Retaining an experienced architect is the best way to assure quality and eliminate design mistakes. However, it doesn’t always work out. Every architect, including those at the top of the profession, has occasionally made a dubious or curious design decision that appear to be “senior moments.” Some are funny, at least in hindsight. While many of these are documented, some are anecdotal, so I present them only as legend … (wink, wink)

Math Mistakes – Part 1, Correlating Units

When Donald Ross designed a course in western Canada, he sent plans with horizontal measurements in yards and vertical elevations marked in feet. His green detail showed grades as “0,” +5, (-2), etc. The inexperienced contractor assumed all units were in yards, initially building mounds and green contours three-times higher than Ross intended, resembling the nearby ski hills.

Other architects have had problems when first working in meters rather than feet. A meter is 10 percent longer than a yard, causing some exaggerated contours. It happened on my first Asia project, but I liked the boldness, and figured slower greens would allow us to get by with wild contours.

Pete Dye doesn’t use plans, but likes to contour greens aggressively, like he did at the original TPC. The pros formed a committee to work with him to soften greens. One pro commented, “Pete, there is nothing wrong with that mound in the middle of the first green … but you liked it so well you repeated it 17 times!”

Math Mistakes – Part 2, Simple Counting

Inverness and Crystal Downs mistakenly were routed with only 17 holes, and fixed by inserting a par 3 hole. Robert Trent Jones is said to have handled a comparable situation by saying, “When you pay me, I will tell you where the last hole goes.”

There’s an old saying – “If a routing plan is finished easily and quickly, it probably has 17 or 19 holes.” At least having 19 holes on the first try allows an excuse – you were proposing a “betting hole.”

Another had budgeted 120,000 square feet of bunker sand, but placed an 180,000-square foot sand bunker between the first two holes built, requiring a change order to build the other bunkers on the course.

Even the Best Made Plans...

Blueprints (and modern digital images, reversed with the click of a button) have been printed backward, or at wrong scale. One architect designed a long and narrow green, but mistakenly drew it 90 degrees to hole, creating a wide and shallow green. In many cases, golfers wouldn’t know a green design was wrong, but in this case, the backing mounds were in front of the green, hiding it from golfers.

Another architect designed the greens in 1 inch = 20 feet scale, but inadvertently put 1 inch = 30 feet scale on the plans, resulting in – to his surprise – greens being built 50 percent too large.

Contour/elevations labeling mistakes occur – one architect designed a 10-foot-high mound, but actually drew – and got – a 10-foot-deep hole. To save face, the architect maintained he wanted the deep hole, even requesting it be made deeper to sell the story.

Crossing the Line

Property lines are sometimes inconvenient, and some have built golf holes on adjoining property. Sometimes the owner will buy the required property as being a cheaper correction than rebuilding the offending golf hole(s).

Sometimes You Don’t Notice It Right Away... or Just Don’t Care

Failure to account for future tree growth is a common design mistake, in back yards or along fairways. However, trees grow so slowly no one notices for decades as their hole gradually becomes poorly designed. I have seen a few large trees used to create dogleg par-3 holes, which tree-hugging golfers seemingly continue to happily play. Tropical trees have been proposed in northern climates, which sometimes lasts a few years, but ends in dead trees sooner or later.

Failure to Keep Track

Busy architect and consulting tour pros hand work off to talented associates, limiting their design participation to sporadic sites visits, where their project unfamiliarity can be embarrassing. One architect, proclaimed a huge mound near a green to be “an excellent spectator mound, just as I envisioned.” Everyone else knew it was just topsoil storage pile. Others have had to be told what hole they are on, or maybe even the name of the course.

Jeffrey D. Brauer is a veteran golf course architect responsible for more than 50 new courses and more than 100 renovations. A member and past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, he is president of Jeffrey D. Brauer/GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas. Reach him at