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Golf Course Architects Adapting Courses for 21st Century

Golf course architects are working with their clients to design and renovate courses that are shorter and less expensive to construct and maintain, so said several American Society of Golf Course Architect (ASGCA) members during a recent panel led by ASGCA President Erik Larsen.

“Extreme length and larger course sizes can be a financial burden on everyone,” said Tom Clark, ASGCA. “Courses measuring 7,500 yards or more for 18 holes are played to that length by about one percent of golfers. Something closer to 6,800 yards from the tips and 4,800 – 6,200 yards is good for 95 percent of all golfers.”

Jeff Brauer, ASGCA, echoed Clark’s comments. “A golf course owner told me in 10 years there were no more than 50 rounds of golf played from the longest tees,” he added.

Taking into account financial concerns of players and course managers, and increasing demands on players’ time, a greater emphasis is being placed on the design and construction of nine-hole courses, a throwback to the popular plans of the 1950s and 1960s. “It is obviously less expensive to build and maintain nine-hole courses,” Clark said. “And this also provides the benefit of perhaps adding on another nine holes in the future as needed.”

Clark provides two recent examples of course owners responding to the economy and players’ desires by adjusting their plans to nine-hole designs:

  • The Westham Golf Club at Magnolia Green near Richmond, Va., a collaboration between Jack Nicklaus’, ASGCA, Nicklaus Design and Clark, opened nine holes in June, with plans to add an additional nine in the coming years. Westham serves as the centerpiece of a resort-style community planned for 3,500 homes with ancillary commercial and retail uses. Once completed, the full course will be played by many golfers to 6,200 yards.

Play has been active at Westham, with some golfers taking advantage of reduced rates to play an additional nine holes on days when they desire to play 18. Residential lot sales also are up thanks in part to buyers seeing area activity increased by golfers.

Remodeling for less cost

ASGCA members are also remodeling golf courses to a shorter length, as necessary, or designing layouts that incorporate three-hole loops allowing for play of fewer than 18 holes. During the panel discussion at the annual Golf Course Builders Association of America meeting, Larsen noted architects are increasingly involved in land planning, including walking paths and trails near courses; a view echoed by Vicki Martz, ASGCA. 

“A 10-15 percent reduction in the acreage to be maintained at a course can often be found rather easily,” Martz said. “And it doesn’t have to be an area where ‘you just let the weeds grow.’ Land planning and working with natural landscape can make for a beautiful course and surrounding area with less maintenance.”

Anyone looking to develop or renovate a golf course will benefit from reviewing the series of Question and Answer brochures created by ASGCA, including pieces on Master Planning, Golf Course Development and Golf Course Remodeling.

Founded in 1946 by 14 leading architects, the American Society of Golf Course Architects is a non-profit organization comprised of experienced golf course designers located throughout the United States and Canada. Members have completed a rigorous two-year long application process that includes the peer review of four representative golf courses. ASGCA members are experienced golf course architects, able to counsel in all aspects of golf course design and remodeling and comprise many of the great talents throughout the golf industry.

For more information about ASGCA, including a current list of members, log on to the ASGCA website at or call (262) 786-5960.