In the early 20th century, a group of talented men designed golf courses throughout the United States that remain the gold standard in golf course architecture. While there is some debate about when the "Golden Age" of golf course design began, suffice it to say that Francis Ouimet's U.S. Open victory over Brits Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913 piqued Americans' interest in the game. The courses that would be designed over the next two decades are to this day some of best the game has to offer.
Before the Golden AgeThe modern game of golf has come a long way since its popularity began to spread into North America from Scotland in the late 19th century, and when you consider the spurts of growth that have been seen in the United States alone, it's truly astounding. Prior to the Golden Age, however, golf course architecture was not an exact science. Scottish consultants would stake out the tee boxes, greens, and hazards before leaving the next day for the next job, and the actual construction of the course was left to those who knew little about the game or the characteristics that make a great golf course. These courses lacked personality, but they did provide a place for people to learn and play the game.
Stepping Up Their GameThe periods of healthy growth in the game have always been tied to the economy. Between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression, the world's greatest golf course architects would emerge, and the number of courses in the United States would grow from fewer than 750 in 1916 to nearly 6,000 by 1930. During this Golden Age, golf course design became much more than just a hobby. In those days, the only way to move dirt from one place to another was by using horsepower, so proper site selection was paramount. Architects were given ideal sites as canvases for their work, and in turn, these architects attempted to blend their talents into the existing landscape to take advantage of the natural contours and features that are conducive to a great experience for the avid golfer. One of the era's most accomplished architects, Alister MacKenzie, said: "The chief object of every golf architect or green keeper worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from Nature herself."
A Legacy Left BehindArchitects of the Golden Age produced some of the most innovative and bold course designs ever seen in America. More than 80 years after they were built, these courses are still among the greatest golf venues in the United States. Many of the names – like Charles Blair Macdonald (often called the father of American golf architecture), Alister MacKenzie, H.S. Colt, Seth Raynor, George C. Thomas, Willie Watson and Donald Ross – are familiar to golf enthusiasts. These men took their craft to a whole new level during the Golden Era, leaving an indelible mark on approaches to course design and on the game itself.
What are the important characteristics that you believe lend themselves to a well-designed golf course?