When future historians and students of the game look back on the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries they will likely recognize it as the second Golden Age of golf course design and architecture. The first Golden Age witnessed the birth of Winged Foot, Riviera, Cypress Point, Hirono, Royal Melbourne and Wentworth, among scores of others. The courses were designed by architects working at the top of their profession such as H. S. Colt, A. W. Tillinghast, George Thomas, C. H. Alison, Stanley Thompson, Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor. The second Golden Age, like the first, is a worldwide phenomenon, with new courses sprouting around the globe, and not just in one region.
We should consider ourselves lucky to live in the midst of the second Golden Age and to have the chance to play courses in their original form designed by today’s premier designers such as Coore & Crenshaw, Tom Doak, David McLay Kidd, Rod Whitman, Gil Hanse and Kyle Phillips.
The dramatic second hole of the as-yet opened Ardfin course in Scotland graces the cover of the new Planet Golf Modern Masterpieces.
When those twenty-second century historians want to get a glimpse of the highlights of golf course architecture during our epoch they will have to pull just one book from the shelves: Planet Golf: Modern Masterpieces, the third in a delightful series produced by Darius Oliver and published by Abrams. Oliver knows architecture as well as any modern writer in the game and his expertise and knowledge come through on every page. And if for some reason he should not fully cover a course in detail, the full page (12 inch x 9 1/2 inch) photographs by well-known golf photographer Laurence Lambrecht complete the picture. It is appropriate that Mike Keiser, one of the foremost sponsors and visionaries behind many of these courses, wrote the foreword to the book.
All the standard-bearers modern masterpieces that have been well covered in the press are included in the book, as you wood expect: Sand Hills, Friar’s Head, Streamsong, the courses of the Bandon resort, Cabot Links and Cliffs, the Barnbougle courses, Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs. What gives the book another dimension and makes it an exciting read are the new discoveries. Courses like Ardfin (Bob Harrison), Lofoten Links (Jeremy Turner), and Shanquin Bay (Bill Coore). It is also nice to see one of my favorites in the world, Jack’s Point, designed by John Darby on the South Island of New Zealand, start to get its due with inclusion in the book.
A flight to King Island, Australia, is needed to discover the new Cape Wickham Links
The cover photo of the book is of the Ardfin Golf Course, designed by Bob Harrison and located on the Island of Jura in the Southern Hebrides of Scotland. I’m not sure how such a spectacular course has escaped notice until now in our era of aggressively marketed and hyped new courses, but from the images in the book the rugged and desolate location looks like the setting for a true gem. Oliver dedicates six pages to the exciting and unique course. His description of the short par four 8th: “It is unlike anything we’ve seen before; its tee shot wedged between a steep crag and a sheer drop off and its two landing zones separated by a stone fence. While some may criticize the forced lay-back from the tee, there are unlikely to be arguments over the approach, an exhilarating short-iron toward a pimple ledge and with all of Islay’s rugged majesty staring directly at you. Few holes wow quite like this one.”
Modern Masterpieces does a great job of highlighting courses in New Zealand and Australia as well as China, Korea, Canada, and Vietnam. Oliver’s knowledge of the game and architecture come from the fact that he also does course design. He co-designed the Cape Wickham Links on King Island in Australia with Mike DeVries. Looking at the pictures of the course it seems difficult to disagree with his self-assessment: “It’s hard to think of any course, anywhere, with quite as many thrills…The fun begins with about as exhilarating an opening tee shot as one could ever want.”
Modern Masterpieces rightfully heaps high praise on Bill Coore, arguably the most talented of the current crop of architects. Describing his work at the East Hampton Golf Club on Long Island Oliver says, “With the exception of someone like Dr. Alister MacKenzie at Crystal Downs, few designers in the history of our game have been able to so successfully manage the transition from one disparate landform to another.”
It is also interesting that the book does not focus on the works of some designers working today, who don’t seem to get much love from golf magazine rating panels. Talented architects such as Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, and Rees Jones. Perhaps these gents and their design firms move too much earth. Minimalism is the order of the day and seems to be preferred: leave the land as you found it; find the holes that were put there by nature. (In fairness, Fazio’s Goozer Ranch and Galloway National are featured as is the Pete Dye Golf Club and Whistling Straits, and Nicklaus’s Quivira Golf Club, although almost half the book features courses by Tom Doak and Coore/Crenshaw).
The Northern Lights captured above the Lofoten Links in Norway shows the quality of the photography by Laurence Lambrecht
I don’t want to be too presumptuous about predicting the future, which is fraught with peril. After all, we look down at Jerry Lewis movies today as lightweight entertainment and praise the works of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Woody Allen. Perhaps the French are right after all and Jerry Lewis is indeed art at its highest form. Perhaps Oliver got it wrong and these modern masterpieces will fade away, while other courses designed by out of vogue architects will be praised in the future. Don’t bet the ranch on it.
— John Sabino