Golfers and architecture buffs sometimes lament that architects have missed the best possible routing for a given site. It’s hard to tell, really. Even if a golfer sees a “perfect hole” somewhere in the woods, he has no idea if it could have been connected to the rest of the routing without other holes suffering.
So, what is a good routing? In my book, it’s a golf course with 18 good (or better) holes and incorporates well established design principles, including the following attributes:
No one knows why par 72 is “standard,” but it is. Par 70 and 71 are acceptable, especially when older courses convert short par 5s to long par 4s, but par 69 and 73 are rare and unpopular. There are also good courses with “extra” par-3 holes and fewer par 5s.
While natural holes are most important, all other things being equal, mixing up holes with different pars provides variety. Some courses attain the theoretical ideal of having no two pars in sequence - Augusta National features front nine pars of 4-5-4-3-4-3-4-5-4.
Similarly, consecutive long and/or hard holes are boring, as are stretches of short and/or easy holes.
Yes, length matters. Golfers know what course length is comfortable for them. While length for all tees is also a function of tee organization, the back tees should be at least 6,700 yards. Better players want back tee length of about 7,200 yards, but with only 0.01 percent of players needing that length, some courses are skipping the back tees, and more should.
According to most data, the routing’s corridors between trees, water or natives should be at least 65 yards wide. Fairways need at least 30 yards of width. Between residential property lines, width should be at least 100 yards. Add “with more preferred” to the above statements.
Playable by All Levels of Golfers
After width, playability comes from limiting excessive forced carries (because average golfers top about 23 percent of their shots) and two-stroke hazards, like water and out of bounds.
All landing areas and targets should be visible to golfers, for beauty, safety, and strategy. While there are exceptions, blind shots are usually poor routing.Safety
Golf isn’t completely safe, but a good routing doesn’t create safety issues. Parallel fairways should be at least 70 yards centerline to centerline, and 50 yards from property lines. Tees and greens should be outside the normal landing zones of other holes, generally more than 15 degrees off the intended line of play. Add “with more preferred” to the above statements.
Fits Natural Topography/Attractive Holes
“Natural” holes come in all types, but usually have elevated tees, valley fairways and great green sites that just look “right” on the land. Many routings fix awkward holes with earthmoving, but if even that can’t be done, the hole was in the wrong place to start.
A swampy fairway makes for a bad hole. Sure, we can add drain pipes, but a good routing largely avoids swampy land, even in absence of regulations dictating it anyway.
Good golfers like some help hitting targets and average golfers need it. They get frustrated when good shots bound away from or even off the fairway or green because of unfavorable slopes. Golf holes should be located or otherwise be designed to be neutral toward or contain shots. Receptivity stems from adequate target width and depth, and forgiving slopes.
Good Circulation/Speed of Play
Good circulation is under appreciated as a design trait, but it reduces playing time and increases enjoyment. Good routings avoid “slow play” features such as tight hole spacing/frequent interference from parallel holes and unnecessary narrow play corridors.
A good routing places the clubhouse from 12 to 6 on the clock face, setting up both afternoon and morning holes to play away from the sun.