rough—was introduced. Trees were planted to constrict the driving zones on the 11th and 13th, among other holes. Land was purchased to push the 5th and 13th tees dozens of yards back from their original positions.
Here’s the frustrating part: no matter how drastically ANGC alters its treasure of a golf course, competitors in the Masters will keep getting longer. They will continue to hit short irons into all of the par fours and most of the par fives. For players of at least average length, the fairway bunker on the 8th will become more and more irrelevant, as will the old strategy of placing your drive near Rae’s Creek on the 13th.
Because of these trends, the Masters has become an annual State of the Union on the unstable dynamic between course design and the modern elite game. Every year, the tournament allows us to see how far we have departed from the legacy of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Seve Ballesteros, and to ask ourselves, Is this really what we want golf to be?
Wilshire Country Club (HUGEL-JTBC LA Open)
A Golden Age curio in the heart of Los Angeles, Wilshire shone last year in its debut on the LPGA Tour. This Norman Macbeth design was revived by Kyle Phillips in 2009, and its bold features jump out of the television screen: the gnarly bunkers, the snaking barrancas, and the unhinged putting surfaces, from the multitiered 4th to the tiny 7th to the skinny, slanting 10th. The par-4 18th is already a great finisher but would be even better if the gully were restored to its full breadth and the green to its original 60-yard length.
At 6,506 yards from the tips, Wilshire could never host a PGA Tour event, but earlier this year it was a perfect fit for the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Perhaps the LPGA Tour and its sponsors will take note of the buzz around this event and incorporate more classic courses into the ladies’ rota.
Hillside Golf Club (British Masters)
Sponsor-less and on the verge of extinction, the British Masters made a last-minute return to the 2019 European Tour schedule when Tommy Fleetwood stepped up as the host and Hillside as the venue. This was the best-case scenario for the tournament. Sandwiched between Royal Birkdale and Southport & Ainsdale, Hillside is a stout links that moves through a variety of landscapes, including a gorgeous tract of dunesland on the back nine.
After a visit to the delightful Walton Heath in 2018, the British Masters is poised to redefine itself as a showcase for Great Britain’s finest courses. Let’s hope the tournament lives to see another year.
Trinity Forest Golf Club (AT&T Byron Nelson)
The Byron Nelson, held for the first time at Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Trinity Forest, was the center of the maze for architecture-related discussion on Twitter in 2018. In the run-up to the event, Geoff Ogilvy hosted a series of captivating videos on the nuances of Coore and Crenshaw’s design; The Fried Egg‘s Andy Johnson and DECADE’s Scott Fawcett got into a memorable dustup about the merits of the course; and lots of locals expressed displeasure, bewildered that the Nelson would move from the waterfall-laden TPC Las Colinas to some cow patch in South Dallas.
But anyone with an interest in architecture can see that Trinity Forest has a sterling collection of holes. Take the par-5 7th, a study in delayed punishment that brought out Matt Kuchar’s whiny side.
Unfortunately, perhaps fearing more complaints from players, the PGA Tour overwatered the course, which erased many of the strategic quandaries posed by Coore and Crenshaw’s greens. Ultimately Aaron Wise rode his driver to victory. If the Tour allowed Trinity Forest to play firm—as it does for its members every other day of the year—it would be one of the most fascinating venues in tournament golf.
May 29-June 2
Country Club of Charleston (US Women’s Open)
The past three US Women’s Open sites have been CordeValle, Trump National, and Shoal Creek. Compared to those arena-rock bands, the Country Club at Charleston is an understated, under-appreciated indie duo. Carved out of a flat property by Seth Raynor in 1925, Charleston offers outré renditions of Raynor’s template holes, including an insane-looking Redan. The most telegenic green, however, will almost surely be the Lion’s Mouth 16th, which… well, just look at this thing.
Pebble Beach Golf Links (US Open)
See above. I am curious (read: apprehensive) to see what the USGA will do to protect par at a venue that barely exceeds 7,000 yards.
Warren Golf Course (Senior US Open)
Working with an undistinguished piece of land, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw imbued Warren, the home course for the University of Notre Dame, with a variety of quiet virtues. There is the pot bunker that punctures the front of the green on the par-5 5th and influences play all the way back to the tee; the creek cutting diagonally across the 10th, 16th, and 18th, posing risk-reward questions; the wide mowing lines that encourage running approaches into most of the greens; and a set of par threes that seem to allude subtly to Seth Raynor.
Warren is not flashy—just elegant and well wrought. It is what more tournament venues should be.
Fun fact: When Warren opened, the scorecard did not display par values. Players were invited to come up with their own notions of par for each hole. Predictably, this lovely concept was not long for the world.
The Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club (Dubai Duty Free Irish Open)
Topping out at 6,950 yards and bursting with whimsy, Lahinch is the type of 19th-century links course that the male professional game has largely left behind. Like the Old Course at St Andrews, Lahinch has absorbed the influences of many architects over the years, but the strongest strains in its DNA are those of Old Tom Morris and Alister MacKenzie. In 1999, the club hired Martin Hawtree to modernize the course and to restore some of MacKenzie’s features. (I am unsure how both of those objectives were achieved simultaneously, but I believe Hawtree’s work was well regarded.)
The most famous holes at Lahinch are the par-5 4th and the par-3 5th, known as the Klondyke and the Dell. Both call for blind shots over large, natural dunes—dunes that resemble, incidentally, those that Hawtree flattened (or was ordered to flatten) while building Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland. The Klondyke and the Dell are throwbacks to an era when golf courses were draped over the land rather than chiseled into it. Although these holes occur early in the round, they should, at all costs, be featured on the Irish Open telecast: on both, equipment and power won’t matter nearly as much as composure and mettle.
Renaissance Club (ASI Scottish Open)
A modern links by Tom Doak, the Renaissance Club has a first-rate address (next door to Muirfield and four miles from North Berwick), a stylish design, and a stunning Cape hole—the 10th—on the cliffs above the Firth of Forth. Sadly, as Doak himself admits in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Renaissance is unusually private for a Scottish club. Perhaps as a result of light traffic, the turf is pristine yet firm and should, according to Doak, “play like the real deal.”
The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club (The UK British Open Championship Presented by Her Majesty)
The tournament recently rebranded in America as “The Open” has ventured off the island of Great Britain once before—in 1951, when Max Faulkner won with a score of 285 at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. This coming year, The Open will return to Portrush, now 500 yards longer and in possession of two new holes (the 7th and 8th). Despite the updates, we can expect the old virtues of Harry Colt’s 1929 course to shine through: the pristine linksland, the minimalistic bunkering, the bold undulations of the fairways and greens.
The stars of the telecast should be the bunkerless par-4 5th, which doglegs right to a tiered green on the edge of a cliff, and the long par-3 16th, nicknamed “Calamity Corner,” which vaults across a windswept chasm.
Renaissance Club (Ladies Scottish Open)
See above. Watching the women play the same course as the men is always intriguing to a detail-oriented golf nerd like me.
Pinehurst No. 2 (US Amateur)
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s 2011 restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 was one of the most daring in golf history. Guided by 1940s aerial photos, Coore and Crenshaw brought back Donald Ross’s intended strategy and the course’s rough-hewn character. The before-and-afters are striking.
Post-restoration Pinehurst No. 2 is, to my mind,
the premier tournament venue one of the top two tournament venues in American golf. (See, Augusta? I still love you.) Wide and firm, the course accepts that bombers will bomb—but if they can’t stick their approaches on the inverted-saucer greens, they will find themselves hacking out of sandy waste or, worse, pitching from a tight lie 40 yards away from the pin.
FOX Sports has done well with recent USGA events, so I trust that the telecast of the 2019 US Amateur will highlight the variety and difficulty of the shots into and around the No. 2 course’s greens. Get Brownie out there with some beach balls!
Royal Liverpool Golf Club (Walker Cup)
Let’s run through a decade’s worth of past and future sites for the Walker Cup:
- 2005: Chicago Golf Club
- 2007: Royal County Down Golf Club
- 2009: Merion Golf Club
- 2011: Royal Aberdeen Golf Club
- 2013: National Golf Links of America
- 2015: Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club
- 2017: Los Angeles Country Club
- 2019: Royal Liverpool Golf Club
- 2021: Seminole Golf Club
- 2023: The Old Course at St Andrews
- 2025: Cypress Point Club
Is the Walker Cup low-key the best tournament in golf? It has the best format (team match play) and by far the best collection of venues (look at those!). All it doesn’t have is a bunch of spoiled pros who might or might not care about team events.
Unfairly among the less beloved stops on the Open rota, Royal Liverpool is a nuanced and prickly links. The middle portion of Harry Colt’s design uses the dunes intelligently, but it’s the opening and closing holes on the field near the clubhouse that stick in my memory from 2006 and 2014 Opens. As Bernard Darwin said of the final five holes, “They may not be much to look at… but they are horribly good golf.”
During the Walker Cup, I will pay special attention to the par-5 16th (the 18th in the 2014 Open), which bends around a driving range and gives those who play close to the out-of-bounds berm a favorable angle into the green. In tight matches, the 16th could produce some exciting make-or-break moments.
The Old Course at St Andrews (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship)
I have little to add to the extensive literature about the perfection of the Old Course’s rippling terrain, the genius of its natural design, and the drama of its closing holes. But have we properly appreciated how sturdy this venue is? Every year it hosts the Dunhill plus a rotating cast of big-time amateur and professional events. Every week, Monday through Saturday, it bears up under an onslaught of four-ball groups. Every Sunday, it becomes a park. Yet unless it is snowed under or frozen over, the Old Course is firm, fast, and ready for you.
In recent years, however, the game’s most important venue has changed. Scrambling to combat distance gains, St Andrews and the R&A have kept moving the championship tees back, to the point that some now sit within the boundaries of other courses. Worse, in a doomed attempt to protect par, the governing bodies have whittled away at the Old Course’s salient trait: its width. Encroaching penal rough, the specifics of which John Huggan enumerated for Golf World earlier this year, has eliminated what used to be valid lines of play.
At what point has equipment gone too far? My answer: as soon as we start making the Old Course narrow.
The Composite Course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club (Presidents Cup)
One of my favorite YouTube videos is an upload of the Sunday broadcast of the 2011 Presidents Cup at Alister MacKenzie’s Australian masterpiece, Royal Melbourne. Now that is a tournament golf venue. Width. Expanses of treacherous short grass. Wind whipping. Bunkers jabbing mischievously into greens. Poor angles punished. Delicate short-game touch rewarded.
If the PGA Tour allows Royal Melbourne to be itself, the 2019 Presidents Cup should be a fine send-off to the year in golf.
Harbour Town Golf Links (RBC Heritage; April 18-21)—This early Pete Dye / Jack Nicklaus collaboration is often cited as proof that narrowness and strategy can coexist.
Bethpage Black Course (PGA Championship; May 16-19)—It is unclear how much of A.W. Tillinghast’s vision remains at Bethpage Black after Rees Jones’s renovations, but we can be sure of one thing: this municipal warhorse will stomp on some dudes at the 2019 PGA.
Pine Needles Golf Club (US Senior Women’s Open; May 16-19)—The US Senior Women’s Open at Chicago Golf Club was the most heartwarming golf event of 2018. I hope FOX Sports will give better coverage to the 2019 edition, which will be held at Pine Needles, a Carolina Sandhills gem polished by Kyle Franz to its original Donald Ross sheen.
Hamilton Golf and Country Club (RBC Canadian Open; June 6-9)—Moving from “yeah, um… you know, it’s okay” Glen Abbey to Harry Colt’s Hamilton is an upgrade for the Canadian Open, a once-prestigious event that could use an injection of Golden Age elegance.
Detroit Golf Club (Rocket Mortgage Classic; June 27-30)—It may not be encouraging to enthusiasts of classic architecture that the Detroit Golf Club website touts its North Course’s “narrow, tree-lined fairways,” but this 100-year-old Donald Ross design was recently restored by Bruce Hepner, one of the best in the business.
Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club (Senior Open; July 25-28)—In the 2018 Women’s British Open, this stately links elicited some captivating play from Pornanong Phatlum and Georgia Hall, whose Sunday duel made for one of the year’s best golf telecasts. Good things happen when the scale of the venue fits the scale of the competitors’ games.