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Michael Chadwick

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Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« on: October 18, 2023, 07:14:40 PM »
The return of the Lido, and the lidar technology used for shaping there and at what Tom Doak's describing for his Rolling Sands project has me wondering: do you think that there is an as yet undiscovered site, design, and construction process that could one-day unseat Pine Valley, Cypress Point, The Old Course, etc. from being considered the best course in the world?

Highly speculative, I know, but I think the question could spur discussion on styles of new course development, or how developers' motivation may contrast to someone like George Crump; as well as reveal one's own tendency for nostalgia or progression in the world of sport. 

Doesn't the golf world have more resources at its disposal than ever before for bottling that kind of magic? What's stopping it from happening? Could AI be employed to synthesize contour throughout the world's greatest links and produce a plan for bulldozing some far-flung sandy coastal site? The consensus opinion has been that we're fortunate to be in a 2nd Golden Age of architectural design (and I agree), but might we be on the cusp of a new era where design combines with a technical ability to shape contour in ways not previously possible? Could that be the key?       

I myself would like to think it's possible--desirable, even--that the world's best course hasn't yet been built. After all, aren't records meant to be broken?
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Craig Sweet

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2023, 08:25:29 PM »
As I travel across Montana I see all kinds of fantastic land begging to become a golf course.
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Kyle Harris

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2023, 08:50:42 PM »
As I travel across Montana I see all kinds of fantastic land begging to become a golf course.


It doesn’t need to be.


And likely doesn’t want to be.
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Constantly blamed by 8-handicaps for their 7 missed 12-footers each round.

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Chris Hughes

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2023, 10:54:26 PM »
Yes.


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mike_malone

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2023, 11:21:08 PM »
Do we know too much about architecture today? I think it may have been that the old great courses were more found than built so the place dominated the design decisions. Now we may be too aware of history and think too much to create a better course.


 Are modern designers constrained in their thinking about possibilities so courses may be a tad bit cookie cutter? Are there rules that they follow which hinder creativity?


Maybe the defining nature of those earlier great courses sets a limit for new courses.




AKA Mayday

Matt Schoolfield

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2023, 11:31:59 PM »
This type of question is obvious bait for someone like me, but I'll answer it. The correct answer is that the question makes no sense. There is no "best" because there is no accounting for taste. It's a fun pastime, but it's like arguing about Coke and Pepsi.

However, without that cop out, I think the answer is very obviously no. The game is constantly in flux, and what made a course great in 1900 will hardly hold in 2100. As technology advances, there will be talent out there with the tools to create beyond the limitations currently imposed.

Quote
construction process that could one-day unseat Pine Valley

All our "greatest" courses can be made better simply by being accessible. I would argue an accessible reproduction of Pine Valley would be a de facto superior course, simply because you can actually play it enough times to really understand it... especially if you were, you know, a normal middle-class person, or, well, a woman.

With machine learning applied to topography, we will likely be able to find many different sites around the country where we could even reproduce course like Augusta with minimal land moving. That way you wouldn't have to think about all the racist nonsense we're effectively deifying by kowtowing to a club that could honestly probably be held in infamy if we're honest with ourselves.

I'm sure folks will argue that "hey now, the course isn't the club" and all that, noting that they have played it, you know, once. Then in the same breath dismissing a reproduction course as somehow being inherently inferior because it's a reproduction. Because, as we all know, when we are focused only on the course (with no regard for the history or culture), an identical reproduction must still be inferior because of terroir or something.

I'd like to play good reproduction of Pine Valley, Augusta, or even a Cypress Point (if that were somehow possible, like Lido, without the ocean). And while it likely won't happen in my lifetime, I can certainly hope it does eventually. That said, as the costs associated with building a course come down, I obviously hope that golf course architecture becomes more like beer culture, in that, there stops being a "best" because we become so overwhelmed with amazing interesting and unique architecture that the question stops making sense. I can't imagine how amazing it would be to live in a world where the you could actually play all the courses designed by GCA nerds using PGA 2K (HB Studios) course designer online for fun.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2023, 11:58:53 PM by Matt Schoolfield »
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Tim Leahy

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2023, 11:50:53 PM »
What if a great site and architect were put together with a purpose like being the permanent home to the Ryder and Presidents Cup golf competitions. This would put all eyes on the course every two years and make the team events more competitive with no home course advantage. They could even play a new Major there occasionally. If the course were good enough with all those eyes and media on it couldn't it be considered the greatest after say 20 years of competitions. Isn't that how Augusta, St. Andrews and Sawgrass came into the discussion as greatest courses. Cypress and Pine Valley are originals with great designers and may never be matched but who knows about the future.  ???
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Sean_A

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2023, 03:29:17 AM »
Great is overrated.


Ciao
New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Turnberry, Isle of Harris, Benbecula, Askernish, Traigh, Minehead, St Medan, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

Mark Pearce

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2023, 04:29:55 AM »
Great is overrated.


Ciao
Indeed.


I recall Tom Doak giving a bunch of us a tour of Renaissance when it was being built.  At the far end he pointed towards the links land between Muirfield and the sea, which is owned by HCEG.  He said (I recall), that given that land to work with, he thought it would be possible to build the World's best course.  Someone asked whether HCEG might do that.  To which the response was along the lines of "they already have the World's best course, why would they want another one?"


Could a great architect take great land and build a course arguably greater than anything yet built?  Possibly.  But what on earth is the point of speculating when we have so many great, fun or other courses to discuss?

Adam Lawrence

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2023, 06:28:59 AM »
If you accept that there is such a thing as 'the best course in the world', as opposed to _your favourite_ (which I don't, or not necessarily anyway) then of course it is possible that the right architect, given the right client and the right piece of land, could build it.

BUT

You do have to realise that, the further up any ranking of anything you get, the finer the tolerances are. The best estimate I can find is that there are about 38,000 golf courses in the world. If you accept that there is such a thing as objective course quality, then, in theory, it is possible to rank all 38,000 in order. To build _the best_, as opposed to top five, ten, fifty or one hundred, means that there is less and less scope for anything to go wrong.

I remember talking about St Patrick's in Donegal once with a friend, before the course was finished and before I'd seen anything other than the bare land. It was obvious from a sight of the site (!) that a very fine course could, and given the team involved, would be built there. But Rosapenna had plenty of good golf, and didn't really have a need for any more. What it needed was a true marquee course that would elevate the resort and the region in status -- one on the level of Ireland's ‘Big Five' of Portrush, County Down, Portmarnock, Ballybunion and Lahinch. Those five have been the acknowledged best courses in Ireland for a long time, and for a reason. To know that, if you didn't create something on that level, the project wouldn't be a complete success, is quite a high pressure brief! Imagine being told that the goal is to build the best in the world!
Adam Lawrence

Editor, Golf Course Architecture
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Kalen Braley

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2023, 10:19:37 AM »
I've heard the Worlds Greatest Course is to be announced in an upcoming report.

Along with the Worlds Best Restaurant, Hottest Woman, Best Sports team, and Best Country.

Can't wait...  ::)

Peter Flory

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2023, 11:14:46 AM »
If you go by the rankings, the odds would seem to suggest that the best course has probably already been built. 

By Golf Magazine- world top 100
1) 1918
2) 1928
3) 1400
4) 1931
5) 1911
6) 1889
7) 1931
8. 1903
9) 1933
10) 1995

There have been plenty of great courses built in the modern age (by premier architects on premier land).  What is it about the older ones that makes them insurmountable? 

On that list, I'd say that the sites aren't really what sets them apart.  Cypress obviously has an all-world portion of coast from 15-17, but that's only 3 holes.  They are all strong sites, but I'd argue that there are plenty of better ones out there.  It seems like it is the actual architecture that does it for the courses on the list. 

A lot of the premier sites in the modern era have been used for resort courses.  I wonder if it takes a private course to go to the extremes (from an architecture perspective) to get in that top echelon.  The best analogies that I can think of are music and movies.  If you're trying to get your album or film ranked in the top 10 of all time, it probably isn't going to be something that appeals to the masses, but rather to the critics.  And it probably has to be something that unfurls itself with multiple plays. What is the golf equivalent to Citizen Kane or Dark Side of the Moon? 

Peter Sayegh

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2023, 11:47:37 AM »
Since you're asking, yes.
At least for me.
I play it often.

Charlie Goerges

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2023, 11:57:07 AM »
This question is a neat Rorschach test.
Severally on the occasion of everything that thou doest, pause and ask thyself, if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives thee of this. - Marcus Aurelius

Ira Fishman

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2023, 02:40:41 PM »
If you go by the rankings, the odds would seem to suggest that the best course has probably already been built. 

By Golf Magazine- world top 100
1) 1918
2) 1928
3) 1400
4) 1931
5) 1911
6) 1889
7) 1931
8. 1903
9) 1933
10) 1995

There have been plenty of great courses built in the modern age (by premier architects on premier land).  What is it about the older ones that makes them insurmountable? 

On that list, I'd say that the sites aren't really what sets them apart.  Cypress obviously has an all-world portion of coast from 15-17, but that's only 3 holes.  They are all strong sites, but I'd argue that there are plenty of better ones out there.  It seems like it is the actual architecture that does it for the courses on the list. 

A lot of the premier sites in the modern era have been used for resort courses.  I wonder if it takes a private course to go to the extremes (from an architecture perspective) to get in that top echelon.  The best analogies that I can think of are music and movies.  If you're trying to get your album or film ranked in the top 10 of all time, it probably isn't going to be something that appeals to the masses, but rather to the critics.  And it probably has to be something that unfurls itself with multiple plays. What is the golf equivalent to Citizen Kane or Dark Side of the Moon?


Peter,


My sense is it is so difficult to knock off the incumbents because (a) the form/function balance is more constrained in golf architecture so whether a private or public course, there is a limit on how far an architect can push the balance point—look at how polarizing Mike Strantz designs or even Mr. Dye’s designs can be and (b) golf is an arena that so values tradition that there is a heavy thumb on the scale for the older and venerated. Those two factors combined mean that it is very difficult for critics/us to really feel confident in asserting that a terrific newer course is clearly better than the older ones. Perhaps in 50-70 years, the playing field will be a little more even because the modern courses no longer will be categorized as “not old” or “not classic” enough.


Ira

Charlie Goerges

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #15 on: October 19, 2023, 03:08:25 PM »
(b) golf is an arena that so values tradition that there is a heavy thumb on the scale for the older and venerated.




If we're talking about the rankings or even the general consensus, I think this is the most likely answer.
Severally on the occasion of everything that thou doest, pause and ask thyself, if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives thee of this. - Marcus Aurelius

Tom_Doak

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #16 on: October 19, 2023, 04:24:50 PM »

I remember talking about St Patrick's in Donegal once with a friend, before the course was finished and before I'd seen anything other than the bare land. It was obvious from a sight of the site (!) that a very fine course could, and given the team involved, would be built there. But Rosapenna had plenty of good golf, and didn't really have a need for any more. What it needed was a true marquee course that would elevate the resort and the region in status -- one on the level of Ireland's ‘Big Five' of Portrush, County Down, Portmarnock, Ballybunion and Lahinch. Those five have been the acknowledged best courses in Ireland for a long time, and for a reason. To know that, if you didn't create something on that level, the project wouldn't be a complete success, is quite a high pressure brief!


Imagine being told that the goal is to build the best in the world!




Well if you don't set your sights high, you're probably not going to get there.


Quite a few of my clients have been happy to talk about reaching the top 100 as if it should be easy to do, and one of them even insisted that the top 50 was a goal . . . which is pretty ridiculous, considering the numbers in your post above and the roster of excellent courses we would have to beat out to get there.  And yet, those are generally my highest-ranked courses, and the guy who was aiming for the top 50 got his wish.


I have yet to have a client who dared to say they wanted to build THE BEST course in the world.  It's a ridiculous goal on the face of it, and just by saying it, you're going to have people who are fans of Pine Valley, Sand Hills, St. Andrews and all the rest lining up to denounce you for disrespecting them, so I don't think anyone would ever go that far.  But I think that's the only way it would happen . . . by setting the goal and by insisting that is the goal and not making any compromises and not being afraid to take chances to get there.  Because you would really have to take some big chances to get there.


But I do also agree with Sean Arble, that too many people are consciously trying to do "great", often at the expense of the cool. A fine example in my own area is Belvedere Club . . . a simple course with a wonderful set of greens.  Nobody builds a course like that anymore!  The people who could are aiming "higher" for some reason, and overcomplicate their courses, and I'm including myself in that criticism.  But that seems to be what our clients want from us, and especially considering the amount of $ it costs to build something new, they feel like they have to aim high instead of just producing something that's fun to play everyday.


The rankings have really messed up people's priorities.



Peter Flory

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #17 on: October 19, 2023, 08:33:52 PM »

It makes sense that trying to surpass 120 years of art with any one individual piece will be a low probability undertaking... in any field. 


I haven't been to Tara Iti, but in just looking at the pics, I could imagine something like that- i.e. such a stunning site combined with inspired design, to take the top spot.  But it would probably have to be 20% better than the current number 1 course to ever surpass it in the rankings... not just say, 1% better. 

Jim_Coleman

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #18 on: October 19, 2023, 08:38:05 PM »
   A friend recently returned from playing Cypress Point for the first time.” His review, “But for the ocean, it’s just another course.” My response, “But for the ceiling, the Sistine Chapel is just another church.” No, neither Cypress Point nor the Sistine Chapel will be topped. So what?

mike_beene

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #19 on: October 19, 2023, 10:50:04 PM »
Seems like designing the inland holes at Cypress,Pebble, or Teeth of the Dog type sites is a true test of skill.

Jeff Schley

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #20 on: October 20, 2023, 10:58:01 AM »
With over 30k plus courses in the world I certainly would think so.  With what less than 50 or so being built a year in the world I think the best land in environmental sensitive areas has been used up while it could be.
Also, we are never going to see all the courses in the world anyway, so seeing what isn't "great" helps us appreciate what is "great".
"To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice your gifts."
- Steve Prefontaine

Ben Sims

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #21 on: October 20, 2023, 11:28:53 AM »
What is the golf equivalent to Citizen Kane or Dark Side of the Moon?


Dark Side of the Moon isn’t even the best album between 1970-75. Arguably the worlds foremost rock critic, Robert Christgau, gives it a B. Any of the worlds foremost golf architecture critics giving Pine Valley, Cypress Point, or St Andrews a B?


This isn’t a critique on your judgement, more a judgement on the question raised in general in the OP. Artistically, it’s damn near impossible to agree on what a “standard” is. That said, Brian Schneider in his bio on our club’s website lists St Andrews as his favorite course. Blake Conant lists North Berwick. Actual real life golf architects listing certain courses as “standards” strikes me as pragmatic and prudent, given their position and influence. Outside of that, I’m not sure if a best—or more accurately a standard example of best—exists.


By the by I really enjoyed your interview with Jim Colton.




Ian Andrew

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #22 on: October 20, 2023, 06:21:42 PM »
The consensus opinion has been that we're fortunate to be in a 2nd Golden Age of architectural design (and I agree), but might we be on the cusp of a new era where design combines with a technical ability to shape contour in ways not previously possible? Could that be the key?

Two thoughts...

I don't think we are. It's a better era than the last major one, but at least that one had some great reactions and departures  from what was being done. The bulk of the work was pretty average, but the reactions were often really spectacular. This era clearly has some excellent work, and has been lucky to work with some fantastic sites, but as a movement it's presenting a very similar vision for the art. Almost all the work draws from the same basic philosophy and works around a pretty consistent aesthetic. That's not a second Golden Age to me. The original Golden Age had far more breadth of ideas.

Technology is a tool. Creativity has nothing to do with tools. Pencils or computers achieve the same results in planning. It doesn't matter which you use since in the end its all about the built form, which is done with other tools, but more importantly are assessed and improved by people in the field. Tools making decisions will always play to the consensus. If anything more technology will lead us to a less interesting architectural future.

-

Michael Chadwick

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #23 on: October 20, 2023, 11:28:16 PM »

Thank you for some thoughtful contributions, some of which I'm unfortunately not going to address. But these two points caught my attention:   


It seems like it is the actual architecture that does it for the courses on the list. 


I wonder if it takes a private course to go to the extremes (from an architecture perspective) to get in that top echelon.  The best analogies that I can think of are music and movies.  If you're trying to get your album or film ranked in the top 10 of all time, it probably isn't going to be something that appeals to the masses, but rather to the critics.  And it probably has to be something that unfurls itself with multiple plays. What is the golf equivalent to Citizen Kane or Dark Side of the Moon?

Peter, I think that's an appropriate analogy, that critically well-regarded work often has a divisive quality to it, and frequently isn't understood or appreciated (at least at first) by the general public. Who was it who said anyone saying he likes The Old Course after one play is lying? Are Fownes Sr. and Jr. golf's Kane due to the relentless vision for their own course?  Divisiveness gets talked about at a number of the consensus top ranked courses. Perhaps with exception to TOC or MacKenzie's own utilitarian style (who found PV too hard), others like Pine Valley, Oakmont, Shinnecock, Lido now (?) tend to be regarded as both strategic yet still brutalizing and penal for errant shots. I'm not sure any course being built for the "retail golfer" (not my term) of the last 30 odd years, regardless of its site's magnificence, has attempted to have as much teeth, because that wouldn't have been in the client's brief.

Which ties into this:   

I have yet to have a client who dared to say they wanted to build THE BEST course in the world.  It's a ridiculous goal on the face of it, and just by saying it, you're going to have people who are fans of Pine Valley, Sand Hills, St. Andrews and all the rest lining up to denounce you for disrespecting them, so I don't think anyone would ever go that far.  But I think that's the only way it would happen . . . by setting the goal and by insisting that is the goal and not making any compromises and not being afraid to take chances to get there.  Because you would really have to take some big chances to get there.


Thanks for this, Tom. Part of why I asked my OP question was because I'm beginning to wonder how the client may set the project's ceiling just as much--if not more?--than the architect hired or site available. Has there been a course developer since Crump who's shared as brazen of a goal?

What kind of big chances would you have to make to get there, Tom? Any specific ideas? And connecting to what's been done at Lido and (eventually) at Rolling Sands, do you think current technology trends can be beneficial--or even essential--for making those "big chances" more plausible?   
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Tim Martin

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Re: Has the World's Greatest Course Been Built Yet?
« Reply #24 on: October 21, 2023, 10:04:10 AM »
What other golf course besides Pine Valley was lucky enough to have Crump, Colt, Tillinghast, Maxwell and Alison as a collaborative force behind the design? I’m not sure it has a chance of being supplanted.

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