The MRP Golf Course Hall of Fame
Throughout the course of history there have been golf courses developed that stand the test of time, set new standards, achieve world-wide acclaim, and, at times, usher in new eras. Due to these course’s quality, accomplishments, and fame they’ve achieved a status that will never be lost. It is these types of courses that I have considered for my Hall of Fame. Over time, I will add and/or update my list. But for right now, the MRP Golf Course Hall of Fame looks like this:
The Old Course---St. Andrews, Scotland
The Old Course in Scotland was the world’s first golf course and to this day is considered by many to reign Supreme. The course was originally laid out on the links land of St. Andrews, which lay between the town of St. Andrews and beach. This links land has little use in everyday life. It is not particularly good for growing crops and it isn’t particularly scenic or lush. However, it is perfect for the game of golf. In fact as a testament to the perfection of the course and the grounds for golf there, golf has been played on this course since the 1400’s.
Given The Old Course’s long history and its land’s perfect nature for golf, it is said that the course was never really designed; rather Mother Nature shaped her over time. But there is no doubt the legendary Old Tom Morris did have a hand in tweaking the original design at St. Andrews. You see, in addition to Old Tom being a Champion golfer with 4 Open Championships to his name, he was also the greenskeeper at St. Andrews from 1865 to his death, in 1908.
As a further testament to its greatness, The Old Course has hosted the greatest golfers in the world on many occasions. In fact, it has hosted the Open Championship 29 times. And many of the all-time greats in the game of golf have been recognized as the “Champion Golfer of the Year” by winning on The Old Course of St. Andrews; Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus are a few of those great champions.
Given the course's wonderful history and terrific land for the game, you’d think it would have some great golf course architecture in place. And you’d be correct! The Road Hole, which is the par 4 17th hole, is considered by many to be the greatest par 4 in the world. And the par 3 11th, The Eden Hole, is one of the world’s truly great par 3’s. In fact, many consider the back nine to be one of the very best stretches of golf holes to ever be put together. And I can attest to the fact that playing the Eden Hole, traversing Hell, trying to par The Road Hole, and finishing in front of the R&A is one of the truly great thrills of my golfing life.
To do the Old Course justice in just a few paragraphs is not possible. The fact that 76 books have been written about this golf course should provide ample proof of that statement. Nevertheless, this is the most historic and most important golf course the world has ever seen…because without it, there would be no golf. I’ve mentioned a few words about it, but one could devote their entire life to studying it. In fact, I urge everyone to. The course is that good and that interesting.
Augusta National Golf Club---Augusta, GA
Augusta National officially opened in 1934. It was the culmination of a life-long dream for Bobby Jones. Of course, Mr. Jones was one of the very best golfers to ever tee it up. Among his 13 major championship victories were the 4 he won in 1930 as he became the only calendar year Grand Slam winner in golfing history.
Alister Mackenize was the man hired to design the golf course at Augusta National. Bobby Jones had a love affair with The Old Course in St. Andrews, as did Alister Mackenize. It is rumored that this common interest in The Old Course had a great deal to do with Mackenzie and Jones working together, as well as Mr. Jones playing Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, CA, another Mackenzie masterpiece.
Oddly enough, Augusta National is one of the most exclusive and private golf courses in the world, yet it annually hosts a major golf championship, The Masters. During this week they allow tens of thousands of golf enthusiasts to enjoy the facilities and watch the competition. The Masters is an invitational golf tournament and has been held at Augusta National since 1934, with the exceptions of the War Years from 1943-1945. Some of the very best golfers in the history of the game have won The Masters on this hallowed ground; Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan…to name a few.
Furthermore, the golf course has some of the world’s best and most iconic holes. In fact, a stretch of holes, the par 4 11th, the par 3 12th, and the par 5 13th, have earned their very own nickname, “Amen Corner”. In addition to this world famous stretch of holes, the course is well-known for its amazing greens. For this reason, putting is a key factor in determining the annual Masters champion.
The National Golf Links of America--Southampton, NY
The creation of The National is arguably the most important moment in American golfing history. The story of the course began when Charles Blair MacDonald went to St. Andrews, Scotland for schooling in the late 1800's. It was there were a young MacDonald took up golf. During his time in Scotland he would play many rounds at The Old Course and meet many legends of the game, including Old Tom Morris. However upon his return home to the United States, there was no golf.
For someone bitten by the golf bug, no golf is unacceptable. So, CB MacDonald embarked on his mission of bringing golf to America. He first laid out some golf courses in Chicago (including The Chicago Golf Club) prior to his founding of The National. But at NGLA he set out to build the ideal golf course. He wanted to construct a golf course in the United States that could stand toe-to-toe with the greats across the globe. In order to achieve this he traveled far and wide to study the truly great golf holes and courses of the world. He found ideal golf land on Long Island and broke ground at The National.
During the construction of the course, Seth Raynor was hired as a supervisor and, over time, he would turn out to become one of the game's great architects. Together, CB MacDonald and Seth Raynor built some great golf holes and a great course at The National. Some noteworthy holes at The National Golf Links are: The Eden hole which is a par 3 modeled after 11 at The Old Course; The Alps hole, a par 4 modeled after the 17th at Prestwick; and the par 3 Redan modeled after 15 at North Berwick. Right after its opening in 1911, The National achieved immediate fame and recognition as one of the world's truly great courses. In the end, CB MacDonald did achieve his dream of bringing golf to the United States and bringing an elite course to the United States as well. In fact, to this day The National Golf Links of America still maintains it status as an elite course and will host the 2013 Walker Cup.
Sand Hills Golf Club—Mullen, NE
Sand Hills is a course that ushered in a completely new era of golf course design; the destination golf club. Sand Hills is located in Mullen, NE. Mullen is 5 hours from Denver, CO and 6 hours from Omaha, NE. The population of Mullen is approximately 500. Yes, indeed, this qualifies Mullen as officially in the middle of nowhere. However, the middle of nowhere just might be the ideal place for the playing of golf.
Dick Youngscap secured an option in 1990 to purchase 8,000 acres of ranchland in the aforementioned Mullen, NE. And according to the golf club’s literature; “In September 1990, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw made their first site visit and shortly thereafter, they were retained as golf course architects. Over the next two years, Bill and Ben made numerous visits. By the spring of 1993, they had discovered over 130 holes, from which 18 were selected and a routing plan finalized. During 1993, most of the work was concentrated on the irrigation system, which comprises about 85% of the total golf course construction cost. Fairways, greens and tees were developed in 1994, using the following procedure: 1) mowing existing vegetation to ground level; 2) tilling all areas to a depth of 6′; 3) doing some minor finish grading on the greens – rough grading expense was less than $7,000 – primarily with a small power rake; and, 4) applying seed fertilizer and water.”
Not only did Mr. Youngscap’s Sand Hills usher in the destination course era, but it also truly epitomized natural and minimalistic golf course design. Of course, this truly minimalistic design works in this region because of the natural blow out bunkers and the massive size and scale of the property. But, make no mistake about it, having true Stewards in Youngscap, Coore, and Crenshaw were also crucial elements in making Sand Hills such a special place.
Some golfers might consider some of the newer destination courses to be better than Sand Hills. And, for sure, we all have our individual tastes. But Sand Hills is wonderful golf course and the fact it was the first destination course has created a unique aura and elevated it to legendary status. This level of recognition will never be lost and Sand Hills will be forever considered elite in the golf course architectural world; a designation it rightfully deserves.
The Golf Club---New Albany, OH
The Golf Club was started when Fred Jones, an insurance salesman, became fed up with the pace of play at his local country club. From that moment the seed was sown. Mr. Jones began acquiring land and developing a vision. That vision would eventually lead to a pure golf club, which would own 500 acres, but only have 18 holes. This framework would provide seclusion and privacy for men whose sole desire was to play golf; period.
But more than that, The Golf Club became a turning point and the beginning of a movement. From its origination in 1967, the movement spawned by The Golf Club was the “minimalist” movement in golf course architecture. In the height of the reign of Robert Trent Jones and his “maximalist” movement, whose main mantra was to use as much heavy earth moving equipment as necessary to make the land fit the architect’s preconceived ideas for the golf course, Fred Jones hired Pete Dye and Mr. Dye ushered in this new era. The mantra of the “minimalists” is to let the land dictate how the golf course will take shape and the architect’s main goal is to discover the holes rather than make them.
Interestingly enough, Pete Dye’s future work would not fully embrace this maxim. However, since The Golf Club’s inauguration the course is virtually unchanged. And there is no doubt that this fact clearly demonstrates this method’s staying power. And even more interesting, Mr. Dye went on to hire Tom Doak. And it was Tom Doak who took the initial spark provided by The Golf Club and turn this minimalist concept into an entire movement. And Fred Jones’ course was one of the most crucial steps in this process.
Sunningdale Golf Club---London, England
From the beginning, the game of golf was played near the beach on the Links-land. This was the land between the fertile farmland and the beach that was perfect for golf, but not really good for anything else. As the game began to gain in popularity, golfer sought to build courses on different pieces of land. Many difficulties were encountered along the way that made designing pleasurable golf courses away from The Links troublesome. Soil types affected the playing of the game, grass types added new issues, and trees were something not seen on the Links-land. All of these issues, and more, kept great inland golf from emerging.
However when Willie Park, Jr. designed the first course at Sunningdale, all of this changed. This breakthrough design made man’s desire to have a high quality and pleasurable golf course away from the beach a reality. Willie Park, Jr. designed The Old Course at Sunningdale in 1901 and then the great Harry Colt, who was the club’s Secretary, designed the New Course at Sunningdale in 1923.
Certainly Sunningdale led the charge regarding proliferation of great inland golf. Perhaps without Sunningdale the great game of golf would not have reached every corner of the globe. Perhaps Augusta National, The Golf Club, or Sand Hills would have never been built. And, without question, this magnitude of impact on the game’s history puts Sunningdale into my Hall of Fame. But simply looking at the courses at Sunningdale on the merits of their own design makes them pretty special places. As of August 4, 2012, Sunningdale Old and New are regarded as two of the best courses in the entire World by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest.
Royal Melbourne Golf Club---Victoria, Australia
The great Alistair Mackenzie teamed up with Alex Russell to design the courses at Royal Melbourne. Mackenzie is the designer of record on The West course, while Russell is credited with The East. However, the most highly regarded course at Royal Melbourne is The Composite Course which is an amalgam of both. Regardless of where you play, you’ll play a gem. In fact, since the beginning of the official golf course ranking lists, Royal Melbourne has been no lower than Top 10 on each and every list.
In keeping with the hallmark of strategic golf, wide fairways and big greens are the calling card at Royal Melbourne. And with this you might be in the fairway, but, per the day’s pin position, you might be in the wrong part of the fairway. In fact, the same can be said about the greens.
In a nutshell, Royal Melbourne brought truly great golf to Australia. And with the world-class Stewardship in charge of the course(s), they remain truly great to this day.
Pine Valley Golf Club---Clementon, NJ
If you are interested in starting a golf club, diligent study of Pine Valley is in order. For starters, the golf course is amazing. But if you read "Pine Valley Golf Club--A Unique Haven to the Game," you will find that the operations of the club itself have been world class for decades. Most memorable to me in my reading was how they handled The Great Depression; reaching out to every member and seeing how they could retain their membership, provide them with what they needed from the club, get through the day-to-day financial pressures, and be set up to thrive over the long-term. A must read for anyone with interest.
The club and course are the brainchild of George Crump, a wealthy hotelier, who dedicated his life to building this course and ensuring it was the very best of the very best. Unfortunately, Mr. Crump died before the course was finished. But without question, he achieved his dream. Pine Valley has been the consensus #1 golf course in the world for generations.
The course prides itself on being only set up for the best in the world to play it. It doesn't seek to be playable for all, but a challenge for the better player. No, sir. If you aren't good enough, you shouldn't be playing at Pine Valley. Regardless, I'm sure any student of golf course architecture, whether a good player or not, would enjoy a round at Pine Valley to see how great a golf course can truly be.