Dye? Nicklaus? Fazio? Jones? Golf course architects that raise your blood pressure
I’ve been doing some research today on America’s toughest golf courses, and one thing has become very apparent: Pete Dye is dominating the results like a Chinese gymnast on the uneven bars.
It’s got me thinking: what do you expect when you book a course and notice a designer attached? For me, when I see a name attached to a course like Pete Dye, I start thinking about awkward-looking bunkers, tough-to-hit greens and, depending on when the course was built, length. I think about all the junk Dye throws in front of you to take your eyes off the fairway. I think about leaving my new balls at home and pulling the Titleist HVCs out of the bottom of my golf bag.
Jack Nicklaus is another design name that is on my list quite a bit thus far. His design style is more difficult to pin down just because it’s changed so much. 1980s Jack courses had small greens with incredibly difficult and penal surroundings. But I really like some of his 2000-decade designs like Pronghorn and Cordillera Ranch. They’re still tough, but wonderfully fun to play, and there’s even short par 4s on them you can drive.
Tom Fazio-designed courses usually get me excited and I’m not immediately writing 8s on my scorecard. I think it’s because he seems to design course with a photographer’s eye. I have my camera with me on most courses, and he seems to have a photog’s eye when positioning bunkers and even backdrops. It all seems to fit, unlike Dye, who’s designs sometimes look we’re playing them after an earthquake. I have an especially hard time putting on Fazio greens because the breaks at time seem less obvious than Dye greens that have tiers and steep slopes. Fazio’s are gradual.
When I think of Tom Weiskopf designs (often with his partner Jay Morrish), I think about target-style desert courses that are best played with my driver in the trunk, as I’ve played in both Tucson and Scottsdale recently. But his two Michigan designs, Cedar River at Shanty Creek Resorts and Forest Dunes, are about as perfect of a mix of challenge and fun as you could ask for. Both I’d play every day of the week and, due to the obvious topographical differences to his target-style desert designs, are far less intimidating off the tee.
I’ve played some tough Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. courses like Valderrama and the Prince Course on Kauai. But generally speaking, their “hard par, manageable bogey” philosophy holds true and I’m usually able to avoid lost balls and snowmen. They don’t scare me (with the exception of the Prince course. I have to change my knickers every time I think about that course).
Some designers make me think I can shoot a low number. Gary Player and Arnold Palmer signature courses usually have me licking my chops. They seem to be built more for seniors and less for the aspiring pro, and greens and fairways are usually pretty easy to hit.
Also, I often look forward to Donald Ross or A.W. Tillinghast-designed courses because when I bomb my titanium cannon 90 yards right two fairways over, I can still find myself with a decent look at the green.
Just as Ross intended…
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