Below is a list of the ten golf course architects that I feel rank as the best of all time.
How can a man who's list of courses includes Augusta National and Cypress Point be anything but number one of the list of all-time great designers? He can't. Mr. Mackenzie's work may not be as prolific in terms of number of designs as other architects, however the quality of his work is second to none. Cypress and Augusta are considered two of the finest golf courses in the world. Additionally, he has designed Royal Melbourne in Australia, Crystal Downs in Michigan, Lahinch in Ireland, and Pasatiempo in California…all golf courses of the highest quality. His partnership with HS Colt is legendary for many reasons, including the clash of egos…but both have left there mark on the history of golf courses architecture. However despite being hired by Mr. Colt, Mr. Mackenzie's mark maybe just a little more indelible than anyone else's. Perhaps Alister Mackenzie's greatest contribution to the world of golf course architecture is his almost seamless blending of strategic golf course architecture with artistic beauty.
Without question, Mr. Ross is the most prolific of the old school golf designers. For certain, he was a business man in search of making a very lucrative living. For this, some design purists have criticized some of his works. However, how can you blame a man for making a living? Mr. Ross may have a great number of average to good courses, but he additionally has more than his fair share of timeless gems. Pinehurst #2 maybe his crowning achievement, but you certainly can not overlook Seminole, Oakland Hills, Scioto, Plainfield, Oak Hill, Wannamoisette, or Inverness. His routing and strategic bunker placement seems to earn the highest of praise, yet his subtleness is often overlooked as boring by the novice golfer. However, anyone who has ever played a Ross course will attest to the fact that his greens are anything but boring. Donald Ross is a genius in the field of golf course architecture and has left a lasting legacy that continues to entertain and confound avid golfers to this day.
I think a strong case for making Mr. Colt the #1 golf course architect can be made. He, in fact, hired Alister
Mackenzie to work for his firm and he employed Charles Alison. Both of these men are some of the most influential architects in history of the game and they were educated by Mr. Colt. However, based solely on his own merits HS Colt is one of the best ever. His masterpiece may just well be Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. However this is precisely the issue, he doesn't seem to have that one standout masterpiece. In addition to Portrush, Sunningdale is a fine course, his remodeling work at Muirfield earns high praise and his advisory services at Pine Valley are well respected. No matter what your point of view, his designs certainly challenge a players intellectual ability when deciding how to attack a course. His ideas of letting nature dictate the designs rather than imposing his architectural thoughts on the land via massive changes and earthmoving has had a long-term positive impact on his courses and the course designs of others.
I believe it is fair to say that Mr. Dye is the best of the modern era golf designers. His work at The Golf Club in Ohio ushered in an entire new movement in architecture, minimalism. The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin is home to four of his most stunning accomplishments…Whistling Straits (Straits and Irish) and Blackwolf Run (Meadow and River). All four of those courses are ranked as some of the top courses in the United States. Furthermore, he is the guy behind Kiawah's Ocean Course and TPC Sawgrass. Frankly, I could go on and on as the sheer volume of his designs are immense. However, this fact has not kept the quality of his work low. In fact, all these courses I have mentioned here are ranked in the very upper echelon of worldwide golf courses. Some of his main contributions include fostering dynamic thinking among architects. Many of his designs vary immensely from course to course. Dye is at times bold, at times minimalistic, but is always pushing the boundaries of golf course design and pushing players to overcome the fear and intimidation that comes with encountering something new on a course. He is certainly a legend in his own time.
During his time, "Tilly" designed and remodeled approximately 120 courses prior to the 1929 stock market crash. His masterpiece is probably his Winged Foot design. However, his efforts at Baltusrol, Bethpage, and the San Francisco Country Club can not be overlooked. He is known as the first architect who sought to build beautiful golf courses. Additionally, Tillinghast employed a wide variety of design ideas to his courses and he had no self-imposed limits concerning golf course architecture and aesthetics. He wasn't overly concerned with the length of a golf course or a golf hole and has been quoted as saying, "it isn't how far, but how good." The one big knock on AW Tillinghast's work is that after the financial debacle of the stock market crash and during the ensuing depression, he joined forces with the PGA and helped them refurbish and design courses. Many critics say that his work done during this time frame was not up to his previously established standards and seemed to lack the passion and design interest that his prior designs embodied. However, I think a little more research and education should reveal that he may have been the driving force in regards to saving the PGA and significantly benefiting many people, pros, and clubs/courses during this time of great economic turmoil. Phil Young's book, "A.W. Tillinghast; Creator of Golf Courses" sheds some very interesting light on Mr. Tillinghast's life and career.
Tom Doak is an architect that I think will continue to climb my Top Ten list as he builds more and more golf courses. He is already one of the greatest golf course architects of all-time with Unanimous Gems not only in the US, but on the international scene as well. Perhaps his landmark breakthrough was his design at Pacific Dunes, but his Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers, and Sebonack courses are also world-renowned. And his relatively new designs (Rock Creek Cattle Company and Old MacDonald) are gaining steam among the golf architecture intelligensia as we speak.. He is also legendary for his writings...The Confidential Guide to Golf Course Architecture and Anatomy of a Golf Course. Frankly, I don't think it is a stretch to imagine Mr. Doak challenging for the very top spot on my list in the future.
Old Tom Morris is perhaps the most historic figure associated with the game of golf. He is that old man with the long gray beard holding a golf club in all the old golf pictures you've probably seen. He was the greens keeper at St. Andrews and has won the Open Championship many times over. Back in the day, 1800's, he was the most prolific golf course designer. Some of the courses that are associated with him are: Royal County Down, Muirfield, Royal Dornoch,and Lahinch. Without question, these are some of the most well-known and highly regarded courses in the game. Given this I have considered putting Old Tom as the #1 designer on this list. But in the end, I can not justify it. However, he did lay the foundation for how a proper golf course needs to be laid out and for that he needs to be forever honored.
Mr. Maxwell is one of the most unheralded architects on my list. His three unanimous gems in the golfing world, Prairie Dunes, Southern Hills, and Crystal Downs, were built during The Great Depression and are in somewhat obscure locations. He co-designed Crystal Downs with Alister Mackenzie and while Mr. Mackenzie has courses on the Monterrey Peninsula, the Sandbelt of Australia, and one that annually host a major golfing championship (The Masters), Perry Maxwell's gems are in northern Michigan, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Not super hot tourist spots, to say the least. Nevertheless, the courses seem to be essential to any golf course architectural students curriculum. In fact, Mr. Maxwell earns the highest of praise for his routing and isn't the routing of a golf course, arguably, the most important part?
CB MacDonald/Seth Raynor
I rank Mr. Raynor and Mr. MacDonald together for various reasons. Perhaps the biggest of those reasons is the fact that Mr. Raynor was the protégé of CB MacDonald and they collaborated on a great many of their historic golf courses designs. Designs which include: National Golf Links, Chicago Golf Club, Shoreacres, Camargo, and Yale. They developed and designed some of the most amazing holes in golf. In fact, they had a repertoire of 22 holes that they designed. They called each one of these holes by name…Alps, Biaritz, Redan, Eden, Short, Long are a few of those names. For each course they would choose 18 of their holes which they thought suited the landscape and course plan the best. Obviously, this "template" they used regarding golf course design worked because so many of their courses are ranked among the greatest ever designed. Nevertheless, many critics discredit their work because of this "template" and use the argument that they lacked creativity. However, I would argue that if you are a smart enough designer to develop a group of holes that will challenge and delight all golfers across all aspects of their game, why would you deviate from that plan? The answer is you wouldn't and anyone who has had the pleasure to
play one of these courses would agree with me.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are more of the new kids on the block in the context of my top 10 golf course architects lists. Their big breakthrough came when they put together the masterpiece that is Sand Hills in Nebraska. This golf course seamlessly blends in with the environment of the sand hills of the area and ushered in the Minimalist era of golf course architecture. It is highly likely that their Sand Hills course will be the greatest course built in our current era. Its routing is perfect, the course itself is a perfect reflection of the land it is on, and it seems to have inspired an entire movement in the industry. Coore and Crenshaw have designed more golf course gems that include: Friar's Head, Cuscowilla, Bandon Trails and Old Sandwich. However, their goal is not to flood the system with their designs. Instead, they prefer to work on a limited number of sites and produce nothing but quality. Hopefully, they will be trend setters in this area as well.