Reading St Andrews, Part 3: An Old Course for All

In the first two parts of this series, I described how, at the turn of the 20th century, a group of British golfers led by John Low discovered the principles of strategic course design by analyzing—or “reading”—the Old Course at St Andrews.

Before I began researching this holiday project a few weeks ago, I had known only generalities about the pre-World War I period of golf architecture. The more I learned, the more I realized how profound an influence Low and his contemporaries had on the ensuing “Golden Age” of golf course design.

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A 2019 Viewer’s Guide to Architecturally Intriguing Tournament Golf Venues

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.

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On Le Golf National and the Debate over Professional Tournament Venues

In the wake of the 2018 Ryder Cup, commentators pointed to the design and setup of host venue Le Golf National as a crucial factor in the European victory. Le Golf National has long been considered a ball-striker’s paradise, a course where accuracy off the tee and into the greens tends to be more important than raw power. Astutely, in preparing the venue for competition, Ryder Cup Europe grew out the rough and kept the fairways narrow. Team USA found its distance advantage largely neutralized, and Team Europe thrived on the ball-striking prowess of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.

Seeing this as a rare triumph of old-school precision over new-school power, some suggested that Le Golf National should be a model for future tour venues. This argument, which I will spend much of this post refuting, stems from a premise that actually I agree with: because of advances in ball, driver, and instructional technology, power off the tee has become a disproportionate advantage in the professional game.

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Hole Story: The 2nd at Pasatiempo

The Gist: Overshadowed by more famous holes on more dramatic sections of the property, the subtle 2nd at Pasatiempo Golf Club may actually be one of the best examples anywhere of Alister MacKenzie’s design philosophy.

Pasatiempo Golf Club (Santa Cruz, CA)

2nd Hole

  • 437/420/376 yards
  • Par 4
  • 8/8/6 handicap

Oh, I can just hear the Twitterati clicking the reply bubble: “Well, sir, the 2nd is not even one of the top five holes at Pasa! What of the 3rd or the 11th? Or the 16th, which was Dr. MacKenzie’s personal favorite par 4?”

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