The Golf Architects: Origin Story

My life as a golfer began with an invite to Minor Park Golf Course in Kansas City. I was 12, I think. The course website today says, “where many local golfers remember it as the first golf course they played.” It also touts its “walkability” and a “reasonable length for all players to manage.” I don’t remember much about that first round, but my love for the game and a swing that couldn’t be classified as anything but “self-taught” were born that day on a parkland muni in South KC. 

My appreciation for golf architecture began a few years later at 15 when I was armed with a driver’s license and enough luck to work as a cart boy at Deer Creek, a Robert Trent Jones II design, and two summers later, the Tom Fazio-sculpted Hallbrook Country Club. At $6 an hour plus tips and all the golf you could play on Mondays, it was the best job a high schooler could have. If it wasn’t Monday, I was headed out to any of the 50 or so courses in and around Kansas City with my Dunlap beryllium copper irons, Ben Hogan woods, Ping O-Blade putter, and all the lost balls I could scrounge from work. 

While in chemistry, physics, or algebra class, I would use my time to draw fantastical golf holes where my lab experiment notes should have been. There were no Redan or Biarritz holes as I had never heard those terms, even though I’d unknowingly played them a few times. Pre-internet days were tough for slightly obscure obsessions like golf architecture, so I sketched holes in a notebook and mentally cataloged holes that worked and ones that didn’t. I paid attention to how courses flowed from 1 to 18 and cursed under my breath when the starter sent us off of #10. 

I’m no expert, but a love of the game and an appreciation for its artists are all that are required to create this site. You’ve heard the old joke that sex and golf are the two things you don’t have to be good at to enjoy. I would extend that comparison to say that sex is certainly better with a beautiful partner and golf is better played on a gorgeous layout. 

In the art world, you’d need $50 million to own a Van Gogh or a Picasso. In golf, fifty bucks will get you four hours to try and own a masterpiece. Okay, so it’s more likely $250 and five and a half hours, but I’m forever a golf optimist where my missing tee ball must be in the cup and not in the backside bunker. The ability for anyone to not only play on the same field as the pros, but also on a course designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, Old Tom Morris, or Eddie Hacket, is special to the game of golf. The history, legacy, artistry, and beauty are all there for anyone who wants to take it in. 

18 Golf Course Architects

For the first phase of The Golf Architects, I’ve selected 18 designers or design teams that I believe are the Frank Lloyd Wright, Monet, or the Yves Saint Laurent of golf course architecture. Spanning lives and course design from 1821 to modern-day, these 19 men created many of the game’s masterpieces that still stand today. From Augusta to Bandon Dunes, their courses are true works of art and I’ll spend my life trying to play as many as possible. (In no particular order, except for Old Tom who gets top billing.)

The Front 9

1. Old Tom Morris

2. Tom Doak

3. Dr. Alister MacKenzie

4. Seth Raynor

5. Eddie Hackett

6. Pete Dye

7. Gil Hanse

8. David McClay Kidd

9. Mike Strantz

The Back 9

10. Charles Blair MacDonald 

11. Perry Maxwell 

12. Tom Fazio

13. A.W. Tillinghast

14. Harry S. Colt

15. Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw

16.  George C. Thomas

17. Robert Trent Jones

18. Donald Ross

**The Front 9 is loaded on the site while the Back 9 will be completed soon. If you’re wondering how the nines were chosen, it may have something to do with how many courses they’ve each completed and the intimidation factor of the course spreadsheet. If you’re looking at DMK with 15 courses and Donald Ross at more than 400, it’s a pretty easy decision on who to do first.

**Please note there are definitely multiple errors and omissions. Courses get renovated and redesigned and different designers are given credit at different points in time. Augusta National is a prime example. Dr. Alister McKenzie was the original designer, working with Bobby Jones, but three other golfers on this list – Perry Maxwell, Robert Trent Jones, and Tom Fazio – all worked on the layout over the years as well as Tom’s uncle George Fazio, Joseph Finger, Clifford Roberts, Bob Cupp, and George Cobb. Wikipedia doesn’t help much either as it’s about as consistent as a 20 handicapper. Some private courses don’t like to share much of anything on their website, opting for a digital gate to match the one at their entrance. 

All of that being said, hundreds of hours have gone into researching architects and the courses they built with the goal to make sure the site is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Feel free to share any corrections or recommendations. The help is very much appreciated. 

Chris Austin — Founder, Editor, Writer, Traveling Golfer

(Chris is also the Founder, Editor, Writer, and Rapidly Improving Golfer at 30Putts.com, the newest and soon to be best putting resource online.)