There’s a small but growing movement in ‘new’ golf media (think podcasters and bloggers) delving into the various merits of golf course architecture… both good and bad. The discussions are often deep, sometimes pretentious, often amusing and endlessly fascinating. If you’ve ever stumbled upon any of this in your podcast feed, you may have heard mention of “Redan’ or ‘Biarritz’ holes on various course reviews and wondered what they’re on about (I did). The traditions of the game extend well beyond dress regulations and handicaps, and golf course design has many intriguing traditions too. Design templates are one of them…
The back story
Charles Blair MacDonald was born in Chicago but moved to St. Andrews as a teenager to finish his education. During his time there, he was introduced to the game by none other than Old Tom Morris and his son Tommy. On his return to America, MacDonald helped promote the game with his involvement and design of the first 18-hole course in the USA – the Chicago Golf Club. So successful was this project, MacDonald left his comfortable job as a stockbroker to become a fully-fledged ‘golf course architect’ (a title he invented for himself).
As the game grew in the US, so did MacDonalds reputation. In 1908, he began work on his masterpiece in the sandy terrain along the Peconic Bay in Southhampton… which would become known as ‘The National Golf Links of America’. In order to build Americas first great golf course, MacDonald travelled back to the UK & Ireland to study the great layouts and classic holes. On this trip, he identified 20 ‘templates’ – hole designs which he felt stood apart due to their strategic interest and later laid out the best combination on his new site in New York. The names may sound familiar, as are the courses that inspired them.
Templates include Road (17th, Old Course), Cardinal (3rd, Prestwick), Dell (5th, Lahinch), Redan (15th, North Berwick) Alps (17th, Prestwick) Biarritz (3rd, Biarritz France) Eden (11th, Old Course) Short (4th, Royal West Norfolk), Sahara (3rd, Royal St. Georges), Bottle (12th, Old Course, Sunningdale), Leven (16th, Ludin Links), Postage Stamp (8th, Troon).
In Ireland, the most well know example is the original Dell design… the blind par 3 5th at Lahinch, originally laid out in 1892 by Old Tom Morris.
Templates fell out of favour for a while, no one was really sure if they were highly creative blueprints for good course design, or just formulaic and unoriginal copies. That’s changing in this new wave of modern golf course builds, with Redans and Biarritz being particularly popular. History tends to influence all of us, but ultimately the landscape will have the largest say in any design.