Grounds for Golf: The History and Fundamentals of Golf Course Design
By Geoff Shackleford
Teacher’s Comments: An informative analysis of golf architecture that’s primarily for the serious golfer.
“Every golfer worthy of the name should have some acquaintance with the principles of golf course design, not only for the betterment of his game, but for his own self enjoyment” – Bobby Jones
There’s probably an armchair course designer in every serious golfer. We’ve seen enough courses to be able to distinguish between good and bad. We’ve thought seriously about the design of various holes because it helps to improve our games. We replay favorite tracks in our minds. And I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes doodling hole designs on scraps of paper.
I will also confess to having spent way too much time designing courses on various computer golf games.
Geoff Shackeford wants to encourage that sort of thinking. In Grounds For Golf, the golf writer and internet impresario offers readers a solid introduction to golf course design. Through eighteen chapters (no coincidence, there) Shackleford covers design fundamentals, course design history, the differences between various schools of thought, great designers, course maintenance, and various elements that Shackleford believes make a great golf hole.
Shackleford encourages his readers to “daydream” holes as they play. He wants players to imagine what the designer had in mind, much as museum goers speculate on the meaning of various works of art.
It’s not all an esoteric pursuit, though. Understanding the role of various design elements, and correctly deciphering the options presented by the designer can lead to lower scores.
In analyzing courses, Shackleford’s preferences tend toward the “naturalistic” designs, where fairways, greens, bunkers and other elements look as though they were teased from the landscape, rather than carved by a bulldozer. He also prefers holes that offer a variety of strategic options, and generally denigrates the straightforward real estate development courses in the same way that real baseball fans deride the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1970s.
I think it’s hard to argue with either of those two points.
Grounds for Golf is replete with black and white line drawings of holes, which Shackleford uses to illustrate his arguments. Less interesting are the too-dark black-and-white photographs of holes.
At its best, the book made me examine elements of golf course design that I hadn’t really considered. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the injection of humor into golf course design. As Shackleford began to describe the characteristics of a “humorous” golf hole, I immediately thought of the sixth at the University of Michigan’s Alistair MacKenzie designed golf course. And sure enough, on the very next page, Shackleford used as an example that hole’s meandering, multi-tiered green.
I give this book a B+ only because I think it’s audience is confined to the serious golfer. Most weekend hackers, or those who play the same course over and again during their league meets won’t find this one as meaningful or interesting.