"If architecture is not rooted in the needs of contemporary man...it will just cease to be an art."
Otto Wagner, renowned modernist architect
Art and architecture are very different. Art is the blending or arrangement of features striving to be attractive or provocative, specifically targeting an aesthetic or emotion.
Architecture is the product of a specific objective and solves problems….. borne from thousands of intentional decisions. Architecture is art with purpose, rooted in a collective need. Both art and architecture are intended to be provocative or stimulating. Only one solves problems.
Golf course architecture intends to provide unique and interesting playing grounds for golfers. It requires an extensive understanding of numerous trades, disciplines and aesthetic including a broad understanding of the game, golf construction, golf course maintenance, hydrology, drainage, soils, turf sciences, physics, psychology, and landscape art, golf course history and landscape architecture. Maybe more importantly, it requires an understanding of basic business practices for economic viability and operational efficiency. Golf Course architecture is a craft.
Golf course Architecture is a blending of art, landscape architecture, psychology, science and the game of golf. The better the blending, the better the product. Better sites yield better golf courses because it is easier to compose stimulating elements while hiding infrastructure. Sometimes we use templates [Redan, Biarritz, Cape, etc.] as inspiration in new and creative ways to blend with the existing landscape. It is far too easy to replicate designs from bygone eras and in my opinion, the routine of ‘templates’ is overused and tired.
Often, architecture gets heavy handed and the “art” becomes more than the architecture. Some proclaim architecture without ornamentation is less treasured and less alluring. Maybe, but nature’s greatest achievement is that its beauty hides its function. This is elucidated in this timeless quote from Plato:
“The greatest and fairest things are done by nature and the lesser by art”
Every golfer, and even some non-golfers, have strong opinions about golf courses and its architecture. Sometimes those opinions are thoughtful and offer valuable insight. Often times, however, those opinions are uninformed and generated from personal ability, specific experiences or subjective play.
Decisions made by architects about routing, hole direction, hazard placement, drainage strategies, hole length, landscape revelation, irrigation demands and maintenance requirements, influence thousands of subsequent smaller, but no less important choices. Each play an important role in how the golf course is enjoyed, used and marketed. A myriad of decisions must be made for thousands of details, each impacting the playability, strategy, aesthetic, budget and ultimately, profit.
There is much to decipher and understand how components of a golf course are assembled as there is much to consider and this craft is often misunderstood. It is far more than waving our arms. We don’t just “make it up”. That would be art.
A successful golf course must accomplish a variety of goals from playability and challenge to aesthetics, maintenance and economic value. This is more than art. It is art AND science joined together as a craft. A successful golf course is the result of thousands of decisions, each building on one another so that the entire experience is filled with site sensitivity and thoughtful assembly of landscape features to create an engaging golf experience.
Golf course architecture begins with site-based inspiration to produce economic viability. Design results must originate from imaginative, creative, resourceful instincts but can never lose sight of economic viability. If it does, it is not architecture. It is art.