• Cameron MacKellar

Design without committee

Golf projects offer unique opportunities to safeguard sensitive ecological, landscape and cultural features, or to creatively enhance degraded landscapes and ecosystems.



In recent years, one of the greatest threats to golf clubs have been short-sighted committees, and in particular eager captains who only have one year in place in order to leave their mark, going ahead with golf course ‘improvement’ projects that only actually benefit them.

This approach is, of course, frowned upon by golf course design companies, frustrated by a loss of business that they would almost certainly have carried out to a much higher degree, but it also upsets environmentalists, who believe that a design or redesign project is a one-off prospect for a golf club to improve the ecological surroundings of the facility.


The key to maximizing the environmental quality of a course is to allow the design to be guided and influenced by its site. That means integrating golf into the landscape, rather than imposing upon it. This doesn’t mean golf design should not also be ambitious and individualistic. Some of the most valuable environmental enhancements in golf have stemmed from the drive to combine golfing drama with large-scale landscape change and ecosystem regeneration.


What’s critical is how the vision for golf is connected to the vision for a functioning environment. How can inspiring golf be presented in an authentic, beautiful and ecologically viable landscape? Great golf courses emerge when the creativity of the designer is in tune with the site’s natural and cultural attributes, leaving a long-term legacy of memorable golf within a resource-efficient, ecosystem-rich, high-quality landscape setting.


A golf course architect’s advice on site selection and its cost estimating and co-ordination with other project consultants could save time and money. An architect will ask numerous questions:

- Which areas are best suited for golf?

- Which areas are best suited for uses other than golf?

- Where are the best views – and the poorest?

- Which slopes, if any, are too extreme for golf?

- What is the character of the site’s existing vegetation?

- How do the site’s natural drainage patterns work?

- Where will the irrigation water come from?


These questions and many more help an architect to design or redesign the course as naturally and efficiently as possible.

The architect’s goal is to create the greatest possible variety in the types of golf shots the course demands – and similar variety in terms of the hazards and the aesthetics of the course. What’s paramount is that the architect makes each hole challenging and interesting for the better golfer, yet playable and enjoyable for the higher-handicap player too.


So, when designing or redesigning a hole, series of holes or even an entire golf course, the ultimate aim needs to be to create a facility that is challenging to golfers of all standards while enriching the ecological make-up of the site.


The designer will also consult with all the other consultants involved in the project on matters relating to the letting of contracts and the soliciting and review of price bids. They should also assist the owner in developing a realistic construction schedule for the course. The designer will prepare a spreadsheet comparing each bidding contractor’s unit costs, to identify where any major cost disparities exist. And they will attend regular planning meetings and visit the golf course when necessary during construction, to review the contractor’s work and their adherence to the designer’s plan documents.


A committee, it is fair to say, only ought to be undertaking such a task if it is prepared to do all this and is experienced in delivering the results this one-off opportunity craves.


#golfdesign #golfcoursearchitecture #mackellargolf

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