What makes a golf course great?

As I was stumbling through the internet for some fun golf tid-bits to share with my Rock Heads on Facebook and Twitter I fell onto an article on What Makes a Golf Course Great written by Mike W of Wamgolf.com (you can follow him on twitter @WAMgolfs)

He gave a some fairly thought provoking reasons as to what indeed makes a good golf course:

  1. History Are historic courses great golf courses? When you think history the first one that probably comes to mind is St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. Walking the same fairways as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and other golf greats. The special moments that have happened at a course but also the history of the club house and the tradition surrounding the clubs.
  2. Prestige or Status Is the status of the club what makes it great? A course so difficult to get on that you only hear rumors about it. A place like Pine Valley or Augusta National where so few get to walk and yet they are held in such high regard. Does this make them great?
  3. World Ranking The top ranked golf courses in the world are obviously something special. They put through some rigorous criteria to be ranked in the top 100 but does saying that you played the #1 ranked golf course in the world, country or state add to the greatness? Do we assume it’s great because of the ranking it holds or do we judge it ourselves?
  4. Location What makes a successful restaurant? Location, location, location. Is this the same for a golf course? Playing in United Kingdom or the Caribbean could make a golf course great. I have been fortunate enough to play in Bermuda several times and it’s an amazing island for golf.
  5. Scenery & Views This ties in with location. I love unique scenery on a golf course. Whether it’s a castle, a Caribbean island, or the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, scenery can take an average course and make it something special.
  6. Course Conditions This should probably be number one but in some cases it’s not. A course with great location and great history can be ruined by poor conditions. I was excited to play Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, Maine, but after playing it, I was disappointed in the conditions. The fairways were not well kept and the greens were rather slow. A course known as the place of “Presidential Golf” should be in better shape.
  7. The Clubhouse The clubhouse can make or break a golf course. Ever get to a course and you’re welcomed by a trailer? Kind of disappointing. On the radio show last week Patricia Hannigan from Golf Girl’s Diary called in and mentioned the clubhouse at Winged Foot as something she remembered. I’ll never forget the clubhouse at Pine Valley. It was historic, classy and traditional.
  8. The Layout or Signature Hole Ah yes, the signature hole. Every golf course has one but is yours good enough to make a great course? One course comes to mind is a public course in Connecticut, Tradition of Wallingford. What makes them special? They have an island green par 3. I personally don’t think they promote this enough, everyone loves a shot at an island green. Does this one hole make the course great? No, but it will make people return!
  9. Difficulty Is it the challenge that brings you back? My goal at Pine Valley & Aronimink was to break 90… both were a fail as I put up numbers in the 90’s. I loved the challenge and I think difficult courses can be great, as long as they are fair.
  10. Service If I’m paying for something, I want top service. If you have a caddy, you want a caddy who knows the course. Maybe free use of the range or someone to meet you at the bag drop to check you in makes you happy. When I pay to play, I hope to get an experience out of it, not just a round of golf.

There are only a few issues i have with this list. I personally don’t think that World Ranking should even be on it, and should perhaps be a separate blurb at the end. Mike was right in saying that while there are lots that go into the rankings of a course, but we should, as golf fans, be judging it ourselves!

Also this caveman is a great fan of Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport Maine, But depending on the time of year, it definitely gets quite difficult to maintain. And while I understand that the poor conditions can heavily sway your opinion, and first impressions are the most important, he may have to give it another go! Also check out some of the other great courses in that State!

Lastly, I would probably add Nostalgia and/or Memories to the list. They are, in a very important sense, different from the history of the golf course. Many of my favorite courses are favorites because of the company i have kept while playing the round, or because of the memories I racked up while playing; including the first drive that landed on the fairway, first sunk hole that wasnt on a mini golf course.

Overall, it was a well written article and I felt compelled to share! Keep up the good work Mike, and thanks for rating courses! But this caveman encourages all his Rock Heads to go out and give these courses a go, try them out for yourself! What do you think makes a golf course great?


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