In 2010 I reviewed over 30 golf courses and last week on my radio show talked about what makes a golf course great. Is there any one thing that makes you like your favorite golf course? Do they have a signature hole that is a must play? Is it the location?
People are different and what one person thinks is great, someone else could disagree but I'm going to look into some of the factors that make a golf course great.
What Makes a Great Golf Course?
- History: Are historic courses great golf courses? When you think history the first one that probably comes to mind is St. Andrews in Scotland, the birthplace of golf. Walking the same fairways as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and other golf greats. The special moments that have happened at a course but also the history of the club house and the tradition surrounding the clubs.
- Prestige or Status: Is the status of the club what makes it great? A course so difficult to get on that you only hear rumors about it. A place like Pine Valley or Augusta National where so few get to walk and yet they are held in such high regard. Does this make them great?
- World Ranking: The top ranked golf courses in the world are obviously something special. They put through some rigorous criteria to be ranked in the top 100 but does saying that you played the #1 ranked golf course in the world, country or state add to the greatness? Do we assume it's great because of the ranking it holds or do we judge it ourselves?
- Location: What makes a successful restaurant? Location, location, location. Is this the same for a golf course? Playing in United Kingdom or the Caribbean could make a golf course great. I have been fortunate enough to play in Bermuda several times and it's an amazing island for golf.
- Scenery & Views: This ties in with location. I love unique scenery on a golf course. Whether it's a castle, a Caribbean island, or the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, scenery can take an average course and make it something special.
- Course Conditions: This should probably be number one but in some cases it's not. A course with great location and great history can be ruined by poor conditions. I was excited to play Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, Maine, but after playing it, I was disappointed in the conditions. The fairways were not well kept and the greens were rather slow. A course known as the place of "Presidential Golf" should be in better shape.
- The Clubhouse: The clubhouse can make or break a golf course. Ever get to a course and you're welcomed by a trailer? Kind of disappointing. On the radio show last week Patricia Hannigan from Golf Girl's Diary called in and mentioned the clubhouse at Winged Foot as something she remembered. I'll never forget the clubhouse at Pine Valley. It was historic, classy and traditional.
- The Layout or Signature Hole: Ah yes, the signature hole. Every golf course has one but is yours good enough to make a great course? One course comes to mind is a public course in Connecticut, Tradition of Wallingford. What makes them special? They have an island green par 3. I personally don't think they promote this enough, everyone loves a shot at an island green. Does this one hole make the course great? No, but it will make people return!
- Difficulty: Is it the challenge that brings you back? My goal at Pine Valley & Aronimink was to break 90... both were a fail as I put up numbers in the 90's. I loved the challenge and I think difficult courses can be great, as long as they are fair.
- Service: If I'm paying for something, I want top service. If you have a caddy, you want a caddy who knows the course. Maybe free use of the range or someone to meet you at the bag drop to check you in makes you happy. When I pay to play, I hope to get an experience out of it, not just a round of golf.
I'm sure there are some factors I did not discuss above (green speed comes to mind) but my point is there is something that makes us talk about the golf courses we love. Whether it's the service, layout, or location, there is something about a great golf course that makes us return.
What makes you return to a golf course? What do you think makes a golf course great? Leave a comment!