Designing a Golf Course: How Hard Could It Be?

Played any beautiful courses lately? Even if you haven’t, you probably have the notion you could design one of those yourself. And a darn good one.

Course design can be artistic but also relies on geography and science. As well as an understanding that less is often more. (67 bunkers and an island-tee-to-island-fairway-to-island-green hole is great β€” for a video game. But in real life, it’s a pain!)

The best layouts, as players can attest, blend the lay of the land with a spark of ingenuity.

Here are some principles designers consider when taking a pencil to blueprint.

1. Start with the Green

Each hole comes down to the putting surface, no matter what the tee and fairway look like. It’s a defining feature, where approach shots are pivotal. Everything β€” from contour, shape, and size β€” should jive with how the player got there in the first place.

DID YOU KNOW: A course designer is a landscape architect who knows the game? Their consideration should extend from weekend duffers to the highest pro ranks.

Dunes Golf and Beach Club Hole 18

2. Appreciate the Landscape

There’s coherence between implements and natural topography, including paths, vegetation, water, and more. What nature has provided must accommodate traditional norms, such as par values. Also, how can each hole lead to the next, with proximity between green and the next hole’s tee box?

DID YOU KNOW: According to, American designers can earn about $24 per hour or $49,114 annually? Top-tier designers can make more than $63,000 per year.

Caledonia Golf Course Hole 18

3. Consider the School of Thought

Three philosophies have emerged in course design: Penal, strategic, and heroic. Distinguishing qualities of each:

PENAL | The logic that there exists one way to play a hole. Usually, it’s straight down the middle with little room for error.

STRATEGIC | This approach invokes the mental game, giving players the power of decision-making. They can attempt the shot that gives them the right mix of risk and reward for their game and round.

HEROIC | It appeals to those who play courageously and seek thrills. Meet the challenge, claim the reward. Fail to seize the moment, and suffer the consequences.

The best design doesn’t live in one camp but melds the three for a superlative experience.

DID YOU KNOW: For all that a course should entail, it takes about 140-180 acres of usable land? This includes 18 holes with a par around 72, plus practice range and greens.

4. See the Big Picture

Architects get involved early to help coordinate so many elements:

  • Construction
  • Cost estimation
  • Detailed design
  • Market analysis
  • Master planning
  • Permitting
  • Site selection

It’s a complicated procedure, the groundwork for any project before hole design begins.

DID YOU KNOW: THE U.S. Golf Association acknowledges a par-6 as any hole longer than 670 for men, 570 for women? Yet, some championship courses have holes longer than 700 yards as par 5s.

Myrtle Beach National South Creek Hole 5

5. Take Some Risks

Some designers concede No. 1 to a gentle handshake introduction, an easy, friendly start to the round. But golfers come to play, not to find an easy way in. Start the conquest and risk-reward from the first tee and let the course unfold from there.

DID YOU KNOW: calls Shadow Creek Golf Course in Nevada the world’s most expensive. At $500 per round, you get driven to and from the course in a limo, but tee times are by MGM Mirage resort guests only.

Myrtle Beach National West Course Hole 8

In Conclusion…

There are so many more factors we couldn’t even touch on here, but the course design is nuanced work. The best tracks come from a love of the game, the landscape, and an appreciation of all other factors. The best result: A captivating, challenging course that showcases the environment it’s in.

Green at Hole 12 at Pawleys Plantation golf course

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