The Epic School of Golf Course Design
As with pretty much every aspect of the game, there’s no one right way to design a golf course; in fact the variety experienced by playing a number of courses is a huge part of what makes the sport so enjoyable for every golfer. But over the course of my +/- 20-year infatuation with golf—more so in the last eight of those years than in the previous 12—I’ve developed a fairly well-defined lens through which I view every course I play, and by which I judge the success of the design.
In his seminal work Grounds for Golf, Geoff Shackelford discusses six schools of design: the Natural, the Penal, the Strategic, the Heroic, the Freeway, and the Framing. The goal of this website is to assert and celebrate the existence of a seventh design school: the Epic.
I hope that the following distinctions, each of which will be fleshed out fully in the coming months, will help the reader get a handle on the characteristics of this school:
- Epic Golf IS…
- A Passion
- At Ease with the Amateur and the Anonymous
- Honest and Intimidating
- Muscular, Vigorous, and at Times Raw
- Manifest and Inevitable
- Grand but Intimate
- Adventurous and Thrilling
- Responsive to Course Management
- Concerned with Pacing
- Demanding Off the Tee
- Exhausting and Satisfying
- Partial to the Vintage
- Innately Appealing
- Memorable; Laden with Character
- Epic Golf IS NOT…
- A Business
- Driven by the Professional and the Ego
- Gimmicky or Deliberately Uncomfortable
- Flabby, Anorexic, or Delicate
- Contrived or Conspicuously Cerebral
- Wasteful and Sprawling
- Bland and Insipid
- Defined by Strategy
- Obsessed with Routing
- Charitable with Its Tee Shots
- Soothing and Facile
- Excited by the Contemporary
- Reliant on Scenery
- Spectacularly Ordinary
While I have no formal training in earthmoving, drainage, agronomy, or environmental concerns, neither did many of history’s most successful golf course architects…they simply found people who did have expertise in those areas to help them accomplish their vision.
“The fact that golf courses are interactive–they are built to be played–gives the golfer special license to criticize.”
— Tom Doak, The Anatomy of a Golf Course
What I do have is a passion and an appreciation for architectural history and architectural criticism–and not just for golf courses. (It was almost more than a passion. I went to grad school in architecture for a year before deciding that it wasn’t my field, and I’m still generally disposed to most design topics.)
Architecture and golf architecture similar in that they are both experiential. I couldn’t agree more with Tom Doak’s quote at the left. And I hope Tom will not mind when I inevitably criticize his own work in future articles on this site!
I don’t by any means profess that Epic characteristics comprise the only lens through which to evaluate course design. But it is my firm opinion that the game would be even more addictive for the vast majority of golfers if more architects considered these criteria in their designs.
—David Mihm, September 2009