The Best American Golf Course Designers

The Best American Golf Course Designers
Picture of Vincent JS Wood
Updated: 25 January 2016
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Golf courses most often follow the original line of the landscape but some modifications must always take place along the way, either to add more of a challenge to the game or to make the terrain more playable. We have selected some of the most famous golf course designers and architects whose work defines the USA’s golf landscape today.
Trump National GC

A.W. Tillinghast

Noted as one of the first golf course architects to pursue aesthetic beauty in his golf course designs, A. W. Tillinghast was a prolific golf course architect of his time, working on no fewer than 265 golf courses. In Westchester County, New York alone there are 16 of Tillinghast’s golf courses, the most noted among them being the Fenway Golf Club and the Wykagyl Country Club. During the economic turndown of America’s depression years, Tillinghast joined forces with the P.G.A to help design courses and encourage the continuation of golf through this tough period to ensure its success in the future.

TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida

Pete Dye

Both a minimalist and a dynamic thinker in his approach to golf course design, many of Pete Dye’s courses vary wildly from one another which is something that does not happen all too often in the world of golf course architecture. The minimalist style that Dye favoured meant that there was a certain ruggedness about his courses from the natural landscape of which he would lend a sophisticated aid to in order to mould it into a complex and challenging course. Wisconsin hosts his courses Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, which are considered to rank among the best in the United States.

Perry Maxwell

Perhaps less lauded than some of the other golf course architects on this list, Perry Maxwell has nonetheless designed some of the most iconic golf courses in the world including being involved in the development of the Augusta National in Georgia where the US Masters is held. Building his first golf course in 1913 (which he later added to in 1923), it wasn’t until 1919, after his wife died that Maxwell travelled through the United States and Europe to study golf course designs. Courses that Maxwell designed include the Crystal Downs and Veenker Memorial; he was also a founder of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Tom Doak

Another minimalist golf course designer, Tom Doak has four golf courses within Golf Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Courses in the World’ list with his breakthrough design being that of Pacific Dunes. Other renowned courses he has designed are Ballyneal and Cape Kidnappers. A student of Pete Dye, Doak is already recognised as one of the best gold course designers ever and is still designing and making courses. Doak has been known to dish out sharp criticism at other golf course designers, especially within his book The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.

Cape Kidnappers

Charles B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor

Considered the father of American golf course architecture, Charles B. Macdonald built the first-ever 18-hole golf course in the United States and went on to design some of the most influential golf courses in history. It was at a time that the sport of golf was only at a very early stage of development in the United States that Macdonald became a founder of the Chicago Golf Club where he first built nine basic holes, in 1892, which made it the first golf course west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1893 he expanded the course to 18 holes, thus giving it a place in history books.

Seth Raynor was something of a protégé of Macdonald’s and the two of them worked on a great many golf course designs together, including National Golf Links and Yale. In fact, it was whilst working on the site that would become National Golf Links that Macdonald and Raynor met and formed their longstanding professional relationship. Macdonald had hired Raynor as a civil engineer to survey the property and Macdonald was so impressed by his engineering knowledge that he hired him to supervise construction of the course. From this point onward Raynor built all of Macdonald’s courses. The pair developed a system in which they would choose similar holes from British golf courses that suited the landscape and effectively superimpose them onto the existing landscape, a technique that was used again and again in the design and construction of their courses.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw

Traditionalists in their approach to designing and building golf courses, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have worked on relatively few golf courses compared to many in the market but their distinct philosophy means that they select fewer projects, preferring to give a greater amount of time and effort to one, rather than churning out designs.

Bill Coore learnt his trade under Pete Dye, who infected him with a penchant for minimalist design. Forming his own design company in 1982 he built the Rockport Country Club golf course along with the Kings Crossing Golf and Country Club Course.

Ben Crenshaw had a successful playing career with solid accomplishments in PGA tours in both 1984 and 1995. It was whilst in competition that Crenshaw spent a lot of his time analysing the design and details of the courses he was playing on. This, combined with his desire to see more top quality golf courses designed in the classical manner, saw his partnership with Bill Coore blossom.

The pair’s design ideals have lead them to a minimalist approach to golf course architecture where they blend the course with the natural surroundings as best as possible. This is evident in their breakthrough course at Sand Hills, Nebraska where the course is almost a part of the sand hills themselves. Other courses they have designed together include Austin Golf Club and Bandon Trails whilst both have designed a significant amount of courses by themselves.

By Vincent JS Wood

Are there any other American golf course architects you would like to see featured on The Culture Trip? Let us know in the comments section below!

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